Sunday, June 13, 2010

Small Uproar

Last week I wrote a blog about swimmers and how some clubs in Canada refuse to follow their national LTAD and instruct kids at 12 or 13 to quit water polo (or second sports) to participate solely in Speed Swimming. Wow, that got some odd reaction as the blog was circulated widely by a swimming organization trying to discredit me and what I wrote.

What is interesting is that some of their coaches wrote to me thanking me for what I wrote or saying that they agreed with me. That shows me that there is an unrest in the Swim community that I was not aware of ie an internal turmoil about the swimming LTAD and how it should be applied against the club model that has developed over so many years.

I had said previously that Speed Swimming, as a sport, is not the problem and that I was reacting to SOME swim clubs. That needs to be repeated as I have had that confirmed by several coaches who state clearly that they agree with me and what I wrote. If you are a swim coach, or club, that follows the LTAD ie uses it appropriately, then I am sorry if my discussion of swimming was so broad as to imply that all swim clubs misuse their development science.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Athletes and families Misled by Swim Clubs

The title to this blog has been changed and the word "abuse" has been removed. That is because Water Polo Canada and Manitoba Water Polo are having to deal with complaints from swimming about my opinions (as a career club coach) and that was not my intent. Those swim organizations refuse to talk to me directly. The content of the blog remains due to the way many Canadian Swim clubs force pre-teen specialization that goes against sport science. I will do an additional blog later on why I decided to change the word abuse in my title as it relates to their LTAD.

I say "defies science" and I will quote from the Swim Canada LTAD document later to specify what I am talking about. This topic has come up because I coach a few young water polo players ie 14U who are 2 sport athletes and get pressure from swimming to do just one sport (swimming) and drop water polo, even if they came to swimming to improve water polo. Of course, all sport science data tells coaches and parents that multiple sports are advisable for a 12-14 year old, that specialization is to be avoided and that balance and physical literacy is important. When a swim coach tells a parent their child is "really good" and should be in group "X" or program "Y", based on their skill, it bullies them into following for fear of failing their child. It's bullying because their own LTAD documents say what they're doing is wrong.

Any coach who ignores the sport science from Sport Canada and their national governing body, simply to keep kids away from other sports or to generate more program revenue, is operating in ethical darkness where they can never defend their actions. I don't say this as a general dismissal of speed swimming, I say it in response to what a few athletes I coach bring to me in tears or frustration. Maybe specifics are needed.

Today I had a 12 year old in tears at the pool thinking she had been to her last water polo practice because her future swim coach had forbidden her to break ranks and miss practice to play a second sport. That is, the swim practices that include 13.5 hours of pool time per week are 100% mandatory for a young girl not yet 13. Let's look at what the Swim Canada LTAD says about that, and I'll quote.

Speed Swimming - Train to Train

- Enjoying a lifestyle of sport and activity
- Chronological ages - Female: 11 to 14 Male: 12 to 15

Amount of physical activity, including non-swimming:
6-12 sessions per week
60-120 minute sessions
- Pool time (hrs): 12-24
- Participation in 1-2 other sport activities through a year

Let's look at that introduction, it speaks volumes. The amount of physical activity is 12-24 hours per week and it clearly includes "non-swimming" in that equation. By mentioning non swimming it makes it perfectly clear that there is other activity to be accounted for. There is even a breakdown of how many other sports should be part of the athletes routine (ie 1-2). This is from Sport Canada, based on credible sport science, and delivered to clubs through Swim Canada. There is nothing here created by me or by water polo, I am just writing about a dysfunction in Canadian swimming that everyone can see for themselves if they are not afraid to look.

Let's hold a local swim clubs training load for a 12-13 year old girl up to their sport's national LTAD;

TAG group swimming - 8 pool sessions/week and 13.5 hours,

NAT group swimming - 9 pool sessions/week and 16 hours.

Both groups have total training volume that falls within the time and frequency stated in the LTAD but, they do it IN ONE SPORT! That is early specialization and it leads to injury and burn out while preventing physical literacy. How can a 12 year old girl possibly know who she will be at 19, what her body will eventually be like (height, muscle make up, flexibility) what her personality and interests will be? Without knowing these things about themselves they are being asked to narrow focus much too soon.

How difficult would it be for a swim club to work with a water polo club to provide 6-8 hours per week of training in each sport for 12 - 14 year old kids? Not very, since I have been open to this for over a decade if anyone wants to work with me on it. That would provide 12-16 hours per week in a pool, just like the swim clubs dictate now, but it would be balanced over 2 sports that have complimentary but not duplicate training. This would prevent burn out, encourage greater physical literacy and provide athletes more options for the future as their skills and physical growth define a path toward sport success.

One of the key differences in our community right now is that I am working with athletes and families to find pathways to success. I offer permission to explore a second sport during a water polo season (and a 3rd in summer!) and try to have dialogue about these meshing with water polo. By contrast, swim clubs demand that swimmers follow a narrow program focus and refuse permission to negotiate a 2 sport season. That means any family with a child in swimming will be going against the wishes of the swim club by keeping their child in water polo - even if that is where they came from in the first place.

I could prevent the swim clubs from the strong arm position they take now if Manitoba allowed "unattached" swimmers to enter swim meets (ie from a water polo club). But they can't be part of the sport, and we all know why. Too many records would be held by water polo players, too many relay medals given out to girls wearing suits with zippers. Sad, I always approach coaching as if it were for the kids and their development. Too bad not all sports are willing to do that.

Coming up next, a blog about "what do you get from swimming/water polo if you aren't headed to a National Team?"