After Learning to Swim What Then? by Ursula Carlile (2001)


My qualifications for giving this talk:


  1. I) I am Australian, so I’m different and possibly give a different slant on things you all know already. We all go to these conferences year after year-place after place, we remember them more for where they were – Hawaii, Australian Gold Coast, great weather in California etc., than for what we learnt there. However every time we do pick up something different – hopefully this year you’ll go away stimulated to think about whether you do things the same as we do in Australia, or you do things better than that mob of up start swimming people in Australia – don’t know how they could possibly have beaten us at Fukuoka.


2) Clearly one of my credentials for talking to you is my age. I’ve been in swimming since before many of you were born, that alone means I’ve picked up something about swimming along the way.


I started, as the best coaches all do, I believe, in Learn-To-Swim in an unheated outdoor salt-water pool filled from Sydney Harbour, we pumped in seaweed and jelly fish as well as ship oil and dead cats.


That was how swimming was in Australia in the 1950s, a 6 months affair from 1st October in cold 60°F water to the end of March when the water was again cold. Our international teams went to Northern Queensland -similar to Florida -to train in winter.


In Sydney our water was deep, cold and dark. Beginners had floats made out of empty oil tins strapped on their backs, painted bright colors so you could quickly count that they were all still there. Teaching was done treading water or by dangling a loop out over the water from a long stick so the teacher didn’t have to go in the cold water.


There was a lot of kicking, “Johnny, you go off and kick 10 laps, then report back to me” and I’ll probably give you another 10 laps to kick.


In fact I have a very strong belief that we have worse swimmers today because children don’t kick enough in L.T.S. Back when I was in L.T.S. everyone, – all standards – came to the pool, after school at 4pm, they all left at 6pm when it got dark, there were no lights. In those days, beginners – 10 or so together – got in and kicked for an hour, had a bit of arm work instruction for 10 minutes then kicked again for another 50 minutes.


Today 4 beginners come for a ½ hour lesson during which they do everything, push, glide, kick, bubble and breathe and they use their arms and dive for rings, so they don’t do enough kicking, but if you spent ¾ of the lesson just kicking the parents would scream, “You’re wasting our money” we could watch them kick ourselves, we’re paying you to teach them to swim, yet in the long run the children would be 100 times better swimmers for it.


Having started as a cold water LTS teacher, I was smart enough to get out of that by marrying the boss, so then I got to “coach” from out of the water. I started coaching just above LTS then, gradually as our business became bigger I moved up to Junior Squads and Intermediates, by now we had our own LTS school in a little 12 ½ M indoor heated pool (very hot 92°F) in our back garden at Ryde in Sydney.


That pool, now 30 years old is still there, doing well financially we take ½ hour, 4 in a class LTS lessons, as does everyone else, with not enough kicking, we also take babies and toddlers, also very popular with so many back yard pools in Sydney.


About 400yds from our home is the huge Ryde Aquatic Center – totally rebuilt as an indoor center for the Olympic Water Polo. My husband Forbes Carlile and I have coached there since it was first opened in 1960. Forbes and I have both been Olympic Coaches, now we have good assistants, we work in several locations and I have stepped back to coach at the lower levels. If you don’t have good people at those “just above LTS levels” you don’t have good senior swimmers later on.


It would be wonderful if I could say we have studied and we work strictly in accordance with the teachings of the world’s most eminent scientists in the area, Madsen and Wilke. I can certainly say we have studied their works and acknowledge that that is how we should be working. Running a Swimming business is a little different from theorizing in a laboratory. However every swimming teacher and coach should have in his/her head 2 sets of hugely important principles.


Age Group Training Principles

Technique Principles


Lets look at Age Group Training Principles as originally set out by Madsen & Wilke, and then borrowed by almost everyone. Here are the factors which science has proved important in taking Age Groupers to their best performances as mature swimmers. Every swimmer, parent and administrator who is involved in planning Age Group Competitions should fully understand these principles.


Children should not be trained to win races when they are young where it means neglecting the 2 main elements, which go towards producing top older swimmers – These elements are

Technique & learnin2 to be streamlined- unless good technique is learnt when you are young it’s very difficult, if not impossible to acquire this later. Counsilman -“the faults they have when they first come to me are the same faults I am trying to correct when they leave.”

The Aerobic System, the oxygen carrying capacity of the blood to muscles can be trained in young swimmers, but the anaerobic (sprinting) physiology of the individual cannot be changed significantly until girls are about 13 and boys 14 or so.


If the opportunity is not taken to fully develop the young child’s aerobic capacity the window of opportunity will be closed forever.


While the body is young, (pre pubescent) it is 1) most receptive to being trained aerobically and 2) is most receptive to learning swimming skills.


The implications of these proven scientific principles are that children, (under 12) should do very little sprint training or interval training trying to make fast repeats. They should not carry out “power” exercises other than working on flexibility and core strength, using their body weight as resistance.


Early developers (particularly if big) may do well in sprint events but in the long run the child who is allowed to develop with long swimming, repeat 200s, 400s, 800 etc at moderate speeds and who learns good technique is more likely to keep on improving at the age of 15 and 16 and as a senior swimmer. Speed comes through the endurance you did when you were young.


As Dr. Madsen points out providing 50m events at Junior Meets is not the way for Swimming Associations to develop swimmers to their best potential.


50m races are school races for non-training swimmers and novices not in training programs.


Knowledgeable coaches understand that a great deal of aerobic training should be done particularly when young but even by older both sprint and distance swimmers with carefully rationed out sprint and anaerobic training sets.


Our own World Record holders Karen Moras, Jenny Turrall and Shane Gould all did a lot of 1,000 and 800m repeats. Shane, who broke Dawn Fraser’s 100FS world record did primarily repeats from 200 up.


Jonty Skinner spoke at the World Coaches Clinic in Orlando in 1997. He gave the same message, the sprinter needs as much long swimming as the distance person but not at such a high intensity. Alexander Popov, also confirms this.


So if our children are to have any hope of becoming good, later, they must get an endurance base when they are younger.


