We have a pretty good presentation I think and I would be more than happy to email the copy out to anybody who would like that and my email address email@example.com.
I think a better name for this talk might be how to recruit good breaststrokers because it is a little bit embarrassing as a college coach to stand up here and try to take credit for the breaststroke success that we have had at Penn State. Certainly it is a credit to the people in this room. There are a few folks that I would like to recognize that have been instrumental in the breaststrokers in our program. People that should be up here, guys like John Ponz or Bob Fiery, Gwen Newfelt. Wally has sent us some really good breaststrokers in the past and the work that they did from the time that those kids were 6, 7, 8 years old up until they left and came to our program when they were about 18. We were at quite a few meets this summer. I think Rod at Long Island and at the Grand Prix and was having lunch and sitting with some club coaches. I heard the comment and I think there is a lot of truth to this, the comment was, those darn college coaches – we build them and they soup them up and I really do think there is some truth to that.
Twelve years ago I started coaching at the collegiate level and started at Ashland University. Twelve years ago we had our first male breaststroker in school history go under a minute. We were pretty happy and we are proud of that. Two years ago at Penn State we had our first female breaststroker go under a minute and we are pretty happy with that too. Right now we have about six different breaststrokers on our team who are at the National level, US National level. I will say this that with those six different breaststrokers, there is probably six different ways to get them where they need to be. We have some fundamentals that we work with, but odds are we are going to coach each one of them a little bit differently. There are different progressions, different drills and different setups that we are going to work to hopefully get them to their potential and we do that together with them. One of the things – when I was asked to talk, you are never really sure because you speak to a big group and it is pretty diverse in terms of where you are, the type of athletes that you work with. So one of the things that I hope that this talk isn’t is rudimentary, however, some of the things may be a little bit basic. I will offer you this that every single year when our team comes in we spend the month of September doing a lot of teaching. We teach the same things over and over and over again so that the things that we are going to talk about today are probably things that we do with our team year in and year out and also that we do in our camp program during the summer.
We follow three simple rules for swimming and the first rule is the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. For reaction there is an equal and opposite reaction and less is more. The first two are pretty obvious. The third one is going to fit each of your programs a little bit different and I will go into that a little bit as we go through. The first thing I want to talk about and again, this sounds rudimentary, but we begin with this and that is the streamline. One of the things that I would like for you to do right now and this is something we do with our 8 year olds in the camps and our 18 year olds in the team is to just go ahead and look right down to your hands. Yes, if you have sleeves on pull them up a little bit. Each of you was born with the tools to be a little bit faster in the pool and probably don’t even know it. If you look at this notch right here in what is going to be your bottom hand of your streamline, that was put there so that you could your thumb of your top hand right in there. “Right there.” We start with the streamline right there, notch, hand on top, go up, can’t pull it apart, nice and tight. It sounds silly, but it is a little thing that keeps kids like – can I have a volunteer who has pretty strong abs and lower back.
Joe, what I want you to do is I want you to lie on your back, hands at your side. These are some critical skills for streamlining, but they are definitely applicable to breaststroke because they are the same skills and the same muscles that you are going to use for both. What I want you to do Joe is I want to suck in your tummy – three things we are going to focus on – suck in your tummy, squeeze your butt cheeks as tight as you can and point your toes. I want to lift you up from your toes so your body is straight from your shoulders to your toes. Squeeze the butt cheeks, suck in the tummy, point your toes and then I will talk while Joe holds this position. Actually, that is absolutely outstanding and that is what we look for right there.
One of the basics that we do in swimming is just try to develop a higher fitness level, but then you take an exercise like that and that is breaststroke right there. That is the glide portion of breaststroke, that is the body position you take an exercise like that – that is breaststroke right there – that is the glide portion of breaststroke – that is the body position you are going to hold. We will do that in practice before —-. We are going to hold those toes up so that you feel the muscles. What muscles are you using? You are pointing your toes. You are squeezing your butt. You are sucking in your tummy – those are the same muscles that you are going to use while you are swimming breaststroke so it goes beyond the streamline. This is a little bit silly.
Some of the things that we will do to enhance that is we will do yoga, we will do physio- balls, we will do core work to develop those skills. Silly question, but nonetheless, can you streamline with your hands at your side? I heard some no and some yes. The answer, in my opinion, is yes. There are a couple of points in swimming, breaststroke in particular, when you are going to want to streamline with your hands at your side. In particular, on a pull out off of the wall, you can still be streamline. I saw Joe right there – she was streamlined. I think a lot of times in breaststroke whether it is on the glide when we tend to see kids relax a little bit or even on a pullout, you see people relax their core and you are going to want to use those muscles, build those muscles with some of the things that you do on land. Push-off and again, I don’t mean to sound rudimentary here. I don’t mean to sound very basic, but we talk about this thing from the very beginning and we expect the same things day in and day out.
