Advice to a 50 something wanting to take part in a Triathlon and not being hot on his Front Crawl

Fig.1. From ‘The Swim Drill Book’ – an absolute must. In Kindle version I show swimmers pages such as this to show them a drill. It gets their attention and works.

Buy a copy of ‘The Swimming Drill Book’ Robert Gustein. either as a book, or eBook, or both! I swear by it. I create lessons plans that integrate a combination of TWO parts of this.

First part is to do with ‘feel of water’ and for any levels offers stuff you can do in any local pool or hotel pool just getting a sense of floatation, streamlining and ‘purchase’ of the water by your hand … which is now akin to the blade of a boat.

Second part is to go to a specific stroke. The drills are offered for novice through to a squad swimmer, so plenty to build on and to chose from. Variety helps in numerous ways, keeping your interest, working different muscle groups, making you think about what your body is trying to do and importantly breaking the swim into ‘whole-part-whole’ which is how  most swimming plans are constructed.

Three parts to your swim:

  1. Warm up
  2. Main Body
  3. Swim down

You can stretch before you swim and stretch after too – especially important where we must get your feet/ankles adequately flexed so that they aren’t slowing you down.

Ditch the beach shorts. They act like a drone. The drag interferes with everything.

You would benefit hugely from a pair of mini-flippers. These will stretch you ankles in a good way, give you lift so you train in the right position, while exercising your legs. OK, you’ll not be as fast when you take them off, but at least your head will know why they have to kick more efficiently and steadily to keep you body horizontal.

Other kit, if the pool permits your use of them, would include a snorkel so that you can train without having to swing your head around to the ceiling to breathe. This will show you what you are aiming for, not the ability to breathe out the back of your head, but certainly the need to be a fluid as can be when you breathe so as not to disrupt the fluidity of your swim.

Everything is about STREAMLINING …

The better you are at this the far, far easier it is to swim for a long time without getting tired.

All analysis of a swim breaks down into the mnemonic BLABT. This is how I studied your stroke.

Body Off the horizontal. Heavy in the water. Needs to streamline. Practice streamlining exercises (push and glide, ‘dead swimmer’, using kicker float to strengthen/correct kick, and short fins. Aim to be parallel to the bottom of the pool!


Legs Kick needs to be from the hip, like a footballer fallowing through with a penalty. Or ‘long legs’ like a ballet-dancer. Practice this with a kicker float until it becomes second nature to turn on this motor. A leg kick will naturally fall into one of three types 2-2 crossover, 4 or 8. It looks like you’re a 4 or even an 8. This must be a steady kick whatever else you are doing especially as you breathe … your kick hesitates and your legs sink and the whole body starts to look like a Jumbo Jet coming into land. Talking of which your feet with toes pointing to the bottom of the pool like flaps down to land, or that you’re wearing wellington boots. Pointed toes are crucial. Think how much resistance is caused as they drag through the water otherwise. Your left foot appears to be cramped up, so even stiffer than the other. There are a set of land-based stretches you need to do asap. And can be done when you can’t get in the pool. Ideally for a few minutes morning and night.


Arms Balanced, even, strong and steady. Lifts at the ‘pocket’ tracks forward with a high elbow and places the hand on the surface. Pulls back in an oar-like action. You are fine until your hand touches the water. You then need to reach forward, as if you are pushing your arm into the sleeve of a coat, then cupping your hand ‘catch’ the water and sweep back with a gradual acceleration in an ‘S’ shape under that side of you body. Ideally neither hand should cross a central line through the middle of your body.  Drills include swimming one arm only holding a kicker float. Watch what your arm and hand is doing then follow it through the water. You need to be bilateral, so make the effort to breathe to the right as well. This is also important so that both left and right arms have an equal share in pulling you through the water. The arm pull is 73% of the stroke … this is what pulls you through the water, the legs in anything but a sprint are there to keep your body horizontal and so causing the minimum amount of resistance. All resistance is bad, so slip the hand smoothly into the water, and the kick must be below the surface too. Smooth, silent, slinky swimming is the most efficient (and looks good too).


