Season planning process – Get the best results every time by planning with the end in mind

Deep breath. . . .Ok, enough rest . . . . Let’s start another quadrennial.

Every year round club across the world has a brand new season that is about to begin.  This season undoubtedly will start off very differently than ones in recent memory.  Graduation & retirement will take familiar faces off the pool deck.  Olympic excitement will draw new athletes to the facility. Swimmers will have to fill new team roles and coaches will have to get used to new team dynamics.

swim season planning
reminds me of Pink Floyd’s Time

With all of this change there is one thing that remains constant.  Time.  Time is the resource that everyone has the same amount of.  It doesn’t matter if you just coached the best swim team in the world, or are stepping on deck as coach for the first time.  What you do with your athlete’s time determines their success. It is imperative that you don’t waste it.

What is the best way to make sure that you are using time wisely? Plan (Big insight there!)  Not just any plan however. Reverse plan.  Plan with the end in mind.  Some call it reverse engineering.  Whatever you want to call it, you start with what you ultimately want at the end of the season and work backwards from there.

I have used this planning technique to help guide my high school swim team to 4 straight top 3 state finishes (1 state championship).  Planning with the end in mind has also helped my swimmers decrease their average 100 times by 15 seconds.

The reverse engineering technique has also been successful outside of the pool. It helped turnaround the underperforming high school that I worked at from a D to an A rating in 3 years.  My new business man crush Gary Vaynerchuk swears by the method when trying to understand business deals and company relationships.  He thinks, what do my business associates ultimately want, and how can I help get them there? Insert the word “athletes” for business associates and you basically have a coach.

Whether it be planning for a school year, swim season or board room presentation, planning with the end in mind works.

I’m going to walk you through how I began planning for my swim group’s 2016 short course season.  

Season Planning Steps

1st. The Endswim season planning

I ask myself, how do I want my athletes to perform at their last meet of the year?  Answer: Well! – moving on   Of course I want the athletes to perform well . . . We need to go deeper.

What does performing well mean?  What does it look like?  What does the athlete feel? What actions will the athlete take on meet day to perform well?

2 questions that I come back while planning are: What would that look like?  What actions did the athlete take to get there?

I brainstormed a few things that are important for me and my group. Allow me to share:

Athletes should feel confident behind the blocks

    • Looks like: standing tall/smiling/ focused on race
    • Actions taken: proper nutrition, thought/psychological practice, trained race plan

Know what they have to do to get their goal time (splits)

    • Looks like: can hit desired 25, 50 and 100 splits
    • Actions taken: Training at race pace throughout the year, keeping goal times in mind while training. Hitting goals times in training

Have strong finish in race

    • Looks like: Keeps strength and “looseness” throughout the race, maintaining it throughout the final parts of the race
    • Actions taken: Training sets that emphasize finishing when tired, aerobic/lactic threshold

Technique stays consistent throughout race

    • Looks like: first stroke of a race looks the same as the last stroke
    • Actions taken: build appropriate stroke for athlete; train appropriate stroke at different speeds

Starts and turns are an advantage to the athlete

    • Looks like: Athlete has great push off wall & block; carries momentum in and out of wall; athlete gets the farthest, fastest underwater
    • Actions taken: Atmosphere where starts and turns are valued.  Trains starts and turns frequently.

Athlete should have fun at final meet

    • Looks like: Smiling/loose behind the block.  Enjoys teammates in their own way
    • Actions taken: Inclusive atmosphere was established for the team.  Had time to make connections with team mates inside and outside of pool.

2nd: Find overall themes (I suggest no more than 5) that you can focus on during the season.

swim season planningLooking at my ideas from above there are a few themes that stick out right away

  • Training
  • Team Atmosphere
  • Measurement


During my brainstorm I wrote the following about training; “Training at race pace throughout the year”, “Training sets that emphasize finishing when tired, aerobic/lactic threshold, “train appropriate stroke at different speeds”, “Trains starts and turns frequently.”

The main training focuses that I want to emphasise during my season are:

  • Race Pace (maintain goal times)
  • Aerobic/Lactic Threshold (Finishing when tired)
  • Stroke training @  aerobic/anaerobic pace
  • Starts & Turns

Team Atmosphere:

Some coaches don’t feel that the atmosphere of their team is a factor in the outcome of their athletes. After all swimming is an “individual sport”.  I feel differently.  I think that an athlete thrives in a community where they feel safe, respected, and allowed to be themselves.  It is also the community that establishes the culture of the team and allows or disallows certain behaviors.   It is on the coach to facilitate a positive atmosphere where the proper training and social expectations are upheld.

swim season planningPhrases that I wrote about atmosphere during my brainstorm were; “Psychological practice”, Atmosphere where starts and turns are valued, “Inclusive atmosphere was established for the team.

