Maximizing the Use of Drills in Training by Dick Hannula (2008)


[Introduction by George Block] Coach Daland is the co-chairman of the younger boys because he is still a week from turning 80 and so one of the younger boys is going to be speaking with you today and this younger boy has been, over the decades, one of the great observers of world swimmers. I think only Coach Hannula and Cecil Colwin are in the same league as having observed and documented evolution of strokes, evolution of turns and all the teaching and coaching that goes into that and today you are going to get a peek into the work that he has done over the last 30 years on stroke drills and on detail training. When Jack Roach took over his position as the National Junior Team Director – parallel to what Mark Schubert is doing at the national senior team – he said, “What we have to do is find technique-oriented programs that have a vision for developing kids of the highest level.” What he said was absolutely true because if you don’t base your whole program on a foundation of fundamentals and technique, you can never get them to the highest level and there is no one in this country who knows more about that than Dick Hannula.

[Coach Hannula] Fantastic. Thank you, sir. Thanks, George. It is kind of a rebirth of fundamentals. Mark Schubert was talking about the success of an entire world right now. The big difference is fundamentals and technique. You can’t get by just with the training methods. You have got to be able to put the whole package together and so I am going to start with a look-back at something I did 28 years ago. It was the first visual tape on skills and drills and the reason I did that was I saw Randy Reese was coming up with a new video tape and I will bet that it is terrific. Video tapes – they are called skills and drills so I got an edge on him at one time or another. We started it way back.

What I want to point out is that when I started coaching at Lincoln High School in Tacoma, only one swimmer had some experience at a local Y and it was a very brief experience and I had to start my program (I was a business-education teacher) by recruiting kids in my business-education classes in my homeroom. I asked them one question – if they could swim. Yes? OK. Come on out. I would like to have you on the team. I didn’t have any choice. It was a matter of teaching technique and I had to find the easiest and most effective ways to teach technique. I started using drills early on and some of the drills I used were senseless. I would never go back to using them. We did some crazy things, but I think it is one of the better ways to teach technique. Finding the best training methods by itself just isn’t going to be enough any longer.

One thing that I always did was when a new swimmer came into my program or, when I was at Wilson High School, when a swimmer came into my aquatics class, was to test every kid at the start of their first year or their sophomore year. I would test them in the swimming pool on all four strokes plus a little bit of a distance swim – a 15-minute swim and that is how I selected the kids on our team. I always had a capacity to see what I thought they could be – what their stroke could look like. My third son, for example, had a two-beat crossover kick and he came into the high school. It looked like he was going to be a great distance swimmer, but I didn’t think he could end up swimming really fast high school times with that crossover kick, so I took him on a tour. We went into Alaska and visited a number of teams that I was preparing and doing clinics for and he did all my demonstrating and I had him demonstrating these particular kicking drills that we used and I had him doing it for a length of time and he did it for about two hours, three times a day. That’s six hours a day. We came back from that trip and he broke the habit that he had on that two-beat kick and he became a great kicker. He ended up breaking two National high school records – both the 200 and 500 – and I don’t think he would have done what he did unless he had made that change. So I think it is really important to see people and not see them as they are, but what they can be. I think so many times I always look to the drills that I need to use and that are going to make that most effective.

There are actually two parts to this talk. Today I am not going to go through particular drills or special drills. I am trying to stress how to make the most effective use of drills and technique training and not try to end up giving you a long list of drills. Today, I’m setting the stage for what I intend to do tomorrow. Tomorrow, I will give out a catalog of drills that I have. I will be talking more about that because I think everybody should make a catalog of drills.

When I started coaching, I did not have any kind of feeder program. They did not have a summer program so I went out and picked up kids in the summer and took them to the lake and we swam in an open lake. Seven years later, by the time I got into that other school, I had already started my swim club – Tacoma Swim Club. The club’s sole purpose was to try to get some kids so they could swim a little bit before they got into high school. That worked out pretty well, but what I always looked at is the most effective way to do things and what I had to do was teach our swimming instructors and our assistant coaches how best to teach the strokes. So I started making a catalog of drills in about 1955 and it basically was progression steps in teaching strokes from one drill to the next drill to the whole stroke. It was just a matter of time – a short few years — before I began to catalog drills as I heard from other coaches and what I experienced myself.

Perfect strokes comes through perfect practice and you have to establish a belief that drills correctly done can lead to a more efficient stroke and a more perfect stroke. The first slide I want to show you is going to be drills and skills. This happens to be the bloke that was doing the crossover kick – that is one of our sons. We can get right past that.

