Progression Drills for Starts & Turns by John Casadia (2011)


How many times have you told your swimmers that they need to focus on their start or their turn or technique and they need to trust in what you’re telling them to do or asking them to do? How many times have you seen them breathe into the turn, breathe out, glide in, glide out, not do the underwater fly kick over and over again? And then come to you at the meet, “Why am I not doing better?” We’ve all had that. Kind of like insanity and we all know what insanity is, doing the same thing wrong over and over and over and over again and expecting a different result. That’s insanity. Another way to look at it, if you always do what you always did, you always get what you always got. So, we’re trying to break that cycle and it’s not easy.

Coaching technique is difficult. It is time consuming. It is mentally draining for a coach and physically draining. It’s a lot easier to slap up on the board. Okay, we’re doing ten 400 IMs or we’re doing ten 100 freestyles on the 130 and breathe in 3-5-7-9 or whatever and then sit down. That’s easy. To coach technique is something that has to be done on a daily basis and your swimmers have to understand that if you catch them breathing into a turn or out, you’re going to stop them and make them do it over. That’s coaching in my opinion. How do we get swimmers to get excited not only about drills and technique but about focusing on technique? Why is technique so important? We know why it’s important and maybe, they do too. How many times have you given us a kick set? And they get on the kick board, looking around. And why are we having them kick? So that they can focus on kick. How does that kick feel? That blind person in the elevator has to depend on feel to get to the right floor. Swimmers cannot be busy looking around if they’re doing a kick set. That’s why a lot of coaches, maybe, don’t use kick.

So, how do we get them to focus on drills? And again, we have swimmers that we do this and we need another volunteer. Come on up. And remember, this wasn’t a pair of scissors and this isn’t one of my wife’s old sheets. These are not markers. Move back, whoops, watch yourself. Move over. Okay, see these markers or these things? You can choose whichever hand you want but you’re going to catch as many of these markers as you can one time. Got it? Why did I volunteer? That’s what she’s thinking right now. Why did I volunteer? Are you ready? Sure.

Next Speaker: Yes.

Speaker 1: All right, catch as many as you can. Okay, all right. Let’s retrieve them. Now, let me get them all turned the same way. Now, we want you to catch one of them, just one. Bingo! Way to go! Here you go, you need a rope. These weren’t markers, what are they? This is freestyle. This is butterfly. This is a start. This is a turn. This is backstroke. This is hand entry or its streamline. This is finding the edge of the starting block. This is underwater dolphin kick. They’re all the parts. This is the wheel of a stroke or a turn. It has many segments. It is impossible as we just saw to focus on all these things at the same time. But if we just focus on, let’s say, streamline, it’s a lot easier to do. But we need one more volunteer to prove that.

Where’s the young lady that, we need somebody else. Now, we all know by now that this really isn’t a pole. And when housekeeping said, ‘You want what to do what?’ I said, well, just bring me the pole. And your name? I’m not going to whoop you with it. You’re not one of my swimmers. If you were, you would be jumping back.

Miriam: My name is Miriam.

Speaker 1: Miriam?

Miriam: Yes.

Speaker 1: Hi Miriam, how are you?

Miriam: Good.

Speaker 1: Where are you from?

Miriam: DC

Speaker 1: DC? Very good. Okay, Miriam, here we go. Here’s what I want you to do. I want you to balance this thing on your finger, on any finger you want. You can hold it. Then focus one finger. Don’t be cheating on me. Focus right there, right there. Now, same finger, hold it up, get ready. A miracle, it’s a miracle! This was streamlining. It was one thing. What was the difference? It is not only important to focus on one thing but you got to be focusing on the right thing. I had Miriam focus on the bottom. And it’s a lot harder to balance it. If she focused up top, it’s a lot easier. So, we not only have to isolate one aspect of the stroke or the turn but we need to make sure that we are focusing on the right thing. That’s important. And remember, all these demonstrations that we’re doing, we do with our kids, with our swimmers. We do the same thing with strokes.