The main goals for a positive team atmosphere that I want to establish and maintdain throughout the season are:

  • “Psychological training” where we practice “big meet moments” and also give the kids strategies to calm themselves down.
  • Athletes understanding why we care about starts and turns. Athletes are advocates amongst their teammates for great starts and turns.
  • Athletes feel that they can be themselves without being ridiculed.


I read somewhere that if “it” isn’t measured “it” isn’t important.  As a science teacher I wholeheartedly agree!  Truthfully, this is a weakness in my planning. This season I hope to set up better systems so that I can measure the athlete’s growth.

Phrases that I wrote about measurement during my brainstorm were; “ Goal times – Desired 25,50 and 100 splits, “first stroke of a race looks the same as the last stroke (Stroke rate & Distance)”, “Measure starts and turns progress”

The main goals that I have for measurement are:

  • Measure splits that athletes are hitting. (Rested, Unrested, Desired)
  • Measure stroke rate, and stroke count for 25 yard swims
  • Measure time it takes athlete to get 15 M underwater from dive and push.

These themes will give me the “muscles” that I can lay over the “bones” of my weekly, and monthly training outline.

3rd: Plan

Now that we have the major themes that we want to focus on during the season, we need to organize them into a coherent training plan.

Begin with a calendar.  Circle the date of the season’s final meet.  Go through the rest of the season and fill in the other meets. (Usually 1 per month)swim season planning

Once the meets are planned, I go back and begin filling in the overall “season themes”. Thinking of a season as an airplane taking off and landing at a different destination, I plan the last 2 weeks from the big meet as the “landing”.  The majority of the season before that is the “cruising altitude” and the 3 weeks before that (beginning of the season) is the takeoff.  I prefer to take off slow so as to avoid injury.  A grounded plane is no good for everybody.

After the season themes are planned I go back again and fill out the “daily themes” into a weekly training cycle.  I enjoy weekly cycles because it keeps me organized and reassures me that we are working towards the end season goal.  This doesn’t mean that the weekly cycle can’t be changed. I change the cycle where I see fit,  or throw it out completely if it’s not working.

My group does not have morning practices so i will not include those in my practice plan.

Monday: Generals warm-up and threshold training. Measurement.

  • Getting back into the weekly swing of things. Body is a bit rested so the athletes can handle something challenging.  Use it as a “report card”.
  • For measurement I would try to cycle through training pace, underwater, and stroke length measurement, focusing on 1 per week..  This would allow the athletes 2 weeks before the next cycle of measurements on the same discipline.

Tuesday: Kick to swim. Stroke work.

  • I Believe that kicking can give my athletes increased aerobic capacity and help them with their strokes long term.  I spend a couple days a week on a good kick set.
  • We would change the stroke work every week depending on the athletes needs.  At the beginning of the year I would probably spend one session on long axis strokes (freestyle and backstroke), and short axis strokes (fly and breast) on the next session.

Wednesday: Race Pace. Starts & Turns. Measurement

  • I like going fast on Wednesdays.  This gives the kids a big enough break before Saturday so that we can really push it.  
  • I was thinking about putting the Starts and turns on Friday as a “recovery” exercise.  However that is how the athletes would ultimately view it.  Athletes are also not very receptive to a lot of talking on Fridays since they are excited for the weekend and just had a week of school
  • Spending time having the athletes Peer coaching turns is well worth the investment.  Peer coaching makes the kids accountable to each other and helps them see turns from a different side of the coin.

Thursday: Kick to swim. Stroke work

  • Same idea as Tuesday but we would change up focus on strokes. Perhaps throw an IM set in there.

Friday: Descend sets to hold threshold. Fun

  • The athletes are tired mentally and physically on Fridays after a hard week of training.  I use descend sets to “trick them to go fast”.  
  • After the initial descend, I would ask the athletes to hold that fast pace for 2-3 reps of the desired distance.
  • Fun could be incorporated as stations, partner pulling, relays, get out swims, games or plain old getting out early.
  • Fun could also be a game that the coaches (or kids) design to help the athletes build better relationships

Saturday: The kitchen sink

  • Threshold into sprintseason planning saturdays
  • Remind athletes of turns
  • Race pace
  • Train til’ failure type sets.

