Improvised Equipment And Drills To Force Stroke Development Or Correction by Bob Steele, California State University-Bakersfield And Winning Spirit Camps (2003)


Developing swimming racing skills includes both stroke building and stroke correction. The most effective teaching occurs when using the kinesthetic method which includes accurate manipulation and auditory signals as opposed to either auditory and/or observation alone.

Stroke change occurs when a movement has been performed correctly for one week. Change requires over-correction, repetition, and reinforcement by “shifting gears” daily. If a movement feels, weird, strange, crazy, different, or unusual then it’s changing. Skill teaching requires the coach to follow the principles of learning; explanation, demonstration (real/video), practice for mastery, evaluation, correction, and practice. This routine is repeated until the movement is first understood and finally learned. Follow-up for one week.

The improvised equipment presented here focuses on improving in some way the three traits that influence athletic success in all sports; skill, fitness, and motivation. Give these routines a name so kids know what to do when you assign a task. Kids of ALL AGES love to learn and play with toys. Entertain yourself by playing with kids improving techniques while playing with toys. Create routines and invent more toys yourself.


STROKE BELTS; enable a swimmer to develop stroke pattern “feel” and improve timing. Use a 24” bungee (Home Depot $1.95), 4’rope with hook, and a 39” nylon belt with snap and hook (Fabric Store $2.30). The swimmer attaches the hook to a stationary object, i.e. laneline eyebolt, backstroke start bar or flagpole and swims in place. The swimmer may also use an underwater mirror (#2) to observe correct(ed) stroke pattern and will be pulled backward if timing is incorrect i.e. transition of breaststroke pull to kick. These ideas help kids develop athleticism, which is lacking in youngsters because of their lack of creative movement experiences.

UNDERWATER MIRROR: enables the swimmer to immediately reinforce proper technique visually. Purchase a plastic mirror from a local glass shop ($80), backed with Lexan film to protect the surface and frame it with extruded picture frame aluminum and corner plates (Aluminum Shop and Michael’s $20). Have swimmer work on proper stroke pattern training or with stationary swimming. Coaches observe using a Stroke lite (#3) for immediate reinforcement. Works well with Stroke Belt/Fishing Rod.

STROKE LITE: Purchase a penlite flashlight at checkout counter (Wal-Mart $3) and when the swimmer has proper mechanics or speed turn the light ON. If incorrect leave it off. Correct ON and incorrect OFF and you’ll see change quickly because they’ll want to “turn it on”.

BLUE BREAKOUTS: Using and 8’ x 10’ tarp (Home Depot $8) and thread two ropes with hook attached to each one. Lap the ropes over the lanelincs and hook the grommets so the tarp is taught. Have the swimmers stretch it 3’ from the wall, duck underwater and work on streamline push-offs and breakouts. Place it at midpool and have backstrokers and flyers work on the fifth stroke (underwater dolphin kicking) to improve fitness and experiment with small/fast or big/fast kickouts by swimming 50’s, 100’s … Safety requires supervision.

BREAKOUT CONES: Place cones at free and fly kicking breakout points or breaststrokers points for a keyhole, kick, and start of the stroke on starts and turns. Challenge them with greater spacing of cones.

TURNING BARBELLS: Slam about 8” of a foam noodle on each end of a 3’ x 1” PVC pipe (Home Depot 10 cents/foot). Have swimmers learn to turn using the pipe as a point of reference. Start with jumping off the pool bottom and pulling two hands to the waist followed by a backstroke push-off. Proceed to a one-handed pull to the opposite hip if you want to develop a half-in/half-out turn. The emphasis is on fast feet by visualizing the heels coming out of the water before the toes, IMPOSSIBLE but FAST. Now sentence slow, poor turners to one hour per practice and they’ll “get good fast”. As an alternative make TURN TUBES by capping a 2” PVC pipe (Home Depot $ 2.50) and turning over it.

CATCH-UP TUBES: Cap 8” of ¾” PVC (Home Depot 60 cents) and have kids perform catch up strokes thinking about a proper stroke pattern one hand/arm at a time. They float which helps clean up.

KICKIN’ TUBES: For kicking breaststroke and butterfly put a 45 degree connection on a 4” piece. Have the swimmers kick holding the tube in front of them and create breathing patterns used in fly or keeping the head up in breaststroke. The tubes float so they’re not all over the pool bottom.

CLICKERS: Glue caps on 1 1/4 x 8” PVC containing a ¾” Hex nut (Home Depot 60 cents) duct tape and 20” piece of tubing to the center of it and place it around the swimmer’s waist. Use to improve stroke balance in freestyle and backstroke. Works great teaching a KICK 6 drill having the swimmer perform the kicks after the CLICKS.

