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    SwimPath Blog

    Long Term Athlete Development (LTAD) is a widely discussed element of sports training and whilst it is generally agreed that it is a vital component of any coaching repertoire, there is a lot of discussion and debate over the best model - if indeed there is one - and which factors are actually relevant to the individuals within the sport they partake.

    Too often connotations of 'early specialisation' are brought up - particularly in relation to swimming - and there tends to be a desire to pay a large amount of attention to 'building qualities' and teaching and training young athletes 'how to train'. And the answer seems in a lot of cases to be volume. The perception that by giving young athletes a large amount of volume will enhance their potential for long term success is limited owing to the large amount of swimmers who drop out of the sport or who have to retire early due to injury.I know full well that many coaches, managers, parents will disagree with me (and lots will agree) and continually ascertain that he way to become a world champ is to smash the yardage from an early age then refine the athlete later on. Personally I believe this is the backwards approach...

    For me Long Term Development needs to be centred around participation, keeping people involved in the sport and not buying into the ideal of 'early specialisation' and 'training' kids too young. We need to look at continually and continually and a bit more continually developing and redeveloping skills, keeping training fun and engaging; paying attention to times of peak growth and adjusting around individuals through these periods. Allowing kids to do what they do best - going fast, and teaching them how they can go faster (generally all you see is kids running everywhere, as fast as they can - put them in a pool and they will race each other, any way which how - let's embrace that and then gradually teach them how to do it properly). The key element here is teaching - I think we need more clarity over the role of a coach as a teacher first and foremost and be looking to add in the 'coaching' elements as the swimmers potential blossoms (N.B I know that some coaches will work age group athletes hard so that they can be the best 12 year old in the country, or win a national medal aged 14 - as nice as that may be at the time, its short term success, not long term development).

    If we need any more convincing about the downside of early specialisation and getting kids to do too much too soon we need to look no further than the very sad but true story of the Jedi order. Anakin was too young to be trained as a Jedi - he was 9 years old (first stage of LTAD starts at 6 so there's a comparison there) - and despite a small tinkling with the Dark Side he proved to be the chosen one, finally ridding the Galaxy of the Emperor... No formal training, a few (ok, a few years) 1 on 1 sessions with a master teacher and he was pretty well attuned with the ways of the force to become arguably the most powerful Jedi ever! And as for the Jedi method of training them young? None were as powerful as Anakin (though maybe a tad more subservient!!)

    Roll on a few episodes and we have the guy who actually beats the most powerful form of Anakin, Darth Vader, after only commencing his specialist training as a Jedi at the tender age of 21!! Piloting, check; shooting a laser gun, check; working hard on multitude of skills and having instilled a great work ethic after years of exposure to varied activities on the moisture farm, check; huge volumes of Jedi specific training from an early age, you get my point... Yes Im a Star Wars fan, yes the connection is a tad tongue in cheek (although I do quite often find myself paralleling my coaching ideals to the Star Wars films - maybe there's a blog series to begin) but I am convinced that early training should be wide and varied; teaching a broad range of movement patterns and motor skills; giving young athletes the tools they need to go fast and the technique to be able to sustain speed - and then develop those qualities continually and with purpose and intent and not being afraid to teach them again how to perform an underwater kick...

    Swimmers, or athletes in any sport for that matter, will at times stop taking part in that sport - if they have a broad range of skills to turn their hands to than it is hoped they may pursue a different activity and at least you know you have given these youngsters an ability to choose their next path. That I can cope with, its the giving up of all activity and becoming lost to the sport because of being 'burnt out' before their 18th birthday that is a harder fate to swallow...

    May the force be with you.... always!

    One area of SwimPath's unique brand is the SwimCamp... not so unique in its title as there are many offerings of clinics and tuition days spread around the country in various guises. Most of which provide a great informative day or days out, leaving the swimmer with an enriched sense of learning and development in a condensed period of time! The fact of the matter is that they work - undivided attention from a group of interested swimmers having the opportunity to spend up to and beyond of 4 hours a day in the water honing new skills with consistent guidance from experienced and knowledgable practitioners. Not to mention the various asides such as nutrition, land training, psychology etc. In short, as long as the day is organised, has clear focus and objectives, is delivered succinctly and professionally, and what's more is FUN - because we all know that kids learn better when they are enjoying themselves - then its going to be successful.