How are we going to fit all these wonderful ideas into our Business Plan for a Swimming School? We all call ourselves the “Forbes & Ursula Carlile School of Swimming” and our catch cry is that “Our aim is not to produce a champion, but to provide an atmosphere where champions are inevitable.”


We have a very carefully structured system starting with babies and going right up to Olympians.


There are 14 levels from babies learning water confidence, through pre-schoolers to school age L.T.S, then the 3 stoke correction classes on to squads in 6 levels. Of course you can call them whatever you like, we use fish type names, sea horse, sea turtle, starfish, goldfish, kingfish, marlins etc and we have colorful, shiny certificates for the 7 bottom grades, we use expensive artists and sign writers. Each certificate lists what the children can do at that grade. We have detailed teaching manuals for each of the 14 grades.


Our beginners are in very warm water, about 1 to 1 ½ m deep; the pool is divided into quite small sections by ropes. We use platforms as landing stages, 4 in a class, homogeneous groups. We don’t use floats, we have hand supports cut from noodles. We train our staff very thoroughly, each session has a Supervisor who is the liason with parents, checks children are in the correct class, deals with complaints, and is able to fill any emergency teacher vacancy. Supervisors are very experienced and well paid.


Parents sit in the pool area but do not talk directly to teachers, they go through the Supervisor. We have a “Welcome” sheet for newcomers with 15 things they need to know and do, like,


(1) Be on time. (2) Provide goggles and caps, (3) Understand there is a learning curve with plateaus, it shows the progression chart.


You all do these things whether you divide your classes into 3 grades or 20 grades I could simply list for you exactly what we do in each grade but you all do this, you all know this.


Instead I’m going to give up another way of looking at how you can help your young swimmers, above L.T.S and just starting to move on.


Fundamental Laws and Principles which apply to all swimming strokes – these are the building blocks of a novice swimming program.


A complaining parent, who felt his child was not getting enough stroke correction said, “there are some things everyone knows are wrong in technique.” Implying these things were not being corrected in his child’s swimming – I replied – in defense of the child’s instructor, that each child is different depending on it’s strengths and weaknesses and it’s body shape etc. – However, I knew of course he was right there are some very basic principles which have to be observed in swimming technique – but I stress they are PRINCIPLES into which some variation for individuals will occur, but they are important principles which we, as teachers must observe.


I like to look at it this way, to swim fast you have 3 very fundamental laws.



Motivation – inside your head

Streamlining – your body

Speed – your engine


I am not concerned, in this talk with motivation, which, of course is a very important aspect right from Learn-to-swim on – in LTS it’s often a question of overcoming negative motivation. “I won’t put my head in the water, I’ll learn to swim without getting wet” etc. I shall tell you the type of training we do at Ryde with our novice groups and so I shall touch on Speed as produced by the “engine,” i.e. the heart and circulation, the muscles, breathing, the chemical reactions which occur and are the whole huge subject of “training.” What this afternoon is about primarily is  “Streamlining” – the movement of the body through the water and streamlining can be divided up like this –







So streamlining is one of the Fundamental Laws and we now come to the Principles of streamlining which apply to all swimming strokes.

Principles of Streamlining which Appy to All Swimming Strokes


Flat body position F

Keeping everything within the streamline of the body – vertically – horizontally F

Rotation around the central axis R

Rotation of the forearm R

Keeping the elbows up R

Kick should be secondary to the arm pull P

Breathing should be unobtrusive F

The need to “feel” the water P

The need to be balanced F

“Stabilizer” muscles need to be strong P



The Fs, Ps and Rs show how each of these Principles relates to flotation, propulsion or rotation. Having established the Principles we then look at each of these in relation to:


Head position

Body position

Position of the legs and feet

Position of the arms and hands



If you follow all the principles as outlined you will swim pretty good Freestyle.

Flat body position

Head position should be low, with the face parallel to the bottom of the pool, this means the chin will be tucked in – I do not like a high head position, if the head is high everything else sinks. Drills for head position – every drill you do should incorporate keeping the head down low, right from push and glide on, all the kicking drills, with and without a board, and all the arm and stroke drills.

Body position – head, shoulders, hips and feet should all be in a straight line, once the head is down then the hips and bottom can float up to be in the same horizontal plane. Guard against sinking in the hips or having the bottom push up out of the water.

Legs and feet should also be just along the level of the water, the heels should just break the surface as the swimmer kicks, and there will be only a small bend of the knee. To keep the legs up into the horizontal plane you need to kick, at least a bit, and to use a whip like kick, which is started in the hip and is carried out by the feet.


What is the point about a whip kick? It’s something – a movement – which is generated in one place with a lot of power and is executed somewhere further off with that power being changed into movement, power at the source results in movement at the end. Examples are cracking a whip, using a mechanical lever, shaking a branch in your hand etc.


Drills for flat body position and flat legs and feet are numerous. Again, the most basic is “push and glide,” then push, glide, kick, on to push, glide, kick and take 1, 2 or more arm strokes. In all of these drills we emphasize flat body position. All kinds of combinations of push, glide, kick are available, push, glide take 4 arm strokes, take 6 arm strokes, take 3 arm strokes and a breath, take 4 arm strokes and a breath etc, etc. There are lots of drills for kicking and holding the body flat with hands on the gutter, both hands on gutter-head low, body flat, legs kicking, one hand on the gutter or wall, both the above either with or without breathing.


Then there are the kick board drills, holding the board in various ways, top, bottom, sides, one arm, combining with different breathing patterns, and different stroke patterns. You can kick in a flat body position with hands in front, by your sides, with fingers interlocked behind you, or interlocked out in front. You can hold something other than a kickboard, like a tube or a rubber ring; you can have several children all hold a long stick or one of those long foam tubes. All the time you should emphasize the flat body position – the best way to stop the bottom popping up and moving is a strong kick to anchor the backside.


You can push off from the side feet first, and kick back, you can do all of the above with flippers, you can have great fun as a 2 person contest facing each other, hands on shoulders, with arms outstretched attempting to push each other backwards!


