Developing Relay Starts by Sergio Lopez with Michael Walker, The Bolles School (2014)


[introduction, by Richard Shoulberg]
Good morning. My name is Dick Shoulberg and it is an honor to introduce Serge. I used to watch him swim up and down the pool, and now his kids swim up and down the pool a lot faster than mine. So it is a real pleasure, and you are on buddy.

[Lopez begins]
Thanks. This is a privilege to be here and to talk about relay starts. Or to talk about anything. I am very excited to be here. I brought with me one of my assistants, Coach Michael Walker, and he will be helping me out with the presentation. Because, honestly, when I was thinking about the talk, relay starts, the last couple of years I have been pretty-much hands-off because I have a group of three coaches that are very talented and they love to work with starts and this and that. I just watch, and if they are really engaged, sometimes I go to their office and do work or do other things. So, I do not think I would do justice explaining. I know I was telling them that if I go to another job and I do not have a good assistant, I am going to have to look at the videos and look at my PowerPoint presentations. So Coach Michael is going to help me out here, and we are going to do the presentation together.

Coach Michael is from West Virginia University—I recruited him to swim there for me. When he graduated, he wanted to be a coach. He helped me out with… I had a breaststroke camp when I was at West Virginia; he helped me out with that. He has a really good mind; one day, he is going to be a really, really good coach. The only thing is that he has a downside with the office stuff, you know, the administrative stuff; we are trying to work on that. But besides that, he is good.

One of the things that we are proud of, and a lot of people talked about, is that our relays two years ago, you know, we had three relays—we planned it that way, to—break three national records. I wanted… you know, we had the 400 Free Relay, we went 2:54.4, we averaged 43.6 for high school kids. So that was very impressive. What I am going to do, I am going to start with showing you the relay, because it is exciting. And I am going to talk about a couple of things, while the relay goes on.

We are in the blue suits, the orange cap. I think the first one is Ryan Murphy; he is now a sophomore in university, Cal Berkeley. I think his split was 42.9.

One of the things that I wanted to show you is that our relay starts are safe—are very safe. And as you watch the video, I will tell you why. We have a problem with high school Swimming where we are. We have to go to Districts, we have to go to Regionals, and then qualify for State. And, honestly, a lot of referees and a lot of people do not like our team, and you have to be very safe with all the starts because if you get disqualified at the Districts, you are done, you cannot take a relay to….

So we are always really touch-and-go, you know. I had two relays disqualified in seven years and it was very unfair. We practice that, so if you watch our relay starts, these guys can do a lot better. But we are always afraid that we are going to get disqualified, so then we cannot even show what we can do.

The second guy was Santo Condorelli. He is a sophomore this year at USC. I think he was high-43, 43-low.

I will explain later a little bit more, but one of the things when I got to Bolles… and as I said yesterday, I did not have many goals, or any goals. But after a while I told my coaching staff: for the high school team, one of the things… we are going to build a team for relays and one of the things that we are going to do is we are going to have relays they can compete at NCAAs. The coaches looked at me were like: you’re crazy. Well, why not? You know, let’s figure it out. How are you going to do it? It was like, I do not know; we are going to think about it and we are… you know. So, we create a culture of relays.

We have a lot of stories about… we have so many things. Like 2009, I think Juniors at Texas, I had 12 kids that had split 20-point in a relay—12 kids that had split 20-point in a relay—to set up an A and B relay. And both relays, one got the first and one got third. You know, half of those kids are not sprinters: one is a breaststroker, the other is a 200 backstroker, but they wanted to be part of that so they figured it out.

And I think if you are high school coach, or even a club coach, think about the importance of a relay. How it can build a team. How it can make you very successful.

The third one is a boy named Josh Booth, and he is a freshman at Auburn. And the last one, his name is Joseph Schooling, he is a freshman at Texas. I think Joseph was 43:4/43:3, and Josh was 44:8. That year, I thought honestly, because if Josh had swum the way he can, and Santo, I think Santo had an issue of like watching Ryan go 42. Santo was capable of going 42, and he just blocked; they had a big rivalry. But I thought they could go a good 2:52, you know, I was pretty sure that they could do that. But that is a very exciting relay.

