Article published in Australia’s Swim Coaches Journal
by Swim Coaches Mark Rauterkus of USA and Damien Gogoll of Australia
Tracking swimmers’ performances and improvements is advantageous for aiding long-term success for individuals and teams. A challenge for coaches is to isolate and track key elements beyond the ubiquitous times from the eventual race results.
Many of the tracking challenges can be handled with a system-wide approach by coaches in ways similar to how business executives consider economics. With the help of new technology tools, the data and evidence is more attainable too. Today’s coaching business is shifting its best practices toward data-driven decisions that impact both motivation and technique improvements for the swimmers.
A four-step, systematic series used for gaining knowledge for continual improvement that was developed in business, the Deming Wheel, applies to swimming. This concept was introduced to Dr. Deming and Walter Shewhart of the Bell Laboratories. See the illustration.
Chart used in business. The cycle goes: Plan, Do, Study, Act.
Summary for swimming: First, coaches and program leaders establish seasonal plans. Second, they deliver and do practices as designed within the plan. Third, outcomes are monitored to test the validity of the plan, its progress and associated problems with focused study. Fourth, the final step, the action – the act of swimming as fast as possible. This four-step cycle (plan, do, study, act) is called the PDSA Cycle.
Business summary: The cycle begins with the Plan step. This involves identifying a goal or purpose, formulating a theory, defining success metrics and putting a plan into action. These activities are followed by the Do step, in which the components of the plan are implemented, such as making a product. Next comes the Study step, where outcomes are monitored to test the validity of the plan for signs of progress and success, or problems and areas for improvement. The Act step closes the cycle, integrating the learning generated by the entire process, which can be used to adjust the goal, change methods or even reformulate a theory altogether. These four steps are repeated over and over as part of a never-ending cycle of continual improvement.
An astute development plan for swimmers can flourish within the same cycle. Determined coaches and athletes can agree upon, document and record their efforts. And in the final acts, perform better.
Consider these perspectives in a seasonal scenario with coaches and swim teams. At the outset, in the pre-season as swimmers arrive at their clubs, a baseline of capabilities and performances are measured. The baseline measurements are obtained as the season commences.
Goals then come into focus. Reasonably consider what the coaches and athletes are striving to accomplish. Where are we trying to get to? When?
Consider how the appropriate plan and programme manifests itself regarding the necessary workload and commitment. What specifics are required? Progress checkpoints and monitoring outcomes serve as details for accountability. Goals expand past where and when targets to include how and when as well.
Once the training programme is under way, progress needs to be tracked and compared regularly to the baseline. As the programme progresses, the view and focus should transition towards a greater visibility of, and comparison with, the goal, rather than the baseline.
Representing progress and tracking those hoped for gains along the pathway to the goals becomes paramount for coaches and swimmers. Without the necessary details and specific tracking insights, athletes might remain clueless throughout the season. Athletes need more than a grasp of hope to accomplish peak performances in the season’s final steps.
Programs, coaches and swimmers that understand and use the proper measurements to represent progress can cycle ahead in their development. The progress and recurring development is the leverage that beats the completion.
Race times give obvious answers. But surely, final times in race results have contributing aspects that can be measured, assessed, addressed, and improved. Consider this paraphrased micro of the PDSA cycle with different terms: MAAI (measure, asses, address, improve).
Ten objective measures:
- Start / reaction time
- Turn time
- Distance per stroke
- Stroke rate
- Stroke count
- Stroke index
* SWOLF is an abbreviation for “Swim Golf.” A SWOLF score is obtained by adding together strokes per length and the time for the length. Swim 20 strokes in 30 seconds gives a SWOLF score of 50.
The obtaining, displaying and recording of the objective measurements of fitness and strength are topics for later discussions. All ten measurements are components and modes within the tech tools provided within the AutoCoach systems. The details, data and its discovery contain a bulk of the challenge that the proper technology tools can bring to these missions.
Clear representation of the ten objective measures over time provides more detailed pictures of what the swimmers and coaches have achieved.
Accompanying the objective measures, coaches make subjective assessments and recommendations such as with technique, stroke development and posture. Clearly, coaching expertise based on knowledge, experience and observations made by skilled and learned professionals accelerates improvements. The ten objective measures are largely the OUTCOME of the subjective bits.
Surely clear pictures of baselines, goals and progress motivates the swimmers. At times of review, swimmers can see clearly what they have achieved by concentrating and working on the different facets. These facets have been nominated, understood and agreed upon. When appropriate, goals and plans can be revised. Specific measures help greatly.
In reality, the tracking of only the objective measurements is insufficient without the appropriate subjective references from the professional coaches. Data and the objective bits provide key inputs to the plans. The data should be referenced clearly, perhaps with video evidence, to illustrate what improvement opportunities were identified, and then how they were and are addressed.
Other objective and subjective measures can be particular in developing swimmers that fall beyond the list presented here. Consider ability, age, height, and a host of other factors that surely fail to record themselves on stop watches. Most coaches lend appropriate focus upon the additional factors such as personal achievement, fulfillment, applied work ethic, and compliance with squad requirements.
Progressive coaches can witness their own performance, efficiency and achievements too. They are well represented via the same improvement cycles and tracking tools.
Finally, presenting clear, positive and professional information to the parents and guardians of the swimmers is often priceless. Effective client management fosters a positive mindset and good work ethic on the part of the swimmers, and support from the parents. Those are key intangibles that influence success of teams, businesses and careers.
Demonstrable success is not just about medals. Demonstrable success should be a component within any business model.
Jacco Verhaeren, Australia’s National Head Coach in Swimming, giving a keynote presentation at a coaches conference in Melbourne, Australia, on a Saturday in October, 2017. The co-author of this article, Damien, was in attendance, took the photo during the session. The journal containing this article was being mailed to members / subscribers that week.