Teaching Breast and Fly Turns by Nancy Hennessy (2010)


Well thank you Ira, I appreciate the welcome.  Today as I speak to you about breaststroke and butterfly.  But first, I want to give you a little bit more of a briefing on how I came into coaching and why I love what I do.  I have been coaching now for almost 20 years.  I’ve been in swimming my whole life and when I first started coaching I worked with John Morrison, Nashville, and he encouraged me to come to this clinic.  And if I was you, sitting here for the first time, sitting in this room and from the very moment I walked into my first clinic, I realized I wanted to be a student coach.  And I wanted to absorb everything I could from every coach in every room and go to lunch with everybody and that’s what I’ve done.  And I still consider myself a student of coaching and other sport, and if I ever stop doing that I want to stop coaching because I never want to stop learning as well.  And as the sport continues to grow and change exponentially every year and with that I hope I can bring some new ideas that I brought on.


Now, as I put this presentation together, most of my background has been is in 11 and 12 year-olds primarily and 10 and unders.  I’ve worked with all level athletes from the very beginner, diaper dip, not teaching them turns.  And then I’ve worked with 6 and unders, 7, 8, 9, 10 all the way up to senior level athletes that are going to Olympic trials and further beyond.  So when I take my experience, I like taking the young kids and the older kids and kind of drawing that altogether to find out what it is that you can use that I can provide and possibly help you do a better job with what you teach in your programme.


Continually I’ve changed what I do in my programme.  What I teach is very different than what I teach.  I think with the importance of underwater kicking now and strokes, they tell you now that 40% of a short course shower brace can be done under water.  That’s massive.  And that, I’m not going to see very many 12 year olds do that.  I haven’t seen any.  But what you want to do is give them the foundation to be able to do that.  You know, some kids aren’t very good above water.  Some kids are excellent under water.  So you want to be able to provide that.  So in the butterfly and breaststroke turns, these are the kinds of things that you can learn, I hope, that can better enable your swimmers.


So the first thing I’m going to do today is talk to you just about what you are going to see and I’ve pretty much covered that.  I’m just going to give you a foundation of how to teach the children.  A step-by-step progression of how you start with an average athlete.  I would say that I haven’t seen a perfect turn as a coach in almost 20 years.  I think they can always be better.  I think they are individually different for every athlete depending on their ability to be good under water or not.  So you have to kind of look at those as well.  So I talk to you about an average athlete.  A very common athlete that walks into your programme next week and says, “I want to be a swimmer,” let’s teach a turn.  And then I’ll teach you the progression that we go through step by step and how to implement that into your programme.


Now, this is what you won’t see today.  You will not see a perfect turn. You will see everything but a perfect turn.  And you will see small segments of turns that get better only with a little bit of practice.  We do a lot of repetition in our programme at the early ages.  The developmental for the brain and the physical body of a young child, they need so much repetition.  So even in the small amount of video footage that I provide for you today, you are going to see improvement but you won’t see a perfect turn.


Okay the first step is this dry land.  We do a lot of dry land activity with the explosive motion or the plough metric motion of pushing off a wall.  We do a lot of jumping exercise.  We do a lot of agility exercises and then we do some core exercises to help the core strength and the legs getting up to the body and the turns and things like that.  And of course that covers all the strokes and mechanics of the strokes, but speaking specifically to the turns.  We do a lot of jumping, streamline jumping off the ground.  I’ve gone actually, and this is really pretty fascinating, and watched gymnastics classes to see what they do.  And how those girls are so strong and explosive in their running and things like that, so we do a lot of agility exercise.  It only takes about 10 or 15 minutes for a young athlete for something like that.  But we do, do a lot of those and then teach streamline position from there.  And then we go straight from that, from the exact same dry land exercise that I’ll show you in the next taped segment is the exact same thing we’ll do in the water.  So everything is taught on land first and then directly from the on land teaching instruction, we go straight into the water and do the same thing.  We do a lot of these.  We have been back in the water now for three weeks and we’ve done this everyday that we’ve been in the pool.  Both the dry land and the water.  This is setting up the foundation for the open turn.  So if you are teaching the child to be in the ready position which is two hands and two feet on the wall.  And I’ll go into further detail about that, about the positioning of that.  You are teaching the open turn in the midst of it, and I’ll talk to more about that.  Then you go straight into the water in the ready position in the streamline.  You do a drill called the lane line drill and that’s kind of diving up and over the lane lines to create the undulation of the body movement into the turn.  The float to back tuck and then a swim into a fake turn and then a real turn.


