Teaching Backstroke by Martin Zubero (2000)


Coach Martin has been the head age group coach for Patriot Aquatics in Altamonte Springs, FL, since June of 1998. His girls and boys teams placed second at the 2000 Florida Short Course Junior Olympics, and his 13-14 year-old boys’ 400 meter freestyle relay had the fastest time in the nation last year. Coach Zubero was the 1999 Florida Association Age Group Coach of the Year. Zubero is a three-time Olympian for Spain (1988, 1992 and 1996). He is a former world record holder in the 200 meter backstroke, and the 1992 Olympic Gold Medallist for the 200 meter backstroke. Zubero was the 1991 NCAA Swimmer of the Year (University of Florida), 1991 World Champion in the 200 meter backstroke, the 1994 World Champion in the 100 meter backstroke, 1990 and 1991 Southeastern Conference Swimmer of the Year, 1990 and 1991 NCAA Champion in the 200 yard backstroke, 1991 NCAA 200 yard individual medley, four-time European Champion in the 100 meter backstroke (1989, 1991, 1993 and 1997), 1990 and 1994 Goodwill Games Champion in the 100 and 200 backstroke, and 16-time All American at the University of Florida.


I coach at Patriot Aquatics in Altamonte Springs, which is about 10 miles outside of downtown Orlando, and as far as the coaching profession goes I am very young at it.  This is only my third year in coaching and I have learned a lot in those three years. I think the first year that I coached it was kind of overwhelming and I think I thought about coaching too much, and didn’t make it very simple. I think the first year was very overwhelming and each year I think my style of coaching has changed, but it has also gotten better, and I think the results we have had individually, as well as from a team aspect, has improved.  Even though it is my first year of coaching, I think I have a lot to offer, especially in the field of backstroke.


Obviously, I was the 1992 Olympic champion in the 200 meter backstroke, and held the world record for eight years, up until last summer when Lenny Krazelberg broke it at the Pan Pacific Games in Sydney.  For me, I love coaching and I have a passion for it, and I think that is why I am probably a little bit more successful with coaching age groupers.  I do have that enthusiasm and at the age group level you have to have that enthusiasm day in and day out, because age groupers see that.  If you are a coach and you come in to practice and you don’t have that outgoing personality, the kids are not going to get into it either.  So, I think that is where my level of coaching will probably be at my entire career is at age group.  I don’t think I will go any higher than that, just because it is a lot more fun and you see the kids improve a great higher rate. When you get to the Olympic and world class level they might only improve a couple of tenths, if at all.  So, it is a lot more fun for me doing at that level, and that’s why I have chosen to go that route.


As far as introduction on the backstroke, the quote that I like to use is that “it’s not as easy as just lying on your back, you can just lay on your back and wave your little arms and wave your little legs and expect to go fast”.  The backstroke is exactly like freestyle, you have to have the shoulder and hip rotation, and it is very important that you do have that movement going or you are not going to be very successful at getting to a higher level.  Flexibility is also needed.  Flexibility in the ankles, the knees, the elbows, and especially the shoulders.  I think some people might think that flexibility is very important, just on the catch of the entry.  There are many great backstrokers that when they do enter the water they do overreach but they can’t over compensate it because their flexibility is just so strong that they can get from a point where they’re over reaching and still get a tremendous amount of pull just because of the flexibility in their shoulders.


As far as flexibility in the knees, I remember when I was 12 years old and I remember going to the O’Connell Center and seeing my brother at the University of Florida and Tracy Caulkins happened to be swimming at the time.  I remember just seeing Tracy Caulkins on the pool deck stretching, and her knees were just so hyper extended, I mean it was just unbelievable.  It’s not just her.  You go to the pool deck on any swim meet, whether it’s at international level or age group level some people’s knees just go back so far in the hyper extension and it really helps out on the kick, especially with age groupers.


One of the common mistakes with age groupers is that their knees come up out of the water when they kick.  Swimmers with a greater hyper extension, their knees stay under water with a great ease.  With the elbows same thing as far as the hyper extension on the finishes.  You get a real good hyper extended elbow you can snap that finish real well.  So just having the flexibility in the shoulders, the knees, the elbows, and then like I said the ankles, it is real important to have loose ankles.  A lot of coaches out there say point your toes, point your toes hard.  If you point your toes real hard, you are not going to kick very fast.  You’ve got to make sure you have a real loose ankle, it gives a lot of flexibility, a lot more movement in the kick, and it makes it a lot easier on you to kick.  So, it is real important that you have the flexibility in those areas.