The first thing I want to emphasize is how a drill should be done to obtain the desired technique. The coach and swimmer must know the purpose or intention of the drill. If nobody understands the purpose, they are going to end up doing the drills as I see them done in too many programs where it is just plain slop. You have got to do the drill correctly and they have got to understand the purpose of retention of the drill in order to do that. If you use drills carelessly it is a real waste of time. It is not going to reach the result that you want. Purpose must be instilled if a drill is to succeed. I always established what we wanted to achieve from any particular drill.

Teach a drill correctly. Explain it. Demonstrate it. Practice it. Evaluate and go on from there. You may have to go right back and start all over again or you may end up finding that the drill isn’t going to work and that you should be doing something else. Practice drills are 100% correct. For example, I think establishing a base of any drill in a long-axis stroke is to learn how to get one arm extended –your long axis and one arm back. If you have swimmers doing drills and they drop their elbow down here and the hand is turned over, that is not the drill. You are trying to get them in a position where they can make a catch – early vertical forearm. You are trying to get them in that position. The only way you are going to do that is to have the elbow out in that position, so try to get everybody up there where they tilt that little finger up slightly and get that elbow poked up and out and that is the basis for any other drill. I don’t care if you are using shark fin or one-arm swimming – as you build from that stroke you have got to always come back and make sure that that is done correctly.

All right – observe and evaluate. This is where I think a lot of coaches really make a huge mistake. When you give a drill, that is not the time to go out and get a cup of coffee or to get on the cell phone. The coach must remain active in drill work. I think you have to observe and supervise drill work in the training and that means you have to persevere. It drives you crazy, but you have got to persevere. Telling a kid once how to do a drill is not enough. You gotta tell him a hundred thousand times if you have to and — more than that – change how you tell them. Maybe you need to change the drill, but you have to observe and supervise. They are not going to think that it is important if you don’t observe and supervise.

Mike Troy (and this goes way back) once told me that when he swam for Doc Counsilman he thought Doc was watching every stroke he took. Turns out that every kid on the team thought Doc was watching every stroke they took, so I think that it is important that you have that feeling. You know, he carried that away with him. And observe from different positions. Coming head on – from the side – going away from you – overhead. I used to watch a lot from the 3-meter diving board and when they got rid of the 3-meter board I got a big high step ladder to sit on until I got a little older. I used to sit on that thing and look down and watch the kids and I learned more doing that than I did just standing on the deck. I would also watch them from under water and from under my arm. A great technician once taught me to watch swimmers by bending over – and looking under your arm and watching them upside down. It is amazing – the view. You can see things in some of the strokes that you never noticed if you were not in that position. So you have got to kind of goof around and be thinking. Besides that – you don’t always want the kids to know exactly where you are.

When you are teaching drills, emphasize the positive. Tell swimmers what they are doing right. So many times we tell them what they are doing wrong. I find that when I get a kid who is really doing a drill the way they should be doing it – I want to tell them that is great – that is right – keep it up – you are doing the right thing. You get a lot more emphasis there than if you are constantly telling them what they are doing wrong. It is better to observe what they are doing wrong and create a drill or a sequence or something that is going to make the change for you.

Swimmers must visualize correct technique to move toward perfect technique. I think it is good to show them pictures of world-class swimmers. Let them see what world class looks like and what the best swimmers on the team look like. Have the best swimmers on the team demonstrate more often.

The coach must devise new drills or use the best drill available to correct poor habits. There is no one drill that is going to cover everything. Tomorrow – in a handout that I have – I will list championship technique and the drills that I have used. It is not an end in itself. I have used a lot of drills that aren’t on that thing, but I didn’t use them very often and finally I say, if you have this particular error, these are drills that could help out. It is usually about five or six or seven drills – never one – I don’t think it is ever one.

A drill done correctly can correct bad habits. It forces a new pattern. It is automatic. The kids working on this technique in a drill doing it right – develop a new pattern. Each swimmer is unique and may need a different approach, so if one drill fails then try another. Also, recognize what needs to be fixed – for crying out loud – if things are great – let them know they are great and go on from there.

The last one I think is the most important because I felt at one time I was pretty darn good at that, but when a stroke needs correction be relentless in your teaching. You have to persevere with your stroke drills and you have to teach, teach, teach. I could teach every session every day and it is the greatest coaching challenge I think you will have because it is work. You have got to be active with them.

Which drills should you use? It depends on you as a coach and the needs of your swimmers. In other words – it varies. Some drills I find are so basic that you have got to come back to them every now and then. Everybody on the team is going to benefit – even the kids who are doing everything right – it is going to help. But again – the purpose of this particular presentation is not to make an endless list of drills, but to challenge you to use the drills effectively and create them as needed.

