A for Athlete


Most collegiate swimmers go home for the holidays to see their families and friends. It’s a break from the hectic lifestyle of being a college student athlete. They can eat mom and dad’s home cooked meals, be lazy, and most importantly—sleep in past 6:00 AM. During all this eating, relaxing, and hanging out, it can be tough to find time to practice (I say this half jokingly, but half seriously). From what I’ve seen, during the holiday breaks, most collegiate swimmers do not train like they do when they are with their college teams. I’m talking about the number of sessions, length, and intensity of both swimming and/or out of the water practices. There are several reasons why I believe this occurs:

  1. 1. The swimmer’s club/high school team does not train as often as the swimmer’s college team does. Many club/high school teams only practice once a day. It would be very difficult to practice twice a day if your team does not offer two practices a day. There is always the option of training on your own at a local YMCA or other pool, but most college kids don’t want to do that, or don’t get a great workout in by doing that.
  1. 2. Many times the club/high school team has much longer or much shorter training sessions (in most cases, college teams do more, but not always). If a college swimmer has been swimming 8,000 yards twice a day and goes home to his or her club/high school team that does 3,500 a practice, that swimmer would probably be taking a step back. On the other hand, some collegiate sprinters don’t swim a lot of yards. Sometimes these swimmers go home and their club/high school teams are swimming 8,000-10,000 a practice. This isn’t a great situation either.
  1. 3. A lot of club/high school teams love having their collegiate alums come back to train with them. Sometimes a club/high school team will have a lot of alums in college. So a lot of alums come back to swim. When I came back to swim with my club team, we would have over 10 college kids swimming in the already overfilled lanes. Everyone was excited to see each other, and, for the most part, to swim with each other again, but our coach had to alter practices because of how many swimmers would be in each lane. I’d be willing to bet that I wasn’t the only one that experienced this.
  1. 4. Travel. A). Many swimmers travel far distances to get to and from school—often by plane. Because of the travel, it can be very difficult for these swimmers to stay with their training. B). During the holiday season, many swimmers travel around the country to see family and friends. Once again, if you’re on the road or in a plane, you aren’t training.
  1. 5. Swimmers are both mentally and physically drained from a training trip leading up to Christmas break or increased training because school is out. I think that most collegiate teams increase their training leading up to the holiday breaks—specifically at Christmas. Most swimmers are so tired, they feel that they need a break; and they finally have a choice of if they want to practice. I honestly don’t blame swimmers that train less over the Christmas break because they are so wrecked. It’s tough to determine what is too much, but most swimmers know when they need a break, and many take that break over the Christmas hiatus.

I was at home over the break, and watched one of the best swimmers in the nation swim a little bit. I didn’t watch his entire practice, but it sure didn’t look like he was training like I would assume his college team trains (he swims for one of the top college teams in the country—many NCAA team championships, individual champions, Olympians, and Medalists). It could have been that particular practice, but I doubt it. I then asked my two friends what they did over the break when they swam years ago—both said they worked out a lot less than they did when they were at college. Both confessed that it was mainly because they were so exhausted from the training that led up to their Christmas break. The second reason was because fewer practices were offered.

I’d guess that most swimmers increase their training leading up to the Christmas vacation, decrease their training over the Christmas break, and then increase it once they return to school. I’m sure there are some coaches that think their swimmers don’t decrease their training over the Christmas break. If that’s the case, then you don’t have to worry about this. For everyone else—Is this the best way to go about training—training more to training less back to training more? Would it be better if we didn’t increase training leading up to the Christmas break, and instead kept it the same? Would swimmers be more likely to train when they were at home if they weren’t as tired? For some, maybe, but, for others, it probably wouldn’t make a difference. Some coaches know their swimmers won’t train very much at home, so they purposely increase the training before and after the break to compensate. Is this the answer? Some coaches write specific workouts for their swimmers to do over the break, which I think is great. But are these swimmers doing every workout exactly like it was supposed to be done?

I don’t really see this as a problem as much as an issue. But there are a bunch of questions I have for college coaches about the issue of holiday training. For this discussion, I am assuming that most college coaches want their swimmers to go home and continue to train.

If college coaches think it’s important for their swimmers to train when they go home, exactly what do they instruct their swimmers to do when they are home? Some coaches tell their swimmers to swim twice a day, three times a week, and once a day the other three days a week. What exactly constitutes a “swim”? I can splash around for 10 minutes, but that’s not what a coach would consider a “swim.” Is a swim a two hour practice? Is it a three hour practice? Is it 3,000 yards or 10,000 yards? Do college coaches even care what goes on in that practice as long as it’s for two or three hours? Do college coaches have any idea what goes on during some of the club/high school team practices? If you have no idea what they’re doing at practice, how important is holiday training to you, the college coach?

When swimmers train less over Christmas, does that actually hurt their times, and, if so, by how much? Maybe some swimmers need the break and are actually going to be a better swimmer because of it. Is some extra rest (I mean reduced training, not zero training) during the holidays a bad thing? Does anyone really know for sure that training less over the break directly causes you a swimmer to swim slower at the end of the year, or is this just the what we think will happen?

Coaches, if you were to have your swimmers stay on campus longer to train, what would you have them do? Would you keep pounding them or would you lessen up the training (similar to what most swimmers do when they are home)? Would you tell them to make sure they swim twice a day three days a week, and once a day the other three days and leave it at that? Or would you be a little more specific? If your conference meet and/or NCAAs was in the middle of January, would you just tell your swimmers to swim twice a day three days a week, and once a day the other three days, or would you have specific practices for each swimmer or group of swimmers?

Most college coaches think it’s important to train during the Christmas break, but do we give our swimmers anything specific to do, or just tell them to swim and that will be enough? Do we have any idea what their practices are like—do we care? Some swimmers think of the holiday season as a time to take a mini break—do college coaches think the same? If you’re writing practices for your swimmers, then you obviously care what your swimmers are doing over break. Whether or not your swimmers do the practices is another story, which is another topic.

Holiday training is a very difficult time for both swimmers and coaches. Some people even believe it’s the most important part of the season, while others see it as one part of the entire season. Regardless of how you feel about holiday training, there are definitely some issues pertaining to training during this time of the year.