Special Sets Presented by VASA: Early Season Sets for 11-12 Year Olds

Photo Courtesy: Matt Rubel of Rubel Photography

Special Sets is sponsored by VASA. Visit VASA.com for more information on our sponsor.

With summer over and school back in session, committed year-round swimmers are entering a new phase of their aquatic education. Just as teachers incorporate some review into the new school year, so do age group coaches as they prepare their charges for improvement that will come from physical maturation and another year of training.

Mission Viejo’s Sarah Dawson, the 11-12 division director for the Nadadores, shares what she does to prepare her athletes for the season ahead: “For the first six weeks of the season, starting in September, the entire Mission Viejo Nadadores team—from novice to national—works on the fundamentals of each stroke,” says Dawson. “Review starts with long axis and moves onto the short-axis strokes, all the while maintaining focus on building the vessel (analogy of a boat and its buoyancy) and its efficiency in cutting through the water. We also focus on building the speed of the ‘fifth stroke,’ the underwater dolphin kick, within that first six weeks,” she says.


Sarah Dawson – Photo Courtesy: Mission Viejo Nadadores

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“In the middle of October, the team starts to build upon focused stroke training, and we begin to increase our endurance/aerobic base by upping yardage. As 11-12 division director, my top two 11-12 groups start averaging between 5,000 to 6,000 yards a day.

“As with many other age group-driven clubs, our 12-and-unders are encouraged to participate in multiple activities along with their swimming. As a result, I cycle through strokes on the different days to ensure that athletes who miss days maintain a strong foundation in all the strokes throughout the week.” A typical MVN week is distance Mondays, aerobic IM Tuesdays, long-axis stroke Wednesday, short-axis stroke Thursday, quality/prime (best stroke besides freestyle) Fridays and quality IM Saturdays.

“My practice makeup is pretty consistent, with a focused freestyle warm-up (nine minutes), a preset with a mixture of kick/drills/scull/swims (my most emphasized set of the training for any particular practice is 20 minutes), 16 x 25s variable (build up/build down/ez/fast by 25s), which prepares swimmers for the main set speed (eight minutes), followed immediately by the main set (45-60 minutes). I usually end with a quality speed/sprint set (10 minutes). The top two levels of 11-12s at the Nadadores engage in four out of their six practices a week with a half-hour dryland and in-water activity for approximately an hour and 45 minutes,” she says.

Following is an all-freestyle set (short course yards) that Dawson gives her 11-12s as they roll into October:

• 1 x 300 pull breathing 3/5/7/5/7/9 by 50 (4:00)
• 16 x 25 3 FAST/1 EZ (:30)
• 1 x 300 pull breathing 3/5/7/5/7/9 by 50 (4:00)
• 12 x 25 2 F/1 EZ (:30)
• 1 x 300 pull breathing 3/5/7/5/7/9 by 50 (4:00)
• 8 x 25 1F/1EZ (:30)
• 1 x 300 pull breathing 3/5/7/5/7/9 by 50 (4:00)
• 4 x 25 ALL Fast (:30)
• 1 x 50 EZ (1:00)
• 4 x 50 off blocks fast (1:30)

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“When emphasizing pulling, I am trying to get swimmers to elongate their lines, engage the core through the rotation of the breath and maintaining stroke count.

“When focusing on fast 25s, I look for swimming on top of the water with swimmers driving the kick and taking no more than two breaths per 25.

“The emphasis on fast 50s is acceleration into the wall, no breathing the first two strokes in and out of the wall, a minimum of four dolphin kicks and no breathing into the finish,” says Dawson.

Following are examples of a week of main set workouts (excluding warm-up, preset, setup and end speed set) for Mission Viejo’s 11-12 age groupers:


  • 10 x 100 FREE (1:20) constant pace, 0-2s*, streamline, dolphin kicks (4)
  • 5 x 100 FREE (1:15) STRONG, fast last 25, maintain time for all 5
  • 5 x 100 FREE (1:20) FASTER pace than 1st 10 x 100s, 0-2s, dolphin kicks (4), streamline
  • 5 x 100 FREE (1:15) STRONG, fast last 50, maintain time for all 5

* 0-2s means “No Breathing 2 strokes into and out of the wall”

Coach Dawson: “Often I split into middle distance and distance groups and run parallel timed sets. When doing that, my attention is on differing aspects of the 200 or 500 freestyle events, based upon the individual athlete.”


