Good swimming turns|importance of fast turns?

Good swimming turns

good swimming turns

Good swimming turns can make the difference between podium/medal or a fourth place.  We take a look at the importance of training to do great turns during swim meets.

During our last swim meet, our young swimmer was off normal race pace with approximately 7-10 seconds.  We were not upset about this as firstly, the swim meet was just an age group gala and secondly, we know that in any training program, there are highs and lows.  We monitor training times and saw the slower times since November 2015 after a peak in September/October 2015, which were important months as KZN Junior championships and our own club gala takes place during these months.

The highs and lows of swimming

Every low in a program is normally followed by a high.  Coaches use these biorhythms to plan the athlete’s program in order to peak during important events.  In our current training program, we are building up towards Swimming South Africa Level 1 championships which are held from 1-3 April 2016.

On this point, as a swim mom, I just need to side with the coaches for a while.  We are friendly with swim moms from all clubs.  At swim meets, I always have a friendly chat with the other moms and many times I hear some dissatisfaction about their swimmers’ times.

Firstly, one cannot expect a swimmer, especially young swimmers, to knock seconds off their times at every swim meet.  Secondly, many of these swim moms do not know about the natural highs and lows in training and the sport.  Please discuss the point in your swimmer’s training with your coach – you will most likely see they are not worried at all.  Reason being, that they know after every “low” there will be a high and that high will easily knock 2 seconds off a swimmer’s time especially after tapering for a particular event.

The ideal situation is to sit patiently and wait for the swimmer to progress through the training program and to trust the coach, the program, and your swimmer.

Making or breaking the race with a fast turn

Times aside, during these lows where we know the best times will not be clocked, we focus on something else in the races – swimming correctly.  I.e. we check the starts, the swimming turns, and the stroke.

Good swimming turns can make the world of difference.  On Sunday, Monica swam the 200-meter breaststroke.  Her seeded time was 3:44 and she completed the race in 3:58.  Confirming the point I made earlier about the low we currently face in her swimming times.

Nevertheless, this race was stroke-for-stroke with another swimmer in lane 6 (Mica was swimming in lane 5).  4 x 50 lengths in a long course pool.  Prior to the race, I instructed Monica to swim correctly, to take her time with the turns and underwater work.  At the third and last turn, she executed a very strong underwater dolphin kick, one pull and then surfaced at approximately 5-6 meters.  The last 50-meters ended in a touch for third place and 2 hundredths of a second difference between the two swimmers.

If this swim meet was a major event, it would have been the difference between podium and a medal versus fourth place.

We video Monica’s races as we do show these videos to her after the events.  We also have to video the events to show it to the Coach that provides us with the training programs. (We live 600 km from this coach so a lot is done remotely).  You can clearly see the effect of that last turn as the swimmer in lane 6 was half a body length ahead of Monica and just by turning in an effective way, Monica made up time and distance which most likely lead to touching before the swimmer in lane 6.

Swimmers lunch box

Swimmers lunch box

– what should we pack during swim meets?

Swimmers lunch boxThe swimmers lunch box is normally the most important thing that goes into the cooler box with the water and the protein shake which the swimmer takes at the end of their events. The issue with a lunch box and a young swimmer (in our case 8 years old) is to keep it interesting and nutritious.

We are preparing for another 2-day swim meet and the issue surrounding the swimmers lunch box came up in discussion with my husband again. We know that there are food and snacks sold at the pool’s kiosk. It is normally takeaway food which does not fall withing the normal eating habits of our swimmer so we prefer to avoid it and stick to what we normally eat on race day.

Club galas versus age group galas

During club galas, the food on offer is normally a bit healthier but still revolves around hamburgers, chips, pancakes, sausage rolls and the likes thereof. We live on the East coast of South Africa, where a large Indian community resides and at some galas the aromatic smells of Biryani and rice, samosas, and other Indian cuisines, fills the air around the pool.  These foods are high in spices and for fear of an upset tummy which is not used to spicy food, we also avoid these delicious foods on offer.

