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Keeping Track

Revised from an article that first appeared in Schwimmvergngen in 1993.

OK, let's see the hands — how many of you actually keep a dedicated swimming training diary or journal? I don't mean a pocket-sized affair where you write down your workout yardage and the occasional PR. I mean a proper notebook where, after every practice session you write in complete sentences about aquatic skills you worked on, what you learned, questions that arose, answers to those questions, etc. That's what I thought — not many hands.

Here's what I encourage swimmers to do after every practice: Sit with notebook and pen for at least 10 minutes, writing continuously, in complete sentences, about the practice experience. Then, before each practice, reread the entries from at least the two most recent practices.

“Why would I want to do that?” you ask. “I spend more time than I can afford at this swimming thing as it is!”

Whether you are a 3athlete, competitive swimmer or a fitness swimmer, it will shorten the learning/refining curve. It will make the time you spend in the water more productive. It will increase your motivation level. Honest!

Supercharge your workout awareness

Things barely on the periphery of your consciousness in the past will come sharply into focus if your goal is to gather useful information. The intention to write something down will make you naturally more aware and attentive during the practice — that's half the reason you were drilled to take notes in school.

Reinforce the concepts and applications you have a good handle on

Abstract concepts become clearer when you organize your thoughts in a way calculated to communicate them to others. Requiring yourself to develop complete sentences and well constructed paragraphs will force you to connect loose ends in your thinking and awareness.

Expose gaps in your knowledge

When you try to express something you think you understand in complete sentences, it gets easier to spot the potholes in your road to aquatic nirvana. Concepts on which your grasp is marginal tend to become questions as you try to verbalize your thoughts. Write the questions down and then make a point of seeking answers — perhaps by further practice, or observing others, reading, watching videos or cornering your coach. You learn more rapidly if information you get is in response to questions you have formulated on your own.

Get your mind right, then get your body wet

Before hitting the water, rereading what you've already given great thought to guarantees you'll be better prepared for and more focused on whatever you undertake during your workout — from the very first stroke.

Leverage your time

When you learn something valuable during a workout, a competition or a conversation with your coach or another swimmer, write it down. Then read and reread your diary regularly. It is many times easier to recall a hard-learned but deeply buried lesson by using your diary to pry it loose than it is to re-learn that same lesson by undertaking another round of trial and error over countless hours in the pool.

Having been involved in a couple different sports at an elite level, I can personally attest to the value of a properly utilized training diary. A small investment of time can cut big chunks of “had it, lost it, am groping around trying to find it again” frustration out of learning — changing the all too common “learning rollercoaster” into the much more rewarding “learning curve.”

Some diary hints

Get a medium sized notebook — small enough that you don't endure undue physical hardship in bringing it to workout every day. If it has pockets you can conveniently store articles that relate to what you are writing about. Include several different-colored pens with waterproof ink — and perhaps a highlighter pen.

Store all this in a heavy-duty Ziplock bag or similar waterproof container. I know, you don't plan on getting it wet but, properly kept, your diary will be a valuable asset and quite irreplaceable. Ziplock is cheap insurance in an inherently wet environment.

Express your thoughts completely and include lots of questions (and blank spaces to be filled with answers later). Write in such a way that someone less knowledgeable about swimming would be able to read your work and get a functional idea of what you are doing.

Write from different perspectives (one day writing in first person, another day in third person). This allows you to examine your swimming in ways not possible in real-time.

Consider having another swimmer or coach read your entries and make comments.

Plan your schedule to ensure available time for your diary session as soon after your practice as possible.

There are advantages to keeping your diary electronically (backup, text search, communicating with your coach, etc). I have clients that make diary entries on their computer and sync them to a PDA so they can reread them in the lockerroom or poolside before hopping in.

Have a waterproof notebook (WetNotes, WetLog etc.) handy at the end of the pool during practices so you can jot down notes that you'll expand upon in your diary. This is particularly useful if there will be a lag between the end of your practice and when you make your diary entry. A WetLog will run you about $13 so it ain't cheap — but the first time you miss out on jotting down an "Ahah!" as it happens and subsequently forget to put it your training diary, that $13 will seem like peanuts. (FYI, I can sell you a WetLog if you can't find them anywhere.)

Don't do it wrong

There is no wrong way to keep a swimming diary, save for not keeping one at all. v

© H2Ouston Swims, Inc. 2003-2006

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Emmett Hines is Director and Head Coach of H2Ouston Swims. He has coached competitive Masters swimming in Houston since 1981, was a Senior Coach for Total Immersion Swim Camps for many years, holds an American Swim Coaches Association Level 5 Certification, was selected as United States Masters Swimming’s Coach of the Year in 1993 and received the Masters Aquatic Coaches Association Lifetime Achievement Award in 2002. He recently overhauled his popular book, Fitness Swimming (Human Kinetics, publishers) and the second edition was released mid-2008. Fitness Swimming has been published in French (entitled Natation, pub. by Vigot), Spanish (entitled Natacion, pub. by Hispano Europea), Chinese (entitled Jianshenyouyong), Portuguese (Natacao Para Condicionamento Fisico, pub. by Manole)  and, soon, in Turkish and Italian. Currently Coach Hines coaches the H2Ouston Swims Masters group in Houston, TX and works privately with many clients. He can be reached for questions or comments at 713-748-SWIM or via email.

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