Keeping everything within the streamline of the body both the vertical and the horizontal streamline.


Think about a racing single scull boat. Think how narrow it is, how smooth the bottom is, the owners spend ages rubbing the bottom till it’s like silk, not a blemish on it because they know the slightest bump reduces streamlining. Now the human body has lots of bumps and humps, some we can’t reduce, but at least we can do our best to cut out those unwanted aspects of the stroke that hold back streamlining.


All the things we said about flat body position apply here, in addition lets look at feet.


You want flexible ankles. You will notice that all great Freestyle swimmers are able to stretch their ankles out to put their toes on the ground when they sit on the ground with their legs straight out in front of them – they have extremely flexible ankles, their whole foot acts like a flipper! The total opposite of this is children whose feet hang down at right angles when they do freestyle kick, and, like putting on aircraft brakes, the feet stop the swimmer from moving forward. You often see this in adults who want to learn to swim! You ask them to kick – they go backwards! Don’t let the kick be too deep or you lose streamlining, keep it a narrow, hard little kicks.


All of the kicking drills we have talked about should emphasize pointing the toes, one of the earliest things we do with baby learn to swim is get them, in their mother’s arms to push off the wall and stretch their toes out! Flipper drills can be helpful for really un-streamlined feet; at least it gives the feel of how the feet should be stretched out. Out of the water ankle flexibility, sitting on the ankles, twisting the ankles by hand, shaking the ankles, are important.


Continually emphasizing, “streamline the feet,” “point the toes,” is very important. To help children feel how easily they slip through the water when they are streamlined, do a vertical jump straight up in deep water and in shallow, holding the body very streamlined, or do some from the edge of the pool, in deep water and see how deep down you go if you are very streamlined. Keep bottom in, don’t let head drop back, hands up or at sides.


Rotation around the central axis.


This is seen in all good swimmers and makes the difference between dog paddling and swimming. You must hold the backbone very straight but then you can and should rotate the shoulders and hips around it. You will see pictures of top swimmers whose shoulders are almost at a right angle to the water surface. A propeller on a ship is more effective than a paddle wheel, which does not have the sort of screwing, turning movement of a propeller.


You must learn to distinguish, and get the swimmers to distinguish between “rolling” the shoulders and “dropping” the shoulder, “rolling” is good, “dropping” is bad.


A very good way to demonstrate this is out of the water. Have the swimmers stand feet apart and put themselves in the freestyle position about to enter with one hand, then apply pressure against that hand and ask each one in turn to push down as if swimming. At least ½ will start to apply pressure then drop the shoulder instead of rotating it. It is a subtle but very important difference. As one shoulder rotates down the other will come up to give the body roll around the central axis. Along with the shoulder rotation there must be a hip rotation in the same direction, right shoulder down, right hip down etc. The backbone must be kept straight.


Drills for this include all the kicking and swimming work on the side, 6 kicks one side, 6 on the other, 4 strokes on one side 4 on the other, also all the one arm drills should be done on the side, emphasizing the roll across to the other side as the stroke is taken. Specific body roll drills are – Opposite cheek (of your bottom) on each stroke touch the opposite cheek of your bottom, 3 stroke glide, where you take 3 explosive strokes, kicking hard then on the 3rd stroke lunge forward and glide on your side as far as possible, keep the arm that is back right up out of the water.


Rotation of the forearm.


In freestyle the shoulder joint and the elbow joint both act as “fulcrums.” The forearm rotates down with the elbow the fulcrum between it and the upper arm, and the whole arm rotates down with the shoulder joint the fulcrum.


Again this concept is best demonstrated out of the water in the same way as previously, again hold the hand, feel their pressure, watch that the elbow does not drop but is firm so that the forearm can rotate against it. It is vital that children become strong in their wrists and forearms and work out of the water as well at strengthening in this area. A good concept is that you are putting your hand (freestyle) or hands (butterfly) over a solid object in the water and pulling your body forward over it.


All the delayed entry drills, will help here, sharks fin, double entry, and later pulling and paddles, under supervision, and one arm swimming under supervision. A drill we use is – on your side one arm out, you do a couple of sculls then a half pull back under the water, changing arms each lap, but feeling you are getting power and momentum even in that small distance of the pull. We use this for backstroke too.


Keeping the elbows up.


This goes along with the forearm rotation, you really cannot do the rotation unless the elbow is kept up – and that means kept UP throughout the stroke – in fact this is much more important than being up when out of the water.


Out of the water, hold the swimmers hand so as to apply pressure and ask them to push down and back – check that the elbow stays up and finishes up in front of the hand as the hand completes the push. Weak swimmers will let the elbow give way – this must not happen, swimmers must be vitally aware of how very important it is to hold that elbow firm and push back. All the drills outlined for forearm rotation are applicable and great work can be done with the swimming harness.


Kick should be secondary to the arm null.


It is much more efficient to pull yourself along than to push yourself along. A heavy leg kick uses O2 less efficiently than a comparable amount of shoulder muscle activity, and a too regular kick can prevent the free movement of the arms – this is what used to happen 20 or 30 years ago when swimmers concentrated on a heavy 6 beat kick and “waited” out in front with their arms for the kick.


The great improvement in freestyle swimming times coincides with the arms taking the dominant role and the kick becoming an easy 4 or 2 or cross over beat to fit in with the arm stroke. Albeit in top freestyle sprinting for a short distance there will be fast kicking, and children should develop good, flexible kicks, but should not let the arms be dependent on the kick.


All kicking drills should emphasize flexibility and efficiency and should be done separately on a board, without a board, with flippers and in all the combinations we have looked at before – there should seldom, if ever be a 1,2,3,4,5,6,1,2,3,4,5,6, type kick (an occasional problem pupil may need this).


Breathing should be unobtrusive.


You need to have the head low so the breath can be taken almost underwater in the little cup of air formed as the head turns, in this way the head win not lift at all and will fit in with the upward movement of the – shoulder on that side and be almost unnoticeable, and provide no disturbance of the body position. This is best demonstrated by having slightly more advanced children watch beginners and see how long it takes them to get a breath, and then watch advanced swimmers and see the opposite.


