e-Lessons from s-training – what the whole-part-whole approach to swim training can teach us

One tactic used in all swimming training from club squads to the Olympics is the concept of whole-part-whole: to develop the stroke, either to improve skills or strength, you break the stroke into parts. The simplest expression of this is arms only or legs only followed by the full stroke. This is repeated over different distances and whether an aerobic or anaerobic set, against different turn around or repeat times. This is finessed with drills, so taking on of the four competive strokes – frontcrawl backcrawl, breasstroke and butterfly – what might we see? This morning’s Master’s set had the following drills: short doggie laddle, long doggie paddle, carchup, touchfloat and closed fist. Each was a 50m drill followed by 50m full stroke. Later we did some arms only sets over 100m against the clock. And we swam sme backstroke and breaststroke for slme variety before some short full strokes sprints on Frontcrawl and a swim down.

How might this translate into a training session or e-learning module? To start with the module, like a set, would need to change every week, so that there is progression in the challenges set, the skills in technique to demonstrate and even the times to rest or turn around a swim.

There would need to be variety too, which typically means emphasis on a different stroke but inlcudes having a different coach, swimming in a different lane and having different swimmers in the lane with you.

I rarely see such variety or such progressive, long term, planned in progression in learning and development, while many e-learning modules are no better than the leaflet or linear video they replace – they are fixed.

Does this work? How do you reversion content so that it gets progrossively more challenging at a pace that puts the individual learning just beyond being able to d the thing with ease? Effort matters, easy learning isn’t learning, just as a stroll in the park isn’t a training run.




I should be able to remember the session – I’m traumatised enough from the experience (in agood way).

200m FC Warm Up
6x50m on 1:10

BC Drills
4 x 50m BC single arm
2 x 50m BC Torpedo kick
2 x 50m BR kick on back
2 x 50m Old English (the only one I enjoyed)
6 x 100m FC on 2:20
6×75 as FC and alternative stroke (I did BR)
100m swim down

I was warmed up enough for the 6x100m to go out first and compete. I got well into the grove or zone on the first, boyed up by the tips and support I’d had from the coach on head position and positive remarks a out the fluidity if my stroke. I even did flip turns. If I can retrieve this level of fitness to continue throughout the session THEN I’ll get fit and find my form (for a fifty year old)

Constructive criticism and positive feedback delivered in the right way works wonders, David watches his swimmers and has some useful pointers which I apply, slavishly, however awkward it may feel.

Coaching County

Ten swimmers, three lanes, ages 9-12. In an eight lane pool with T1 our top teens training group and our National Sqad.

Ten minutes to set up:

Session on the board
Stop watch
Clipboard with names of swimmers

I know 6/10 having taught them to swim, or developed them as competitive swimmers.

200 FC smooth WU
3 x 100 BC part/whole
4 x 25 Fly
4 x 25 FC
2 x 350 as 50m FC max, 300 covery.
Starts, Turns, Finishes
200 SD

Pick up on technique in stroke, starts, transition and turns. A couple of outstanding swimmers, one distinctly off standard.

The return to swim teaching and coaching

Staggered. The masters in the club hold World, European and National swimming records. These successes and the numbers of masters swimmers are in part what make ‘the Marlins’ such a success.

This is only my second day poolside in three weeks, indeed only my second day in ten months having taken a break from swimming coaching, something that became an important part of my week nearly five years ago as I climbed the ASA qualifications: I now have 10/11 modules successfully completed but will need six months I would have thought to get back up to speed with the complexities of developing young athletes to County & Regional standards.

I receive an official club polo shirt. I have a couple more somewhere, along with a Really Useful Box (they are) containing folders, reference books and qualifications.

Saturday a.m I teach (in future weeks I may also have an early morning swim). There have been days when I have taught or coached six times a week,sometimes clocking up 16 or more hours of coaching, teaching and preparation.

Our club is the largest in the South East Region (a vast area that takes in the entire Southern and South East chunk of England excluding London. We have over 1000 active members. Of these, if I remember the figures (I have taken the club successfully through Swim 21 Accreditation three or four times now) some 200 are Masters swimmers, not quite 100 in competitive squads, but an easy figure to work with, leaving another 500 in teaching groups and 150 in training groups, with another 50 playing water-polo. We swim at four venues, with Saturday mornings at Burgess Hill and Haywards Heath ours exclusively.

Today I conveniently find myself with the same grade of swimmer for the three 3/4 hour sessions that start at 9.15 a.m. after three hours of masters. There is a qualified level 2 ASA assigned to each of five lanes with a sixth ‘behind the group’ taking one of the groups new to club swimming who are still on widths.

