Terry Laughlin, founder and Head Coach of Total Immersion Swimming, has been a competitive swimmer since 1966 and a swimming coach since 1972. Since founding Total Immersion in 1988, he has taught more improvement-minded swimmers than any other swimming coach in the world. His coaching background includes 20 years as a USS age-group coach and award-winning college coach. Many of his swimmers have been National Champions and/or world-ranked. Coach Laughlin has taught the finer points of technique at clinics around the world and at the US Olympic Training Center. In addition to his coaching credentials, Laughlin is, by virtue of his books, articles and website, the world’s most widely read authority on swimming technique and how to learn and teach it. When not coaching or writing about swimming, Terry, not surprisingly, likes to be in the water, and has been an avid Masters swimmer since 1988, where his favorite venue is ocean or open-water racing.
I’m Terry Laughlin the head coach at Total Immersion Swimming. I’ve been a swimmer since 1966 and a swimming coach since 1972. I coached pretty conventionally from 1972 until 1988, coaching college teams and club teams. In 1988 I quit coaching age group because I was discouraged by problems with parents and by my low income. I spent the next 8 years doing nothing but teaching, teaching intensively and the audience was made up primarily of adults who were unskilled and inexperienced swimmers. We had only a brief time — two to five days — to leave them with some tools for self-coaching.
This was very different from the situation that you get working with age group teams, college teams where your swimmers are, by and large, more skilled and more comfortable about being in the water, they seem to have better intuition. I can sum up the difference for you this way: We spend 10 months of the year teaching adults on the weekends and then in the summertime for a few weeks we run a week long camp for kids and there is quite difference in the experience in teaching adults and that of teaching kids. When teaching adults we explain everything in great detail, and we give them all kinds of reinforcement of what we are teaching. While we are instructing them their eyes are burning a hole in our forehead because they are so completely absorbed. And they’re thinking intensively about it, and you can see them rehearsing everything we are talking about. Then they go on to the first lap of what we have asked them to do and it looks nothing like what we are hoping for and it takes a lot of work to get them to where we want them. When we are teaching kids, while we are explaining the drill to them they are hanging upside down in the water and generally doing everything but appearing to pay attention, yet the first lap looks almost perfect!
So you learn a lot about the difficulties people experience trying to acquire swimming skills when you are teaching adults intensively for eight years. What we’re going to talk about today is the most essential, the most critical lesson of that experience. But first, I’ll ask my colleague to introduce himself.
Thank you, Terry. My name is Glenn Mills, I’ve been working with Terry in New York for three years now. But I had two older brothers who swam and took pity on me and decided to take me to the local pool and teach me how to do things correctly. At 13, I got my first ribbon, by 14 I started to progress and I got a little bit bigger and by 18 I won Olympic trials in the 200 breaststroke. However I just picked a really bad year to win Olympic trials in 1980. I trained under Skip Kenny and Denny Pursley and Don Gambril. When I started coaching, I coached like Denny and Skip and Coach Gambril did 20 years ago. I worked my athletes tremendously, I was great at motivating them, I was great at beating them up, but I didn’t know how to teach them. I didn’t know how to tell them what I thought and felt when I swam.
I thought that everybody had those intuitions, but when I heard Bill Boomer talk it woke me up and I realized that I had to find a better way to communicate with my athletes, but I still wasn’t sure how or what to teach. About five years ago, I began working with Terry and the Total Immersion experience has given me the ability to communicate what a lot of elite athletes already feel. I’ve learned that you can communicate it to older swimmers as well or better as you can to young kids. I have 8-year old twins. They’re not on a team, but they spend some of their play time in the pool, practicing TI drills and when they do swim, they swim beautifully — nothing like what most 8-year olds look like when swimming. It’s not really fast yet, but between you and me I don’t really care how fast they are at 8, I want them to be in the sport for life. So we’ve got some time to make sure that their technique is perfect rather than to try to beat them up.