Every single day, every push-off all four strokes we do it the exact same. We start from a position some of you may know, we call it the ready position and basically it goes something like this. You are going to take one hand, put it in the gutter, it doesn’t matter which hand and you take the other hand and put it out in front, palm up, six inches under the water, kind of getting ahead of ourselves here. Does anyone know why we would go palm up with this hand out in front? Because we are going to use it for leverage to help bring ourselves under the water a little bit quicker on that push-off. It really doesn’t matter which hand is in the gutter. Ideally, you want to practice with both hands in the gutter so that you get used to turning in either direction, but you are going to find out sooner or later which one is quicker. Feet – 6 o’clock, 12 o’clock on the wall about shoulder width apart. One of the things with the shoulder width apart I heard Mike Bottom talk about starts yesterday and a lot of swimming for our program is taking things from other sports that make sense and applying them to swimming. When you look at a good push-off in breaststroke in particular, feet 12 and 6, shoulder width apart, good jumping platform, good balance off the wall, that is no different than if you asked your athletes to get on land and said alright, I want you to jump as high as you can vertical jump – we are going to test it so that you could look at where their feet are. They are going to put their feet right there like that, shoulder width apart. They are not going to put them out like this and they are not going to turn with the feet together. It makes sense, which is one of the reasons we do it that way. Guys, and this is critical and this is probably the thing, even with the collegiate kids that we have the most trouble with – that hand on the gutter, the eyes need to be fixed on the hand in the gutter.
One of the most common faults on a push-off and again we are not talking about the stroke itself yet, get to that wall. Those eyes tend to turn and those eyes seem to be fixed on the hand in the gutter and we go from the hand in the gutter we are going to do two things. The first thing we are going to do is the hand in the gutter, put it right to the ear. For younger kids, even for older kids, we just call it simply answering the phone. You take that hand in the gutter, put it directly to the ear, no rainbow turns or anything like that. The second part of that is – eyes are going to fall back to the ceiling. Again, most people have a tendency, open turn, to hit that wall and they are going to turn it to the side versus hand in the gutter, straight up to the ceiling. As we are pulling down with the other hand, the one with the palm up, we are going to sink down to the level of the feet. We want to be level with the feet. Does anybody know what we want to do next? Most of you do. We want to streamline. We put that thumb in the notch. This is critical. You want to streamline before you push-off and we encounter that even with our collegiate kids. There is not a time in swimming when you can go faster than off of a dive or a turn. There is nobody out there that is swimming faster than their streamline so it is critical that you get streamlined before you push-off. PUSH-OFF: Jump off the wall, streamline first, push-off on the side, glide on the stomach. We talked about the ready position and again, this sounds like a simple thing, but it is something we practice over and over and over again and you talk about it and kids will come up at the end and say coach, can we work on turns. We worked on them every single day. You can go all four strokes out of the ready position – you push-off on your side and in the case of breaststroke you glide on your side, push-off via your stomach. Right there you have just completed half of an open turn and again it is a skill every single day.
I like Mark Schubert’s talk for those of you who were there on Wednesday night – the idea of assume nothing and one of the assumptions that I made early in my career at Penn State – we had a pretty solid group of backstrokers coming through the program and I looked at the —- and I thought we were a little bit weak in the 200 backstroke so we really focused that year on getting our 200 backstrokers up to the level we thought they should be at. Well, fortunately we had three girls go under two minutes that year. They were all underclass women and I felt pretty good about that. Coming into the next year one of the assumptions I made as a coach was that we could not focus on some other things. Maybe focus a little bit more on the breaststrokers. Maybe focus a little bit more on the butterflyers. Well, two of those three women in the backstroke didn’t do as well the next year. Why? Because I assumed that the things that we worked on and improved the year before were still there the year after.
We will take it a step further here in terms of the push-off. Now that we have pushed-off and this is breaststroke from the ready position. We keep it pretty simple. We are going to push off, streamline. We go a three count right off the wall and again as soon as those toes leave the wall we start into the three count in the streamline position. For the little kids we just say it simply thousand one, thousand two, thousand three, when we are in camp we try to promote Penn State a little bit. We are P S U. You guys don’t have to do that if you don’t want to. But one of the mistakes we make is to get the kids to get a little bit eager, even the college kids. Go 1, 2, 3 boom and go into their breakout and then as soon as we go into our pull-out and with the pull-out I think that is an individual thing. I mean, you hear people talk about key shaped Pilates. You hear people talk about a straight pull-out. For each of our kids it is a little bit different. We try not to get too wide. We try not to get too fancy with it, but once we go from the streamline to the pull-out we want to be in a streamline position with those hands at the side. We are going to go a two count there; a thousand one, a thousand two our in our case Penn State. Recovery wise – once we have gotten to that two count we want that recover to be quick and we want the recovery to be clean. I think that something that you will see with a lot of breaststrokers, whether it is off the start or off the turn, is it will take all day with this recovery right here okay? That is going to be pretty quick. You don’t want to lose that speed right there so it is going to be quick and it is going to be clean and when I say clean, that means no body parts hanging out. We don’t want hands out here or butts out here or anything else. We want those hands nice and tight, elbows are tucked in right past the face.
Head position and you know when you talk about action/reaction the human head weighs what? 12-15 pounds. For our team it is usually a little bit lighter. The head – you want to keep it in line and most of our kids have been taught through the ranks that as their hands pass their face they are going to lift that head up, well action and reaction tells us one: That is going to break our streamline because we can’t be streamlined right here. The second thing is action/reaction – if I lift that head my hips are going to drop and I am going to create more drag. We try to keep the head in line, all the way until the hands come out on the out sweep, just before they begin that in-sweep, as close as we can get to what is in the rule book. As soon as we come up into the kick we work on the breakout. We focus on that breakout being flat and that is something we practice quite a bit. It feels a whole lot better and it looks better in the local newspaper when that break-out is something like this and pretty dramatic, but when you talk about shortest distance between two points is a straight line it really makes more sense for that breakout to be as flat and as efficient as it can be.
