proposed a popular theory that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to
become an expert at something, anything. You want to be an expert
guitar player, cook, or nuclear physicist; you better start putting
in your 10,000 hours or practice. In swimming, with the high demand
of training and the long season, an eight year old starting out at
any program will probably reach the 10,000 hour mark before the age
of twenty. There are a lot of 10,000 hour swimmers, the supposed
“expert” and yet there are only a few athletes who rise above
the crowd to win championships. What are they doing differently?
Is it a physical trait? A mental trait? A personality type? Is
their a common mind frame that distinguishes this group?
I put the question
to Dave Johnson, Director of Swimming and Head Coach of Cascade
Swimming. Dave came to Cascade with over thirty years of coaching
experience (that’s over 100,000 hours of coaching experience), and
had coached at every Olympic games for Canada since 1976, as well as
the National Team Head Coach for over 11 years. Since taking over
as the Head Coach of Cascade Swimming, the club has become the
fastest improving team in Canada, as well as the number one Age Group
Program in the country, which culminated into the Men’s Title at
the Spring Senior Nationals in 2013. In Johnson’s words, “We
pride ourselves on homegrown talent. The majority of our kids at
Nationals started with us as 10&U”. Out of the 11 senior men
who swam for Cascade at Senior Nationals, 7 of them started as 10&U
in the program.
right mind frame for elite swimming is not left to chance but is
implemented in the program and built around the club principles.
With the help of assistant coaches Wendy Johnson and Ildi Deliu,
Cascade re-developed their entire age group program and built it
around 5 key principles:
are weighted differently depending on the athlete’s age and group.
For example, at 12&Under, keeping the athletes with their same
social age group is the most important factor and performance is the
least important factor. Fast forward to 15&Over and the reverse
is true: performance is the most important factor and age is the
up the list in importance as the athletes become older. The coaches
at Cascade encourage their young athletes to take up other sports and
activities to become balanced individuals, or what Johnson calls,
“gain physical literacy.” But there comes a time when the
athlete has to pick their sport and attendance is only second to
performance, as seen in the following chart:
With the program framework in place,
the Cascade coaches are able to better identify potential competitors
because they are not only looking at meet performance as their sole
criteria. It also allows the Cascade coaches to build the program
around the individual’s needs and gives them room to grow into
athletes as they progress through the program.
right club culture starts with the coach’s program, but it ends
with the individual swimmer. Johnson seems to be always on the look
out for athletes that bring their individual love to the sport, “when
we see kids who really respect the sport and love it for the right
reasons then those are the kids you can really do something special
I asked Coach
Johnson to provide a TOP 5 list of skills swimmers should develop at
the age group level to prepare them for international competition.
He came up with a list of 5 swimming intangibles.
THE TOP 5 SWIMMING
The ability to win a close
race. That doesn’t mean only for 1st place. Do
you win the races between 7th and 8th? Do you
have that competitive fire to touch the wall before the person
beside you? Win those close races!
The ability to take video or
verbal instructions and apply it to swimming. Can you watch
a YouTube clip on streamlines and use what you’ve learnt in the
pool? Can you take what the coach says about your hand entry and
make that adjustment during practice? Can you apply what more
experienced coach’s are trying to communicate to you? Are you able
to focus on making those adjustments during practice?
The ability to assess the
competition and strategize your race. Can you rise to the
occasion at a big meet? Do you know and respect your competition?
Can you make and stick to a race plan? Can you change a race plan
if things aren’t working?
Love of the sport.
Do you love the training and competition demands? Do you love
figuring splits or improving your time? Do you love the thrill of
victory and the pain of defeat? Love the game, but know it’s just
Become a student of the
sport. Do you know your split times, stroke counts, stroke
rates for your favorite events? Do you know the world record
holder for your events? Do you know their splits, stroke counts and
stroke rates? Learn the finer details of swimming. Read articles
and books. Watch past Olympics. Know the players.
For all you Age
Group swimmers reading this article, you can practice these skills no
matter what program or club you’re swimming with. You can start
putting these intangibles into practice today!
Dave Johnson is
once again hosting Summer Swim Camps in Calgary, July and August
2014. Check out cascadeswimming.com for more information.