We're very pleased to bring you a bit of insight from the elite swimming world this week. Our interview below is with British Olympic Swimming Coach Ben Titley. We quizzed him about his philosophies, training methods, how he uses his Wetronomes and if he had any tips for more modest level swimmers:
SS: Hi Ben, welcome to Swim Smooth, we're very glad you could join us today.
BT: My pleasure, thanks for having me on!
SS: Ben, your coaching credentials are very impressive for such a young coach - you've coached many of Britain's finest swimmers. Could you give us a brief résumé?
BT: Sure! My swimmers have included: Liam Tancock (World Champion, WR Holder, C'wealth Champion, European Medallist), James Gibson (World, C'wealth & European Champion, European Record Holder), Melanie Marshall (World, European & C'wealth Medallist, European Record Holder), Francesca Halsall (World, European & C'wealth Medallist, European Record Holder), Elizabeth Simmonds (World, European Medallist, European Record Holder), Caitlin McClatchey (World, European Medallist, Double C'wealth Champion), Therese Alshammar (World Record Holder, World Champion), Ross Brett (World, European, C'wealth Medallist), Kate Haywood (World, European and C'wealth Medallist), Julia Beckett (World, European, C'wealth Medallist), Ross Davenport (World, European Medallist, C'wealth Champion), Matt Bowe (European & C'wealth Medallist), Sara Hopkins (European Medallist), Karen Lee (Olympian), Emma Robinson (Olympian)
In total have coached 11 Olympians and a total of over 300 national records broken.
Coached on 2001, 2003, 2005, 2007, 2009 World LC Championships
Coached on 1998, 2002, 2006 (& 2010) C'wealth games
Coached on 2004 & 2008 Olympic Games (Head Coach in 2008)
Coached on 1999, 2001, 2003, 2005 World University Games
SS: Ben, that's hugely impressive - how do you find time to sleep?!
BT: Thats easy, I get pretty tired!
SS: Being part of the High Performance Centre at the Loughborough University you have access to some of the world's finest coaching and sports science support. Can you tell us a little bit about your application of sports science and how you feel this helps your swimmers work towards their goals?
BT: We have a great support system here with Physio, video analysis, nutrition, strength & conditioning etc. I like to know a bit about them all as I feel it is important for me to be involved in a holistic approach to improving my athletes. However, I am smart enough to know that we have people who know way more than me in these areas and so I usually go with what they say! I would also say that i am far more a believer in 'practical or thinking' sports science. I put my faith far more in people's current and future views than I do of 'book' sports science...we need to be forward thinking.
BT: Everything is performance focussed and as specific to the individual as possible, we don't do lots of meters if it doesn't suit the athlete and we use quite a lot of kit to keep challenging the athlete's engagement and thought processes, its real important they think!
SS: You seem to really enjoy innovation within coaching and admire new ideas and ways of thinking inspired by other coaches around the world. Can you give us a sneaky-peek into some of the innovative techniques you apply within your program on a regular basis?
BT: No big secrets... treat the athlete as an individual, be specific with regards to performance, and make them think for themselves.
SS: (Aside) Last year British Swimming purchased 60 Wetronomes for their elite swim program, as did Australian Swimming. These little guys help a swimmer work on developing their stroke rates by setting an audible beep that the swimmer can follow. The coach or swimmer can then change this rate as they see fit and depending upon their objectives.
Ben, can you tell us a little bit about the work you have done with your elite swimmers with respect to their stroke rates? How important is it as a coach for you to monitor and develop this aspect of their swimming?
BT: We use it for Liam Tancock with regard to targeting specific points of his race, i.e. rate of 57 (114 SPM) for the 1st 25m, rate of 54 (108 SPM) for the 2nd 50m. We also use it for reduced rate work, focussing on DPS (Distance Per Stroke) at sub maximal rates, kind of like they do in rowing.
SS: And how well tuned do your athletes feel to their stroke rate and how this affects their economy?
BT: The athletes get very good at 'feeling' their stroke rates and get a good idea of where a comfortable rate is for them. About 9 months ago I did a set with Francesca Halsall where we changed the rate on a set of pace work... she felt most comfortable at speed with a rate of 57 (114 SPM), this correlated with what her target first 25m section of her 100 free is.
SS: What role does 'Distance Per Stroke' play within an elite swim program?
BT: Distance per stroke is super important. Most of my athletes tend to be higher rating athletes, so it is super important that we keep a focus on the length also, its a balancing act.
SS: Do you find any noticeable difference between stroke rates in a short course (SC) 25m pool compared to in a 50m pool for the same swimmer, doing the same stroke, over the same distance?
BT: Swimmers would usually be able to maintain a higher stroke rate SC as the added speed off the walls allows them to keep a bit more momentum, also they probably swim in reality quite a bit less!
SS: How about the open water? Care to share any thoughts and ideas on how working with stroke rate may help our triathlete and open water swimming community out there?
BT: Not really my speciality but I would say that finding a comfortable tempo which you can sustain would be a very economical way of swimming for longer distances. I would think it is probably one of the main areas these athletes should work on.
SS: Have you had a chance to check out the Wetronome's new lap interval function yet which is great for accurate pace judgement for distance swimmers in particular? (Ed: readers can learn more about the lap interval mode on our Wetronome page). Have any of your swimmers found they typically set-off too fast in harder sets and time trials like our swimmers do?
BT: This is something we constantly work on, and I'm sure for athletes training longer distances this would be very useful. For me personally my athletes need to be a little bit more precise (i.e. 25.6 sec then 27.2 sec) so we haven't really used this function too much as of yet but I'm sure in the future we will for longer, sub maximal repeats.
SS: Can you tell us a little bit about your ideas on developing individuals from a stroke technique perspective? How important do you believe it to be to work on a swimmer's strengths without necessarily feeling like you have to mould them to a norm?
BT: All I can say is treat athletes as individuals. Always have 'performance' as the first thought in your mind when training or coaching and know that it is normal for people to not be 'normal'! What works for one athlete, or what motivates a certain athlete, could be the complete opposite for the next one through your door! Hold on to your principles but understand the world is changing before our eyes.
SS: Ben, thanks so much for your time - best of luck with everything, especially the Commonwealth Games and then London 2012. I'm sure all our UK readers will be eagerly watching the progress of your swimmers, especially in London!
BT: No problem, thanks again for having me on and good luck to all those aquatic athletes out there.
--- Interview Ends ---
You can find out more about the Wetronome here: www.swimsmooth.com/wetronome