Getting the Most Out of Them by Ken O’Reilly (2000)


Coaching Philosophy = Simplify

Goal:  simplify coaching in terms of technique / training /  psychology and all there connections.


Keys (Secret) to Successful Coaching

  1. Building trusting relationships with the kids.
  2. Coach the whole person.
  3. Develop the ability to see through the eyes of the kids.


Technique – A 5 Step Process for Teaching Stroke


1)       SWIMMERS VERBALIZE – i.e. Get the swimmers to tell you what they are doing in the water.

*      What are you doing with your right arm?

*      Show me the pull pattern you use?

*      Where is your left arm while your right arm pulls?

*      What is your head position while you swim?, etc.

Note:  This can be frustrating to swimmers at first, so be patient.  The idea is for the swimmers to learn what they are doing in the water, learn to detect errors, take responsibility for their stroke, and become aware of water resistance and the “feel” of the water around their body.


2)     STRESS FUNDAMENTALS ONLY – Teach the swimmers the fundamentals that we discuss for each of the strokes.  You should tone down the language and use “Catch phrases” when applicable.  Often you can have 2 great swimmers in a particular stroke that look entirely different when they swim, but they have a common set of fundamentals.  By teaching fundamentals, you allow for individual differences such as body type, strength, flexibility, limb length, etc.


3)     USE STROKE DRILLS AND PROGRESSIONS – i.e. Part/Whole method, where you exaggerate a particular fundamental, and then try to progress into the whole stroke eventually.  A progression can be done in one day such as one leading to the entire stroke (ex. 25 catch-up drill; 25 12/12 drill; 25 Whole stroke- Hypoxic 5) or it can be done over several weeks.  When following progressions, start with something they know and build on it.  Come up with new drills and progressions if necessary.  Limit yourself to a certain number of drills, and repeat and repeat and repeat.  Repetition is key to forming the neuromuscular patterns that will help them improve their stroke.  Focus on drills for the fundamentals.  This way you always know what you’re trying to teach.  Have swimmers demonstrate for each other but never spend more time demonstrating or explaining than practicing.


4)     BE A “HANDS ON” COACH – Physically manipulate their arms and legs (w/ discretion), then have them show it back to you.  Do this regularly and repeat it with the same swimmers the same way many times over.  You can even have them practice certain movements on deck or in front of the mirror at home.


5)       WHOLE METHOD – Several methods:

* Longer swims for technique – free/back/breast

* Short repeats for technique – all strokes

* Descending seriesTeaches swimmers to train and hold good stroke.

1/3 Technique / 1/3 Technique + Speed / Final 1/3 Speed (hopefully holding good Technique).

* Look at the wave patterns around a swimmer to see if they are moving through the water smoothly and gracefully.


Note:     You can also use partner teaching or videotaping with parents help early in the season once the kids know the fundamentals you’re trying to teach.  Stress that working technique is one of the most important things a swimmer can do.  Develop this attitude with young (12&under) swimmers. Use the racecar analogy:  “Good technique is like driving a Ferrari, bad technique is like driving a Volkswagen beetle.”




1)  Head / Hip Position

* Neck completely relaxed.  Head position varies w/individual.  Hips at surface.

* Test: Hands extended, light kick, hips should be at surface.  If hips are not at the surface, look down slightly to bring the hips up.


2)  Entry and Roll

* Fingers/Wrist/Elbow entry, in that order, in front of shoulders.

* Stretch and Roll onto the side, swimming side to side.

* 2 body positions; left side and right side.

* Ability to ride out the front end of one’s stroke depends upon how stream-dined a persons body can be and/or a person’s kicking ability.

* One should ride out the front end of the stroke as long as they are able to maintain continuous momentum (i.e. carry speed) and minimize or eliminate deceleration.


3) Press / Catch

* Begin to apply pressure on the water with one’s fingertips.

* Soft Catch, don’t rush the front end, “feel” pressure on the fingers.

* Unnecessary force will only push the body upward, not forward.

