At Carmel High School and Carmel Swim Club, we just finished the annual cycle of the Indiana High School Championship meets. In many ways these meets were successful, the Carmel High School girls team won its 26th consecutive state championship and the boys won their third in a row and 14th overall. Carmel Swim Club was also extremely successful and well represented through the ranks of nearby high school swim teams. I imagine there are numerous college and club coaches in the same proverbial boat as us at Carmel– we’ve had success at the first championship meet, but now what?
First, we need to recognize human behavior. With any margin of success, there is a natural human tendency to relent, to give yourself a pat on the back, to enjoy your success, and to say, “this is far enough.” I feel it myself, and the swimmers have displayed these behaviors and attitudes in workouts over the past few weeks. At the same time, I know there are faster swims in our team. From the beginning of the season, our plan has been to swim fast in February and March. Speaking from my own experiences both as a coach and an athlete, you can see the most improvement in a swimmer, particularly with a focused and driven athlete, after a rest or taper period. This time is a golden opportunity to improve: you have rested and licked your wounds, speed is abundant, weaknesses or areas to improve are fresh in the mind, and you have another quality meet to attend in a short amount of time.
Personally, I know significant improvements can happen; the best example I can give is when I went from 4:26 in the 500 free at Big Ten’s (ninth place at the time) to 4:22 at the NCAA meet (12th place). As a swimmer goes through the season, you are not always sure of where you stand. For me, performance is reality and my Big Ten meet told me exactly where I stood. From there, I was able to swim with confidence and knew what I had to do to get better: improve my turns, swim faster pace times in workout, and find “easy speed”. I have heard former Auburn coach and current Notre Dame women’s coach Brian Barnes discuss how much better the Auburn men got from SEC’s to NCAA’s. Brian pointed out to me the men at Auburn spent a lot of time fixing the details; their starts, turns, and technique. Simply, they were not satisfied. As coaches, we need to find ways to motivate and prevent complacency in attitudes and behaviors in our swimmers. Opportunities for further improvement are bountiful, and we have an impetus to prepare each athlete to be at their best again.
I believe it comes down to mindset. We must have strength in our convictions, work to maintain trust in our plan and its execution, and have an unshakeable faith in ourselves and in those around us. We must know better swims are there for each swimmer, and that going forward and improving is the only way. As coaches, we must trust in the athlete, preach opportunity, and know that success is not divided into pieces of the same pie. Rather, success can be found in abundance. One of the most difficult issues for our high school team is the limitations on entries for our state tournament series to three spots per event. The pie is only so big. At USS meets and for those vying for the next step up the ladder, success is everywhere. There is no limit on the number of swimmers that can swim at the Olympic Trials, US Open, Junior Nationals, Sectionals, or the LSC State meet. It is a gift that the day after our high school season ends we can remind our swimmers of this. In turn, they work to create an enthusiastic and positive practice environment, which helps our team immensely from the close of high school season into our next club championship meet.
Lastly, keep on trying. For example, in early June 2008, we had an athlete just miss the Olympic Trial cut in the 200 IM at a meet we peaked for. Ten days later, she narrowly missed the cut at another meet. After the event she is crying, happy, and relieved all at the same time because her quest for an Olympic Trial cut was over—or so she thought. We asked her to time trial one more time, and she got the cut the next night! Our belief in this swimmer’s ability was unshakable. We breathed confidence into her and her teammates in the possibility of opportunity. How many cuts do swimmers get in the Time Trials at Nationals and Junior Nationals? I see plenty and you know they rested and tapered sometime in the three to four weeks prior to the meet. Somehow, someway those swimmers and coaches found ways to improve in the space between.
By Chris Plumb. He is the head coach of Carmel Swim Club in Carmel, Indiana. As Carmel high school head coach Chris has coached the team for the last 5 of their 25 consecutive women and 2 of the boys last 13 state titles.