The Different Demands of Race Pace Coaching

"5000 Pull". That was all Gennadi Touretski, often hailed as a the genius of the swim coaching world, wrote up on the board. Then he walked away.

I heard this story from a swimmer who was training with Touretski as a part of his required Swiss army service. Touretski had for some time assumed the mantle of working with these swimmers, but didn't seem particularly interested in coaching them.

The purpose of this post is not to mock Touretski, who's coaching relationship with all-time great Alexander Popov is the stuff of legends. Touretski has used his coaching mind in far more creative ways than "5000 pull", but on this particular practice, he clearly wasn't feeling it.

I'm left to guess as to why. Did he feel the swimmers in the water weren't worth the effort? Was he not getting properly compensated for his time? I tried to put myself in his place- what would have to be going on for me to throw in the towel with a 5000 pull?

Intense Coaching

One of the least discussed aspects of the ongoing debate in the swimming community over practice intensity is how demanding the coaching is. Coaching a 5000 pull (especially if you walk off the deck and don't even watch it) is very light lifting. 

Meanwhile, a set where swimmers are going to swim 20x50 at 200 pace is exceptionally demanding on a coach. Swimmers need constant technical feedback, and will have time to hear it. Furthermore, having it "all on the line" means that swimmers will need specific adjustments based on where they are that day.

So, a coach that wants to do the right thing and change over to race pace will face some real challenges in doing so. For one, they will have to carefully consider whether they will still spend the same amount of time on deck, knowing that they will be coaching at a full sprint instead of a slow walk?

Do they want to have the same number of swimmers in the water? How will they divide attention between swimmers when there is so much more time that they are on the wall and able to receive feedback?

Race pace swimming undeniably demands more from the coach for the time spent on the pool deck. The tradeoff is better quality of both technical instruction for the swimmers in the water and just flat out more coaching.

Swimmers get a lot more value, and coaches should consider that as they change to race pace. Coaches should expect to get something of value in return for this expansion, a not easy feat with many administrators and boards. But it's crucial to start at the very beginning, before race pace becomes the "new normal" for swimming practice and coaches keep everything else on their plate.

Want to learn more about how to incorporate race pace into your own training or your team's? Write me!