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This week at swim camp in Kaş Turkey I was talking with one of our devoted swim practitioners. He pointed out an insight he gained from his recent work in our Training Plan 5K in the Online Coaching Program.

Like every mastery-minded swimmer, he has many skill improvement projects on his list to work on. At 54 years old, after only 4 years from his start, he is already a marvelous swimmer. Yet he has tasted the pleasure of improvement and wants more. He said it was his normal pattern to pick 2 or 3 skill projects for a day’s practice, then pick maybe 2 or 3 different projects for the next practice, and pick a few different projects on the next, and so on. Over the course of a week and over the weeks he might be cover many different projects on his list. But once he began following our Training Plan 5K he noticed that he was assigned to work on just 2 (maybe 3) skill projects in a week. And then he would work those few skill projects in different dimensions of performance in the practice types assigned for that week. A few weeks later those same projects would be revisited and worked some more, at a slightly higher level of difficulty. He found this approach of keeping the same projects in focus over many practices was much more effective at helping him integrate the skills, rather than moving around to other projects so frequently.

This approach takes just 1, 2 or maybe 3 skill projects at most – chosen by their priority in the skill sequence and level of dependency on other skills – then has the swimmer work on those skills under a range of special conditions set by the practice type. In a week there are 3 or 4 different practice types (depending on the training plan) which require the swimmer to develop a full range of motor capabilities which translate into being a swimmer capable of executing that skill under the challenges he is preparing for. The swimmer can repeat any of those practice types during the week if he has time and desire to add more practice sessions.

Rather than trying to train the skill in a variety of ways in a single practice, each practice focuses on one dimension of control and works it thoroughly. Select a skill, insert it into certain self-limiting practice conditions and devote more time in that practice to work on it up to your failure point. This allows the skill to be developed under more precise constraints, isolating the weakest link in the performance systems.

Those individual practice types could be focused on just one of the following:

  • building attention and increasing motor control
  • building precision under tempo control
  • building endurance under stroke length control
  • building pace control (combining both SL and Tempo constraints)

Rather than trying to cover a lot of skill projects in a few weeks, spend a few weeks working on just a few skill projects and work them in a variety of conditions, with incremental increases in challenge as you feel things get easier. Pick a new mix of skill projects (perhaps keeping one of those you just worked on) for the next set of weeks.

Here is an example of how you could distribute your projects over the week:

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So, the main point of this insight is to pick just a few projects, and over the weeks, spend more time working those deeply, in a range of conditions. During those weeks, as you are able to incrementally increase the challenge of the practices then you will clearly see how you are indeed getting more skilled through this approach to practice.

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