I like the pattern of the eyes following the hand around for the timing of the breathing, and I believe there should be a steady and continuous bubbling out from the nose and mouth, and a suck in of air through the mouth.


All kicking drills and all one arm and gliding drills should include unobtrusive breathing as part of the exercise. This should go right back to the most basic kicking and breathing on the wall, and right up to top swimmers who will be doing breath control in and out of turns etc.


The need to “feel” the water.


We all talk about “feeling” the water, but what do we mean, and how do you teach it? We also all know that “good swimmers automatically have good feel of the water”!


I see it as meaning, being able to feel pressure against the hand, and responding by taking up the pressure. I think you have to get children out of the water standing, legs apart, one foot slightly forward, bending over and putting one hand at a time into the start position for freestyle, Head low, elbow up, stretched forward in a good boomerang shape, then you, the teacher ask them to push down and back against your hand, and see if they are exerting pressure, then they can do this in pairs once you are sure they know what they are trying to do, (be sure they keep their elbows up while they push down).


In the water, more or less the same thing but get each child to bend over and actually push the water back, well back, feeling the pressure all the way. They need to learn that only when they feel pressure will they move fast, they must not avoid taking the pressure feeling the pressure is good; not feeling pressure is bad although it feels “easier.”


Other drills are the “fist” drills versus using your fingers, chicken wings versus the whole arm and hand, and all the pulling drills with and without paddles, pull buoys or any other gear. Also tethered swimming.


An easy “feel” drill is “Sliding,” which is similar to catch up freestyle. You start with one hand on top of the other in a streamlined position, then you pull, the bottom arm, leaving the top arm outstretched, emphasizing, “feeling” the water as you pull, the upper arm does not move until the hand and forearm are below the elbow.


The need to be balanced.


Rotating around the central axis is like asking a child to balance, being outstretched along a gymnast’s balance beam, and move their arms and legs on either side of it! Not easy! You can see that a lot of balancing skill is required to do this.


The best way to get hold of this principal is to see what happens if you are not balanced. Take a child who swipes across well past the mid-line in one freestyle underwater arm, immediately his hips and legs, pop out in the opposite direction to counter balance causing a dramatic cut down in his streamlining.


Similarly if one foot thrashes out sideways, the shoulder and head skew off in the other direction. One hand flinging out too wide causes a huge scissors kick to counterbalance it. Single side breathing can be the original cause of many unbalanced arm and leg movements – so lots of bi-lateral work.


The drills will be specific for the specific fault, but out of the water every child should be looking at basic strengthening exercises for abdominal muscles, back, torso, legs, work with balls or bean bags, and sandbags should all be on both sides, both hands, both feet etc.


Kicking drills are very important for the lower back stability, watch that children are kicking with both feet evenly. As soon as you see an unbalanced movement, stop the child, point out the error and try to get it reversed as soon as possible. Young children find it hard to balance using, as in freestyle, only one arm and one leg at a time, for them double sided, stronger movements like breaststroke and butterfly are easier to perform.


Needing strong stabilizer muscles is closely linked to principle no.9. All of the muscles, which are used to keep you balanced, need to be very strong.


We’ve all struggled with those awful “jelly children,” they have no idea of “putting pressure” against your hand because their elbows, shoulders and backs give way. Arms and legs in swimming are mechanical “levers,” but there must be a firm “fulcrum” against which to push, or nothing happens. Getting that firm fulcrum means having strong stabilizer muscles throughout the whole body. You can’t rotate around the central axis if the axis – the backbone and head – are not firm. You can’t keep your bottom in place if your abdominal muscles are weak. If your bottom wobbles around you don’t have a firm fulcrum against which your thighs can kick. The leg lever won’t work. You must be able to hold the shoulder girdle firm or the arm lever lacks a stable fulcrum.


I am a firm believer in muscle strength being built from the very start. “Baby Gym” programs are marvelous – such programs, well run by specialists do tremendous good for the growing organism. At the very least get youngsters doing a wide variety of physical activity, some of it quite challenging, running, throwing, climbing, balancing, coordinating etc. etc. then there should be daily physical education in primary schools as well.


Coming back to our specific needs for swimmers. The best drills here will be out of the water exercises, using light apparatus, balls, sand bags, skipping ropes, hoops, light hand weights, body weight, push ups, pull ups, sit ups, leg lifting, emphasizing abdominal and lower back strength.


You will not get specific “stabilizer” muscle strength, quickly, by doing in the water drills. All in the water drills will contribute, but only a very small amount, the best drills would be Butterfly kicking drills, turns without a wall or underwater turns, but again, real gains for those important muscle groups should be through out of the water work.




I spent a lot of time with Freestyle because everything follows on from that. So let us look at the Principles of Streamlining as they apply to Backstroke.

Flat body position.

Remember we will go through, head position, body position etc.

Head position must be pushed back with the chin in, you just don’t drop the head back, you tuck the chin in and push the top of the head back, as if you took a doll, attached a piece of string to the top of its head and pulled. Every drill will incorporate head pushed back position, watch for it.

Body position must be flat with the hips and shoulders along the level of the water. The tummy must be at water level, it must be pushed up from the buttocks by a strong kick.

Legs and feet must also be up. Along the water line, head, shoulders, hips, knees and toes should all be in a straight, flat line along the surface. The kick is fundamental to good Backstroke. It needs to be (at least in the learners and beginning stages) continuous with small, hard up beats, and it needs to be shallow. Guard against too much knee bend, as with freestyle the kick comes from the thigh and is executed by the foot.


Drills for flat body position are numerous and pretty well known.


The fundamental drill is kicking on the back with a flat body position, which usually means guarding against the tummy dropping. (“NO bananas here!”)


Think of all the ways in which you can kick on your back – against the wall, with one or two hands holding on, away from the wall with arms anywhere from by your legs to above your head, to up in the air, one arm or both arms in a large variety of positions, all of these can also be done with apparatus, holding a kickboard above the knees, under the chin, above the head, in the air etc. with one hand or 2 hands, and varying the position of the other hand.