TIMED TURNS: Have backstrokers and flyers sprint into a racing turn from 3 yds. Behind the flags. Start the stopwatch when the head passes the flags, hit the split when the head drops underwater, hit the split again when the feet leave the wall, and stop the watch when the head passes the flags again. Give the swimmer the turning time (head drop to feet leaving) and total time (head from flag to flag). Turning time should be LESS than ONE second. This is very competitive in a “team” atmosphere.

For breaststroke and butterfly start the watch when the head passes the flags, hit the split when the hands touch the wall, hit the split again when the feet leave the wall, and stop it when the head passes the flags. Again the turning time should be less than one second.

ULTIMATE EXCHANGES: One person starts two stopwatches a the same time. Give one watch to another coach or a swimmer. When the INCOMING swimmer’s HAND touches the wall stop ONE watch and when the OUTGOING swimmer’s FEET leave the block stop the OTHER watch. Now just subtract the difference to know if they were safe or disqualified.

HARTFIELD HARNESSES: Attach a slice of an old credit cart to an 18’ piece of ¼” rope and place a nylon belt on the other end. Place two brass nuts and bolts through the ends of a clothes pin or refrigerator clip. The clothes pin is attached to a board that rests on the backstroke handle held in place with tope or tubing. Attach an insulated lamp wire to the bolts with a banana plug on the other end. Plug the banana plug into the Colorado Timing touchpad outlet. Now have the swimmer stand on the block wearing the belt, rope hanging in front of the block and credit card in the clothespin. Start the swimmer and the Colorado timing display will indicate how long it took to get to 18’. The Colorado must be programmed to a two second start-up. (Wal-Mart $2). This too becomes very competitive in a “team” atmosphere. We use 4 lanes and have 8 belts so the swimmers are always ready to GO. Safety requires supervision.

TURNING BOARD: Take a 15” x 20” piece of 3/8’s plywood and bolt two hooks on the top of it (Home Depot $4). Draw two angled handprints on the bottom of the board at gutter level. Hang the board from the backstroke handle and have swimmers sprint into and out of turns emphasizing a BOUNCE turn. This prevents them from holding onto the gutter and forces them to have fast feet and a hard push off the board to initiate turning.

SALMON RUN: Buy a surf fishing rod and reel along with 50lb test line (Wal-Mart $40). Attach a nylon belt to the line and have the swimmer place it around their waist. Set the reel drag and ajust it as the swimmer swims 25yds or 50 mtrs. Reel them in as they approach the other end of the pool. Kids will work hard on whatever you’re doing to be a salmon at the end of practice. Have them line up and take a turn. It works best with twelve and unders unless you get heavier test line. All swimmers love it.

ROPE-A-DOPE: For swimmers that do not have a feel for breaststroke timing stretch a rope about 2’ above the water for 25 yds. (Home Depot $9). Have the swimmer swim 25’s hitting their head to the rope on each stroke. This is great for wave breaststroke timing. You can do circle swimming and help many kids at once. Backstrokers will pivot their shoulders and hips 180 degrees as it’s stretched 3’ above the water. Freestylers with wide or crossover pulls and are unable to keep their hand between their body and the black line OR short strokers can swim the rope. Tie it 4’ below the surface ladder to ladder. Just tie a knot every 4’ and maybe have them wear some cotton gloves to prevent blisters.

BREASTSTROKE TIMING: Have the swimmer swim breaststroke across the pool with the lanelines IN. They come up in the second lane and get ONE pull, breath, and kick in each lane. They should not pull until they are over the black line and they must kick hard to drop their head and rub their head and back under the laneline. It too helps with timing and improves the kick. Perform with “Rope A Dope”.

NOODLE STARTS: Have swimmers work on jump starts over a noodle as phase 6 in learning to start. When capable of exploding off the block perform grab, track, or step starts and push their body over the horizontally held noodle. Safety requires supervision and FIVE feet or more water depth.

NOODLE BREASTSTROKE: Place a noodle under the chest and armpits of a breaststroker to prevent their pull from coming under their body.

PULLING POTS OR BUCKETS: Get a plastic 5 gal bucket (Home Depot FREE or $3) and tie a rope and 2’ of tubing to a nylon belt. Drill 8 to 10 1” holes in the bottom of the bucket or 4 holes in a plastic flower pot for smaller kids. Have the swimmers do a pulling set and record and display times to motivate and monitor improvement for coach and swimmer(s). Great for carrying swimming gear to practice. Have a bucket décor contest.

HIGH ELBOW PADDLES: To create a PUSH oriented stroke from entry to finish buy these new paddles from ( These are hard to duplicate.

BANDS: Using a box cutter slice old car tire inner tubes (free from tire shops) into 2” strips and have the kids twist them around their ankles. Pull with or without pull buoys. Without pull buoys they must get stronger to pull their legs UP to move. It’s VERY tough for some kids. Pull buoys do not develop pulling power.