Historically I have kept a meticulous electronic record of ‘my’ swimmers, using FileamakerPro to collate all manner of things regarding the swimmer’s progress, strengths, weaknesses and times; a system that became more detailed at the competitive level as i helped nurture, develop and direct talent into a skills group then mini-squad.

I feel I have a good eye for potential, which is reflected in a natural fluidity in the water, a sense of eagerness and skill in and underwater that is best described as ‘fish-like’ as well as an eagerness to listen, learn and apply training methods (evidenced of course by competitive times).

To say I am yet to get into the swing of things is an exaggeration: I remember my registration and skills charts and flip-flips (used to be deck wellies, hence the nickname ‘the Welly boot man’) but forget a bottle of water, whistle and stop watch. I don’t even have my Kindle that I’ve taken to use as diagrams from ‘The Swimming Drill Book’ are brilliantly illustrative of what I want the swimmers to do. With squads I used a digital camera, typically to record and monitor strokes into and out of the turn.

Today, after a warm-up and an unscheduled Front Crawl time trial we are working on Breaststroke and Breaststroke turns.

My warm up, the swimmers are age 8-11, our Grade 5 (which is about ASA NPT Grade 8 I think), comprises off.

50m FC smooth swimming.
50m BC smooth swimming.
25m FC as 5 strokes hard/fast followed by 5 strokes slow/smooth and climb out.
They then do a dive, with an extended transition and break-out for a few strokes then easy to the end.

Whilst you teach the group, you support, observe and address strengths and weaknesses of the individual. Glancing at the swimmer to take in their overall body position, head position and action, shoulders, position of torso and legs in the water, becomes second nature. This applies from the moment they push off and includes any turn and how they finish. With each stroke you are always looking at: Body, Legs, Arms, Breathing and Timing and placing the swimmer on some kind of continuum of development, judging what they clearly can do which warrants them being in the group, wondering why they are in the group if they cannot (there are many justifiable reasons for this) and often wondering why they aren’t a group or more ahead, indeed, wishing they would take a second swim in the week or join our skills group for developing talent.

In my first group an eight and nine year old stand out, the younger swimmer I took for a few months over year ago: she is sharp and enthusiastic. A high elbow and steady kick the tumble turn and the dolphin kick through the transition are all there. The nine year old is new to the club this term and shows the gymnastic grace of someone who has been swimming from an early age. The eleven year old would ideally be several grades higher by now. As the Principal Teacher put it to me, and we have said before, “we need them younger and to come with us with more of the basics in place’.

I make a point of using the swimmer’s name repeatedly so that I know that all after their first session: this becomes a challenge if I see more than sixty swimmers a week – there was a time I might have been seeing over 200 different swimmers.

We asses the swimmers as we go along: I like to be sure they can do a thing on three different occasions across the term and will put emphasis on fixing problems early in an attempt to get most through.

Of the 13 swimmers I take today only 1 swims twice a week. At this age this makes a huge difference to their progress, they are of course far more likely to pass through the grade and at times a swimmer is considered competent enough to jump a grade. This one answer to fast tracking the swimmers as they arrive at the club; the challenge is always the dedication of the parents or a parent to bring their child along.

The session after the 50m time trial (most have a dive, some a reasonable transition with some even doing a tumble turn) may have started with a bit of fun, either ‘otter’ in which they mimic a sea-otter collecting oysters from the seabed and cracking them open, to bouncing the length of the pool in a streamlined position. Then, with breaststroke a length or two to asses, then whole-part-whole with legs the part, first on the back, possibly with two floats, then on the front working into the drill 2 kicks 1 arm pull (2K1P). Invariably there are problems a) leg kick not symmetrical and b) arms pulling done to the side to the waist. I address this through demonstration, if necessary on the poolside and occasionally with a wiggle under the arms. The transition is taught in three parts: the 3 second glide out, the 2 second glide arms at the side after the ‘key-hole’ action, then sneaking the arms up and off.

I added a 100m swim of 25m BC, 25m BR, 50m FC.

A BR sprint over 25m

And some skills/fun: handstand, summersault and mushroom float.

Marlins retain Swim21 acrediation for Teaching, Competitive Development and Masters Foundation

Go Marlins!

One of the only clubs in the county, and the only one in the ASA South East Region to hold THREE Swim21 national accreditations. These are for teaching, competitive development and Masters. One day we may even achieve ‘Performance’ accreditation, though to achieve this we need swimmers regularly in the top 10 nationally at an Olympic event.