In my opinion it is the easiest stroke to teach.  When the swimmer is swimming a set, whether it is a technique set or your main set and backstroke is involved, you can get over little Jimmy or Suzie’s lane and you can give them those visual cues of what they need to do to get their technique right.  I mean, maybe they are over reaching a little bit, you’ve got to tell them to press the hands out, or you can just tell them to just finish your stroke a little bit more bend in the elbows, finish your stroke, roll the shoulders, keeping the head, keeping the head still.  You can use those visual cues while they are swimming and they do respond.  You don’t have to stop in the middle of that hard set in order to correct their stroke, and I think that’s very important.


As far as our training goes with my team, my philosophy is basically going toward the technique route. Of course you want to pound them to make them go faster, but I think you don’t want to sacrifice speed for technique.  It is real important that you teach them to do the strokes right before you teach them how to train hard.  It just seems like when I first started coaching, and right when I first got into the team and saw the kids that I had, I saw a lot of kids that trained really hard, but their strokes were just terrible, and I had to cut back on the yardage and the amount of training they were doing and sacrifice the training in order to make their strokes better.  And, I think when I swam with the University of Florida the first semester that I was there I swam with Buddy Baarcke who helped Coach Matt Cetlinsky back when he was in high school.  And I remember my first semester at Florida and we really didn’t do any hard swimming.  Most of the good swimmers, they were swimming with Randy Reese or with Skip Foster.  I wasn’t very good when I was a freshman, so I was with Buddy with most other people that were not scholarship athletes.  Everyday it just seemed like we were doing a lot of easy swimming.  He was just saying look pretty, do not go hard, look pretty.  I was looking at all of the other guys on the team, and its like man, this is going to be the easiest workout ever.  But, I mean that wasn’t the whole idea behind Buddy’s thinking.  He just wanted to make everybody’s strokes look right, and I think that it kind of made me a lot better swimmer efficiently.  I mean, maybe I was training as hard and maybe it took a lot out of me aerobically as far as the training went, but it made my stroke a lot better.  And that is the same thing I do with my kids.  We do a lot of hard yardage, but we try to take out about two days a week where we do just technique oriented stuff.


As far as teaching the stroke itself, teaching is a progression. Just with most strokes I would assume it is kind of like an assembly line. You have point A, you have point B, you go to point C.  You put them altogether and you have the final result and you have your final product at the end.  For me, I try to teach the body position and then stream lining and then the kick and shoulder and hip movement and then the arm stroke.  Now with the group that I teach, it’s more of the elite age groupers which are at the Junior Olympic level, so it’s not like I am teaching the six year old, seven year old, eight year olds how to swim correctly.  I pretty much get them when they know how to do the strokes to a degree.  But, I think that the main thing as far as trying to teach them how to swim, the first thing that they need to do is learn how to have, is the body in the right position.


One of the things that I think I can tell right off the bat of little kids is if they can be a great backstroker or not.  We run a SwimAmerica program in the summertime over at our pool, and you take that little four or five year old and you just teach them how to float on their back.  When they get right on their back without even the instructor having to say anything, if they can float on their back well and not sink to the bottom or not move the head and not looking around to see where their body is I could pretty much tell that they might have a good kinesthetic awareness and body type to be a great backstroker.  I mean, most little kids at four or five years old they want to put that head down and see where their body is, and when they do that they sink right to the bottom.  If they have the confidence in themselves that they are lying there straight on their back real well, more than likely they will be very good as far as maintaining that high body position that is needed in the stroke.


As far as the head goes, the head should not move at all.  For some kids, I mean if they lose a little bit, that’s okay it is not going to be a big deal.  One of my best 10 and under boys he just missed the national record in 50 and 100 meter backstroke this summer by one tenth of a second.  I mean he moved his head a little bit, his head was not completely still, but it is really important that they have the head back okay.  As far as the head movement, you don’t want it going side to side like a windshield wiper. It should be pretty comfortable and it should be in a fixed position more or less.  You don’t want to have the chin rested on the chest.  As soon as the chin is rested on the chest when you’re swimming, all of the water hits the back of your head and the neck and the shoulders and it will slow you down.  So you want to make sure you have that head back, have the shoulders back and just make sure that everything is in line.  The head , the neck, and the back should all be in a straight line.  That is very important.  That pretty much sets up the body position.


Just like I said before, if the head is back in the correct position the shoulders are kind of square up a little bit.  The more you put the head back the shoulder blades will kind of go in a little bit and it will kind of tighten the body up.  Most backstrokers, the good ones, their shoulders are kind of squaring up a little bit, they are trying to keep their body in a tight line.  Their shoulders are not taking up the whole lane, their hips aren’t taking up the whole lane, and their feet aren’t so far apart.  Everything is a in a compact motion, okay.  As far as the head, you don’t want the head to go too far back either.  Some people with the head when it is pulled too far back, the top part of the forehead is going in the water, and because of that the hips and the feet are going up too high and the kick will kind of lose its effect because the feet are up too high and you are kind of kicking a little bit of that loose water and not having  the feet under water where they should.  You will lose a little bit more power that can be gained.


