Thursday, November 25, 2010

Wow! What a trip!


I'm sat on the tarmac at Dubai International Airport awaiting my final leg back to sunny Perth. It's been an absolutely awesome trip and I thought I'd share with you some of what we've been doing in the last 3 weeks over in the UK as it's topped even my own expectations. It's a long read, but hopefully interesting...

Before I get into that, I hope you've also had a great 3 weeks training with the other excellent coaches in my absence and that you've found it all to be a nice balance and a good bit of variety. I'd love to hear back from you about your experiences of this last 3 week period and whether or not there is anything I can do to manage and improve it further for the next time. I'd like to formally thank Shelley, Sandy, Adam, Glen, Nikki, Sally and Ceinwen for all their assistance and will be aiming to touch base with all the coaches in the next fortnight to see how it all went.

What we do here in Perth with the swim squad forms very much the central hub of everything that is "Swim Smooth" and has been for the last 6 years. Your participation in these sessions is absolutely integral to what we do when we head overseas on these coaching projects, as it is through this day-to-day coaching in such an awesome place as Perth that new ideas are formulated and tested out. Without your support and active interest in these sessions, what we do overseas wouldn't be able to happen anywhere near as effectively. Likewise, the new stimulus that I get with these 2-3 times per year trips overseas spurs me on with new and exciting ideas to bring back to Perth as well. It all goes hand in hand and I consider myself extremely lucky to be able to do this and absolutely love doing what I do. Thank you all for allowing me these opportunities.

Back to the trip. As you may recall, one of the big things that prompted the trip to the UK was that the British Triathlon Federation (an organisation 4 or 5 times larger than Triathlon Australia) have recently signed us (Swim Smooth) up as their official coaching consultants. This essentially means that we have, and will be, producing video content, online media and helping rewrite the swim coaching syllabus for the BTF's 3,000+ registered coaches. This is an amazing thing for us to be part of given that when I created Swim Smooth almost exactly 6 years ago I had no idea that things would grow like they have, especially in the last 18 months since we released the new website and Mr Smooth. Mr Smooth has been downloaded over 35,000 times since launch in July 2009 and we have over 30,000 people around the world receiving our once weekly tip on improving their swimming technique. We have also built up a network of over 300 international coaches who are keen on eventually becoming affiliated with Swim Smooth as we start to develop that area of our operation. It is this that really excites me and formed the biggest part of what we have been working on over the last 3 weeks.

We kicked off the 3 week tour by inviting 12 international coaches to spend 3 days with us at the prestigious Loughborough University (home of the British Swimming and Triathlon team) learning about our coaching methods and in particular video analysis and stroke correction using our newly released Swim Types system. It was a lot of fun, and much of the discussions and interactions carried on well into the evening and very early hours as we all stayed together in a quaint little hotel. 

Spending this close, quality time with 12 experienced coaches who want to soak up everything you can offer is for me what coaching is all about - shared knowledge and constructive interactions with like-minded people. I don't see any value at all in being closed or "secretive" with your training methods and this 3 day course provided the perfect opportunity to pass on some of what we have learnt and developed over the years. 

We had pre-selected the coaches from over 30 international coaches who had registered within the first 24 hours of announcing the course, at which stage we decided to close the applications. It was unfortunate that we couldn't invite all of the coaches on this course, though we wanted to maintain a high level of quality and 1-2-1 work educating the coaches with our methods. We also paid for and flew in the highly popular Montreal-based coach Charles Gaston Coutrier who many in the online coaching fraternity simply know as "Solar Energy". Charles will be working with us on numerous projects in the next 12 to 24 months and it was great to have him over in the UK for this first week of the tour, sharing his incite, knowledge and HUGE passion for the sport - if you think I get excited about "Fresh and Fruity" sessions, wait till you meet Charles!

