Fig.1. Make like a dolphin
My old mentor and senior coach, Beth, had some magic ways of teaching swimming. With butterfly it is all in the legs – get those right first before adding anything else. We’d then have, where space permitted, part of the lesson on mats around the side of the pool in order to demonstrate, run through and correct the arm stroke which swimmers new to butterfly invariably get wrong. For this session, for me, the emphasis is on the legs and the kick coming from the hips while introducing arms through skills, particularly single arm.
At this level, in fact through all teaching grades, we have two goals: develop skills so that technique is perfected, try to improve stamina and strength, although this can only really be achieved by swimmers attending two or even three lessons a week. Tough clubs will have kids spending a good deal of time kicking up and down the pool on the basis that getting leg strength first delivers body position later; this is a recipe surely for putting kids off? It’s all I remember from the first couple of years when I went to a swim school, kicking back and forth across widths: whilst it did the trick with me when I was five or six, it put many off swimming.
Today I started with streamlining against the side of the pool – before they got wet.
I ran through streamlined position, and then the way in which the fly kick starts by pushing the hips back and forth. Some feel awkward, some have a laugh. Repeat this once in the water where they should feel less self-conscious. It is such an easy thing for the kids to get right: pushing off and gliding in a streamlined position even at Grade 4; it is also a pleasure to see several of them getting into this habit early and still doing it years later. It pays dividends for all strokes with body position, with dives and turns. It also ties directly into drills and exercises moving a competitive dive and at higher grades improving the dive and all important transition.
After this rough programme for our Grades 4 and 5 swimmers (ages 9-11, one or two years swimming) I make suggestions for a group of G8 swimmers, typically our more advances 12-13 year olds.
(I’d love to be able to show the swimmers a six second clip of a dolphin ‘in flight’. The above is my photo; I shot some video too. The trick and worry is bringing an iPad to the pool. I recently dropped my iPhone into a puddle of water in the bottom of a RIB while out on safety duties with the sailing club … and scrambled it. A very expensive morning volunteering … )
(Sense says a laminated print out. I am happy to show black and white images on a Kindle, especially my old Kindle. Not waterproof, but not too great a loss if it ended up in the pool.
One day will we have smart screens by the side of the pool?)
Steamlined positionStanding dolphin: bum back, bum forwardArm action for Butterfly (separate session)
I am guided, as always, by Rubin Guzman’s brilliant ‘Swim Drills Book’.
With emphasis on the dolphin kick pushing off the wall in both strokes
FC x 50m or 100m depending on the grade.
BC (as above)
The less they splash, the smoother they swim; the smoother they swim, the more control they have. I use words like ‘smooth, slinky, silent swimming.
Dolphin kick up and down the pool
Dolphin resting on lane rope.
With fins is best, but still works to have three at a time rest arms on the lane rope in the deep end, feet pointing down then doing a dolphin kick. (Only three at a time resting their arms on the lane rope or you risk annoying the lifeguard especially if swimmers decide to climb onto the rope)
Kick with Woggle: with arms out, this is OK on the back.
With G8 fly kick on your side, change arm every 25m. This worked very well at identifying how most still kick from the knees rather than through the entire body. I only did this with Grade 8 today, but on reflection would have done it with the other grades too as it is the clearest way to see that swimmers are still kicking from the knee, or not. I may even get a swimmer or two out of the water to walk the length of the pool checking out those who are getting it right and swimming like an eel, or a crocodile compared to those kicking only from the knee.
A fun one ‘collecting mussels from the bottom of the pool’ – with a fly kick.
Single arm fly:
Still oo tricky at this level, but getting a straight arm recovery is so important.
Watch the straight arm as it comes over
Kick that hand in, Kick the hand out
IDEALLY you find a swimmer from a top group who can demonstrate this, occasionally a swimmer does it beautifully so you can show the others.
Dive and glide
Add a dolphin kick
Depending on the time left I will use the last minute or 30 seconds with a handstand, aiming at the streamlined position – again. So long legs and pointy toes.
These swimmers are reaching the stage when they will move to a training group (a non-competitive teenage squad) with the younger stars at this level going into a competitive squad. They’ve typically been with the club for three years or so and should have all the skills in place. Despite this none can swim butterfly which suggests we’re still struggling to teach this. I don’t think how we teach it has everything to do with it, it’s more that case that the serious junior swimmer will be in the pool for lessons at least twice, sometimes three times a week.
The changes to the above set were on the distances swam and the kinds of drills given.
The warm up was 100m swims, the kick sets 2 x 50m.
The drills had an element of endurance:
And longer working on single arm drills which then became
8 kicks 1 pull: count 8 kicks with 9 the arms go in and 10 the arms recover.
4 kicks 1 pull: count 4 kicks with 5 the arms go in and 6 they arms recover
As well as combinations of the single arm drill:
1+1+2 = single arm, other single arm, both together
2+2+2 = two single arm on one side, two single arm on the other side, then both arms together
Fly Kick on the side swapping arm after 25m worked very well.
In the space of six 25m lengths of this, walking along the side of the pool, I could spot immediately the problem and fix across the board. Pushing the bum forward and the bum back is just the start of this, then its a case of getting them to instigate the kick from the head or even the arms.
Finally, putting the whole stroke together at the end I was delighted that one of them just about cracked butterfly, while all showed improvement. All they need is a second lesson this week on butterfly before they move onto a different stroke next week.