Keeping everything within the streamline of the body, means in backstroke, again that flat body position, and not kicking too deep. If swimmers sink in the middle they are not within that streamline position. If the knees bend, they lose streamlining.


Also under streamlining comes the bent arm pull in backstroke, if you keep your elbow straight you have a very wide sweep around, very wide of the body, to ensure a narrow, streamlined body let the elbow bend midway through the stroke and push back towards the feet, “throw a tennis ball at your feet.”


Similarly if you pull straight-armed your hips will swing out sideways and your legs will swipe with a wide sideways kick, very un-streamlined, a lot of resistance. To keep in the streamline of the body the arms need to touch the ears as they go back. This will give a completely straight arm entry, which is what we need.


Rotation around the central axis is vital in Backstroke as it is in Freestyle.


Keep the head and backbone completely still, so you have a stable fulcrum, then allow the body, shoulders and hips, to roll around that firm axis. To keep the head still, put a stone or a cup of water – a foam cup of water is best, it floats – on your forehead and do backstroke. To do this the swimmer must “inwardly rotate” each shoulder before the start of the stroke, keeping the head completely still roll the shoulder around to touch the chin before lifting the arm straight up (I like little finger up for young novice swimmers – as this helps them to inwardly rotate the shoulder). As that arm goes up the opposite shoulder goes down.


Similarly the hips rotate (keeping the backbone still) in the same direction as the shoulders, one hip up, one down.


Drills for streamlining and rotation.


Kicking on the side for a specified number of kicks then rotating to the other side, with hands by the side and outstretched. Triple roll drill has hands by your sides, 6 kicks, on one side, shoulder and hip up out of the water, then roll to the other side, 6 kicks, then 1 arm pull on opposite side, then repeat, i.e. 6 kicks on right, 6 kicks on left 1 stroke with right arm, and repeat. One arm Backstroke swimming for a specified number of strokes then rolling to the other side and the other arm.


Backstroke catch up drill emphasizing the roll from arm to arm, arms outstretched and the kick and hip roll helping to turn the body.


4) Rotation of the forearm.


This is vital for correct Backstroke swimming, and means the bend and push down and forward of the hand when the arm reaches about shoulder width.


As with Freestyle it is essential to “keep the elbow up,” you stabilize the elbow as a fulcrum. If the swimmer just drops the elbow the hand falls down and does not get any purchase on the water. Thinking of the movement as a “throw of a ball” towards the heel is a good idea, to throw the elbow must be up and stable.


Again this should be worked on out of the water with the teacher putting pressure against the hand at about shoulder position and checking that the swimmer exerts pressure.


Drills include – double arm Backstroke, you pretty well have to bend and push to do double arm Backstroke, and it is a very good drill for several reasons, streamlining, head position, kicking etc. Swim the rope, Pulling on a lane rope or a special rope soon shows you the importance of the bent arm.


Similarly, one arm Backstroke, concentrating on being on the side, needs a bent arm pull, or you go around in a circle, so one arm and alternate arm drills are good, specifying the number of strokes on each arm.


Sculling and building up – here you scull on your back for a count of 2 then do the forearm rotation and take a half stroke to the waist, then recover underwater, change arms at 25 emphasize the power of the bent arm stroke.


5) As we have seen to do the forearm rotation you must keep the elbows up. Swimmers can look at more advanced backstrokers from out of the water and see the firm elbow and hard push.


Drills as for rotation of the forearm and out of the water work with rubbers, great care being taken to hold that elbow “up and firm,” as with Freestyle. Elbow up, also means shoulder up and firm.


6) Although it is essential to have a regular and flexible kick, in top.


Backstroke the arms will call the tune, the kick is a stabilizer, a rudder and it helps rotation and streamlining. All the kicking drills work towards a flexible, quick, firm kick which fits into the pattern of the arm pull, and in younger swimmers, fills in the gaps.


7) In Backstroke breathing is not a problem, I, personally do not worry about a breathing pattern in children learning Backstroke, except for the breath control needed at the start and turns, where, increasingly we are seeing everyone make fun use of their allowed 15m underwater Butterfly kick.


8) The need to “feel” the water is just as important as in Freestyle. The same out of the water work is needed.


To feel the water in Backstroke you must have the correct angle of the hand on entry. I like to teach (and I emphasize to teach) little finger up recovery and entry like an oar, ready to push the water, because then the child immediately “feels” the handful of water.


Pulling with a band is a great way to get that early feel and catch in Backstroke, although hard, you may have to settle for a small pull buoy as well. Its’ also good to try to get children to feel the water against their toes in Backstroke kick.


9) The need to be balanced, and to do this… 10) The need for strong stabilizer muscles come together in Backstroke.

If it was hard in Freestyle to lie along that balancing beam on your front, then its’ twice as hard in Backstroke because you are lying on that couple of inches balancing on your back, and moving your arms and legs with your longitudinal axis, backbone and head held firm.


To do this you must have strong stabilizing muscles to stop you wriggling sideways and to stop you dropping your tummy. Again out of the water abdominal work of all sorts is required, and, as soon as possible work with rubbers, tied up behind you, preferably used with a bench to make you keep the body firm, otherwise being aware that you must keep the shoulders and backbone steady.


Drills to help balance and strengthen stabilizing muscles, are drills where you slow the Backstroke down, and where you hold one hand above your eyes for a period of time, such as Backstroke catch up in the air, where you hold that arm up until the other one meets it, delayed or double entry, where you bring the hand back up before it enters the water, so again you are balanced with the arm in the air.


Holding a pull buoy in the air with 2 hands while you kick is another simple but very effective drill.


Backstroke turns away from the wall are good.




Principles of streamlining as they apply to Breaststroke.


Flat body position is so important, and so difficult.


In Breaststroke this means that the shoulders, the bottom and, for as much time as possible the feet will be in a straight line. Remember we are considering “beginner” – Breaststroke, there may be variations as swimmers become stronger and in top line specialist – breaststrokers.


