My name is Coach Rich Rogers. I have been utilizing the 3S suite of tools since 2002. 3S allowed me to offer my Tampa Bay Aquatics (TBAY) athletes a training program that helped us win the 2006 18 & Under USA Swimming Long Course National Championship. It was also a vital tool in allowing our swimmers to set Jr. National records in every stroke, send swimmers to NCSA and USA Jr. National teams and more. Currently, I am in New Orleans coaching at both the club and University level. I moved here in the fall of 2009 to help rebuild the city through swimming. I feel success in the water can make a difference on dry land as well.
I began using 3S after TBAY had a sub-par showing at the USA Swimming Senior National competition in 2002. I was dissatisfied with the club’s performance and needed to find a way to ensure that my athletes had the best possible training environment to compete at the sport’s highest levels. My swimmers were advancing in the sport and I knew I had to as well.
To that point in my career, I had demonstrated an ability to develop strong age group swimmers (at the time 200+ National Top 16 swims, NAG Champions, NAG record holders. etc.), but had not developed a team training system that would vessel these great age group swimmers into great national level ones. Something had to change. I did some research and discovered 3S. After evaluating its merits, I implemented the system within our club structure and achieved great results program-wide.
Prior to 3S, I used a modified version of the EN1, 2 & 3, SP1, 2 & 3 system coupled with seasonal plans and cycles derived from Ernie Maglischo’s books. Instead of using the charts or colors (white, pink, etc.) developed by Urbanchek & Richardson, I used a timed 1000 to determine the athlete’s EN1 pace. I won’t bore you with all the details of how we determined all the other paces. The point is the young swimmers I was working with understood the cyclical nature of the training process, the value of holding prescribed paces and had an expectation of success at the end of the season because they knew they were well trained.
Transitioning to 3S in a “Perfect” World
I believe it is that background that made our club’s transition to 3S very smooth. All I had to do was explain to the athletes that instead of evaluating their current state with a timed 1000 swim, we were going to enter their desired season-ending time (future state) into this new program which would give them paces in each energy zone (now Zones Ib-Va instead of EN1-SP3) to hold throughout the season
To make our transition even easier, Dr. Sergei Beliaev (former Soviet Scientist and the founder of 3S) came to Tampa to talk to me and some of the athletes about the program and the changes we could expect. The club was coach-owned so there was no internal debating regarding whether we should or should not switch. The coaches, swimmers and their parents were all excited about the move and everyone bought into moving forward with the new system.
TBAY had talented swimmers, and eager staff and no impediments to the system’s integration. It was perhaps the perfect combination of circumstances in which to launch 3S.
Introducing 3S in the Real World
The scenario above may not reflect the majority of teams looking to 3S as a way to increase the performance level of their athletes. As a Master Level 3S Coach, I have enjoyed speaking with hundreds of coaches about 3S and how to best implement it within their specific situation. I understand that many potential 3S users have real-world considerations and limitations and are not sure if 3S is right for them.
When I moved to New Orleans, I had an opportunity to put 3S to the test in less than ideal conditions. I implemented 3S in a club situation here, but this paper focuses on the experience I had with the University of New Orleans Women’s Swim Team.
When I said less than ideal earlier, I was being kind. These girls suffered through the worst natural disaster in US history. They were displaced, demoralized, their numbers dwindled, they lost their home training facility, their times got slower and their coaches left. If any potential 3S coach can match their team’s woes with that as a starting point, I would be very surprised.
The team was down to 11 members when I began working with them in the fall. Many of them had not done lifetime best times since HS (pre-Katrina). Some had best times from a 2006 Conference meet that was altitude adjusted, but nothing great since they came to UNO. New Head Coach Randy Horner inquired about our training philosophy after watching our club kids post some fast times in high school competition. Both our club team & UNO rent lane pace at Tulane after being displaced from our home pool, post-Katrina.
