Teaching Turns by Dee Loose (1995)


In this presentation I will go over the drills on the video tape with you and I will tell you the name of the drills that you’ll see and hopefully you will benefit from these drills.  You should know for the purpose of this basic teaching tract I have used two age groupers from our club program at Tacoma Swim Club.  Most of my presentation comes from the things that I have learned through observation over time, and also through teaching, and they also come from working with Coach Hannula and observing other coaches that have been around Coach Hannula and have visited in our program there at Tacoma Swim Club.  One coach in particular, Coach Bill Sweetenham, who came when he was with the Hong Kong Institute of Sport.


Just to give you an overview, I am going to first of all cover how we teach the basic turns, and teaching progressions there at Tacoma Swim Club.  Then I will show you a video.


First I am going to cover freestyle, and on freestyle turns there’s a few things I would like to have you remember as we go through this.  The most important position prior to and after each of the turns is going to be streamlining.  We call this at the Tacoma Swim Club the torpedo position.  We work on this quite often and as I go through the basic elements of each of the turns prior to seeing the video and going over some of the drills that we use you will hear me always use the term torpedo streamlining position.  I would also like to have you remember that on freestyle that longer bodies travel through the water the faster they are.  That’s not an original thought of mine. That’s been said several times at this clinic and I would strongly encourage you to incorporate that into your teaching of your age group swimmers.


Freestyle Turns

At Tacoma Swim Club we teach that swimmers need to build their speed or their momentum into the walls.  We use the terminology fast in – fast out.  The next critical element is, and I believe this will be substantiated when you see some of the drills that we use, and Bill Sweetenham stressed this when he came and visited us for a while, is tucking the head.   The freestyle flip turn tucking the head begins the initial flip into the wall.  And for that purpose I think in your teaching of your swimmers, you need to help them understand that when they take that last stroke before they flip, that they don’t breathe.  We have a swimmer up in our program who is a Jr. National level 500 freestyler and those of you who have 500 freestylers, you know there are 19 turns and a swimmer is not going to be able to build their momentum into each of those walls if as they approach the wall they take their last stroke and turn their head to the side and then they decide to tuck.  More times than not if you have an inexperienced swimmer who is practicing it that way when they get to a meet situation and they take a stroke and turn their head to breathe one more time, they are either going to put their foot into the gutter, or they’re going to jam the wall so bad they are going to push off down and what I call submarine out of the wall.  So don’t breathe after the last stroke.


The next critical element is in association with the head. They have to drive the head, chin to chest, tuck the knees in, bring the heels to the hips, and place the body in a tight, tight tucked position.  This way they spin fast and get into the wall quickly.


The next thing is they need to hit the wall with heels to head and hands in line.  I’m just going to come out here to the side and demonstrate how the position that they should be in when they hit the wall, and this is what we try to instruct them to do.  When they hit the wall, it doesn’t matter to us whether they are on their back or partially on their side, just so that their heels are in line with the top of their head and they are in streamline position.  Of course their knees are going to be slightly bent but they need to be in a straight line.


The next thing:  I would have you know that as we teach these turns we try to use the terminology of tucking. I’ve gotten away from using the term of half twist.  When I first started coaching freestyle flip turns I was often using the term as you flip you need to half twist.  Well, when I first got to Tacoma I had a swimmer by the name of Nate Webbers.  Nate was an interesting character.  He would take everything quite literally. Nate would come into the wall as we would practice turns and he would do this little wash rag effect where he would half twist his torso but his legs would still stay in line, so he was half down on his stomach and half on his side, and over time as Nate would practice that way he would come off the wall kind of in a cork screw fashion and he did develop some back troubles.  So we had to get him used to the idea of going back and simply pushing off streamline position completely on his back and it was at that point four or five years ago that I stopped using the term of half twist.


The next critical element of the freestyle flip turn is that you push off either on your side or your back and you do so in a tight, torpedo streamline position.


