Teamwork: Age Group Stroke Drills


By: Debbie Potts – Mission San Jose

Debbie Potts is Certified ASCA Level 4, and is the Aquatics Directors and Senior Coach of Mission San Jose Aquatics, a USS Swim Team in Fremont, California. She was part of the steering committee that formed MSJA in September of 1989. In just 4 years, she has helped MSJA grow from a 39 member team to a 150+ member year round team, boasting 300+ members in the summer time. From 1989 to 1992, Debbie coached the MSJA Elite Age-Group program. Debbie’s background includes 13 Years of competitive swimming, 15 years of teaching swimming, 6 years of elementary school teaching and 10 years of USS club coaching. Debbie began coaching in 1983 and has developed quality swimmers, including Pacific and Nationally ranked swimmers, National Champions, Junior National qualifiers and Top 16 finalists Pacific and Western Zone All Star members and Pacific and National record holders.

In 1993, she had four national Individual Stroke Championship Titles and the National Team Stroke Championships. Debbie has been a coach member of numerous Pacific Swimming and Western Zone All-Star Teams. She has been a speaker at Pacific Coaches Clinics. In 1992 and 1993 she was nominated for “Age-Group Coach of the Year.” In 1993 she was selected as a coach member to attend a select Senior All-Star Camp at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. In 1994, she was the head coach to a National Age-Group Camp. Also, in 1994 she had her first book, “Drills and Games … A Fun Way To Run A Practice” published by the American Swimming Coaches Association.

At Mission San Jose Aquatics, we do over 200 drills. Some of these drills I learned at coaches clinics. Some I picked up from magazine articles and swimming books written by successful coaches, but many I developed on my own to “fix” or concentrate on parts of the stroke. I do drills because they are fun, challenging and add variety to workouts. But most of all, I do drills because they work on the individual parts of the stroke to help in the overall development of the “total stroke.” Drills can be added to any part of the workout, as a warm-up set, after a sprint set, as the main set or at the end of practice. I like to drill at the beginning of practice when the swimmers are fresh and also at the end of practice, when the swimmers are tired.

I named each of the 200+ drills. Some of the drills have kind of crazy names. Some of the names are specific to the area we live in. I did this to help trigger the kids memory, so they would remember from day to day, how to do the drill and what the purpose of each drill is. We do a lot of drills in combinations where multiple drills are performed. I might give a set of 6 x 100m’s.


  • Mission Peak with a Twist
  • Triple Scoop
  • 3-3 Side/Back
  • Swim by 25m’s


  • Shooters
  • Hydro Streamline Kick
  • Tea Cup 6 Kick Switch
  • Swim by 25m’s

Now, the idea of giving specific names for each drill saves the coach a lot of time in explanation.

A Progressive Way To Teach Stroke

When I design drill sets, typically I do so in a progressive manner that mirrors the way I teach strategy for the event. For example, in a 200m Fly, I taught one of my swimmers to swim the 1st 50m as if she were a beautiful dolphin flowing through the water _ to swim long and controlled, to work the arms and build the 2nd 50m to drive her legs and swim the 3rd 50m fast, and to race home with efficiency. I had a 14 year old use this strategy – progress from a 2:30 to a 2:17.6 and win Junior Nationals in the 200m Fly and consoled at Senior Nationals and made her Olympic trial cut in the 100m Fly. This swimmer was not quite 5 feet tall and under 100 pounds. So size didn’t get her there. Efficiency and desire did.

For Fly Drill Sets:

I would select drills in this manner: 1st: Dolphin action;stroke length – 2nd: Sweeps, power;hand acceleration – 3rd :Legs – 4th: Rhythm and breath control – 5th: Total stroke concentration
For Backstroke: 1st: Recovery and entry drills – 2nd: Sweeps; acceleration drills – 3rd: Kick; Body Position drills – 4th: DPS, tempo; gear change drills – 5th: Total Stroke

For Breaststroke:

  1. Kick drills
  2. Pull drills
  3. Wave Action drills
  4. Timing drills
  5. Total Stroke

For Freestyle:

  1. Hand – wrist – elbow entry or high elbow recovery drills
  2. Sweep;overall feel for the water-drills
  3. Body roll;hand position drills
  4. Kick drills
  5. Total Stroke

I really believe that a swimmer who has solid technique and good workout habits will be successful. Drills are a great teaching tool because they work on specific areas of the stroke and with guidance from the coach, drills should carry over into a better “total stroke.” In my book, “Drills and Games: A Fun Way to Run A Practice,” published by the ASCA, there are over 200 drills, and each drill has a detailed description on how the drill is performed and a written purpose for each drill – 99 drills follow for your use.

