In Focus

Suddenly the national qualifying window becomes meaningful. Whilst we are totally in focus on the goals, it is important to make decisions that are in sync with aims. Today we break up from school at 12:20 and a few of my school mates go to Stratford Westfield window shopping. I decide to pass on this, I know I have got my second training session of the day tonight and have a full weekend of competition ahead of me.

I use this afternoon as a welcome rest period before the storm.

first dawn 540
First signs of dawn on 29. March 2018 at 5:40AM in East London

Performance athletes are definitely in the minority. It just helps me a lot to see determined early morning joggers on my way to AM practise, I then know that there are others who are also focussed on fitness and training. Of course when I arrive at the pool, that is the best feeling, being amongst like-minded friends then.

I am feeling more relaxed now by making decisions that fit in with my performance goals rather than with pleasing others who have different lifestyles. It seems rather trivial to find the trip to Spain more exciting than getting national qualifying times. I suppose national athletes who swim for Britain get many great training sessions abroad anyhow.

The little green man

a little green man whispered into my ear that the northern clubs always win because their swimmers spend more time in the water.

Oho, I went onto the Sheffield Swimming Club senior elite squad, normally for swimmers from 16 up-wards, those who swim in national and international competition and he presto, they have 10 swim sessions and 7 land training sessions per week.

Just as well that they normally have to be 16+, as then they would have completed their GCSE levels by then.

Clearly top end competitive swimming is a full-time sport and swimmers get little full-time funding. Yet swimmers constantly have to juggle the need for an education and the need for performance swimming; a tough sport.

The only way to fund is getting full podium funding through British swimming, e.g. be in the Olympic Squad or similar squads, GLL funding and/or swimming and part-time work and A-levels.

There is my argument again, that fully committed athletes who train so much per week should get their free education window extended and be able to do their free A-levels once their Olympic phase is over.

Just as well that Hackney doesn’t have such a squad with such intense training routines. That is the reason why superb full-time swimmers have to move to clubs that provide such training. LACPP provided such an options for London but they have unfortunately been dissolved.

Oh, we’re going to Torremolinos

I forgot to mention in my last post, Yes, we are really going to Swimcamp in Malaga this Easter break with Hackney Aquatics, a camp run by Sports Abroad.

It’s like all birthdays and Christmases have come together here. We are counting down the days till this exciting swim camp.

Flights are booked, and now we are thinking about not much else. What a wonderful sweetener to complement all our competition chores and school exams.

GCSE options

Performance swimmers cannot tone down their training to suit the GCSE learning and exam schedule. Performance athletes needs to tailor their GCSE choices around their training requirements.

Apparently age 14 is the time when most girls drop out of performance swimming. That is the time when we have to make up our mind whether to continue in performance swimming or not.

We need to study core subjects like Science, Maths and English and others like religious education in church schools.

Madison has been chosen for triple Science, is top grade in Maths and English but also wants to continue with performance swimming.

The swimming training involves at least 8 sessions per week, each one 2 hours swimming and half hour land. Two days per week there is twice a day training starting at 6AM till school and then continues after school.

On top of the core subjects or GCSE we need to choose 3 other subjects and there we consider how much time and effort each subject takes and whether we can weave in some learning with the sport.

It is best to choose subjects where the grades are high and learning comes easy, so that the whole experience seems effortless and easy.

We participated in high-end performance training since almost 2 years now and this experience comes in very useful as we are already used to calculating our time very efficiently and learned to make use of every minute of the day without sacrificing our sleep.

Aimee Willmott has been a great role model for Madison, Aimee studied sport whilst at University and being a performance swimmer and proves that combining education and performance swimming is possible.

Keeping up the performance

In performance sports constant fitness regimes and a lifestyle that is focused on performance are imperative.

There is no fast way to sporting results for most athletes, not all are fast starters and many reap the results of their training and clean living efforts later on in life. Remember you can establish a swimming record till very late in life, age-groups never stop.

Learning to deal with rejections and throwbacks is almost as important for a young swimmer as being able to win. Most swimmers probably lose more races than winning them.

It is however very important to attend competitions on a monthly basis to stay tuned.

In swimming as a sport, peaking at 18+ is probably more convenient than earlier because it fits in with the schooling regime that we all have to follow here in the UK.

What is important is that we get into healthy living habits, don’t slack on the swimming training and keep it up.

Performance swimming means being constantly on the swim, on a daily basis. You gotta love swimming a lot to be able to do it.

