Throwback Thursday: Swimming is not Kid’s Stuff: there are advantages to starting when you are 40


Received by the MSABC President via the internet and is written by Terry Laughin
– Published December 1995

It’s a stubborn and particularly condescending myth that learning to swim, like bearing a child, is subject to some kind of biological clock. There is was again in recent issue of SWIM magazine, a star swimmer on the Masters circuit, suggesting that the age of 40 was some kind of watershed governing whether or not a new swimmer could develop a good stroke and learn to swim comfortably.

As myths go, it play to an especially credulous audience – new triathletes, and hopeful runners checking out alternative pool workouts that won’t punish their legs after one too many training injuries. In they jump and down they go exhausted, wondering where all their fitness went. They don’t understand what’s happening. I do, because in capricious moments, I’ll go out for a run with friends who are serious about running. Despite my Clydesdale figure and modest mileage (over 200 lbs and under 200 in running miles per year) I can hold on for several miles with accomplished athletes who are kind enough to ease their normal pace a bit. I certainly do well enough to finish a road race in the middle of the pack.

My running friends, who log as many miles in a month as I might in a year, can’t move as easily into swimming mode though. They d never think of joining my swim work-outs and entering a Masters or open water race would be more unthinkable yet. Then they hear, from an “authority” hat to learn all the subtle motor skills of swimming really well you have to start , a kid and they say “Well no wonder!” and walk out of the pool forever. Bad move. Exercise physiologist Dr. Dan Rooks is a researcher in the effects of exercise and aging and motor control and learning. In his view, “There is no reason older muscles can’t learn sports skills fine movements at a similar rate as younger muscles. The circuits that run them don’t change appreciably over time.” So there may be reasons for an older swimmer to develop a fine stroke slowly, but age is not one of them.

The primary reason that swimmers can run a lot better than runners can swim is that we all learn to run fairly well as kids – there’s not that much to it – while swimming as a much more complex skill that many Masters athletes are only now getting serious about. If you didn’t swim competitively in your youth, your swim skills will usually leave a lot be desired now. But the legions of highly successful Masters swimmers who didn’t get serious about the sport until their 30s or later prove it’s not impossible. The key is understanding that learning to do it well takes everyone time – whether they start at 10 or 50.

For the first 16 years of my swim coaching career I worked mainly with young age group teams. When new swimmers joined at age 8 or 9, we explained to their parents that their first four to five years would be devoted primarily learning the basic skills for all strokes. In their early teens, we’d shift toward training and conditioning, but they would continue refining those basic skills into their late teens. In eaching them, I got to write on a “blank slate,” teaching kids their strokes from scratch. The kids learned them correctly right from the start and with constant guidance as they went.

The hundreds of adults, I now work with at camps and clinics each year are different. They face the same four-to-five year basic learning span as kids. But they don’t do it cheerfully. When kids go to practice, they take it one day at a time, they just do what the coach tells them, and they’re with their friends. To them, it’s just playtime in a more structured environment. Adults view it as work. Many, particularly triathletes, feel pressured to swim better in a hurry. And, if they’ve been trying to swim on their own for several years, there are layers of bad habits on the slate to overcome.

But there’s one great equalizer. Adults are rapt and absorbed pupils, far more dedicated students than are most kids. And attention and motivation are the most important ingredients in learning new skills. Frankly, I’d find it very difficult to go back to coaching kids again because I’ve become spoiled by the quality of mature students and how much they learn in just a few days.

They’ve had to carve precious time out of busy schedules to spend a few days with me, and they’re intent on getting the most out of it.

Does it matter? It does to Norton Davey, a 75 year old triathlete from Oceanside CA, and two-time age group Hawaiian Ironman champion, who improved his swim speed by 30 percent after three days of instruction. Just try telling him the only time to learn better strokes is when you’re young.

Shortening the learning curve is as easy as 1-2-3.