As I said, my first college job was at Northwestern University with Bob Groseth. I believe when I got there, our 400 Medley Relay was, I think, the year before was 3:23. So I was the recruit coordinator—if you want to call it that way. I really wanted to build that team, and I went and recruited as hard as I could.

Two years later or three years later, at NCAAs, Texas went 3:04, with Aaron Peirsol, Brendan Hansen, Ian Crocker, and some guy, I do not remember his first name, but [Chris] Kemp—he is a guy that is 6’8”, big dude, really fast. Everybody thought: wow, 3:04, that’s unbreakable. Well, the guys that I recruited, five years after I got them to Northwestern, they broke the record. I think they went from 3:20-something to 3:04, in five years; and that was the culture that we created.

At West Virginia, the same thing: I got a team with great individuals, but we did not have anything, really. Two-and-a-half years later, we had 13 kids at NCAAs, we had relays teams, top-7 at NCAAs. And you are talking about West Virginia; like it is a… when I left Northwestern, people told me: are you sure you want to go there? And I was like: yeah. At Bolles, we did the same thing,

Now talking about how we develop a relay start, I think our kids did a very good job and they have a good foundation for when they go to college. Our model is Roland Schoeman. You know, a few years ago I went to a conference up in Vancouver, and my coach Jozsef Nagy… I do not know if there is anybody from Canada here, I do not know if I have permission to use this video, but I am using it—I am sorry. Because, you know, it is a very good video, and we were watching it and I thought wow.

When I was at Arizona, when I coached Hillenbrand Aquatics, my last year, Roland Schoeman was a freshman there. It was amazing watching him enter the water and just like wooh—you know, just smooth. So this thing came in my hand by chance; I was sitting in Joseph’s home and we were chatting about Swimming. Ah, Sergio, you want this or you want that, or give me that. He showed me this video; I said, “I want that.”

I brought it back home. Michael and Coach Jason, they were like wow and then we start talking and we developed what we thought was best start possible. You know, for that, I do not want to take credit for the analysis of Roland Schoeman and what we did. So I am going to pass it to Michael, and he can tell you and keep going with it.

[Michael Walker begins]
Alright, so this is the video that he is talking about—that we may or may not be allowed to show. So we really looked at a couple of key aspects of the start, and this translated over into what we do for the relay start, as well.

[Lopez]: We got the video without the analysis. He used Dartfish to analyze the start and put the angles and do… you know, to see what we saw. Like the video that we had was just like without anything.

[Walker]: So the big thing that we looked at is the angle of entry. A lot of kids that we watched, especially at high school level, were hitting at a much shallower angle and as they hit the water the angle would decrease. With Roland, he had at a high angle and kept that high angle. His feet actually enter past where his hands hit.

This is what we really looked at for the relay starts, as well. You know, how can we get into this bodyline, this body position, through not only our regular starts but along with our relay starts. This way we can maintain the momentum that we generate with our relay start.

So here is Joseph. He took… we showed Joseph the video; it took him, I would say, about two years to really learn how to do this. But I think, as you can see, he does it pretty well. And this is at our pool: he is diving-in at about four feet, right there—maybe four-and-a-half feet—water depth. It is not that he is going straight to the bottom with that body angle, he is changing the angle as he goes through.

[Lopez]: We have issues. We practice… in the middle of the pool, it is six feet; so we always practice in the middle of the pool. Because when we do dives in the shallow part, some kids, like big kids, they will hit the bottom. But he is pretty good; he has really good awareness.

[Walker]: So a couple of the key elements that we are looking at: Using our arms to pull with; they stay close to the body as they come forward. The back leg, as soon as it leaves the block, comes almost straight up; and then the front foot comes up to meet it. That way, as soon as he hits the water with his hands, he is in a streamline. He does not have to pike, he does not have to worry about his hips dropping; he is in a perfect streamline and he can enter all through the same spot.