So let’s break this down and see how we do it.  I have video feed with this and what I’ll do is I’ll let you see the video feed.  We’ll walk through that first.  As you see the athletes perform the skill and then I’ll start that and talk to that.  Okay, so the first thing from ready position to streamline position, the ready position is just how you are going to position your body on the wall.  The ready position, says that much, you are ready to push of the wall.  So your feet are planted right in front of your hips with a 90 degree angle bend or 45 degree angle bend.  And you want them right in front of your hips and you want two hands on the wall in a very comfortable position.  Then you go from that in what’s called elbow your brother.  So I tell the kids, if you have got something really annoying standing behind you and you just want to go, [makes a noise].  And we talk about keeping that tightly under your waistline and then bringing it up behind you.  So you are waiting.  And I tell my kids, they are waiting for chocolate to fall out of the sky or whatever it is.  So they were just right here, very comfortable, very relaxed.  Their hips are squared; their shoulders have to open up a little bit.  And then from this position you phone your mother.  So it’s called elbow your brother, and then phone your mother.  And then form phoning your mother, you go straight into a dunk position under the water, into the streamline so that your hands are meeting each other right behind your head and then push off into streamline position, tucking under your glutes and holding your torso nice and tall.  And then when I talk to the young kids, it’s “What’s something that is really long and narrow and has a big point.  Has a point at the end and it’s really, really fast?”  So we talked about a rocket ship.  We talk about a bullet.  We talk about an arrow.  We talk about streamline being the fastest that you can be in the water.  So that is the importance of teaching that.  And again this is all just me trying to get kids to streamline and then also setting up the progression of the open turn.  So really enjoy those types of analogies.  So I’ll show you that one more time.  It’s pretty self explanatory.


And it’s obviously the kids are a little bit more rigid on land than they are on the water, so when you get a kid moving to the water position you have a lot more flexibility for them to manoeuver their bodies.  So here they are again, the same things, in the same position.  Now when I talk to my kids about being on the wall and before the push off I talk to them about being very quiet and being very still in the water.  You know we all have athletes that do these turns and there is all kinds of commotion going on and a lot of water and a lot of splashing.  So we talk about just being very quiet and very still in the water.  So it’s the exact same thing.  The ready position, just very comfortable.  Square your shoulders, square your hips, bringing the elbow back in streamline position, so you are elbowing your brother and then you are phoning your mother and then you dunk off into the streamline position.  And at these positions is where you really want to talk about squeezing the bottom, squeezing the legs together so you get the flat position.  You don’t want the buckled position that you get a lot of with the kids pulling their heads up.  So we talk a lot about just really getting that nice long body line.  And it’s not necessarily that it’s long, even just that it’s straight.  And sometimes you have to learn, if your kids are going to respond along or if they are going to respond to straight.  And either way works for me because if I get the desired effect I’m pretty happy.


Okay this is a lane line drill.  This was one of the drills that I just one day I was watching some kids playing in the pool and I thought, “Oh my gosh that’s a turn.”  And you probably think I’m crazy, but I’ll explain it.  So this is called the lane line drill.  Now I don’t know if you guys have ever seen Apollo 13 but I was at the Kennedy Space Centre not too long ago and they were talking about “Houston, we have a problem.”  And they got all these guys down in Houston and trying to figure out how they were going to get these guys back because they were going to be lost in outer space.  And they had some mechanical problems on their ship and they had to get all these guys in Houston communicate to the guys on the moon, how to get back.  And they said, “We’ve got a slingshot them around the room.”  And that just hit me, because I knew I was preparing for this talk, that a turn is a lot like a slingshot.  And I hope that I can explain this as well as I’d like.  But when you are coming off the wall, coming off the breaststroke and the butterfly short axis strokes, there is a lot of undulation in the strokes.


