The first year I coached swimming, I had a set that I went to a lot. It went something like this:
I don't remember how fast I specified that the swimmers went, but I wanted them to go for it. I saw it as a "high intensity" set. I would have probably told you that the goal was for swimmers to at least be at "200 pace". AT LEAST.
I was way wrong.
I went to the set for the reason that many beginner coaches go to certain sets. It was something I knew. It was hard- so at least I could look myself in the mirror and know that I was putting a challenge out there.
What I didn't realize was that by putting out a set where my expectations didn't match the reality of how swimmers could actually swim the set, I wasn't getting the best out of them.
Let me back up and make a couple things clear here. If you set dishonest bars for your athletes to get over, they may end up being honest for somebody. This is why we have exceptional athletes in our sport. I would gather some world class athletes could make something optimal out of such a set.
Furthermore, there are ways to get the psychological advantage that many coaches think they are getting by putting out dishonestly hard sets without lying to the swimmers. Being dishonest actually undermines a fundamental piece of coaching that most of us are shooting for.
"Process" is probably one of the most overused buzz words in sports right now. We all want our athletes focused on process. We're supposed to praise process over results. So why give training where an unrealistic RESULT is the primary thing you are trying to communicate to swimmers?
Let me give another example:
12x50 "ALL OUT" on 1:30
Think about how most if not all of the swimmers you coach would honestly swim such a set. They might be able to go "all out" for few, but unless their speed is very poor, they will face increasingly diminished returns. They will learn something you don't want anyone to learn: that no matter what they do they are helpless.
This is akin to something we would not want a swimmer we coached to do. Imagine if your 1:06 100 breaststroker told you her goal in the next race was to go under :58. And she set that goal for all subsequent races. Would you consider that strong goal setting? How many swimmers would be able to come up short on such a goal repeatedly and keep smiling?
Now before you make the logical jump to "no result expectations in practice!", there is some value to setting a "result" expectation as a coach in practice. Swimmers should train with reasonable intensity and know what they are shooting for.
So before your next practice, honestly evaluate where your swimmers are and avoid making "aspirational" result expectations for what's going to happen. What do you honestly expect them to do? How can they do it better, and how can you communicate that to them really concisely?
Be honest about your practice.