Coaching Ideas

This is the website for all coaches, lifeguards, navigators, ride leaders and volunteers that work for Manchester Triathlon Club.  Whether you want to start coaching at the club, volunteer, find out your responsibilities as a member of the team, advertise for session cover, get involved with one of our development projects or just keep up to date on the latest coaching news then you have come to the right place. Use the left hand menu to navigate the site. Below you can view the latest news articles from session vacancies to CPD opportunities:

Swim Coaching workshop

posted 17 Dec 2013, 07:07 by Tony Jolly

Where : Moss Side Leisure Centre
When  : Saturday 4th January 10:30 am (approx 3 hours)
Focus  : analysis of MTC member swim videos and general discussion on how to improve swimmers, suitable drill ideas 

More details to follow -

The 6 C's of Youth Development

posted 25 May 2011, 02:27 by Rob Harvey   [ updated 25 May 2011, 02:44 ]

Recently I attended the 'embracing chaos' workshop organised by Greater Sport.  There were a number of interesting presentations including one by my old boss at British Cycling, John Mills, that encouraged everyone to think of developing cyclists like 'Snickers' chocolate bars (I'll explain that one another time). Another presented a view on Governing body coach education programmes that they currently focus on athlete competency (physical, tactical, technical) and should maybe consider recent work on youth development programmes by Lerner (2000) and include 6 C's (Lerner talks about 5 C's but the presenter add a few of his own bits!). In a general youth development programme sense the C's refers to:

  • Competence - Not just in sport but also academic, social, vocational and health
  • Confidence - Self belief
  • Creativity - Thinking outside the box!
  • Connection - Working collaboratively with others including peers, parents, coaches, siblings, others.
  • Character & Caring - It's fundamentally important to do what is right. A sense of compassion and social justice
  • Contribution - Chances to actually put things into practice.
Here's a link to a much more reading about the 5 C's for those that are interested:

Even without doing any further reading, for anyone working with our juniors it is worth thinking whether anything we do in our current practice meets any C other than competence?


Rob Harvey


Swim Session Planning: A worked example

posted 14 Oct 2010, 08:39 by Rob Harvey   [ updated 14 Oct 2010, 10:48 ]

As we are currently in the first week of the new triathlon season it's time to start doing some session planning. The seniors sections annual training plan is available to view via this site:

This article will have a quick look at planning swimming sessions. The worked example below is a step by step guide to how I used the Swim ATP to put together the first 4 weeks of the Thursday PM Swim Session at Manchester Aquatics Centre, 20.30-21.30. It should help you do the same for sessions you coach:

Look on the swim streams chart to find out whether your session falls into Core #1, Core #2, Core#3, Core#4, Squad #1 or Squad #2:

  • Core #2 session for Improver and Advanced streams

Next look on the annual plan to locate the weeks you wish to plan:

  • The session dates would be 14th ,21st, 28th October and 4th November 2010

Identify the training phase, Meso Cycle and Micro Cycle:

  • Mesocycle: General Preparation 1
  • Microcycles: GP1.1, GP1.2, GP1.3, GP1.4

Read the guidance information from the objectives section of the annual plan

Open the relevant Meso Cycle planner and find the relevant section:

  • Physical Emphasis: ‘As core#1’ which is Sp3 – Mixed (HVO) and En1-FC
  • Cruise Interval test set in GP1.4
  • Technical Emphasis: Stroke Efficiency and Leg Kick
  • Other Stroke Emphasis: Back Stroke

Now plan the series of sessions:

  • Sessions are planned based on the fastest swimmers in the session and scaled down for all other lanes:


Warm Up (300m)

150: FC
150: 75 Back, 75 FC

Set 1 (300m)

6 x 50 as (

25 drill, 25 IM HVO

) on 1:10

Drill 1-3: Single Arm
Drill 4-6: Super Slow

Set 2 (1800m)


3x100 E2a FC on CI
1x100 E3 FC on CI
2x50 Kick w. Board
1x100 backstroke


Stroke Count last 50 of each FC rep

Pull 2nd set

Is SC the same w and wo pull buoy?