* Anchor hand, pulling the body past the hand, “Reach over a barrel”.


4)  Push and Roll

* Constant water pressure on the hand and forearm; keep the forearm facing back for as long as possible.

* Follow through with good hand acceleration; i.e. “Every pull in swimming begins slow and then speeds up.”

* Finish moving the Hips out of the way of the hand; i.e. using the hips as a power source.


5)  Relaxed Recovery

* 2 types:

1)  Classic High Elbow Recovery- Elbow and shoulder up on the recovery; “Hand close to the water and close to the body.”

2)  High Hand Swing Recovery- Hand above elbow but hand and elbow stay close to the core of the body; no wide swings and therefore no compensation with body or leg movement.  Acceptable for swimmers with shorter arms, especially some females.  Many swimmers will use this recovery only on their breathing side.


6)  Catch-up / Timing

* Arms are not completely opposite; there is a degree of catch-up or overlap.  “One arm enters before the other shifts from pulling to pushing.”

* Allows for continuous propulsion. i.e. One hand is halfway through the stroke while the other one is entering.


Additional technique points:

* The kick should fit in naturally with the stroke if the roll and timing are correct.

* Work on a 6 beat kick for as many that can develop it (an offensive weapon).

* For swimmers that roll too much to one side and not enough to the other, have them look past the midpoint as their face comes back into the water after taking a breath.  This will force them to roll onto the other side.

* The perfect breath takes place as the as the recovering hand passes the head; i.e. turn the head away from the recovering hand and put the face back in as the same hand enters the water.

* Encourage Alternate breathing during practice, but do not mandate it on tough swimming sets.  Two good patterns are breathing every 3 or 2 left / 2 right.  Swimmers should not hold their breath during alternate breathing.  They should expel air the entire time while their face is in the water.  Breath holding should only be used for Hypoxic sets and Wind sprints.




1)  Head / Hip Position

* Still Head, Neck completely relaxed.

* Head in neutral position or slightly tilted.

* Hips near the surface.


2)  Steady Streamlined Kick

* Narrow 6 beat kick within the body’s thickness.

* “Boil” Water.

* Kick is side to side.


3)  Entry & Roll

* Little finger entry in front of shoulder, Drive entry.

* Opposite shoulder & hip rolls (flips) up.

* “Swim Tall”; slight extension on entry.

* 2 Body positions, left and right.

* Swim side to side; arms nearly opposite.


4)  Press / Catch

* Catch can be made deep or shallow depending on the individual, flexibility, etc.

* Pressure on hand; palm facing backward.

* Fingertips pointed to side wall of pool.

* Hand rotates over elbow (as in an arm wrestle).

* Elbow points to pool bottom while pulling.

* Keep hand and forearm facing back as long as possible.

* Anchor hand, pulling the body past the hand.


5)  Finish & Roll

* Hand Acceleration; “Throw a Fast Ball at the pool bottom and Rebound into the Recovery.”

* Roll (flip) hip and shoulder on finishing side up.


6)  Relaxed Recovery

* Vertical Recovery; “As though looking down the site of a Shotgun.”

* Important:  Shoulder Lift on Recovery, “Get the shoulder out of the water on the recovery and hold it out for as long as possible”; “Reach up to the Sky with your hand.”


Additional Technique points:

* Have swimmers build their Tempo (turnover) in their hips; in other words, to pick up tempo, they must flip their hips from side to side faster.

* Practice streamlining and small fast dolphin kicks off of walls.

* Breathe in on one arm, breathe out on the other.




1)  Entry & Kick

* Enter in front of shoulders or slightly wider, thumbs down slightly (i.e. palms pitched out slightly).

* It may be easier for some young swimmers to enter wider, then pull directly under body.

* Stretch on Entry, “Enter, Stretch, Pull”.

* “Kick the Hands in”, i.e. Teach the first kick only.


2)  Body Position and Rhythm

* Relaxed Neck.

* High hips, hamstrings visible; “Hands in, Butt up”.

* Sink chest on entry.