One of the things with the pull-outs and this is something I learned at an ASCA Clinic maybe five or six years ago – Eddie Reese was speaking about when to break out and this is a little thing that makes a lot of sense, but makes a big difference and that is where do you want to break out? Where do you want that initial breakout to be in breaststroke – well – it is going to be different for everyone, but the thing that is constant for everyone is – you want to break out the millisecond before you start to slow down. The key there is that it feels a lot better to breakout after you have started to slow down. It feels like you are catching more water. If you break out and start swimming before you slow down, it feels like you are spinning a little bit, slipping on the water so some times the kids – you wind them up a little earlier than what they feel is probably the right time. We time a lot of breakouts. We time them all the time and we time breakouts from the time the toes leave the wall until the head breaks the surface of the water and those are going to vary a lot from athlete to athlete and I do not mean to be wishy-washy here, but it is one of those things where you are going to have to look at it. If I was to give you a range I would say between 3 ½ and 5 seconds. That is a pretty big range for just a 10-12-15 yard breakout. The key is this though, it is going to be different from 100 to 200 and it is going to be different from men to women and it is going to depend on quite a few things.
Individual differences are going to be the quality of streamline, how far they go, how long they spend under water. Some people you are going to want to get up a little bit early. Vertical jump is basically that push—off, all it is just instead of vertical jumping all you have done is put it in the water and your vertical jumping off the wall and buoyancy. If you have a pretty buoyant person those are just the individual differences. The other thing that we are careful with – whenever we measure something and it could be – when I talk about measuring something – time for a 50, a start, a breakout time, whatever the case may be we are careful to always measure two variables. I think one of the hardest thing for coaches is when you open up a magazine any you read that somebody did this or did that you know, they averaged 26 seconds for ten 50’s on two minutes. I think that really as coaches one of the things that we try to do is we are going to say okay, say for instance on a breakout, he broke out to 3.5 seconds to 12 yards because anyone can breakout in 3.5 seconds to 8 yards, but you want to have two components that you can measure and ideally both of them improve.
We move on to the stroke a little bit and then we will come back and talk about the whole turn itself versus just the streamline or the ready position push—off. One of the things that we try to do and I am not sure that it is the right thing, but we do it this way. We break the stroke into three areas and do a great deal of our breaststroke training putting the pieces together for a form of component training and the three parts of the stroke that we focus on are the kick, the pull and the glide. Now the glide you are going to fit that into some of the kicking and some of the pulling that you can do, whether it is the drills or the skills, but it is an essential part of the stroke and I think it is a part of the stroke that often times gets overlooked and I will say this and it is one of the things that I learned this summer is we had some breaststrokers training with us this summer. We do a lot of resistance work in the water. When I say resistance work in the water for breaststrokers that might be pulling with parachutes or against resistance tubing, swimming with weight belts – things like that. Well, we were doing some sets for time with resistance tubing and the thing that I found is our breaststrokers were getting out to a certain point, staying there, but the key was how they were staying there. They were basically just getting four limbs out there so they could stay out there as long as possible and there was no glide. It is a lot different when you put the glide component into the stroke and ideally, your best breaststrokers are going to have that glide in the stroke. That will go back to too when Joe held herself up. If you are going to be efficient gliding, you had better have those muscles. We start with the kick because the majority of the propulsion stroke comes from the kick so ideally our best breaststrokers have also been some of our best kickers. We spend a great deal of time in the fall kicking. In terms of the kick itself we focus on keeping the kick narrow with the acceleration on the finish. I think if year old look at any of the four strokes, if you look at the top to the bottom of the stroke, the pull or the kick there needs to be an acceleration component to each of those strokes and the breaststroke kick is no different. Certainly we don’t want one speed for the breaststroke kick. We wanting them grabbing a lot of water off the top, really snapping it off at the finish and really working on fast feet at the finish and finishing the kick together as opposed to this kick right here. One of the other things with the kick – two points. One is we are telling them to always try to find new water with the feet and that sounds kind of silly, but the idea is putting your feet in a plane – whether it is side to side or back and forth. We are constantly looking for some new water to grab. You don’t want to be moving water that you have already pushed a little bit because you are not going to get as good a grip on it with your feet or your hands. The other thing is that breaststroke – one of the big differences with breaststroke and the thing a lot of people have a tough time with is just that motor sensation or that kinesthetic awareness, but breaststroke is some much different because it is so much a side to side stroke. I mean – the majority of your movements are side to side up top. The kick side going out to side coming in versus a lot of the other strokes which are more straight whether it is butterfly, backstroke or freestyle.