So moving on, this is one of the other videos of Roland, here. So now, they are not grabbing the block (we have had some issues with this video). So, they are not going to grab the block; he is over-here, closest to us. So you saw this, and, again, we just want to try and get into this position. Without grabbing the block, now, how can we get into this position off of a relay start. Because, again, generating the momentum off the arm-swing and all that—which we will get to—is all good, but unless you are actually carrying that speed into the breakout, it does not really matter. So we found this body position to be very effective in translating that speed, so this is what we looked to to accomplish with our relay start.

So kind of our setup, just a few of the basic things that we look for. Making sure that our shoulders stay low, always in front of our front leg. The body should travel always forward and stay low. When we swing the arms, we do not want to see anybody lifting the shoulders up. We want to make sure that as we start moving forward, we stay moving forward. Connecting the body is a big issue with some of our high school kids, especially when we first started teaching them this. So here is our setup: trying to make sure that we have got our legs bent, athletic position, arms out in the front, shoulders over the front leg.

And then we talk about the feet placement. We have two feet in the back of the block; one foot in the front, one foot in the back; and how many steps are we taking. A lot of our kids do it a little bit differently. When we first start-out, we teach the kids one foot at the front, one foot at the back; arm swing with one step. Some of the kids, a little bit more athletic, will take two steps.

It also depends on whether or not we are using a wedge or without a wedge. Without the wedge, most of the time we try and get to where they are taking two steps, both feet at the front of the block. We do not want to have one foot in the front, one foot in the back, when we take-off just because the back foot really cannot produce much power. With the wedge, we found that having two feet at the back, only taking one step, so they have one foot in the back one foot in the front, we like that start the best.

So show a couple of videos here… sorry that is just a picture of two feet at the back, with the wedge; one foot in the front, one foot at the back. And then we will get into how we step and swing the arms. Head is always staying low; hands, as they come forward, try and get close to the body; and try and get into that body position that we looked at before.

One thing that we found, it is a little bit hard… he does a pretty good job of it, but the hips and the legs tend to not get into that body position as easy when they are both coming off front of the block. It is a little bit harder to get the hips up and get the feet in line. He does it right at the end, but it is just a little bit harder.

So we will look at the next one. Now we are going to start with two feet at the back; he is going to take one step. Good arm swing, always trying to stay low, keep everything moving forward. And now, as the back leg comes off, it can get up and carry the hips up, so he can get into a streamline. He should have his feet together there, but it is not too bad. Again, if we have a wedge, this is the start we would prefer.

In this, he will take both feet forward. Again, pretty good; he gets in that bodyline. But again, with two feet in front, we really feel that it is a little bit hard to get the hips and the feet in-line. Like I said before, there is a lot of variations in doing this. The biggest key is getting into that bodyline, to make sure that we can actually transfer this momentum into our underwaters into our breakouts.

So then we have… talk about the timing. If we talk about the timing with the kids, we talk about always looking for that last hand to exit the water. You know, everything that we do on the block—whatever arm-swing, whatever step we are taking—we want to make sure that it is fast, that it is explosive. We should not have a two-second windup on the block; you know, it needs to be fast, it needs to be explosive. It is only a couple of tenths from the time that last hand comes out of the water to get to the wall, that is all the time that they should have to wind-up and go. And we always tell them that they should never see them touch the wall.

There are some of the drills and the stuff that we do.

[Lopez]: I think one thing that is important, like the kid doing the start is just 15 years-old; he is not mature enough, I think, to hold his body like Roland. Because he is not as strong in his core because he is just still developing; so that is why he cannot hold his legs that well.