For example, freestyle, Eddie Reese, in, I think yesterday was talking about freestyle. And he said, “I want you to aim your hand in freestyle.” I don’t know how many of you heard him. “Aim your hand in freestyle where you want to go.” That really makes a lot of sense. And, I would like to add to that. That when you talk to swimmers, remember they’re visual, video games and text messaging and all that stuff so they’re pretty visual. So, if I want them to enter in front of my shoulder, I’m thinking they’re a clock. Twelve o’clock, eleven, one, wow. Now, they have this idea of a clock. So if I tell Joe, “Hey Joe, you are entering at 11:30.” He knows he’s over too far because he doesn’t want to be at 12. He wants to be at 11.

So he knows when I say, “Joe, you’re at 11:30. You’re over here. Joe, you’re at 10:30.” He knows he’s over here. “Joe, you’re at 1:30. You’re over here. Joe, you’re at 12:30.” So you have ways to visually tell the swimmer while they’re swimming the correction that you want them to make. So we say freestyle, 11 and 1. You’re a clock, 12, 11, 1. So, it’s a lot easier for them to make adjustments. And you say, “Okay, you’re a little bit to Y.” Well, what’s a little bit to Y, 10:30, he can relate. A swimmer can relate or little kids, hopefully, they can read the clock with all the digital clocks, I don’t know now but in high school, they should be able to know what 10:30 is. You’re at 10, backstroke.

I think Eddie was talking about entering straight up as well. Well, the same thing, 11 and 1. You’re at 10:30. You’re out here. You’re at 12. You’re too close to your head. So if you can figure out ways to make it more visual, that will help them. In freestyle, we have a saying, find the edge. Think that when you’re on the blocks, you’re on the edge of a razor, delicately balanced on that razor. And if a gust of wind where the coach came by and went on your back side that would be enough to make you fall into the water. And we have a set that we’ll show you in a little bit where we had them go down, take their mark, and then hold the edge for five seconds. If they waver, they have to stand up and then go back down again.

Eddie also said, during commercials, do 20 push ups. And then do the next one, the next commercial, do 30. The next one, do 40. The fourth one, rest. When they’re at home, they can get them on a step and just take their mark and hold it. You want them to be comfortably on the edge. So that when you say go, when I don’t say go, and you’ll hear it. Well, I’m going to turn down the volume. You’re not going to hear me say, go. It’s basically; take your mark, race because I want them to understand that that’s a racing start. You get one start in a race. If it takes them three, they don’t do a good start. You have to do it over again.

That’s a never was. In a race, that start never occurred. The first one’s got to be the best. How do you get it the best? By having a hundred of them in a row, correct. How do you get them not to breathe out at turns? By doing every single set at practice correctly. So, its things like that that make your start and your turns and your strokes that much better. Visualization, I tell them, before you go to bed at night, visualize your start. Visualize yourself taking your mark, finding the edge, firing out, streamlining before you hit the water, and feeling. How should you feel? Darn. How should you feel? Slick, smooth, feel like a straw. Straw? Why a straw, coach? Feel the water going right through your body not around it, right through it. That gives them something that they can visualize. You’re going through the water like a straw with the water going directly through you not around you.

And there are many things to a start. There are spokes to the wheel. What might be some of the things to a great start? Finding the edge, balance, streamlining, underwater fly kick, exploding up, explosion off the blocks. All these things are important aspects of a start and let’s look at streamlining first. How many times do we say, you got to streamline. If you don’t streamline, it’s not going to help you. Have we all said that? Yeah. Have we ever shown them how important that is? Okay. I do, too. I have, too. I don’t know if I’m going to reach. When I taught at Vineland, I taught for 39 years. And I was a Bio major and I taught college biology. I’m thinking about how do I show these kids, high school and little kids how important streamline is. Here’s our pool, nice pool. Here is our swimmer. This is not streamline. This is a streamline swimmer. So tell me, you’re sitting right there. You got the glasses on so you should be able to try new, how far down this goes. I’m going to drop it from the—God, please let this work. Okay, ready. I’m going to let go. Need another shot at it? I’ll give you one more shot. Here you go.

Next Speaker: I can’t read it.

