Keys to Perfection by Abi Liu, PEAK Swimming (2013)



I swam for University of Nevada, Reno for couple of years.  Figure it out: you know what? I’ve done enough swimming, I don’t want to be in the water anymore.  And I like to stay with the field and stay in contact with the sport, and because that’s something that I love to do, and start developing coaching.  Moved to the Bay Area, San Francisco, worked with De Anza Cupertino Aquatics for seven and a half years, was great years, great learning, learned a lot through, both with the kids and the coaches and, just American swimming in general.


For the next four and a half years, I worked with Palo Alto Stanford Aquatics under Scott Shea.  The team really grew and it went from about 900 to about 1,500.  I think PASA now has about 1,700 registered.  So it was quite a learning experience in working with the big clubs.  In 2010 we founded PEAK Swimming.  The reason why wasn’t because just one day I woke up and said, “You know what?  I’m going to do my own team.”  Not like that.  It was a group of investors, ironically they’re all Chinese, came and found me and said, “Look.  We would like invite you to become one of our partners.  We’re going to secure a facility, a property, we’re going to build an indoor pool and run a swim school business.”  And I thought, “Wow, that’s a coach’s dream come true.”


How many of you guys would like an opportunity like this presented to you?  “Hey, we just want your expertise, and just come in and this is the percentage of your ownership, here’s a $5,000,000 project.  Take it.  Now it’s all yours.”  Awesome.  I was super, super excited.  I think from sitting in the lectures at clinics and listening to people talk, I think for this opportunity a swim lessons program is the way to do it.  Whether you do it just as a swim school, or tied into your swim team as part of pre-competitive lesson program, as a feeder program into your swim team, because not only we, as swim coaches, we want a fast swim high performance, but by the end of the day, we also want to be able to balance our books.


So I’m fortunate that have had this opportunity in 2010.  So of course, my heart lies in, with high level or competitive swimming, so I said, “Look.  If you going to have a swim school from water babies all the way to pre-comp, eight different levels, it only makes sense if we have a swim team and I’d like to coach that.”  And so we did.  And PEAK Swimming formed in 2010.  It’s been three and a half years and I’m proud to say that we’re having a lot of fun, great coaching staff, great kids, and we’ve done pretty much all levels throughout including nationally and internationally, minus the Olympics.  We would love to go to the Olympics, one day.  But, we’re a work in progress.


Last year, 2012, in June, 2012, we opened another swim school.  Because the first swim school, the growth went really fast.  We profited after the first year.  And, so, 2012, another swim school opened.  To this day, the second swim school is doing way better than the first swim school.  In combined, we have about 4,000 to 4,500 students going through the swim school program weekly.  And I’m look forward to the coming, the next couple of years that both programs will feed swimmers, entry-level swimmers to our swim team.  Our swim team started off with 26 kids and now we have about 160.  So we’re looking forward for the growth coming out of our own swim school.  We call it our home grown kids, and so now I would like to do a little bit about that, and about my coaching philosophy.


In our program, we believe that technique is key to the success.  Listening to Wayne Goldsmith this morning, I had so much fun when he talked about the progression, the seven steps progression — intro their skills, and I think that was the very first thing.  And then the way he ordered the skills and mastered the skill and then speed.  We all know that in the first stage of motor learning, there is a speed accuracy trade off.  So the speed does not come before the skill learning.



So when you introduce the speed, a stroke or a skill, you’ve got to slow it down first until they master, and then you do it with the fast speed.  I believe quantity is the key, not the quality.  If we want to decrease the yardage, the concept is if you can do things right, under any stage whether you are feeling great or they’re feeling tired, or whether you’re feeling fatigued.  And, keep the intensity up.  We do a lot of descending kicking sets, descending drilling sets, and this is the one thing I’d like to share with you.  There are all kinds of different kind of drills we do in our practice daily.


For junior high school and freshman and sophomore kids, we do about 5,000 yards.  Within 5,000 yards at about 1,500-2,000 yards of warm up and warm down.  And, six workouts a week for the middle-schoolers; eight workouts for the high-schoolers and it’s IM based.  I am a firm believer that we don’t emphasis a single stroke at early stage because their body is still changing, they’re still growing and the proportion and composition, everything’s changing rapidly.  So if we focus on one stroke, I feel like we are closing many doors for them.