But one of the things you can see, it is a trick that we use. When you teach how to raise the legs, sometimes the kids are going to lose balance. So what you are going to do, do not teach the kids… do not force the kids to kick the leg too high. What you have got to do is like teach them how to… when the legs go up and you watch our guys: curl your toes. Just curl your toes, do this; don’t push up, just curl your toes. What it does, it just keeps you in-line. You just… instead of dropping your feet, your feet will follow.

It is just a little trick that I learned from a girl swimming breaststroke. She was finishing the kick, and then, you know, she was going… no kicking fly, she was just curling her toes, like this. You know, like if I was touching the water. Her line was perfect.

So we started doing it with that, because with a lot of our high school kids, one of the first things they do, they dive-in and they enter and they drop their quads. Or their feet, boom, attacks the water. You will see a big difference if you tell them to just curl your toes. It is not hard; it is just a trick that works very well.

I think the fact is that we are trying to teach a start that a 25-year-old guy does—I think, in this video, he is 30 years-old—to a 15-year-old or 14-year-old. So we have to be conscious about that; you know, there is some maturity level there with their bodies. And also being afraid, or not being afraid, of doing that.

[Walker]: All right, a couple of the drills and stuff that we do. They will work on normal start, you know, really reaction for anything. But we see some good translation into the relay start.

So first one: the reaction cone drill. It is one that what on of our other coaches, Jason Calanog, came up with. Jason is very good at getting his kids to compete with one another. And any high school kids, guys and girls, they love to win; so we will play this game. They love to compete—it is awesome. The coaches, even now-and-then, get into it because anytime that we can beat one of the high schools in something, we really enjoy that.

The 4D Pro we will look at; that helps us a lot with our normal starts, our relay starts, everything like that.

Med-ball throws—we do not have a video of that. That is just… they are really working on how do I really throw. We have two med-balls in our hands, and we throw them backwards. Just really trying to work on firing those arms, first, for the normal start; we use it for the relay start as well.

[Lopez]: So you will be in the relay position, on land, with two med-balls. And what you are going to do is, like you are going to throw the med-balls back.

[Walker]: So again, all of that, along with the running dives; we really like running dives. (That is why we have got it up there three times.) We use running dives a lot. Just working on the connectivity. We see a big difference from freshman to seniors in how they can connect their whole body. You know, the relay start, you are going to have to make sure that you are well connected, everything close together, to keep that momentum going.

So here [on screen] is cone drill. This will be Payton Brooks, one of our assistants. And that is James Doherty; he is the guy that we watched before doing the relay starts. They are going to have a little competition with the cone drill.

So, pretty much what it is: we will either use these mats or use towels on the floor, but we will stay close. We try to mimic as much as they can, exactly how they are up on the block. And then someone just says: take your mark, go. First person to grab the cone, and hold the cone, wins. It is not just touching the cone, it is not just reacting fast; but they have to be accurate. So there is a little bit more of a purpose instead of just moving fast.

(Celebrations are key in this: you have got to let them know that you beat them.) So we did this about—I do not know—7 or 8 times; as you can see, Coach Payton was just embarrassing James for a while. But then James started to figure it out, and started to learn how to get there a little quicker. Most of the time, they both get there about the same time, but someone always is more accurate in grabbing that cone.

[inaudible question from audience]

Yeah, yeah; it is not on here, but yeah, I was saying: take your mark, go. [additional question] Yeah, you can; we have not, this is mainly just in the Senior group right now. But yeah, absolute, you can do this with little kids as well. Most of the time, if we do this with a group, we will have more of a bracket system kind of setup, you know, to where they will go head-to-head. You know, we will have five sets of them lined-up, and if you lose, you are out. And then we will get down to two people, and we will do like a best-out-of-five, or something like that.

[audience member]: When Jason put this together, it is first tap and it was all over. So Age Group has done that, if you are worried about jamming fingers and that.

[Lopez]: I think this will work too for reaction-time. Like, for instance, one of the things in our kids, when I was at Nationals this year, a coach came up to me and said hey Sergio, what you do for reaction drills, off the blocks, because most of our kids are between 5.7/5.9 to 6.1/6.2. It is not this—I think. I am going to show you what I think that we do.