Okay, now we get into the streamline part or the progression.  When you think of streamline I think most people when they think of streamline they are thinking about streamlining off the walls and off the turns and trying to keep everything in a tight line.  When you are swimming it is kind of the same thing.  You  want to try to keep the shoulders and the hips and the body real tight.  You want to be as tight as you can, be as less resistant as possible.  It’s almost like being a needle; you want to go straight down on it.  And I think that body type has a big importance on this stroke.  I think that if you look at the big names in backstroke swimming, like Kristine Egerzegy and John Nabor and Arron Piersall, they have the body type where they are tall and just real skinny.  I mean, Egrezegy was like a toothpick. I mean there is little resistance to the water and I think that makes a big difference on swimming the stroke fast.  I put Jeff Rouse and Lenny Krazelberg up there also.  I don’t think they have the body type of being that skinny and lanky like the other people are up there, but they kind of square it up a little bit.  They don’t swim far outside of the body.  They keep it pretty close to the body when they swim.  And with Krazelberg especially even though I think I said before some people over reach and he over reaches a little bit, but he has a lot of flexibility and power on that first part of the stroke.  It doesn’t matter if he is over reaching.  He can over reach all day long.


Okay, the backstroke kick.  Obviously, you’re using the flutter kick and it is a little bit different that what it is on freestyle.  On freestyle you have the 2 beat kick, 4 beat kick, and 6 beat kick, what have you.  On backstroke it is more of a constant motion.  I think for me when I swam the backstroke especially in the 200, I use it more of a rutter.  I didn’t use it for power and trying to get a lot out of my legs.  I was getting more out of my arms.  Now toward maybe the last quarter of the race, last quarter to three quarters of the race, I would start thinking about getting my legs into it, but not before that.  I think that it’s just more of a rutter, keep your high position in the water.  And also the feet need to be close to the body.  Feet can’t be coming all the way over here, the feet should be coming close to the body just like the arms should be coming pretty close to the body.  Just like I said before, you want to point the toes to correct the knees but you want to try and keep the ankles loose.  You don’t want to point the toes to the point where you are just not getting any movement out of the ankle.  The ankle should be moving every time you kick.


Now the one way that I try to teach the backstroke kick is by having the hands to the side and by getting the kick, it kind of goes into the next progression of the hip and shoulder rotation.  That is just by putting the hands to the side and just hesitating to a four or six, or eight count of bringing the shoulder and the hip simultaneously up to the chin.  And trying to do that on both sides, just teach them just getting the shoulders and hip going along with the kick.


Okay, now we are going to go into the arm stroke.  This is a good analogy that it is very good to use with the ten, eleven year old group, what have you, age grouper.  The hand should be going in just like a clock.  It should be going in at eleven and one.  Now the swimmer, maybe they are overreaching a little bit and they think that they are going in at eleven and one, I might tell them to go to ten and two, but the hands should be coming in right at the shoulder length, right at the shoulders, and not behind the head.  As far as the movement goes, you’ve got the catch at the beginning of the stroke and then you are going to skull down and then you are going to skull up and then you are going to go down and finish at the end of the stroke.  I know nowadays they are starting to teach the second upward pull on the backstroke but kind of like I said before, you want to try and keep things pretty simple with the age grouper.  You don’t want to make it any harder than what it is.  And I just teach the one way,


As far as the movement of the pull, it’s like a question mark.  You’re bringing the hand all the way down, so its making like a half circle, and then you are finishing it through.  So it looks exactly like the question mark.  And there is an acceleration throughout the stroke so that the finish with a whip like motion into the finish with the elbow extended all the way out with the thumb up to get you ready for that recovery.  Continuing with the arms, the swimmer should be kind of like on a skewer, like you were a shishkabob and you’ve got a big old pole going down the middle of your head and coming out the bottom part of your body and you are just moving.  Your body’s just moving on that bar, shoulders and hips are just moving and nothing else.  The head should be still.  You’ve just got to have that imagery bar going right down the body and just moving the shoulders and hips along that bar.


As far as the hands go, the thumb should come out first.  When the hand comes up at mid point a lot of age groupers they want to flip that hand around and not have that gradual turn.  It is really important to try and gradually turn the hand before it goes into the catch, don’t flick that wrist real important.  Thumb up, it helps set up for the entry at eleven and one o’clock.  Okay, rifle action, when the hands come up out of the water it’s almost like you’re looking down the barrel of a gun.  Especially with age groupers it is very important I think that they learn this.  That when the hand goes out, looking straight up right down the top part of your arm, and looking through the thumb just like it was the barrel of a gun.  Real important.

But it’s just real important that at the meet you want to think about swimming fast and not so much on technique.  So, it’s real important they do these things in practice such as the question mark, and trying to get the rifle action and things like that.  But when it comes down to race, those things should be coming down automatically by the time they get to the race.  And finally, bringing the hands to the top of the body.