3x the following:

  • 4 x 225 IM

3:10 (1st Round)

3:20 (2nd Round)

3:30 (3rd Round)

First Round (strong, focused stroke technique and body line):

1) 75 FLY, 50 BK, 50 BR, 50 FR

2) 50 FLY, 75 BK, 50 BR, 50 FR

3) 50 FLY, 50 BK, 75 BR, 50 FR

4) 50 FLY, 50 BK, 50 BR, 75 FR

Second Round (emphasize best stroke speed):

5-8) Put the extra 25 on your best stroke—i.e., if your best stroke is BR, you would go 50 FLY, 50 BK, 75 BR, 50 FR.  DO NOT INCLUDE FR.

Third Round (maintain stroke consistency on worst stroke)

9-12) Put the extra 25 on your worst stroke—i.e, if your worst stroke is BK, you would go 50 FLY, 75 BK, 50 BR, 50 FR. DO NOT INCLUDE FR.


2x the following:

  • 4 x 50 ALL BACK (:45) Fastest Possible Average
  • 3 x 100 75 BK/25 FR (1:30) Strong Stroke, Smooth FR
  • 2 x 150 100 BK/50 FR (2:15) FAST BK, Smooth FR
  • 1 x 200 100 BK/100 FR (3:00) Smooth BK, FAST FR
  • 2 x 150 50 BK/100 FR (2:00) Smooth BK, FAST FR
  • 3 x 100 25 BK/75 FR (1:20) Smooth BK, FAST FR
  • 4 x 50 ALL FREE (:40) Fastest Possible Average

EXTRA :30 rest between sets


4x the following (odd rounds: BR, even rounds: FLY):

  • 4 x 75 (1:05)

Roll thru 25 STROKE Fast (25 STROKE/50 FR, 25 FR/25 STROKE/25 FR, 50 FR/25 STROKE, 75 STROKE FAST)

  • 4 x 100 (1:30)

50 STROKE/50 FR, 50 FR/50 STROKE, 100 STROKE FAST, 100 FR EZ


  • 1 x 300 FR pull breathing 3/5/7/5/7/9 by 50 (4:00)
  • 16 x 25 3 FAST Prime/1 EZ (:30)
  • 1 x 300 FR pull breathing 3/5/7/5/7/9 by 50 (4:00)
  • 12 x 25 2 FAST Prime/1 EZ (:30)
  • 1 x 300 FR pull breathing 3/5/7/5/7/9 by 50 (4:00)
  • 8 x 25 1 FAST Prime/1 EZ (:30)
  • 1 x 300 FR pull breathing 3/5/7/5/7/9 by 50 (4:00)
  • 4 x 25 ALL FAST Prime (:30)
  • 1 x 50 EZ (1:00)
  • 4 x 50 PRIME off blocks FAST (1:30)

* Pulling: Encourage athletes to elongate their bodylines, engage the cores through the rotation of the breath and maintain stroke count.

* FAST 25s prime: Emphasize speed off the wall, efficiency of stroke and finish the last 5 yards into the wall.

*FAST 50s: Break the 50 into 12.5s. 1st 12.5 aggressive, 2nd 12.5 accelerate into the wall, 3rd 12.5 maintain speed and hold on water off wall, 4th 12.5 blast into the finish.


3x the following:

  • 3 x 200 (100 IM/100 FR, 100 FR/100 IM, 200 IM Setup*) (3:00)
  • 1 x 200 IM off the blocks (5:00)
  • 1 x 200 EZ FR (3:00)

* Setup: Athlete CHOICE with concentration on drilling/sculling/speed work to get ready for fast swimming immediately following SETUP distance.

About the Author:

Michael J. Stott is an ASCA Level 5 coach whose Collegiate School (Richmond, Va.) teams won nine state high school championships. He was named a 2017 recipient of NISCA’s Outstanding Service Award.

This article was originally published in the October 2017 edition of Swimming World Magazine. 

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Angela Price
5 years ago

Matthew Rubel

Jennifer Crisman Coffey

Nicole Rae. Stroke clinic ?

2 months ago

What’s pull breathing

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