Coaches Corner

#1 Coach’s Corner – Henk Jansen 9/18/2017:

Welcome to all the new and returning Piranha parents and swimmers. My first “Coaches Corner” of the season will center around what I like to call, “First week of the season stuff.”  Although the name is a little misleading since much of the “stuff” we are doing will be reiterated and enhanced as the season progresses.  Anyway, what happens the first week of Club swim season?  Besides for what looks like organized chaos, one of the main goals for the coaches the first week is getting to know the kids.  If you noticed, many of the groups are wearing white caps with their names printed on them.  This a Piranha “tradition” that goes back at least 8 years.  I found that it is a great way for coaches to get to know the kids and for the kids to get to know the kids.  I try to make it a “Team bonding” activity because the Piranhas are a TEAM and in order for our TEAM to be strong and improve, all the swimmers need to get to know and support each other.  Besides for white caps and meet and greets, the coaches have been hard at work setting a strong foundation of technique for the season.   We are working on everything from how to line-up in the lane and putting away the equipment neatly (one of my biggest pet peeves is a messy equipment area) to the “catch” in freestyle and “shimmer” in butterfly.  I hope your swimmer has enjoyed the Team so far.  Overall my goal is for kids to enjoy the sport and develop as the season and years progress.  All the best.

#2 Coach’s Corner – Henk Jansen 9/25/2017:

For the past few weeks and pretty much every week after this until the end of the season the coaches will be working on technique with the kids.  One of the most important aspects of technique that will be taught is the “catch.”  What the heck is that?  The “catch” happens in every stroke and it is an important phase of a stroke cycle. In laymen’s terms, the catch is the beginning of the stroke where a swimmer bends the elbow, and the arm, not just the hand or forearm, starts to apply force against the water in a backward motions in an attempt to move your body forward.  The catch relies on a high elbow, which is why coaches often refer to it as a “high elbow catch” and should happen as soon as possible in a stroke cycle.  If the catch happens too late in a cycle or is weak with a dropped elbow, the swimmer will lose power due to poor arm positioning and the “power phase”, the stroke length at which swimmers are applying force and moving forward, is shortened or not powerful enough to counteract the resistive forces a swimmer is up against in water.  We will go over different types of resistance in another “Coaches Corner.”  I have added a picture of the catch below.  Although the catch is a part of every stroke, this picture is of freestyle.  If you notice the elbow is high in the water and the arm is a bit bowed. In this position the whole arm from the armpit to the fingertip is able to apply force backwards against the water, acting like a paddle as the arm pushes backwards.  This will also set up the next phase when the hand should come under the body, setting up for the final phase which is hand backwards towards the hip in an accelerating fashion.   So you see, a stroke that begins with a great catch is imperative for a powerful and fast stroke.  Until next time

#3 Coach’s Corner – Henk Jansen 10/3/2017:

Like I promised in an earlier article, today’s article will focus on resistance, also referred to as drag.   There are basically three types of drag.  There is more to each type, but I am going to try and keep it simple for the sake of this article.  First we must start with water.  Basically water is a resistive substance when trying to move through it.  Water is dense and can be turbulent, which makes it more difficult to move through.  Also, the human body is resistive.  Fish and marine mammals have evolved so their bodies and anatomy are “made” to move through an aquatic environment.   Humans, comparatively, are designed to walk upright on land.  The human body was not necessarily made to move though the water like a dolphin or seal.  The human body is less streamlined and has many contours and abnormal shapes that are by nature resistive.  This type of resistance is called “form drag”.  The way you reduce this drag in swimming is to streamline off walls, lengthen strokes, get head in bodyline and keep body from wiggling side to side, just to name a few.  There is also “frictional drag”.  This is basically drag a swimmer encounters because their skin is against the water.  This is why swimmers shave for championship meets and wear hi-tech suits.  By no means is this an advertisement for young swimmers (12/under) to buy these high priced suits or shave.  I would save your money and wait until kids get older for these suits.  Lastly, there is “wave drag”.  Basically this is the splashing and waves created by a swimmer when they swim.  Now, all forms of drag are inevitable.  They are going to be caused by a swimmer just by virtue of entering the water.  The goal is to reduce these forces and counteract them with powerful arm and leg movements, good body alignment and overall good technique.   The “propulsive force” a swimmer creates needs to exceed the “drag force” that is being applied against him/her in order for a swimmer to move forward in the water.  Here’s to less resistive swimming!  Until next time…