It is times like these, that Google becomes swim mom’s best friend as let’s face it, none of us are qualified nutritionists, yet we are required to have the knowledge to pack swimmers lunch boxes for the ever-so-hungry swimmers.


To top all of that off, we also face issues with heat in our area – it occurred twice now that our swimmer suffered from dehydration – in 2014 during an extremely hot event over 2 days in Richards Bay and again this year in January at an age group gala. Following the galas at night time she woke up feeling nauseous, aching head and an unquenchable thirst.

We sorted these symptoms out with some Rehidrat, an oral electrolyte mixture. It is, however, not nice to go through these symptoms with your child and we now work towards preventing dehydration rather than fixing the problems.

At first, I was perplexed by this issue as we take more than 2 liters of water and a protein shake (she drinks this after the last event) to every gala. Then it struck me – our child only drinks water and milk. She recently started to add pure apple juice to the list, but in general, where other children get extra electrolytes from their energy drinks and cold drinks, Monica does not take anything else but water in during swim meets.

This resulted in a quick discussion with our GP and she confirmed my suspicion. We now go to the swim meets better prepared to avoid dehydration but it surely is a learning curve.

Besides the fluids, Monica cannot eat too much chocolate. We see some kids consume slabs of chocolate before races which always amaze me as with distance events you surely do not need sugar as the source of energy but rather longer term energy in the form of glycogen in the muscles. (I learned this from a dietician that worked out a diet for me to ensure sufficient long-term energy during my triathlon days in my twenties.)

Monica is asthmatic and the cocoa in chocolate stimulates phlegm production which leads to sinus, post nasal drip which then result in bronchitis and before we know it, we are back in the hospital with pneumonia. As a result, we keep the allergens at bay and we are very strict about it.

Pack the swimmers lunch box based on events

Back to the swimmers lunch box – I found this article quite useful which speaks about smart swimming for swimmers on race day. I was delighted when I read the article to find that we were on the right track. Our eating plan (it is actually a lifestyle rather than an eating plan) starts a couple of days before race day as we need to build energy up depending on the distances Monica will race. Coming back to this weekend’s racing, we look at the following:

I would like to give an example and will use this weekend’s racing. We look at the following:
On Saturday 6 February she will swim in the afternoon from 15:00 pm 200 back, 50 free, 100 Breast and 100 free.
On Sunday 7 February, the events will be in the morning from 8:00 am – 200 IM, 100 Back, 200 Free and 200 Breast.
Using this example, you will note that the food needs to be different on the two days.
To start off breakfast will be a wholesome meal on Saturday as she swims in the afternoon.  On Sunday, we will focus on a lighter meal as the swimming takes place in the morning.

Snacks and lunches – Saturday we can still do the 10 AM snack and fruit with a normal lunch but on Sunday snacks and lunches will have to be fast digesting food which gives immediate energy.  Doing distance will also require the use of muscle glycogen so the nutrition through the week will come into play – i.e. low gi foods which we eat as part of our normal daily allowance will start working when it is needed most.

In the photo of the swimmers lunch box, you will note that we picked some favorites which include salad items (cucumber, cherry tomato etc).  On this particular day, we did not pack a whole wheat roll as one has to be mindful of high fiber food so we took a normal white bread roll with protein on it.  Breakfast biscuits with white cheese after the race (recovery) and a home made muffin during race day.  We normally include some nuts and fruit in our cooler box and keep it all cold with ice packs.  To keep it interesting a peanut butter snack bar surprised our little swimmer.

Special eating plans and swimming

At one of the swim meets a mom asked me if Monica (Mica is her nickname) is on a special eating plan.  Initially, I thought she was joking as the child is eight and our pediatrician seriously warned us against diets for children under the age of 16.  To quote her:

Children under the age of 16 should eat and drink everything as they are growing.  Including full cream milk and the skin of chicken….