Speaker 1: Good, not streamline. That simple demonstration to me shows them this is streamline because it’s all sharp and pointy for those of you that cannot see in the back. I got a pencil sharpener and sharpened it. This is streamline. Here’s proof, swimmer. You want visual proof? Here it is. Graduated cylinders, some water and your tube, great way to show them the importance of being streamline. And it doesn’t take much. Let’s pick up with our video. Hopefully, I had not lost it. And I could stop this and show you defects across the board. But again, that wouldn’t serve a purpose at this point. But you can stop it and you can see some things.

I’m going to try to, hopefully, get back on track and these are just regular swimmers. They’re not internationally ranked. We might have an IM at 2:07 or something like that but nothing spectacular. The breaststroker is like 1:04s, 1:05s. Let me see if we can get—I’m not going to get past, so I can get past the introduction. These are just introducing the swimmers. They’re high school swimmers and they belong to my summer club. This is an outdoor port in Vineland, New Jersey. And let’s see if we can go, just to give you some ideas. Whoops. What we did for streamline? This is Sara, the girl that sent me the email on the table. What I’m doing is, we’re going to measure her, have her streamline and I measured her with a tape measure and it was 90.5 inches. Then I told her that I wanted you to think, squeeze your belly and your back together and notice, you automatically get taller where she went from 90 inches to 92, an inch and a half increase in her streamline. Again, visual, they can see this.

The next thing that we did was put her in the water and did the same thing. Now, we do running starts. The light in here—there’s so much light you’re not going to be able to see but we’re running, diving, and just gliding. Why running? Because it magnifies error. How many times I’d do this and I get yelled at all the time? Get your hand in the car because that car is going to take your hand off. But you’re out. Putting your hand outside and you kind of like make an airplane out of it. And you’re going 30 miles an hour and you make a little error going about 60, 70. Whoa, pulled your hand away because speed accentuates error. So that’s why we’re having them run. So any error they have is going to be accentuated. It’s going to be made greater, magnified. We had them run and dive, streamline. We want their feet entering the water, their hands entering the water in a streamline position. If they enter too soon, their feet are going to go, whoosh, right over top of them. And again, the running does that. Again, be careful when you do this. Make sure if you do it, you do it in a deep end and of course, all this stuff under the supervision of you, their coach.

We could go on with this. And we could stop it and show a whole bunch of other stuff. Let’s see if we can go. Okay, vertical kick. I think I missed something. What we did, we backed up. We have a slide, a sliding board, 10 foot slide. We have them do the same thing on a slide. And they were really ripping down that slide. There are some high school kids that won’t do it because if you’re not real good at it, you’ll flap over and all. But anything to increase the speed and as I said, Guy will have this on the ASCA Website for you. Vertical kick, we do a lot of vertical kick. I’m sure you do too with fins, with weight belts. We have little sand weight belts. Have your wrist out of the water. And I like when they’re doing their vertical kick, if you watch the World Championships at all.

Next Speaker: Can I turn off the lights?

Speaker 1: Sure. I don’t know where the lights are but help yourself. We like them to be still from their head to their hips and then to kick space from the hips down. And it makes their streamline a lot better and it makes her kick a lot stronger. Butterfly, they’re doing better. You can see he’s moving, Johnnie. That’s Johnnie [inaudible] [0:22:30.2]. He’s a decent butterflyer but again trying to get the speed up, it’s difficult to maintain that stillness. But that’s what we’re advocating. And how do they get this at high school? In the weight room and we have some shots to that. Hopefully, we’ll be able to get to that. These are rockets. Again, words, rockets, the alter means of communication. There we go. Anybody sneak out. They’re going off the diving board and kicked up. You can see he’s getting right out of the water, tight streamline. This is kind of hard to hold in the water. We might need a little bit of lights so I can see what I’m doing. But you’ll notice, they are all streamlined before they get off the block or they get off the diving board. Maybe, I’m getting old or not. You get the idea here? It’s all or none?

Next Speaker: Yeah.

Speaker 1: Okay. And Sara, I think, is going to end this up. She was an ex-gymnast. It’s a lot better without the light. And then we do this to the shower room. We’ll swim down a 25, get underneath the flags and rock it up. And we want them to just reach up as high as they can and be as streamlined for as long as they can. And they’re thinking of rockets. And they’re thinking not going off the bottom but going off the blocks, going off the side of the pool. You can see how high she gets up, pretty high. You’re going to need more full, well, hopefully, make [inaudible] [0:24:42.5].