SCOOTER TUBES: Twist an inflated 8” motor scooter or wheelbarrow tube (Home Depot $6) around the ankles and do pulling sets. Emphasize proper technique and make certain the shoulders are strong enough to handle the stress. Best for 15 and overs.

FORCED POWER/SPEED TUBES: Attach a nylon belt to an 18’ piece of rubber tubing (Surgical Supply $3) and attach it with a loop to the laneline eyebolt, starting block, or fence. DO NOT USE ANY METAL HOOKS ETC… Have the swimmer swim 50 yds with the first 18’ setting up the stroke, the next 57’ holding the water and developing STROKE-SPECIFIC power, a FAST turn, 57’ of forced turn-over speed, and then maintain that speed when the tube stops pulling. Safety requires supervision and NO metal parts involved. NOBODY should stand near a stretched tube either in or out of the water.

Also have the swimmers push-off the bottom and swim toward the wall to which the tube is attached, TURN and sprint to the other end stretching out the tube and finishing hard on the wall. Do at the end of practice to force long strokes, a hard finish, and breath control when exhausted at the end of the race. Time the swimmer to monitor improvement for coach and swimmer(s).

VERTICAL KICK JUGS: Have a collection of half-gallon juice jugs up to five gallon water cooler jugs and create vertical kicking routines requiring the jugs to be held above the head and emptied while treading water. Circulating the jug helps it empty.

DRY ERASE BOARD: Since visual learning is best for about 80% of most people, build a board and have a collection of markers to diagram games, illustrated skills, write practices, assign tasks, conduct meetings, assign responsibilities, record training times, reward efforts, and so much more. Buy 6- 2×4’s,1- 4’x8’ sheet of Marlite, and 4 large casters (Home Depot $40). Build a board and move it around the pool deck as needed to help with learning and teammanship.

UNDERWATER VIDEO CART: Buy 1” PVC, and 4-4” wheels (Home Depot $45) and a security camera and battery/charger (Radio Shack $200). Build a cart to scoot along poolside on a taught laneline cable. The security camera is encased in PVC caps with a plastic window and attached to a reinforced PVC rod. The camera is plugged into the battery and video camera to record strokes underwater, above water and on the surface. Or visit the Total Performance booth and buy one.

HAND PADDLE CORDS: When shoulders are strong enough make stroke power building tubes for specificity. Take old or unmatched paddles and thread a 10’ piece of tubing through the center of each tube. Put on a fence, ladder, pole, railing and create power building stroke specific routines. Use chalk to draw proper stroke patterns on the deck or have kids use them while watching underwater video of Olympians.

BACKBUILDER BELTS and YOKE: For swimmers with poor kicks or weak backs have them buy a nylon Backbuilder belt and yoke (Winning Spirit $25). Great for couch potato parents too! Swimmer pulls yoke to the floor and performs isometric lifts of extended legs 3 x 6 seconds per leg at two angles.

WEGIES: To increase ankle flexibility cut 2 – 2 x 4’s on an angle and bolt them together or 1- 4 x 4. Screw the hypotenuse to the bottom of some old shoes. Have the swimmer walk around the pool several times before of after practice so you know it’s done or around the house stretching out the Achilles tendons.

SLIDERS: Lying on a 3’ x 10’ plastic sheet have a swimmer with a POOR breaststroke kick place their ankles in the hands of a coach sitting in a chair at the end of the plastic. Have another swimmer dump a bucket of water on the plastic. The kicking swimmer then does a hard whip breaststroke kick using the quads, not the adductors. When everything is CORRECT the swimmer slides across the plastic and falls into the pool. Safety requires supervision and no obstacles.

KICKIN’ CUFFS: Buy women’s thigh exercise cuffs and thread with tubing. Attach to pool ladder and have swimmer breaststroke kick using thighs, not adductors.

COUNTERS: Assemble lap counter numbers and provide while swimming; pace (for motivation), breathing pattern (for those that “forget’), lap count (for those that can’t), effort (for those that don’t), and a score for skill improvement. Score drills with youngsters and they’ll compete and learn FAST.

TEAM HANDBOOK DISK: To help teams create an informative team handbook buy the disk (Winning Spirit $25) and customize the program to fit you team philosophy and guidelines.

TRAINING GAMES and GIMMICKS: To infuse fun in your practices and enjoy the coaching profession buy the Incomplete Book of Training Games and Gimmicks at an ASCA vendor or (Winning Spirit $8).

WINNING SPIRIT CAMPS: Provide your swimmers with a great swimming camp in your own pool with one to five days of creative, high energy learning and training, complete with a camp/team picture, swimming handbook, motivational and educational presentations involving the team staff, and T-shirts.

SUBSTITUTE COACH: Need a time away from coaching for emergency or personal reasons hire an experienced “substitute”, Coach Steele. (Winning Spirit Camps and Clinics – (

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