* Hips roll up and over the water’s surface, “as if over a floating log.”

* Head and shoulders will dive under slightly.


3)  Press & Catch

* Begin Catch with head and shoulders still slightly underwater.

* Pressure on fingertips, soft catch.

* Anchor the hands, to pull the body over the hands.

4)  Push & Finish

* Push down the middle (under body) and finish.

* “Explode out the back” (hand acceleration), i.e. never stop at the finish.

* If getting stuck, cut out early with the little fingers, “Karate chop out the back”.

* Especially for younger swimmers: Any pause should be in front, not the finish.


5)  Breath /Timing

* Breathe during push, “Quick breath”.

* Mouth / Head just above surface.

* Relaxed Neck as much as possible.

* “Pull, breathe, Head under before the Hands”.

* “A good flyer will never see their hands enter the water”.


6)  Relaxed Recovery

* Little fingers on top / elbows slightly bent.

* Shoulders just clear of water’s surface.

* Arms and shoulders loose and relaxed.


Additional technique points:

* Fly is best swum as a rhythm stroke.  In this way specific strength and power can only enhance the speed of the stroke.  Without good rhythm, many swimmers rely too much on strength and power and struggle through the stroke.

* Learning to relax the recovery, control one’s pace and rhythm, and effectively use the kick can also greatly enhance one’s performance especially in the 200 Fly.

* The second kick in Fly does not have to be taught. it will fit in naturally with the stroke as long as the swimmer is using good rhythm.  Only teach the first kick and let the second kick happen.  Trying to teach the second kick often has detrimental effects.




1)  Head / Hip Position

* Relaxed Neck / Head in Neutral position.

* Hips at surface.

* Minimize Head and Neck Movements (imagine a neck brace).

* Important: Head & Shoulders must dip slightly below the surface each stroke cycle.


2)  Outsweep

* Stretching motion while finishing the tail end of the kick.

* Leaning down on chest so hips “pop” up.

* Palms pitch out at the end of the sweep.

* No backward movement of the hands.


3)  Insweep and Recovery

* Pressure on palms; palms pitched backward.

* Insweep and recovery in one motion.

* Elbows kept high (pointed to side wall of pool) until the hands pass under them.

* “Fast Hands; explosive recovery” or “Fast and Shoot” (i.e. Hand acceleration).

* “Keep hands in front of chin.”

* Hands recover at, slightly above or slightly under water’s surface.


4)  Lunge and Streamline

* Shoulders shrugged, Round back.

* Lunge forward on recovery (explosive).

* “Dive through a straw.”

* Begin outsweep immediately leaning down on chest and popping hips up.

* Drive off of kick.

* Head should be in a neutral position, no movement.

* Eyes should be slightly in front of hands.


5)  “Whip” Kick

* “Lift heels toward butt”, i.e. Sink the hips / streamline the thighs.

* Avoid sinking the knees and putting the brakes on.

* Knees inside the body’s thickness.

* Toes out, kick back and around.

* Finish with the big toes together.


6)  Timing / Breathing

* Breathe at end of insweep.

* “Breathe when the shoulders and back rise out of the water”, i.e. Keep the head in a neutral position during the breath, (don’t lift the head to breathe).

* Continuous or Overlap timing (i.e. continuous propulsion).


Additional technique points:

* There are several different styles, which can be used successfully.  The wave style is described above.

* The modem wave style breaststroke has several explosive components.

* Some swimmers will swim with a much flatter style.

* Some swimmers will press out (outsweep) and back at the same time.

* Some swimmers will use a little bit of a glide in their stroke to ride out the kick.  This is acceptable as long as they are able to carry their speed or momentum without decelerating.


Training – 5 Focuses (tied in with Psychology)


1)  Distance Base / 400 IM

2)  Praise Effort / Good Attitudes

3)  Develop competition in practice as a positive thing.