Get some coaching. Swim skills are complex. With instruction adults often make more progress in hours than they could on their own. Limit skill drills to 20-30 minutes. Most of the positive imprinting from any drill takes place in the first 20 minutes or so of practice. After that, even the most attentive pupil’s mind wanders. Execution falls off, and bad habits creep back in.

Work on one aspect of a skill at a time. For instance, you can concentrate on effectively on extending your hand further in front or on rolling your hips as you stroke, but not on both at once. Better to do on something else not requiring great concentration of 20 minutes, then a third 20 minutes concentrating on something else.

The above article was received by MSABC via the internet and was written by Terry Laughin.

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Throw Back Thursday: Dreams

by Mary Lou Monteith
Published September 1995

There isn’t one of us whho doesn’t want to be the best we can be. We invest a great deal of time and energy into Masters Swimming because we believe in its pursuit of Fun, Friendship, and Fitness. However, I wonder how many of us have actually articulated our goals any more specifically
Than agreeing with the basic tenets of Masters Swimming.

Time and time again it has been demonstrated that the world’s greatest performers have not only honed their physical capacities to the maximum degree but have developed a repertoire of mental skills by consciously including psychological skill practice in concert with their physical practice.

The idea of the development of mental skills is not a new one, but it is an area that most athletes and coaches are less familiar and comfortable with than technical and physiological training methods. I would like to summarize some ideas that I have gleaned from various sources.

Goal Setting is, I believe, the most important element that underlies all of the other psychological skills. I love the story told by Canadian Olympic basketball coach Jack Donohue of a young man who scurried up to the ticket counter at the airport, slapped $200 on the counter, and said “Quick, give me a ticket.” “Where would you like to go sir?” asked the ticket agent. “Can’t you see I’m in a hurry? I don’t have time for that, just give me a ticket!”

Goal setting not only allows us to define where we would like to go but can also help us develop a step-by-step plan of how to get there. Properly established, consistently referred to, and adjusted when necessary, goals provide visible benchmarks of our progress and allow us to experience those regular doses of success to necessary for continued effort and motivation.

There are three important principles of goal setting to keep in mind.

  1. Personal: Goals must be something that you personally buy into. No one else can really dream your dreams. It may be helpful to discuss your plans with someone else but ultimately you must have personal control – they must be yours. You alone will feel the satisfaction of their achievement.
  2. Challenging but Attainable: Your goals must be challenging but generally realistic and attainable. Short term goals, especially, should be stated in terms of performance outcomes rather than depending on factors that may be beyond your control. You may have a dream of winning a certain event, but establishing a certain time goal provides a likelihood of success that is independent of anyone else’s performance.
  3. Long – intermediate – and short term: It is important to establish goals on several different levels and time frames. These very in degree of specificity and attainability. It is essential to lay out a series of stepping stones that pave the way towards your ultimate goal.

Long – term (Dream) Goals: These are your ultimate dreams of what you can and do, should nothing stand in your way. Let your imagination run riot and imagine what would be possible if example, you may decide you want to be the fittest person of your age in your country.

Intermediate Goals: A this level you should introduce a heavier dose of reality. You want to establish a challenging set of goals that you have reasonable chance of achieving over a period of time. These could be specific time objectives for certain events, the completion of certain test set, the mastering of a new stroke, the changing of dietary habits – the possibilities are endless. Decide where you want to be a certain distance down the road and proceed to the next step.

Short-Term Goals: these are, I believe, the most important and yet neglected goals. These should be phrased in such a way that they are 100% attainable, for then their achievement will deliver that feeling of accomplishment that is son essential for continued, positive motivation. Giving yourself the opportunity for frequent well-deserved pats on the back will reaffirm your determination to reach your intermediate goals and move you one step closer toward your ultimate dream.

To paraphrase Bobby Knight, another Olympic coach, everyone may have a will to win, but we really need to work on the will to practice to win. Swimmers need to look at weekly and daily commitment they are prepared to make toward the achievement of their long-range goals and define that commitment specifically.

