I don’t usually sounds so gushing about a lifestyle and a love for swimming that turned into a hobbyist teacher having got my own children swimming when they were 4 and 6, but for now at least I’ve got the balance right: not too much, but enough, paid to do it so I more than simply cover the cost of the petrol to get their, and the professionalisation of club coaching and teaching is to be commended. It takes having the right people in post though; we do. I think we get on, we respect each other as colleagues – at arms length (the generational spread could hardly be greater), we collaborate, cover for each other, talk to each other, overlap our day/sessions from time to time and most importantly, universally I think, have a passion for the sport, as an art form, not just a sport. That sounds pretentious, but let me explain, or rather speak to us about swimming, really ask questions; we go into detail about body position, hand movements, head position, ‘feel for the water’ the nuanced difference between making a human as suited to movement through the water as the human body can be without becoming double-jointed and developing a huge lung capacity.
I’ve drifted off somewhat. The intention was simply to blog my sessions. Maybe I needed the literary warm up; I do. Whatever the activity, need a warm up that is.
I love Wednesdays (and Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays) because I am at the pool for a few hours with swimmers I love Mondays and Tuesdays because I am not. A change is as good as a rest, a rest at the end of the week – like sleep, nourishes the mind. It has taken me a good four months though to cherish and protect my Mondays and Tuesdays from being filled with ‘work’ – stuff, as long as it is varied, is OK – ‘work’ is not. Being a martyr to anything is not a good thing, not that I’m doing the 22 hours a week I once covered, sometimes with early morning swims. I’d be up and out and at it for a film shoot, but that’s another story entirely. On set with a young team and young actors; I’d have enjoyed directing Byker Grove had I pulled that off some decades ago (I did work with the same actors on a number of information films). You see where my mind wanders when I let it? Stream of consciousness. Just the ADHD. I may have deleted this by the time I get to hit ‘publish’ (or not).
To the job at hand:
Three sessions: Para swimmers, PC1 (ostensibly 9-11 year old ‘learning to train’ swimmers) and Masters.
The variety counts for something. Some approaches are the same for them all: play to their strengths, identify and address weaknesses/faults, have empathy towards who they are and what swimming means to them.
I’ve worked with ‘disability’ aka ‘para’ swimmers on and off since I came to the club in 2008. Micro-class sizes, a high ratio of coaches/teachers to swimmers and other support is all vital – lets it work. We are well managed. The swimmers have a ‘safe space’.
What works for my 3 or 4 swimmers may not suit other lanes. Each lane is going at its own space depending on the individuals in the water and their requirements, expectations and levels of, how can I put it ‘bid-ability’. To some degrees what we do is negotiated, not that the swimmers are necessarily aware of these, but you have to get to know that and how they tick and behave to get their best out of them, to see them doing what they can do a little better, to try new things (within their capacity). We take breathers, I ask questions, we share stories and have a laugh – and we swim (well, they do).
The pattern of the session is warm up, main event, and swim down – even if the session is gentle and non-competitive. That said, 1 or the 4 likes to race. He gets to race from time to time but I sense the others are accommodating him, just like he is happy when they do something they enjoy: pushing through hoops, somersaults.
The principles of whole-part-whole and ‘individualisation’ are maintained.
A couple of lengths of front crawl, a couple of lengths of back crawl.
Some kicking on back and front.
Where I can add in a valid challenge I will do so. I like to do ‘Down The Line’ front crawl with all the groups. The simple activity of swimming straight down, and above the black line in the middle of the lane ensuring that the head is looking straight down, and each arm, left and right, is pulling and recovering either side of the black line. I picked this up from one of the dozen or more streams of video-clips I follow on Instagram. I’ve adapted this for back crawl with ‘Follow The Beam’ (no use for the sight impaired of course), where on the back the swimmer ‘lasers’ their upright recovering army through the roof along the beam 20 or whatever feet above their head.
Kicking with a kicker float. Generally one length at a time. Generally I am back and forth the length of the pool to speak to them at both ends. Rest matters. They swim once a week.
From the kick we add an arm stroke, on FC. The kick on the back might include a ‘fun one’ with a plastic cup on the tray-like float pulled along above their knees – the intention to encourage ‘long legs kicking from the hips’ and to discourage so called ‘cycling legs’. (The most advanced challenge tried with partial success, is to kick/swim BC with this plastic cup and a little water, on the forehead).