Okay, this last part, as far as bringing the hands up, a lot of swimmers they want to bring the hands around the side when they are swimming instead of bringing the hands over the top.  It kind of goes along with the phrase of trying to keep everything tight.  You want the hands to go up along the body instead of coming around the side, keep everything as close as possible to the body as you can.  By bringing the hands around the side there is a good chance you are going to over reach at the top part of the stroke.  And also, by bringing the hands around there is a good chance your head is going to follow along with the hand and it’s going to create that windshield wiper type motion that I was talking about earlier.  It is real important to bring the hands over the top and leading with the arm.  You never want to lead the stroke by the hand.  You want the shoulder to come out before the hand.  If you lead with the shoulder, the hand is going to come out straight and it’s really going to set you up well for the top part of the stroke.  If you lead with the hand, there is a good chance your arm is going to bend and you are going to have all sorts of problems at the back part of the stroke.  The hand could go out wide, the hand could go behind the head.  So it’s real important that the swimmer leads with the shoulder.


Which kind of goes into the next slide.  This is a picture when I broke the world record in short course meters in the 200 meter backstroke.  This was nine years ago.  This record also got broken last year by Lenny, and  I think the main thing I am trying to point out in this picture, if you look at the left arm when it is coming out, the shoulder is coming out first.  I’m leading with the shoulder, and not with the hand.  The shoulder is completely out of the water.  That is the main thing that I am trying to emphasize on the stroke.  Is that the shoulder is completely out of the water.  The head is a little bit tilted forward, I probably could have my head back just a little bit more.  But that is just the main thing that I wanted to concentrate on that picture.


The backstroke has changed a lot in the last couple of years, as far as the dolphin kicks and the new turns in not touching the wall.  When I set the world record here, I broke the world record by three and a half seconds in the short course meters.  And the person who had it before me was Mark Tewksbury.  He was like 1:55 plus in the 200 backstroke, and he did that with the old turns.  That was with the hand touch.  When I did it, it was with the new turns and I broke the record by three plus seconds.  So I think just the addition of having the new turn, I think it makes a big deal of difference especially in short course meters.  I mean, I think about the times when I swam, like Rick Cary he was a 1:44 plus yards 200 back and John Nabor, he was like 1:44, 1:45 plus.  And now, he put the new turns in and throw in the dolphin kicks, I mean, its very easy to fake a good backstroke, especially short course.  It really is.  You’ve got a lot of people out there that can go 141’s and 142’s in the 200 backstroke.  But if you look at Olympic trials there are only three guys under two minutes, I think, this year at the Olympic trials in the 200 backstroke.  But the top two in that event, they will probably going to go one two at the Olympics.  That’s probably one of our stronger events as far as the top two goes, but depth wise is probably not as deep as many of the other events that we have.  So I think that the new turns have helped out a lot, and it has changed the stroke, and I would hate to see what people like John Nabor or Rick Cary would have done with the new turns and with the evolution of the dolphin kick.  I mean John Nabor 1:59.1 in 1976.  I mean that is probably 1:55, maybe 1:54, today with all of the stuff they have added since he swam.  I think the stroke itself might not have changed as much, but I think the additions of the new turns and the dolphin kick have made the stroke faster.


As far as the arm stroke goes a common mistake with age groupers is on the finish of the strokes they want to have the hand too close to the body when they press down.  You want the hand to get a little wide.  When it comes through you want to get that 90 degree bend in the arm, it sets up that finish real well, hypertension of that elbow, finishing up with the thumb out which sets you up for the recovery.


Backstroke start, since I am dealing with the little guys, I pretty much put them all on the gutter.  Most of them, they don’t have the size or the strength to even grab the bar if it’s real high.  I know at some pools its different from others, but I teach them all to go off the gutter.  If they do go off the bar, it is real important never have the thumbs underneath the bar.  When the gun goes off it takes a lot more time to get that thumb out from underneath the bar than to have the thumb on the bar or over the bar itself.  I remember when I swam I always wanted to have the thumb on the bar just because it added a little bit more of a push when I got off the block.  As far as the hand position goes, it should be shoulder width apart.  It should be right at the shoulders, very comfortable, shouldn’t be trying to hold on like you are holding on for dear life or anything.  It should be nice and loose.  One thing I try to tell my age groupers — they want to get right in the water and they go right up and they grab on before the referee says swimmers place your feet and take your marks –you don’t want them hanging on there for five or ten minutes.  It’s real important for them to listen to the referees command just so they keep their arms and shoulders loose.  Last thing, the head should be in line with the spine.  When you’re coming up the head should be in line with the spine to avoid from double clutching.  If you have the head too far back and you’re coming off the block and the gun goes off you are going to pull the head up and then you are going to pull it back and that just eats up a lot of time.  That eats up a good three to four tenths.  I know at the world class level that is a big difference.  In an age group level, three or four tenths might not mean as much, but it is real important to have the head in line with the spine in the set position.