Fortunately, I just replied to the mom that she loves broccoli and spinach which is the truth.  The swim mom continued the discussion relating to how swimmers should eat and I did not comment as we have other issues at hand when I put together the week’s meal plan.  We follow a simple philosophy of two-thirds vegetable and one-third protein during non-racing weeks and when racing weekends are on the calendar we adjust as discussed above based on the distances set for race day.

Potato of any kind is a treat once in the week as we replace potato with sweet potato.  I am sure this article will elicit a lot of comments and would love to hear what other swim moms are doing and we are open to advice or suggestions.  We do not experiment with anything on race days but we will give it a try during the offseason to see if Monica likes it and during normal training to see if it has any effect on her.

What we do and the way we pack our swimmers lunch box seems to be working as our swimmer is never hungry, performs well over various distances and lately enjoyed extreme health regardless of the first 5 years where she was so sick and we spent endless days and nights in the hospital.  Enjoy the racing this weekend!!

Teenage swimming

Teenage swimming – the difficult years?

Teenage swimming

Teenage swimming is always something that is spoken about in a negative way as so many swimmers going through teenage changes decide to quit the sport.  None of us have a crystal ball to look into the future and see what lies ahead.  Having said that, as a swim mom I believe that if you prepare for it and know how to handle difficult situations you might just see your swimmer through teenage swimming to realize their dreams in their twenties.
Monica swam her first fun gala in September 2013 aged 6.  Two months later, she set 2 meet records for the girls 7 and under age group at the Blue Oceans Aquatics swim meet.  This became a trend for past two years with records tumbling at swim meets as she progresses through the age groups.

Dealing with teenagers quitting swimming

In January 2014, during a training session, before another fun gala, in conjunction with her learn-to-swim instructor, we took her times when she sprint just to note what her training times versus gala times would be.  A mom and the senior squad coach were standing right next to me discussing the teenage swimming years.

The mother had an older son who was a swimmer up to teenage years and dropped swimming preferring to play water polo as it is a team sport and much more social than swimming.  The boy used to be the talk of the town in primary school, and the mother admits that she “pushed” him too much which resulted in the child quitting swimming aged 12.

At that stage, the sister was swimming at the same club as Monica and the topic of pushing children at a young age was raised especially when we were present.  The approach with the sister was no pressure, do everything just for fun.

Today another swimmer’s mom announced that her daughter and the Captain of the swim team at her school decided to quit swimming – she is now 12 years old and in high school.  It is not just the parents that like to raise the topic, but coaches as well – our attitude is we hear what you say and take note but we are the parents and our swimmer’s mental and physical health is our concern. 

Swimming’s crystal ball

Monica is now 8-years-old and she loves swimming.  We are however not blind and the constant hints about pushing young swimmers do not go unnoticed.  We just prefer not to comment so we do not enter into discussions about the topic.

The fact that we do not discuss this topic does however not mean that we do not do our homework.  The teenage swimming years are slowly creeping closer as Monica will be 9 in March 2016, in theory leaving one year before we also have a teenager in the house.

One of the coaches that we work with wished for a crystal ball so we could see if Monica keeps on swimming through the teenage years and take swimming further to career status.  Swimming moms do not have crystal balls to look into the future.  The only thing we have is our relationships with our children, knowing them on a level that coaches and for that matter the world out there do not always understand.

I answered the coach by saying I do not have a crystal ball but what I do know about my child is that when she makes up her mind, she just does not change it.  This characteristic is fabulous as she decides 12 months in advance what the theme of her next birthday party must be and just not change it, leaving 12 months to prepare for the next birthday (ha, ha).

We noticed this with her music too.  She said she wants to learn to play the piano and that is just what she is doing as another activity.  Practicing piano is no issue for her as it is something she likes to do – the same goes for swimming.

