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What’s Under Funk & Wagnall’s Porch?

(or An Open Mind is A Terrible Thing to Waste)

Revised from an article posted to the TI Coaches Forum in 1999.

One of my occasional “drop-in” swimmers (comes once or twice a year when she’s in town on business) remarked the other day that she was dissatisfied because every time she visits us we don’t do our “usual” type of workouts. No long head-banger sets. Way too much drilling. Way way too much “brainwork” for early in the morning. She’s been a drop-in since the mid 80s when she was one of my star swimmers, and we were the high volume, high intensity group in town. That’s how she still thinks of us even though it’s been a good 4-5 years since she’s seen one of those kinds of workouts in our program. So we got into a discussion about the evolution of my coaching philosophy and practices. Basically she’s 100 percent on the other end of the spectrum from where I am now. And she gets pretty upset by my assertion that her favorite set, 10x200 on 2:30 (where, by the way, she starts out hitting 2:10s @ 16 SPL and gradually but unavoidably deteriorates to hitting 2:25+ @ 24 SPL by the end of the set) may, in fact, be a less than effective use of her training time. At the end of the conversation she takes a defensive posture and decides that I and my ilk have become “close-minded” and stomps off in a huff. So much for my people skills.

Which brings me to the real story

So there I was cleaning out some old files and trying to make room for an additional computer work station in my small and unbelievably cluttered office. Long ago I took that sign “If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, what is an empty desk?” totally to heart and upped it to the next logical level. Now, making room for new clutter, I run across two interesting publications.


The first one is a book I wrote back in 1988 (when all I had was an entry level dot matrix printer) called Basic Energy Systems Training (B.E.S.T.). It was written for my swimmers to describe the principles that our whole program was based on. Within those 40 pages I have two short references to drilling and technique work (I indicated that the EZ recovery swims between the real work were an ideal time for this type of stuff — so that the time wasn’t totally wasted). The rest of the book is metabolism, intensity, duration, forces, work/rest ratios, lactate levels, oxygen uptake etc. etc. etc. You get the picture.

Early TI Workbook

The other publication is a 32 page book by Terry Laughlin, published in 1991 which appears to be the “workbook” that went with his early Total Immersion camps. In the first half of the book there are just two references to technique. Part of one sentence in his 6-page “How to Increase Endurance” section indicates that “avoiding the water’s frontal resistance” is part of the picture. And one paragraph in his 4-page “Sprinting” section talks about getting “slippery,” but, instead of describing how to effect this, he indicates that the mere act of sprinting will “build a better intuitive awareness of how to eliminate resistance and create power.” There are sections on general metabolism, motivation, strength training, etc. There are a bunch of workouts wherein drills and/or technique are not addressed in any way. Ahhhh...but in the second half of the book Terry lists several drills for each of the four strokes and there are even a few of the drills in free and back that are reminiscent of some of the stuff we see in TI today. But conspicuously absent is any indication that these drills should actually be used as part of the regular training regimen or might be related to any of the workouts earlier in the book. And finally, on the last page is a chart indicating the Critical Positions of Swimming Technique. What’s interesting is that if you were to remove all the references involving the following words: hand, pitch, 30-45 degrees, thumb, pinky, grabbing water, wrist angle, inward sweep, and outward sweep, you’d have very little left on the chart.

So, what’s my point?

Seems to me that, perhaps my drop-in swimmer might have been off base on the “close-minded” accusation. I can’t think of any more concrete demonstration of open-mindedness than the above examples presented by myself and my mentor. We both “let it all hang out” by putting your philosophy on paper and distributing it widely so that, years later, the whole world can see the dirty little hovels whence we came. Then, after a period of time, we each “let it all hang out” again so that the whole world can see where we are now (I’m being so bold as to assume you’ve read my latest book, Fitness Swimming, by now — if not, please allow me to sell you a copy — and I’m SURE you’ve read Terry’s book, Total Immersion).

Time Capsule

I’m going to keep both of these precious documents along with our more current works (sealed, perhaps, in a mayonnaise jar under Funk & Wagnall’s porch) and pull them out in another 10 years or so — just to see if I (and Terry) still have open minds, and so that we can reminisce over the old hovels.

Hugs for Coach

BTW — my drop-in girl finally came out of the lockerroom, gave me a big hug and told me she still loved me. My people skills are back! (Don’t tell my wife.) v

© H2Ouston Swims, Inc. 2000

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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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