Whilst flicking through the pages of the various triathlon magazines I often come across the advice “join your local triathlon club” Whilst this may be great advice for new comers I am not so convinced the same is true for the more experienced triathletes. In fact I actually think attending your local tri club swim sessions could be holding your swimming back and here is why:
“At each club session we are given a few drills to do. There is no explanation as to why they are given or how they actually benefit my stroke. Everyone gets exactly the same drills each week regardless of their swimming style”
This recent quote from a very experienced, and successful age group triathlete raises a few issues.
- The use of drills is an excellent way to develop swimming technique, however in order to be effective they need to be specific to each individual swimmer, address and correct flaws in their stroke. Setting generic group drills rather than focusing on the individual swimmer may actually be more harmful than helpful! There appears to be a tendency among less experienced tri coaches to set drills almost for the sake of it with little thought of how these drill will bring about the stroke adaptation they are trying to achieve. Its almost seems like a case of setting drill because “thats what swim coaches do”!
- Another common problem with club sessions is the numbers attending. One client recently described how he was only able to swim half a length because there were 7 other swimmers in the lane, all of differing abilities! With that number of swimmers no matter how skilled the coach is its almost impossible to give the individual attention needed. This is especially true when coaching less able swimmers. Also having too many swimmers in a lane often limits the ability to set longer reps as sessions can easily descend into chaos with swimmers trying to pass each other. This leads to coaches having to manage the lane by writing sessions with lots of 50 – 100’s. Not always idea for those training for Ironman.
- The third (and more contentious) issue is the quality of the swim coaching at many clubs. This isn’t necessarily the fault of the coaches themselves but rather a reflection on Triathlon England’s coaching qualifications. Having completed the Level 2 course earlier this year I was surprised to find how little emphasis was placed on swim coaching. This is no reflection on the course content or the tutors delivering it, rather a comment on the actual amount of time dedicated to swim coaching over the 6 day course. This is because the course is primarily aimed at coaches working in club settings rather than coaching individuals. Therefore a great deal of the course time was spent looking at risk assessments, safeguarding and ensuring that triathlon is an inclusive sport. All this is good stuff except it doesn’t help much when faced with a swimmer whose legs are dragging along the bottom of the pool, arms are crossing over and they forget to breath and they have just entered an Ironman in 12 weeks time. The result of the current situation is that coaches often lack the technical knowledge and confidence to be able to identify what’s causing a swimmer to struggle and to be able to prescribe relevant drills.
So whats the solution? In my opinion there needs to be more stand alone coaching courses available. These should focus on the technical aspects of swimming I am aware that Triathlon England are keen to develop their PDP programme so hopefully there will be a focus on swim coaching individuals. Of course there is the Level 3 coaching however there is a big leap in both the cost and commitment required between L3 and L2. Maybe something in-between focusing more on coaching individuals rather than clubs is required.
The alternative for coaches wishing to really expand their swim coaching skills, confidence and knowledge is to seek out alternative training. I recently undertook the Swim Smooth 3 day Coach Education course. This intense course allowed attendees the opportunity to really develop their understanding of not only the technical and theoretical aspects of stroke development but also plenty of hands on practical experience.
My advice to any triathlete looking to make improvements in their swimming would be to invest in some 1-1 coaching, including video analysis. I would suggest seek out someone who understands triathlon and in particular the demands of open water swimming. This type of coaching is becoming more and more available and the laws of supply and demand has seen a reduction in the costs. Its probably one of the best investments you can make to reduce those swim times.
Details of Peak XV swim coaching can be found here