Okay so in the butterfly you have the undulation and in the breaststroke you have the same type of body movement that you have.  That’s the same kind of body movement with the breast and the backstroke that you want to have as you come into the wall.  So as you come into the wall and you undulating, you want to come into the wall on up rise and rebound, ricochet right back off that wall almost like that slingshot effect.  So you are coming down, you are rising up to the wall, this is where you meet the wall and you immediately throw your velocity, your speed back in the other direction.  So as you are coming into the wall on the rise, what you want to be in that position, right at that moment, is you want to pop your legs up behind you.  Right straight up behind you.  So everything you want to be within the alignment of your body.  You don’t want all this other stuff going around.  You want to keep it all as streamlined as possible.  So I talk to my kids about getting into a capsule like position.  So they are in a really tight tuck and then they want to react to the up rise of the wall and then literally just react to the wall and push off and come straight back.  And I’ll show you another drill that comes after that.  So the lane line drill for them, if you have a child that doesn’t have a great stroke technique and hasn’t really mastered if you will, the undulation of the stroke, if they are not going to really truly feel the effect of rising up to the wall and sling shotting the way back off, I found that this drill was really, really helpful for them to create that effect.  Plus they think it’s really fun.


So they just kind of come over and drive, kind of like a dolphin dive, come up to the wall and then just kind of go straight back.  Now when I’m teaching a normal free and back turn.  We always teach on the back, but obviously for the back and butterfly turns we’re going to teach coming off on the side, which we hadn’t really gotten into yet.  But I really liked this drill and the kids really responded well to it.


Now to teach the actual reaction to the wall, we do a drill called float to back tuck.  And I will kind of let you watch this.  They do a really poor job at this at first and then when I kind of stop them, you can see that I’m talking to them, because they are all looking at me.  They do a lot better job.  But just like anything that you are hearing a lot about sport right now, about the balance okay, it’s the same thing that they have to find in the turn.  They have to find the balance of where their body is in the turn.  In this particular drill I find really helps them understand where their body belongs within the turn to keep that capsule like positioning and to keep it tucked and tight so that it’s as quick as possible and as quiet as possible.  So what it is is they are just literally floating on their stomach, and then they just tuck and throw back all at the same time, but their head has to go through it.  As you watch the video, some of them throw the head and then pick up the knees and it’s very disjoined and so, but the more they do it and the more they get the rhythm of that, and find where their body is floating in the water, and find that rhythm they start to find the motion of the turn that works much better for them.  So I’ll let you watch them a couple more times.  You see a lot of them come straight up instead of taking the backward motion with them.


Audience:  Do you tell them to grab their knees? Or what do you tell them to do?


Speaker:  I’m telling them to tuck, to grab their knee in a tuck position and just throw the head back with it and it’s not a head slam, it’s kind of more the rhythmic togetherness.  Kind of like a back summersault.  Now here, I think this is a part of footage where they do a really good job.  But you know, the natural tendency again is for them to want to take that head up and then back and you want to try to get it more rhythmic, where they are doing it all in one motion backwards.  That one was a lot better.  Okay and this is what I call swimming into a fake turn.  Kids love doing this.  And what it is, is you are having them swim into the turn at full velocity at high rate of speed as best you can get.  And then trying to, again create the undulation of the body as it approaches into the wall.  You get the knee tap, so as soon as you are doing that you still want the knees to come right up underneath the shoulders and pop them back with the head throw and then they just kind of fall in the water.  So they are coming in under the up rise, they drop, they go straight back and then they just fade it out.  And that kind of gives them… what my experience has been is that kids often when they get through the middle of the turn, and when they lose the tight capsule like body position that they have, they lose all the velocity.  And so when they get to do this type of thing it reminds them of how fast they can be in the midst of the turn without having to reconfigure the body, plant the feet on the wall and get back out into a straight line.  So we do a lot of these first to just get that speed, get the hand back, get the head back, get the feet up.  Quick, quick, quick, quick, and then we add the rest of the turn after that.  You see this one kid bring his whole body out of the water.  There is the 90 degree turn.  And as you can see it they are not all undulating as they come to the wall.  Some of them are hitting the wall really, really flat.  Real typical for an age group that are taking an extra stroke into the wall.  So we kind of do a lot of alternating where we do the lane line drill undulation into the wall and do some fake turns.  And combine all these together as a progression.  Now early season will only do a little bit of these at a time.  Only do the streamline positions at first.  Will only go into the push offs the wall at first and then we start adding these slowly throughout the season.