Terry: What we are going to talk about today is teaching balance. If you’re like me when you go to a coaching clinic, you are hoping for one critical insight or really important tool that you can use to make your swimmers faster. That is what we believe we have to share with you today, a critical insight that will make any swimmer better. I was in the audience while “” talked this morning about the training of Ingrid de Bruin and he alluded to a number of things that are important in developing a world class swimmer. He did mention technique, he didn’t talk about it a lot but he mentioned it as being important. He talked a lot more about the ability to train hard and so on.
Whenever I contemplate the best swimmers in the world and I’m not just talking about somebody who medals in one Olympics. I’m talking about somebody who does things that are mind boggling, like Ian Thorpe or someone who has an incredible level of excellence sustained over an entire decade like Alexander Popov. In that class you can include probably most of the people who are going to medal in Sydney in a couple of weeks and the thing that they all have in common and which seems to distinguish them from other swimmers is they have great beauty and flow when they’re swimming. They swim beautifully at slow speed and they are still beautiful when they are going at world class speed.
I always ask myself what is the most fundamental element of swimming like that. I also ask what part of that can I convey to my swimmers. World class swimmers, as Paul said, are incredible physical specimens and most of your swimmers aren’t. You and I coach average physical specimens. You can give them training that will make them fitter and stronger but you can’t turn them into extraordinary physical specimen. World class swimmers also have things that you cannot see — like great engines, as the physiologists sometimes say. That is also something that you are born with, To an extent you can improve the engine your swimmer has but you can’t give your swimmer a world class engine.
But the thing that we’ve found in all of our teaching, the thing that we’ve found that we can get across to any swimmer is the ability to swim with beauty and flow. They have to learn it in small, patient, well-planned steps, but we’ve found that any swimmer can learn to exhibit at least that part of what a world class swimmer does. So I can’t escape this feeling, that if I want to really make a difference with any swimmer I coach, I should focus on what allows me to convey to them the essence of what makes a world class swimmer. In all of the teaching we’ve done, we’ve observed that the one absolutely non-negotiable element is balance. Balance will utterly determine a swimmers ability to be fluent in their swimming. Therefore teaching it is your most critical coaching skill. No other element of your coaching makeup will have as much influence on the swimmers and teams you coach.
Balance is actually quite simple to teach but less simple to understand. Once you understand what the critical elements of balance are and the steps you follow to teach, it really is very, very simple to teach. But most people misunderstand it. They understand that technique is important, they understand what good technique looks like and can distinguish it from poor technique, but they really don’t have an understanding of how to teach it.
One of the things that has been enjoyable is, while we work mainly with undeveloped swimmers but every now and then we get an invitation to coach some really good swimmers. On Monday, Glenn and I are going to Auburn to do a three day workshop with the Auburn University swimmers. Their men have won NCAA’s two of the last three years, their women have been in the top 5. While there, we will focus on the same things that we are going to talk about today. We’ll spend more of our time on balance issues and helping them get more tuned in to the importance of practicing fluency on a consistent basis, how to remain economical when you are going hard and so on. We are going to do really simple things with them and I think it’s going to make a difference.
So when you are considering swimmers like Inge deBruin and Ian Thorpe and Alexander Popov, you’re talking about swimmers who come to the pool with a knack for balance. Their coaches didn’t teach them how to be balanced, in most cases. In fact, in some cases, they probably are well balanced in spite of some things that their coaches may be teaching them. We teach about 1500 people a year and we’ve been able to come to some statistical conclusion about how many human swimmers are well balanced to start with, as opposed to needing to learn balance. Only about two of 100 come in balanced and don’t need to be taught, but the other 98%, have to be taught. If you don’t teach balance to them, they’re not going to swim to their potential. So coaches you can do the math: If you have 100 kids on your team, on average, two will be able to reach their full potential if you don’t teach balance effectively. If you coach a school team with, say 15 swimmers, you should probably just assume, you have to teach everybody on your team how to balance, and if you don’t none of them will swim to their ultimate potential. They’ll swim as well as they can swim with some degree less than great balance but it’s not going to be as well as they can swim.
