Two years ago we purchased our first real video system – an always-on system with a Hi-Def under/over water camera on a 10 metre cable, connected to a controller and a 55-inch Hi-Def TV on a movable cart. Without a doubt, that turned out to be the best investment our team has ever made.
Our previous video efforts involved dedicated underwater cameras, iPads, smart phones, etc., and these were certainly useful for looking at a specific thing at a specific time. In other words, I recorded a swimmer doing a thing, and then they get out and we looked at that thing. It was definitely worthwhile, but paled in comparison to the power of a system that constantly records and plays back the video with a programmable delay. In fact, by putting the camera above or below a lane line, we get continuous hi-def video for swimmers in 2 lanes.
I was introduced to this new system by Mike Finch, Head Coach of W Ross MacDonald Swimming, and owner of Competition Swim Gear (competitionswimgear.com). I was at his pool for a meet when he rolled the cart out and demonstrated the Swim Cam system. I was hooked right away. The combination of hi-def and the 55-inch TV ensures that even swimmers who normally wear glasses can adequately see themselves.
Over the last 2 years we’ve developed 2 key ways to use the system.
- Focus on a key aspect and then allow the swimmer to watch and digest what they saw.
- No specific focus and let the swimmer identify weaknesses and strengths.
Our initial experience with the system was incredible. For the first time swimmers saw what they really looked when swimming. By their facial expressions, it was clear that their mental ‘what-I-look-like-when-I-swim’ image of themselves was blown out of the water. This kickstarted conversations about what they think a stroke should look like, how they can minimize the opportunities for water to slow them down, and how they can stop pulling half of the air in the building with each backstroke pull.
Over time they started becoming far more knowledgeable about their strokes, and we gradually introduced the video without a specific focus. This put the stress on them thinking about their stroke, finding their own flaws, and giving them feedback on attempted corrections. But this also had an unexpected advantage. Many of our older swimmers also help coach younger swimmers, and they were quick to pass on this increased awareness and knowledge to the little ones.
We also came up with a third way to use the system. When we have the occasional fun time at practice, we let the kids play in front of the camera. They are endlessly entertained by this.
There’s one other aspect of this system that I think is necessary, and this will be controversial with many coaches. The system doesn’t store video. While this means we can’t do detailed stroke analysis and send to swimmers, it also means parents never have to worry that videos of their children can somehow make their way onto the internet.