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After a long rest

What makes a great swimmer?

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Several months ago I was asked by my masters coach Tom to consider coaching one or more of the age group training groups. At first I was reluctant, due to my crazy work schedule and my fear of making a commitment I could not honor. With some creative thinking Tom made it pretty easy for me to give it a try. We devised a method by which 3 coaches were assigned to 2 groups and between the three of us we cover the groups with the fall back that if none of us is available Tom would cover. We each have hectic schedules but a monthly coordination email on travel dates allows us to make sure we have the group covered. I have also tried managing my travel calendar so that I miss no more than a day each week. Most of my work trips are two days and if I time them right I can travel the morning of my kids off day and be back for practice the next day. I still get the crazy weeks but communication with the coaching team has enabled us to make it work so far.

I can not put into words how much I have REALLY enjoyed working with the kids in the group. I knew I would like it because I am passionate about swimming but did not realize how rewarding the entire coaching experience would be. In most cases the kids in my group don't have any USAS motivational times and have significant technical challenges with most if not all of their strokes. Despite knowing how to swim I have never really had to put it into words how to do a stroke; I have always been on the receiving end of the advice. I had never had to break strokes down into small bite sized pieces so that a new swimmer could make improvement without having to get the whole recipe right. It's been intellectually challenging, frustrating and exhilarating and at times all at the same time.

One of my 11 year old kids asked me what he needed to do to be a great swimmer. On face value this would seem like a simple question and as I started to explain what I believed made a great swimmer, my list got longer and longer. I thought this would be a great list to document and wanted to share my list.

Great Technique - Do you have the best stroke technic possible? For example on freestyle do you have a long streamline stroke, strong slightly forward looking head position, great catch with early vertical forearm, a complete and strong streamline pull straight under body with no pause, six beat kick in sync with your pull, tight quick turns, strong body position and leg position on the wall, streamline push from the wall, engaged dolphin kick at the point the push is about to slow, great transition from dolphin to flutter kick with no pause and a strong pull and stroke before first breath.
Desire - how much do you demonstrate that you want to be all you can be?
Handling negativity - what do you do with negativity? It's a fact of life that things don't always go as you hope so how do you handle these situations. Do negatives motivate you or do they destroy you.
Toughness - Can you dig deep and race even when you are spent or in pain.
Vision - can you see where you want to be before you are there. Can you see and feel your goal, like it's already happened.
Listening and coachable - can you really hear what your being told and are you able to do something about it.
Strength, Power and Flexibility - are you as strong, powerful and flexible as you can be and can you translate these with ease into the pool?
Nutrition and hydration - what kind of fuel and oil do you put in your personal car. Regular or premium, synthetic or natural
Sleep and rest - is your body able to recover between workouts and races
Racing - Great swimmers race, that's what they do! Practice is great and where we hone the skills to race. We improve by training hard and smart but we also learn how to race by racing. Nothing replaces getting on the block or in the pool and just going for it. It shows us our improvement and what we need to work on next.
A plan - it's one thing to know your goals but another to have a plan to get there. What's your plan?

I don't believe that there is one unique recipe to make a great swimmer but I do believe if you ranked these attributes above on a scale of 1-10, high scores in each category lead to a great swimmer. I also believe that EVERY swimmer on the planet can get better, they can find something on this list they can improve on.

I plan on sharing this with my kids and welcome any input.

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Updated October 15th, 2015 at 04:43 PM by StewartACarroll



  1. pwb's Avatar
    Here are some, the first one of which you might not ... without reading #2 ... think you should share with your young swimmers, but you should.

    Inherit the right genes - Yeah, luck of the genetic draw plays a factor. Much has been made about the body/wingspan/torso ratio of greats like Phelps and Franklin. I know, Stewart, that you and I have undoubtedly benefited greatly from being as tall as we are (as Mr. Unruh likes to point out).

    ... but you are not the sum of your genes - there are far too many examples of swimmers who don't fit the "swimmer body" stereotype who go on to greatness. And, many examples of people who do have that body who don't attain greatness.

    ... and you are not the sum of your swims - too many swimmers, as they get older, wrap too much of their identity up in their results. You mentioned racing and I think most young swimmers enjoy racing. What is hard to remember as a swimmer progresses through their later age group and into college years is the joy of racing. Maybe it's just me, but when I let racing become all about making "the cut" or the "A final" or "the podium," I lost the joy, I lost my motivation and it really became a sort of death-spiral to both my performance and my enjoyment of the sport. If there's one bit of magic fairy dust (subject to WADA regulations) I'd love to sprinkle on every late high school to collegiate swimmer it is the joy of racing that I have discovered as a Masters swimmer
  2. StewartACarroll's Avatar
    I agree about the genes being a big plus but I also agree that they alone don't make a great swimmer. I will incorporate your suggestions. I think the kids will like the list. Thanks.
  3. flystorms's Avatar
    Good for you for getting into coaching. It's so rewarding to watch your peeps change over time with patience and hard work. You also might find yourself analyzing your own stroke more and making small improvements. Glad to hear you're having a great time with it already!