The next critical element of the freestyle flip turn is that the swimmer’s first stroke should be with the arms of the side that are down.  I’ve discussed this with many coaches and as they have looked at my swimmers and as I’ve looked at their swimmers and we have applied it, I think it helps them to roll out and go into normal freestyle hip and shoulder rotation during the stroke cycle. If they push off on their right side, the first arm stroke is going to be done with that right arm, and as they pull through, they will automatically roll down into the left side as they come up out of the water, out of the streamline position.  I think that continues and sets a good momentum for them powering off the wall.


The next critical element is to kick off the wall with fast, shallow kicks, then slip into the normal kick pattern and tempo. And of course that’s going to vary with the event whether it be a 50 freestyle, up to a 1650.


The last critical part of freestyle flip turns is streamlining.  It is so critical that those swimmer streamline off they wall so that they can slip out underneath the surface resistance of the incoming wave.  Please teach the swimmers to turn off both arms, left or right after their last stroke.




With the rule changes a few years ago I think this made backstroke turns much easier.  I was a backstroker when I swam in high school and I used to have to do the old spin turn. Later I fooled around with the crossover turn, where you could cross over here, touch the wall and do kind of a partial flip turn. But more times than not I was hitting my head on the wall, or scraping the backs of my hands off the wall and we had a very rough deck surface, and so I frequently would come home with big gashes in my hands.  This I think has eliminated a lot of the fear for kids of cracking their head on the wall and of hitting their hands on the sides of the pool.


Some of those critical elements of backstroke are counting strokes.  You can play around with this. You can either count strokes from flags to wall or count strokes the full length of the 25.  I’ve done both and pretty much I leave it up to the individual swimmer to determine what they would like to do.  If you are going to use flags, I would strongly encourage you to have flags up for every practice.  I think that’s a more effective way to do back turns.


The next critical element is that you leave the back on the final arm recovery and begin the process of crossing the arm over and pulling through.  They take their second to last stroke and the last stroke they can cross over, and from that point after they cross over and pull through (and this is the next critical element), the pull through needs to be a long one and the turn needs to be initiated just like the freestyle, tuck chin to the chest, bend at the waist, bring the heels to the fanny, and roll and pop the wall.  It becomes a freestyle turn at that point.


Make sure that the turn is one continuous motion and then torpedo streamline off the wall.  You should also teach the swimmers to dolphin kick off the wall in tight torpedo streamline position.  How far?  Far enough that they can get out underneath the incoming surface tension created by the waves coming in, but not so far out that they get disqualified.


The Breaststroke and Fly Turns

For the most part breaststroke and fly turns are the same turn.  The only difference is on the pushoffs — you’ll do either an underwater pull if it’s breaststroke, or you will initiate a strong fly kick.


The timing of the turn is important. Swimmers need to learn how to judge the walls from ten feet out. They need to time it so they’re not gliding into the wall.  If they glide they’ll actually lose their momentum and have a slow turn on the wall.


Another critical element is to count their strokes by 25’s, we’ll have them push 25’s and go to a turn, or possibly have them dive a 25 and go to a turn, or in some combination thereof to lead into a good fast turn.


Swimmers need to accelerate into the wall and at the wall on breaststroke, the last stroke should be a strong lunge into the wall, not necessarily to full extension, but kind of half way in between where the arms are slightly bent.


I don’t like my breaststrokers or my butterflyers for that fact to grab the wall even if there is a gutter there that they can grab.  I would prefer that they plant the hands firmly on the wall.  Breaststroke may be a little bit higher than in fly.


(What side to turn to?  I know there is some discussion out there among coaches.  Some say if you are right handed, turn to the right, or if you are left handed turn to the left.  I don’t get into that.  I want the kids to turn to the side that they’re most comfortable with, just so that they do the turn as I am going to teach them.


The next critical element I picked up from Mike Barrowman when he came up to the northwest and did a little bit of a clinic for us, is that the first hand is going to leave the wall and push water back the direction you came from.  As you do this, and if you get in the water you can try it before you teach it, your hips will come to the wall quite fast. Again, touch the wall high on breaststroke, openhanded, don’t grab the wall.  Here the hand that drops is going to push water back and that is going to bring the hips to the wall.  Then that hand is going to come back here pointed the direction you want to go.


