Nation's Tri blog

underwater swim3

I recently read an article asking the age?old question that has plagued any and all triathletes: Do you really need a swim coach? And the answer should always come back as a resounding yes. It’s the same reason why we will spend the money to install titanium screws to hold down the water bottle cage, carbon fiber forks for the front wheel and $130 running shoes vs. $49 specials. You get the point.

Many times I witness triathletes with their workout in hand unloading their workout bag in front of their respected lane ready to go. They lay out their written swim plan so carefully prepared for them by their tri coach or their freshly printed off cookie?cutter workout not really sure if the distance is even right for them.

They are ready, willing and not so always able to accomplish the workout they so want to complete. They laboriously move from one set to the next working much harder than necessary. Just the satisfaction of reporting back to their coach they successfully completed the workout sometimes is more satisfying and more important than the content of their swim. I have witnessed time and time again swimmers who clearly have an understanding of the basics of swimming, the conceptual ideas of drills and why they do them, though when they get into the water and “practice” they have no real idea they may or may not be doing them correctly and think it is all going well!

I continually use a term with my athletes that goes like this: Keep doing what you are doing and you are going to get really good at doing it really bad! I believe few would argue that out of the three disciplines swimming is the most technical and most frustrating. So, with that being said, one would think that is where proficiency would want to manifest itself. I have heard responses from athletes like: “Oh, it’s the shortest of the three disciplines, I will muscle my way through the water and make it up on the bike.” and “I am not a swimmer so what’s the big deal?” It is disheartening to be in the lane next to the guy who is knocking off numbing time splits with what appears minimal work and moves like a porpoise through the water.

I recall when in college I had to take Biology and within a short three week period of time I was already failing miserably. It was recommended to me that I get a tutor (coach) to help me with the areas of difficulty. Well, when it was all said and done, I finished the semester with a B. So what I am suggesting is get yourself a tutor (coach). You will surely benefit from someone who truly understands triathlon swimming.

The benefits of a Tri Swim Coach are numerous:

• You have a coach so you can ask lots of questions and get plenty of good answers and feedback. For example, as one of my swimmers comes into the wall right after completing a corrective drill set I will always ask the same question: “How did that feel?” and wait for their response. I will never tell them what they want to hear. If they respond positively, that is good and I tell them to do it again. If they felt it was not quite right, the next question I ask is: “So what are you going to do to fix it?” I make my swimmers an integral part of their solution.

• A coach can observe your stroke drills and make sure you are doing them correctly. If a coach is not observing your technique you are probably “getting very good at doing them very bad.”

• A coach gets to know your strengths and weaknesses and writes drills sets and workouts that best suits your particular needs. A coach also knows the distances needed for each workout and customizes this feature accordingly.

• A coach maintains a strong presence on the swim deck, always moving, very vocal and is your biggest cheer leader.

• A coach can supply appropriate articles, websites and videos to review to establish a strong swim base.

As an active endurance athlete and triathlon swim coach I know what I would expect from my workouts and from my coach: the opportunity to improve, become more efficient and effective, develop as a more proficient swimmer and most important to continue to have fun during the process.

Frank Sole

Frank Sole is a premier swim coach and tactician with extensive experience coaching high school swim teams, club teams, masters swim programs and working with all levels of triathletes from beginner right up to Kona qualifiers. Frank enjoys writing about triathlon training, technique development, relationships and the lighter side of triathlon. You can read more from Frank over at Sole Swim Solutions.