[indiscernible question from the audience]


[NH]:  These? That’s a great question.  They do poor turns.  She asked what they do during practice.  I think that… here is a question for you, how many of you get kids when they are tapering, say, “Coach, can we work on turns today?”  How about that one.  And so I add up the yardage over the season and I add up the number of turns that they do and practice every day and I go, “Well, as a matter of fact I am a believer and the kids… and from my experience, I learn from my mistakes that I let them make mistakes.”  Now I’m there watching them and I correct and I correct and I correct.  And then at some point they have to learn to be accountable for what they do.  So I would say for a young swimmer, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, there is a lot of I guess micro management if you will, of just trying to master the skill, but I think at some point they have to do it within the frame… you know, under duress, under the framework of a practice setting, where they are not going to be one hundred percent successful.  And then with time you continue to work with them and break it down again, put it back into the framework of the practice, break it down again and just keep going back.  And with time it generally always gets better.  So that answers that question.  We work on turns everyday.  And then here we have the real turn, putting it altogether.  Carlo, God love him.  And I do love him.


[indiscernible question from the audience]


[NH]:  In this particular process, this is where we first started talking about … it’s… we talked a lot in the beginning of pushing up on the back.  I am a big proponent in our programme of pushing up on your back for flying free and the torque at the bottom to turn you onto your breast for the freestyle.  Pull out.  And the back and the breast we have to talk about that more because a lot of times they are already in the habit of pushing up on their back and then they get disqualified and then the parents are disgruntled.  So we do have to talk about it.  We talk about it… we do all the progression not talking about it.  Who asked that question? Okay we do all the progression first without talking about it, just to let them get rhythm, to let them get the flow of the stroke.  Now I’m working here with primary 11 and 12 year olds that you are going to be able to correct that more easily.  I think with the 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 year olds you are going to have to talk them through that.  And you are going to have to practice.  Now we’re going to do the breaststroke turn and you have to be past vertical to get to your breast when you start the pull out.


So then, when you put it altogether, at this point in time, when I take a kid that I feel like has gotten the turn down pretty well, they are undulating very well, they get the concept, but it’s not perfect, you can start adding stroke counts into these types of things.  If you feel that you have a swimmer that knows what a stroke count might be coming into the wall.  Now I haven’t… we didn’t talk about the under water motion yet.  With the turn I think it’s more important to get the mechanics of the actual turn down. What I would consider working off the walls for that is almost the different skill altogether.  So this is what you are seeing today is just the actual mechanics of the turn and then once they get it off the wall, we do that in a separate segment of our practice and put those two things together.  I think the hardest thing to teach right now, for me personally and I’ve heard every opinion out there and I kind of had to make a decision on what I thought was best, is where the dolphin kick goes.  We didn’t teach it to our 7 and 8 year olds last year.  I thought like it was really confusing and one dolphin kick often turned into 3 or 4.  And I didn’t feel like that was helping them be successful.  So now this year when we are talking to the kids, we’re not introducing the dolphin kick on the underwater pull and kick, but we are at the 9 and 10 year old level and I’ve found that my… I prefer that the dolphin kick goes right through here.  Through the most powerful part of the pull out.


So you start the streamline here and we hold this for three seconds and then you sweep back out and come back in.  We talk about this being a very large butterfly pull.  It’s really not even a breaststroke pull.  It’s a really huge fly pull under your body.  But right when your hands come right through your core, right through here, is when the dolphin kick occurs.  And then the dolphin kick has to occur and you have to squeeze the glute.  So if this is the back of my legs right here, the dolphin kick is here, you squeeze the glutes really, really tight, because if you get any of this motion, they are cooked.  They are going to be de-qued.  So you need to make sure that they squeeze that up and hold it tight.  There is some good teaching methods for the underwater pulling kick.  This is what I stole from somebody.  Strawberries, peaches, pumpkin pie.  And then strawberry shortcake.  Those are ways for kids to learn.  You know you get the kids that dives in the water and goes like this right away.  So you want him to hold that streamline a lot longer than that.  So you can find catch phrases for them to say to themselves, underwater, that will help them hold the streamline with the chin tuck.  Do the large pull out with the dolphin kick, hold the head down.  And then I tell my kids to come back up and pop their chin up as they kick towards the surface.  Now I heard Coral talk about this earlier is the timing of the pull out and how critical it is for that first stroke.  It’s a very difficult thing to teach to young athletes.  I’m not saying it can’t be done.  But their awareness is so inexperienced I guess of knowing where their body is in the water.  So it’s not really something that I’ve really addressed in this presentation because, you know, you are going to get the kid that’s too deep under water and they are going to have to swim to the surface on their under water pull and kick.  And for me these are all just things that, with experience, and a lot of practice those things have to work themselves out.  Yes it can be addressed at some point in time; I just didn’t offer this to you today.  So that’s all I have. Yes.