#4 Coach’s Corner – Henk Jansen 10/10/2017:

Swimming is a marathon not a sprint.  What the heck does that mean?  Well swimming is a process sometimes a looooong process and in this day and age of instant gratification and instant results, swimming is the exact opposite of that.  I always get a kick out of the interviews or video montages during the Olympics when the announcer states said swimmer has work hard for 4 years for this.  4 YEARS!!!  Try a life-time!  This is a long haul sport in an instant gratification world.  Yes swimmers will improve at times meet to meet, season to season, year to year, but there will always be something to work on and something that simply takes longer to improve upon.  Add to that, not every swimmer will learn at the same pace.    Some swimmers will take a little longer than others, but if swimmers come to practice and coaches are teaching and coaching, it will come together.   The process, there is that word again, is a bumpy road with many twists and turns that takes time.  The best way I can describe is with a picture.  Very few, like maybe three swimmers in the world, have a very straight and speedy road to fast swimming.  Most swimmers have the iceberg.   When mistakes are made, and are made, and are made, please remember, the coaches are working on it and it will take some time.  Remember a diamond is a lump of coal that stuck with it!!  Until next time….

Coaches Corner #5 –Henk Jansen 10/17/2017

Meets. Yes meets, the be all and end all of swimming. No, not really, just being a little playful.  Yes, we all want our/your kids to succeed in the pool.  That is one of the reasons we are doing this. ONE OF THE REASONS.  I bold that last statement because swimming fast at meets (I hope) is not the only reason you enrolled your child in swimming.  Youth sports and the sport of swimming in general can offer so many other wonderful experiences and life lessons than just swimming fast.  Don’t get me wrong, I like fast swimming, but not at all costs and not at the risk of losing the message the life lessons can send us.  Some kids will improve every meet, as young swimmers or even older swimmers, and some will not.  Every meet brings its own new challenges and experiences.  The overall goal of swimming from a results aspect is to show overall improvement across all strokes and events over the course of the season.  There will be a time when swimmers plateau, I mean REALLY plateau, like not improving for a few years before making major breakthroughs.  You sometimes see this with older swimmers but the overall goal of youth sports, swimming included, should be to train and challenge the mind and body in a positive manner, teach kids about goals, dedication, physical fitness, surpassing limits, sportsmanship and having fun.  I am sure I missed a few there, but I think you get where I am coming from.  This journey can be a long one if you swimmer sticks it out for the long haul, and I mean until he or she leaves for college.  So keep your perspective and enjoy the journey with your swimmer because one day you will no longer have to drop your swimmer off at practice for one reason or another.   Until next time……

Coach’s Corner #6 by Henk Jansen 10/23/17

What do I say to my swimmer before, after, during a meet? The short answer is NOTHING, more specifically nothing about swimming, but allow me to elaborate.  The first lesson of being a swim parent is to SUPPORT, NOT COACH.  You swimmer needs parents.  Your swimmer needs YOU, not another coach.  On the way to a swim meet is not a time for mom or dad to become coach.  I would keep the conversation away from swimming and if swimming becomes a topic, keep it positive and light; “have fun”, “give 100%”, “do your best”, “support your teammates” and “I love you no matter what happens.”  During a meet, most of the time you should say NOTHING AT ALL to them because swimmers should learn to function with the coaches and teammates and without mom and/or dad, but I also do understand that kids want to see parents during a meet (most of the time for money for the snack bar), but seriously, if a swimmer is nervous or just needs a little TLC, I get it.  Again, this is not a time to coach but a time to be supportive and positive.  Lastly, after a meet in the car ride home is not a time to critique your swimmer but a time to tell him or her “I LOVE WATCHING YOU SWIM”. Those are some of the most important words you can tell your child and it fits for all sports.  It can be said no matter what the results or effort.  Now, what do you say when your swimmer didn’t quite give it his or her all and you know it.  Again, not a time to lay into them about it.  There are other ways I think the message can get across without making it confrontational because when that happens, the overall message gets lost.  For me personally, my Dad would always tell me, “If you gave everything you had, I am proud of you no matter what the clock says.”  Although I think most of the time I did give it my all, and trust me my results weren’t always noteworthy, but guess what?  Sometimes I didn’t and I knew it.  So those words were all I needed for his message to come across loud and clear and it has stuck with me to this day.   Swimmers know when they don’t “give it their all’ so you don’t always have to tell the how great they did, and I know that sounds harsh, and I am not saying to lay into them, but there are messages you can send that will get though that are not antagonistic.    Coaches use them all the time.  I know, I am rambling, in summations races that are great efforts aren’t always great times and sometimes swimmers need to give more, but overall the love of a parent and respect of a coach should always be there for your swimmers no matter the result. Until next time……