    So if the formula is seemingly straightforward, what makes some clinics stand out from the rest? Why does SwimPath offer an experience that most likely won't be found in every pool up and down the country?

    The answer is in the detail - and by detail we mean keeping it simple!

    Many clinics country wide will offer a days tuition, attempting to cram all and every detail regarding stroke improvement - as well as starts, turns, psychology, nutrition, strength training etc - with the plan of delivering an all encompassing 'swimmer' experience. And this it may provide extremely well. Sometimes though this can result in information overload...

    At SwimPath we want swimmers to learn, improve, to take away something definitive that they can incorporate into their own training regime. And to do this effectively we focus our single day clinics on only one or two skill elements - and we explore these with photos, videos and discussion then try it in the pool with drills and fast practice. Understanding the reasons behind a skill is the most important factor to its successful performance, its cliche but on a SwimPath camp you'll get quality, not quantity!!!

    For us pedagogy is key, but as well as the science behind its methodology, it is the art in its delivery that reigns supreme. And we believe the combination of todays top swimmers - either qualified themselves as licensed coaches or trained in house on our own scheme - alongside experienced and innovative practitioners (some of whom were yesterdays top swimmers!!!!) offers the perfect mix of content, coaching and practical application, with demonstrations from some of the best in the business!. With Jemma Lowe and Rebecca Guy already part of the South and North West Teams respectively and Individual Medley star and Olympian Tom Haffield soon to start flying the SwimPath flag in Wales, keep an eye out and a bookmark on our page to find out when the next SwimCamp is coming to your area!

    Because as well as the swimming content,  its certainly no bad way to spend an hour at SwimCamp lunch picking the brain of some of Britain's most successful swimmers!

    So what does make Jemma Lowe tick and fuel her desire to spend another year at the top? For the answer to that you'll have to tune in to next weeks blog...

    The weekend of the 7th and 8th of November saw the South West Regional Short Course Championships held at Millfield Pool in Street, Somerset. As always this is a tough fought competition with lots of individuals from lots of clubs all across the South West of England coming together to compete for Regional titles and to be in with a chance of posting times fast enough to qualify them for the ASA Winter Nationals in December.

    One such success story was SwimPath sponsored junior star Alysia Maestri, who is a member of the United Bristol Swimming Club. The 13 year old was one of the original junior select swimmers to be sponsored by SwimPath during the summer months upon her qualification for the Home Nations Championships in August. Her credence has continued to rise and she will now be embarking on her first Winter Nationals trip at Ponds Forge International Pool just before Xmas, in the 50m Backstroke - which she qualified for in a time of 30.54 - and subsequently made her first Winter Regional Final in the process!

    A massive congratulations to Alysia - and a great example of the rich breadth of talent, from junior to senior, currently a part of the SwimPath Team!

    And we are always on the look out to add new talent to the Team - so if you think you have the ability to achieve, develop, achieve some more and really want to enjoy the ride - why not contact us at SwimPath to find out how to join Alysia and become one of our sponsored athletes!

    So it seems Mr Lochte caused a bit of controversy at the Worlds this summer by performing his fly kicks (on the freestyle leg of the I.M) on his back!!

    But it's freestyle right so that's ok?

    According to FINA, probably not....

    Despite not being DQ'd in Kazan, Lochte's kick exploits have caused swimming's governing body to re-look at the laws within IM - and as a recent article on Swimswam states - by adding further clarification to what constitutes the freestyle leg...

    The basis of the current rules is that the freestyle leg on an IM can be anything other than back, breast or fly - and thus most of time folk will swim front crawl! However, the concern over Lochte's front crawl leg is that he did 15m of it on his back, which means he was swimming backstroke of a portion of the leg and so contravening the rule of not being allowed to swim one of the 3 other strokes...

    Current perception therefore is that the rules will be changed so that on embarking on the freestyle leg of an IM the swimmer must be on his or her front...

    Here's the interesting bit...