I believe we are all teachers.  Typically people think of swim coaches as:  you’re on deck with your sunglasses, big old straw hat on, watches, whistling and yelling all day long.  But I believe that we are teachers before we’re coaches.  Not only do we teach the techniques, but we also are teaching the fundamentals of swimming.  And, we are really trying to nurture the passion of swimming to our young swimmers, not just yelling and going up and down the deck.  Clear communication, I hope you guys can support this.  I think that nobody should ever sit down during a practice session.  I think that whenever your swimmer is in the pool racing, you should stand up.  Be there.  Support them and this is a way of connecting with them — connecting with your swimmers and communicate with them.


If they think that you care, you’re walking up and down the pool deck, you’re there, just like Wayne was saying, if we’re doing 21 100’s, you go 3 100’s, you’re standing this side of pool, 3 100’s over there, 6 100’s you’re walking up and down.  My goal every day, is before, everybody goes home they have at least one thing that I said personally to them.  It’s not just about, “Hey, everybody, go faster.”  It’s about, “Hey, Johnny, your head is up too high.  Let’s try to look down a little bit.”  Give them something to walk away with.  And, keep a consistency.  You can’t just say, “You do this.”  And never say it again.  Kids need the reminders.  They’re such an E-generation – oh great.  This generation is E-generation.  Their attention span cannot last more than 30 seconds.  They watch MTV all day long, everything flashing so fast.  So you, as a coach, you need adapt and change and improve and be creative.



Now we’re just going go right into strokes.  I don’t know why I picked freestyle first, because I think a lot of people do a lot of freestyle every day, so it’s not in any particular order.  So I would like to list a few comments, common problems in freestyle.  First, finding balance in left and right.  It’s a bi-lateral stroke, and long axle stroke.  I believe we all have our preferred sides and so it is difficult for kids try to balance left and right.  Control the long axis.  How many of you guys have swimmers swimming freestyle either with a bottom up and down or cha-cha, or do basically hula-hooping?


We have some drills for that will help.  Breathing position and timing, which I think is key to control the balance of the strokes, the timing of your strokes as well as body position.  Head position.  Everybody was say, “Oh put your head down and keep that horizontal body position.”  If somebody who has bigger legs, or bigger thighs, he or she might need to put a head down lower than others.  Or somebody have a long torso, you need to do things a little differently.  And, or, have particular drills and help with that.  Kick on the side.  A lot of people do so.  But, when we do it we like to put both arms down by their sides.  And you guys will notice how the body is stabilized, the shoulders stack up, hips stack up, the body is moving straight.


Throughout this particular drill, you can also, the kids themselves also can monitor their range of motion of their kicks.  If he or she is kicking too far forward, the back is going to scrape the lane line.  And vice versa the face.  So in this drill, they can control how far forward or backward they can kick and really feel the upbeat and downbeat kick both side of the legs.  And, of course, I would recommend to do kicking on the both sides.  This is a good drill, I think, to get rid of all the cha cha and hula hooping here.




Most people pull with buoy between the thighs.  When kids hear that they think this is only upper body workout.  But when we swim or when we are racing, we use the whole body.  So if you put buoy between the ankles, engage the entire body.  They use their inner thighs, the body is straight and you take a look at the swimmer’s body right here it is completely straight.  And he is one of my cha cha boys.  Whenever you put the buoy between the ankles, it can eliminate the problem altogether.  Try that and in the beginning, kids will say, “You know what?  The buoy is too slippery.”  But guess what?  They’re not squeezing hard enough.  Just don’t blame on the buoy.


Breathing position and timing.  In single arm freestyle like to keep, the key point here, the non-pulling arm is by their side.  How many of you guys like have the kids breathe on their non-pulling side?  Yeah, and how many breathe on the pulling side?  None.  Ah.  I like to hear that.  I like to have them breathe on both sides.  The reason why is when they breathe on the non-pulling side, they’re actually working on body position.  The breathing position:  When they’re breathing on the pulling side, it works on the timing of the breathing.  If the breathing is too late and they don’t have the other arm to support, they will be bouncing and they will end up breathing into, or smelling their own armpits, so this is, I believe, that if they breathe on both sides, it would be very helpful at helping with the positioning and timing.


Finding the best balance.  We also talk about because of different body composition, they may have different ways, different position or height put their heads so we start as a head up to head down drill.  We start out with head up every two strokes, every stroke cycle the swimmer will lower the head down little by little until he or she finds that perfect balance for themselves.  So there’s no certain thing, it’s just looking down.  But I think that this is a little bit more specific throughout the progression of the drill.  And, and when they do head up they can also pay attention to which way they enter.  Whether they’re overreaching or their hands are tipping too much, they can have control over that.



