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Getting the most from technique demonstrations

Terry Heggy | November 9, 2016

Different people have different learning styles. Some learn best by reading, some by hearing, and some by watching. And of course, there is doing—guided by expert feedback. We are most effective as coaches when we provide our swimmers the opportunity to learn through each of these modes. Let’s examine a few ways to maximize the impact of providing in-water technique examples during Masters swim practice.

Demos by Design

A well-designed workout consists of more than a simple list of repeats and intervals to be performed. Performance improves more from refinement of technique (drag reduction, efficient application of force) than from increases in fitness, so it’s important to incorporate workout elements that focus on building swimming skills. These include:

  • Drills that isolate portions of the stroke and focus on refining individual technique components (one arm swimming, kicking on your side, catch-up stroke, etc.)
  • Sets that provide focused practice of a specific technique (alternate breathing, early vertical forearm, push-off/breakout, etc.)
  • Demonstrations of proper technique (streamlined position, fast turns, efficient breathing, breaststroke and butterfly timing, etc.)

Demonstrations can be used to introduce and clarify drills and focused practice, but may also stand alone as components of your overall teaching strategy throughout the season. In other words, plan to regularly include technique demonstrations within your workouts. Select athletes with good technique and ask them to help you by showing their teammates how it’s done.

Ongoing Opportunities

In addition to your scheduled demo show times, be flexible enough to throw in spontaneous demonstrations when you observe that:

  • Multiple swimmers are performing a technique incorrectly (indicating that the concept needs reinforcement)
  • One athlete is performing a technique particularly well (presenting an opportunity to share that shining example with the rest of the group)
  • Swimmers have become fatigued or unfocused to the point where they could use an interesting and informative breather.

Don’t think of such impromptu demonstrations as interruptions to the flow of the workout. Instead, recognize the benefit everyone receives when a demo helps them avoid practicing poor form.

When you do notice a common flaw that a demo would help, always accentuate the correction, not the problem. Instead of saying “I’m seeing people lifting their heads to breathe,” say “I want to see you all keep your heads in line and breathe with one goggle lens in the water. Let’s watch Jane show us how to do that!”

Great demos don’t always come from the fastest competitors; look for demonstration candidates from among all your speed groups. Advantages of engaging a variety of swimmers (rather than just the superstars) in your demonstration platoon include:

  • Opportunities to recognize, praise, and encourage swimmers who might not receive a lot of attention from other sources
  • Team building through name recognition and peer appreciation
  • Encouragement to improve enough to become one of those shining examples.

Points to Ponder

As you explain the technique being shown, remember to emphasize exactly what you want swimmers to watch, and how it contributes to speed, adherence to rules, or conservation of energy, etc. Have the swimmers watch from both above the water and below, repeating the demo several times. Ask if anyone has questions about the technique before moving on to the practice segment (where the skills are reinforced and locked in.)

Practice should Immediately follow the demo. As each swimmer performs the demonstrated technique, observe their efforts and provide feedback to ensure that they are executing it correctly. Remember that swimmers always think they’re performing their strokes perfectly; they rely on their coach to nudge them toward execution of perfection in reality. Again, remember to give feedback in terms of the behavior desired—say, “take a deeper push-off,” rather than “you’re too shallow,” for example.

If appropriate, considering having swimmers pair up to practice. For example, if you’re working on streamlining off the wall, you can have pairs line up in adjacent lanes and challenge each other to see who can get out the farthest on their breakout stroke.

If appropriate in your program, you may also perform the demos yourself. Swimmers might enjoy having the opportunity to critique the coach’s technique, and you can challenge them to outperform you. When they do, make sure you recognize their effort, perhaps by asking them to perform the next demo.

USMS Wave Seperator

About the Author—Terry Heggy

Terry "Speed" Heggy has been swimming for more than 50 years. He won his age group in the 10K Open Water Championship in 2006, competed in the National Championship Olympic Distance Triathlon in 2014, and qualified again for USAT Nationals in 2015. He's the head coach of Team Sopris Masters in Glenwood Springs, Colo., and is a USMS-certified Level 3 Masters coach and an NASM Certified Personal Trainer.

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