Special Sets: The Work of Daniel Matheson Under Coach Kevin Zacher (Training Sets Included)

Daniel Matheson

Special Sets: The Work of Daniel Matheson Under Coach Kevin Zacher (Training Sets Included)

This month’s “Special Sets” features Santa Clara swimmer, Daniel Matheson, now at USC, and tracks former Scottsdale coach Kevin Zacher’s development as a coach before and while working with Matheson.

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In September 2021 after nearly 20 years at the Scottsdale Aquatic Club (Ariz.) and four years before that at King Aquatic Club in Seattle, Kevin Zacher became head coach of the Santa Clara Swim Club. While at Scottsdale, he grew the club to 500 members, attained USA Swimming gold medal status, earned three junior national team titles, took 10 swimmers to 2016 Olympic Trials (including Amy Bilquist and Ryan Hoffer) and coached numerous others to NAG records.

One of his latest aquatic successes is rising USC sophomore Daniel Matheson. A holder of four summer national times, he scored in four events at the Pac-12 Championships in March. There he registered season best times of 4:14.87 (5th) in the 500 free, 14:51.59 (4th) in the 1650, 3:44.17 (11th) in the 400 IM and 1:35.03 as a member of the Trojan fifth-place 800 free relay. Matheson’s success is due in part to his dedication and talent as well as from Zacher’s maturation as a coach. “Over time, my coaching/training philosophy has evolved considerably,” the coach says.

Zacher grew up swimming in Roseburg, Ore. There he developed a terrific work ethic and thrived on a diet of high volume and tough-as-nails training. “It was a grind; it was tough; I was sore and tired much of the time; and I loved it! My friends and teammates, however, were not as enthusiastic,” Zacher admits. “Many of them came to practice reluctantly, and most stopped swimming before heading to college.


“In my first coaching job and at Scottsdale, I followed what I knew. I trained the swimmers long and hard. Hitting a certain volume in training was more important to me than anything else. At our bigger meets, we were pretty successful in the longer events—1000/1650 free, 400 IM, 200 fly, etc. However, our relays were not competitive.

“After a few seasons, my fellow coaches and I decided to ‘sacrifice’ some of our volume and incorporate more speed work at the end of every workout. This move improved our shorter races, and our relays became more competitive. Over several years, we kept dropping our volume and increasing our swimming at speed/pace.

“While I worried about our distance swimmers, they actually improved more than anyone else. One young man went from 16:20-ish in the mile to 15:30 and finished third at juniors. He also had good speed and was on all of our sprint relays.

“This experience, along with self-education, really changed my coaching philosophy. I also noticed other swimmers were swimming fast all the time as opposed to grinding it out, tapering and then swimming fast. All of those revelations now factor into how I coach. I want swimmers to work hard, enjoy the process, the sport and look back fondly on their swimming careers.

“My first year at SAC, we had three high school seniors graduate and swim in college. During my last several years there, we had 25 to 30 college-bound swimmers in each graduating class.

“Now, instead of training in aerobic, power, speed/taper blocks, we train all these areas all of the time. We are always doing some aerobic work and train daily at speed/pace. The speed/pace work varies by day and is relative to a swimmer’s strengths. Distance swimmers do more at 1000/1650 pace, while sprint-oriented swimmers do lots of short maximum speed work along with holding pace through a 200.

“Our dryland program is similar: Strength, power, speed are being touched all the time. Certainly, as we get closer to peak season/meets, we lower the volume and increase speed focus, both in the pool and in the gym.

“One key piece of all (this) is ensuring that swimmers stay engaged throughout the workout. When I write a practice for a main focus or set, I think about a race for a specific training group—distance, IM stroke, sprint. I then design sets that will teach them how to execute desired skills—effective underwaters, etc.—in practice that they will feel in a race. Hopefully, simulating the fatigue and lack of oxygen they will feel at the end of a 200 will pay off come race time.”


“Daniel Matheson was one of my last senior swimmers in Scottsdale,” says Zacher. “He excelled, improved each year and made the national junior team before heading off to USC last year.

“(When he was) 13-14 years old, I envisioned his best events would be the 200 fly and 400 IM. He trained several days with the distance and IM groups, and one day per week he focused on fly work. He made futures in those events and occasionally swam the 800/1000 frees to check fitness.

“As a rising high school junior, Daniel entered the 1500 free at a sectional meet to get a 800 split for junior nationals. In the first 800, he hit the qualifying time, swam 200 easy, and then descended his 100s again. He ended up going right around 16:00—the first time he had ever swum the 1500. It left me thinking about Olympic Trials.

“The next season, he went under 15:30 in his first 1650 race. Our approach to training hadn’t changed much. It was still a mix of distance free, IM and butterfly with an emphasis on improving and holding paces during the distance free work.