What we do is like when we do sets, we have our coaching staff… let’s say we do 8×50, we send them off with a whistle for every 50. It was not with a purpose, you know; I just analyzing how my kids are so fast of the blocks. The only thing that we do in practice, really, besides this, is just… again the only thing that we do consistently every day in practice is we send them off. We send them off, we make sure if they leave early, they do not leave with… and it is hard to make sure that everybody is leaving at the same time, but if they leave early and you can see it, you do not give them the time. So they have to be on their side, and they move quick.

I know that does not related with relay starts, like something useful as coaches. Also, it keeps you engaged in practice. Many times, you can find yourself sitting down and, you know, oh they’re swimming fast; but at least it keeps you engaged. And you can whistle—I have a very-good whistle. Or you can like… any way you want to do it, but they can be something. So that is some food for thought.

[Walker]: So the next thing we really like to use is the 4D Pro. If you have not seen it, it is similar to a TRX setup, except it is elastic. So it gives you a lot more versatility with it. With this we will do just normal starts with it, as well as relay starts okay.

A couple of things with this. It allows us to do ten starts in the time it takes you to do one start. The kids are much more aware of their body and what they are doing on the land. Once they can get comfortable with this, you can really teach them how to connect their arms or legs—everything that they are doing—as well as be explosive and really try and get-after the dive, which I see a lot of younger kids are more hesitant to do. So we will do this with an arm swing in the relay starts as well.

[inaudible comment from audience]

Well, like we will start this drill with just like jumping back-and-forth, not doing to the start. We will do one… it is a progression. We will do one where we are just doing it streamline, trying to lift the back leg up. But, you know, we will show them the video of Roland, and, try and break it down from there. So they practice one thing at a time until they get to something like this.

[Lopez]: (Right there: stop.) You see? You know, you can film the kid. That is beautiful. No, but I could not do that; I was like take your marks….

But I love the 4D Pro, and the kids are starting to adapt. It is very hard to film… or, you know, like he said, you can do 12 in 30 seconds, if you want. And then film it, and then go to the kid and slow it down. You can to a lot of d… and they love it, you know. Anything you do, like look at the line here, look at his toes. (That is what I wanted you to show.) Like, it is like ballerina or a diver; like, he is trying to curl the toes.

Now the hard part is when the impact. It is not the same line in the water, but it is just from the head to the toe, at one point it is going to be moving in this direction. So I just wanted to slow it down, so you guys can see it.

[Walker]: All right. And running dives. Like I said, we really like running dives. Several different things; you know, it teaches them how to be explosive. Most the kids start to get into it after they do them for a while, so they can really get after it. Really teaching them how to control that speed. Most of the time, the relay starts is going to be the time that they are going to be moving the fastest.

One big difference that we see from freshman to seniors is that the freshman do not understand how fast they are moving and how to hold that speed. You know, it is the difference between going 5 miles an hour up-to 80 miles per hour; you feel every little different thing. They do not do a great job of translating that into their break-out. The older kids, they start to understand that.

Running dives, you are going really, really fast, if you do it right. You are going to feel your bodyline, you are going to feel your streamline, everything. Once you figure out how to hold that speed, then the relay start will be a lot easier.

This is one of our young kids; he is only a sophomore. He took it upon himself, pretty much, to… he wanted to be the best running diver that we had. What we do… this is the one with the parachute. We like the parachute because you can get in, but then once that parachute hits the water, you stop. It is adjustable, so it is closed; so he is going to stop pretty much right under water. So he is going to have to really figure out how can he get up to the surface as fast as he can. You can see, he has got a real-high angle: that is the bodyline that we are looking for.

The next one will be without the parachute.

[audience member]: Is it just cement there?

[Walker]: Yeah. Our pool deck is cement; it is pretty non-slick. So we are lucky in that sense, that you can run on it pretty safely.

