Cecil M. Colwin
Gennadi Touretski, former Head Coach of the Australian Institute of Sport, is coach of Alexander Popov, the 1996 Olympic 50 and 100 freestyle champion.
In 1968, Gennadi was USSR national champion in the 400 and 1500 freestyle. He competed for 15 years, first as an age grouper, then in 10 national trials, but twice missed Olympic selection by narrow margins. He finished third in the trials for the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, and fourth in the trials for the 1972 Munich Olympics.
According to Touretski, "The most important factor in coaching is to be yourself. A lot of coaches try to copy other coaches or other programs. There's a lot of discussion on whether a coach should be scientific, or whether one should coach swimming as if it's an art. Every coach should find a personal way of coaching...the way that is best for oneself, because, first of all, coaching is the art of communication."
THE LOGIC OF EXCELLENCE
Touretski said, "If we look at the logic of how we achieve excellence (it doesn't matter in what field: in mathematics, in culture, in politics), the way is very simple: from information to knowledge, from knowledge to experience, from experience to wisdom, and then to excellence."
"We meet older coaches, such as Joe King and John Carew, who started coaching elite athletes later in life, and they have more wisdom. With these people wisdom is quite a natural thing. A coach doesn't have to have an inferiority complex because someone else is more scientific. You just have to be yourself, and be sure that what you are doing is good for the people you are coaching. It doesn't matter how many swimmers you have, thirty or forty or one, to be yourself is the most important thing."
Elaborating on the difference between the science of swimming as compared with the art of coaching, Touretski said that, in terms of art, this is the art of communication, an ability to open yourself to others.
"I was a swimmer for a long time, and I reached a turning point when I decided I wanted to be a coach. Very quickly, I realized that I had to decide whether I could change from the psychological approach of a swimmer to that of a coach."
"The psychology of the athlete is absolutely different, because a coach has to be ready to give everything;maybe we should use a very simple term like: the coach should be a giver, but the athlete, by nature, is a taker. He takes information from the coach, and this is a natural thing because he accepts what the coach gives him. And to make this step from athlete to coach, we have to change our psychology."
Touretski says the word "partners" explains the communication between Alexander Popov and him. "We are partners, but there is a certain distance between us. For example, last week I moved into a house which is thirty metres from Popov's home, but still I don't bother him. I think we should respect our personal lives, what is going on outside the pool. So if I want to watch him, I tell him at the pool, or I call him."
Asked about Popov's future plans, and whether Popov would continue swimming if he fully recovers from the knife wounds he suffered in a Moscow street attack on August 25,Touretski replied, "I'm sure he will, but I will be more certain after he is released from the hospital (September 7). Tomorrow his Federation will make a presentation to Alex."
Touretski said that he and Popov have a good relationship with their national federation, to the extent that the federation has given Popov total freedom to choose the competitions in which he wishes to enter. "They said that if the national trials were not included in our preparation plan, Alex could go wherever he wanted. This is very good because it shows they trust me and they trust him."
Alexander Popov with long-time coach Gennadi Touretski
For larger 64k photo click on image. Photo © Alain Coultier / Sydney Freelance
"However, we decided that it would be better for Alex to compete in the trials because there were no other suitable competitions. So he competed in his national trials, and he clocked 48.8. He did very well."
Touretski said that Popov usually races over the 100 metres distance about one hundred times in a year. "We had a lot of competition last year but we hadn't enough competition in the Olympic year."
Surprised, I questioned Touretski closely on this topic, and the conversation went like this:
C: "He swims the 100 a hundred times?"
C: "In one year?"
T: "Not less. He does not less than one hundred starts. We have a special calculation of average results, so..."
C: "You're talking about competitions?
T: "Competitions, yes."
C: "He goes to meets?"
T: "He has no less than one hundred starts in the 100."
C: "And that means he may do two 100 races in the one
T: "Yes, it looks like he does one hundred 100's, 10Ks with a speed of more than two metres per second."
C: "That's good training."
T: "That is also learning the skill of racing the 100. That's the most important thing, because we had no opportunity before the Olympics.
PREPARING FOR THE RACE
According to Touretski, "This is based on the psychology of the coaches in Australia with elite athletes. They are afraid of competition. They are afraid to be disappointed. They are afraid to break the communication, and get a negative atmosphere in the school. But I think this problem is only in the minds of coaches but not in reality."
"The race is the goal and the focus of preparation. That's the most important thing. This is the most effective type of training. If we have this good balance of recovery and training, we can achieve results."
"We can use very simple logic-if you want to measure any coach or any training method, there are four stages: training, activation, stress, recovery. Training is mostly aerobic and anaerobic threshold work. Activation, this is MVO2. This is the Australian method, MVO2. Stress is high intensity training, or competition, then recovery."