I gave him a tour of 3S and he immediately saw the value in it and discussed ways to implement it with his team. One of the things that drew him to the program was the fact that I never lost a swimmer to shoulder injuries in Tampa, even though we were a high volume, high-performance team. He had already begun to have swimmers develop shoulder soreness with the workouts he was providing them pre-3S. I joined his staff as Distance / IM coach and became their training coordinator, designing cycles for all the training groups.
Setting Up the Season
The time from that point to Conference was a little over 22 weeks. I encouraged Randy to use the early weeks to not only introduce how the system worked, but also to focus on distance per stroke and other technical aspects of the sport. Education, for both the staff and players, is one of the keys to acceptance. Unlike TBAY, these swimmers had no real background with cyclical training, holding prescribed paces or even “winning” at season’s end. There was a lot of groundwork to do before they could understand and buy into the training process.
Putting the Plan into Play
Randy had to fight the temptation of pushing too hard too soon and the girls had to fight the “when are we going to do something fun” mentality. These girls were not used to the repetitive nature of some of the sets and were looking for what I call “mind candy” to get them through the workout. Over time, they went from getting through the set to getting into it; meaning they began to define “fun” as hitting their targeted times / HRs.
The swimmers were thrilled when we introduced the higher energy zone sets in week 4. Their initial excitement for the change of pace wore off when those sets got more and more demanding. They learned to push through the Zone II and III sets only to find bigger ones the next practice or next week. It can be disheartening if they do not know there is an end in sight.
It is that point in the season where a 3S coach needs to be strong and demanding, yet compassionate and motivational at the same time. They have to recognize that the swimmer is experiencing something new and potentially frightening and must find ways to assure them that they will not just survive, but thrive. I use this time in the “transition-to-3S-process” to remind the swimmers of their goals and that striving to hold these paces will help them achieve those goals. I also tell them that shorter days are ahead of them…and to simply hang tough.
The Athletes Adapt
After 9 weeks or so, the swimmers began changing before my eyes. Their bodies and minds adapted to the demands and they learned to push forward when those sets were presented to them. They got “into” the sets. They also were getting a taste of the shorter sets (Zones IVb – Va) and could see light at the end of the tunnel. They know knew that every day wasn’t going to get harder and harder…and they were glad.
Randy saw the success in workouts, but it wasn’t translating into competitive success. The swimmers had bought into the system, but they were not getting faster at meets. In fact, many were getting slower. I had to assure Randy that it will all pay off at season’s end. I told him the phrase I used in Tampa was, “hate me in June, love me in August”. I do not know if he fully believed me or was just in too deep to stop at that point. Regardless, we moved forward with the plan despite the poor meet performances.
We knew these girls were better than their results showed. Were there other factors in play? Did they lack the ability to race? Had they learned to lose? We were providing support in certain areas such as nutrition, dryland, race strategy, etc…but were those efforts enough? I looked inwardly and believed we had addressed those concerns to an acceptable degree for this level of athlete. I was convinced that all they needed to do was stay the course.
What was my advice to Randy during this perplexing time? Hold the line and continue to push forward. Now was not the time to suffer a crisis of confidence. The girls will sense it and that would be harmful to their ability to believe. Then Erika approached us with a question.
One of our girls, Erika, was from Finland and asked us in December if she could return home for her country’s National Meet in mid-late January. Randy initially wanted her to stay the course with her teammates, but I advised that he reconsider. My rationale was that if we bring her down, and she does well, the other girls will be inspired. The 18 weeks of training is more in line with what I am used to doing and felt confident that I could successfully get her ready to swim fast.
I truly thought the girls needed some inspiration and hope. As I said earlier, they were 100% in. They were training at a level none of them experienced before and needed to see some kind of payoff for their efforts. They didn’t have the history of success with 3S and I didn’t want to wait for their Conference meet and have other factors distract from reaching their true potential. This seemed to be a great way to help one of our swimmers reach their goals and help our girls build confidence for the Conference meet as well. Randy agreed.