So let’s talk about the characteristics of balance, and how to teach it. What really distinguishes elite swimmers is they have great stroke length and great fluency when they swim. I’m not going to deny that there are exceptions among world class swimmers, but most of them have stroke length that is better than everybody else, and they have fluency and coordination in their movements. The thing that I keep emphasizing to swimmers when I’m teaching them is that water is a fluid. It hugely penalizes any movement you make that is not controlled, that is rough or rushed. It hugely rewards any movement you make that is fluid and controlled. And the difference between being able to be fluid or not is balance. Let’s look at a balanced swimmer (SHOWS VIDEO). The swimmer are watching is a 35 year old triathlete from Toronto, who will be doing the Hawaii Ironman next month. Her name is Jackie Hatherly. As a teenager, she swam for Don Talbot, who is now the Australian Olympic coach. As a teenager with Don, she did lots of hard training, so she had a far better swim background than most triathletes. She came to a Total Immersion workshop in Toronto earlier this year. On Saturday she began with a stroke count of 17 strokes for 25 meters. On Sunday, on the lap you’re watching, she took 11 strokes for 25 meters. So someone who was a really good swimmer to start with improved their efficiency by about 33% in one day by learning balance.
Looking at Jackie, you’ll see the characteristics of balance, you’ll see some things that world class swimmers do. Let’s just notice her legs for instance, how little work they have to do. This is something she learned to do in one day. The first characteristic of balance is your body is horizontal in the water. This isn’t natural at all; your body is not built to do this. Most swimmers, fight the sinking feeling. An unbalanced swimmer like the one we are watching now feels like he is sinking all the time, so all of his energy goes into not sinking. It’s only by pure luck and a lot of incredibly hard work that he manages to go forward at all, because all of his energy is going into not-sinking.
It has long been said that good swimmers swim high on the water. Naturally people interpret that to mean that “I should try to be high on the water,” but your body doesn’t work like that. Your body is designed to sink, so what you want to learn to do is to sink in a horizontal position. We see Jackie swimming with 95 percent of her body mass under water and only five percent of her body mass above the surface. Balance is not about buoyancy or body fat. Someone with less body fat will sink a little bit further, someone with more body fat would sink a little bit less, but the difference is insignificant. I’m not short on body fat, but if you look at an underwater view of me swimming, you’d see the same thing. If you learn to sink in a horizontal position, your body creates far less drag.
The second thing is to balance effortlessly, to do it with your core, so you are not using your hand as a lever to correct that sinking feeling. When you learn balance, you free up your hand to weightlessly lengthen your body line. Just watch Jackie’s hand; from the time it goes in the water she can fully extend her body line with no downward pressure on it. Let’s study it again in slow motion, watch her lengthen her body line and see her just glide past all those yard markers on the back wall, while she does nothing but kind of lay there. Here is where she finishes the right hand stroke and before she begins the left hand stroke, she’ll travels a long way. So a balanced swimmer gets to use their arms to lengthen the body line then glide in a long, slippery position.
Also because she doesn’t have to use her arms to correct body position, she gets to link her arm stroke to the powerful action of body roll, giving her effortless propulsion. The sum of all that is great stroke length. When you have that, at any given speed you need less Stroke Rate, and anytime you need less turnover you are more coordinated. There is less turbulence, there is less disturbing the water, you have a chance to be much more coordinated and fluent in your movement. So those are the products of stroke length and that’s where stroke length comes from. Now I’ll turn it over to Glenn and he’ll talk about all the things that happen when you’re not balanced.
GLENN: We teach over a thousand swimmers each year. The majority of them start off like this (SHOWS VIDEO OF UNBALANCED SWIMMERS). The chest is buoyant; it stays high. The lower body is heavy; it sinks. Our natural position in the water is to swim uphill or to try and lift ourselves out of the water by pushing down on our arms to lift our head higher.
We know that dropping the hips is not a good thing, so we also use our legs as leverage, trying to hold our hips up and so what we tend to see is a lot of kick just going straight up and down, which inhibits body rotation. The other effect is that swimmers who shouldn’t be kicking much, who have poor kicks anyway are forced by poor balance to keep churning their legs inefficiently.