Next Speaker: You can probably open a door and get some extra light.

Speaker 1: Well, leave it to them who want light, yes. Thank you. Let’s move on. You didn’t get the idea. Now, when you are at dryland start, my goal here is when I say, race or go. They’re going to be in a streamlined position before their feet reach the wall. If I slow this down, you would see that the girl, the tall girl, she’s like six foot. She has a terrible start, 24.1 freestyler and a terrible start. I pray each night that I can find some way of making her have a better start other than beating her over the head. Again, tight streamline, high jump, want their hands, we want them to feel their hands together before they get back to the bottom of the pool. There’s a penny on the block. You didn’t see this but I had them come in. Do your swimmers rock their feet up and then go forward? This is a great drill for that. What I have them do, see where they’re putting the penny, under their big toe? They have to hold on to that penny until they leave the block, a simple little demonstration, I think, but works wonders.

See the penny. It’s under their toes. No, we don’t use quarters. You’ll never get them back. I’m having a hard time getting pennies back. We’re in a depressed area. And they all tight streamline, that’s a great deal. And it’s a lot of fun. You’re teaching them things subconsciously as well.

Next Speaker: Is the penny vertical or is on it?

Speaker 1: No. They’re trapping it between their toe and the edge of the block. Yes, it’s vertical. If I could slow it down but it will never get through half of this. And I don’t want to really keep you waiting ten or fifteen more minutes because we do have a dinner to go to. One of the things that we talk about is you can start and turn faster than you can ever swim, correct? But have we shown our kids that? Here’s a demonstration. What I had them do, I had the one kid at the end of the pool. He’s going to take off. There’s our yellow marker. You cannot see it. When he gets in the yellow marker, I’m sending the kid off from the block. The 10 meter to next 10 meter mark would be the flags. And the first 10 meter mark for the diver is right in front of the ladder. When the swimmer who gets to the 10 meter mark first, I say, stop. And the kids on the side of the pool can see who has gone 10 meters the fastest. If I were to do this again, I would start the swimmer in the water, have them swim and then have the swimmer diving off the block start when they were 15 meters out and they’d have to touch the pool at 10 meters, the sides of the pool.

Now, I would say, stop. Even though the boy off the blocks continued, there’s the 10 meter mark right there. He went a lot further, 3 meters further. You can do this with little kids and they’ll see that starts are a lot faster than just swimming. And you could put one of your fastest kids on the team, on your older kids, have them swimming. Have your little guy dive and they’re going to be up with them. Wow. Starts are that important. I’d be gutted it out. There’s a 21 freestyle. Again, a little demonstration to show how important starts and turns are. Flip turns and free, we do a sequence. And I’m sure you’re all familiar with the sequence. We do somersaults; chin in to your chest, knees into your chin. Chin in to your chest, knees into your chin, we somersault. And ultimately, we want our turn to be a part of the stroke. We don’t want to glide in. We wanted to be a part of the turn to be a part of the stroke. And what we do is just turn. They just flip.

The next sequence will be flip, push. They give one more turn or somersault. And they push back. They don’t have to worry about hitting. We want that one motion. We want them to hit the wall. When they flip over, we don’t want their feet to be here. We don’t want their feet to be, I don’t know if I’d be able to, out here and then push in and then go up. We want, by the time they’re over, their feet meet the wall. We want them to feel fluid, smooth and fluid in a turn. And we’ll do things like no wall turn. When we do 100 and you make them think right off the bat, okay, we’re going to do 100. The first turn is no wall. Inside the flags, they do a no wall turn. At the end of the 50, they’re going to do a toe turn which is a really hard turn to do. It teaches them to move away from the wall, get out of their comfort zone. Toes on to the wall, just barely touch when you’re fully extended. That’s a great toe turn. If they push off at all, they haven’t gone flip [inaudible] [0:30:53.7] and the third turn is a challenge turn. That’s where they’re getting as far as they can and do a great turn.