As far as the foot position goes, the feet should be separate.  You never want to have the feet together.  I remember at Bolles, Greg Troy, he was one of my coaches at Bolles during high school, he made the analogy you want to have the feet apart just like you are trying to dunk a basektball from underneath, just from a standing position.  The only thing that I couldn’t understand is at 5’6” I don’t see how Coach Troy would know anything about dunking a basketball.  That’s okay, he makes fun of my hair line, so I’m trying to get him back.  But, it’s real important to have the feet apart.  If you have the feet apart and you are trying to dunk a basketball it’s a lot easier than having the feet together.  I think that the same principle applies here.  You just get a lot more distance when you push off the wall like that.


As far as pulling up, just pull up slightly , slight bend in the elbows you don’t want to pull up too far.   If you‘re pulling up too much all that weight you’re putting on your body, you’re going to go down.  Just like I said with the feet, if you have your feet together and you’re pulling up, you’re going to go down.  So it’s real important that your feet are apart and that you pull up just slightly, so that there’s a little bit of bend in the elbow.  As far as the hands go, with the age grouper I think most of the one’s that I have go over the top.  I think it’s a lot easier for them to get a little bit more air, a little bit more distance by going up over the top on it.  If you do elect to go to the side, bringing the hands to the side, you are going to have a flatter entry.  And you are probably not risking as far as going straight to the bottom.  Here the same thing, hands over the top, deeper entry, and I think that might even help with the age groupers especially if they have a good dolphin kick.  If you do go deep off the start, they are going to need that full 15 meters to get right to the surface.  That’s kind of what I encourage, if they do have that dolphin kick as a weapon they need to use it.


Tight streamline, off the starts and off the turns.  A lot of coaches when they say streamline off the starts and off the turns, why don’t they just say try to get no space between the arms and the elbows.  For me it’s kind of easy to streamline with no space between my arms and elbows and still have my elbows bent.  So what I concentrate on telling the kid who’s trying to get the elbows on top of one another.  That is very difficult to do for most kids, but I think that it gets them to streamline a lot harder than just trying to get no space between the ears.


And then as far as the kick itself, there are two transitions as far as coming up to the surface, you have got the dolphin kick to the flutter kick, short dolphin kicks, real short.  What I try to tell the kids, I don’t want any Shamu, Free Willy type kicks where it’s all the way up and down like this. Real short and fast coming from the hips.  Not from the knees.  A lot of kids, they want to kick from the knees down, but from the hips.  The upper body is also important with the dolphin kick when you streamline it.  It is an undulation of the entire body. You want to press with the hands up and it’s kind of like a wave motion.  Trying to get the whole body into it, but your head does stay still between the arms on the streamline.  So you go from the dolphin to the flutter. You want to make sure there is no time at all between the dolphin and the flutter.  The feet should always be moving and then the flutter to the break out.


This is where there are some problems with some age groupers; they don’t know how to time the start on that first stroke.  They might start that first stroke too early, and they get caught in this position  coming all the way up.  It should be a good two to three seconds coming into this position and it really hurts the momentum going to that second stroke.  So it’s real important they get to the surface, pop that first stroke, pop the second stroke.  The first two strokes are real important because those two strokes set the entire momentum for your lap.


This is a diagram from Coach Hannula’s book, Coaching Swimming Successfully, just showing the start itself.  As far as getting the whole body up out of the water in this position the hands, it looks like the hands are going straight back on from this position.  I couldn’t find too many diagrams of good backstroke starts.  This is about as good of one as I could find.


Backstroke turns.  Stroke count, stroke count, stroke count; very important.  Like I mentioned before a little ten year old boy I had he just missed both national records because he looked for the wall and didn’t have any faith in his stroke count whatsoever, and we were doing it day after day and he still didn’t have faith in it.  What I tried to tell him is that the pool where we train at the wall hasn’t moved in the last eight years that I was there.  But he still doesn’t believe that.  He still thinks that his stroke will be different every time.  So it’s very important that you get the confidence in that stroke count no matter how bad it hurts.  You might hit your hand on the wall, you might hit your head, it might hurt, but that pain is temporary.  If you get that turn down, I mean you get so much momentum out of it, I mean it’s going to help you out in the end.  The finish stroke count is very important.  Get the swimmer to turn on both sides.  Now early when I swam we had to touch the wall with the hand on the turns, and I know that when I swam I favored turning on my left over my right.  I hated turning on my right, but I learned how to do it.  Probably not as well as I did on my left hand, but you needed to learn how to turn on both hands.  And even now, even though it has come to the point in the stroke where you don’t have to touch the wall with the hand anymore, swimmers still favor going to that one side.  I remember in the later part of my years, I still favored turning over on my left side, than going on my right.  So it’s real important that you do turn on both sides, even though you do not have to touch the wall with the hand.