Now the underwater video is so valuable because you can really see all the results of poor balance. If the arms aren’t occupied correcting body position, then every movement they make is going to be productive. Now here is what you are going to see on many swimmers, they have one side where they appear balanced. Their body line looks good, but even they often fall apart at some point, usually when they breathe. There are two ways to get air, one is to lift for it and the other is to roll for it; most people instinctively lift for air which you’ll see this guy do right here. As soon as he puts his hand in everything starts to lift, and look at the bubbles on that arm, that arm is not propulsive at all at this point, all it’s doing is pushing his body upwards to air.
TERRY: The key thing to understand as coaches and teachers is that what you saw Jackie do is extremely rare, what you saw the unbalanced swimmers do is extremely common. Consider this: Every swimmer you coach had some point in their development where they were doing what these unbalanced swimmers did., and some vestige of that remains in their muscle memory. The more training they do, the more adept they become at compensating so they are not as ugly, not as awkward, they are not wasting quite as much energy as those people were, but those vestiges remain. Even world class swimmers, when we have videotaped them we see brief moments of imbalance often when they are breathing. When Olympic medals are won and lost by hundredths of seconds, that is obviously worth correcting, so the way to go as coaches is to just make a commitment. You can have an entire balanced team, you can have every single swimmer on your team swimming every lap the way Jackie did but you have to make a commitment to not train them with any struggling skills at all, not even one lap with poor balance.
So we will show you the process for teaching balance, beginning with guidelines for effective teaching. The first is that 100% right on these drills is 100% right and 99% right is 100% wrong. If you are just a little bit off on your position, you’ll be practicing some form of compensation, feeling some form of struggle and that will only contaminate the muscle memory you develop. The second is that you start with very simple movement so that they can be fluent, they can be controlled and you only advance them to the next step as they gain the ability to do the current step fluently.
The teaching sequence starts with the focus on head position. The conventional position with the water line at the forehead and looking forward unequivocally hurts balance. On the video, you’ll see that whenever somebody lifts their head to that position, their hips drop and they begin using the arm as a lever. To aid in freeing up the arms to lengthen the body line we start with head-lead drills. We also begin with static drills, maintaining balance in one position to active drills where you are moving among positions and learning to maintain equilibrium.
This demonstrator is a 34 year old named Jeff Utsch. He swam for me when he was a teenager and now he does some teaching and coaching. We start in the back position so they don’t have to deal with breathing. Because they don’t have to do anything to breathe, they can experience what is the most important sensation of balance: stability and stillness. Virtually all of our adult students come to us with a background of the churning, exhausting strokes we saw, Experiencing stillness when they are in the water is something totally new. The fact that you don’t have to breath means you can experience stillness and stability and just absorb that into your system and learn to associate that sensation with balance.
Once on the back, we start by hiding the head, which means just the face is showing above the water. In all of the freestyle drills we come back to the position where you are looking at the ceiling and only your face will be showing above the water when you get there. So before we move to anything else is to make sure everybody in the pool is hiding their head.
There is often a real tendency for inexperienced swimmers to look for air by sticking the mouth up a little bit higher, which will also hurt balance so the head stays parallel to the surface. When I’m teaching, I tell the swimmers you should be able to carry a champagne glass on your forehead as you go down the pool.
Once head position is correct, we focus on leaning on the upper back. You all have heard about pressing the T, pressing the buoy. In this position it means leaning on the upper back until there is a dry patch of thigh with every kick, not that they’re trying to lift the legs but just enough pressure on the upper back so that the suit just rises to the surface and you’ve got a dry patch of thigh. Another thing that is critical and tells you their balance is the arms don’t have to do anything — no bracing, no sculling, no helping whatsoever. The arms are doing nothing.
This is what supine balance looks like from underneath and you can see a horizontal position a good head-spine line and good body alignment. When everyone in the pool looks like that we take them to the second drill but not until they look that relaxed, that effortless. We also have them listen to themselves and make sure they are not making noise.
Once they have that then we move to the prone position, and hiding your head now means that I want to see not more than a sliver of the back of the head. I tell them look at the bottom see what’s under you, don’t see anything that is in front of you, feel the top of your head as the leading edge. From the deck what I want to see is just a sliver of the back of the head and a thin film of water going over the head most of the time. Once we have head position right, we lean on the chest until we see just the skin of the suit showing.