Then there are the drills: Zip-up or ‘zipper’ is a favourite for FC, though variations that develop the ‘high elbow’ recovering include ‘dragging fingers’, ‘little person running across the water’ and ‘hesitation’ – in each case the recovering hand staying close to or against the body and so encouraging a high elbow. I try to encourage a shoulder rotation and reach too. With BC the drills include ‘slomo’ and ‘hesitation’ : the recovering arm pausing at the vertical for a couple of seconds, or the recovering arm taking its time to recover. Either way it is necessary to kick a bit harder, to keep the body flat, the hips up, and ideally there is some shoulder rotation.
We do breaststroke, but only when I can easily have each swimmer doing their own thing. It might be a hip/knee issue, or coordination or resistance somewhere to change, or my figuring out how to ‘correct’ it, but this assumes I could or want to have them swimming legal breaststroke with the required symmetrical, synchronous arms and legs. It possibly is more natural to swim a sidestroke kick.
We also do butterfly, but for my lane, kick only. The fly kick is useful to incorporate into the transition on FC and BC of course, and is fun in its own right. We have used fins, and I’d recommend them. A little more propulsion helps with ‘feel for the water’, at speed, and is fun.
Along the way, or take fill a few minutes at the end of the session we do ‘three things’ each swimmer enjoys: a handstand or somersault for one of them, a star float or mushroom float for another, ‘streamlined bounce’ and ‘sitting on the bottom of the pool’ – playing watching TV or a video game! For a bit of fun!
I’ve used hoops to push through, noodles under the arms and pullboys for arms only, and even water-polo balls to swim with and throw over the 5m flags.
Have I missed anything? Probably.
PC1, the ‘Learning to Train’ group of 9-13 year olds are on Breastroke this week. My MacroPlan for the year has a 4 to 5 week rotation by week and calendar month between each of IM, FC/BC and BR with dive/turns and other skills part of the mix in every session. Closer to galas more time is spent on starts, turns and finishes.
A new intake of 8 or so swimmers at the beginning of the year changed the complexion of the squad considerably, particularly with a handful of 12/13 year olds who have come through our Academy later than we might have wished because of missing swimming during Covid lockdowns. Our hope is that these older swimmers will be advance to a competitive or development squad sooner rather than later. It means I have four swimmer types and would ideally have four lanes. A slight 9 year old may not train well with a developing 13 year old, and the two tend not to wish to be in the same lane in any case. Like playing an instrument in an orchestra, or ballroom dancing I guess, or any sport, ability level is the differentiator. More or less this squad is at the same stage, they are learning how to train, they still need to be taught to fix issues with butterfly especially, breastroke to some degree, competitive dive and turns and finessing/correction to FC and BC.
With an assistant/second coach, in this case a former club/university swimmer with considerable talent, 11 simmers only (out of a squad of 25), and only two lanes, we kept our eyes on a lane each. After a warm up I then build up the distance in a pyramid on the basis that after 1, then 2, then only 3 lengths at a time we will have notes to share, things to fix, stuff to talk about. We cover the usual things: kick too wide, warms pulling too wide, head bobbing (mostly addressed now), short/curtailed transition into the stroke. We also have one asynchronous illegal kick but with ‘hip/knee’ problem cited we need to go carefully. Ideally this would be looked at by a sports physio or taken up by a sports doctor – if indeed there is a problem. We can find that the default of the individual is to excuse something that they have always got wrong and no one has been able to put right as they have come up through the club. (In our younger teaching group swimmers we have a plague of screw-kicking !)
Drills include: breaststroke kick on back, three kicks one stroke (3K1B), extended glide (kicking into a two second glide, also one down, one up (1D1U) where the transition ‘keyhole arm pull’ is followed by a normal stroke. Others might have included fly or FC flutter kick with BR arms, or ‘one leg, one arm’ when the swimmer reaches diagonally behind their back to hold the opposite leg – then swims with just one arm, and one leg. If their BR is sound many can do this – flat on the water, finding their rhythm.
And onto Masters. A session I have taken since September but am now handing over to a newly appointed Masters Coach. A former Merlins Swimmer who swam through university (Bath), he will become quite the technical swimmer. He is hugely interested and invested in the biomechanics of the sport and has an urge to use technology. We wax lyrical about electronic whiteboards, or projecting videos onto a wall – Masters swimmers however, are probably not the most open to change. Once qualified I can see him gravitate towards elite age group swimmers where finessing the stroke is more achievable.
Where do you coach/teach?
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