Some of the drills that we work on and I will talk about the kick again because that is where we start in terms of teaching and that is where we start in terms of building the stroke up. These are all probably drills that you do in your program. The only thing that I would offer is with drills, maybe you will hear a new one that you didn’t do before, maybe not is one of the things that we try to do a lot is mix up the order that we do drills in and found that for each of the athletes on our team, a lot of our kids aren’t really blessed with great kinesthetic awareness. Kristen W…. She is one of the most incredible coachable athletes you will ever meet. You say all right Kristen, I want you to really focus on your in-sweep, make sure you are planing a little better with your core advance. She does it the next time, but the other five kids in that group – no way and you are going to have to figure out a way what order, what drills and how to we get them to that same – we want that same plane – we want that same body position and how do year old do it? One, the simple ones, we will do a streamline breaststroke kick on your back. In that drill in particular, we are focusing on bringing your heels up to your rear-end. I want you to imagine right here that my face is my rear, bringing the heels up to the rear versus the knees under the body and one of the easy ways to check that is to put the athlete on the back and make sure their knees aren’t popping out when they are in a streamline position. Also, while they are doing that we are going to work on a glide component to make sure that they are really working on some core stability and finishing their kick so they are maximizing the kick. Another one we may use – a streamline kick on your back, hands at your side. What this allows you to do is first, it is going to force you with the core to be a little bit more stable, well actually the hands above would be a little bit more stable. With the hands at the side you are going to be able to check your heels to make sure you are getting a full range of motion on your kicks. The hands are at your side, down by your butt, you are on your back and I want to get those heels up to the hands, each and every kick to make sure they are not cheating with that. In terms of the kick itself and this is something that we will do – we use a lot of toys in our program – not to cheat or not to – well it keeps the kids entertained a little bit, but for one of the toys we might use on a drill like that where we are doing some kick on your back with your hands at your side. We are going to check the knees. Ideally, we want those knees together as those heels are coming up to your rear. We do not want those knees coming apart like this. We want the knees together because we want the kick to be pretty narrow. If we think the knees are getting too far apart when the heels are coming up to the rear end we will do one of two things. We will either put pull buoy on them, which I don’t like as much because then you are not really working on balance in the water or we will use a strap. I don’t know if there is a strap out there that somebody manufactures, but whoever invents that I think will make a lot of money because what we do is we go down to the Goodyear store and we ask them for an old truck inner tube. Then we cut them up and put the straps around their knees and they pretty much hate it.
Streamline kick on the stomach with a breath every third kick will lock the thumbs out front. The reason we do that – well two reason – one is we want to teach them that clean nice body line on top of the water so we don’t want them breathing every stroke with the hands locked out here or else you are going to get a lot of movement up and down versus forward. I have a pet peeve with the hands in breaststroke and kicking. I am not a big fan of kickboards for any of the four strokes. If we are going to kick on our stomach without a kickboard I want the thumbs locked or I want somebody like this and the reason being is because I want to teach kids that the hands are not for balance. The hands are for forward propulsion and the thing that you will see when your breaststrokers kick without a board on their stomach, every time they kick they are using their hands like this. Why are they using their hands like that? Either one to breath which I tell them all the time isn’t that important or two to keep their body position versus using these muscles here to keep that balance on top of the water so just a little thing. It is something that has helped us and they absolutely hate it.
Streamline kick on your stomach with a breath every kick and that is with your hands at your side, and one of the things that we talk about when you breathe in breaststroke is using your body to breathe, not using your neck so your breaststroke is not going to be like this to breathe every time. Ideally, you are using your core to breathe during the stroke. There are a couple of ways you can check that – you know, action/reaction – all we want to do here is stay clean in the water. If I am lifting my head every time that means my butt is dropping down and I am going to try to be bull my way through the water versus staying nice and clean on top. If you do a little breaststroke kick, hands at your side, on your stomach, breathing every stroke then all you are doing is lifting your head and swimming like a duck, like this. Two things you can do: first you get a nerf ball and put it under their chin or you can get a tennis ball and put it under their chin and I am going to tell you this, it is really really, hard. It is going to frustrate the heck out of them and the ball is going to fall out ten times in a 25, but they are going to start to feel things and that is a key, you are saying, don’t just do it because it is fun or it is different. What muscles are you using that are allowing you to keep that nerf ball in place? With any of these drills and I think this is important and we do a lot of drill in the program, more so early in the year versus late in the year. If you can’t, it is pretty hard if you feel like you are on the clock, I am going to get this many yards in or everything has got to be on a watch or everything has got to be on a send off. Well these girls don’t work well and will get compromised. And you will not get out of them what you want if you are putting girls on the clock or if you are putting I want to make sure we are getting you know, 20 50’s in drill, down, swim back, they got to be on a minute. Odds are that a lot of kids are just going to garbage their way through it to make sure they are making the set versus developing some of the skills you want them to develop. One of the things with kicking on your stomach with your hands at the side again – we are working on checking the heels every time down, we want those heels to touch the hand. The second part of it is and this is very important, is that as we finish that kick we want to make sure that you are elevating your hips. I don’t think you can keep your hips too high during breaststroke.
If you have access to video equipment, we do quite a bit of video and I will talk about that in a minute, but ideally and again we are very blessed. We got a neat budget, we can do all kinds of neat things with the kick, but what we like to do, I get a lot stuff from Sam Vancura and I think he has great products. We have the power cam and we will walk along the side of the pool and we will videotape breaststroke. There is also a neat little thing and I have seen some people with computers that have it as well where you can put a mark on your breaststroke or you can put a mark somewhere and follow that mark along. Ideally, if we put a mark on the breaststroke when we are videotaping from the side along the edge of the pool I want to put the mark right on their hip and I want that line to stay absolutely flat all the way across. One of the ways to keep that line nice and flat and high in the water is on a drill like that. Really focus on when you finish that kick, hips get high. If you want to over-exaggerate you just tell your swimmers, let’s see if you can get your butt dry every time you finish that kick.
When we talk about the pull, moving onto the pull a little bit and hopefully, I don’t want to rush this stuff too much. Originally we were going to have a video, but do not have access to it today so we will have a little bit of time at the end for some questions. Pull wise we do a ton of sculling in our program. We do it in a variety of positions and I don’t think you can too creative with the sculling. If I were going to look for some common denominators with the pulling I would look at forearm strength. If you look at some of the best breaststrokers in America or even look at maybe say Olympics. You watch some Olympic video and see you the breaststroker win – they hit the wall and their hands in the air like this. A lot of times their forearm is as big as their bicep and triceps.