You can see all they have to do is pick up the head and it disrupts the whole thing, he did that to breathe obviously but it will be much more dramatic from the underwater view, so we want to see the skin of the suit and we want to see it rocking gently we don’t want to see it locked up, because if they are balancing by using their legs, if they are balancing by using their lower back muscles the hips will be locked. We want it moving freely: no inhibition, rocking gently and then you can watch and it is quite obvious as soon as you get anywhere near the conventional head position, balance is gone.
I used to teach balance by focusing a lot on that idea of pressing the T or buoy, but in the last 2 or 3 years I’ve realized head position matters much more. 70% of the time when the swimmer gets head position right, balance is nearly perfect and may just require a little bit of adjusting. The leaner swimmer will have to press a little bit more. The swimmer with a little bit more body fat actually can be forgiven for moving the head a little bit, but I still want everybody to hide the head. You see as soon as he does he comes right back into balance.
In teaching, we are really minimizing the kick, we have contests to see who can go across the pool the most gently, the most quietly with the least effort. When we do kids camps in the summertime they are so unused to getting the kind of directions they get from us about be more quiet, going more slowly while you are learning. Those first two drills don’t teach you positions you’ll use while about swimming, all they teach you is how to redistribute your weight and position your head so that you feel supported by the water they don’t teach you about swimming, because your not going to swim like that. You don’t want to swim flat on your stomach or your back, so next we start learning the positions that teach you how you are gonna drill, teach you the positions that you are going to swim in. We call this the Sweet Spot. And this is where it really gets to the point where you gotta be just right about doing it because everybody’s Sweet Spot is individual.
The Sweet Spot is the position where you are balanced on your “side” but you are really not on your side, and this is going to be determined by your anatomy. Somebody who has longer legs and a shorter torso, in other words a higher center of gravity, is going to be much more on their back; somebody with a longer torso and shorter legs is going to be closer to 90 degrees. Someone very lean is going to be almost entirely on their back, someone with more body fat is going to be more on their side. But each swimmer has to find their Sweet Spot
Many people do kicking on the side, and what do you see most of the time when they are doing it: heads held up, arms sculling. They are practicing compensating, not balance. So if you’re going to kick on your side at least be practicing practice, so find the side balance position individual to each swimmer in which they can hide their head, show their arm from the shoulder right down to the knuckles, no tension, the arm just resting gently and loosely on the side and have the body line be long and straight, no evidence of tension, no compensating going on, no need to do anything with the bottom arm. Body line straight no arching the back, here is Jeff again finding his Sweet Spot.
Usually in the beginning we just have them roll from the back position until just they show a little bit of the arms, just show me a clear strip of flesh on the arm and let’s start with that position and see how comfortable you are. Because any time you see them holding their head up, craning their neck, arching the back, showing tension, what you are looking at is somebody too close to 90%. Once we’ve taught the Sweet Spot, then we start making the slightest little bit of active balance, which is just going from a nose up position to a nose down position, and they are going to go from the Sweet Spot to nose down and everybody is going to be at 90 degrees. We tell them I want you to look straight down, nose straight down and the shoulder pointing straight up.
Hiding the head, which in this case may mean literally hiding the head. I mainly want to see it right in line with the spine and if it means the head is slightly underwater that is O.K. I want to see the shoulder pointing straight up and I want to see a strip of dry flesh right down to the knuckles. If they don’t have that they have to lean in more. If they can’t lean in more then they have to roll on their back more and they have to find a position where they can lean in more. But everybody will be at 90 degrees when they go nose down.
We teach both positions and then we have them practice going back and forth between Sweet Spot, nose up and 90 degrees nose down. This is the first active balance drill. (Question inaudible) He is moving his head when I say 90 degrees I meant the body to the water. When I’m teaching I begin talking about some additional things here: How tall do you feel? How long a line is there from head to your toes? How big a space are you fitting through?