I tweaked her training regimen to reflect the new end date and prepared her for the meet. It was a gamble because she had to fly and compete in a time zone 8 hours away without the support of her primary coach on deck. Regardless of those shortcomings, she performed extremely well. She achieved best times in every event and took 3 seconds off of her previous lifetime best of her targeted event (200 fly) to earn the bronze. Her successes buoyed the girls as they prepared for their taper (read excerpts from her emails to me below).
Is It Time To Taper Yet?
Taper is an interesting phenomenon. It is not only allowing the body to recover, but preparing the mind for success as well. These girls were accustomed to having bad thing happen to them for nearly 3 years. Would they “allow” themselves to achieve? We did everything we could as the meet approached to give them the mindset of a champion.
I was confident, but honestly, a little wary. I had over 6 seasons using the system and had experienced great successes. Were there too many factors in this real-world application that success may not be attainable? I would throw such thoughts out of my head immediately and refocus my thoughts on seeing the girls meeting their goals.
Randy, on the other hand, did not have such a history of success with 3S, but still had the same occasional doubts pop into his head as well. I have to say, he was a trooper. He knew that they should perform based on what he saw in workouts, but wondered how they were going to go from where they were to where we wanted them to be. The goal times seemed light years away from the times they posted just 1 week before taper (see results below). Randy held firm and was a source of strength for the girls throughout the entire taper process.
One week into the taper and the girls started posting lifetime best swims. They were excited, we were excited and the process of bringing the swimmers to a championship meet started to feel like it did back in Tampa. We were all ready for success.
The Big Meet
The UNO women competed in the Sun Belt Conference. They were 6th out of 7 last year and frankly, with only 10 swimmers at the meet and a dozen or so points in the psych sheet, did not have much but pride to swim for. There were no team trophies, or individual awards to shoot for or even the possibility to move up with in the Conference; even if they all did their best times. It was a competition purely for themselves and their teammates. To me, that makes their accomplishments even more amazing.
The ladies swam lights out. Every one of them had season best times in every event and more than 90% of the swims were lifetime best times. They broke 15 of 19 school records, scored over 200 points and had women making it back it back every night, including two girls in “A” finals in the 200 fly (first time in school history in any event). They same with poise, confidence and held their paces throughout their swims.
The women acted like winners because they were winners. They established goals and did everything in their power to achieve them. That’s the definition of a winner in my book. I was very proud of them.
After the meet, the swimmers and their parents were so glad to have had a “fun” season. It meant so much to them after everything they have gone through to love swimming and racing again. We ate together, laughed and spoke openly of what we were going to achieve in the future. By the way…no one had any shoulder issues at the end of the season; even those who began feeling distress prior to using 3S. If we were to tell these athletes that we were not going to use 3S next season, we would have a serious revolt.
I may have had faster seasons as a coach, but I do not know if I have had a more enjoyable one. These women forged a new culture of training excellence and turned around a sub-par program in a situation that has no parallel. The fact that 3S could be used here in New Orleans with success means it can be used anywhere with success. All that is need is a willingness to learn, willingness to work and the ability to hang tough when obstacles arise…and 3S.
If these ladies can do it after what they have been through, so can you and your swimmers.
Lifetime Best Swims
Before I end this, I want to make a quick point about the lifetime best swims. I think it is a crucial point. Seasons are built upon each other. If you have a set back in training one season, it affects what you can expect the athlete to do next season regards of their previous achievements. If a swimmer breaks her arm and is out for a year, for example, just because her previous best time was a: 50.5 in hundred free, doesn’t mean you can target a 49.9 16 weeks after she restarts training.
The fact that these girls could go from 2.5 years of utter turmoil, and spotty training at best, and achieve LIFETIME best swims in 22+ weeks is something that can not just be tossed out there. I was faith in the 3S system is well placed because of results such as these.
To Your Success
If you are thinking about adding 3S to your coaching toolbox and want some “Real World” information, email me @ firstname.lastname@example.org. I am willing to help, time permitting, to see if 3S is right for you. There is no charge for this consultation or ulterior motive other than my sincere hope that you will write a story like the one above one day soon.
I wish you all the best as you pursue you and your athletes’ goals.