Sunday: Rest

Note:  On some race pace days I will cut the practice short to give the athletes 1 opportunity to swim their goal time.  The idea here is to put pressure on the athlete in a low stakes environment.  They get one shot at their time.  Miss the opportunity and it may be weeks before the chance comes up again.

I hope that you can follow my outline of how I started to plan my 2016 short course season.  If you have any questions please feel free to comment or email me at  

Let me know in the comments below how you want your athletes to perform during the last meet of the season.  How are you going to get them there?

Olympics have you itchin to swim? The good, the bad. . . swimmers are never ugly

So the Olympics made you want to try your hand at swimming? It will be the hardest and most rewarding thing you do in your life.

USA swimming blew your mind this past week.  The excitement that seemed to ooze out of every race was palpable.  The stories that NBC so magically weaved throughout the broadcast made you feel like the Olympians were your friends.  The beauty of the athletes moving through the water (and getting out of the water) made you think, “Hey, I want to learn to do that . . .  I think I’m going to try swimming!”

You are not alone in that sentiment.  We won’t know until a year from now, but this will most likely be the largest year of growth for USA swim membership ever.  Meaning, more athletes will join year round swim membership graphswim teams than ever before.  I am making this prediction because it has happened every year after the past 4 Olympics. After 2000, 4.9% USA swimming membership growth. After 2004, 7.2%. After 2008 11.3%. After 2012, a record crushing 13.2% increase in USA swim membership.  Notice a trend?

Continue reading “Olympics have you itchin to swim? The good, the bad. . . swimmers are never ugly”

How Katie Ledecky’s dominance helps with broken TV’s

My TV broke the week before the Olympics.  

I am currently waiting for an EEPROM chip (Electrically Erasable Programmable Read Only Memory) for a VIZIO XVT55SV television.  In case you’re curious an EEPROM goes on the main board of the TV.  I know, I know . . . you’re not curious.EEPROM

Because of this dilemma, my wife and I have watched a total of 5 races of Olympic swimming.  5! That is pathetic.  Those 5 races have been viewed over wifi with all of the herky-jerky “connection problems” that goes with it.

Considering that I am trying to create a business around the sport of swimming I am a little embarrassed.

Continue reading “How Katie Ledecky’s dominance helps with broken TV’s”

What it takes to be in the 1% of the 1% and make the Summer Olympics

You will never compete in the summer Olympic games. Neither will I.

Out of the 7,021,836,029 people on planet earth this summer only about 10,500 athletes will compete for their countries in Rio (Down from the 10,950 in 2012 – but that’s a different story). That is 0.00015608 % of the earth’s popula1 percent pie graphtion, taking sig figs into account. 🙂

If you live in the United States our ratio of Olympic athletes to population is a bit higher.  We are sending 554 athletes to Rio, and with a population of 322,762,018 those 554 athletes represent 0.000172 % of our country.  47 of those 554 athletes are swimmers. 25 male, 22 Female.  The point? It is pretty darn tough to make the Olympic team.

If you and I won’t make the team who will?  Who decides who the 0.000172% will be?  The athletes do . . . that’s what makes the Olympics so special.

Continue reading “What it takes to be in the 1% of the 1% and make the Summer Olympics”

How you can get Olympian Brad Tandy’s Tempo (Hint: It’s ALL in the hips)

Brad Tandy pulled a 200 pound bucket of water up in the air like it was inflated with helium.  He did this not once, not twice, but 6 times during his main resistance set.  What was equally amazing was that his tempo never faded.  His stroke rate never slowed from breakout to final stroke 15 Meters down the pool.

For the few who do not know, Brad Tandy is going to compete in the 2016 Olympic games for the country of South Africa.  He swam at the University of Arizona for the latter part of his collegiate career where he broke the school record in the 50 yard freestyle with a 18.8 (Race Link Here). The man is quick!

The apparatus that Tandy was using at practice is known as a “power tower” (Shown Below).  It is a belt that’s attached to a bucket via a pulley system. The bucket can be filled or emptied with water to achieve a desired resistance for thpower-towere swimmer (who is wearing the belt around their waist).  Tandy’s bucket was overflowing with water.

The display that he put on during this “taper” set was astounding.  I had to ask how he did it.  Specifically I wanted to know how his tempo did not falter when hundreds of pounds was pulling him backwards. What was he thinking about in order to get his tempo that high while applying so much power to the water?

Continue reading “How you can get Olympian Brad Tandy’s Tempo (Hint: It’s ALL in the hips)”

Coaching Lesson from Grandpa Joe: Invest in People

The main lesson that I will take away from my grandpa Joe’s life is: INVEST IN PEOPLE.