Just to summarize that, kick on both sides with both arms down, pull with buoy between ankles to eliminate the cha cha and control the lower body.  I encourage you, all the coaches, try yourselves and you’ll feel, first you’ll gain a new level of appreciation of how hard your kids are working, but secondly, I think you’ll understand the concept and what you’re trying to achieve a little better and when you deliver, when you explain it to your kids, I think it will help them to understand.  Single arm freestyle breathe on both sides helps with the timing and then positioning.  Head up to head down drill.


Any questions so far with freestyle?


Q:  Your first drill, do you have the kids kick directly to the side or down on an angle?


A:  On the side.


Q:  When you have them drop their head down, how do you let them know that’s how far they should drop it?


A:  First, I look and I videotape and secondly I also ask for feedback of when, at what level and what degree they can get rid of the puddle on the lower back.  If, if their head is too high, there will be a lot of water on the lower back — until they connect and they can feel that straight line on, through the lower back.  And that’s where I think I use it, to, as a measure– measurement.


Q:  Lane line….


A:  For some reason they’re always looking for their security; looking for their safety net.  They always try to stay on the lane line side.  Even though they don’t need to, and I would encourage you guys have them go reverse circles from time to time, and you will see dramatic changes when left side comes up the rotation’s even.  But try to start doing it by 25’s so to avoid any head-on collision.


Okay?  Backstroke.  I was a backstroker so I put backstroke next.  Uneven rotation.  Here’s a question for the audience.  I think 85-90% of backstrokers rotate unevenly.  If you look, the shoulders, right shoulder’s, most– mostly right shoulders higher than the left.  And why?



The entry position and finishing position, I think it’s important.  And crucial to keep the midline, the body line straight.  And as I shared yesterday when I was little, I had coach who hung mirrors from the roof.  And I was watching myself every single stroke.  It was very helpful and I wish, maybe some of you guys can help me come up with an idea and we can do the backstroke mirrors.  But, a lot of times, you see kids getting out here or getting out here instead of correct, “Hey get your hands out in the middle.”  I typically look at where the other hand is.  Where is the entry position?  Oftentimes if this arm gets out wide, it’s an indicator of this arm’s getting in overreaching and pushing and it’s try to overcompensate.  We have a fun team drill for that.


Timing.  Throughout each stroke there’s acceleration throughout the range of motion.  You have the preparation, you have the catching and you have the acceleration phase.  So in long axis stroke, both backstroke and freestyle, the difficult thing is both arms are asymmetric always.  You have one arm’s always accelerating, one arm’s always preparing.  So it’s not just the bicycle pedals, one up one down, one up one down.  There’s always a little bit of a catching.


So to understand that, it’s really simple.  It’s one arm going slower to catch, one arm’s accelerating getting out.  But, a particular drill that I like to share with you later on, is called the 160 degree drill.  We kick.  Backstroke I think is the most difficult, the most challenging stroke in core.  More so than butterfly just because we don’t swim a lot on the backs and so the kids don’t get chance, don’t get the chance to practice on their backs so much.  I would encourage coaches that anytime when you get a chance, even to brush your kick on the back.  And some kids you can just tell they’re not comfortable on their backs.  They’re not, they don’t swim enough on their backs, so I’d like to encourage that as well.


Hand strength:  I think it’s overlooked a lot of times.  A lot of people do a lot of bicep curls, tricep and pushups, but, no matter how big your arms are, if you cannot hold the water you cannot be fast.  I remember when I was racing the 200 breaststroke, by the time the second 50 breaststroke comes around, I literally saw my hands were like this.  And I wish I knew why.  My hands are fatigued.  And although these guys were probably doing okay, because your fine muscles fatigue before the, the bigger muscle groups.  So I wish that I knew that I could work on my hand strengthening, do a lot more sculling, do a lot more hand strengthening exercises on land so that I didn’t end up like chicken feet here.