In the late 1950s I made a booklet for all of our swim instructors that had drills and drill progressions to use to teach the strokes. But my first experience with high-level success with drills was from watching two female South African backstrokers. They were world record holders – one held the 200 and one held the 100 and they swam at Lincoln, Nebraska in the US Nationals — I do not remember what year. I watched them. I was watching everything and the coach had them swimming backstroke drills in the diving pool or wherever the warm-up pool was. I hadn’t seen these drills before. Well, they were written down right away and I went back and used them on a young backstroker that we had that I thought was going to be a great backstroker and he turned out to be a great backstroker.

Another successful experience with drills came as a result of my work with Howard Firby. In the middle or early 1960s I used to get together with Howard and John Tallman, another great coach in our area and a real thinker, and Bob Miller. We would meet in Seattle. Howard Firby would come down from Tacoma to Seattle, and a couple of guys from Seattle would come over to John’s house and we would spend the day just talking stroke technique. And then Howard came in and did a clinic at the University of Washington. I went over for that and he had drills and things that he was using with a swimmer named Elaine Tanner who was a world record holder in the backstroke. I had a kid coming up who was pretty darn good and I still give Howard a great amount of credit for the success that we had. The swimmer was Kaye Hall, and she won the 100 backstroke at the 1968 Olympics and beat Elaine Tanner. It was the only time she ever beat her — at the Olympics – because we utilized and we shared information. We utilized the drills that he pointed out.

Okay, here is the greatest drill of all. If you don’t work on anything else, work on this. Make your kids streamline off the walls every time, and your swimmers will drop time. When Mark Schubert was showing those clips of the Olympics, I was really impressed with watching those guys dive and streamline and get so much of their body out there in the forward motion, especially on a dive and coming off the turns. This is something that every swimmer needs to continue to improve for as long as they can. I think it is one of the most effective skills that is available to improve easily, and it will improve swimming time. It is fundamental. It needs to be established early in each season and then continue to emphasize it throughout the season.

I always put the kids on the deck and had them do a streamlining drill. I will show that in the video tomorrow. I won’t go through it now, but basically I would get on each side of their upper arms or just behind the elbows and they would be on their back and I would turn my heels in and I could squeeze my heels in to force those arms in tight as a drum. I would do that and then I would go to the side of them and try to put my foot under their back to make sure that there was no back arching – that their back was in streamline. And then I would have them teach each other and I think that is the best way they learn – to teach each other.

Another thing that we did at the start of every season – especially my high school season – was to do cross-pool torpedo streamlining, with no kick. Every kid had to get to the point where they could push off and drive across that short pool. It was only 35 feet, but they weren’t allowed to kick or anything else – just streamline. We always said – come off the wall, get a second torpedo streamline – a second squeeze in of the arms — and try to get a little further.

One more thing that we did – I used to stand on the starting blocks. If they made a turn and pushed off and were not fully streamlining, many times we would pull them out of the water and they had to get on the deck and go through that whole drill.

To reinforce streamline I also used to wait for a new set or whatever we were going to do, and would say, “torpedo streamline.” and everybody would stand in the pool and just get up there and streamline and I would check and make sure that it was correct all the way down the line. I think those reminders always help.

Another good streamlining drill for early in the season is palm-on-palm training. I wish I could streamline so I could show you, but when you put palm on hand – palm on palm – you turn your hands in here and you are up in here. When you do that it really forces you to come in tight – really tight. I picked that up from — I think it was Josh Davis who said his high school had their kids do that in practice – palm on palm. This was something we did a lot of early in the season – turns with palm on palm. It’s just a little emphasis on streamlining.

OK. Long-axis strokes – crawl. These are the areas you want to have your drills pointed towards. You maximize body alignment. The straight-line advantage. We all understand the straight-line advantage – everything forward. I already talked a little bit about that. The posture, the side, the back, the head – all aligned. I think everybody has a pretty good idea what that is all about.

I think you have to teach technique before speed. I don’t think you can sacrifice technique just to try and make someone fast right away.

Arm recovery: I think you have to have a model – the high elbow is a great model and I think another point is the entry of the fingers, hand, wrist, and elbow. I always emphasize entry of fingers, hand, wrist, elbow. We had a lot of drills that we used that basically worked around the hand, wrist, elbow. I have walking drills that I still do, and that I did with the best swimmers I ever had. I thought they would get a tremendous amount of good. Ski in – ski out – fingers pointed downward into the catch – rotate the body as it is skewered for the trunk. I always told everybody they had a little rod through the middle of their head and it went through their spine. I tried to emphasize that so that all the rotation was on that metal rod and everything was in one line and forward and that the head followed the trunk – stays in the same line. The head didn’t turn to breathe. Try to emphasize always to stay in that one line with the head following the trunk.

