What happens when you take the diametric opposite approach to training? Instead of dumbing-down sport to only one variable, or only the number of variables the athlete or coach can handle; what happens when an athlete and coach duo decide to conquer each and every aspect of the sport that everyone else is training, and… then up the stakes by training additional variables? What happens is that instead of a fierce competitor, you end up with a consistent peak performer who not only medals but makes medaling a verb by becoming the most decorated Olympian of all time: you end up with a Michael Phelps.

Phelps has his coach Bob Bowman to thank: for being a coach who instead of taking the typical approach of most coaches – short cutting the career of an athlete by peaking them for immediate and instantaneous and short-term success to boost their own coaching career and subsequently blowing up, burning out or maxing out the athlete in the process – Bowman trained Michael with the vision of a career that lasted decades, to compete at five (5) Olympics, to being the one to break Mark Spitz’s record of seven (7) gold medals in the sport of swimming. As a result of Phelps competing into his thirties – which was unheard of in the past and believed to be impossible – the example was made for other athletes (e.g. Anthony Ervin, Nathan Adrian, et al) to return to the sport or continue competing in the sport.

As an aside… for those who want to consider calling themselves a coach, Bob Bowman is the template. The challenge if you want to be a coach, target at least Bowman’s level of vision, discipline and dedication, and see if you can take that level to new heights.

But before there was Michael Phelps… there was Ian Thorpe

The “Wonder from Down Under”, the Thorpedo… Australian swimmer Ian Thorpe’s track record was and still is absolutely incredible:

  • 1997 Pan-Pac Champs – two silver medals
  • 1998 World Championships – two gold medals, and a 400m FR time of 3:46.29
  • 1998 Commonwealth Games – four gold medals, with a new 400m FR time of 3:44.35
  • 1998 World SC Champs – two golds, a silver and a WR time of 1:43.28 in the 200m FR
  • 1999 Pan-Pac Champs – four hold medals and three WRs: 200m FR, 400m FR and 4x200m FR relay
  • 2000 Olympics – 3 gold, 2 silver, 3 World Records [WR]
  • 2001 World Championships – 6 gold medals and 4 WRs including a time of 3:40.17 in the 400FR
  • 2002 Commonwealth, 2002 Pan Pacs & 2003 Worlds – a total of 14 golds, 3 silver, and 1 bronze
  • 2004 Olympics – 2 gold, 1 silver and 1 bronze and an Olympic Record [OR] in the 200m FR

Thorpe was a Freestyle specialist, swimming the 200, 400 and 800m events. During his reign, Thorpe was considered the greatest swimmer of all time.

How did Phelps displace a swimmer who some say had a technically superior freestyle?

The Berkoff Blastoff = a revolution in swimming TECHNIQUE

This Youtube video must be watched on youtube.com due to copyright rules. Click on the video, then on the link to watch.

The ‘Berkoff Blastoff’

The dolphin kick first hit Olympic swimming big-time 20 years ago, after Harvard backstroker David Berkoff figured out something fundamental.

“It seemed pretty obvious to me that kicking underwater seemed to be a lot faster than swimming on the surface,” Berkoff says. That’s because there’s turbulence and air on the surface of the water, and they create resistance. The “Berkoff Blastoff,” as it was called, was used at the start and after turns, with long stretches of that underwater undulating kick. “I probably wouldn’t have made the Olympic team,” Berkoff says. “I probably would have been a good backstroker but not a great one. It was something that really kind of changed the way backstroke was swum.”

Berkoff won four Olympic medals with the kick, which others applied to other strokes. Swimming officials eventually imposed a limit of 15 meters underwater.

Reference:  https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=93575235

Phelps became Phelps as the world knows him because the level of technical complexity with which he competed could not be matched by anyone else.

Phelps did not try harder, he didn’t want it more than others, he didn’t hurt more, or suffer more… he didn’t do any of the things your dumb-ass coach is telling you it takes to perform at your potential. Your dumb-ass coach doesn’t understand the basics of sport, let alone success, so all that they can sell you on is their ignorance.

Phelps took the Berokoff Blastoff applied it to FLY & FREE events
No one – not even Thorpe – could compete with the technical superiority

Want success across a twenty year time-span, across five Olympics, across multiple events, want real success… then you have to slap the dumb-assery out which will have you believe that its all about effort, and accept that those who win don’t win by effort. Winners dissect the physical, mental and emotional dimensions of the sport, of success, of consistent peak performance into its sub-routines, its technical building blocks, its significant patterns, train until they master each one, and then they take the sport to an entirely new level: they look to other events in the sport, to other sports, and add new sub-routines, new building blocks, and new patterns so that they can win consistently, even when they are down and their competitors up.

Michael Phelps trained the the UDK – the underwater dolphin kick – to the point that he could come in last to the last wall of any Olympic Final swim event and surface in first, then extend his lead into the finish. It wasn’t freakish hand or feet size, it wasn’t as a result of an un-natural sized heart or set of lungs, it wasn’t because he wanted it more or tried harder than all the others… Phelps pushed the technical limits of the sport, pushing them beyond the level of any of his competitors, so eventually the only competitor he had was himself and his own records.

It took almost twenty years for Phelps to be beat by his own game
Joseph Schooling beat Phelps in the 100FLY event in 2016 Rio using a superior UDK

The TECHNICAL evolution of Michael Phelps

How did Phelps become technically superior in the UDK (underwater dolphin kick)?

He trained… drills: vertical UDK drills, weighted vertical UDK drills, vertical UDK explosions & weighted vertical UDK explosions

He developed a fluidity, an ease to the UDK so that he could do the kick stronger and longer than anyone else.

Competing isn’t about effort, its about skill