On our backstroke drill here you have one swimmer in the front holding the streamline, the swimmer in the back, what is he working on?  Crossover.  If the backstroke swimmer crosses over, he will hit the front swimmer’s legs.  At the same time, her head is still.  She cannot move her head.  And it’s a fun team activity for the kids to do.  “Oh yeah, I’m going to push you.”  This and that.  I have an underwater version of it.  Anybody can do it.  And you can apply this drill to all ages.  The head is on the top of the head, make sure it’s not on the forehead, top of the head, the swimmer in the front, depends on the level, they can be with the arms on the side they can scull a little bit, help direct or be in the streamline — just push straight through.  It helps the person in the front also who is getting a workout with streamline as well.


160 degrees:  We talked about the timing.  Why the bottom arm comes out first.  So a lot of people do the sailboat drill, 90 degrees.  I think it’s a little bit over, and so, we have the kids just get up into the 180 degrees, have them stay here at 160 degrees and you can do a progression of drills.  Start with six kicks, three kicks and then eventually nothing.  Just kind of get used to the timing that they’re not going one, when one comes out one goes down.  The bottom arm always comes out first because of acceleration.


Sit-up kick.  I love this kick.  You work on core strengthening.  We talked about backstroke kick, backstroke core, have the arms across on the chest and there, they are sitting upright.  One thing I also like, in addition to the core training, I also really like how the swimmers can visually look at their own kicks and to control the height of the kick and knowing how hard he or she had to kick just try to get the toes out of the water.  You can, with the younger swimmers, you may want to start with the fins, or with a little bit sculling on the side as they getting more advanced you can take the fins off, hands across on the chest.  And, then, you can see from this video, underwater the work’s pretty hard.  Take look the shoulders  — it works on the core that the shoulders are not wobbly.  The shoulders are pretty even.  Stabilized.  I often say if you can’t hold a teacup on your forehead, then your core is not strong enough, during this drill.


Q:  Do you want them to kick the surface (inaudible0[0:24:13]


A:  Correct.  Correct.  And depends on the level.  They can also, if they are younger kids, they can back a little bit just doing the head up rather than the sit up, and then, you know, if you really want to punish this kid who’s 30 minutes late, you have them sit up really high.  Or holding on to a dumbbell, or something.  Hand strengthening is same thing.  Not only the body position works on the core, you holding the table top and show the table, the hands are sculling.  And after 25, you’ll feel it.  Right on your hands, your forearms, you’re fatiguing.  Also, notice the swimmer when he sculls in, his thumb is up.  This is how I would like them to finish on a backstroke stroke.


Lot of kids like to finish just here with palms facing down, and try to get up this way.  I’d like to have them finish it and slap on the thigh to get out.  The reason why, if, if you have the kids just do this simple tests, hands by here, if they have them lift their hands up, really heavy; you put a lot of pressure on the triceps.  If the thumbs up, lift out, same speed, it’ll be much easier on the shoulders.  The faster you go, the more force, more drag force you’re facing.  So you go here, the faster you go, the triceps, the biceps, the, the deltoid are going to fatigue much sooner.  And it’s not as efficient, either.  So when you finish it, you get a little sculling, you get a little speed going forward and make the exit little easier and faster.


Summarizing that: overreaching, very simple, you can apply the partner drill with that.  Timing 160 degrees is the 180.  Kicking, sit up kick.  We do a lot of sit up kicking.  You can use that for butterfly kick and later on you’ll see that as well.  Just in general, kicking exercise or core exercise.  Hand strengthening, sit up scull.


Breaststroke.  Breaststroke is such an interesting stroke.  There are so many different styles that can be applied to different types of a bodies.  But, I’m just picking out a few general ones.



When the little kids were taught how to swim breaststroke, it’s monkey, airplane, soldier, cha cha cha.  Right?  But, airplane is kicking out.  We want to move forward.  Simple physics, you better push back, kick back.  So breaststroke kick is actually kicking back rather than kicking out.  It’s not about how wide you kick, it’s about how good you can turn out with your ankles.  So you do a lot of ankle flexibility, awareness of the inside ankles how they kick, working on ankle flexibility as well.  Hand strengthening, it’s so important.   The hands are facing in different directions throughout breaststroke phases and it is important to have that timing and acceleration.  We can have a drill for that.


Basically you want to make sure that when the arms start to pull, the body’s in a rather streamlined position and when the most powerful phase of the kick begins the arms and upper body are in the streamlined position, or close, so that you get the maximum power out of each stroke.


