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Lessons Learned: Keep it Simple

Eric Holden - Cabinet Member


My first coaching experience was with a small summer league team the year after my freshman year of college. The team had approximately 50 swimmers, 5 of whom swam outside of the 6-week summer league season. I was ready to make a difference. I had plenty of complicated sets, race strategies, and discussions about energy systems ready to go! This was going to be a breakout year for our team.


And the kids struggled. A LOT.


I soon realized that the things that helped me improve as a collegiate athlete were not the things that would help inexperienced swimmers. Complicated sets resulted in spending more time explaining WHAT to do instead of focussing on HOW it was done. Changing speed within a race was a challenging concept, especially for swimmers who were still working on maintaining consistent body position and stroke technique. I was expecting a masterpiece without giving the swimmers their paints and brushes. I needed to keep things simple.


Fast forward to now, I still sometimes need to remind myself to keep things simple! Especially with 12/unders, who are still developing physically, mentally, and emotionally, it is important to keep this in the back of my mind on a daily basis. When writing a workout, I always have a goal in mind. It’s helpful for me to put myself in the swimmers’ shoes and try to imagine what the practice will be like from their perspective. Is this something that we have done before, or is it a new concept? How much practice time of the skill will each swimmer have? Are there other things that the swimmer is responsible for besides the focus of the set?


Training sets. I have found that keeping distances, intervals, and patterns simple and repetitive allow for a higher performance. When doing a set with multiple rounds, I usually have round one be on a slower interval to give swimmers more time to practice WHAT it is they need to do in terms of distances, intervals, and set design. Then, when the intervals get more challenging, the swimmers can focus more on HOW they are training since they have already practiced everything else. They are more comfortable with the WHAT, and can focus more on the HOW.


There are lots of incredible drills out there to focus on different areas of technique, all with a great purpose. While these can be a fun way to fine tune different skills, I almost always use the same 1-2 drills for each stroke when introducing a new skill/concept. These drills are a staple of our program, so the kids know the way each one functions. Since they are familiar it is much easier for swimmers to use the drill to focus on a specific aspect of the stroke. A simple freestyle 6-kick switch drill can work on body/head position, kick, arm pull/recovery, breathing, and timing all by gearing the swimmer’s attention to a specific part of the drill.


Understanding leads to confidence. And confident swimmers are able to perform at their best! As a coach, it is my responsibility to help instill this confidence in each swimmer. I have learned that by keeping things simple, swimmers are able to understand, act upon, and improve with confidence.


Eric Holden was a competitive swimmer for 15 years and is beginning his fourth season as the Head Age Group Coach with the Wilton YMCA Wahoos in Wilton, CT. Eric directly works with the 9–12-year-olds and oversees the 10/under developmental program. In addition, Eric is an assistant coach for the Wilton High School Warriors. Eric began his swimming career age 8 and progressed through the local, high school, national, and NCAA Division 1 levels. Eric earned his Undergraduate and Master’s degrees from the University of Virginia in Kinesiology/Health and Physical Education, where he was a 4-year member and captain for the Virginia Swim and Dive teams. Eric’s passion for the sport of swimming and his training as a physical education teacher led him straight to coaching in both Charlottesville VA and Connecticut at the summer league, high school, and club level.

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