Cool Down (200m)

4 x (25 Super Slow, 25 Breast Stroke)

Extend CD as required


Total: 2600m

Warm Up (300m)

100: FC
4 x 50: Catch-up

Set 1 (300m)

4 x 75: Kick Set w fins

  1.  75 BB
  2. 50 BB, 25 FB
  3. 25 BB, 50 FB
  4. 75 FB

Set 2 (1950m)

3x150 E2a FC on CI

1x50 Back HVO on 1:00

2x150 E2b FC on CI

2x50 Back HVO on 1:00

1x150 E3 FC on CI

1x50 Back HVO on 1:00

2x150 E2b FC on CI

2x50 Back HVO 1:00

3x150 E2a FC on CI

Pull second half of set

Stroke count reduce through first 3x150.

Try to hold for remainder of set.  Don't overglide!

Cool Down (200m)

4 x 50 breast stroke

Total: 2750m


Warm Up (200m)

200: FC

Set 1 (500m)

6 x 50 as (

Descend 1-3: Back

Descend 1-3: FC


8 x 25 (
From mid pool. choice stroke towards wall max from flags into turn


Set 2 (2000m)

2 x (
3x200 E2a FC on CI
1x200 build->E3 FC on CI
4 x (50 FB, 50 SA)
Set 1 - Pull
Set 2 - wo Pull


Cool Down (200m)

4 x (25 Super Slow, 25 Breast Stroke)


Total: 2900m 

Warm Up (200m)

 200 alt 50FC,50Back

Set 1 (600m)

8x50: FC - descend on1:00

SC 1st

Kick in once SC reached as you speed up

4x50: 25 FC HVO,25 kick

Set 2 (1000m)

10x100 CI Test Set

Set 3 (1000m)

All E1

400  - 200 FC,100 Back

300 - 200 FC, 100 Back

200 - 100 FC, 100 Back

100 - Back



Total: 2800m


How to coach: Explanations & Demonstrations

posted 18 Sep 2010, 10:33 by Rob Harvey   [ updated 18 Sep 2010, 11:47 ]

At the moment I'm in Dubai running a UCI road and track coaching course for the Asian Cycling Federation. The course is being attended by male and female coaches from all over Asia including United Arab Emirates, Iran, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka and Nepal. Delivering the course is improving my geography, but also testing my ability to explain and demonstrate some relatively complex material to the attendees who either speak English as a second language or require translation to Arabic through an interpretor.

I thought this might be a good time to remind all Man Tri coaches about good practice for giving explanations and demonstrations.  The number one rule has to be keep things clear and simple but the following is all good advice:

 Explanations Demonstrations
  1. Plan what to say in advance
  2. Keep instructions clear, brief and simple. If you've been talking for more than 2 minutes ask yourself if everything you said was necessary.
  3. Ensure everyone can see and hear you
  4. Gain attention - ensure everyone is listening before you start to speak
  5. Vary the pitch and tone of your voice - keep it lively.
  6. Ensure non-verbal communication compliments your spoken words.
  7. Use questioning to check everyone understands

  1. Ensure you can be seen and heard
  2. Keep demonstrations simple - focus attention on 1 or 2 points.
  3. Vary the speed of demonstrations from slow motion to full speed.
  4. Use both silent demonstrations and demonstrations accompanied with clear and concise instructions
  5. If possible perform demonstrations in the same locations that athletes will use.
  6. Repeat demonstrations more than once and from different angles
  7. Use questioning to check everyone understands

For cycle coaching providing off-the-bike explanations and demonstrations is a great tool. Whether it's for showing the correct line through a corner, how to perform changes, attacks or other group riding skills it can often be safer, clearer and easier to see mistakes. Once on the bike the speed and large areas covered can make clear observation and communication difficult.

Whilst swim coaching, new coaches, particularly those not from a swimming background, often work hard on learning coaching points and drills to develop front crawl technique but focus on how to explain them.  Whilst this is great for those that learn through listening, visual learners find demonstrations more useful.  I've seen many coaches describing good technique but then giving demonstrations that don't match what they are saying or giving no demonstration at all. It sounds stupid but I'd recommend practising in front of the mirror or videoing yourself!  Are your words and action matching? Is it clearer for the swimmer if you lean forward to make my upper body parallel to the ground or swim 'straight up' as if heading for the ceiling when doing the demo.  Do you need to provide a demo straight on or just from the side? If for any reason you find it difficult to provide a technically correct demo it may be best to ask another coach or a swimmer to do it for you (but check they have good technique first). Sometime getting the other swimmers in the lane out of the pool and watching someone perform the technique from the deck can work well. I'm also managing to build up a good collection of technique videos on the Man Tri website that you can point members towards. 