The next critical element is that the hands are going to be together in a streamlined position before your feet get to the wall.  The hand is going to come and pass by the ear and you push off in streamline position with the hand and the head going in through the same hole that you came out to lunge to the wall.  It will join the hand. Push off in a tight, streamlined position.


The only difference with butterfly is that you can touch a little bit lower and get off the wall fast.  I still like the fliers to touch this way.  I don’t like them to grab.  I’ve found, especially with the younger kids, that they do this little shot:  they come to the wall, they grab the wall, and they pull up so you can see them real good, or they will pull up, they’ll look left, they’ll look right, “oh, I’m in the lead,” or “I’m not in the lead, I guess I’ll have to go faster” kind of thing.  I have tried to teach them if it’s a 50 breaststroke, or a 25 breaststroke if I’m working with the 8 and unders, that because it’s a short race everybody is going to be there anyway. You just don’t worry about it.  You just swim fast and try to get to the touchpad at the other end before everybody else.


The next critical element on breaststroke is the underwater pulls.  I think on underwater pulls it’s critical that they have a tight, torpedo streamline position and that as they begin or initiate their underwater pull, they need to remember to always keep their head in line.  I’ve watched a lot of our age groupers and age groupers I’ve coached in the past, that the first thing they do is they begin to break streamline by bringing the hands out here to set up their underwater pull.  We tried to teach our kids if they keep the tight, streamline position everything in line and then when they begin to feel their momentum slow down, they pull out with the hands, and begin the in sweep portion, and as they do this they are not to look forward.  The head doesn’t lift.  We call this keeping the head on the platform.  As they push off, they are going to try to accelerate their hands through to the hips and finish off with a good, strong press.  Now something that you may try an experiment for kids that pull out too wide.  You might have them consider crossing over the hands about where they come between the chest and the belly button area, and what I have found is by doing that the kids will actually over correct and bring the hands in a little bit more under the body for the underwater pull.


The kick process:  After they finish the press through all the way by the thigh on the underwater pull, I teach the kids that then they need to recover close to the body to keep everything in so it’s streamlined and when they get right about the chest the heels are coming up to the fanny and then they are going to kick and shoot the hands forward back into streamline position and then breakout.


On fly we encourage tight torpedo position after the turn.  We encourage them that on the push off they are going to bounce off of the wall, tight streamline, then they are going to begin to accelerate by using the leg drive that is going to come from the hips and we encourage them to kick as far as they are comfortable kicking.  I know that there is a current trend in swimming in the United States now where I think it was Melvin Stewart or somebody did it at the last championship meet, they dove in and kicked almost the first entire length underwater.  I think if you refer back to “Swimming Technique” magazine back in 1984, there was a study done on streamline kicking especially on backstroke underwater.  It is faster.  It is more effective.  I think that that’s going to be something we all begin to dabble with especially when we begin to see more kids at the senior nationals and Olympic level doing that.


As far as the butterfly pull out is concerned, the arm stroke should be strong.  It should be a regular arm stroke just like you are doing above water, but as you pull through to breakout, you are going to accelerate the hands through the karate chop and that is where the breakout’s going to come.  I encourage my kids not to breathe on the first stroke but maybe take a full stroke cycle and then breathe one to two strokes after they have come up.




These are two of my age groupers — an 11 year old young lady and a 14 year old young man.  We begin some of our early season practices with a lot of deck work here, and one of the things we do on deck is we do a lot of tight streamlining.  We want them to get in position where their back is completely flat on the deck.  We talk in terms of keeping the head in line with the platform using your abdominal muscles to tilt the pelvis forward and that flattens out the small of the back. Earlier in the year I think there was a picture of Jeff Rouse that was in “Swimming Technique” magazine and I forget the title of the article but I remember the picture, and we got that out.  We have that up for the kids to see.  There’s a frontal picture and there’s a sideways picture and there’s a little line up his back and so that’s what we’re working on here when we do this drill.