Once you get selected for national teams, you get a whole host of wonderful training opportunities through podium funding. Prior to that all athletes can apply for GLL funding. But as said previously there are also many practical ways to improve fitness.

Everything happens just about now

Tomorrow is the start of the MCASA age group competitions and the week after that the Youth get their chance to shine at the LAC.

Of course everyone is thinking of the forthcoming Regional qualifier meets as well, just as – for pupils in year 9 – the time comes to discuss choices of GCSE subjects.

Not all schools do this at the same time but Madison’s school does it in early February.

Parents evenings are also on the horizon and all that in the most exciting training period, when everyone wants to train hard and learn how to #swimfast and #swimskilfull.

Lets just not get nervous and take it one step at a time, keep calm and keep swimming. It is just a matter of keeping the diary in order and do all homework immediately when it arises. Don’t let things pile up. Make every minute of the day a useful one.

Competitions help to calm nerves towards school exam periods and calm nerves are essential to learn for exams.

Listen to your coach, who has plenty of experience and knows how to bring the best out of swimmers. So everything is going to be just fine.

Try not to lose sleep over catching up on apps and social networks late at night. Most important is a regular and healthy diet and regular and uninterrupted sleep. Turn the mobile off whilst resting.

Talk to non-swimming friends and make them understand that you just cannot chat at all hours and need your own sporting routine, all good friends will understand. All swimmers will definitely sympathise.

Putting a value on sporting achievement

One of my previous posts “Measuring sporting potential” has attracted considerable interest. I quite like it if people tell me their thoughts about my blog posts as it provides essential feed-back.

I think that spending care-free time is important for kids; like playing with friends, just enjoying days with family, swimming and racing with other swimmers.

Especially for younger children, care-free times are an essential part of growing up whether its playing with toys or counting ants in the garden, or whether its going to the pool and splashing about, it all helps to grow up and is very enjoyable indeed.

Yet children’s time is totally measured up by education strategies we have today. Every minute of the day gets measured and children have – by law now – have to spend a certain amount of time in education and by law now as well children have to follow an educational path until they are 18 years of age.

The freedom to drop out of education earlier has gone, the freedom to take a gap-year has also disappeared for most who cannot afford not to work or are at risk to lose all benefits if they do.

So the way young people these days spend the first 18 years of their lives is more or less strictly controlled by laws. In fact there is a value being put on this time of educational advancement. Children learn that time is money because they have to pay for university education and free education stops at age 18 with A-levels completion.

Those carefree early years disappear and in comes the harsh reality, the knowledge that time is money.

From that perspective it is, I think, totally acceptable to ensure that children get to learn that participating in a sport has value for them. Value can come in many guises:

  • Improvement to health
  • learning team work
  • becoming a professional sport star
  • feeling valued
  • positive memories

Children learn, that every minute they spend doing a sport, they cannot do anything else. So the time as they spend at it must have value for them and for their futures.

I read it on sports clubs Facebook pages that former members point out that the club time remains the best memory of their lives.

At some point paying for sporting activities can be quite expensive. Funders step in and offer assistance like GLL for instanceUK Sport or Sport England would support elite athletes for podium funding and some businesses provide extra support like free cars or the like.

I think that from a certain age parents need to communicate to their children that time is money and that sport can be a career as well as a great past time. The more time a child spends on doing a sport, the better they get, the more likely they are to get funding.

I think parents can reward their children for doing well at a sport as sports are a huge industry and even the GCSE curriculum offers sport as a qualification. Parents can reward children for doing well at their sport just as they can reward children for doing household chores.

Of course we should never entice children to do a sport for earning money but as it goes in today’s society money has to be earned and children need to learn that good performance leads to rewards.

Some parents give their children reward money for having good grades and good school reports so why not give them reward money for doing well at their sport as well?

Obviously businesses fall over themselves to use sports persons to promote their brands and naturally children soon catch onto the lucrative side of sporting activities.

Of course any reward schemes should never lead to hardship or suffering. Rewards can be hypothetical as well as real but measuring performance in monetary terms is a good lesson in evaluating performance.

For example I reward a regional qualification time with £50 but reduce the reward by £5 for missing a personal best time, that shows that making a gain but also loosing an advantage reduces an overall gain by a small amount. It is just another way of learning that there are setbacks as well as improvements. Any money actually awarded by a parent can be used for future education for example, e.g. if a child wants to study a sports related subject at university. That is only feasible if a child is very keen on sports and Madison is extremely keen.

Madison received GLL funding last year in the form of a membership that gives her free access to all GLL sports facilities for a year, that is worth a lot of money.

