Swimming is all about technique. Butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke and freestyle are all highly technical strokes that take years to master.
Swim practice is a group activity that creates a logistical nightmare for the lane leader who has to rapidly assess the skills of their fellow lane mates, keep count of the interval and pace the lane so that people don’t pile up. This is the fine art of lane Mojo.
Get this Mojo right and the practice is productive and rewarding. A big part of that Mojo is setting the proper pace.
Pacing The Lane
The pace of a practice lane is a combination of the workout, skills of the swimmers and the experience of the leader. The lane leader needs to keep the pace brisk so they can complete the workout but not too fast that the lane piles up. This skill is an important part of an effective swim practice and building great swimmers.
Pace plays a critical role in endurance leaders as well. Your job is to set the pace for whatever you are leading so that it gets done in a timely manner, utilizes the skills of the participates and allows you to grow as a leader. With the proper pace, projects (and workouts) are fun, useful and benefit all who participate.
Getting your pace right takes time. When you first start swimming, you soon realize that effort does not equal results. In fact, the harder you swim, the slower you get if you don’t master the proper technique.
This also applies to leading any kind effort. Your mastery of people, creativity and technology depends on your pace setting skills and those skills require knowing the strengths and limitations of all three. Consider these important steps in setting the right pace for your group.
Step 1: Who Do I Have?
In the pool, most swimmers know where they fit in. They will jockey for position in the lane depending on their skill and comfort level.
The first step is to assess the people you are working with. Who are they? What can they do? How do I motivate them?
Look at each individual and see what’s unique about them and how they fit into the overall group.
Step 2: What’s The Goal?
Swim workouts usually have a board where the coach puts up the days workout. The workout is broken down into sets that are easily remembered. Each set builds on each other until the entire workout is done.
The goal for your group needs to be crystal clear as well. This allows for the proper focus and attention when things start to get tough.
Goals should be measurable with a who, what and a when. Without such specific outcomes, the pace of the team will vary widely.
Step 3: Do I Need Other Skills?
Most swim workout consist of a lot of freestyle. Pretty much anyone can do freestyle and that stroke builds up your basic endurance. Mix in a little stroke (butterfly, back or breast) and the lane can get out of whack. Once that happens, requiring some readjustment or even modification of the workout might be necessary.
For your small group, you sometimes need additional skills to get the task or project done. If you can modify the tasks to fit the skills of your team that’s ideal but sometimes you need other people on your team to round it out.
Step 4: Start Working
You never really know how the swim workout will go until you start. The first couple of sets are usually a warmup to get you ready for the main set. The leader will get a sense of the lane and figure out if everyone is in the right place.
The only way to see how your small team will perform is to start doing something. As the team progresses, you can get a sense of the pace of work. You will also get keen insights into how the team works together and if the roles of each member are correct.
Step 5: Can I Meet The Goal?
Swim workouts are timed. Each set has a specific time criteria and that makes planning pretty easy. Sometimes you make the interval and sometimes you don’t but the lane lead figures out what times they can meet and adjusts accordingly.
With small teams, the goals are usually not as solid as a swim workout but their is usually an initial goal to meet. Take a look at the team working, the goal and then figure out if progress is being made. This will also be the first time you can take a look at the pace of progress. Is it too slow or too fast? Will the team burn out before the finish?
Step 6: Adjust the Team and Then the Goals
Sometimes, swimmers need to move up or down a lane simply because their skill set does not match the lane. With swimming, you want the lane to all finish close to each other so that the pace is brisk. When a swimmer is too fast or too slow, it throws the Mojo way off. Too slow and boredom sets in. Too fast and people panic to catch up.
With teams, you are only as fast as your slowest performer. The pace of your group needs to take that into account. You can certainly give more work to the higher performing members but also remember that the team has to finish together. If you sense that certain team members are ahead or behind, you can adjust the work load up to a certain point.
Urgency Not Panic
The ideal pace is one of urgency not of panic. Panic will make your small team rush to get a task done to keep up. A sense of urgency will keep the team sharp and motivated since they see progress and don’t feel overwhelmed.
Getting the balance right takes trial and error. You need to feel out your small team to figure out their Mojo and what motivates them to start and finish strong.