  1. Vertical Dolphin – Undulation and Power – Dolphin kick in a vertical position with head up;arms at the side. Work exaggerated body action, focusing on the hips. For power, kick with the hands out of the water or begin rapid vertical dolphin kicking from as deep as possible to as high out of the water as possible and hold the ‘out of the water’ position for as long as possible.
  2. Corkscrew – Works both the upbeat and downbeat – 4 kicks on the stomach, 4 kicks on the right side, 4 kicks on the back and 4 kicks on the left, repeat. Try to keep the kick continuous.
  3. ‘On 4’ – Rhythm, breathing – Kick with hands held at side. Breathe on the upbeat of every 4th kick and drop the head down on the downbeat without a delay in the kicking action.
  4. Wind Ups – Catch phase – With their face in the water, the swimmer sculls 2 times simulating the catch phase, then does a full underwater stroke and breathes as the hands pass the thighs. The recover is made underwater by sliding the hands up the body, similar to a pull down recovery. The swimmer performs I kick for each scull and 2 kicks for the “pull through,” so the swimmer is breathing on the 4th kick. Have your swimmers think “Trap – Trap – Accelerate.”
  5. Power Scull – To teach how to maintain a high body pos. and max. pressure on the water during the upsweep;power phase of the stroke. – Scull with the hands placed under the stomach while the elbows are on or near on the water’s surface, close to the ribs. The forearms are at a right angle to the upper arms.
  6. Pull Downs Works underwater phase Do pull downs across the pool and strive for maximum distance per stroke. Also work on hand acceleration.
  7. Back Pull Downs – B.C. and allows the swimmer to watch and ‘feel’ the pull out – The swimmer performs pull downs underwater and on their back. The swimmer should bring their index fingers together on the in sweep or cross the hands.
  8. Scooter Fly – Kick, stroke timing, coordination – Hold the top of a kick board with I hand and single arm stroke with the other hand. Keep the eyes forward and work kick timing, entry, sweeps, acceleration and overall stroke length.
  9. Sky Fly – Enhances hand acceleration, hip action, kick and breath timing – This is a one arm drill with the non stroking arm held at the side. As the hand passes the hips and thigh, recover the arm straight to the sky, gain momentum, press the chest down and lift the hips during the entry. Breathe every other stroke. Optional – 2/2 Sky Fly: Same idea, only keep the non stroking arm in front, go 2 right arm, 2 left arm.
  10. 2/2 Sky Wall – Undulation, acceleration and timing of the breath and legs. – While keeping the non stroking arm at the side, go 2 strokes right arm ‘Sky Fly’ and breathe to the side on the 2nd stroke, then go 2 strokes ‘One Arm Fly’ and breathe forward (looking towards the wall) on the 2nd stroke. Repeat: 2 “Sky Fly,” 2 “Single Arm Fly” utilizing the right arm for one length and the left arm for the next length. Variation: Keep the non stroking arm extended forward and alternate 4 strokes with the right arm and 4 strokes with the left arm, with the first two strokes of each cycle being “Sky Fly” and the next two strokes being ” Single Arm Fly.”
  11. Single/Double – Focuses on rhythm and the in sweep phase of the stroke – The swimmer does a single arm fly stroke while keeping the non-stroking arm out in front, and then does a regular fly arm stroke. On the single arm stroke, the swimmer concentrates on kick timing and stroke width, depth and length (out-down-in-up sweep). On the ‘double arm stroke’, the swimmer tries to ‘hold their in sweep’ until they reach the top of their ‘bikini line’. Breathe on “Double” only.
  12. Head Up Fly – Forces the swimmer to stroke continuously – This drill is usually performed with fins and ‘hands’ paddles. This is a power type drill and should be done in repeats of 121/2-25’s. The chin should remain on the surface of the water. On the in-sweep, the corners of the paddles should touch and the elbows should be high. Encourage a ‘snappy’ 2nd kick for easier recovery of the arms.
  13. 2 Up – 4 Down – Entry, dolphin action, B.C. – The swimmer does 2 strokes on the surface of the water and following the breath, on the 2nd stroke, the swimmer dives forward and underwater into a streamline position, and does 4 kicks.
  14. 2 Up – 2 Down – 4 Down – Conditioning, B.C. – Same as above, only preceding the 4 kicks ‘down’, the swimmer completes 2 race pace pull downs (no kick). So, the swimmer does 2 strokes (breathes on the 2nd stroke &dives underwater), 2 pull downs, and 4 streamline dolphin kicks. Advanced older swimmers can go 25 yards in just 1 cycle of this drill (1 breath).

