Sunday, February 19, 2017

Ok, So I'm Not a Chess Master

It's been said that a chess master, or a grandmaster, or a grand poobah, can look at the pieces of a game in progress and be able to recreate the game in their minds. (Aside- just for the record, I am no where near a chess master. In fact, I was in my mid-30s before I learned that the game wasn't called 'chest'. /End Aside.) They can see the opening moves and the plays that came to pass. They can also see the next logical moves in the sequence and predict the end game.

To test this hypothesis, they set up several games in progress and tested the members of the Royal Order of Water Buffalo's. They passed. Then, they did something brilliant. They set up the pieces at random of a game that was never played. To you or me, it would look like a normal hodge-podge of pointy shapes sitting on a checkerboard. But, the masters were flummoxed. They couldn't understand how those plays came to be. In essence, they passed the next stage of testing without even knowing it.

Coaching is a little bit like this. A decent coach should be able to look at a workout, or a series of exercises masquerading as training, and figure out where an athlete is in the season. Or, at the very least, they should be able to tell if a workout is a good one or not. This is where the art of coaching meets the science.

One such occasion happened when I was coaching one of my athletes in the pool. Enter the Outlaw. The Outlaw is an amazing talent. He scored a 91.9 in the USAT rankings in 2016. For comparison, I'm no slough at sport and I earned an 84. That ranking placed him at 254th in the US in his age group. I kid you not when I say that he underperformed. I started working with him later in the summer last year and I have full confidence that he'll be on the first page of that list with great things left in the tank.

The Outlaw trusts me to dictate his training. I write the sets. The distances. The intensities. He does the work. In fact, out of all of the athletes I've ever had the pleasure to work with, he is the easiest athlete to coach. I say, he does. That's pretty much the end of the story. Yes, he does his due diligence by providing feedback on the workouts. Not once have I ever heard a bit of whining, belly aching, or a suggestion of pansiness coming from the Outlaw. Since I'm a big pansy, I'm often confused by his demeanor. At least I'm smart enough to not ask him about it.

The Outlaw was a swimmer and a runner in former lives (not so much of a cycling history, though). He's one of those blokes that would crush pretty much everyone in the water on basically zero training. Much to my surprise, he told me that he wanted to start swimming again. How can you say no to an athlete like that? I started writing him sets on his easy days (see comment on his cycling history). As always, I write the work and he does the work, without question.

During one of his sessions, I had the pleasure of sitting down on the deck and coaching his set. Now, understand that I wrote the set a week before he did the work. And, I may not have had my full faculties when I penned the effort. I was recently injured at the time. I may not have been feeling well. And, to no one's surprise, I'm not that smart in the first place. The moment I sat down and reviewed the workout, I became a chest master. I immediately noticed that there was something wrong with the set. The pieces weren't in the right place.

Here is the set, exactly as it was written, for your review. See if you can spot the problem.

Any guesses yet?

Perhaps you did the math. This is typical swimmer speak and the exact reason that they teach you algebra in high school. Once you total everything, you'll come to the conclusion that this is indeed 2000 yards.

Maybe you think that 1:30's for a cruise interval is a bit fast. Not for the Outlaw. In fact, I'm pretty sure he didn't even break a sweat. Yes, when done right, swimmers sweat a great deal in the pool. Even more so when you're swimming at the Y and the temps are kept at Silver Sneakers standards. I could have adjusted his sendoff to the 1:20 and it still would have achieved the goal. But, I wanted him to really work the next set and he's a bit out of shape by his personal swimming standards.

If you're a typical triathlete, the next set should give you pause. It's got stuff that's not freestyle. In the triathlon world, IM stands for Ironman and serves as the cornerstone for multisport tattoos. In the swimming world, IM stands for Individual Medley. The IM is a ridiculously fun event that consists of swimming butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke, and crawl. It's the event that I swam (slowly) in college. In training, these sets serve as cross training and strength training in the pool. Every swimmer on a competitive team is required to do stroke work and they will come out of the day a better all-around swimmer for their efforts. Triathletes tend to rebel in masses against the concept.

The problem isn't with the concept of stroke work. That's solid. The problem is in the number of repetitions. There is no way possible to make that set work. The IM doesn't divide evenly into 10. Once in a while, the "evil" coach will cancel the crawl, making the IM as fly, back, breast, repeat. That changes the multiple to 3, which still won't go into 10. The Outlaw, bless his heart, tried to come up with solutions. (Aside 2- This is proof positive that he's a swimmer. Put a coach on deck and a swimmer will do whatever is in his/ her power to get out of doing work by chatting up the coach. It fails every time but the swimmer will try anyway. /End Aside 2).

Due to my failure, I had to call the audible. The options were to increase the reps to 12 or decrease them to 8 (not 9, since I'm not necessarily evil yet.) I changed his set to 8. I applauded this decision as I watched him nearly drown on the fly, he was smooth on his backstroke, the lifeguard got worried on his breaststroke, and he destroyed the crawl.

When the Outlaw got finished with his set, it was clear that he was adequately worked. Good call, Coach Banter! I'm glad I was there to save the day and recover from the crappy set-writing in the first place. Still, just in case the coaching thing doesn't work out, I've sent my application to FIDE, because I'm pretty sure they want guys like me.

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