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Holiday break allows swimmers to focus on training
Area boys’ coaches try to get in-season swimmers caught up with club swimmers while training intensifies
Boys’ swimming in Iowa is a 14-week season from the first practice in October to the state meet in February.
A significant amount of training is done over that entire span, but the holiday break can, and is, handled in different ways by area coaches.
This season, the last meets before the holiday break were held on Dec. 20. Competition for some schools resumes on Jan. 3 with some not back in action until Jan. 5.
That time affords coaches the opportunity to refine the skills of the club swimmers and help the high school-only swimmers continue to develop and improve for the conference, district and state meets at the end of the season.
“One of the fun parts of coaching this sport is the integration of club and only those swimming the high school season,” said Linn-Mar Coach Tom Belin. “The integration takes weeks before high school-only swimmers reach training levels that the year-round swimmers manage.”
For Cedar Rapids Kennedy's Shawn Thomsen, the goal over the break is to continue building for the postseason.
“The holiday break affords us the opportunity to do many things from additional training to added time to refine skills as we prepare for the championship meets at the end of our season,” he said. “Our methods really don't change due to the length of the break. Our goal remains the same as it does for every other practice, to have a purpose to what we do and to use the time we have in the best way possible.”
For Belin, the workouts over the holiday break are part of his overall plan for the season.
“I plan out the season in advance, focusing on weekly cycles,” he said. “We use race pace training, less yards, more intensity with those yards, so our program doesn’t need to build heavy training into the holiday break.
“Our approach makes it simpler to navigate the holiday break whether it’s one or two weeks. I will shuffle practice days in the weeks of Christmas and New Year’s because those holiday days change year-to-year, but my holiday training isn’t affected by where those holiday days fall.”
Cedar Rapids Washington's Matt Sinnott uses an approach similar to Thomsen's at Kennedy, which focuses on being prepared for the championship season. The first-year Warrior head coach does, however, put some responsibilities on his swimmers for the days without scheduled practices over the break.
“With us being away from the pool and the weight room for a couple of days, we encourage our swimmers to do some dryland workouts at home with exercises that we have done throughout the season” he said. “This way, once we are back in the pool, we are ready to get back to work.”
Sinnott has the experience of being part of Washington's rich swimming tradition to build his plans while Thomsen and Belin have been in their current roles for several years.
That trio has had time to build workout routines over many years. That hasn't been the case for Iowa City High’s Mandi Kowal. She took over the Little Hawks program during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, then had to navigate the fact City High's home pool at the Mercer Park Aquatic Center was closed and unavailable last year.
“I don’t have much to compare to from the past,” she said. “This is our first normal year since I’ve started with the team. It’s been nice to have a normal schedule.”
Most teams have a mixture of club swimmers who train year-round and those who swim just the high school season. At Cedar Rapids Jefferson, the majority of the swimmers do not swim a club season, according to Coach Thomas Trausch.
“Jefferson has historically had fewer club swimmers, therefore we need to focus on more technique early in the season and start ramping up the yards to build endurance in December and January,” he said. “Several of our athletes have never swam before this season. These swimmers are focusing on learning the basics while our returning varsity are fine tuning their strokes in the hopes of qualifying for state.”
Belin said the biggest difference for club swimmers is the length of their season, which can stretch out for five to seven months with fewer meets. High school teams have around 12 meets in their 14-week season.
“Our shorter season requires a compact approach to getting things done,” he said. “Iowa Club State championship meets are twice per year — February and July. Elite club swimmers also have Winter (in December) and Summer (in August) Junior Nationals competition.”
For Thomsen, the integration of club and high school swimmers is vital at Kennedy.
“The club swimmers have bought into our team program during the season,” he said. “hey may have slight differences within the workout, but they are working and preparing to do what they can to help the team.”
Kowal said nothing tops the enthusiasm her veteran swimmers show for the newcomers.
“The beauty of high school swimming is that you have that wide range,” she said. “Our experienced guys love our new swimmers and get really excited for them when we race.”