In order to breathe on that metal rod – if you are breathing on the left side – your eyes focus at 10 o’clock. If you are breathing on the right side your eyes are focused at 2 pm, but we only allowed one goggle to see that – only one goggle is looking at 10 o’clock – really – I mean – I guess the other one is looking at it underwater, but one goggle is in the water – one goggle is on the surface. That way you don’t turn the head too far. You don’t break that area there.

Early vertical forearm – man alive – being able to get early vertical forearm is the secret of fast swimming I think. If you’ve seen video of Thorpe and other championship swimmers, you know it’s amazing what a tremendous amount of vertical forearm they get on the water. They are able to drive that water directly back. If you watch video of high school kids, you usually see just the opposite. Most of them pull the elbow through – except for the best of our swimmers.

Here’s some stuff out of my book, “Coaching Swimming Successfully.” In the first position – that is the hand, wrist, elbow entry. In the second position you see early vertical forearm. I think that is so darn important and then the bottom one – it doesn’t have a number, but the full swimmer there – there is the middle rod – through the middle of the head – see that middle – that rod there through that line through the middle of the body. This is basically the same thing from the other side of the body. This is stuff Rick Demont did.

Takes a question.
Q: When you do drills in backstroke and freestyle, do you use fins so they focus on the strokes, or do you not use fins?
A: The question is do you use fins? Definitely use fins. Definitely use hand paddles.

Here’s some backstroke – basically the same thing as crawl. You are maximizing the length of the line – posture – spine – head aligned – everything I said before. Teach technique before speed. Arms are almost opposite. You don’t have front quadrant swimming on this one. I believe in the thumb-first exit. There is a rifle-barrel recovery – little finger entry – again – we will take the body that is a skewer – the head doesn’t have to rotate, but the rest of the body is rotating just as though it is skewered. Stabilize the head position.

On the next two items I have to make a little point. Make the catch at an adequate depth. I think we went a little overboard in stressing deep catch Well that deep catch got deeper and deeper and there was more and more sweep of the arms which I think has a direct effect on the amount of the stroke rate – how fast you could turn over. It was pretty obvious again at the last Olympics that stroke rate is critical for success in backstroke. I think you have to make the catch at an adequate depth to get good solid water and at a depth at which you can drive that water for the most part on a direct line. It doesn’t look like a direct line, but when you take it in relation to the trunk sweep or the trunk rotation to the body it is very much like a direct line.

In crawl stroke, one of the things that I think has happened over the last 10 or 12 years is the elimination of this sweeping action and getting that water and driving it directly back in a straight line – a direct line of pull. With a long-axis in the backstroke, I think it is a lot more of a direct line than it is a huge sweep and sometimes you have to put that in context as to how it relates to where they are – the trunk rotation is with the body.

With the short-axis strokes, your drills are trying to reach these points: maximize body alignment, keep the back of the head and the back of the spine lined up. It ‘s when your head breaks the hinge on your head in the short-axis strokes that you destroy body platform alignment and I will be able to point that out in some of the illustrations I have in just a second.

I have some kicking tips there. I have some arm stroke tips there. Mainly in the arm stroke, the outsweep is moderate speed; the insweep is strong and fast, and you lunge at rocket-launching speed. In other words – it picks up speed through the stroke.

This shows the platform alignment – the top figure shows where the head position is and where the back of the head is lined up as much as possible with the back of the spine – down through the body. Everybody could check that with their kids. There is a video that I have tomorrow on the high school kids that shows those kids constantly having their head too high. Most swimmers find it a little more difficult to reach the goal in the bottom figure because there – you see the line to show the alignment? The back of the head and the spine should still line up at the point at which you are breathing – and the eye position changes. The eye position is such that you are looking in a position that is down and forward instead of out in here. You are looking down and forward and you will be able to keep that body alignment. Check those kids and see that and if you watched – if you remember the video tapes showing the Olympic clips — those breaststrokers were swimming like that bottom figure – where you are coming in nice and high and that alignment in the back of the head and the eye position was exactly like that.