    So if Lochte turns breast to free to come off the wall on his front (as we would see in a breast to breast or fly to fly turn) and performs 15m of fly kick underwater before swimming front crawl - has he not completed a portion of the leg swimming butterfly??

    It raises the question whether therefore the freestyle leg will not be allowed to contain any fly kicks...

    Or can they only be done on the side? (thats not a stroke right?!)

    Or is the can of worms opened even further by looking at the technical laws of backstroke that state the entire swim must be completed on the back for it to be legal. And so if a swimmer kicked 15m underwater on the back, came up and turned onto the front then he/she would be DQ'd - and vis a vis therefore the 15m underwater on the freestyle leg if done on the back does not constitute backstroke because the swimmer comes up on the front thus rendering the lap NOT backstroke...

    There's quite a few forums and chat on this subject already and it has been debated ever since he did it!

    For my mind I don't accept that 15m underwater fly kick on the back is backstroke. It is an element of backstroke swimming that has come into the sport as swimmers have become more adept at fast kicking underwater - and rules, such as 15m distance, have been introduced to embrace and regulate its use.

    Without a severe overhaul of all regulations of what constitutes strokes and allowable underwater phases I'm not convinced there is an issue...

    After all, his winning time of 1:55.81 was nearly a second slower than the time he won the same event in 2 years previous (1:54.98) and nearly 2 seconds slower than his own World Record (1:54.00)!

    So in conclusion kids, don't kick on your back on the freestyle leg of the 200 IM. Not because its illegal, but because it makes you slower :)

    When to begin a strength training programme, in terms of chronological age, is always a much asked question. Fear of long term damage, stunting growth or damaging bones that are not fully matured are all common concerns and coaches will often delay strength programmes until late teen years. Usually however, this is due to a misconception of what we term as strength training and a lack of understanding of the modalities strength and conditioning coaches use to support athlete development.

    Generally when we think of strength training we imagine weights, drawing up connotations of heavy barbells being repeatedly lifted over head, or vistas of bulky guys sat hitting rep after rep of a bicep curl with a solid iron dumbbell spring to mind. And if this were the case then for sure, lets not encourage kids to do this (in fact lets not encourage most adults to do this either!!!!!) But strength training doesn't all have to be about weights - not if we strip the term strength right down its most fundamental level.

    Strength can be described as “the ability to produce force against resistance” and within this term we only have to look at new born babies to see that at the beginning of life, so does the strength training programme begin!! Supine babies will kick their legs against the sides of the cot in order to begin developing the strength they will need one day to walk. Rotational strength is developed as the bambino exerts force through its torso in order to attempt to roll onto its front - and so on through lifting its body to crawl and the eventual bi-pedal stance as its first step draws ever nearer!

    In reality strength work is all about increasing the body’s ability to exert or withstand force and whilst it would be wholly unnecessary for a 12 year old swimmer to be hitting max effort bench press reps there are many more subtle methods of training that will over time prepare the swimmer fully for when the resistance does need increasing. Not only that but if conducted properly in a controlled environment, these training methods are fun and far safer than some childhood sports - particularly contact sports, that all include various lunging, jumping and twisting patterns, only with the added fear that mid twist you might get blind-sided by an opposing player and end up in a pained heap on the floor! Not fun (for most anyway!!!!!!!!!)

    The key points here, whether talking about a young swimmer or a baby, are that the strength work is appropriate - and as long as it is appropriate, fit for purpose and safe then the only truly limiting factor will be an athletes mental readiness! Babies will crawl when they are ready! We need to get better at discerning when our athletes are ready to begin a supplementary programme as opposed to asking are they the right age…

    Can they listen to instruction, follow safety guidelines and appreciate the level and standard of work required from them to embark on this new regime? Can they be trusted to respect equipment, other trainees and staff? Can they appreciate the risks associated with improper form? And ultimately do they understand the reasons why they are doing it and the benefit that will ensue?

    There is certainly no rush to get kids into strength programmes as for a large portion growth and varied sport will play the biggest role in strength and conditioning. However, once a swimmer, or track athlete or football player, begins to show enthusiasm to get more involved in the sport, supplementary strength work can be a great way to develop a rounded athlete and allot training time to beneficial activities that will keep training interesting and fun…