[Lopez]: I started using a lot of running dives when I was coaching at West Virginia. I had 57 swimmers, and I had a 25-yard pool and a 16-yard pool—a 16-yard pool with 4 lanes. And I wanted everybody to train at the same time. So I got my sprinters to practice always… there were like, I think… out of the 13 kids we had at NCAAs, 9 of them practiced almost every day in a 16-yard pool and made NCAAs. One of the things that we did almost every day was running dives.

I remember one day they wanted to do running dives, and they were complaining about something, and so I gave them a very challenging set. We did 120 running dives on 1:00. I can tell you, I watched them, and by the end of it—I would not do it again, but—they improve so much. And we had a diving platform (like this tall), and we just put like a really… like you could not slip, and they would run from that. I really enjoyed it and liked it. And I like the fact that when you get in the water, you have to learn how to control your body. It is just shoo, you know; like boom.

Then, later on, we started using parachutes just to stop. That is a big shock: you enter the water, let’s say 20 miles per hour, and out of the blue you are at zero and you have to keep going. So your brain stops working in a totally different way. I think there is a big gain like that. I could not explain it scientifically, but something happens on that.

[Walker]: (This is the last video.) This is Ryan Murphy and Santo Condorelli, again, doing running dives.

[Lopez]: We had to show it.

In 2012, I had a group of professional kids and we did running dives, trying to be past the first line. You know, it was set up for 50 meters. And we had one kid, Gustavo from Brazil, that he was spacing-out. He did a running dive, and out of the blue, I do not think he knew what he was doing, he just piked on top of the lane line. He did not get hurt or anything; but I wish I had a camera because it was very funny.

A lot of this stuff, our guys… like this is not from practice; this is after practice, many times. They love to do all this stuff, so they said hey, can we do some more running dives? We were on the other side, you know, practicing the same thing. So we filmed that by chance, you know. I think when you create things like this, if you can, because nowadays, at least in this country, we have to worry about liability. I know that if my school really analyzes what I do—do not say anything, but—I may be in trouble. But, they love it; they love it and they eat it and they want to do it more and more.

I know we have twenty minutes. Any questions? Yes?

[inaudible question from audience, related to tension in the shoulders]

[Lopez]: They move them… that is what we learned from Roland, they move them this way. From here, close to the body, and from here, to find a streamline. We see that it is faster and they can generate better line.


[audience member]: Do you mind talking about breakouts? Like after you get in the water; like breakout-wise for strokes and regular freestyle.

[Lopez]: Well, we do a lot of like… we will do running dives focusing on 10 meters underwater, or 15 meters underwater, and then do three perfect strokes. So, you know, when you watch a kid, if the person is too deep, make sure that you are looking perpendicular towards the bottom of the water and then use your chin to move. You know, because if you use your eyes, then your body changes right away; because your head will follow where your eyes go.

So if I am in this and I am too deep, and I move up like this, my body changes. But if I keep my eyes perpendicular and I just push my chin forward, my body slides out—if that sense. That is a trick, like the same trick that you would go and go like this. So I rather start with this and then, if they are still too deep, start moving the fingers like that. You know, you keep looking down and then as you move your chin, you know, you kind of become cross-eyed because you are still looking at the same place. And then by doing that you are keeping your line perfectly and you are moving like that. Things like that, little tricks, each kid, you know, is different.

We are lucky because we have kids that love to do it, and we have had in that last five years very nifty kids, they learn very quickly. So you know how kids are: they copy, they copy, they copy. And we have been lucky to have also some good post-grad, professional swimmers, and the kids love it. In that sense, you know, you will see, or you have seen many times, because everything goes by cycles. Right now we are in a cycle that… you know, we are trying to push people, we have very talented kids, but it is not like we are not going to have a guy that is going to go 45 in the 100 Backstroke, you know. So I think having gifted kids that work hard and they have curiosity, it is kind of contagious; so we try to embrace that and make sure they we do not lose that.

[audience member]: On the hand position, what do you recommend?