Further Drills

  1. Feet 1st Sculling – works catch phase – teaches the swimmers how to trap water – lie on their back and move forward feet first by sculling simultaneously, swimmers hands around their hips.
  2. Power Sculling – Excellent for developing the in-sweep – Wear an oversized pair of paddles (Grippers) and in a vertical position, work the in-sweep phase of the stroke by scooping in strong and fast. Recover the hands, by sliding them out (palms down) to a wide position and repeat.
  3. Triple Scoop – In-sweep, launching forward action, streamlining the elbows;hands – In a vertical position (head up) the swimmer performs three explosive in-sweeps (similar to “Power Sculling”) and on the third in-sweep, the swimmer arches their back to get up as high as possible, and then launches forward by dolphin kicking in to “the Barrowman float position.” Hold this stretch as long as possible. Repeat.
  4. Speed Sculling – Works hand pitch changes and ‘feel’ – Execute 1/4 of the normal breaststroke pull, head up and as fast as possible. When performing this drill it is important to encourage your swimmers to keep their sculling action small and rapid with a “thumbs down to thumbs up” stroke pattern. Variation: Use a dolphin kick and breathe as the hands turn in.
  5. Build a Pull – Enhances the pull phase – Using any repeat distance, pull head up Breaststroke while gradually building the size of the pull. Start with a 1/4 of a stroke (similar to “Speed Sculling);Build to 1/4… 112… 3/4… and finally a full stroke. This drill is done head up so the swimmer can see what the hands are doing. As the pull size increases, their should be constant pressure on the hands. Variation: Add the Breaststroke kick.
  6. Naked Paddles – Teaches swimmers to apply maximum pressure – Using paddles without tubing, pull Breaststroke. Variation: Swim full stroke with ‘naked paddles.’
  7. Eggbeater – Conditioning Drill – Test Note: If the swimmers kick in a straight line, they are kicking evenly with both legs. If they pull one way, their kick is uneven. – There is a few variations of this drill:
    • On a board: Kick alternating Right leg and Left leg.
    • Same as above, only kick streamline and head up.
    • 2 kicks with right leg, 2 kicks left leg, 2 full kicks – streamline and head up.
    • Same as above on a board.
    • Speed eggbeaters: Don’t worry about finishing off the kick, just kick RLRLRL as fast as possible (R = right, L = left) no glide. Just kick – kick – kick! This is a hard drill to do. Try this drill first on a board and then in a head up streamline position.
    • Any of the above, vertical kicking.
  8. Stream-Line Head Up – Forces a quick kick – Head up kicking with the hands locked into a streamline position. Variation: Go 1/2 under and 1/2 head up.
  9. ‘Hipthingamajigger’ – Works hip action;kick – Swimmers vertical frog kick with their hands at their side and with an exaggerated dolphin action. They bend forward, with their legs hanging straight down, then they bring their heels to their bottom while arching their back and driving their hips forward. At the completion of their kick, they lean forward and let their hips rise as their feet come together.
  10. Hands Back Kick – Enhances hip action; proper leg position – Swimmer kick with their hands back next to their side (palms up and hands near the surface of the water). Each time they recover their legs, they try to touch their heels to their hands. As their heels come up, their hips should move forward and they should breathe. As their feet fire around, their head should drop down and at the end of the kick, their hips should rise.
  11. 3+3 Dolphin Breast – Hip Action – 3 Hands back dolphin kicks with no breath, followed by 3 hands back Breast kicks (normal breathing).
  12. Streamline-Kick/Breathe – For streamlining the body during the propulsive phase of the kick – The swimmers kick in a streamline position, concentrating on getting their head down between their arms as they carry out the propulsive phase of their kick.
  13. 3 Sky Fly + 3 Breast – Short Axis Combination work (hip action) – 3 Strokes “Sky Fly,” followed by 3 strokes Breast. No breath on “Sky Fly” and have the swimmers think ‘hips up’. On Breast, exaggerate the wave action and get up as high as possible to breathe.