Luckily for coaches that find demo's difficult there are a third category of learner who mainly learn through practise so they won't take a blind bit of notice of what you've explain or demonstrated.

So the final bit of advice is to watch swimmers and see if they are doing what you've asked.  


How to coach: Jack Daniel's Running Paces

posted 31 Aug 2010, 14:02 by Rob Harvey   [ updated 2 Sep 2010, 08:42 ]

At club track sessions all members are given a series of running paces to control training intensity. These paces are based on a recent running performance.  Usually this is one of the clubs 5k time trials done each 6-8 weeks, otherwise a flat 3k, 5k or 10k will do. Based on the result you can take the VDOT table and read down to find the corresponding' VDOT value.  You can then switch to the training paces chart and read of the E, M, T, I and R Paces that can be used for club training sets:

E-Pace - Easy (59-74% VO2 Max, 65-79% Max HR)
M-Pace - Marathon (74-84% VO2 Max, 80-90% Max HR)
T-Pace - Threshold (88-88% VO2 Max, 88-92% Max HR)
I-Pace - Intervals (95-100% VO2 Max, 98-100% Max HR)
R-Pace - Reps (~1500m race pace)

The VDOT and Paces chart are attached at the bottom of this article. Below is an extract from the VDOT chart:

Background: VDOT was created by Daniels to signify the combined VO2 Max and running economy required to achieve that performance.  What this means is that someone with a very high VO2 Max but poor running economy would be able to achieve the same performance as someone with a moderate VO2 Max and excellent running economy. Whilst this method doesn't try to predict what the VO2 Max or Economy figure is, the pseudo VO2 Max (VDOT) does produce accurate training paces that will target the desire components of fitness.

For more information see the book: Daniel's Running Formula (2nd Edition) - Jack Daniel's PhD

How to coach: Swim - Cruise Intervals

posted 29 Aug 2010, 08:23 by Rob Harvey   [ updated 26 Aug 2011, 03:58 ]

Based on:  P434-438: Swimming Fastest, Ernest Maglischo

Developed by Dick Bower of New Orleans, Louisiana, Cruise intervals allow coaches to individualise training speeds and send-off times for a large number of swimmers with a wide range of abilities who are all training in a limited number of lanes.  This is a good description of the situation within Manchester Triathlon Club.  The testing procedure used for calculating cruise intervals also allows swimmers to track their progress over time, helping with motivation. A number of coaches within the club have been trailing the Cruise Intervals method at sessions for the past 12 months. From October 2010 this will become standard across all sessions.

The first step in using this procedure is for swimmers to complete a test set of 10x100m to determine their ideal training speeds and send-off times.  Swimmers should maintain their fastest possible pace while taking exactly 10 seconds rest between each repeat.  Experienced swimmers can manage this themselves using the pace clock, novices may need the rest to be timed. Encourage swimmers to use even pacing, if they set off too hard and slow considerably during the test the result may not be valid.

Organising the test

To run a cruise interval test set for a group of swimmers follow the steps below:

  • Write down everybody’s name and set the first swimmer in each lane off together
  • Set remaining swimmers off at 5 or 10 second intervals
  • Note each swimmers stagger ( how long after the lane leader they set off)
  • As swimmers finish write down their finish time
  • Once everyone has finished, give the group a recovery set to complete
  • Whilst they are swimming subtract the stagger from their finishing time and add 10 seconds as the swimmers only rested 9 times. 
  • Divide the total by 10 and record the quotient.
  • Round up this time to nearest 5 seconds and record their Cruise Interval.

To help you do this I’ve produced a chart that shows the swimmers finish time on the left (with any stagger taken off) and the relevant cruise interval split times for vary distances across from that. A section of which is shown below. You can download the full file at the bottom of the page:

The repeat interval does not have to be 100m for the cruise interval test set.  It can be any repeat distance that will take swimmers 1:00-1:45 to complete. Remember that if a shorter repeat is used such as 75m, this will mean the resultant cruise interval send-off time will be for 75m repeats and will have to be adjusted based on the table above for other distances. It is possible to use this same procedure to find cruise interval send-off times for backstroke, breast stroke and Individual Medley, kicking and pulling, but not butterfly. At the present time we don’t use the test for this purpose.