As far as the turns go, you should be pushing off slightly deeper especially if you do have a good dolphin kick.  You want to push off slightly deeper and going up at a little bit of angle, going up into your first stroke.  Also, you want to try to get your hands over the top on the turns.  Over the top, not be just swinging the hands to the side, but by bringing the hand over the top.  You can start your turn a little bit earlier because it takes a little bit more time to bring your hand over the top this way and create that momentum going to the turn, instead of going through the side where it takes a little bit less time, you’re not getting as much distance going to the wall.  It is real important that you get that turn down right, because if you do come over too early and you’re not going into the turn you will be disqualified for not going continuous into the wall.  Backstroke turn, going straight for the wall, the hand is coming real close to hitting the wall, when you come over head goes straight down, you want to pull the hands into the face, while pulling that brings the feet over a lot quicker.  You’re coming straight off just like that.


Breathing pattern, yes, there is a breathing pattern on backstroke.  When I swam backstroke, I always tried to exhale throughout my nose pretty intensely.  It’s almost like not only did it get the CO2 out of me and get some more oxygen in a lot quicker, but it also kind of created more of a momentum type tempo just by breathing out of nose real, real hard. It just kind of got me like in a beat as far as getting to my stroke.  When I swam I took my amount of strokes at a pretty small rate the first 50 to 100, and then once I got into the race like I used to, I used to pretty much back half my races when I swam, the turnover rate would increase and I could feel it in the tempo just by the way that I breathed in the stroke, and I think that helped out a lot.


This goes into the drills that we do.  Most of the drills that you see here I am sure you have done at your programs.  Single arm drills, I mean this could be right arm only, left arm only, combinations.  This is just isolate using that one arm.  The arm you are not using you keep by your side, the other arm just try to concentrate on getting that question mark like motion in the arm, that I was talking about earlier.  Just like I said, where the top part of the question mark is the deep catch, pull on up, the bottom part of the question mark is finishing through, just snapping on the bottom part of the question mark.  That’s the phrase that I use on the kids the most.  Just to snap the finish real well, just concentrate on accelerating all the way through the stroke and set you up for the recovery.


Double arm backstroke.  This is my favorite drill that I have.  It forces the swimmers to bend the elbows on the finish of the stroke.  A lot of age groupers, and there is a couple of them that I have, when they try and finish through they want to go straight arm, and I hate that.  I want to them to have that 90 degree bend in the arm, when they finish throughout the stroke.  By doing the double arm it kind of forces it.  You have both arms going in, if you get that 90 degree bend on both arms, you get so much more momentum pushing you forward.  It also helps stretch you out on the top part of the stroke.  Just by trying to get both arms in at the same time without any shoulder roll, trying to get a deep catch is real hard.  It’s real hard.  It kind of stretches the shoulders out, and one of the favorite sets I like to do after a hard set, whether it’s backstroke set, IM set, what have you, is to go six or eight 50’s where you catch a freestyle double arm backstroke back. Just trying to keep the stroke long on the freestyle on the catch, and then on the backstrokes on the way back is doing double arm, just trying to stretch your shoulders out.  Especially if you are doing a hard set, it helps stretch the arms and shoulders out, to help you recover a little bit.  It also helps with over reaching.  If you have the double arm it kind of forces you to go to eleven o’clock and one o’clock and if you are hitting the hands behind the head like that, you are definitely over reaching.  You just want to tell the kids to go to eleven and one, and if they are still not doing it, ten and two just like I said before.


Spin drill.  Most of the times I use spin drill.  It’s usually not more than twelve and a half or twenty-five with the little guys.  Usually if it is over 25, they just can’t spin their arms anymore.  It kind of defeats the purpose.  You just want to sit up on top of the water, just like you are sitting in a chair on top of the water and getting those arms going as fast as you can.  No matter how silly it feels.  No matter silly it feels, you’ve got to get those arms going.  We only do this at the final phase of the season or the taper season.  With the age groupers there is really not much of a taper season anyway.  Maybe a week, week and a half out of a major meet, just work on the hand speed drills.  It’s not just backstroke, we have hand speed drills for all the strokes, but for backstroke we do a lot of spin drill. A lot of it.


Kicking drills.  As far as the kicking goes, we do a lot of stuff with the fins, cut off fins, and everybody’s got whether it’s zoomers, cut off fins, whatever, that’s fine.  But everybody has got to have the cut offs.  Little Jimmy might have the half cut off fins on while Billy has the big old scuba fins on where he’s taking like three kicks and he’s already three quarters of the way down the pool.  So everybody’s got to have the same type of fin.  That’s just tries to get the ankle flexibility going and makes it a lot easier getting the loose ankles going.