Set swimming goals

I found a very insightful article about seeing swimmers through the teenage yearsWritten by a coach, with some checklists and suggestions to find out why the teenager wants to quit swimming. It is so helpful that we already implemented a lot of the ideas in it and added a couple of our own.

One particular suggestion is setting achievable goals in teenage swimming.  Monica aged 8 set her own goals.  It is stuck on her notice board in her room where she can review it at any time and remind herself that she set those goals to achieve in the particular swimming season.

The goals are not about winning and times which you might expect.  At eight, she set goals to swim correctly and work on things she still forgets.  Yes, there is a goal to keep coaches happy too.  It is normal for kids to want to please the people that she loves most so we do have it as a goal.

Teenage swimming goals

One of the most insightful books I read about teenagers and how to handle the changes stipulated that it is most likely one of the most difficult issues adults deal with during the teenage years.  The change that sets in from pleasing my parents, to please myself first and then pleasing the parent.

My theory as just a simple hands on swim Mom is that if you know about it, learn about it, and make a plan to handle it in the right way so that it is not an issue.  Having done all of this there might still be issues.  We will address the issues as they surface.

Monica gets loads of love and support in swimming – dad is Coach and mom training buddy as it is really hard to train on your own at such a young age (we have pool and club issues in our town so no choice as far as that is concerned not that I mind, I love swimming especially training with my daughter.  This will change in time to come but I am making the most of every day as long as I have this privilege).

Lay down clear guidelines and rules

We also have a couple of rules which we implemented:

  •  The gym we train at has sliding glass doors.  Once we leave the gym, what happens at the gym stays at the gym.
  • The swimmers do not know what is the daily program (swimmers being Mica and Mom). Every day is a surprise.  We do explain to Monica when she is building up for an event that training is going to be tough so she would be expected to work harder and smarter. When tapering, we also explain that she is now going into a resting phase which will make her swim faster. We also tell her when she competes against older children at age group galas and when she swims with children her own age.  It is something she asked for so we comply – I suspect she has her own way of motivating herself when she swims against older children but that is another topic for another article.
  • Motivational videos – she likes watching some amazing races on Youtube – Katy Ledecky, Katinka Hoszu, Missy Franklin.
  • We also never go to sleep angry – this ties in with the rule about the glass doors at the swimming pool.  On this point she is also clear that it does not mean that we do not love her or each other if we are angry – it is also ok to get angry – staying angry is not good.  This relates to everything in life and running a household, business and school not just swimming.
  • She knows that she learns from mistakes she makes and not necessarily from what she does right.  If you do something right all the time, you learn nothing and part of the swimming journey is to learn and grow as a person and a swimmer.
  • Never assume you will win or be the best.  On this point, we keep Monica humble due to the records she set and the gold medals which, according to a lot of adults are irrelevant prior to the teenage swimming years.  As a young swimmer, it is however still important to get the medals and trophies and it keeps her motivated so it is important to emphasize that winning is not a given.  You have to work at it all the time.
  • Be an example and do well with your God given talent – be an inspiration to others.  Our cause of choice is Childhood cancer and we support the Go Gold September childhood cancer awareness project.
Teenage swimming years do not have to be difficult

Whether our approach works or not remains to be seen (follow us and see me complain two years from now – ha, ha). Going to be some interesting years ahead. As one of those nutty moms, I have no fear of the teenage years.  We will tackle the bull by the horns and just soldier on through it.

Swimming is such a good sport and Monica knows already that the oxygen on her brain is good for her brain and blood flow and that she is swimming with a goal – that goal is to throw the asthma pump away by age 10.

We can only lay down the principles, set an example as her parents.  If all else fails, we will involve a third party to find out why she worked so hard just to quit teenage swimming years.

Other than that do what my coach did during my teenage years and that was to send me back to the boarding school after training so tired that I did not have time to actually take on any other arguments with anybody – swim, eat, sleep…..