To help keep the head flat, right from the start Breaststroke needs to be taught as a continual forward movement, not a stop start movement. By looking at a flowing pattern you stop the jerk up of the head to breathe. Just let the head ride up with the shoulders, there should be no independent head movement, and keep the head fairly well crouched forward between the shoulders.


To keep the bottom up you need a strong kick with emphasis on pushing the legs up at the end or the kick, and children need to be reminded to keep the bottom up and work at pushing it up. Similarly you’ll need to continually remind swimmers to push the legs up at the end or the kick, to help get that flat body position.


Drills for flat body position are all the Breaststroke arms-only drills, and gliding drills, these can be done with equipment or without, but the legs need to be kept up, so pulling with a pull buoy, or with fins or pulling lying on a kick board are good.


You can do ¼ or ½ the normal pull, and build over 3 laps, ¼, ½ pull, whole pull.


Straight arm Breaststroke, arms straight out to shoulder level then clap the arms back together. Head up pull, as it sounds, and can be combined with various other pulls, or use dolphin kick, or double dolphin kick.


Breaststroke RALADA. 2 right arm pull, etc.


Keeping everything within the streamline of the body is obvious applicable in Breaststroke than in any other stroke.


However, it means using the ankles, having flexible ankles – from out of the water flexibility exercises – trying to get as much ankle rotation as possible. Some of the very best Breaststrokers are able to keep the knees in fairly close because of the extreme flexibility of their ankles.


It means being aware that you must minimize the time your arms are out wide, and maximize the time you are gliding forward. You are going to be “all long” for a long time and “all short” for a short time. Only individual experimentation will tell each swimmer what is the optimum width of arm pull for him or her, and it must all be “working” arm pull.


Keeping within the streamline of the body also means keeping the bottom up so the legs are not too deep, and working at finishing the leg kick with the feet up, so that as you glide you are very streamlined.


Rotation around the central axis is a negative in Breaststroke – there must be NO rotation.


Rotation of the forearm – for Breaststroke it is very important to have strong wrists and forearms to get the outward and inward sweep of the hands and forearms – tie up the legs of your little girl Breaststrokers (pull buoy and a band) and you’ll be horrified to see how weak they are in the forearms. They’ll wriggle and get along by making dolphin body movements but they need heaps of work at Breaststroke pulling to get that arm strength.


Best drills are any sort of work to make them use the Breaststroke arm action. Pulling, 1 arm (holding foot across behind) or 2 arms, with equipment or partner resisted – pull a partner races.

Keeping the elbows UP is essential to get that fulcrum still to be able to do the forearm rotation. If the elbow is not up its impossible to apply pressure in the arm pull.

All the drills are as for 4 above and also underwater pulling and straight arm Breaststroke clapping the hands as the straight arms come back from the shoulder width position.

Breaststroke is the exception to the rule, the Breaststroke kick should dominate, but each swimmer will be individual in percentages of propulsion from arms and legs. In general all girls will get more out of the kick than out of their arms. To be a good Breaststroker you need a strong kick. We always teach the traditional Breaststroke kick and later some children will move towards the dolphin type kick.

We do Breaststroke kick first on the wall then with a board – if necessary we teach it out of the water on an exercise bench in the very first place, then we move on to Breaststroke kick on the back then all the numerous kick drills. Such as – on back, on front, with board, without board have boards flat, at slight angle, at right angle, fully under the water at a right angle, touching hands with the feet hands together behind you, hold right foot with left hand kick with other leg, egg beater kick, 2,3,4,5 etc. kicks to one arm pull, kicking with a pull buoy, hands on shoulders kick your partner in opposite direction.

Breathing is not a problem in Breaststroke, except that children must not “stop” when they breathe, and in this sense the breath must be unobtrusive, do not lift the head, just let it ride up with the shoulders. If a child finds it hard not to “stop” get them out of the water doing the action, then standing in the water, finally gliding out doing one arm action and one breath at a time.

Feeling the water is a bit easier in Breaststroke because of the double sided, strong movement again work on this out of the water and standing in the water, then use all the pulling drills, to pull yourself along you need to feel the water. Emphasize the feel of the outward and the inward arm sweep, keeping the hands forward of the shoulder line.

Breaststroke is one of the easiest strokes in which to be balanced because of the double sided nature of the movements, but of course this will need… 10) Strong “fixator” or stabilizer muscles, particularly in the neck, upper back and shoulder region. The shoulder girdle must be a strong fixed fulcrum, against which to pull, this strength can be acquired in the water by doing Breaststroke – watch that weak swimmers don’t “cheat” by doing wriggling dolphin movements to get along (the dolphin kick must come only after the initial strength and balance have been acquired).




Principles of streamlining as they apply to Butterfly. Finally we come to Butterfly, and you will by now understand how we’ll look at this stroke and you’ll know for yourselves what to look for.


Remember the idea of categorizing the strokes this way is to give you a scale of reference to use when someone says “Why is he swimming Freestyle, Backstroke, Breaststroke, Butterfly so badly?”


You say – What’s he doing wrong in relation to Principle no: 1, or Principle no: 2, or no: 3, etc. Having picked out a few principles, which he is not fulfilling, you then say, O.K. It is his head, his body, his legs etc. and you are sure to come up with several reasons for why he is swimming badly, i.e. several areas in which you can work, and you know what you say will not be incorrect because these principles do apply – either in a positive way or in a negative way (Breaststroke kick) they are not just your interpretation (which could be wrong) but they are fundamental to swimming well.


They are not gimmicks and they are not high tech, hydro dynamics, they are understandable.


Flat body position in Butterfly means the head, shoulders, bottom and feet must be up along the water line – plenty of good Butterfly swimmers will even get their bottom above that but this should not be at the expense of pushing the shoulders under. With youngsters, getting that bottom up is usually the hardest thing.


To help get the bottom moving, out of the water stand about 12cm from a wall hold a kick board in both hands up in the air straight above your head, keeping the board – hence the shoulders and head – still push your bottom in and out to touch the wall – wriggle the bottom do not bend the legs.