What I do here is we stick the toes of our foot underneath the small of our back.  And if there is space there, the foot is going to go under the back, and we try to tell the kids if you are not able to feel the toes of your shoe then you need to tighten you abdominal muscles and bring your hips forward and that brings you into a streamline position.


This is a head on view of what we are doing here.  These kids are pretty good at streamlining.  They’ve been doing this for a couple of years now. Then we are going to go to a side view so you can see it again, what it looks like from the side and you can get an idea of what they are trying to do with their streamline positioning.  Now I am having them relax.  I am walking around to the side.  You can also have your athletes do this on a wall and if you have large numbers of kids in your age group program, what you can do is you can have them partner up and stand next to each other on this wall and have them to put their heels on the wall and get the small of their back against the wall and get in a straight up and down position.  You can have the partner stick their hand behind their back or  watch the little curve in the lower back, the lumbar region, and tell them they have got to tighten the abdominals and bring their back more toward the wall so they can feel the wall with their full back.  That works out really well and it’s helped us, I believe, on our turns and on our dives.  They get in a real streamlined position for the most part.


This is the first drill.  This is what we call push and glide. Very tight streamlined position, feet together pointed back, everything is in line.  Then the young lady is going to do it.  She didn’t quite make it all the way across to the wall.  Then after this particular drill on the push and glide we will add the flutter kick.  He’ll build the kick and kick across in a nice tight streamlined position, all the time everything is in line.  Try to get them used to the idea of keeping everything in line, and feel the water passing by them.  At the ASCA World Swim Clinic in Pasadena several years ago, I went to a pool site presentation with Cecil Colwin and he talked about boat streamlining where you put the backs of your hands together and you get in tight torpedo position, but the backs of your hands with the palms and forearms out.  That is a great alternative to this.  It gives them another feel for the water.  You tell them to feel the water on the palms and the sides of their hands.  Each of these young people are now going to demonstrate tight torpedo positioning kick in the strokes, breast and fly.


After this I believe the next thing I have them do is lateral streamline kicking where they will lateral streamline kick either to the left or right side, and they will begin to do a turn here. This is one of the things we have them do to get used to turning fast.  We have them sprint across the pool and at the last line we have them take a last stroke and tuck and turn on the last line prior to the wall.  We do what we call an imaginary wall turn away from the wall.  I found that this really helps us get a good spin on it.  They don’t have to worry about putting their feet on the wall but they are able to turn real quickly in the water.  A couple of variations of this you can have them do if you don’t have a cross pool area, you can have them go 25 yards and tell your swimmers to take 5 to 6 fast strokes then do a quick flip turn, come up, push off the bottom, do another 5 to 6 strokes, then do a quick flip turn.  You have them come in the streamline position.  Evan does this really nice.  You’ll see him try to get into streamline position off some of his turns.  You can do this in all of the strokes fly, back, and breaststroke.


Brittany here is going to do breaststroke and she is going to do an imaginary turn.  See the one arm is pushed down to get her hips up to the wall.  This is a really good turn where they do the imaginary turn getting the swimmers used to pushing down on the water to get their hips up.

Next, I want to show you some of the drills that we picked up from Coach Sweetenham, and tell you what they are before you see them.  One is called the finger turn drill, the finger turn flip turn drill on freestyle, where they come and they will take their fingertips and they put them on the wall on the face of the wall, not in the gutter, (oh boy, don’t put them in the gutter) and they are going to have head up and they are going to be looking at the gutter.  They are going to take six strong flutter kicks and then they are going to pull through like a butterfly stroke, pull through, tuck chin to chest, flip and come out streamlined.  You can have them streamline kick out, but the one thing this drill does it forces them to get into a tightly tucked position.  I tell the kids ahead of time for safety’s sake, “Look, you’re going to have to tuck otherwise you are going to put your heels into the gutter.”  I have a couple of swimmers who like to make the splashes at the ends of the pool, and so what they do is they turn, they open up, and they make a nice, big splash, and I try to tell them that’s fine if you’re going to try to get somebody wet or pretend you’re Free Willy.  “But you’re a swimmer, you’re not Free Willy.  You’re to come into the wall, tuck, and come out streamlined.”  This finger turn drill will help eliminate that opening up, that throwing the legs, that big splash.


