Three groups of Grade 5 Swimmers (NPS Grade 7/8)
The introduction of Butterfly takes time. I have learnt to concentrate on the correct leg kick, initiated in the hits though running from the chin to the toes, before tackling the arms. I certainly see little purpose in introducing the full-stroke for more than a few moments and only once all the parts of the stroke have been introduced and worked on.
I have ages ranging from 8 to 11, with three competent swimmers while the fourth struggles. It is a shame when someone lacks fluidity, who is uncomfortable, even ungainly in water. Ideally such a swimmer ought to be doing a programme that develops confidence through fun. It is always apparent when someone is confident in water, better still, as with a couple of these swimmers, when they clearly feel joy at being in water.
The plan I run to for this grade and age on Butterfly is typically:
A warm up of 2 x 5m Front Crawl, asking for ‘long legs, smooth arms’. Followed by something similar on Back Crawl, asking for ‘steady leg kick, straight arm recovery’.
I then get them out of the water (perhaps better to do this before they get wet, which I did with one group).
Have them against the wall, ankles to the wall, bum to the wall, shoulder blades and head to the wall, then stretch into the streamlined position. I will bring the head forward and invite them to see if by stretching they can make their elbows touch (possible only with the most flexible). I don’t push for the impossible, but rather emphasize (as they are told all the time) the important of streamlining.
(See the Ruben Guzman images in ‘The Swimming Drill Book).
They then step away from the wall and rest their hands at their sides. I invite them to imagine they are wearing a fish tail. I will physically role-play putting on such a thing, over my toes, the ankles together, up to the knees, also together and up to the navel. Some will copy, on reflection I’d get them all to do this and then hop around a bit). Next, to make this tail work they have to move the hips back, then forwards. The point is made that fish do not have knees. We run through this a few times, then they get into the water.
Ideally the swimmers have short fins on. In the deep end an introductory exercise is to have them rest their arms on the lane rope, feet pointing straight down and to do the ‘butterfly wiggle’ trying to gain some purchase on the water in the upright position (far easier with fins on). They are then challenged to do this first away from the lane rope and then with arms raised. From this we go into the kick in the horizontal position.
Whist kicking with a stiff float is potentially painful for the lower back, using a noodle, with outstretched arms offers enough flexibility to do 4 x25 fly kick, perhaps with some of it on the back. As they swim up the pool I will repeat something like ‘bum back, bum forward’ or ‘imagine you are a mermaid,’ or ‘imagine you are wearing flippers’. No surprises that the boys prefer to be dolphins.
From this we go into ‘dolphin’ with the hands at the side, raising the chin to breath, and then jamming to chin in to go down. This might be tied into ‘sea otter’ the game whereby they play being otters, or mermaids, swimming to the bottom of the pool for either oysters or pearls They have to do a butterfly kick throughout. The next step is to do the kick on the surface, ‘stitching’ through the water raising the head with a kick and ducking the head down with a kick.
Then a single arm pull, with emphasis on the straight arm recovery. This can take quite a while to get right, may require a short session on the poolside and usually works best if they are encouraged to turn their head and watch the arm describe an arc through the air. They are also encouraged to think about ‘kicking the hand in’ and ‘kicking he hand out’.
To get them up to the deep end ahead of diving practice I may have them get into the streamlined position then bounced along the black line from one end of the pool to the other. It’s a break, and fun and of value as a drill for diving and streamlining, even controlling breathing.
Diving practice here uses the butterfly kick, so a dive a glide, followed by a dive, 2 second glide then six fly kicks, then 2 second glide, 2 kicks and 2 full arms strokes before swimming out the 25m on Front Crawl. After this, I may ask them to do a 25m of full stroke FLY but only if I am confident they will be able to give it a realistic shot. In my first group one swimmer executed a delightfully fluid and effective 25m of Fly. Most bend the knees and drop the body then struggle to get their arms out of the water.
With a minute or so left they might quickly run through:
• A handstand with pointed toes
• A mushroom float
• ‘Dead swimmer’ straightening out into the streamlined position
With a little variation this is repeated with the three groups I take in the morning. They are all aged 8-11. Some are more able than others, with one or two struggling with coordination to such a degree you wonder if they’ll ever get it: all do, if they stick with it. Sadly only one of the swimmers in the three groups swims more than once a week. This, not surprisingly, makes a huge difference, as in any one week they will repeat similar drills, with a different teacher, who may introduce an idea or approach that makes more sense to them.