Dates for running CI test sets are noted on the annual training plan.  Could all results be emailed to so they can be shared with the relevant members of the coaching team.

Grouping Swimmers

Swimmers with the same cruise interval can then be grouped in one lane.  As our club has a wide range of abilities we currently have to group two cruise intervals within one lane at 25m sessions (e.g. swimmers with a CI of 1:30 & 1:35/100m) and 3 at 50m session (e.g. swimmers with a CI of 1:30, 1:35 & 1:40/100m) except for Squad sessions. If this is the case then faster swimmers should be asked to wear drag shorts or towels for some sets; female swimmers should be encouraged to swim with a pull buoy. Slower swimmers can be permitted to draft during some sets or use fins. We are now beginning to ‘stream’ sessions so that we can make best use of our pool time.  The tables below show how people with different Cruise Intervals should be grouped at each session (The Lane Distribution is subject to change so always check for the latest version):

If a new swimmers attends a session then guestimate the most appropriate lane for them based on any time trial info they know.  Their average time per 100m for 750m will provide a reasonable indication that you can work with.  Encourage them to complete the test set at the earliest opportunity.


Designing Sessions using cruise intervals

One of the great things about using cruise intervals is that it makes it easy to design endurance training sets without having to give specific target times for each swimmer.  The information below supports our Categories of Training document.

Basic Endurance Sets (E1/E2a/E2b)

For basic endurance set, instruct swimmers to swim at the slowest possible pace that enables them to make the designated cruise-interval turnaround time (E.g. 1.35).  For example:

  • 20 x 100 IN 1.30 and OFF 1.35
  • 10 x 200 IN 3.02 and OFF 3.10

Basic endurance sets can begin from 15 minutes of swimming time and progress to 30+ minutes.

Cruise PLUS can also be used for basic endurance training.  By adding 5-10 seconds to the cruise-interval turnaround time you will have more time to complete the designated repeat meaning you can swim slower.  This is useful when swimming long basic endurance sets, on recovery days, or when a swimmer is returning from illness.  Adding 5 seconds would enable all swimmers to swim comfortably at their E2a pace, whilst adding 10 seconds would be useful for E1 / Recovery swimming.

Threshold Endurance Sets (E3)

For threshold endurance sets, swim at the fastest maintainable repeat time going off on your designated cruise interval turnaround time.  Threshold sets will usually include 20 to 30 minutes of swimming time. For example:

  • 15-20 x 100 IN 1:23 ON 1:35

Overload Endurance Sets (E4)

For overload endurance sets, swim at the fastest maintainable repeat time going off on your designated cruise interval turnaround time.  Overload endurance sets will usually include 20 minutes or less of swimming time. For example:

  • 8-10 x 100 IN 1:20 ON 1:35

Cruise MINUS can be used for Overload Endurance training.  By subtracting 5 seconds from the cruise-interval turnaround time you will have less time to complete the designated repeat encouraging you to swim faster in order to make the send-off time.  Overload Endurance sets using Cruise MINUS will be no longer than 15 minutes of swimming. For example:

  • 8-10 x 100 IN 1:23 ON 1:30

Cruise PLUS can be used for Overload Endurance training.  By adding 5-15 seconds to the cruise-interval turnaround time you can swim the repeats faster and have more time for recovery. For example:

  • 8-10 x 100 IN 1:18 ON 1:45

Last-one-fast-one (LOFO)

You may see the abbreviation (LOFO) used in cruise interval sets.  It indicates that that the last repeat of a cruise interval set should be swum faster than the others.  The purpose if this will depend upon the set but can include:

  • To add some ‘speed’ training to an endurance set. 
  • To see whether the set has been swum at the appropriate pace. 
  • As an indicators of over-reaching to prevent over-training.

Calculating send-off times for different distance reps: The send-off time doubles as the distance doubles.  So for a swimmer with a Cruise Interval Send-Off time of 1:35, the send-off times for different distances are listed below:

  • 100m: 1.35, 200m: 3.10, 300m: 4.45, 400m: 6.20
  • 500m: 7.55, 600m: 9.30, 700m: 11.05, 800m: 12.40

An easy way to calculate this is to carry around a copy of the swim split calculator available in the file library. Simply find the cruise interval send-off time in the 100m column and read across for the send-off time for other distances. 