All right – hand paddles in drills. This is also true of fins. I didn’t make a slide for fins, but I will be using fins tomorrow. But I want to point out that the first paddles I ever saw or used were heavy iron paddles. They were quite thick. I saw them in the 1950s. We didn’t use them very much. I bought a pair and I would guess they weighed close to two pounds. They were really heavy and they had a hand grip. You put your hand in there and you gripped it like this. It was not concrete but it was thick metal and it was heavy and the idea was to pound your way down the pool. The guy that put this together was supposed to have one of the best 50-yard sprinters in high school in the country. If it was because of those paddles I am not sure – I didn’t get any success with those paddles. I put them back in the closet after a couple of times. I wish that I had kept them because you would have gotten a kick out of seeing them.

The first paddles I really used were sheet-metal paddles – just real thin sheet metal and they were rectangular shaped – pretty much like the Speedo paddle is now. It had what I think was a bicycle inner tube around it and you took your hand there and they rippled. There was only one purpose for those paddles – technique. They were not power paddles. They were technique paddles and we could do all the drills with them. We could swim with them and you could feel water on your hand. After you swam with these paddles, they were all wrinkled. They were that thin, and it was a great feeling and we used those for years – started in the early 60s and we used them for quite a few years. I don’t remember how many, but the things were risky. I mean – they are sharp and I never saw a kid nicked, where a kid was bleeding profusely, but it could have happened.

When the first plastic paddles came out, power became the emphasis on the solid paddles. It was about 1983 or 84 or 85 – I don’t know – I put holes all through the paddle. Spencer — you are here – you gave me the idea because I visited you at the Maui Swim Club. You stuck little nail holes in your paddles and I couldn’t figure out why – they were real small nail holes. They couldn’t have been for water to go through. I figured they were something to do with the grip – was that what it was? Do you know? Well, I put big holes in them. I went back and said, gee – this looks like a great idea. I have got to figure this out. And the whole idea was that I tried to make a paddle that was a little bit flexible – as much flexibility as I could get – with holes so you could feel water on the hand. The holes reduced joint stress and I think they were a good addition.

Okay – paddles improved swim drills. My drills always include the use of paddles for all or most of the drills. The use of paddles in drill swimming enhances learning. When the paddle was adequately holed it was somewhat flexible. The feel of the water and the distance per stroke are significantly increased. Sculling drills should always include paddle use. The big paddle and the size of the paddle should be appropriate to the drill and the physical maturity of the user.

Here’s the final slide. If you want to make drills more effective, teach the drill individually at first. Make sure they learn the drill and then combine the drills whenever feasible. In other words, don’t stick with one drill because it will drive them nuts you know? They won’t focus on them if you just stick with one drill forever. If you are doing drills you should be combining them. You should move from one drill to another drill to another drill to full stroke. All that and then I think intersperse the drill to create a focus point. Build it into a training set.

I always try to do some drills before I start my main set. I try to get them to get a feel or a focus on any particular point and then if you are doing something like three 100s you build into it and then after you have taken a quality hundred and you are taking a warm-down of some kind – then focus on a point and do a couple of 25s or a couple of 50s before you do the next hundred. You could intersperse those things within the set. Do some drill work and switch from drill to full stroke.

Another thing you want to emphasize is fast, efficient turns. One of my swimmers from back in the 70s – who still horses around Swimming World – he came and he complained how the kids were kicking backstroke and then taking three or four or five hard, fast strokes and turning, and then were taking three arm strokes out before they started kicking again. I said yeah, I told them to do that. I taught them to do that. In other words – why not practice fast turns? Why not practice getting into the wall fast and getting off the wall fast – then going back to the drill? And then continue to affirm the strong points of a swimmer’s stroke.

I think you do more good telling them when they are doing things really right – tell them how good it looks. I think they will get a lot more out of that than if you simply get mad and then pick away at something. And ask the swimmer to review and use a particular drill when the need arises, but instill purpose – always instill purpose in everything you do. But it has got to be included in drill work. And then finally, of course, remain active during the drill work.

Well, that concludes today’s session. Now, there might be time for a question or two.

Q: What does it mean when you are said your eyes are looking at 10 and 2 on freestyle?
A: Okay, that means that you are trying to keep your body in a direct line of alignment when you breathe. I used to tell them – make sure that when you breathe your eyes are focused on the water in front of your mouth and that worked pretty good. Then I started hearing people say, if you are breathing west focus on 10. In other words – that eye would come out of the water just slightly in front of the mouth over here and that will keep you aligned. Now see what happens. If you look at 3 o’clock – if you look at 9 AM and 8 AM – what happens? You are looking back or you are looking back in here and you are losing the alignment.

Thank you very much for your attention.

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