One of the ways you can develop that forearm strength on land, the bottom of that ball is where you are following through, maybe some slide boards. I don’t know if you guys have slide boards at all where you put socks on the hand and get them on a physio-ball and you got some things going on there, but the way to do it in the water is to do a lot of sculling. If you can do a little bit, 300-500 meters of sculling, odds are they are going to say, coach – my forearms are killing me so if they are doing it well. When you talk about sculling if there is one component of sculling I want to get real good at – it is sculling with the elbows in front of the shoulders, in front of the head, that position here in and out, nice and even. Windshield wiper scull, scarecrow scull. If you want to describe it to younger kids you say, cleaning the inside of your toilet. I don’t think kids have to do household chores any more do they? So that scull right there. That is a very awkward position, but if you can get kids who are pretty strong in that position, odds are they are going to be able to excel at breaststroke.
This is a silly little thing, but just a little tool that we use and sometimes we actually do this. We may, if we are watching a swimmer —- we may take a black magic marker and make a big dot on their hip and then videotape them with it so that we can track it. Another thing that we may do as just a reminder is to say well 18-22 year old – you got to keep it fun sometimes for the older kids as well is we talk about eye hands and basically what that is just imagine you got an eye on each hand and you want that eye facing straight out to both walls in that pool. You are out front, hands need to be pressing out those hands, those eyes are looking straight out at both walls and I think a lot of people do not get those hands in position early enough. They tend to gravitate over the water like this or they take too long and they don’t get the hands pressed out till way out here and they miss all this water right in here so the sooner you can get those hands pressed out the better. When we press those hands out and we scull all we want to do is let that black magic marker dot; we are pressing out and we just let that dot come right into the hands. That is all that is going to happen right there. Stay in front with the hands. This is a common mistake, even with some of your more advanced breaststrokers when they get tired. They will start getting a little bit big with the stroke and those hands will start getting under their chin, under their face, under their chest and I want to make sure those hands are in front of the face almost the entire stroke. Keep the stroke out front.
If we are going to focus on two things on the pull; you have an out-sweep, pretty simple. You got the wall hands, press as much water out as we can. We got the in-sweep. I want to really work on the feel on the out-sweep. One of my favorite things is to go a National meet or go to a world class event and go watch warm-up or warm-down and see the great feel that people work on during warm-up and warm-down and breaststrokers in particular, when they are working on that out sweeping thing I think of them most as just having a nice feel. Those hands are nice and soft. They are nice and loose, pressing out and they got a great feel for the water right there. Then we have the acceleration component – just like we had an acceleration component to the kick, bam – finishing off the kick. There is an acceleration component to the top of the stroke – the pull. It can’t all be the same speed. We have all seen that. Feel, accelerate, feel, accelerate, feel, accelerate – get those hands out in front. We are driving it in. That ideally is the part of the stroke up top where you are getting the most out of the stroke. Right there, that acceleration component to the stroke. So if you are going to get strong at something, get strong at that scull right there. Moving on with drills that we might use with the pull – we might go a half full breaststroke with the dolphin kick. We are focusing on hands out in front of the face. This is probably closer to correct for most swimmers than they might think. If we tell our kids in practice – okay, we are going to go half full breaststroke with the dolphin kick odds are when we finish that 25 and we say Lindsy that is the exact pull that I want you to use so stay on it ——— coach, say no, that is exactly what we want. Most kids half pull is actually what it should be versus their whole pulling way out here and those hands get stuck down under the body. That is also quite a tempo, tempo enhancer that we might use in the program as well. One of the things – we will have a lot of non-breaststrokers that will excel at that drill and it will frustrate the heck out of the breaststrokers so we are teaching breaststroke and get the breaststrokers up there and they want to lead the lane for everything because they often times they get forgotten in practice and then we will do that drill, we will go half pull with the dolphin kick and the people with the strong cord, good dolphin kick who really cant swim a lick of breaststroke they are kicking the heck out of all the breaststrokers and it really drives them wild, but it might tell you something. It might tell you that your breaststrokers cords are not as strong as they think they are or it is a weakness that they could work on. Breaststroke pull with a flutter kick, working on fast hands, fast feet. I am not a huge fan of breaststroke with the flutter kick. We may use it sometimes as we get close to championship meet, more for kids who are swimming the 100 or somebody that might be more of a relay specialist. I look at it kind of like a spin drill for breaststroke. We are just working on a real good hand speed, real good foot speed, maybe like a Tarzan drill for freestylers, spin drill for backstroke. When we go to whole stroke we have some drills that we use for whole stroke as well. We probably start off with the three kick, one pull, working on the glide component and just focusing on staying high in the water. One of the things that we will have happen when we go to whole stroke, lets say we go to a three kick one pull is they will come up, take their whole stroke, get their breath and then they are going to go down to the bottom like they are looking for quarters on the bottom of the pool. The drill should be done on top of the water. That is ideally where they are going to be swimming and get used to what it takes to stay on top of the water. If you are kicking without that breath you are going to have to use these muscles, ok, your core muscles to keep the body position on top of the water. Two kick, one pull – I found the three kick one pull, the two kick one pull definitely has some correlation to the 200 breaststroke and give the kids the nice feel that you want when you look at a great 200 breaststroker and they make it look so easy and they have a beautiful glide. We were able to take those two drills and if we get pretty good at those drills – those are something now we are talking more full stroke now. We may move into something where we are going sets where we say okay you know, two 300’s, three kick one pull, three 200’s two kick one pull, four 100’s whole stroke we are doing some descending or some build type work, but we are putting it together at the end and that is what I would consider kind of the component training a part of it. Then we go to whole stroke with DPS and making sure that we have a glide in it. Some drills and again, you know, we had the chance to talk yesterday. I do not have a real big swimming background so most of what we get at Penn State we borrow or we