Body position while breathing.  I hear all kinds of different versions.  Breathe up, breathe down, breathe 45 degrees.  I don’t teach my swimmers, “Hey, you’ve got to look in this place.”  What I’m looking at is when, while they’re taking their breath, I’m looking at the effect on the body.  If the body is getting low, I tell them breathe little lower, or breathe down a little bit.  Or if the body is high and they’re still breathing up, I don’t really correct that.  As long as the body’s in a efficient, streamlined position.


Breaststroke kick on the back.  We do egg beater kick.  It’s not necessarily the water polo egg beater kick.  In this stroke, the swimmer stays on the back, the front of the hips open, he’s actually doing egg beater kick, just on the ankles.  I’ll show you an underwater video, you’ll see it little better how much he turns out on his ankles.  Streamlined, and just really stirring with the feet.  Not a very big breaststroke kicks or anything, just ankles.  Just whipping around, big feet, too.


This is a fun drill.  We talked about awareness of your hands, hand strengthening.  Knowing which way your palms are facing, knowing what your hands are doing.  We do the “peace” drill.  And you can do one, two, three, four, five finger, drill, it just basically every two strokes the swimmer adds one finger.  You start with the one, and then two strokes later you do two fingers -“peace” symbol.  And then you do “okay” sign.  By the end they appreciate the whole hand.  They have a much better feeling of the grab of the palms — the pressure in center of palms better.


Timing between the arms and legs.  I am so fortunate that I get to work with so many great coaches whether at the swim meets or coming to conferences.  I stole this drill from a coach from Reno, where at the far western pool deck and he had his swimmers, the entire team doing that.  How many guys do breast stroke arms with dolphin kicks as part of a drill?  Great.  How many of you guys have the kids doing one stroke with two dolphin kicks?  That’s great.  With head down, right?  In this drill, the head is up — you’re going one stroke with one dolphin kick.  It challenges their core before the head drops off.  The arms start, need to start pull and they have to time perfectly in order to keep the body up.  Very well connected.  The body stays up the whole time.  The head is not allowed to drop.  Only one kick.  There’s no second kick whatsoever.  It, it’s such a high intensity drill, I would suggest maybe start doing just 25’s before, before you move on to any distance.  Or you can in conjunction alternate this drill with a regular 25 breaststroke swim and see if that makes, makes any difference in their timing.


Q:  So once the hands are pulling forward…


A:  The thrust.  That dolphin kick.


Q:  …[Inaudible]


A:  Direction of the kick: you can do egg beater kick on the back, egg beater kick on the belly.  When you do it on the belly, I will suggest that use a snorkel and just have them hold streamline.


Timing between the limbs — hands position or strengthening, just be aware of their hands and their finger tips, their nerve ends.  Try to develop that.  It’s one piece, okay.


Disconnect.  We have kids who don’t know how long they should glide or really disconnect between the arm stroke and leg stroke.  I find this really helpful.  We just started using a couple years ago.  Use a tempo trainer.  Some people like to use a tempo trainer for the arms.  I have my kids do the kick with a tempo trainer.  So they have to finish the arm stroke before the kick and they wait.  And during the time period, I normally have them set up between 1.4-1.5 per stroke cycle.  It depends how fast I want them to swim, but if really working on the stroke, maybe 1.6 and just have them during the gliding period have them reset their body and having the legs follow the tempo trainer.  Not the arms.


How high should the body be?  We talked about that.  As long as the body, the spine from the bottom of the scull to your tailbone, is in a straight line, that’s the indicator of their moving in a straight, streamlined position forward.  It doesn’t really matter where they should be breathing or how high they should be breathing.


Eyes looking.  It’s the same thing.  Whether I’m looking down, up, sideways — as long as shoulders are even they’re going forward.  I remember one of my colleagues, Dana Kirk, who is a side breather in butterfly, it worked out for her.  And that didn’t change or alter her body position.  There’s no right or wrong.





How many of you guys use the butterfly as a punishment?  “Johnny, you’re 20 minutes late.  Get in the water and do a  200 butterfly.”  Please don’t.  Please don’t.  I think this is a very early stage where we developed a fear of butterfly.  Every time they hear the butterfly word, you can always see they all start crying so don’t use the butterfly as punishment.  Don’t encourage that.


Common problems.  Disconnect between upper and lower body.  There are a few things for either when the timing is off with the kick or the breathing timing is off or just a simply a weak core.  Weak core causes weak kick or vice versa.