  14. Triple Pull – Pull, Power, Launching action – Two pulls (no kick) are performed head up and on the third pull, the swimmer uses their legs like a turbo booster and kicks into a forward launch allowing their ears to drop between their shoulders.
  15. Ups and Downs – Conditioning Drill:
    • Go 4 strokes regular and 4 stokes underwater.
    • Do 3 pulls head up, 1 full stroke (‘full’ means with kick) and go under, 3 pulls under, 1 full break-out stroke. Repeat.
    • Do 3 strokes head up, I full stroke to get under, 3 kicks streamline under and 1 breakout stroke. Repeat.
  16. Opposite Ankle Grab – Coordination and lift – Begin this drill by using your right hand to hold your left ankle (ankle to butt) Stroke the left hand and kick with the right foot kick, breath normal. Switch sides.
  17. Build A Kick: Timing – Swim head up Breaststroke, beginning with the smallest kick possible. With each stroke, increase the size of the kick and build to a regular size race pace breast kick. Encourage swimmers to kick into their stretch.
  18. The Barrowman Float – To teach the first and last position of the wave action – Practice floating in a flat position with head and upper back on the surface of the water, the arms extended forward with the back of the hands touching and the palms pitched outward.
  19. Wrist roll with A “Barrowman Float” – Teaches the swimmers to ‘ride off their legs.’ Also enhances body position. – This is a small sculling drill. Swimmers roll their hands around their wrists and breathe as the hands turn in. Kick and stretch into the “Barrow-man Float.” Work on max distance per kick and a super stretch.
  20. Back/Breast – Timing and coordination – Swimmers do Breaststroke on their back. They out-sweep by showing a victory sign, in-sweep by clapping their hands together behind their head and kick around as they stretch into a stream-line position. Their pull should remain behind their head at all times- Variations: 1. Do this drill underwater. 2. In a 3-2-1-0 count.
  21. 3-2-1-0: Timing – This a 4 lap timing drill. #1. Stretch and hold the glide for a 3 count. #2. Stretch and hold the glide for a 2 count. #3. 1 count Breaststroke #4. Race Pace: as soon as the feet clap, stroke.
  22. Triple Kick – Leg drive drill that also works “Riding the wave” and breath control – Do three kicks for every pull. Get up as high as possible to breathe. On the first kick ‘launch forward and underwater into a streamline position.” Remain in this position and do the second and third kick underwater.
  23. Double Kick – Overall stroke length, timing and breath control – Swim adding an extra breast kick to each pull cycle. Variation: Do this drill exaggerated to work the “wave action”
  24. Triple-Double-Single – Variety, Timing, B.C. – 3 part drill: One cycle is I stroke “Triple Kick drill,” I stroke “Double Kick drill,” I regular stroke (single kick), repeat. Variation: A great conditioner is to perform this drill with flip turns, double pull-downs and stress maximum DPS. Good Breaststrokers should be able to go 25 yards in I cycle (3 strokes) or less.
  25. Cat’s Paw – Fast recovery phase – On the recovery phase, slide the hands, palms down, just above the surface of the water. Perform this drill with “lightning speed” on the forward thrust. The recovery is similar to a cat jumping forward (leaping through a window, you would see: claws, legs and body, in that order) Swimmers should launch hands, arms, and body, in that order. Variation: Double kick.
  26. Outer Space – Helps improve the sensitivity of your hands:
    • Swim Breaststroke with your index finger and pinkie finger extended. Close off thumb and middle two fingers in a fist position.
    • Swim Breast in a ‘hang loose’ position (Thumb/pinkie extended)
    • Swim Breaststroke with the first two fingers of each hand only.
  27. Olympic Builds – Works the legs, then the arms, then total stroke – Go a set of 75’s drilling by 25’s. On the odd 75’s, go Head Up Streamline Kick;Double kick at a fast pace;Swim ‘riding off the legs’. On the even 75’s, go: Head Up Pull;Cat’s Paw;Swim ‘working the arms and maintaining the leg drive.’ Do flip turns for all odd 75’s. Flip the first turn in the odd 75’s and go a race pace Breaststroke turn on the last turn of the even 75’s. Variation: Do double pull downs.

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