The other drill that you will see here is called the jump and turn drill.  What they do is they stand at the “T” of the pool towards the end and they will jump up two times and the third time they jump up and throw themselves into the wall, and as they do, they’re going to have to learn to tuck real tight again because they’re going to be coming into the wall with a great deal of force and speed, and then they’re going to streamline out.


This is Brittany.  She has a pretty good little flip turn.  Here’s the finger turn flip turn drill.  You put your fingertips on the wall, five or six.  Now Brittany has her hands flat on the wall.  I jumped on her for that because it scares me, sometimes they get so close to the wall like they’re going to crack their heels.  This is the jump turn underwater_three turns, pull up, flip.  Brittany is going to demonstrate this now.  She actually missed the wall.  She was a little afraid after I jumped on her with the finger tip drill that she might crack her heels on this one.  I have Evan demonstrate it from the flags.  You can do it from the flags out.  Go out to the flags 1…2…3… jump — that way they get to swim a little bit, take a couple of strokes.


These two drills are especially effective also (the finger tip and the jump turn) during your peak performance time for your older swimmers.  Sometimes even when you get down to a shave, the kids off the blocks and into the first or second turn, they are feeling very smooth and fast in the water and will be coming into the walls with even greater force than they normally would and sometimes (we have all seen it) where they jam the walls because now their stroke count has dropped because they have greater strength and greater speed through the water.  These turns will help them get used to the idea of spinning with a great deal of force.


There is also one other drill and I hope there are no USS safety officials or marshals here.  I have done this under strict supervision and only in small groups.  I have good deck space at Wilson High School and I have done this with girls, boys, club kids.  We line towels up on a little bit of a jog way and we have them go onto a light jog and have them dive into the pool, our cross pool, and it simulates really good force of them coming into the wall.  They dive, go across the pool streamline, they may only get one stroke in, and they come off the wall and sprint back. It’s a very good thing, but if you are concerned about safety, which I am frequently, and when the deck gets wet, I go to the side of the pool and we have them dive cross pool.  When they dive cross pool they get two or three strokes rather than one.  And those are really good turn drills for freestyle.  They will help them get used to the speed at which they are going to come in to the wall on the peak performance period.  Also you can use surgical tubing and you can have them stretch it out and race into the pool.  I want them doing the dive or the jog run that we do to really feel the force coming in.  I’ve never had an accident and hopefully that will never happen.  Those are some good drills.  These in the water are very outstanding, too.


Then we went to full stroke after we went through the drills. Another good freestyle turn drill cross pool that we use and we utilize our cross pool a great deal is to get them used to turning off both arms.  We will have them kick cross pool lateral streamline either left or right and then at the last line if their left arm is out we will have them stroke through left and flip and the kick has got to be a good strong build or a race kick.  That way they are flipping off of both arms.  It bothers me when I see some of our older age groupers come into the wall and they take an extra stroke because they are not used to flipping off, maybe their stroke count is off but they normally flip off their right and their left arm gets right in good position and they will take a quick little right arm stroke, pull through, and they’ll jam the wall.  And by doing the one arm lateral streamline kick into the wall I have found they can then begin to turn off both arms without a proper stroke count.


Here’s the jump drill again on freestyle.  It will really do them good to simulate the coming into the wall, getting a tight tuck and you can use this with all your age groups.  Maybe not your 8 & unders, but 10 year olds.  I’ve had 10 & unders who have done this drill and they like it.  They enjoy it.