The accolades that Grandpa earned throughout his 83 years are staggering.

  • 1st hispanic to be elected to the Arizona State Senate
  • Acting mayor of the city of South Tucson
  • Entrepreneur – Astro Blueprint
  • First hispanic chairman of the Pima County board of supervisors
  • Volunteer fireman
  • President & CEO of Grand Canyon Minority Development Council

When my brother and I write a screenplay of Grandpa’s life it will be of the inspirational blockbuster variety.  A’la Rudy or Remember the Titans. Denzel would be the star. (We would make it work)

With all of his success no one would ever consider my Grandpa a win at all cost business-man, slimy politician, or even a millionaire.  Something else was fueling his drive and success.

When Grandpa became very sick I had the opportunity to speak with my Dad at length about Grandpa’s life.  What Dad said was simple; Grandpa believed in a life of service.

Since Grandpa’s passing I have been reflecting on his life trying to distill out the magic so that I could apply it.  Why did he devote his life to service?  What was Grandpa getting back in return?  What was his drive?

I couldn’t put my finger on it until I remembered a story that my father told me years ago about an employee he had at the old blueprint shop.

Carl Edmiston was a knucklehead of a teenager.  Carl’s family didn’t have much and without structure in his life he was falling in with a bad crowd, eventually dropping out of high school. By that time, Grandpa had moved into politics full time and my father was running the family blueprint business.

Carl was hustling to try and make ends meet by painting the addresses of buildings on their front curbs and then asking for money on a job well done.  Carl did this in front of our families blueprint shop and came inside looking for payment.  Dad checked out the work and since it wasn’t too bad dad gave Carl a five spot.

A few day’s later Carl appears in the back of the blueprint shop doing the same sort of thing.  Dad becomes suspicious because Carl seems pretty young and school is still in session.  Dad asks what’s going on, and Carl tells him that he has dropped out of school and is looking to make ends meet any way he can.

It just so happened that the blueprint shop was short one employee and Carl’s drive struck a chord with Dad. Dad offered Carl a one week trial to see how he would work out.  Dad says that Carl was “eager to please” sometimes doing tasks too fast in order to move on to the next job.  Dad took time out of his day and gave Carl a little extra guidance. After that week Carl was doing fine.

When grandpa moved up to Phoenix in order to continue his political career and open up a second blueprint shop, Carl moved up with him, acting as the lead blue printer.  He would be mentored by Grandpa helping my grandparents remodel their house and eventually buying a house in Scottsdale for himself and his family.

Carl’s story doesn’t happen if Dad views Carl as a nuisance and chases him off the property instead of talking with the young boy.  Carl’s story doesn’t happen if he get’s fired that first week because he required more attention from my Dad.

After remembering Carl’s story I quickly realized the “why” behind Grandpa’s life of service.  If you serve others they can serve themselves.  Invest in others and they will thrive.

The investment my family put into Carl allowed him to change his life.  Because of Carl’s change, the people that surrounded Carl were affected. The ripple will continue on and on.  The investment in Carl will lead to a return 10x over.

I heard this story when I was a young boy and to this day I feel the power of the message.  The message has informed the choices that I have made in my life.  Choosing to coach and teach is an investment in others that I hope will continue to ripple on throughout my lifetime and the lifetime of my athletes and students.

I challenge you to invest in someone this week.  Even if the investment is in yourself, make an effort to invest time, a compliment, a smile, or advice to someone that you come across this week.

Everyone deserves to be invested in.  From the most athletic to the least.  From the quickest learner to the slowest reader.  Everyone needs to be invested in.  The lesson my grandfather taught my family will be remembered through my actions, and hopefully my investment will pay out 10x more in many other peoples lives.

Thank you for the lesson Grandpa. Love you.



Carl Edmiston’s entry in my grandfather’s obituary:

I am so sorry for your loss of a great man. Words alone just can’t describe how great Joe was. He gave me my first job in the Blueprinting business with Astro Blueprint in Tucson and then moved me to the Phoenix office in 84. He was a hard working man that taught me what working truly was. I remember working many nights and weekends on projects at the shop with Joe he made it fun to be there. He treated everyone very kindly. Joe and the whole family treated me like their own family. He helped me so much in life. I am lucky to have know Joe and I will miss him. Rest in Peace Joe.

~ Carl Edmiston, Scottsdale, Arizona

Grandpa Joe’s Obituary