[Walker]: The arm position, we recommended… we always tell the kids to make sure that you are locked-in. I know Roland, he has one interview where he talks about this thing, dynamic tension; where you are kind of going to tense-up your muscles, just a little bit, right before you go. Same way that if you are going to do, let’s say, a deadlift—or something like that. Right before you lift up that weight, almost your whole body will contract, just a little bit, so then you are ready to move that weight.

Same thing on the block: the arms are going to be locked-in. We do not want the arms flared-out here. You know, we see that and we see a lot of kids whose first movement is to move their arms back and then they start moving forward. Some of the kids are out here a little bit, but they are locked-in, you know; so as soon as they hear the sound or see the light, they are moving forward. So did I answer it? Yeah.

[audience member]: During the breakout, how long do you have them stay in streamline and not kick? At what point do they initiate the kick to help them bring up?

[Lopez]: I think it depends on each kid. Some kids do not feel that water whatsoever, so we make them come out right away. We have kids… you look at George Bovell, for example: he does not spend any time underwater. He has figured it out that for him, he dives in and he gets out. So if you watch your kids and you pay attention, you are going to see—like you try to teach a kid how to dance, and, you know—they cannot feel it.

So what you need to… just forget about that; you need to make sure that you make him swim, because he is going to go fast or she is going to go fast. A lot depends on the kids. We have kids that go up to the 15 yard; like if Joseph wanted, he can swim 100 fly with 15 yards fast, every single… even the last turn. But how many high school kids can do that?


[audience member]: That two-medicine-ball-pull drill, what body position do you use?

[Lopez]: We have mainly done it standing, like not like with a relay start but like with a normal standing position. Like not from here: we have never done that. We did that with some of the older guys, but they are kids, you know. Our medicine balls are six pounds—the lightest one—so you do not want to put too much weight back there, like that. It is not so much about the weight, either; we use medicine balls because we have so many. But maybe something lighter might be better.

[audience member]: If you have an athlete that you are concerned is going to find a position on the block where they are going to sit on the block. And they take-off and their front leg drops as they are headed into flight, what recommendations do you have?

[Walker]: Are you talking about a relay start or just normal…? Just a normal start. You know, the thing that we have being telling our kids a lot on the normal start is just always try to get your hips as high as you can. Most of the guys are going to have a pretty-straight front leg; you know, there is not going to be a ton of bend in the knee. One other thing that we tell them is to make sure their chest is off their front knee; make sure there is some space there. And then as they go, just try and keep their hips as high as possible.

If you see that front knee bending/dipping down, chances are, if you look at the hips, they are going to be sinking down as well. So if you just really focus on keeping the hips going over top of their shoulders, in a sense, I think that might be a way to keep them from dipping down their front leg.


[audience member]: Your experience with the backstroke wedge, can you talk a little bit about foot placement on in? Like whether you should have your heels flushed against it, or should we have the balls of the feet high-up on the wedge?

[Walker]: We have not done a ton with that. But from my experience, just having the ball of your foot on the wedge; I do not think you want the foot flat against it. But, again, we have not done a whole lot with testing it.

[audience member]: The timing, can you take us through freestyle and also the other strokes for the medley? The exchanges, based on the last stroke coming out.

[Walker]: Yeah. We just tell the kids… we try and focus… we do not have like the relay take-off pads or anything like that, so we do not have a number that we can see on how fast their starts are. So we just talk about, on freestyle, you know, as soon as that last hand is coming out of the water, they should start their arm-swing. On butterfly, same thing: last hands out of water, start their arm-swim. I think on breaststroke, it might be a little bit different….

[Lopez]: The trick is: have the kid focus on his teammate coming-in for the last 25. It is like listening to music: you watch the rhythm and there is a rhythm. Like if they… let’s say there is a breaststroke: you know, if I am coming into the wall, I know before the flags if I am going to have three strokes to the wall. So if I know that I am going to have three-and-a-half before the flags, we always teach them: maybe change, make it either smaller or shorter.