“Daniel continued to work hard and improve each season. At the 2021 Wave II Olympic Trials, he posted best times in all of his events: 800-1500 meter free (8:05.09-20th, 15:30.09-12th), 200 fly (1:59.95-27th) and 400 IM (4:23.32-19th). His 800 and 1500 performances earned him a spot on the 2021-22 U.S. national junior team.”


(Swum during Matheson’s last year at Scottsdale Aquatic Club)

Distance Freestyle Practice (SCY): Focus on 500 pace
• Warmup: 1500, mix of strokes, drilling, sculling
• Speed Development Set: 6 x 50 @ 3:00 ALL OUT!
• Kick
2x {150 @ 2:15 steady
{50 @ 1:00 FAST
{100 @ 1:30 steady
{50 @ 1:00 FAST
{50 @ :45 steady
{50 @ 1:00 FAST

3x {3 x 75 @ 1:00 (DPS—normal stroke count -1—@ 80% effort)
{3 x 50 @ :50 (descend to 500 pace)
{100 @ 1:20 (DPS—normal stroke count -1—@ 80% effort)
{3 x 50 @ :50 (hold 500 pace)
{3 x 75 @ 1:00 (DPS—normal stroke count -1—@ 80% effort)
{100 @ 1:30 (500 pace)
{4 x 25 @ :30 (ALL OUT! GREAT LEGS!)
{200 cruise
* Round 3 with fins and paddles
• Warm-down
Workout Total: ~6,500 yards

Distance Freestyle/IM Practice (LC): High-intensity workout/quality
• Warm-up: 400 swim, 4 x 100 K/S/D/S (1 of each stroke, 4 x 50 free descend 1-4)
• Fins
3x {100 kick @ 1:45
{2 x 50 @ :55 (15m kick/20m swim/15m kick descend 1-3)
{50 @ :55 (build swim)
{25 BLAST SWIM/25 EZ @ 1:00

3x {8 x 50 @ 1:00 (IM—2 of each stroke—or free)
O—Kick/Swim E—Drill/Swim
{4 x 50 @ 1:00
FR: Descend 1-4
IM: O—1/2/3/4 (1 stroke fly/2 strokes back/3 strokes breast/4 strokes free)
* Repeat through 50; pretty fast
E—4 fly/3 back/2 breast/1 free
Round 1—400 FAST FROM DIVE
* Get time
Round 2—200 FAST FROM DIVE
* Goal—1/2 of 400 time -5 seconds
Round 3—100 FAST FROM DIVE
* Goal—1/2 of 200 time -3 seconds
{4 x 100 cruise free @ 1:30
{1-min. break
• Warm-down
Workout Total: 5,600 meters

Mid-Distance/Stroke Practice (SCY): Focus on 200 pace
• Warmup: 800 choice—keep moving
3x {100 kick/swim x 25 @ 1:40
{2 x 75 scull/drill/swim @ 1:10
{3 x 50 @ :50 (descend 1-3 50/70/90%)
* Choice stroke by round (have a focus or intent on one skill—catch, head position, breathing, recovery, body position. etc.—for each round…something you need to work on)
• Speed Development Set
3 x 25 @ 1:30
2 x 50 @ 2:00
3 x 25 @ 1:30
• Swim: 8 x 75 @ 1:05 (steady/smooth free)

3x {2 x 75 @ 1:15 (choice set-up: scull/drill/kick/swim good form/etc.)
{50 build @ 1:00
{2 x 25 @ :30 FAST
* How do you want to execute at the end of a 200 race?
{100 EZ @ 3:00
• Warm-down
Workout Total: 4,500 yards

Distance Freestyle Set (LC): Focus on longer races (800/1500)
• Warm-up: 1,000 various
3x {3 x 50 @ 1:00 (tight descend)
{150 cruise @ 3:00
• Swim
2x {400 @ 5:30 (80% effort—steady swim)
{50 FAST @ :50 (change gears!…up tempo!)
{300 @ 3:50 (85%)
{50 FAST @ :50 (change gears!…up tempo!)
{200 @ 2:30 (90%)
{50 FAST @ :50 (change gears!…up tempo!)
{100 @ 1:10 (95%)
{50 FAST @ :50 (change gears!…up tempo!)
{6 x 100 @ 1:30 (steady swim)
• Pull
2x {400 DPS @ 5:00
{8 x 50 @ :55
Round 1: descend 1-4
Round 2: 1 smooth/1 fast
• Warm-down
Workout Total: 7,100 meters

Michael J. Stott is an ASCA Level 5 coach, golf and swimming writer. His critically acclaimed coming-of-age golf novel, “Too Much Loft,” is in its second printing, and is available from store.Bookbaby.com, Amazon, B&N and book distributors worldwide.

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2 months ago

True commitment by both, a Great coach with a super dedicated hard working athlete who were both dedicated to reach the goals -hard work came true success!