There are three ways of developing turns. And you’ll notice that all of these kids and they’re not super swimmers. They have a lot of stroks flaws that we’re working on. But they don’t breathe in or out of turns. You’ll notice, I don’t know where we are on this but on the flip turn, it’s the head. I think this might be what you want to see, let’s see if their head is under when they do the flip. The girl in the end lane did a really good job. Everything follows your head. You’re not going to be able to do a flip turn if you’re here and your head’s up. So everything follows your head, flip. Oops, here we go. Which hand pulls first? I’ve been to a ton of clinics and I don’t know if I’ve ever heard anybody really explain which hand should be pulling first. In freestyle, the side that’s facing the bottom of the pool, that hand has to pull first. And that hand wants to be in contact with the water. So if I’m on my left side, right hand on the wall, left hand’s going to pull first. Right hand is going to go on top and I’m going to pull up. If I pull with my right hand, I’m going to pull air which is too close to the surface to the water. And it’s not going to get me over on my belly.

Have your kids face the left. Face the right wall, left side, left hand. The hand that’s out in the water is going to pull first. Right hand’s going to go on top, pull. Right hand, I’m on my right side facing the bottom of the pool. Left hand behind the head, grab, pull up, very important. For the vertical kick, we make them do 20 kicks in 10 seconds minimum. That’s their goal. Coming off the wall, we’ll tell her. Again, its things like 42. I keep, ‘Do that fly kick under water’. That’s all I have to, 42. To them that’s, I got to do 4 kicks, 2 seconds. 63, I need to do 6 kicks, 3 seconds under water and then go right into my transition free and up. You want to come out of every single turn at full speed whether it’s breaststroke, butterfly, whatever. You want to be at full speed getting back the starts real quick in a six lane pool. Is it harder to be first off the block, second, third, fourth, fifth or sixth? What’s the hardest place to be, first off the blocks? Pretty hard. It’s just as easy, coaches, to be first off the blocks as fourth. How many fourth places are there? How many people can be fourth off the block? One. How many swimmers can be first off the block? One. Well, then, I want you to be first. Be first off the block. There you go. If it’s as just as easy to be first as fourth, be first. I don’t know where we are but I get excited.

Next Speaker: Backstroke start

Speaker 1: Okay, backstroke. Backstroke starts. I like my swimmers to be, at first, you can have your toes out of the water, they just can’t be called over the edge because your feet have to come out of the water anyway. Comfortable feet, hands at the end of the bar, thumb under, I think you can grip it better. Some kids like to have their thumbs facing it. That’s up to them. But I prefer under, elbows up, shoulders square, head in line with your neck, neck in line with your back. And all of this is voiced in to this DVD. And I know I’m just rambling through this because I do want to get you guys out of here. And it’s underwater fly kick just like freestyle, 63, 6 kicks, 3 seconds. We would like our backstrokers to go 10 meters underwater. If they really get good, maybe, even a little bit more than that. In the backstroke turn, too many backstrokers wait to turn over on to their stomach the exact spot that they would be doing a free turn. There’s an extra step in there. You got to go from your back to your belly. So they need to initiate a back turn way sooner. Tell them, have them do a freestyle turn not only mark where they do their freestyle turn. That’s where you wanted to be in backstroke, on their belly doing their free turn going into the back turn. So they need to start backstroke out further and cross over.

This is back. They’re not super backstrokers. But they do a pretty good job. I like them to eyeball their hand. It helps to arch their back a little bit. And their feet are hips apart. There’s just a little bit of air between the bottom of their knee, a little space between there. As I said, they’re not super backstrokers while one of them, the boy is. But again, we want them coming up at full speed. Notice the streamline, its descent. That was a descent. I have a hard time getting anything better than descent, giving them anything better than descent. Tight streamline, I think the next thing will go, is turns; we’ve kind of gone over that. I have him do freestyling, backstroke [inaudible] [0:37:47.1]. And tell them, that’s how I want you to feel in backstroke.