No one these days can afford to spend time idly or waste it as we just do not have that freedom any longer to do with our time as we please. Children are expected to be productive at all times; that might not be the best way but that is just the way it is.

 

The more you learn…..

Madison’s school, Raine’s English Department, just published a lovely tweet @RainesEnglish and it says:

“The more you read, the more things you will know. The more you learn, the more places you’ll go”. – Dr. Seuss

Certainly true for swimmers, the more you learn the more places you will go.

The better the skill, the better the swim. It is all about skill, without skill, there will be no fast swims.

It is always very uplifting to read about the successes for swimmers like Michael Phelps or Adam Peaty and others whose names stick in our heads because as swimmers and swimmers parents we just read more about what is happening in the swimming world.

Madison I think, like most swimmers need to learn the skills really well to make the most of the swimming opportunities that are out there.

So far we went to competitions within the London area and visited all sorts of clubs and pools, perhaps, with more skill we’ll be able to take part in competitions that are in other places. I needed to purchase a railcard to make train travel affordable because some competitions are outside of town. Soon, for the first time, Madison will go abroad for a swimming camp in Spain. That is a very exciting activity to look forward to.

Though I must say, the London region has a very good pool that attracts other swimmers to come and compete here. We are in a good place. In about 10 days time the Middlesex County Championships take place in the London Aquatics Centre and soon also an international open level 1 meet will be held there.

 

Timing is everything

Of course in competition all that counts is time, for performance competitors in swimming that is. Since I have been lamenting since the last two posts of mine that it is not straightforward to determine swimmers’ performance potential by age, I have read this article about Ruta Meilutyte, that she had already broken 11 Lithuanian women’s’ records when she was only 15 years of age. At the age of 17 she became the first and the only swimmer in history to win all available junior and senior international swimming championships at least once. Now swims for a new elite program in the USA.

If a swimmer becomes successful so early, it is much easier to stick to the sport and continue the time-consuming training rather than if success comes later.

In Britain the exam schedules and legal requirements for pupils to attend school until age 18 often leaves parents little choice but to remove their children from swimming clubs to attend school and spend extra time studying.

But I think that it is important for youngsters who enjoy swimming a lot to allow them to continue in the sport, even if in a reduced capacity. Swimming can be important for people’s general happiness and how their brains function, especially when the love of swimming is in the DNA.

For just about any sport, training during the teenage years is the foundation for early adult sporting success but unfortunately our education system leaves pupils little choice but to surrender sport in favour of education.

I think our education should be more flexible and allow sporting activists to delay taking GCSE or A-levels at a later date.

Because those who develop slower into the sport and are not likely to continue in the face of educational pressures can develop within their own pace. Funders also tend to fund more willingly if sporting success comes early and if funding is given, then it is easier to stick to the sport but this continuation can only come in conjunction with remaining in education till the age of at least 18.

Swimmers are encouraged to attend universities with swimming clubs attached but that also requires early taking of GCSE and A-levels.

I think people should have more freedom to get educated at their own pace and be allowed to take exams later in life without losing entitlement to free education.

Why not give people education vouchers that they can exchange whenever they want. Of course a basic education is extremely important for youngsters, so that they can make informed decisions for themselves but anything further should be left for people to take at their own pace.

 

 

 

Measuring sporting potential

medalsWe have hordes of medals and all those medals are no guarantee of future sporting success, they were gained in so-called low-level 3 meets.

What really determines sporting talent is the ability to get regional and national and international qualifying times.

But, when young, for example when a 10-year-old gets regional times, that does not mean they’ll always get regional times in the future.

When a 14-year-old doesn’t get regional times that doesn’t mean they won’t get them the following year.

I am drawing up a table now to measure improvement or decline.

A simple formula

financial reward for

Gaining regional, national times and medals. (Though medals do not pay as much as regional or national times).

financial penalty for

performing at less than a previous best time for each event.

So for example, go to a meet, do 9 events. If at worst the swimmer swims below previous Personal Best time that accrues a considerate financial penalty in terms of deduction from future earnings from medals or achieving target times.

However if the swimmer gains by getting a regional time, gains a medal but swims below PB in just one event, then there will be overall a financial gain.

How a parent does the math and what sums are involved will most likely depend on the spare cash available.

The more hopeful performance is, the greater the financial reward. If financial penalties keep mounting up then perhaps there is little point in training as intensely and it is time to concentrate on other, more rewarding activities, like trying to get all A*** in the GCSEs.