SHaRK: the belgium role model for developing young swimmers
Sometimes you need that extra advantage to win against your competitors. Sometimes you want to teach your team the intricacy of human physiology. And sometimes you just want to develop your squad and bring the youngsters to an elite level. It doesn’t matter what your goal is: INSCYD will help you to achieve it.
The Belgian swimming club of Nijlen (SHaRK) falls into the third of the above categories. Despite having good results in its 12-14 age group, as the children move into higher age groups, they slowly stop swimming. Demanding swim training routines and other demands force them to rearrange their schedules and revisit their priorities.
It’s hard to combine swimming with university and high school, and most of the swimmers stop at the age of 18,” says Stijn Auwers (33), coach of the Nijlen swimming club. “But we have the ambition to go further and bring at least some of them to the elite swimming level in Belgium (which is organized by the National Federation). In order to do so, we started to change our internal structure so they can have more training sessions. But we also looked at the other aspects that comprise sport performance.”
Nijlen SHaRKs started to focus on body screening to assess their athletes' strength and stability. They also began to work with sport psychologists to make sure that not only their swimmers' bodies, but their minds, were trained to meet the discipline’s challenges. Another goal of Auwers and his team, however, was to look into their swimmers’ physiology in more detail.
“That’s why in the past – in the 90s, almost 20 years ago – we worked with Jan Olbrecht", the man behind Luc Van Lierde’s Ironman World Championships in 1996 and behind a further 16 swimming medals at the 2016 Rio Olympics, Auwers says. "After more research we found INSCYD, which is all we were looking for.”
Rather than looking at the swimmers' performance as a group, Auwers and Nijlen SHaRKs use INSCYD to analyze their individual athletes specifically. While INSCYD's protocol enables them to test the entire team at once, their main focus is always addressed to the individual.
The move to INSCYD
“In the past we used a percentage of their best swimming times to set up their swimming paces,” explains Auwers. “Now we can work with the accumulation of lactate and that gives a better idea of the effort they need to swim at.”
Additionally, and on top of the flexibility to execute the tests according to their specific needs and time of the season, INSCYD is guiding Nijlen swimmers after the tests too – and when training adaptations are actually taking place.
“The results of the tests give us an idea of the specific aerobic and anaerobic capacities of the swimmers. We can then compare these results to what we believed it was the right training for those capacities. If we find out that those trainings didn’t work for the athlete, it means we need to change them.”
Auwers started coaching the Nijlen Swimming Team when he was just 16 years old. At that time, he was following the children's group once per week. Only later, at 25, did he start to coordinate youth groups and to coach the competitive group as well. Now he also helps the Belgian Federation in the organization of 11-14 year-old camps.
The SHaRKs is a composition of two clubs: the Nijlen – founded by one of Auwers’ uncles, together with a club of friends (300+ members) – and the Herenalse swimming clubs. Although they train in different pools and have different programs, the clubs work together and share resources for their races.
In August of this year, the SHaRK team won a total of 9 gold, 3 silver and 6 bronze medals at the Belgian National Championships in the AG 11-14.