Breathing Breathes to the left, rolls head to ceiling. You need, eventually, to breathe on alternative sides every third stroke. For now get the body position right and aim to breathe only once your lungs are empty, so possibly every fourth stroke. Breathing is a continual action of ‘trickle breathing’ so blowing out slowly, possibly through your nose … then an explosive inhale as your mouth breaks the surface of the water.


Timing Currently you breathe every stroke to the left. In time you need to learn to breathe every other stroke to alternate sides. In a distance swim you may want to be as comfortable deciding at times only to breathe to one side rather than the other … either so that you can see where you are going, or because waves one one side are making breathing tricky. A tiny wavelet is more of a problem than a roller!


There is masses on YouTube. So look for FrontCrawl drills. Ideally I would have videod you and if in a few weeks or months you can get me a video of you I can offer more fixes. I have various lesson plans on my teaching/coaching website which I can point you at or download and adjust for your use.

ONCE you have got the technique, which requires some fitness to never used muscle groups, THEN we start on your stamina to get through a distance swim. It does reach a point for everyone where you feel you could go on forever, really, afterall, the water is holding you up and you can kick gently and efficiently and pull gently too.



Assesments – assignments and written exams for ASA Level 2 and Level 3 Coaching

Paper Assignments

I have in-front of me an Amateur Swimming Associations (ASA) paper for the Level III Senior Club Coach certificate. There are 12 sheets, facing side only. The paper is waxed, copyrighted and stamped with the ASA logo. Having attended a day long workshop on the topic, done some reading and from my own experience I complete these assignment and submit. It ought to be submitted as is; this is in part a test of authenticity. I have handwritten my responses. My habit and way of doing things is to have it in a word document, so I load the text and tables, complete the required questions/tasks, print off and submit both parts. Invariably I get a note about the typed up/printed off version being so much better … it takes skills that even I lack to write something in some of the minuscule boxes.

I was discussing on Monday with the ASA how to avoid plagiarism with e-assessments.

I mentioned Nottingham University medical students attening a computer-based assessment. I mentioned software that can spot plagiarism. I struggled however with the kind of forms the ASA uses as these tests seem to be have written with the EXAMINER in mind … i.e. to make them easy to mark. Which also makes it easy to cheat. The answer is the same, not open to interpretation. More or less. This isn’t strictly fair … papers are returned covered in red ink – I have redone one paper.

There has to be a sign in process that is used to identify a person.

How many people cheat? Is it such a problem?

Apparently so. Even with certificates and qualifications it appears easy to falsify documents. And often, these determined people are excellent teachers/coaches who have learn their trade as competitive swimmers and/or on the job, so they know what they are doing, they simply don’t have the piece of paper.

Memory Cards

I also have in front of me a set of handwritten cards given to me by a colleague who has just taken her Level II Coaching certificate. She failed the written paper. She used these cards to test herself. My intention is to put these into Spaced-Ed, as an exercise, possibly to create or to begin to create a useful learning tool.

I like the way Space-Ed prompts you over the week, tests you on a few things, then leaves you alone. You have time to assimilate the information. Is it easy learning? It is easier learning … nothing beats a period of concerted effort and self-testing to verify that you know something or not.

Whether electronic, or paper … or the spoken word, there is always a bridge to gap, a translation, as it were, of the information a person wants or needs to assimilate and this assimilation process.

Common to all is EFFORT.

Do you work hard at it for longer periods of time … or divide the task up into smaller chunks? Which works best? For you, or anyone? Is there a definitive answer? No. It will vary for you, as with anyone else. It will vary by motivation, inclination, time available, the nature and importance of the topic, the degree to which this topic is covered in print or online, or in workshops and in the workplace. In deed, my contention, would be that the greater the variety of ways to engage with the information the better it will be retained and the more useful it will be when required in a myriad of ways to be applied or is called upon.

On reflection

I learn from writing somethign out by hand. I learn again when I type it up. I may not be engaging with it ‘in the workpale;’ but there is engagement non the less through my eyes, hands and fingers. Similarly the person who wrote out this pack of 71 cards (both sides written up) was preparng themselves, afterall, for a written exam. She knows her stuff poolside, her struggle (as I know is the case for many) is translating this into exam-like responses in a highly false setting, away from a pool, from swimmers, having to read words to respond in text, rather than reading an athlete (observation) and responding with a fixing drill or exercise.