Coach’s Corner #7 by Henk Jansen 10/26/17   

Ok, last time I rambled on and on about what parents should say and what not to say to swimmers before, after and during meets. So what do coaches say?  Well, before a race probably not too much, and I know that sounds odd.   We may give a swimmer a few reminders, but before a race swimmers are usually a little nervous and we want them relaxed and focused on swimming not technical “issues” we worked on in practice all week.  You see practice is a time for working on strokes, starts, etc, meets are a time for racing and applying what you have learned.  Kind of sounds like a test in school.  Well it kind of is, although we want it to be a lot more fun than that.  So to fill a kids head with all this “stuff” to remember probably isn’t the best strategy.   So yea maybe some mistakes will be made in a race and that “thing” you worked on all week goes awry.  Welcome to the wonderful world of youth sports!  Because yes, kids will make mistakes, but I think I am going to save that one for another article.   So during the race what do coaches do, well we may wave our arms as a swimmer breathes to our side of the pool, we will make sounds when their head pops up in breaststroke while the parents yell from the stands.  It’s fun, it creates an intense atmosphere, it creates excitement and 99% of the time the kids won’t hear a word of it.  LOL.  But please do not let me stop you from cheering.  It’s a good thing, as long as you don’t pass out J  It makes us feel a part of the action and that’s ok because parents you are HUGE part of this process and you deserve an outlet to cheer when your swimmer is racing.  I think that too may be another article for another time, but allow me to move on.  So the race is over and swimmer comes up to a coach.  Yes we tell the swimmers to find a coach after a race and if the coach is busy with another swimmer, WAIT.  Usually at meets we have heat and heat of swimmers so we simply don’t have time to track kids down and find them.  Also, if a swimmer goes to the bench and 20 minutes later comes up to a coach, guess what, there could have been 20 other races and the message might have been forgotten by then.  So what do coaches say?  We will always have something positive to say first and we will applaud the effort before the result then eventually we will get into the positives and negatives of a race. Sometimes that conversation is a quick few reminders, sometimes it’s longer.  It all depends on the race, the swimmer (some swimmer can’t retain 15 minutes of coaching after a race) and how much time a coach has between races.  Sometimes a coach will ask the swimmer to “critique” themselves and ask questions, “what did you do well?”, “what can be improved upon?”, “your breathing on the second 50 was a little off what happened there?”   Want a swimmer to learn, let them tell you what happened every once in a while.  At the end of the day we want swimmers to enjoy the meets and learn from each race.  Although not every race can be a personal best swim or a “blue ribbon” result, all swimmers can learn from their experiences because each meet, each race is a new and different journey. Until next time . . . .