In the water work the “kick” emphasize it is a movement of the bottom not a bending of the knees – do laps with and without a board, on back, front, each side, and corkscrew, all 4 together! Do kicks above and below water, from a push and from a dive.


To keep the head in the flat body position learn to nod up and back quickly for a breath, and to enter the arms wide enough to leave the head down between the arms. Swing the arms around rather than jump them over, jumping over leads to a very un-flat body.


Keening everything within the streamline of the body means, as well as the flat body, getting the hands entering about shoulder width and pulling down and in to touch under the hips and push right back, don’t let the hands get stuck at the back, and drive out non stop.


Rotation around the central axis is a negative in Butterfly. We certainly don’t want any sideways rolling. Drills to prevent this, which results in arms going in one at a time, are hard to find if the child has no shoulder flexibility – so out of the water, towel over the head flexibility work is recommend. Also getting the child to watch himself in a mirror, taking the arms over, can be useful.


Rotation of the forearm is just as important here as in Freestyle, in fact the Butterfly arm work is just (for these children anyway) 2 arm Freestyle so all the same drills apply.


Once again keeping the elbows up will be very similar to the need for this in Freestyle there must be that stable fulcrum against which to push. Again the same drills in and out of the water apply.


The kick should be secondary to the arm stroke – this is very important in Butterfly or you end up with a wait of the arms in front while the kicks are made (Jan Andrews 1959-60).


Again, as with Freestyle it is much more efficient to pull yourself along than to push yourself along, putting a propeller driven engine on the back of a jet engine doesn’t help, it doesn’t make it go faster, it just uses fuel.

Of course it’s not quiet as bad as that because there are lots of other benefits from the kick, it gives body position, it gives streamlining because the legs are not dropping, you need to kick hard in and out of the wall and during the underwater phases, but one should develop a rhythmical, flowing kick that does not use up too much O2 and enhances rather than detracts from the streamline of the body.


So we need the kicking drills as we talked about before – and also things like kicking with head up, with folded arms with the hands touching behind you, underwater kicking and combining with a set number of kicks per breath, or kicks then pull and arm strokes.


Breathing should be unobtrusive – very important in Butterfly. You must snatch the breath quickly; the head should be down most of the time, with a quick nod back when the shoulders are up to snatch a breath. Most of the time the face should be parallel to the bottom of the pool. To be unobtrusive there must be a fair bit of breath control, this means being aware of how you are breathing out, a big snatch in of air, a slow controlled blow-out, continuously – I believe, but more controlled than in Freestyle.


Drills include heaps of kicks and strokes without a breath for various distances, breathing every 1,2,3,4,5 and 6 strokes, and going ¼, ½ and 1 lap without a breath, heaps of turns with a push off without a breath.


The need to “feel” the water – as with Freestyle, you need to “feel” the water to be able to push it back. All of the pulling drills and underwater recovery Butterfly drill help you to feel the water. Children who don’t feel the water, tend to make holes in it rather than push it back.


As with Breaststroke it is not so difficult to be balanced, but as we said earlier it is very important or the swimmer will be putting the hands in one at a time. Work out of the water in front of a mirror will help.


Very important for Butterfly to have strong “stabilizer” or “fixator” muscles to keep the body firm. To some extent the fulcrums here relate to movements up and down, the vertebrae of the backbone and the attached muscles are the fulcrum for the up and down movements of the lower back and legs, and the shoulder girdle and arms. All the abdominal and torso muscles must be strong, out of the water abdominal work and lower back work are good for very weak children, and doing the Butterfly kick and associated drills will also help. Much of the work on Butterfly kick is really to strengthen up these stabilizer muscles rather than to produce a fast kick in itself.


A lot of Butterfly work is done with kicking and arms separately until children are ready to put the two together, however this difficulty does not seem to be there if children have learnt Butterfly as babies, I think it is a flexibility problem, children lose that shoulder joint flexibility as they grow.


I have seen great Butterfly from 8-10 month old babies, but underwater, perfect strokes about ½ a meter down, they do 4 or 5 strokes then climb up for a breath, then go back down again!



Very important books to consult.


(1) “Coaching the Young Swimmer”  “Swimmer IMPROVED” by Wilke and Madsen.

Printed in U.S.A. in 1993 by Sports Support Syndicate 108 South 12th St. Pittsburgh PA 15203 U.S.A.

Phone 412-481-2497

Fax 412-481-2540


(2) Drills and Games.

A Fun Way to Practice

By Debbie Potts

Published by American Swimming Coaches Association

301 S.E. 20th Street Fort Lauderdale Florida 33316 USA



Building a training program for novice swimmers.


Now that we have all the “building blocks” we are ready to start putting together a program. There are many, many, considerations here.


The WILKE and MADSEN book dwells heavily on not over-training youngsters, not “turning them off” by too much training – it wants swimming to be only a part of the physical activity of the child. It suggests a perfect set up where other water work, games, water polo etc. can be incorporated in the swimming training program and where out of water activities can be focused towards swimming strength etc. In fact the sort of perfect set up only possible in an East German Sports School! Of course a lot of what Wilke and Madsen say is good and valid but you and I have to make our living by getting kids to swim fast in the short (or fairly short) term – most of our pupils are never going to make the top flight and – statistics tell me that – look at how many coaches are here and how many pupils each of you handles compared with how many Victorian swimmers will make the next Olympic Games Team!


So, this is not the counsel of perfection but rather of expediency of what works for us, what satisfies most of the people most of the time enough to keep them coming, to keep them paying and for their children to keep on improving at least while they are at school, and its really not going to do much damage.


The fundamentals I consider when building my programs are


Each session is a teaching session and each child actually learns something.

We teach the best techniques we can in line with the principles we have outlined.

Where possible we do some of every stroke at every session.

We get as much done at each session as possible, each session is a mini endurance session.


The limitation factors into which you fit all this are –

Standard of the pupils – try to get groups as homogeneous as possible.

Amount of time for the lesson ½, ¾, 1 or longer session.

Number of pupils in each lesson.

Amount of space you have – and the type of space, deep or shallow etc.