Next thing we do, we do a lot of shooters, just going fifteen, twenty yards kicking just real fast, short kicks, mostly double transition like I was saying before, fly for three then free going right into that good hard first stroke, right to the break out.  Doing the shooters 15, 20 yards, that’s also something we do kind of toward the end of the season.


Vertical kicking.  Most of the vertical kicking we do is with the milk jugs, and this is something that we used to do all the time at Pine Crest and when I trained with my brother and with Ralph Crocker, during the summers, and it really helps out a lot with the kids.  I mean, you might have a ten or eleven year old that might not be as strong, you might fill the jug up maybe half way and then you have a thirteen or fourteen year old that might be a little bit stronger and can handle a full gallon jug or whatever, and you fill it all the way to the top.  Just hold it straight to the body, dolphin kick, flutter kick, what have you.  Especially with dolphin kick, you still want to make small kicks, and with the flutter kick you want to try to keep the feet close to the body.  Just like I was saying before.  A lot people may kick vertical, you want to get those feet real wide and rest on it.  You got to keep the kick small.


Last thing we do, a lot of power kicking.  Some of the kids that I have, they are great at pulling, some of them are great at kicking, and some of them they’re not.  Some of them hate using their legs.  This kind of forces you to use your legs.  You’re just kicking flat on your back with your hands straight up in the air and that’s real hard.  If you’re reaching for the sky like you’re supposed to with straight arms you’ve got to kick real hard just to stay afloat, real hard. No fins at all. The hands are going straight up, the head straight back. Your head is straight back just like your normal back stroke position.  Same thing as with the spin drill.  We’ll usually do that for 12 and halves and twenty-fives after that they start falling to the bottom of the pool.


As far as their practices go, just like I was saying before, we do have very hard practices.  I came from programs when I went to Bolles under Greg Troy and with Randy Reese at the University of Florida, and Skip Foster at the University of Florida we were very into the high volume spectrum of training, but we do our high volume.  But like I was saying before, I think Buddy Baarcke where it was all trying to look pretty, and I think that a lot of things that we do are.  I’m pretty much focusing more on technique, trying to get the kids to look good.  I want them to look good at the meets.  Of course, I might be sacrificing maybe going fast at ten years old where I’m not doing as much training or I could be beating them up everyday and maybe they could go faster, but I think I’m helping them.


Number one, it really helps them not slapping the hands on the entry.  You want that paddle to go in straight, because if you have that paddle going flat you’re going to slip on that first part of the stroke.  So it really forces you to get the little finger in first with the paddle on .  Also with the paddles on, its going to force you to bend that arm.  I mean if you’re swimming backstroke and you’re trying to get a straight arm backstroke with a paddle on, ooh that hurts.  It forces you to bend that hand on the finish.  It also helps to drive the hand in deeper.  As far as the size of the paddles, I don’t let them use very big paddles at ten, eleven years old.  But by having something that is a little bit bigger than their hand, it forces them to get that hand down below the surface of the water and you’re not catching any air at all just because they had something that is a little bit bigger than their hand on.


As far as our practices go, Wednesdays are usually our days where we do a lot of, it’s usually our recovery day.  Monday’s we always go distance, Tuesdays we always go IM, and then Wednesday is our recovery day.  We go very easy.  The motto that I have, I mean the way that I do my program I have done for the last two and a half years, we go two hard workouts and then we go one easy one just focusing on technique.  That way they don’t get so broken down, I mean most age groupers don’t really get that broken down anyway, but it really, having that recovery day just going real easy and just focusing one technique it really helps them out as far as not getting broken down.


As far as swimming correctly, we go real slow.  I mean not just backstroke, we might go breaststroke, or butterfly or freestyle, but we are swimming slower than, I mean just really, really slow.  We’re going maybe 400’s, 500’s just trying to concentrate on just trying to do each part of the stroke correctly.  I think this is something that Terry and Glenn were trying to say in the last speech, as far as trying to get them to do the skills right in the stroke, as far as not, just concentrating on the training aspect of it. You can have a kid training all day long, if his stroke doesn’t look right, he is not going to get very far into the future, so Wednesdays we just go very slow just concentrating on trying to get each part of the skill of that stroke to perfection.  And then we try to increase the rate of the speed and before long they are going to be able to do the stroke right at a high rate of speed.  Now this doesn’t help with everybody.  I would say with the kids on the backstroke part of it, I’d say maybe 60-70 percent of the kids are doing the stroke a lot better.  And then I’d say maybe the other third are not doing as well for various reasons.