Coach’s Corner #8 by Henk Jansen 10/30/2017

“Why isn’t my swimmer getting technique work?” “Why don’t you work on more technique at practice?”  These are questions I sometimes get instead of “How do you work on technique at practice?” or “What is your philosophy about technique at practice?”  Now both questions are pretty much asking the same thing and will probably garner a conversation about how we teach and work on technique at practice.  But let me ask you, which way would you like to be questioned about your profession?  I am not getting worked up, I promise J  I have very thick skin. The Piranhas work on technique EVERY DAY and we teach it in many different ways.  All these different “ways” stem from verbal and visual communication.  Sometimes technique is taught by watching a video, sometimes we are on deck demonstrating, sometimes we use peers as positive demonstrators, sometimes it is a quick reminder at the end of the lane before a swimmer pushes off, sometimes it’s a long drawn out conversation at a meet and sometimes it’s not, sometimes it is a coach asking swimmer questions after a race allowing the child to figure it out for themselves, sometimes it is trial and error and sometimes the “swimming gods” just give a swimmer the innate ability to make changes because the swimmer thinks it feels good and guess what? The swimmer is right.  Again, there are many different methods to teaching and learning but the key is teaching and learning better technique happens best when there are three willing partners:  one willing to teach, one willing to listen and try, and the third willing to get the swimmer to practice regularly.  Finally, please know every swimmer is different and will learn at a different pace.  Some skills just take longer to learn and some kids take longer to learn them.  If you [the parent] plays golf, tennis or any other sport, do you learn and improve at the same rate as every other grown up?  Probably not.  Kids are no different.  Also remember everything coaches are trying to impart on your swimmer at practice is not always noticed from 25 yards away and from behind a window, but please trust me WE WORK ON TECHNIQUE EVERY DAY!  LOL!  Until next time . . .

Coach’s Corner #9 by Henk Jansen 11/6/2017

Tech suits, what are those. A “tech suit” is an expensive suit that makes swimmers really faster, RIGHT?  Ah, NO!  Tech suits are expensive, yes but they don’t necessarily MAKE swimmers fast.  Swimmers swim races, not suits.  So the swimmer “makes” the suit fast not the other way around.  I can honestly say, I have witnessed A LOT of slow swimming in these suits.   Although the manufactures make small sizes, these suits were meant for bigger, usually older swimmers.  For young swimmers, 10/under, I wouldn’t even bother with these things.  For 11/12’s, ah, again maybe when a swimmer is 12 and he/she has reached age groups, maybe.  I honestly think these suits make little to no difference for younger swimmers, and I err more towards no difference.  To this point many states have banned 12/unders from using them at all, but not CT.  As kids get a little older, 13/over these suits start to make a bit more of a difference, and why do they make more of a difference with older swimmers?  Simply stated they usually have more service area than younger swimmers and larger muscles for compression.  You see, the suits material is supposed to reduce frictional drag and the tightness of the suit adds compression some believe aids in staving off muscle fatigue.  Even with this tidbit of information, purchasing these suits are not always necessary for 13/overs either.  Overall, I want ALL swimmers to rely on their abilities, their work ethic, the work they put in at practice, their confidence to swim fast not a suit.   I know it is enticing to want to buy the best equipment for your swimmer, but it isn’t always necessary.  I would save the purchase for when your swimmer gets older and starts attending high level meets.  Lastly, the Piranhas DO NOT allow swimmers to wear tech suits at in-season meets.  These suits are allowed at Championship level meets only.  Until next time . . .

Coach’s Corner #10 by Henk Jansen 11/13/2017

What is the difference between one meet or another. Okay, when you see the name of a meet you might see the words; “Invite”, “Invitational”, “Qualifier”, etc.  All these meets are pretty much the same, it just depends on the “fancy” name the host team wants to use to promote their meet.  There is no difference in the sense that you don’t need a special invite to attend an “Invite” meet or a qualifying time for a “qualifier”.  If it is on our schedule and it is age appropriate, you can sign up and swim.  If for some reason your swimmer is not eligible, the coaches will let you know.  So what meet would that be?  Well we do have a few meets on the schedule that swimmers need to meet a qualifying time often referred to as a “cutoff” time.  Most of these meets are Championship meet and at the end of the season in March.  These meets will be listed as “qualifiers only.”  So how do you know if your swimmer is a qualifier?  The coaches will contact you or a list will be posted on-line or both.  Lastly, there will be some meets that the coaches list specific age groups for certain meets.  For example, we do not allow our Senior swimmers to swim in Intrasquad meet.  So to summarize, your swimmer can swim in 99% of the age appropriate meets on our schedule regardless of the meet name and regardless of your swimmer’s times and most of the meet that require a cutoff time are Championship meets at the end of the season.   Until next time . . . .

