I know this is going to sound like new-age jargon, but I can’t emphasize enough the importance of coaching with simple concepts.
This was really brought home to me this year with my volunteer coaching of a very special group of kids. They only train 2 consecutive days a week, 1 hour per day. And only for about 4 months of the year. I had noticed in previous years that specific stroke / body position corrections weren’t being carried over from one week to the next. And that makes sense. 5 straight days of no swimming will do that to anyone.
So this year I tried something completely different. Instead of using specific stroke concepts I boiled the essence of swimming down to a few key ingredients. Flow. Narrow. Quiet. And we would typically only deal with one of those concepts per week.
The idea here is that swimming should feel like natural, like a fish moving through the water. It should involve simple movements that help the swimmer move forward. Anything jerky, or lateral, or rushed should be eliminated. Efficiencies can always be added later, once a basic and simple movement pattern is established.
While this one sounds self-explanatory, it’s often defeated by the swimmer’s body awareness. Their swimming may look like a football lineman rushing the quarterback (or here in Canada I refer to it as a hockey player on a breakaway), their body awareness has them thinking that they’re narrow. This is where video is handy. Just showing them what they look like is often enough to get them swimming more and more narrow.
This is the concept I love the most. Quiet doesn’t refer to not making any external noise. Quiet refers to keeping the stroke simple and quiet in their heads. And this requires a lot of slow, correct swimming to develop the right thoughts that create the right movements. Once they have a slow, simple, quiet stroke, then we can step them up through speed and effort levels. It may take a little time, but they will learn how to keep it simple and quiet as they swim faster and faster.
So what happened with this experiment?
The results were astounding. Every swimmer improved far more than we thought possible. And most significantly, improvements were observed from week to week. In other words, these concepts were not forgotten over those 5 non-swimming days. I’m convinced that it’s because those concepts are simple. One word each. Easy to understand. Easy to remember.
I can see some of you now saying that all this is very good, but what does it have to do with conventional competitive swimmers.
The answer is surprisingly simple. Even with my senior swimmers, I started using the same 3 concepts. I talked about maintaining the natural flow of the stroke. About swimming narrow like an arrow. About being quiet in your head. And the results even with serious swimmers who swim 6 days a week (multiple practices on some days) was often amazing. Their strokes became simplified and were improved. Simple concepts are easy to remember, and easy to internalize. Having a good flow means there are no jerky movements. Narrows means maintaining a good streamline. Quiet means keeping it simple and focused.
Of course, there are times when very specific stroke corrections are required. Many, many times. But I would suggest that until those first 3 concepts are internalized with the swimmer, those other corrections are not as important, and perhaps not even possible.
Next year should be interesting as we’ll take those concepts right to our beginning levels. And continue using them with our highest levels.
NOTE: If any of you coaches ever start to feel a little burnt out, or tired of dealing with the same old problems every day, try volunteer coaching with special groups. It’s fantastic! The kids have a joy of learning and of swimming that recharges your batteries like nothing else. They don’t come with the same expectations, fears, etc. They just swim for the joy of it. Soon, you’ll find yourself coaching just for the joy of it.