It’s the beginning of a new season. A fresh start, a blank page, a chance to be better than last season, to take your swimming to the next level. But, where to start?
Chances are, you’ve been out of the water for a few weeks and are somewhat out of shape—far from the taper and peak form you were enjoying not too long ago. So, what can you focus on at your early-season practices to gradually build back up, and ensure another successful season?
Jon Sakovich and Dale Porter, the head coach and head age group coach at the Bolles School Sharks—a team that has produced Olympic and World Championship gold medalists Ryan Murphy, Caeleb Dressel and Joseph Schooling—take a gradual approach to getting their swimmers ready for the season, focusing on elements both in and out of the water.
Back to Basics
Before getting back into actual in-water training, the beginning of the season is a great time to reinforce what proper technique should look like, as well as what exercises swimmers can do outside the pool to achieve that technique. Sakovich and Porter spend several weeks reviewing these things with their swimmers at each practice.
“With a greater percentage of new swimmers than any other time of the year, as well as coming off a two-week break, we take two to three weeks to get back to our normal progression,” said Porter. “We’ll spend more time educating the athletes on the stretching/activation routine and dryland exercises, and present a daily power point on the fundamentals we want for freestyle, backstroke, breaststroke, butterfly, forward and back starts and the seven competitive turns.
“We conclude the two weeks with an athlete meeting focused on team goals, as well as a parent meeting to present our philosophies on training, meet entries and volunteering. The increased time on land allows for a gradual return to the water.”
Drills and Conditioning
With a solid understanding of proper technique and improved strength through dryland, swimmers are ready to translate their knowledge into action. At Bolles, the first few weeks of conditioning are heavily focused on kicking, drills, balance and alignment, Porter said, and gradually progress towards lighter aerobic sets.
One of their major focuses early in the season is on kicking—kicking for endurance/conditioning, kicking for speed and kicking underwater.
“The kicking is usually front loaded on the beginning of the season,” Sakovich said. “We’ll increase the kicking yardage pretty quickly for about three to four weeks, then drop the yardage down and increase the intensity and speed of the kick sets.”
Underwater kicking can quickly go downhill after a few weeks out of the water, so it’s important to concentrate on that as well as the season gets underway.
“We start from day one and use two or three of (dolphin kicking pioneer coach) Bob Gillett’s sets, and we use them continuously throughout the season, looking for improved speed and stronger kicks throughout. We’re also fortunate to have a number of swim meets in September and October for high school season so we can regularly see how the underwaters are progressing,” Sakovich said.
Consistency and Commitment
These aspects of swimming—dryland, activation, drills, kicking and conditioning—aren’t just important at the start of the season, but the entire year. In order to improve, swimmers must be committed to executing these areas to the best of their ability every day, whether in the water or out. The start of the season is like the first breakout at the start of a race: a great breakout will put you ahead of the competition, while a poor one will leave you playing catch up.