Spinal flexibility.  Oftentimes  people refer spine from upper mid to lower.  I look when I work with kids on the butterfly, I look at spinal column in two different parts.  Upper thoracic and lower spine.  I believe that upper, which is from your sternum up, should be in a straight line.  And from the lower back, it should be very flexible and doing all the dolphin like up and down motion.  I’m sure everybody watches Michael Phelps swim butterfly.  I’d like to ask the kids that question whenever they swim butterfly.  I said, “When you watch Michael Phelps swim butterfly, does he go up and down, or forward?”  They said, “Forward.”  Okay.  Then you pull out your smart phone, and go to YouTube and find Michael Phelps underwater butterfly and you’ll see how much he moves his hips underwater.  How much he moves his legs.  But if you look at his upper spine, it’s straight forward.


So apply that concept.  Use the particular drills to develop that and have them understand they’re doing two different things between the upper and lower spinal column.



Difficulty exiting stroke.  Some kids can’t get their hands out.  In my mind I think butterfly recovery is the easiest portion of the butterfly.  If you do your timing right, if the kicking is right, if the acceleration is right, the recovery is just part of the momentum.  It’s effortless.  Some kids like to enter here, some kids enter here, I like to have my kids entering with fingertips down with shoulder width.  Just because, if they’re entering too close, they’re actually disengaging the pectorals here.  If they are entering too wide, their lats are not working.  So as you notice, if they do pushups with hands together, it’s harder.  Or hands wide apart, it’s harder.  And with the hands, with the arms right below the shoulders, it’s easiest.  Why?  Because that’s your strongest angle of attack.  You engage your pecs and lats.  So this is where I like to have my swimmers enter at the extension of the shoulder lines.  They can immediately apply the maximum power.


Breathing.  Forward, upward, timing, when they should be breath — when they should take their breath.  It’s just common problems.  Yes?


Q:  One of the things, also, that I see with some of my younger swimmers is they put the head in first then bring the arms around…


Q:  One that helps with that is, is the fins.


A:  I think it may be they’re breathing a little bit too late.  That’s, that’s part of it, and second, maybe their second kick is not strong enough.  If the second kick is strong, they get a good enough support to breathe forward and at same time lift their arms out.


Butterfly pressing drill.  We talked about developing the spinal flexibility.  Upper and lower spine.  This swimmer has the arms in the superwoman position.  The head does not go underwater, pretty much stays in the same thing.  Upper spine stable, lower spine is very active and take a look at the kick.  And we’ll take a look underwater for each as well.


Look at the upper, upper chest.  It’s pretty stable.  On this one the knees are also bending a lot.  And I’ll explain it in the next slide or so, angle of attack.  I like to have my swimmers bend their knees to kick in butterfly kick.  I’ll explain why.  Let me pause right here.  The shins and the ankles are pushing back.  Now, if we don’t bend our knees and we just bend on the hips, the legs are up and down.  Where does this send your body?  Sends the body up and down, right?  I like to have them bend their knees a little bit.  In this case he bends a lot, I actually like that.  His shins and ankles are pushing straight back.  Now, end result is going to push the body forward.


Now as long as he can control his upper body, he pushes back.  If the legs are completely straight, they’re pretty much sticking, not whipping.  With this, it creates a whipping motion and same thing with some of the flatter kicks as well.


Q:  Are you afraid with the younger swimmers that they won’t get their kicks up?


A:  Right.  The degree of bending really depends on how well they can engage their core first, their hips first.  And then how well they can hold all the way up.


Q:  So obviously he is a more advanced swimmer.


A:  Yeah, he’s about a 1:57 200 meter butterflyer.


Q:  Obviously he doesn’t have the issues that they have with the younger swimmers.  We would wait in the bent knees, or?


A:  I wouldn’t emphasis the straight knees to begin with.  If the hips are not moving so much, then I would tell them move the hips more.  I would not emphasis keep your legs straight.


A:  You’re not emphasizing, “Okay, you bend to here and then push back.”  And they end up just flapping their feet out of the water.  Just flapping, we all see that.  Another thing I like to emphasize is the ankle flexibility here.  If the ankles are not flexible, no matter how much you’re bending the knees, you’ll actually end up going backwards.  Actually seeing people doing flutter kick with really tight ankles that are not going anywhere but backward.


When I was little, my coach emphasized a lot in the flexibility, we would just sit on our feet before practice and as he’s walking us through with the workout that day, we just sit on our ankles.