Coach’s Corner #11 by Henk Jansen 11/20/17

It is never too early to write about Championship season. Yes, it has become a SEASON!  There are several meets offered with different criteria, but for today’s article I am going to discuss and describe Regional Championships.  This meet is a Championship meet in early March when all swimmers can participate regardless of time.  With that said, let me elaborate because that is not a 100% honest statement and this is the Y after all.  In certain events a swimmer does not have to meet a time standard BUT must have participated in one CT USA Meet and have reportable times (times from a USA or YMCA meet that has been presided over by a USA officiating crew).   All Piranha meets apart for our own Intrasquad meets are officiated by USA officiating crews but NOT all are CT USA Meets.  CT USA Meets are listed on our meet schedule page with “CT-USA” under meet type so please check that out carefully.  Ok, back to Regionals as I affectionately refer to, well, Regionals.  For 12/unders, they can swim all four 50’s and the 100 free no matter their time but they must have a time.  For all other events, a swimmer must meet a qualifying time for that meet.  For 13/overs, they can swim all four 100’s and the 50 free regardless of time but again, must have a time.  So what does that mean?  Get your swimmers to meets and they will at least get reportable times.  LOL.  Until next time . . . .

Coach’s Corner #12 – Henk Jansen, 12/11/2017

So half the Winter Short Course season is over and it flew by. Before you know it, the Holidays will be in our rearview mirror and we will in the homestretch of the short course season looking at Championships.  I am not going to go into requirements and boring stuff like that.  I think that was CC #9 or 10.  I would like to praise our swimmers and parents for the great effort so far this season.  The first half was a real good one for the Piranhas.  We came of the gate swimming fast and making huge improvements.  It was great!  Now comes the hard part, continuing that success into the second half of the season.  The first and most important step is to keep coming to practice. Everything good starts with attendance and once at practice be ready to learn, swim and have fun.  Not every meet will be the best of your life, but in the long run, great attendance, attention to detail and great effort will always pay off.  Thanks to the parents for your continued support of your swimmers and our Swim Program.  Until next time . . .

Coach’s Corner #13 12/18/2017

Attendance!!  Yes, attendance.  I have always said the toughest part of swimming is getting in the pool.   The next hardest thing is getting TO the pool.  I know I have stated it before but everything good starts with attendance. I know, I know, just getting kids to practice is a challenge on a good day.  I have four kids of my own and the one thing my wife complains about the most is getting kids to their activities (don’t tell her I told you that J).  So yes, swimmer attendance is also in some respects parents’ attendance and I try to be very respectful of parents’ time and effort, but I also want to reiterate that swimmers get better by swimming.  And yes, other activities aid in the fitness level of kids and it seems like dry lands are considered as the “be all end all”, but SWIMMING, swimming makes kids better swimmers.  The fastest swimmers are usually the ones who attend practice the most.  Don’t forget, I base promotion on attendance first and foremost.  Kids are not moved up just because of age.  I try to keep age groups together the best I can, but at a certain point I need to take into consideration the kids who have the best attendance and reward that effort with promotion.  So the overall point is, do your best to get your swimmer to practice regularly every week.  Swimming is a sport unlike any other in my mind.  It is a life-saving activity and a great sport for fitness that you can do forever.  Until next time . . .

Coach’s Corner #14 – Henk Jansen, 1/2/2018

Happy New Year! Yes, 2018.  Sounds like the title of some George Orwell novel.  With the start of a new year and even though we are well past the halfway point of the SC season, let me remind everyone what a “new year” can mean:

12 months of opportunity – make the most of it
2 weeks to be great – it is up to you
364 days (it is the 2nd after all) to make positive, meaningful changes – no one can make them for you
8736 hours of choices – choose wisely
52,4160 minutes of time – DON’T WASTE IT

All the best in 2018. GO PIRANHAS!!!