As far as the practices go we do a lot of over distance 400’s to 600’s in Florida now.  I don’t know what it is in the rest of the nation.  They’ve added the 200’s to the strokes for eleven and twelve year olds, so it’s important we do a little bit more of over distance stuff so that when they do get to the shorter events, or when they do get the 200’s, it seems like a piece of cake.  And then even though I’m talking a lot about backstroke, our program is not backstroke oriented.  Man, I’d love if all my kids were backstrokers.  I really would but that’s just not the way it is.  Our program’s more IM oriented, just trying to teach all four strokes.  I mean, some kid’s best stroke one day might be his worst stroke in a couple years, so it’s real important that you teach all four strokes just so that they have something to fall back on in case their best stroke doesn’t end up being as good as they think it will be in the end.  And like I said, it’s not special at all.  Maybe in the final preparation of the season, we do a lot more as far as gearing up to our best strokes as far as like broken 200’s and getting up and racing doing our best stroke from the blocks.  But there is no specialization in our program.


This is just a thing that I read in a little booklet, it’s called Thinking by Eric B. Stock, Ph.D.  I think that this takes a lot of my philosophy on the coaching.  Like I said before, I try to think differently each season.  I know with a lot of the things I do we do try to keep it the same.  Like I said before, if it’s not broke don’t fix it.  But I do think that you do have to change a couple of things each season if you want to progress in the sport.  You don’t want to just keep on doing the same things season after season.  That’s going to be very boring.  And just by taking what all for of those letters say, it kind of reminds me of when I was in tenth grade or eleventh grade when I had chemistry and you do an experiment and you had to form your own hypothesis and all that, and do your experiment and see how the conclusions go.  This kind of does the same thing. What kind of results do you want to achieve, and you explore the situation you’re in, what are goals coming up for that season for the team, for the individual, what have you, and then you switch your perception.  You try to step outside of who you are and try to think what could I do differently, and then you see how you like it and then you test the idea out on your kids from the program to see how it works, and then you see how you like.  And see if you want to try and do that each season.  I think that trying to be a better coach you’ve got to try to evolve each season.  And I know that in my third year that I’ve done that.


To end it all up, I’ve a little video.  This only takes about three minutes, and it’s the old ten year old boy I have, his name’s Casey Claflin, he just missed the national records by one tenth of a second in the 50 and 100 backs this summer.  He’s 33.3 in the 50 and 1:11.7 in the 100.  And if he just knew what his stroke count was, he probably would have both records right now.  There are some flaws in his stroke.  I mean its not like he has a perfect stroke or anything like that, but I look him and I look at other ten year olds, his strokes are pretty good, but there are things that can be done to improve upon.


As you can see he over reaches pretty bad with the right arm when he’s going behind but if you ever sees this kid when he does stretching exercises and things like that, he’s like a rubber band.  I mean, he could pull his hands all the way behind his head. Very hyper extension in the knees and in the ankles and his shoulders.  As you can see on that top part of the stroke, he gets that hand down pretty deep.  Knees are under the water, constantly kick.  Feet are closed to the body.  They’re not getting away from him at all.  Tight streamline, real nice double arm, when the right arm gets a little bit too close to the surface as you can see by the bubbles that are coming up along the finish on his right arm.  Backstroke wise he’s real good, I mean swimming wise he doesn’t use the underwaters very much at all.  He’s all upstairs when he swims.  He’s under water a bare minimum.  You see he’s bending the hands on the finish, getting that propulsion going through the stroke.  This is going to be 50 backstroke, just nice and easy.  Just trying to make the stroke look right.  This is a spin drill.  And you see, trying to get the whole body up out of the water, getting the hands over as fast as he can.  This is the easy one.  Real nice.  Got real natural roll in the stroke.  Over reaching behind the head, but still, I mean he’s got so much flexibility behind him that really doesn’t make that much of a difference.  His head does move a little bit, but not very much and he finishes all the way to the hip at the end of each stroke.  This last 50, he does this in a race pace going all out.  This was on Monday after he did a pretty hard 4500 set and he went 29.8 right here 50 backstroke.  Real nice turnover.  No pause in any part of the stroke whatsoever it’s like a machine, there is no pause at the finish, no pause at the top of the stroke, accelerating all the way to the finish. Snap in the bottom part of the stroke on the question mark, looking for the wall just like he always does.


(Inaudible Question) I would say about 45 degrees, I mean the head might move a little bit, but it just cant go crazy, and get the hands out of place.


(Inaudible Question) No, we do not do any bands at all. I think that really hurts as far as the body position, so I really try to avoid using the bands.


(Inaudible Question) As far as the finish yeah, I think the main thing is just throwing the head back and throwing the whole momentum into wall, and trying to get the feet going up, like a half a dolphin kick on the finish, and it gets him going to the wall pretty well.


(Inaudible Question) With the hand going down, I try to keep the thumb up the whole time, that’s the main thing that I try to concentrate on. That and having the elbow on this hyper extended on the finish. That’s the main thing, it’s going down but you got the elbow hyper extended to set yourself up for recovery. Right after the catch right when you’re pulling through that’s when the body is gonna rotate on it. Right when you’re pressing out that’s when the body is gonna start moving.

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