4)  Challenge each swimmer

  1. Relate practice improvement to meet improvement




1)  Maintaining / Teaching discipline

2)  Principles to live by / standards

3)  Work ethic / overcoming adversity

4)  Teamwork / Motivation

5)  Visualization / goal setting

6)  Self-esteem


Maintaining / Teaching Discipline


3 Models of Discipline: No one approach is best, depends on the individual.


  1. Personal Influence

* Don Schwartz – “Nobody Cares how much you know until they know how much you care.”

* Professional Relationship built upon Trust / Honesty.

* Relationship is used to motivate swimmers toward desirable behavior.

* Relationship is like a bank account, drawn upon when needed.

* First, increase personal influence, get to know the person, then shape expectations / consequences.

* Relationship is a 2 way street:

* Active listening

* Go out of your way to build, one on one interaction, share something about yourself

* Show affect when disciplining.

* Be calm / analytical in tough situations,

* Rebuild relationships in a low-key manner after tough situations.


  1. Behavior Modification (Skinner)

* Use both positive and negative (not punishment) reinforcers.

1)  Positive-“If you do a good job, we’ll do a relay.”

2)  Negative-“If you do a good job, we’ll skip the last set.”

* Rewards begin Consistent and High, and gradually become less frequent and variable.

* Punish only when necessary.

* Attempts to work itself out of business.

* Emphasize responsible and appropriate behavior.

* Set Rules / Consequences / Rewards.

* Logical consequences – ones that make sense.

Example:  “Since you cheated on that last set, your whole lane will start over.”

* Use contracts / token economies / charts to check progress.


  1. Self-Awareness

* Discipline as self-control.

* Perceive their own actions; read their own signals.

* Strategies:

* Simple Counting – Example: Coach marks on the dry-erase board every time Mike uses a bad streamline.  Mike sees it and becomes aware of it but the other kids don’t know about the mark.

* Self talk – Athlete becomes aware of their own self talk and attempts to keep it positive with the coaches help.

* Athletes build self-confidence and a sense of achievement.

* Athlete learns problem solving strategies.


Principles to Live By / Standards (borrowed and slightly modified from the Marines)


1)  Be honest / tell the truth

2)  Do what is best for the team, not yourself.

3)  Set high standards

4)  Do your best no matter how trivial the task.

5) The way to pursue happiness is by pursuing excellence, not pursuing happiness.


Work Ethic / Overcoming Adversity


1) Sell the athletes on the benefits of hard work.

2) Try to get them to enjoy the process.

3)  The coach and athlete must reframe adversity whenever it presents itself.


Teamwork / Motivation

1)  Create / encourage team related activities and bonding experiences.

2)  Develop a social calendar

3)  Develop a family environment

4)  Sell a vision / dream

5)  Motivate individually

6)  Develop a positive environment

7)  Keep a perspective – have some fun


Visualization / Goal Setting


1)  Daily

2) Create / encourage scenarios

Examples:  Chuck Warner’s book

3)  Goals broken down into tasks matching phases of the season

4)  Each task has a time frame


Self Esteem


1)  don’t treat someone bad just because they don’t do what you want.

2)  Take a positive approach / go for the sale

3)  Boost their ego when needed

4)  Take an interest in the total person

5)  Reference:  Dr. Alan Goldberg





___________ Goals


Goal: Time Frame:
Tasks Building toward Goals: Time Frame:
Goal: Time Frame:
Tasks Building toward Goals: Time Frame:







Swimming Goals

2000-2001 Short Course Season

Goal: Time Frame:
400 IM – Drop :08 off time to 3:39.70 By Mar 8-11 sectionals
Tasks Building toward Goals: Time Frame:
1) early season à develop an even roll to both sides on freestyle By Oct 4
2)  general endurance à repeat 30 x 100 br at 1:25 at least 2 times during this period By Nove 12
3)  Specific endurance à break 4:17 on 10 x 400 IM at least 6 times in this period By Jan 12
4)  Competition period à  split :56 on last 100 free of IM switch set at least 4 times this period By Feb 22
5)  Taper period à do 2 x 50 each stroke IM order at goal race pace with 2nd 50 faster (n/s) at least 3 times this period By March 4



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