steal. A good drill that we borrowed from the University of Georgia that really helped our program out is a cross over drill. It is a great drill for one, coordination and two for feel and basically it goes something like this. You are going to take your left hand, your right foot and you are going to swim breaststroke right like that. It really helps you get a good feel around the corner. They are going to go slow as heck with it, but it is a pretty good drill to get some good feel there and finish the kick and get a nice feel of those hands right around the corner. We do a lot of combinations and we got the combinations – we borrowed them from Alex when he was up at Michigan. I think I saw Alex in the room who I consider one of the best breaststroke coaches in America and also from John Erbanchak and the combinations would basically be maybe three whole strokes over, three whole strokes under where we are actually going under the water, two whole strokes over, two whole strokes under – good for two things: one building up some breath controls and —- strength. Also, when you got that added resistance under the water it is going to help you clean your stroke up under the water so you are really going to get a feel if you are letting those elbows drop or if you are getting sloppy with the stroke. We do a great deal of component training with our sets. The set I just mentioned that we might do by building the set with drills in progressions and finishing it with whole stroke. It is challenging because each of the different breaststroke athletes needs different combos to find their stroke and this is what we spend a great deal of time on, that inneraction and saying how did it feel? Well, why did it feel that way. Well lets try this. I found that the breaststrokers – usually they are a different element you know, maybe a little bit flaky, hopefully we don’t have any breaststrokers in the room, but often times creative and are willing to try some different things and ideally we are putting together combinations throughout the season to be able to put together their perfect stroke so their warm-up, we might have six different warm-ups going on when we get to Big 10’s. We are going to have six different warm-ups going on for NCAA’s for each of the breaststrokers because it is a key – the question is – what is going to be best for you. One of the things you might notice. We don’t do a lot of whole stroke breaststroke. That is probably a mistake, but I will tell you why we don’t do it. I get so nervous with the groins. We have had a couple and you know, the —– I have been working with college kids – we probably had three or four groin pulls. The problem with that is those kids are out four to six weeks. Now I should probably learn something because a lot of times those kids swim really well at the end of the year so I don’t think I have gotten the message there. I will that also that our 200’s probably haven’t been as good as our 100’s because we don’t do as much full breaststroke as maybe some of the other programs out there, Georgias or Auburns or Michigans and that is something that I need to get better at and we need to get better at.
There is basically two ways to go faster in swimming and any stroke so when I look at breaststroke and say how are we going to get somebody faster. You know, we had Kristen Woodring came in. She was a minute .7 out of high school, a National high school record holder, she was 59.7 freshman year – one of the fastest times in American history and then you sit down at the end of the season you say, how are we going to get her to go faster and again, for Kristen it is going to be a little bit different than for a gal like Cory Clark it is going to be a little bit different than for somebody like Courtney —–, or some of the other breaststrokers that we have, but one of the things that we all know is that if you keep kids happy they are going to want to get faster so it means that you are probably going to have to look and say, what are your weaknesses and then work on those weaknesses. The two ways to go faster as I see it are: 1. Create a better engine. I think there are two ways you can create a better engine. One, make it more efficient which is the heart or two, make it more powerful which is stronger. The second way to go faster in swimming would be have a sleeker car. Better stroke technique, more distance per stroke, cleaning things up. I will say this. We didn’t have a really good sophomore year last year in Kristen’s case and I think it was in large part due to the fact that I spent too much time working on building a better engine – read that as a stronger person and not enough time on making her a more efficient engine and working on the car, particularly the car. I don’t think that we really paid enough attention to her stroke and she is definitely stroke driven swimmer.
When you ask about better engines and sleeker car the question comes to mind – which one is more important and this is something we ask our campers and I will ask you – which one do you think is more important? How many people think a better engine is more important? How many people think a sleeker car is more important? I would probably err on the side of the sleeker car as well. The thing though, it is a bit of a trick question, they are both equally important, but the question is at different points in time you are probably going to have to work on one a little more than the other.
I will touch on starts and turns a little bit and then field any questions that anyone may have. STARTS: and I am going to throw these out more as observations than as fact of how we do it. It seems like more breaststrokers use a two footed start than a track start. That seems to be the case in our program as well. Some other programs that I have watched – I am not sure why, but it seems like we get further faster with that two footed start which is what the goal is. In terms of the starts, we use the same counts that we use on a push off. PSU, Penn State, quick, clean on the recovery – right into the breakout. This is something I will throw out there – I certainly don’t encourage or advocate cheating, but you are always looking for a competitive edge. We all know that some breaststrokers have a – they like to call it a natural ability to dolphin kick off of a wall. I think it is something that you can teach. I wouldn’t call it a dolphin kick because the officials are going to look for it, but I think you can get a whole body kick, at least half of a whole body kick off a start and off of a turn and not have it be illegal and I think it is extremely beneficial in terms of cutting some time off and when you get to that level, I mean, your are right on the border of making YMCA nationals, 2/10th off – it is those little things that get you there. You know, you get in a range where maybe you get under a minute. You think about maybe I want to be an American record holder – every little bit counts. Something that I will say – I will watch television or I am always thinking about borrowing things for swimming and I think it drives my wife nuts because I would rather watch the Discovery channel than friends or something like that, but in the Winter Olympics – one of the things that I saw and I think it might have an application to the whole body dolphin kick on a breaststroke start or pull-out is you watch the ski jumpers and how they get a little bit extra, I am not going to lean too far forward, I don’t want to fall, but you watch the ski jumpers. They are essentially in a streamline right there and in order for them to get a little bit more out of their jump I think they do something that probably is close to a whole body dolphin kick.
