Written By: Nico Messer
It’s the time of the year again where many teams find themselves in the middle of their season with all kinds of different qualifying meets on schedule before the big end of summer championships will take over athletes’ and coaches’ lives alike. Adding to an already busy time is the looming next season and the daunting task of coming up with the plan.
Having noticed an increased interest (and sometimes confusion) in the topic on different outlets, I decided to write yet another season planning post myself. You may have heard some of your (more experienced) peers argue that planning is a key element of effective coaching. But what is season planning really about?
A famous quote by Benjamin Franklin comes to mind.
“If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.”
Without going into too much detail and aiming to keep things simple, think of the season plan as your road map or blueprint and ideally make it appropriate for the experience and level of the athletes you are working with (maybe on the top-end even include thoughts for different maturation and gender).
While you design your team’s road map, you might have to or want to follow some sort of a long term athlete development philosophy (aka “framework”; i.e. FTEM in Switzerland, LTAD in Canada, or your own team’s development model). Otherwise, I hope the following steps will provide an easy guide for success with your season planning.
1. Prepare to plan:
Find out whether it is part of your position to come up with the overall plan for your team or if you follow “guidelines” and only need to worry about the nitty-gritty of your group. Try to gather all things such as practice, meet and holiday schedules - the more details you have, the easier the next step will be. And most important for yourself as the coach - don’t forget to “synchronize” your personal calendar with the season plan in order to avoid conflicts with family gatherings and to be able to plan time away from the pool deck.
2. Develop the plan: This step can include as many or little details helping you to decipher the season plan when using it to plan and write your daily workouts and also to be able to effectively communicate the important details with other coaches on staff as well as the parents of your athletes. Thus, you should aim to use “labels” that “outsiders” can understand or put in context to the information provided during a parent meeting at the beginning of the season (should sharing all or parts of the season plan be included in your communication strategy).
3. Execute the plan:
Now the real fun starts! Get away from your keyboard and start putting the plan to work! Always remember that you’re “selling” the plan when standing on deck and interacting with your athletes - therefore, it’s important for them to see that you’re confident and trust your own plan!
4. Evaluate the plan:
This step is of course, the big task you’ll have to tackle at the end of the season. However, “assessment” should be an ongoing effort in your daily process in order to not only evolve and improve from season to season but day to day.
5. Adjust and adapt the plan: Following these last two years of navigating the global pandemic, we all have become grand masters at staying flexible and creative in our approaches while we need to adjust and adapt our plans many times over! As much as you should not doubt and always trust your plan, it’s also important to critically (self) reflect on the outcome of your season plan in order to evolve and improve.
To sum things up - there’s a lot of theoretical knowledge available on the topic, yet there isn’t a “cook-book type recipe” for you to follow to create a flawless season plan. Allow yourself enough time to reflect on your planning and learn from past “mistakes”. Because in my opinion, it’s a skill you have to develop and one that will improve with experience.
Good luck to all of you and your athletes with the rest of this season and may all your plans come to fruition!
Nicolas Messer is in his second season as the Head Coach of the Swim Regio Solothurn in Switzerland and the founder of the ProSwimWorkouts platform. Previous coaching stops included working with the High Performance Program of the Swiss Armed Forces and other club teams in Switzerland. Nico has also spent time living and coaching in Scandinavia (Sweden and Norway) as well as in the US.