How to bring about optimal performance in relation to factors at a competition that can affect an individual’s performance

How to bring about optimal performance in relation to factors at a competition that can affect an individual’s performance

Factor Your Strategies



Educate athletes to understand why the need to be hydrated during training and at competitions is important. This ‘education’ ought to include a classroom/conference style presentation, with supporting literature and perhaps drink samples provided by a sponsor. As well as publicity for the event going onto the club website, in the club newsletter, on the club notice-boards and in swimmer’s log books, a sheet outlining hydration principles would be used to make the information readily available to swimmers, coaches, parents & team managers. Ensure that swimmers have drinks poolside and that these are suitable to their needs – some energy drinks containing too much glucose for example.


Team Spirit and Unity


How swimmers get on with their ‘colleagues’ is vital, the lane dynamic can go wrong, as can the mood of the squad or certain swimmers in it, even affecting the entire team depending on who is involved/responsible. From the outset club members, squad or not, need to understand the need to abide by certain club rules, but more than that to participate in some of the charity & social events the club puts on that creates a sense of belonging and combined pride and commitment.  Attitude of parents, committee, coaches & teachers all counts her … even the presence of Club Flyers & Posters around the ‘home’ facility, as well as the wearing of club swimming caps, costumes, tops, hoodies, t-bags & so on. This team ‘spirit’ is also enhance through internal & external PR, posting of results, writing up of event reports, appearances in local papers and putting laminated cuttings up on notice-boards and linking to news on the club website and sharing stories in the club newsletter. All this creates ‘unity’ at an event, as does sharing a coach, and staying at the same location, eating together …  and staying together in a poolside ‘corral.’


Environmental Issues


Travel distance to the location. Outdoor, v.humid poolside, poor seating, nature of warm-up arrangements – is there a separate pool for warm ups & swim downs? 25m or 50m. Local weather and time zone, time of year (hot, cold, wet, snow etc) Changing rooms/cubicles, team changing, quality and cleanliness of toilets/showers. Access to appropriate food & drinks. Lighting, distance from changing rooms to pool. Temperature away from the pool. Crowding. Bins.  Ease of reading electronic boards. Ease of greeting parents/friends. Sound.


Length of Competition


Over a day or days, how long during the day between warm up and heats and events. Heat declared winners or finals. Award ceremonies during or after events. Electronic timing or officials … or both.


Format of Competition


Suitability or otherwise of running order and the events chosen by individual swimmers who may or may not feel good or otherwise about the choices they originally made and the competition they now face … or don’t face. Some events become a non-event if there are few entries …


Level of Competition


Just as swimmers competing in events where they could appear to do so badly they are humiliated so swimmers that run away with the events won’t gain anything if they are just swimming against the clock and if they mock the event by swimming slowly it does them and the club harm.

Swim Coach Kindle – Effective Poolside M-learning as in ‘Mobile,’ ‘Micro’ and by the ‘Minute’.

On its own content on an e-Reader such as a Kindle is NOT e-learning or m-learning.

(Though surely any kind of self-directed, personally motivated reading is learning?)

So how, in the context of swim coaching do I make it so?

There are two audiences, the athletes and fellow coaches.

I have dual responsibilities, as a coach putting in place ways to improve the times these swimmers produce (coaching) and in workforce development improving the skills of the team teaching or coaching swimmers.

(Ruben Guzman, The Swim Drills Book)

The Kindle content can be shown to swimmers; with the right content this has already proved brilliant at SHOWING the swimmers what I want them to do, complementing any demonstrations I do poolside.

Getting their eyes and ears engaged on the task is the challenge.

The right content, such as the Swim Drills Book has in place bullet pointed learning tips and focus points for the coach so that you can speed read this, or take a tip quite easily at a glance. More micro-learning that mobile-learning.

How about fellow coaches?

A colleague who was sitting out got her head around the Kindle after a few quick pointers on how to page turn (if we even all it that anymore).

She did two things, checked some progressions into swimming Butterfly for her next group of swimmers, taking from this a useful learning tip and then checked something on timing in Breaststroke for HER OWN swimming.