Over the 3 days we were very fortunate to have been allowed access to film 2006 Commonwealth Games dual gold medallist Ross Davenport who kindly gave up his time to swim for the coaches whilst the coaches observed his freestyle stroke as myself and Adam captured some unique video footage. His stroke was truly amazing and not too dissimilar to Jono Van Hazel's. We asked Ross to do a fast 100m kicking set and he easily cruised home in 1'12" (legs only!) and then followed up with a seemingly effortless 55 seconds 100m freestyle from a dive. Ross had only just returned from the Commonwealth Games in Delhi and so getting this access to him was brilliant and we have to thank Dean, Julie and Steve our friends at Blue Seventy Wetsuits for organising this all for us. Later that day we were privileged to have access to Loughborough University's swim team training session which featured many of Britain's best swimmers (including Ross, Jo Jackson, Fran Halsall etc etc) under the watchful eye of legendary swim coaches Ian Armiger and Ben Titley. The coaches were thoroughly enthused after all of this as you can probably imagine.

We delivered a good mix of classroom theory and pool based practical work for the coaches in the first two days which culminated with each of the coaches having to perform a full video analysis in front of their peers of some stock footage which I have collated over the years. This was a real highlight for me as it gave us chance to see how well the coaches were now applying the knowledge and skills we'd been building up over the last two days. 

We rounded off the three day course with a full "Swim Smooth Clinic" for 12 independent swimmers and triathletes who sought our assistance with video analysis and stroke correction to help them improve their efficiency in the water. I assigned one coach per athlete and then ran a coach-led session for the 12 swimmers with each of the coaches working with their athletes in a 1-2-1 scenario. This worked extremely well and gave the swimmers unprecedented attention which they would not have been able to get at their local pool or swim club. We finished the day with a demonstration on the benefits of drafting. Legendary UK ironman athlete and multiple world fitness champion Hywel Davies had registered for the course as he felt he had plateaued off at ~55 minutes for the ironman swim distance of 3.8km. Given that Hywel has already gone sub-8:50 for the ironman, he is aiming to get his swim time down to as close to 50 minutes as possible. One area that I felt he could probably improve upon (as he trains totally by himself) is on drafting. He came into the course with a PB for 400m of ~5'45" and so I suggested that we'd work together over a timed 400m with the goal of Hywel sitting on my feet and aiming for a swim time of 5'20". Drafting has been shown to save you up to 38% of your energy expenditure and this is why our Saturday 1pm session is always entirely focussed on this skill. I thought it totally reasonable that 5'20" would be possible if paced correctly and if my turns weren't too fast (as Hywel doesn't tumble-turn). We didn't quite make 5'20" in the end (5'29") as my turns were a touch on the quick side (what can I say - I had good coaching as a kid!), but Hywel hung in there easily at this pace and was convinced that this speed (and faster) would be maintainable if worked upon over the British winter. What's more, we asked one of the other swimmers (Rob) who was a 7'15" 400m swimmer to hop in with us and trying drafting behind us over 50m and he had no problem staying with us once we sheltered him correctly. This proved very inspiring for Rob and also all the other swimmers who were watching the events unfold on the pool deck.

So, after we'd finished our three day stint in Loughborough, we waved goodbye to the world class facilities there and headed off to six more sold-out one day Clinics. We visited Coventry where they were commemorating the rebuilding of the cathedral after the second world war, bonny Glasgow with a stunning view over the River Clyde, my childhood neighbourhood of Manchester and then finally three more clinics in north-west London. All told we covered nearly 2500km in 2.5 weeks and saw a plethora of different pools and meeting / hotel rooms as well as a huge diversity of swim strokes all fitting neatly within our Swim Types system. This system allows us to accurately identify exactly what is holding someone back within their stroke and then work to systematically implement a range of drills and visualisations to help improve these aspects. What's more, it's a lot of fun and seeing the swimmers easily recognising their own stroke against our example Swim Types and matching this up with our proposed link with their individual personalities proved highly entertaining for everyone.

It was a great trip, made even more special by the knowledge that I'm coming back to a great group of swimmers here in Perth, ready to enjoy a great summer of swimming! I'm also excited about the prospect of sitting my Australian Citizenship exam on Friday (eight years in the making) and also the news that we've been successful in purchasing our very first humble little home in Innaloo. Happy days. Your support and interest in all that we do in Perth is what makes all of this possible and for that I am truly grateful to each and every one of you. Thank you.

I'll see you all from Monday next week once I've settled back in and got over the jet lag! 



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