Once we get great head lead balance then we move to hand lead balance. The first time we do a hand lead position, is when they are really balanced in the head lead position. Then we let them extend the arms and as I said before, the reason is, prior to the time we started teaching balance they have been used to using the arm for support, using the arm as a lever, so I want that to not be necessary at the time we lengthen the body line. They lengthen the body line with a weightless arm, it just floats out there and there is no pressure on it at all. Until they can do it without the arm they don’t get to extend the arm. We call it lengthening the vessel and you start out each lap in the head lead and then extend the hand.
When we are teaching TI workshops, there are four pool sessions in the workshop, every session we start with head lead again. When we send them home we recommend that for the first two or three months practice head lead before you do anything else, just to get back in touch with a pure sense of balance. Coaching the sprinters at West Point, I started practice everyday with five to ten minutes of head lead before we did anything else.
One other thing that we ask them to pay attention to once they have lengthened the body line, is ask them to check the gap between the back of the head and the shoulder, we teach a lot of people, who might be in their 50’s or 60’s and they don’t have the range of motion to get get the head right against the shoulder, so we tell them to lengthen to the degree possible without feeling strain. We don’t want to feel strain, we want to feel relaxation, so when you are teaching people that are older or people who have less range in motion, find the position where they can narrow the gap to the extent possible without any sense of strain. As we teach it, I’m telling them I want you to feel like a long balanced needle fitting through the smallest possible hole in the water. Whatever you have to do to make that hole smaller do that, whatever you have to do to make that needle longer and sleeker, do that. It’s a lot of imagery that goes into the teaching that is a lot easier for people to follow then talking about the mechanics of everything.
The final position in the long axis balance sequence is nose up, nose down, same thing we did in the head lead. They have already mastered it in a head lead position, it is exactly the same when they go to a hand lead position. We start putting in an awareness of where the hand is in relation to the head, just a little below the head, I find that the leaner swimmers need to put their hand down a little bit more. I talk a lot when I’m talking to coaches about choices you make in training, particularly the use of kickboards in your practice. During the three years I coached the sprinters at Army we didn’t do one lap on a kick board; we did many, many laps like this because it relates much more closely to the skills you need to swim well, than what you learn by pushing the kick board down the pool, so this is our freestyle kicking position. The previous one where you are in hand lead looking at the ceiling but the same position, that is the backstrokers kicking position. The freestylers alternate between nose up and Sweet Spot and nose down and 90.
This is also the first position for all the freestyle drills that follow. Before I turn it over to Glenn for short axis are there any questions just relating to the long axis process. (Inaudible question) If they have an impingement problem, if they have any range of motion problems I tell them to find the position where it is narrowest but you don’t feel strain and when they go to the nose down position, there is a lot of relief when they put the hand down.
(Inaudible question) Eight-year olds learn more spontaneously, more easily. On Saturday Pat Frank and I are going to talk about teaching the non swimmers the basic skills they need to learn these things.
GLENN: We’ve learned with kids to get them as comfortable and confident as possible because when you teach head lead balance on the back, you want them to be balanced and perfectly level in the water and their face is only that much above the surface of the water and you got 6 kids in a lane and you have kids complaining about water going up their nose, I’ve found that the most important thing is to make sure that they are smiling when they are doing it, so teach in really calm water and keep them happy.
One other thing that I want to note is every freestyle or backstroke drill that we teach starts in one of those last two positions, so there is a logical progression from what we just did here to everything that follows it in the long axis. (Inaudible question) In the hand lead Sweet Spot, we instruct them not to stretch to the point where you get a tension reflex. The goal is always to feel comfortable and relaxed. You want a long, sleek body line but not to the point where they are stiff. Have your swimmers think about piercing the water with their hands.
Now being a coach myself and coming from a hard training background I know what some of you are thinking when you see the head lead drills. While we talked about kicking slower and more easily, you may be thinking “I can use this as part of my workout, I can have them do it really hard.” What you will find is the only way you will find true balance is by going as slow as possible or else you get into leveraging from the legs again. The easiest way to find that out is to listen to them do it once before you tell them anything, get your entire group to do a length in Sweet Spot, listen to them and then tell them to try to get it as quiet as possible. Your goal is to not hear your swimmers.