Next week, having primed her by email and some grabs on Kindle operation, I will show her how to highlight passsages in the Kindle and add notes. Surely, as other coaches do the same, this will build into an updated, club developed learning resource that more coaches and teachers will buy into because it is OF the club … we can identify, as you can in a Wiki, the contributions being made by people with decades of swimming experience as athletes, Masters champions and highly qualified sports coaches?

Not M-Learning yet

Now I integrate the Kindle content, this and other resources into two things:

Formal Amateur Swimming Association (ASA) qualifications, for example Levels 1, 2 & 3 Teaching Aquatics and Levels 1,2 & 3 Coaching Swimming.

Develop content in my swim coach blog, that is gradually taking the extensive offline electronic record or blog set to private, that I have now kept for five years. In here I have just about every session I have taken, possibly 1,000 sessions?

Encourage, through the formal programme of teaching and coaching that we have closer integration of what we do poolside and in the gym with both these formal and informal learning resources.

I’ve already shared ideas with an e-learning colleague in e-learning who did a Kimble e-learning piece in Articulate some weeks ago.

We are going to plan out generating our own content, including exploiting the affordances of the Kindle to create a series of ‘Flicker Book’ animations i.e. by controlling the speed at which you ‘page turn’ you generate or pause an animation that shows a specific technique. This might be as simple as how to scull, or long-legged kick for Front Crawl and Back Crawl.

Fascinating. My love for swimming and coaching swimming has been rejuventated as every time I am poolside will now be a workshop for learning.

An Aside

Four days ago 17 poolside helpers, assistants, teachers, coaches and principal teachers – a team manager too, attended a traditional ‘Tell and Talk’ point point workshop on Safeguarding Children.’ I was unwell so unable to attend. I would like feedback from this, but something more than some Smiley Faces or boxes ticked.

Any suggestions on approaches to Feedback that work without having to hire in consultants?

Tips from Beth (1)

When addressing kids use FOUR words and use their language.


As a puppet controlled from the ceiling


Press the shoulder down

Catch as if popping your head over a garden wall


Times achieved at lower distances must be achieved at longer distances.

On every break say what you need to say in 2 to 4 words

Every swimmer has a different make-up and body.


Shoulder not deep. Nose on the water to breathe vs shoulder too deep and mouth goes under water.

FC Kick Problems

So kick like a football

Hips always too low

Legs lazy

UW phase

Like going down a flume tunnel and follow the line

Surface like a submarine


Hand out

Head in neutral

No go zone in front of hands

Must push down to the waist

Breathe early

Palm up/thumbs in air

Squirrel Nutkin pose

Flick at back

FLY Kick

If they’re kicking as the arms go in the other kick will follow.


The ‘do nothing glide’

Normal Operating Procedures

An NOP is the detailed description of the day-to-day operation of a pool. Centre manages through to swimming teachers ought to be familiar with the procedures.
From a teacher or coach’s point of view the duty manager remains in control and will direct all operations in the event of an emergency.

Let’s consider the list of items that must be considered:

  • The first aid room & its contents/stocking
  • The first aid reporting procedure
  • Duties of recreational assistants & life guards
  • Communications within the centre (radios/public address system/alarms)
  • Emergency procedures
  • The nature of the pools
  • Glare
  • Responsibilities of the lifeguard (behaviour/rotations/supervision zones/awareness of risks)
  • Bather loads
  • casualty recognition
  • First Aid awareness
  • Procedures with schools
  • Safe Diving Policy

Procedures are also given for gala hire & pool parties, float sessions & aqua aerobics.

From a coach & teacher’s point of view:

  • they must be suitably qualified
  • whilst responsible for the safety of their children in the case of an accident they must not leave swimmers unattended but call over a member of the pool’s staff.
  • they should know the position of safety equipment, 2 way radios & emergency alarms.
  • wear the club uniform so that they are immediately identifiable

Backstroke Drills



Used with a Grade 7 teaching group.


The board must not bounce i.e. must not be touched by the knees.


Hold arm raise & straight palm in at shoulder, turn palm out then continue recovery.


To reduce overreach.


Swim close to the lane to force swimmers to recover the arm straight.


Practice position for rotation


One arm raise above, the other underwater at the side the shoulder rolled underwater.


Worked well. They had the variety and the drills worked well as a set.