Butterfly kicking drill.  We can do the same thing.  Sit up, kick and work on the core, work on the stability on the upper body, keep the head out of the water.  We have underwater video of that.  In this, he can also see and control how high, how hard he should kick.  The range of motion on the kicks as well, and the power of the kicks.


Snorkel.  I love, love, love, love use snorkels in butterfly.  It’s the same reason as I talked about earlier — the head does not generate the wave, it’s the hips, it’s the lower body.  So use of snorkel, the kids can tell you, put the control in their own hands.  See, if you ever have the water going through the tubes, that means your head is dropping too much.  You’re moving your head too much rather than generating it from your chest below.  You also want to make sure that the arms are also in the right place.


There are different ways to do single arm butterfly.  Some people like to do it with arms down, some people like do it with non-pulling arm up.  I do it with both ways and this I like to have them also pay attention to where the hand should be in the more of a superman position.  This is the underwater version of it.  Just try to keep the upper body straight and not drop the head.


Seal kick.  This is a fun one.  Kids love that.  Pretty much working on the same thing.  Your core strengthening, the stability of upper spine, the flexibility of lower spine, you keep the eyes above the water.  In the easier version, the hands are by the side.  An even easier version is with fins and then you can take them off.  Take the fins off as they getting better.


I’ll show you underwater video.  Here it is.  Still the hips are very active, the knees are very active kicking back rather than sticking up and down, the shoulders are stable, the shoulders always pointing forward, upper chest is controlled forward.


List of the things that happen when kids cannot get their arms out.  One, delay of breathing.  One of the coaches asked that, dropping the head.  So I like to have them start breathing when their hands are still in front of the chest.  If the breath is too late, the head tries to come up, the arms try to get out of the water, they’re contradicting two different motions.  They’re not synched.  So when that happens, when they’re having a hard time getting the arms out, first thing I look at is if they’re breathing timing is right.  If it’s too late, just tell them start breathing a bit earlier.


Breathing position.  Little kids think that it’s human nature where when we are in survival mode, when we’re getting tired and having hard time breathing, we get up higher.  We try to jump out of the water.  So I like to have them breathe forward with the chin still slightly on the water and shoulders forward.  Some kids, they’re super, super flexible.  They can get their head up and still be pressing forward, but really just adding unnecessary load on their body.  And just try to emphasize a straight spinal column just like we talked about earlier in breaststroke:  breathe forward, keep the body streamlined.


Recovery position.  Now, higher is better.  So I like to have them getting out at 45 degrees with thumbs down.  Some kids like to recover this way.  Understand when they do this, immediately they have to lift their arm up higher about a palm length higher in order to clear the water.  So I like to have them get their fingertips to point out, recover as low as possible without dragging on the water.


Weak second kick.  We emphasize a lot on the second kick.  Some people think the first kick is strong, second kick is tap.  When, during teaching, during delivery, I like to have them think the second kick is harder than the first kick.  When the second kick happens as hard as the first one, you almost are guaranteed to have a great acceleration; to have a great exit and forward and that helps with recovery.  It takes the hard part of butterfly out, which is recovery.


Hyperextension of the arms.  I often hear coaches say, “Push your arms all the way back.”  Great.  I’m pushing my arms all the way back.  How am I going to get my arms out?  I’m stuck.  It’s hyperextension.  Encourage kids once their hands get past their navel, it’s a 45 degrees outward sweeping, and that’s so it just comes with the recovery — just follow through that they don’t have to try to muscle it.  One of the coaches said, (she coaches 8 and unders)  they push all the way back and they have to get their butt up and drop the head and flip the arms around.  You see young kids do that all the time.  Flipping their arms, with the arms around.  They don’t have to push all the way back.



Butterfly summary.  Differences between the upper and lower spine.  I think it’s really important to understand that, and establish the motion, forward motion.  Breaching between the hips and feet, core strength.  Some people think a core is just your six packs.  And  I think of the core as from the sternum below all the way to your quads.  All the way around, front and back and sides.  And that’s your core.  Not just the six packs.  Importance of the second kick.  We talked about helps with acceleration, elevation of the body and power, of course.  Use of snorkel and tempo trainer.  I use tempo trainer as well.  Now, I understand that the timing between the first kick and second kick, and the second kick to the first kick is very different.  But, just establish the idea of first and second kick I put a tempo trainer on them.  Again, have them referring the tempo trainer with the kicks not the arms.  I will have them set up as .70 seconds so each beep they perform a kick.  Beep, beep.  And it just give an idea the legs never go easy on the legs.  There is never skip a single kick.  And then if you want to time the arms for sure it’s 1.4 stroke cycle tempo right there.  Kids, the, the older they get, they appreciate that a little bit more.  Younger kids, they, they hate it.  But when they hate it, you know it’s a good thing.