I only have two more minutes and then you’ll have to pick up the rest because I do not want to keep you. And if the electricity had stayed on, we would be able to get through this with you. Breaststroke and butterfly starts, virtually the same as in freestyle. But you want to go, of course, deeper in breaststroke. You want to go, get your underwater fly kick. And you want to come up again at full speed. Remember in butterfly, when the body comes up, the head is connected to the neck. The neck is connected to the shoulder. The shoulders come out of the water. Their head’s coming out. They’re just not breathing. One of the things that we do to help them with the pivot in both breast and free, and again, you can pick this up on the DVD is simply have them swim freestyle in touch, open turn. Touch is illegal but again, we want to teach them a pivot. So it’s touch. Bring your legs up, under, into the wall, hand behind your head. That’ll keep you on your side. Push off. And that teaches you a pivot. Head up and back, stay as low as you possibly can in butter and breaststroke. And you’ll see kids that’ll touch and they’ll continue to move in. Keep them arms out straight. That’s as far as you want to go. You touch, that’s as far as you want to go. Stop. Don’t continue in. You go in three inches too much, that’s three inches out. That’s six inches that you’ve just had to swim too far. In a 100, that’s a foot and a half, 18 inches.

Breast stroke, they come up pretty quick. This is butter, maybe. Yeah, butter. See how they come up at full speed. That’s really something that we really, really work on. You want them to tie the speed of a start and a turn to the next wall. I have on this and I’m not going to play what we do on our weight program. There’s so much that we do in weights that will help them become a better swimmer. We call it the dry pool training room. We don’t call it the weight room necessarily. And there’s lots of things that we do in the weight room that will help your swimmers become much faster. Strength is speed to a degree. You have to have technique but strength is really, really, really important. I don’t know what we have here. Turns, that’s just what I explained to you very quickly. This is our weight room. We do box jumps. We do med-ball stuff. There’s just tons of stuff that we do. We do release. And I got to mention Richard Quick. I got this idea from Richard Quick and we had to keep going to Auburn when Richard Quick coached at Auburn in the 70s. [Inaudible] [0:41:15.8], here, we’re just doing flutter kick.

Next, we have their hands under their butt that helps their back. I don’t know. These are vertical box jumps. That’s an authority 6 inch jump. And the girls do that as well. Here’s again a dryland start, touch, jump up so how hard up they can go. Here’s the [inaudible] [0:41:42.7] I was telling you about. I made them myself. Well, I had the idea myself; at the local metal shop make me axles and all. They use gloves stand up in a horizontal position. We just do the same take-off maybe. If I didn’t talk so much, you’d say it. These are pretty hard to do. And they have to have their feet towards the back. I got the [inaudible] [0:42:22.7] from, I went around collecting trash strollers. These are step ups. These are posterous. These are so important. This is perigly straight. This is really, really challenging. I love it. Now, they’re going out as far as they can, stretching out, coming back in, maintaining that thrown position. We call it posterous balance, balances swimming. Strength is posture. You have to have strength. Your head was down too much, brought it back up.

This is one arm, hand under the shoulder. And again, this will be on the website for you guys. Will you show this real quick? Everything’s straight, head in line, hand under the shoulder and then we have them, I don’t know if we’re doing this, I think we do, after they get their balance back in. This is my favorite. We do both sides. So they have to do both sides. So we do it one side than the other. We do ten of these before they stop. And one is up, back, in line, forward, one. Back, in line, forward, two. Then we do in a push-up position. This is our weight room. We just do a bunch of weights and stuff. Ankle flexion is so important. And we really push them in the weight room. We do lunges. Again, free weights are so important because they add balance. This is my favorite. I have to show you this. This is negative chin ups. That’s a 45 pound weight. And we make them do like 5 on their own. And this took a while to get to do. And then they hold it halfway and then slow down. Help them up because they’re tired after 5 or 10 of these on their own. That guy is like 115 pounds soaking wet. He’s just a sophomore. And with the girls, we use 30. Well, here, we have 25. And I’m just guiding. I’m not really helping them up. And then halfway, she does a really good job with this. She’s a junior. This is Burns. I love it. Okay, I think that’s about it, just credits and all. Thank you for staying. I’m sorry that I had to rush through this but thank you for coming out. If somebody has the lights, we’d appreciate it.

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