Coach’s Corner #15 – Henk Jansen, 1/9/2018

Let me please start by stating this article, although an important read for any one of any age, is geared a bit more towards the older, more experienced swimmer who has come to that crossroad of “do I?” or “don’t I?” go down the road that gives me the best opportunity to succeed in swimming?  Fortunately or unfortunately (depending on how you look at it), swimming is one of those sports that is a TRUE year round sport which takes year round dedication to progress and develop.  There is no way around it.  Yes, there is time off during the year, but not every week.  In order to be good or to meet your greatest potential you really need to attend practice regularly on a year round basis and be what I call a “95 percenter”, attending practice 95% of the time.  Then you will have the OPPORTUNITY to be good because there are no guarantees.  Attendance is only the first step.  I think I wrote about attendance specifically a few articles back. I know, it is not easy, I will never insult anyone’s intelligence and say it is.  It is tough, it is hard, it is consuming, but if you give all you have, it will be fulfilling.   Swimming is getting faster and faster, I mean really fast at every level and at every age, and year round dedication is what is required to help you compete.  Didn’t Winston Churchill say, “It’s not enough that we do our best; sometimes we have to do what’s required.”   By no means am I trying to give off a negative vibe here.  I am trying to do the exact opposite and encourage, educate, inspire and be truthful about the sport of swimming which, by the way, is an awesome sport that you can enjoy for the rest of your life and keeps you in great shape.   I will leave you with one more quote, “No one who ever gave their best ever regretted it.”  The great George Halas uttered those words.  Until next time . . . .

Coach’s Corner #16 – Henk Jansen, 1/15/2018

About two years ago, I and one of my former swimmers who had just finished his college swimming career, got together to have lunch and catch up a bit.  As you would expect, the conversation touched upon swimming and he said one of the most profound statements to me about being a swimmer.  He said, “Henk, if you haven’t had a tough Championship meet in your life, you’re not a swimmer.”  Whoa!!  Maybe this is perspective you only get after a swimming career has ended but that statement has stuck with me ever since and will forever.  Yes, it’s that time of year, Championship season.  It is staring us right in the face and it will be here before you know it.   Overall, this is always a fun time of the year when kids get excited, swim fast and have the opportunity to reap the fruits of their labor at the last meet of the season, which always seems to be, right or wrong, the lasting image of the season.  It can also be a stressful time for swimmers, coaches and parents alike.  Coaches – because we want our kids to be their best so they feel accomplished; swimmers – because they put so much time and energy into this (or they haven’t and they know it) and want to swim fast; and parents – because they have to watch their kids getting stressed out.  Although it is normal and shows that swimmers care about their success, I think the important thing to remember is to RELAX!!  No one should get too crazy about Championship meets.  The last time I checked stressing out never helped anyone do anything well.   This is swimming.  Meets are supposed to be the fun part of the sport, the “game” part of the sport.  Yes, as I have said a bunch of times before, swimming, sports and extracurricular activities are important, but the sun will still shine tomorrow if you have a bad swim.  It is not life or death so let’s not treat it that way.  Everyone wants to swim fast, everyone wants to end the year on a high note, but if that does or doesn’t happen, the important thing is to learn from the experience either way.   I think it’s important to keep this time of year in perspective and remember to have fun and enjoy the moment.  Until next time . . . .

Coach’s Corner #20 – Henk Jansen, 3/13/2018

The Regional meet was really a good one for the Piranhas.  Congratulations and thanks to all the swimmers who competed and the parents who volunteered.  We can’t do meets without parent volunteers.  Even though we have Age Groups, Y-All Star Meet and the Meet of Champions ahead in the coming weeks, I must say I am happy to see so many kids still attending practice!   I cannot stress enough, especially for 12/overs, the importance of staying consistent with practice all year long, including the spring and summer, which I know can get busy.  If you haven’t noticed, our summer meet schedule and spring and summer practice schedules are posted on-line.  I hope this helps with scheduling and allows your swimmer to continue attending practice the rest of the year.    I am looking forward to the next few meets and continuing our great swimming.  Please check the back page of this newsletter for the Power Hour Clinic Flier and note that the Piranhas are on hiatus from March 30 – April 15.  As always, GO PIRANHAS!!!  Until next time . . .