Terry Orlick in his book “Psyching for Sport” suggests “you may benefit from asking yourself the following three questions before each training session.

  1. What am I going to do today (physical training/skill refinement goals)?
  2. How am I going to approach what I’m going to do today (e.g. with intensity, concentration, positiveness)?
  3. What am I going to do today to improve my mental strength (psychological training goals)?

I cannot begin to convey, in a short article, all of the ideas for the development of mental skills that I would like swimmers and coaches to examine, but I hope that I have been able to convince you of the importance of goal setting as the essential starting point for anyone who is prepared to devote a lot of time and effort in the pool as all of you already do. It certainly can’t hurt to 1) examine why you are willing to subject yourself to those grueling hours of torture and 2) find ways to reward yourself regularly for all efforts.


Throwback Thursday: Sports BC Masters Athlete of the Year

Originally Published March 1993 in Great Lengths
By Denis K. Crockett


In recognition of this achieving five out seven Canadian Records, Masters Swimming Association of B.C. nominated Cam Weir for the Sport B.C. Masters Athlete of the Year Award.

Candidates for the awards must have realized their achievements in the current year of sport. Nominations are made through the provincial organizations of the sport. Selection of the winners is made by representatives of the various sports media. The awards banquet is funded by the private sector and is organized by Sport B.C.

Came made the short list of three, the finalist to be named at the banquet. The banquet, held March 6, was no mean affair. Consider the ballroom of the Hotel Vancouver – standing room only! The capacity crowd was a “who’s who” in B.C. amateur sport. TV vignettes of all winners were large screened to the assembled guests and later broadcast publicly.

This was the 27th Amateur Athlete of the Year Awards Banquet. Imagine Cam was a mere lad of 54 when the group began!

Masters swimmer Cam Weir, at age 81, was chosen as Masters Athlete of the Year … no sports barred!

Congratulations Cam!

Know someone deserving of an award. Nominate them for an MSABC Award. Email the president for more information.


Throwback Thursday: Regional Swim Clinic

Originally Published January 1993 in Great Lengths
By Caren Liedtke, Coach of the Victoria Masters Swim Club

On November 15, 1992, the Victoria Masters Swim Club hosted a 4-hour stroke improvement clinic. Fourteen of our own members attended, along wth the coach of the Duncan Masters Swim Team.

The clinic was led by Jack Kelso, a man with a long and distinguished history in swimming. He most recently coached the UBC varsity team, and is currently teaching coaching and sport science at UBC.

The clinic was divided into three sections: watching a swimming video, videotaping the feedback, and individual stroke correction. Jack began the clinic by showing a video from the AquaForm series. The series shows a high level of swimminig (the top two to three male and femal American swimmers in each stroke) and provides thorough stroke analysis. Shots are taken from above and below the water, graphics display stroke patterns from front and side views. Graphs show acceleration phases, and a voice-over analyzes and helps you make sense of all the visuals. As well, Jack paused the video to provide commentary of his own.

For the second portion of the clinic it was on the pool. Jack video taped each swimmer doing three strokes of his or her choice. Then we all gathered around the TV. Jack gave everyone feedback, pointing out both strengths and weaknesses.

In the final section of the clinic, Jack spent 5 to 10 minutes with each swimmer and gave one-on-one stroke correction. He watched the swimmer do a stroke of his or her choice, th4en gave feedback and suggested some stroke drills that might help focus on and improve weak areas.

Throughout the clinic I heard comments such as, “I didn’t know that”, “I didn’t know I swam like that”, “Oh, so that’s how backstroke pull goes”. Since the clinic I have heard, “At the clinic Jack told me to …”, “Since the clinic I have been trying to…” These comments tell me that the swimmers who attended learned something they didn’t already know about stroke efficiency and are trying to apply this new knowledge in practice. On this basis, I would say the clinic was a smashing (splashing?) success.

Thinking about hosting a swim clinic? Let us know so we can help spread the word!