I always get into the water when I find new drills like this and try it.  And believe me the first time I did it, it was scary.  But I had to do it so I could demonstrate it and show it to the kids, and show them that I wasn’t afraid to do it.


This is from the flags in.  The only thing I would have him not do is breath on that first stroke, but jump up and keep his momentum going rather than slow his momentum with the breath.


One of the things that Bill Sweetenham brought with him from Hong Kong when he came, and this is something that he didn’t originate but, it originated with the great sprint swim teams that the University of Tennessee had back when I was in high school in 1975, was the Tennessee Tumble.  On freestyle, sprint freestyle including 50’s and you could probably stretch it to 100’s, as you hit the wall you’re going to push off tight streamline on your back, and the way Coach Sweetenham was teaching it to us is that you begin a good strong leg drive with 4 to 5 solid dolphin kicks and then you begin into your flutter kick and pull down.  Initiate the stroke with the bottom arm and flutter kick and pull out on top of the water.  What I’ve observed by having our older age group swimmers do this, I don’t have the younger age groupers do it — I just want them to get used to the idea of flipping and turning right — but the older age groupers, it really shoots them out of the wall quite fast.


On my high school team, my 200 freestyle relay, I don’t really have any outstanding sprinters on the high school team.  I have one young lady who is a 24.9 swimmer and they all use the Tennessee Tumble, and because they used it, I believe it helped us score the top 4 – 5 on our freestyle relay last year, and that relay’s back, and I think we can do the same thing and hopefully it’ll place.  But they all use the Tennessee Tumble and I know that kept us in the race on those things.  That’s a good tool and you can play with that.


The Tennessee Tumble instead of pushing off on your side, but stay on the back and take 4 to 5 dolphin kicks, stroke with the bottom arm, and come right up.


On the breast turn again I want to go over a few things.  When he touches the wall you’ll notice the one hand drops.  I think he turns to his left.  His left hand is pushing down on the water and it’s going to feel awkward to the kids you have and are going to teach this to but it really does help accelerate the hips to the wall so they can bounce off the wall.  That’s a great thing.  I had never realized that until Mike Barrowman came in and did this clinic for us. After I got watching him, talking with him and thinking about this, it was one of those things that you think, gee, why didn’t I think of that, or why haven’t I been teaching that all these years?  But this helps accelerate you out of the wall, then the other hand is going to come off.  The only other thing I would have him do differently and I talked to him afterwards was to keep his head more in line and come in through the same hole that he came out of to touch the wall.


They each do one more turn.  Here’s backstroke for Evan.  Cross over, it’s a freestyle turn.  At that point he dolphin kicks out. Evan did really well at Zones this last year and swam a really fine backstroke.  Brittany is going to do the same turn.  She is not as proficient at keeping the head in line.  You saw her turn her head and look but she still pushed on the water.


On the jump turns, you can do those on all the strokes. I have had Evan do the jump turn from the flags in for fly.  You can do the dive from the wall on a cross pool area, fly, and those work out very well to simulate into the wall.  As far as teaching progressions go with the breaststroke and fly, generally I have them get into the water, maybe I get into the water or a more experienced swimmer get in the water, and I’ll stand next to them or give them something simple to remember like a 1, 2, 3 count.


  1. Two hands on the wall, shoulders level, hands parallel.
  2. Drop one hand and push on the water.
  3. As you do that the hips come to the wall.
  4. You push off. I try to keep it real simple for the younger age groupers.


Fly to back turns — it’s a fly turn going to go into a back streamline kick and an underwater dolphin kick on your back.  Accelerate into the wall just like you would on fly, touch up, push on the water with the hand that’s dropping, then come into the wall, hand to the head in the streamlined position.


Back to breast —  You’ve got to count strokes, accelerate into the wall, touch with one hand, one hand always stays out here, and then the feet come to the wall, hand by the ear, and you go right down into your breaststroke, and then the principals of underwater pull.


Breast to freestyle —  It’s just like the fly to back.  Touch up (don’t grab the wall), push one hand down, hips come to the wall, hand by ear, tight streamlined position

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