[indiscernible question from the audience]


[NH]:  Oh that’s a good question and I did not talk about that. I don’t talk about it so much in breaststroke.  I do talk about it in butterfly and I’m assuming you are talking about breathing in and out of the walls or are you talking about the exhalation?


[audience member]:  They should be comfortable enough to stay in the water to be in the capsule position rather than just lifting for the clouds or the air immediately.


[NH]:  I don’t.  That’s a good point.  I haven’t really thought of that.  What I have talked about, kids of that is that upon exhalation; enter a turn as having a more explosive exhalation.  That creates more of the vacuum effect.  But I haven’t talked to them about that particular thing no.  Does anybody else have any questions? Yes?


[audience member]:  Do you tell them anything about the depths of the hands or where it ends up.  Where you want it to end up.


[NH]:  Yes, when they start, they are on the gutter, they are very comfortable here.  The water level is right here with their arms and then the come straight down, right through here and then when they come out their hands should be about… I’d say between 6 and 8 inches below the surface.  You know, with little kids it’s going to vary, it’s going to be a little bit higher.  So it should be fairly comfortable for them with the open shoulder.  They are below the surface of the water.  You will get a lot of kids that will do this.  They will want to do the dive over the top and we always have them go under and wait right there.


[audience member]:  And what do you tell them about their hips?


[NH]:  They are dunking back as they go back.  You want their head and their full body to be immersed under the surface of the water before they push off that wall.  And you will get a lot of them that want to dive over the top and that takes time.


[audience member]:  How do you correct the tendency of kids to want to pull up under breast and butterfly?


[NH]:  Video tapes them.  I have.  I’ve pulled out my phone now, just pull them out and video tape them and that’s modern technology that we’re able to do that.  But I think that throwing their head back has been really, really helpful.  Because you are going to get the kid… and I have the fortune, I’m at the University of Florida and I use those facilities.  And so coach Troy has touch pads over the gutter on one end so they are not allowed to grab.  So that helps.  But yea you are going to get the kid that’s going to want to come out of here.  You know, chest high out of the water.  So hopefully with… and that is one danger of the undulation, coming into the walls, the kid that is going to overact and come straight up and go back.  But I’m finding as we do more of those knee tucks and head throws back and they already know those positions, that when they are coming up here there is no tucking going on.  Does that make sense/  And so when they start to feel that, that tuck’s not happening, we go back to the tuck and head throw then that starts to correct itself more.


[audience member]:  More of a touch and go.


[NH]:  Yes.  It’s a reaction.  It’s a hot cold.  It’s a wall on fire.  Which you can’t tell kids.  “Well its water, it can’t be on fire.” [Laughter]


[audience member]:  I’ve got someone who doesn’t breathe on her breaststroke and I can’t break her and I’m just kind of lost.  I keep telling her… I mean I tell her all the things.  Any idea, anything … any kind of a drill that can prevent that?  To try and break the habit.


[NH]:  I guess make her swim at 25 and hold her breath.  I mean accident deprivation is the only thing that is going to force her to want to take that breath.  You know, you can do some underwater kicking drills into the wall that will force her to take that breath and you can back up from there.  Just a thought.  Anybody?


[audience member]:  As far as that goes, should she keep her head underwater?


[NH]:  Have her say, “Hi.  Hi coach.”  Yes?


[audience member]:  Another thing you can have her do is encourage her to swim, like start something outside flags.  Swim breaststroke facing the water, so she’s against the wall.  She can’t breathe except for like at the wall.


[NH]:  Alright, well thank you very much.




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