Teaching Butterfly to 8 to 11 year olds 

These are 45 minute morning or early evening sessions. These swimmers are part of the club’s swim academy and the group are just the second group up from our starters class. Swimmers join us at age 7 or 8 able to swim a length of front crawl (FC) and backcrawl (BC). They may have an issue with breaststroke (BR) and are unlikely to have butterfly (Fly). They are unlikely to be able to dive. All of this should be addressed over a term or two in what we call JA2.

I treat the warm up as part of the set progressions over the term and will include two or three strokes and some kicking, for example: 2 FC, 2BC; 2 FC, 1BC, 1BR building to 4FC, 2BC, 2BR for fullstrokes with kicking on front and back, starting off with a float, but progressing to ‘Kick on Back’ (KOB) and ‘Kick on Front’ (KOF) in the streamlined position. Part of their progression is stamina so being able to swim 200m and then 300m continually is eventually a requirement.

I may spend the first week of FLY working on the legs only knowing that introducing the arms, part of full, too early, is counterproductive.

I may have the swimmers on the side of the pull to get the message over that their legs need to be together, all of the time, for the next ten minutes or so – even for the rest of the session. I help them visualise climbing into a fishtail, or putting both feet down the same trouser leg. To make this tail work they must use their stomach and bum muscles, pushing back and forth. (In one pool this is facilitated by having short fins. Additional drills are possible with short fins).

Back in the water we play ‘dolphin’ where swimmers have their hands at their side, using them as dorsal fins, and can flap and wriggle their way down the pool as fish-like as possible – down to the bottom, lifting their chin to breathe, then down to the bottom. After a length of this I put them on their backs. Ideally they will be in a tight streamlined position, the body flat on the surface, the fly kick propelling them through the water. It is easy for those who kick from the hips and remain tight, not at all easy for those who kick from the knees and drop their hands in the the ‘surrender position’ – what I want to achieve is kicking from the hip.

On their fronts again they each have a Noddle held at the ends at ‘10 O’Clock and 2 O’Clock’ in a letter ‘Y’. This mimics the fly stroke. They fly-kick down the pool, head down, raising the head to breathe and trying to maintain the kick when they lift the head.

We may continue with variations on the above, kicking on the back with the Noodle, or ‘dolphin’ on the front.  With a group of swimmers it is tricky to fast track some and leave others behind, this is how our system tries to move swimmers along who are of a similar ability.

To add the FLY arms I have the swimmers on the side of the pool and I go to great lengths to demonstrate and talk through what is required for ‘Single Armed Butterfly’, not just talking them through the actions, but having them do it as well. There are two elements to establish: straight arm recovery and timing, so ‘kick the hand in and kick the hand out’. I hate ever to demonstrate how not to do a thing, but in this instance I will do the arm recovery and have the swimmers shout out ‘Straight!’ or ‘Bent!’. I will endeavour to do ‘straight 4 times out of 5. Once they start the exercise the intention is to do one 25m length with one arm, and then the second length with the other. Some swimmers get it straight away, others struggle. Where most are struggling, or where I know it will help, I will have them swim in pairs up the lane with the swimmers facing each other pulling with the inside arm (right and left arms). 

If we have time we can progress to lengths of 2+2+2 (two single arms to the left, two single arms to the right and then two full strokes) and ‘4 kicks, one arm pull’. It really depends entirely on how the group is progressing as sometimes more than a few get stuck with the arm stroke, the timing or still kick from the knees or do a breaststroke kick.

We might do ‘old english backstroke’ with a fly kick, to get the butterfly stroke working (if only on the back). We may also spend some time on the transition – multiple underwater fly kicks in the streamlined position. The session is likely to end on starts: dives from the side (sitting or standing) and even jumps of the starting block (to build confidence): a distance jump, star jump or ‘standing leap’ as far into the pool as possible as a contest – sometimes followed by a ‘dive and glide competition’.

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