How to Coach: Using a stopwatch

posted 25 Aug 2010, 15:29 by Rob Harvey   [ updated 25 Aug 2010, 15:37 ]

Being able to use a stopwatch effectively is an essential ‘how to coach’ skills for any Man Tri coach.  Whether it’s timing intervals at the running track, during turbo sessions or at the swimming pool it’s a good idea to have a stopwatch or two in your coaching bag.  Some stopwatches have advanced functions that make it easy to calculate cadence whilst running and cycling or stroke rate whilst swimming which is useful information to feedback to members.  Another common use of a stop watch is to gain intermediate timing information or split times during a swim, bike or run to gauge the pacing of an athlete. Possible pacing strategies could include negative split, positive split or an even split. Whilst the following information could apply to any discipline we will focus on swimming as accurate timing information will be part of every club session and pacing is the most effective way of controlling intensity.

Whilst timing one swimmer during one rep or race is relatively simple (press start when they start, hit lap at each designated timing split and either write the split time down or review it from memory later, then hit stop at the end) timing a group of swimmers in one lane or groups of swimmers across multiple lanes is more of a challenge.

To time a group of swimmers in one lane you will need two stopwatches, pen and paper.  Let’s say the lane is doing a set of 10 x 200 metres on a 3:20 turnaround time (1:40 per 100m Cruise Interval; More about Cruise Intervals in a later article). The first stopwatch would be started when the first swimmer sets off, then make sure that all remaining swimmers set off at designated intervals – e.g. 10 seconds.  When the first swimmer comes in hit the lap button and note down the time.  Repeat this as every subsequent swimmer arrives at the finish (don’t forget to adjust lap times for the amount of time each swimmer spent waiting to start the rep).  Often the last swimmer won’t be in by the time the turnaround has arrived and the first swimmer needs to start the next repeat.  This is where the second stopwatch comes in.  Start this one as the first swimmer sets off and make sure all remaining swimmers set off at the designated interval.  Whilst the swimmers are mid-rep and once all lap splits have been noted down clear the first watch so it is ready for use again.  As swimmers finish rep two hit the lap button as you did at the end of the first rep.  Continue repeating this pattern for the remainder of the set. Don’t forget to feedback relevant information to the swimmers. Did they keep to the turnaround times? Did they set off too fast and slow down instead of holding even pace? Ideally this information should be provided straight away but if you need some time to work everything out then remember to do it at the earliest opportunity.

What if you have multiple lanes to time? If all lanes are doing the same set and going on the same turnaround time then it might be possible to follow the process above however rather than writing down lap times it might be more realistic to shout out the time on the stopwatch and ask swimmers to remember their own times and feed them back to you at the end.   Normally in Man Tri session each lane would be working on different turnarounds. In this case you might be able to time all lanes by keeping the turnaround the same but adjusting the length of each repeat for different abilities (e.g. one lane doing 200’s on 3:00, another doing 175’s on 3:00 with a third doing 150’s on 3:00, etc). Otherwise the only option is to rely on swimmers to time their own swims using the pace clock.  This is why it’s so important to teach swimmers how to use the pace clock and remind them if it is clear they aren’t using it.

Man Tri coach Karen Elly has an effective method of timing swimmers in her sessions whilst also encouraging swimmers to use the pace clock.  Karen selects one lane each session to work with, timing key sets and giving feedback where appropriate. This helps her to learn about her swimmers performance and pick up on issues, including not being able to use the pace clock. Whilst the other lanes are left to time their own devices, they know that Karen will be keeping half an eye on them and that their lane could be next!

A second option is to start a stop watch at the start of a set and let it run for the duration. If you know the turnaround times for each lane then working out how long the set should take for each lane is relatively simple.  Ask the swimmers to let you know when their lane is done and see if the time matches.  This leaves you free to time occasional reps for different lanes to give you an idea of the swim time.  Whilst you won’t know the details of every rep, over time you will start to get an idea of how lanes are progressing.

Hopefully this article has given you a few ideas around using stopwatches that you may be able to include in your sessions.  As we move closer towards standardising turnaround times for particular lanes across sessions this will become an even more important skill.  Look out for an article on Cruise Intervals and how they are used in club sessions.

Rob Harvey

Head Coach

Manchester Triathlon Club

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