Additional fun partner games also incorporate a lot of the drills.  Here is this kicking drill:  You just start at center point, put a kick board in the middle, one swimmer on each side.  Their goal is try to push the opponents backwards.  The interval we do normally is about a one minute.  They get one minute or kick and 30 seconds rest.  The reason why we’re doing one minute is most of the 100 yards races are under a minute.  And so, it’s a high intensity kick for one minute.  And gets better, the losers, the loser get to push the winner all the way across the pool.  Winner just holds the streamline, enjoy the ride, loser earns it.


Sculling battle as well.  They’re in the table top position.  The person in the front is actually doing backstroke sculling.  This one is doing breaststroke sculling forward.  They’re holding their table top.  In this case they’re trying to be nice to each other.  Nobody wins.  But, they got to end up pushing each other back and forth.


Surfing.  We tell the kids don’t ever sit or stand on the board.  They stand on the board and they’re sculling.  Things to watch for is make sure the knees don’t bend.  They stand straight down.  Works on the control of the core all the way around and of course it increases the resistance as well.  If their knees are bent, it’s easier to scull.  You can do this forward, backwards, sideways, sideways; works on the obliques as well.  I found when I did it myself, I’m just kind of fooling around in the water, when you do backwards it almost feels like a shoulder rehab exercises as well.




Final notes.  Be creative.  My inspiration is to get on the pool deck and watch other coaches at swim meets, to come to the conference and talk to people.  I’ve had many years of great, great mentors, Steve being one in the audience, very encouraging whenever I have a questions or difficult times.  I really appreciate that, thank you.  So there, there are no right or wrong drills — just the ones that work for you.  Find the ones that works for you then they’re the right ones.


Observe.  Watch kids play.  One day, I was on deck and we were trying to deliver this workout and the kids were just talking, talking, talking non-stop.  And I looked down, and this eight year old was doing this — she’s trying to keep her head above the water and she’s holding her leg and she’s kicking really hard.  I’m looking down, I’m like, “That’s a great drill!”  So this is where our single leg drill comes from.  A snorkel, you wear a snorkel, you hold streamline, one leg sticks out of the water, and you kick one leg.  The body is not allowed to jump up and down.  It takes great control in the middle and now one foot kicks super hard if they want to go forward.  And you can alternate, 25 right, 25 left and when they do that last 25 with both legs, the speed that comes out of it is impressive.  So watch kids play.  You’ll learn so much.  And 99% of us are visual learners and we watch.  I hope that watching the video helped a lot rather than me standing here and trying to demonstrate.  Use that with the kids as well.  They watch, they learn.


Q:  What equipment do you use for that underwater video?


A:  I use a security camera.  That sits on the bottom of the pool.  Not like I’m try to spying on my kids, but the security camera that’s weather-proof, really.  It’s really simple.  The camera doesn’t sink — I tied it up, duct taped up to a Tupperware container and throw river rocks in the container so it sinks on the bottom and an angle and I have the video monitor on the deck.  And I have the DVD recorder.  You can record, play or you can just watch it.  I also use a very simple Sony underwater video water-proof video camera.  It’s about $150.  And have kids tape each other.  And they watch, they learn.  Not only the ones that are swimming are learning, but also the ones taping, they’re helping each other out, too, “Hey, I, I think your arms are crossing over a little bit.”  Have them take the initiatives.   Have them help each other out.


Visual learners.  We all have smart phones.  $90.  Get a waterproof cover, case, and just have them watch it.  And we use the ECOS goggles as well.  They watch for about for about three, four minutes, they get in with the dark out goggles.  They can’t see.  There’s no distraction.  But all they remember is the image that played in their head.  And it’s just perfect example of visual learning.  And have fun.  A lot of it is just coming, coming from game playing and have fun.  We don’t do a lot of yardage.  And we, we believe in quality.  And over the years with the 5-5,000, 5,500 yards, we have been able to produce kids 14 year old going, 3:54 400 IM, 2:01 200 breaststroke.  One of my kids just went 1:45 200 back as a 14 year old.  So I think the accuracy and the intensity is the key to me.  It’s not the yardage.



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