Those things will be set for you or by you. Preferably by you, all these things are related to dollars of course. Where possible look at the above and change them to get them as much as possible how you want them. Don’t give in too easily – I used to believe we could only teach between 4pm and 6pm. Then this winter we had much less space available for our younger groups and we had to move to 3:30pm and going on to 7:30 and 8:00pm and the parents did it! They also came at 7am before school with their 7 and 8 year olds.


The same with pupil numbers we had to almost double the number of children in each class, and we cut down the lesson time, to ½ hour from ¾. Of course we had to have very, very good teachers who were right on the ball all the time, (I ended up taking a lot of the most crowded, really short classes myself).


About the most important of the limiting factors is to get a homogeneous group, you will have to have lots of grades – but at least everyone keeps on moving. This winter with our 7-12 year olds we had 6 different grades before they went to “Intermediates.”


½ an hour is about the minimum you can get away with and call it a “training session,” and in our ½ hour groups which were very weak it was always Freestyle for 15 minutes + 1 other stroke and that rotates week by week. In the ¾ hour group and the 1 hour groups we do all the 4 strokes, but making the “stroke of the week” + Freestyle the main areas to work in.


In our 1 ½ hour groups, it’s all 4 strokes in about equal amounts.


Lets assume we are taking a 1-hour group, (8-11 years roughly, doing 4×100 Freestyle on 2.00 minutes). At this level I think its important to keep the stroke and its’ drills together, a much better teaching environment is produced when you work through, Freestyle kick, Freestyle pull or combined or drills Freestyle swim and do each stroke in the same way, breaking up the swimming somewhere for starts, turns, finishes etc.


Our sample program starts out of the water for about 3 minutes using a few seconds for arm circling and leg stretching, ankle flexibility then working on doing the arm stroke out of the water, feeling pressure on the child’s hand by your resistance, feeling that they are holding pressure against your hand, and pushing well back, do Freestyle and the stroke of the week.


Your biggest problem with a 1 hour group is time – although its much better to do only 3 strokes, i.e. Freestyle + 2 other strokes, its just possible to do all 4. There’s no time for a water warm up.


Sample Program for 1-hour group doing 4 strokes with Butterfly being the stroke of the week.


Out of the water work


200 1 arm F/S 100 4.4.    Four on one arm

then 4 on other arm          3 mins.

100 6.6. As above           3 mins.

100 Sharks fin drill

or chicken wing drill

or sliding drill

4 x 50 F/S Kick 1-15       2 ½ mins

2 x 200 F/S 3-45                         5 mins

or 4 x 100 F/S 2             8 mins

Total time          21 ½ mins


Butterfly We always do Butterfly after Freestyle before they get too tired.

8 x 25 Butterfly kick

2 on BK

2 on one side      about 6 mins

2 on other side

2 on front

I start each one of these and push them along

100 RALADA                2 ¼ mins

8 x 25 Butterfly. I start each of these and

comment on individual technique – about 6 min        14 ¼ mins

Total Time         35 ¾ min



200 BS Kick      100 on Back

100 Fold arms    4 ¾ mins

or 200 2 Kick 1 Pull

or 100 4 Kick 1 Pull + 100 BS Pull

4×100 BS 2 ¼                9 min                                                                13 ¾ mins

Total Time         49 ½ mins



100 BK Kick                  2 ½ mins

100 Catch up drill           2 ½ mins           4 ¾ mins

(in air)

4×50 BK think about turn 1.05 mins

4.20 mins

9.05 mins

Total Time         58.55 mins

59.00 mins


I rotate the stroke of the week and I try to organize classes so I can do only 3 strokes in 1 hour, I can do that if some people are coming several times in the week. Its; much better to have more time for each stroke. I have one 2 hour class and two 1 hour classes all at the same time in 2, 25m lanes, so I can swap people around a bit, e.g. put a very good Breaststroker across to do more Breaststroke with the 2 hour group etc.


Here is a sample of my 2-hour program for 9-12 year olds who repeat their 5×100 F/S on 1.45


5 minutes out of the water going through the arm stroke, before the session starts.


Warm-up            200 mixed          5.00 min

4×100 IM 2        8.00 min


F/S                   4×200 FS – done as follows

  1. Drill 6 kicks one side, 6 the other, big arm stroke in between 3.45 min
  2. Swim 3 ¼
  3. Touch your bottom, opposite side 3.45
  4. Swim 3 ¼ 14.00 min

4×50 F/S Kick 1.10

4×50 F/S Drill, 1 arm 1.10                       9.20 min

Total Time         36.20 min



200 1 Arm Butterfly                    4 min

8×25 Butterfly Kick Races

2 on Back

2 on one side

2 on front

2 on other side                            7 min

16×25 Butterfly Q                       10 min

or 8×50 Butterfly – Freestyle         21 ½ min

Total Time         58.10 min


At 58 to 59 mins I put both groups together and the new people for the second 1-hour class and we do 8×25 Dive-Races, 2 of each. This marks the end of the first 1-hour group, its followed by Toilet Time for the 2-hour group, and I mark off the second 1-hour group.


All of this takes about 11 minutes, so we continue from about 1 hour 10 min.



200 BK Kick. Hands in water above head                                        2.20 min

200 BK Drill, 100 Scull + ¼ stroke

100 1 Arm         4.00 min

Backstroke turns  3 or 4 for each person                                                       8.00 min

4×100 Backstroke 2         8.00 min                                                                        22.20 min

Total Time         1.32.20



100 BS Kick on back

100 BS Kick touch hands behind bottom

100 BS Drill Hold one foot behind,

left hand holds right foot              7 ½ min

200 BS Pull with Paddles and pull buoy     4 ½ min

100 BS Drill (keep paddles on)

3 strokes underwater         2 ½ min

3 on top


200 BS Swim                 4 ½ min

2×100 BS Swim             2 ¼ min                                                            6 ¾ min

21 ¼ min

Total Time         1.53.35


8×50 FS 45 for speed        6 min

or Med Relay with other lane

Total Time         1.59.35


These are only samples, and show what I do.

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