TURNS: we time them. We time them when they don’t know we are timing them. We ideally want to be fast on turns and not just when it is a quality set. We don’t want to wait until race day. If you are going to be fast on turns you got to practice fast turns, regardless if is drilling, easy kicking, whatever the case may be. A pretty good timed turn for our program and again, when we talk about timing something ideally you want to time two variables – the second in timed turns is probably going to be subjective. A timed turn, a good quality fast timed turn is going to be somewhere under 1.1 seconds – ideally under 1.0 – that is pretty quick. The second part or the second variable, we are going to look at it. It is easy to go up there and get off the wall real quick and we time that from the second that the fingers touch the wall until the toes leave the wall. Now it is easy to just go up there and get off the wall, the second and the subjective measure is going to be, do they have a good push-off? Do they get in and out fast and get as far as they could in a good manner? We talk about splitting the wall on a good turn and again, I don’t advocate cheating. I advocate getting an edge. Our kids, I don’t want to be able to tell if they touch with one or two hands. We are not in practice going like this. I want those hands to be so fast that I couldn’t tell – did they touch with one or did they touch with two. I want them to touch with two, but I want it to be quick so we talk about fast hands. We will practice fast hands. You saw Mike Bottom work on reaction times for starts. We will work on reaction times for turns so we will go up and you will have two athletes put their hands here or I am sorry –two athletes facing each other; one puts their hands in the middle, the other one puts their hands on the outside, both of them close their eyes, the person on the outside is going to try and clap the person in the middles hands. Their eyes are closed. We will go on the start system, ready as it soon as it goes boom, split on the wall nice and fast, getting used to getting those hands moving pretty fast.
With regard to the turn itself. Talk about the head to the hand and this is just a little thing that we do and I am not sure it is the right way, but it is something that has worked for us is that hand that is on the wall – I like to get the forehead pretty close to that hand, kind of like loading a spring, same thing as on the starts, this hand is back as fast as it can. This hand is on the wall, head gets close to the hand, load the spring, push-off – leads into a good push-off. When we talk about splitting the wall one of the components to splitting a wall is having a good strong lead hand. That first hand off the wall, we call it an ATM drill, but basically if you are at the ATM getting some money and someone came up behind you and said give me your money and you went to elbow him – that is the drill we practice, that one right there. We tell them – give them the money, but it is just, you know, it makes a little bit of fun.
Another thing, I will say this, in terms of borrowing or finding stuff, hopefully the goal today is maybe pick one or two things out of here that you think might be useful for your program. When I was first getting into coaching I was probably 19 or 20 years old and I was coaching in Ashland, Ohio, a little Division II program and I heard that Mike Barrowman was coming over to give a talk at Akron Firestone so I got in the car and drove about an hour over there and kind of sat up in the stands so nobody would go you know, who is this guy, who let him in and breaststroke, I must have taken ten pages of notes. He flat out gave it up and this is a little thing and it is probably a bit advanced, but it is something that he thought about and created and it worked for him and it is just that idea of a little edge. He talked about hiding the leg so that when you have two legs you get on a turn you bring both of your legs up under you instead of having two legs and a lot of resistance he talked about how he hid a leg so that he only had one leg so he hit the wall, put one foot on top of the other and he only had one leg – a lot less resistance. Maybe it helped him 1/100th of a second, but it was a little thing and I think after all, that is a lot of where our sport is, adding up a whole lot of little things and maybe getting a little bit better.
That is essentially all I have. I would like to answer any questions that you might have. Questions and Answers: We don’t like to grab the wall and pull ourselves in. Ideally, we want to — off pretty quick. Breaking a child of grabbing the wall? We have gutter walls. I mean, there are different ways to do it. I mean you could take a touch pad and put it over the gutter so that the do not have a wall to grab on to and that is a good way or you can time it and pretty soon it is going to be an evolution where they are going to kind of figure out – well this isn’t as fast as if I do it this way and I think that feedback is good day to day or week to week. Some of your athletes are going to do those things naturally. I don’t want anything ballistic, but obviously I want to go the shortest distance, two points, straight line. I want to get back to that straight line to that wall as quickly as possible. The head weighs 12-15 pounds. Action/reaction says whatever you know, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. If I throw 15 pounds head back the rest of my body is going to follow so I personally would prefer to throw the head back. Not so much the head. No, we have – we will do something similar where we might go 50’s, but they are actually only 40’s because we will say turn at the flags and feel the muscles that you had to use because you couldn’t rely on the wall to help you turn quicker.