"I asked one coach in Australia about one very successful swimmer, why she didn't do as well as expected, and he said, 'She didn't train.' I said, 'What did she do?' and he said 'She did heart rate sets.' Activation. That's why they've gone up, then they've gone down."
I asked Touretski whether he made a point of seeking top competition for Alex. Did he seek competition against Gary Hall, or to swim against the fastest he can find at a certain stage of the season?
"Organizing competition is quite difficult because it depends on many factors," said Touretski. "You mentioned Gary Hall. Alex is the best in the world, so if there is a good condition for this swimmer to compete against him, they may contact Alex's manager, at IMG, and ask if he will be available."
"This is another factor if you want to compete with a swimmer like Alex in a particular event-television and all the attendent details. This is a professional area, so I don't want to touch this. This is not my business."
On the question of how many top races Popov needed to get into shape to produce his best performances, Touretski said, "I think this is the business of every federation-to prepare a competitive plan for the national team and its members. That's the most important thing. They have to decide what kind of competition they need."
"I say what I need but Don Talbot may say no. Or we could compete, let's say, in Santa Clara, but he has his own model, and I don't want to criticize Talbot so what I say is only my opinion. While I prepare good athletes, there are other people who must make the decisions and they are responsible for them."
"That's why I think, first of all, we should start a plan. We need to plan, and if we plan, we'll realize what the objectives are, and by what means we can achieve this goal through training and competiton, and things like that."
THOUGHTS ON NATIONAL PLANNING
"If you want to know my opinion on what should be done about national planning to make swimming successful, imagine me as head coach of Russia, or any other country. The first thing I would do would be to start looking for talented coaches. I would do everything to prepare these coaches. Give them information, everything."
"Next, I would bring them together, not to challenge each other, not as one squad, and not as the national team, but just to start doing things together in the direction of developing this particular sport in the country." "I like Don Talbot. He tries to encourage the coaches personally, and that's what he did for Scott Volkers; that's very, very good. I think the success and ability of the head coach to bring coaches together and train them is very important."
"Let's get together. Let's make our swimming the best in the world. To achieve these objectives, you need to have very clear minds and very talented people. I think every country has such people. Then these people should decide how many competitions they need, and who should be there."
"The problem of countries like Canada and Australia (America hasn't all these problems because they have a whole lot of swimmers and coaches) is swimming is still not a major sport. The problem is that Queensland competes against New South Wales, and all together, they compete against the AIS in Canberra. Why?"
Asked how he would solve the problems he had mentioned, Touretski said, "First of all you should decide what you have to do. I know how to do it in Russia. I think I know how to do it in Australia. But when I first came to AIS, I noticed 'Swimmers have a very high level of tension. Where is it coming from?' "
"It's coming from the competitive situation between coaches. We can never be successful as a country while we just compete against each other, and this is the main goal. We have to compete against America too, we have to compete against Russia, we have to get together and compete against them. We have to help each other, and in this way we will have a greater team spirit.
ON TRAINING COACHES
Asked what he thought was the best way to train a talented young coach, certification or being apprenticed to an experienced older coach, Touretski said, "I don't think there exists one way. There can be different ways. I think if you have someone like a head coach, he has to realize that there can be different ways. A top athlete can be prepared at home, in a university, or in a special centre. It depends most on whether you have a coach there, and talent, sooner or later, will come to the top. But you need to have a coach there."
"Alex Popov does two thousand kilometers every year having not less than one hundred starts. This means that he does thirty competitions a year. This is the only way to go to achieve perfection."
A CLEAR MIND
Asked whether Popov, as a sprinter, was temperamental and, at times, perhaps difficult to train, Touretski replied, "Alex does the whole mental work himself. I merely give him the framework because his creative abilities are so great. As a coach, that's probably what I've most helped him to develop."
Touretski says that Popov has such a clear mind that he doesn't have difficulty in concentrating. By the same token, Toretski doesn't talk strategy with Popov. "I try to avoid this kind of talk because I don't want to interfere with his natural way, although, some time ago, I did show him some strategies. As I mentioned in my lecture, we did all the pre-Olympic work in March and April, and later we didn't speak about the Olympics."
When I mentioned that John Carew was the same with Kieren Perkins, and that Carew had told me that he doesn't say too much to Perkins, Touretski said, "That's the Golden Rule. If you start speaking to the athlete, it means that things are not well, and that soon things probably will not be good, and that's important to remember."
Touretski said that a coach must use different strategies with kids than with older swimmers. "Jim Fowlie was once surprised when, one day after a training session, we had some kids come to the pool, and he saw me working with them. He said 'Gennadi! You don't look like a national coach when you laugh and jump up and down like that!' Yes, but I did it that way because that's how I coach younger kids, and I enjoy doing it."