So sometimes you might have a swimmer like that, that might break the rhythm. But normally, somebody that is coming-in on the last 25, if you watch, the hand is moving at the same speed. So if you watch that and you just see that rhythm…. That is what we try to teach: you watch the rhythm. Now, the trick is… like watch a lot of young kids on the last stroke, they go fast and before they touch, they go slow. you And when we practice that, we try to emphasize: just keep that speed until you touch the wall.

We have done running dives, with the swimmer coming-in—we did not talk about that. So I will be standing over there, and the other one starts at the 25 and comes swimming. So I have to start running, calculate/ understand the speed that he is coming, and I start running. So by the time I do my running dive, he has to touch. Makes sense? That is pretty difficult. But you will be surprised how many of these kids, at the beginning, they just boom bah pop; but they get it [eventually]. So things like that; you know, you just come up with drills like that. We do not have many of them, but you just… you know.

[audience member]: Are you saying that that swimmer doing underwater work, will he be at the same angle as the swimmer who does not going to do much underwater, and pop-up?

[Lopez]: Normally a guy that does not feel very good underwater is not as nifty to get that high. He is going to get off the blocks, and [crunch sound]. We have shown you some very nifty guys, you know. But we have some guys that are like a brick, you know; those are the guys that have a hard time feeling. They can become a very-good swimmers, but the underwater is like….

I remember my first job, I had this kid from Spain training with me in Arizona. He worked so hard. We tried underwaters. I could not swim backstroke to save my life, so I tried to understand and, you know, work and work. We did so much work, and the kid did not move. But I could not understand: like how.

So out of the blue, one of the kids that was in the Age Group program came into my group. His name is Dave Rollins; he was a very-good backstroker, I made him a breaststroker—he won NCAAs as a breaststroker—but he was a very-good backstroker. And one day he is swimming next to this guy that was 19 and he was 14; and we are doing underwater. Dave is like [rapid repeating sound], and I am like I have to stop teaching this kid, the Spanish kid, because he does not get it. So I had to figure it out, stop going underwater. Because he could swim: when he got tired, even though he was not very nifty, he was powerful and he could keep that stroke.


[audience member]: When you say you are using a whistle for reactions, are you calling take your mark then using it, or waiting until after and then use it?

[Lopez]: Yeah. Like I will be standing… like we have four coaches and we have maybe 20 lanes and I have four lanes. And usually I have a pretty-good whistle, so if it is my time to give the starts, I will say, sometimes, ready, go. Or if I am giving times to other people that are coming back, I will just whistle when I see… when the 9 starts I will go and I will whistle. And then they move, you know.

We are very lucky that we do not have many kids per lane, like with the Bolles kids. We might have… well, this year we have a lot, our biggest team, and we have four kids per lane. So we have had 2-3 kids per lane, and it is easy. You know, it is ready, go, and they go.

I never did it for that, but I think it is the reason why. I did it at West Virginia and these guys, like Paulo, had a reaction time of five-something and we never practice. So when people ask me about all that, I had to think about what do we do at practice that can enhance that or make the kids….

Like we do not allow, but we tell the kids if we see it we will remind them, but we do not allow the kids in a sense to push-off the wall on your stomach. You know, you have to be holding the gutter and you move this way, because that is how you are going to move on butterfly and breaststroke.

Also something that is good for speed—if they do it right—is we do not do touch-turns, we do flip-turns. (That is something we did with Joseph when I was a swimmer.) We will do, let’s say, 10×100 IMs. You know, you are doing butterfly and you come-in to the tee. So you take a stroke, kind of like a little breast stroke; and you move quickly and you flip, and then you go to the backstroke. With the breaststroke, the same thing. You know, you come out, you take that last stroke, go down, catch a little bit, and move. I think that also helps them to move quick. Plus, also, it is a very hypoxic-type of training—that is a different story.

Any other questions? No? Thank you very much.

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