I’ll move on to describing our short axis progression for the basic skills of breaststroke and butterfly. Now in looking at how the body works for short axis, we go back to what the natural body position is. The chest naturally rises, the hips naturally fall, as in the breathing position in breast stroke and butterfly. It is a natural movement, if you lay absolutely flat on the water and lean in on your chest or press in on your chest and then relax your body, it will reset itself. So what we are working on here is just a simple press with the chest and release and the hips will fall. Your body will assume it’s natural position.
When I go out and teach I learn so much from the people I teach with. Mark Hesse has done a workshop with us and he described that short axis body dolphin as a whip. If you have a whip, the power of the whip initiates from your hand but it comes out of the tail all the way at the end. Yet when most people start short axis they initiate short axis movement with their legs rather than with their chest. So we want to make sure that we take away as much as possible their wanting to kick. A great thing to use for this is fins; have them do it as easily as possible and not to go fast, but go as gently as possible.
As you do, focus only on how they are leaning in, because once their feet follow, it will just start to move them down the pool. What many swimmers do is dive down rather than lead forward. The deeper you go the higher you have to come up for air. What we want you to think about is a nice relaxed chin and the crown of their head, always pressing that forward. You also want to make sure that they don’t go too deep and come up too high so I try to get them to try and just slip the back of their head under the surface as they first start to do this drill. In learning how the body reacts you want them to build some rhythm so you press in with the chest and you release the chin forward.
When you do breathe, you want to make sure that the rhythm of the pulsing and the rhythm that you set up is intact. Again, from the surface you can see that the swimmer is just barely scraping under the surface of the water. You want is them looking down at the surface of the water as they breathe. A nice straight spine line to release so that after you breathe, you simply fall back down into the water and press right away with your chest again, to continue staying shallow as you move forward after each breath.
When you maintain a perfect streamline in the body dolphin you get a lot of up and down movement, especially with those eight year olds that we were talking about. So on these drills allow them to release the arms to about shoulder width so that the head can move freely in between. Make sure you explain to them that it’s only on these drills and not on their push offs.
On these drills, as soon as you move to hand lead, really focus their attention on not using the hands to support, every time that you press in you want to release the shoulders just a little to extend the finger tips forward, to actually feel your body pressing your arms forward. When I’m teaching this I do want to see the hands be supple I don’t want a rigid line here. The suppleness that we want here I want it to extend to the finger tips.
Here is the same drill with breathing in the hand lead position, making sure that you release to air, with the head down the eyes looking down. If I can get one thing across when I talk about breaststroke and butterfly, it’s making sure that we minimize up and down movement in the head. When you experiment later with these drills, make sure that you teach them the feeling that everything they do moves forward and not spend so much time just going up and down.
When I swam here for the Cincinnati Pepsi Marlins, we had forty people go to Olympic trials, we had 6 people on the Olympic team and I used to think about how great it would be to be the coach on that deck to have all those swimmers in that pool. I’ve done Team Workshops with two teams whose coaches are in here and it’s the same feeling. Every swimmer 40 to 50 kids in that pool looks beautiful, they are not as fast, they are not Olympians yet, but I’m telling you they have the shell of perfect technique. It can be accomplished by everybody and you as a coach are gonna feel so much more satisfaction then just yelling at your kids for not working hard enough sometimes.
(Inaudible question) The thing that is really interesting from the teams that we’ve worked with they are reporting to us that the parents are so proud of the way their teams look in the water, the way their kids look in the water compared to other teams. They get compliments from other teams and other parents all of the time about how beautiful their swimmers look, so they are not just focused on the medals they really like the aesthetics too when it starts to look good.
(Inaudible from audience) It’s like anything else, as soon as you change something, it gets a little bit tougher to go fast, but please understand, I’m not saying don’t train your kids, but what I’m saying is don’t train sloppy strokes. When your training struggling skills all you do is make them more durable. Any other questions? (Inaudible) The question is how about breathing to the side, if it keeps your center of gravity lower. My default option would always be first to teach it this way and if they can learn to do what we call a sneaky breath, they don’t have to breath to the side in order to stay balanced.