It is certainly encouraging and advantageous to be at a training event with a coach who can give you feedback right there in the moment of action. But, as one swimmer recently commented, it gets expensive to keep the live coach around. These events costs money.
As powerful as having that coach input is, the fact is, they provide you only with external feedback, and educated guesses as to what might be happening inside your body based on external clues. It is quicker and easier than doing it yourself, but, in the long-run, it is not the most important feedback you need to train and swim with. Your own nervous system provides the best feedback, but you’ve got to invest in training yourself to use it. Then, in combination with external data that you can gather by yourself, measured in terms of time, stroke count, and tempo (with a Tempo Trainer), you have an adequately powerful set of tools to train yourself by.
If, later on, you can add an underwater camera to that and pick up some tricks for how to shoot video of yourself (I could give you some ideas!) then you have a full set of self-coaching tools.
When you are at those live training events, one of the ways to get more out of the input from the coach is whenever you ask the coach, “Did that look correct?” you should immediately then ask yourself, “What did that feel like?” You must make this connection between what the coach saw and the sensation you felt coming from your nervous system – then you can catalog those sensations and, when by yourself, use them to differentiate between better/worse position or movement pattern. You won’t be able to watch most of your body moving, so if you don’t know what it should feel like, this is the far more important question to ask, “Coach, what should it feel like when I do this correctly?” (That’s why you go to coaches who clearly practice what they teach, because you know they have their own intimate understanding of these internal sensations).
If you want to get better in each practice without a coach around then you must have a strong feedback system built into your practice plan. This is essential for anyone on an expertise or mastery path.
You plan a practice set which has a quantity assignment (specific distance or time) and a quality assignment (specific technique or sensation), then you determine how you are going to measure the qualities (since achievement of the quantity is self-evident). Since you cannot see most of your body parts and you definitely cannot see actions happening inside your body, you must use your proprioception and full nervous system to feel how the body is moving and how it is using energy inside.
For more on designing a practice with Quantities and Qualities read Self-Limiting Practice Sets.
You maintain full attention on the technical details you have assigned yourself in this practice set. You gather impressions of how it felt, and you gather external data that reflects the effects of the technique you are working on.
Then, after practice, you study what you learned from that experience. It should influence how you design the next practice set that will work on the same skill.
When designing the next practice, one common mistake – in excitement of progress or discouragement that too many things failed – is to change multiple variables rather than just one.
For example, if today’s set was 5x 100, with 10 seconds rest, hold 18 SPL, and apply focal points A, B, and C (a different one on each 100), for tomorrow’s practice on the same skill you would change just one of those variables, or maybe just two (one variable of quantity, and one variable of quality) – so tomorrow’s practice may be 4x 125, 10 seconds rest, hold 18 SPL, and apply focal points A, D, and E. Then you would be in good position to see how a slight change in the distance-per-repeat affected your control, and how the change in some of the focal points affected your data – time, effort, ease of holding SPL, etc.
But, if in the next practice you decided to change repeat distance, rest time, change SPL requirement and then add a Tempo Trainer – that would be a testing mess. It may all certainly have some effect on your body and performance, but you won’t get any smarter from that kind of multiple, random changes in variables.
Note: Focal points A, B, C, D and E just refer to a list of focal points you may have created to address a certain part of your stroke. You may keep working with the same focal points from day to day, or change one or two of them. But be cautious also of changing focal points too frequently, because this can also confound your observations and figuring out what causes changes in your performance.
Change One Variable, Test Again
If you are going to run an effective test-and-improve process, you need to change just one variable in your next practice set, execute the plan again, and observe the effect that change made. If you change several variables, then you won’t be able to clearly see which changed-variable caused the effect (whether it caused some failure, or some improvement). In order to get smarter in each practice, you need to discover these clear connections between cause-and-effect of single adjustments.
This works for both Level 1 training when you are training for stroke mastery, and for Level 2 when you are training for pace control. As long as you want to stay engaged in the improvement process at any level of performance, this feedback loop is your indispensable companion. It is more important than having a live coach nearby, as helpful as that is.
If you want to quit paying out so often for live training events this is what you need to do to break your dependency on them.