When I think about protecting the swimmers knees or their groins in breaststroke in particular, I think about flexibility and I think we as a program have done a very poor job of flexibility and I think breaststroke is the key stroke that needs it the most and we probably overlook it the most as a program. Why? Because the NCAA mandates we have 20 hours to work with and I’ve got all these other parts of the puzzle and that is the one – what I will do is I will teach them. I will say, this is what is going to help you out and then I will ask them. I will say its probably going to mean 20 minutes of your time you know, three, four or five times a week to help you get that. In terms of improving hip flexors – right – we might do some resistance kicking and this is something we borrowed from Alex Bronfeld – we might go kicking against a cord or we might go vertical kicking with weight. Anything that is going to – I mean vertical kicking with – that is instant feedback. If you are not bringing your feet up fast you are sinking under the water. I prefer it – I didn’t talk to him about the recovery much. Once those hands come together on the in sweep, I ideally want the recovery and this is not a natural and it is not a comfortable position right here – I want those hands flat, palms down and I want the shoulders in towards the ears and ideally would like it like this. I am not a big fan. It works for a lot of people. I am not a big fan of the hands together or the hands like this because I feel like once you get out you want to grab water sooner than later like here I can grab water pretty quick versus like this, I am probably going to miss 6-12 inches or like this I am going to miss a little bit out front as well. The question is, how far under the water. We don’t teach our kids to go over the water, probably skimming right on top. I kind of think it like your arms kind of like water skis so maybe an inch under the water. The key is that is something you have to practice because you are going to see late in the race they will get tired before you know it if they are going through the water like this. I do not like any pause in the stroke and I will say that the things that give the most speed at the feedback are probably the hardest. I mean if you do some pulling against a cord with a pull buoy between your legs that is going to tell you if you have too long of a pause. If you have a pause you are going backwards and that is a good way to eliminate that pause because you are not going to be able to stop it all if you want to stay in place or get forward.
I personally – the question was how do you help breaststrokers that might have a late kick and are better at the 200 than the 100? I like the kids that are good at the 200 because I think it is a lot easier to go down than it is to go up. I think that is a tempo question and if we time it and we have you know, Kristen Woodren when she went :59 she was 1.1 every time her head broke the water if you had a stopwatch, 1.1 second every time. We have some other kids who are 101 and 102 hundred breaststrokers who were 1.5 – that is a huge difference so I think in that case it might be a question of either getting a stronger engine because some people aren’t made to be 1.1 or 1.2. Getting a stronger engine or a stronger kick and giving a lot of feedback; alright we want some 50’s there, you averaged 30.1 on all those 50’s, you took this many strokes, let’s try it this way or lets try it that way and just experiment a lot. Is that right? Really. I didn’t realize that – shame on me for that, but the question was this: with some breaststrokers now on their pull-outs they are crossing their legs and the question was did I know why or do we do it and the answer to both of those is no I don’t, but I am going to look at it as soon as we get back.
You know, the question was this – on full stroke breaststroke are we kicking back or are we kicking back and down. Ideally, we want to put the soles of the feet together at the end of the kick. Now some people are going to be a little bit more flexible with their ankles and get that extra component in right at the end where the are going to snap their feet off – we don’t teach to finish the kick and have an uplift to it. We don’t finish to have a down kick to it. We are basically – finish the kick, finish the kick and some kids that are maybe a little bit more flexible and they can hyperextend their knees, the are going to be able to have that down component to the kick. Right. I won’t be sarcastic, I would probably turn them into butterflyer. I am not sure. I mean, I think it is just one of those things. I think one thing you might try is that crossover drill. I mean it is pretty hard to lift that hand up – the key is they are going to want to breathe and if they cant breathe they are going to have to alter the stroke and sometimes it is adaptation and I am not a person that looks for adaptation, I think there are a couple of ways to do it – you can do it for drills, progressions, feel or you can just give them ten 300s breaststroke on a sendoff and they are going to pretty much evolve into a stroke that works. I am more the first than the second.
Toys – when I was in Ashland I had a horrible budget – say med balls for instance. I cant afford 30 bucks for a med ball so I went down and got some gym balls and filled them with water you know and then we had med balls there. Tubing – that kind of stuff. I could go to a surgical supply company and I would order lengths of tubing – go to Wal-Mart and buy some buckets and then I had resistance in the water so I think it is a question of maybe being a little bit creative. Now, in a perfect world you are building a better engine on land and then have what is called transference and putting it in the water. Now, that is the million dollar question, how do you do that. Some years you hit it and some years you don’t. The key is you got all these pieces to the puzzle, putting that puzzle together I would be making a huge mistake telling you I know, because I don’t. Some years we have gotten it right and some years you haven’t. The key is this though – what worked this year is not going to work next year. I am not sure if that answers your question. We do a lot of stuff on land. Fitness is a very big part of our program. I didn’t have enough time to talk about it today, but the things you know Joe showed us good core stability, good core strength – that is our goal on land, every day, we do it a million different ways; yoga, physioball, sit—ups, lower back work. We will be over in the weight room. We don’t focus so much on building strength in the extremities we focus on building strength in the middle. The question was Joe has some breaststrokers who drop one hip when they are first learning breaststroke and she has used the noodle to even that out or give them so balance. Something that I have seen and we haven’t done it yet is some of the elite breaststrokers, I got a video of the training camp prior to the 2000 Olympics and I saw a lot of the breaststrokers working out. A lot of them were doing speed drills where they were just going breaststroke kick against the wall all out, they would rest for about five seconds and then they would go a sprint 25. My guess is that action/reaction – odds are you don’t focus on the hips. For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. The hips are out of line because something else is out of line so it is probably the kick is uneven or something on top is uneven so either you have to fix the kick or you have to fix the shoulders – putting the noodle would just be a temporary fix. That is a good idea – one more question – the question was when do I think that the heels should come up in relation to the pull. I think if there is a common mistake in breaststroke it is people breathing too early. Talk about breathing a little later, breathe a little later, breath a little later because the focus again in breaststroke is not breathing. The key is not – it is not survival. The key is getting from this end to that end as quick as you can so the focus is everything moving forward and I think a lot of times kids – they will base their whole breaststroke around how can I get that breath versus how can I get forward – how can I get forward the best so I don’t know if that is what you were looking. I would like to say one – thank you and also if you ever need anything and we can be of assistance at Penn State, do not hesitate to call or email or write and good luck with your seasons this year.