Welcome to the Spring, 1999 issue of the Coaches Committee Quarterly, or CCQ!
Question #1: It is generally accepted that for many swimmers, swimming underwater is faster than swimming on the surface. How do you incorporate underwater training in your workouts?
Many Masters swimmers are actually not very flexible or very good kickers, so they don't necessarily go faster underwater. It is of utmost importance to carry momentum off the dive and every pushoff from the wall INTO the breakout stroke. If a swimmer can hold a good streamline (arms tight against the head) and point their toes well and have a fast narrow kick, then I encourage them to break-out about one to two body lengths past the flags. If they have poor shoulder flexibility to streamline, or use a slow, large knee bend kick, then I try to get them to come up right at the flags. The key is to not lose momentum.
I encourage them to maximize their pushoffs and breakouts nearly EVERY set, especially when they start getting tired. For specialty work we do 25s from mid-pool, swimming into and off the wall trying to bounce off the wall and carry the speed underwater into the first few strokes.
To emphasize underwater swimming, I have my swimmers swim breast drills with two underwater pull-kicks off each wall. Another drill they do is 25 dolphin kicks underwater with fins. Also, when they do sprints from the blocks, I point out again and again the swimmers who have deep starts with streamlined bodies--they inevitably go farther and faster than swimmers who dive flat.
I use many different techniques in the drilling area of my practices, but allowing my swimmers to "FEEL" the water is an important accept. All swimmers need to feel the water, because it allows your swimmer to know how to position himself or herself in water, while on top of the water or underwater. From hand placement to kicking, an overall knowledge of a swimmer's ability underwater is just as important as what the swimmer can do on top of the water. My picks for feeling the water are sculling underwater or swimming 25 yards underwater.
We practice streamlining in turns, incorporating a strong pushoff, efficient and relaxed streamline and smooth transition to the kick and to the pull, for each of the four strokes. This includes the transition turns for the IM.
In my experience I find it is more important to practice turns in such a way that the swimmers gain the memory of how deep to swim for each of the stroke turns (not too deep nor too shallow) and when to efficiently make the transition from the glide to the kick to the pull in each of the strokes.
Underwater training in workouts is always fun. We work on streamlining off the walls a lot, and seeing how far we can go underwater. We do distances with a certain amount of the lap underwater and the rest above. We use our long fins a lot for any underwater work we do, and the swimmers usually love it. They really love doing relays, and I look forward to incorporating monofinning and snorkel sets into our program one of these days.
I think of underwater work as a "change of environment" that forces the swimmer to contemplate his aquatic existence from a different perspective. We do underwater activities primarily as a tool to learn to increase efficiency, i.e., get more streamlined and reduce unnecessary motions.
In addition to propulsion drills we also do a variety of "cavorts" which involve execution of all manner of underwater antics that may not immediately seem closely related to swimming. Among others these include upside-down walking with hands on the bottom and feet in the air, underwater corkscrew kicking, forward and reverse underwater somersaults and tandem underwater butterfly kicking (one person holding the other persons feet and the two working as a team to dolphin the length of the pool). The idea is to increase the swimmer's overall level of non-specific aquatic skills by playing.
I leave it up to the swimmers to determine how hard they want to work on the underwater portion of their swims. We do lots of work on streamlined pushoffs with the whole team. The competitive swimmers get a little more focus on underwater strategies like how to position their bodies to take maximum advantage of the breakout. I encourage all swimmers on the team to work on getting past the flags on every push off, purely for my aesthetic pleasure!
We do a variety of underwater drills and exercises. Underwater kicking with fins is the easiest do with a large group. The most substantial underwater kicking set I've given this year is 20 x 25s underwater dolphin kick with fins, perfect streamline, alternating 25 facing the bottom and 25 facing the surface. I emphasize small fast kicks, working the kick in both directions (upbeat and downbeat) and give a generous interval that has a way of seeming not-so-generous toward the end. We have also done 25s underwater sculling with flutter kick and hands above the head, and a breaststroke cycle with 1-pull-2-kicks, 1-pull-3-kicks, etc. up to 6 kicks. During the long course season we do 5-kick/3-stroke butterfly 50s.
Question #2: Explain an innovative way that you teach long-axis and/or short-axis rotation to your swimmers.
I explain the use of the hips and their importance in other sports (golf, baseball pitching and hitting) as a source of "core strength." Again, with fins, I have my swimmers kick only backstroke, arms at the side and forcing the shoulder tips out of the water while rolling side-to-side. If they move in a straight line, then the kick is balanced...something we all seek. I then have them use their right arm only for one length; then left arm only, and finally both arms. If the swim is straight down the center of the lane, then they "get it" as far as a balanced stroke goes. This is done as a 100-yard swim...one lap each as I have described.
I also do stroke count per length in backstroke. I have them really emphasize the side-to-side roll and count right hands per length. Then I have them not roll or hardly roll and count strokes...almost invariably the lower count is with greater side-to-side roll. And we all know that, at least in this case, less is more.
Typically I'll pull a swimmer out of the water and stand them facing me. I'll ask them to reach out, without moving, and touch my shoulder. Then, do the same thing allowing their shoulders to rotate 90 degrees. This will yield at least six inches of additional reach in even the smallest swimmers. I then point out that their distance per stroke is shortened by TWICE that distance when they fail to get the proper rotation (at the front and back of the stroke). Sometimes I revert to Laughlin's description of "reaching the fingers to the opposite cross" to help them get the feel of a long, rolling stroke.
We sometimes swim backstroke emphasizing rotation while resting hockey pucks on our foreheads. The idea for this specific apparatus came from Coach Paul Bergen, who coaches the senior age-group swimmers in the morning alongside our Masters group. SWIM Magazine recently printed an article with a backstroker using a cup, but I like the hockey puck better because it sinks. While the hockey puck drill is primarily meant to develop a steady head, the real trick is in adding rotation while keeping the head steady. If the head moves too much, the swimmer will lose the puck. When describing backstroke rotation, I prefer to use the description of "body roll powered by hip rotation" because I believe the old "shoulder roll" description is terribly misleading.
To teach long-axis rotation, I put big hand paddles (like the TYR Catalyst) on swimmers with trouble-free shoulders. I tell the swimmers they have to rotate their hips out of the way or else the paddles will scrape their hips.
To teach short-axis rotation, I clip photos from swimming magazines and post them on the bulletin board. They are ready when I need to tell a swimmer, "You're a little shallow. You need to drop your chest like the swimmer in this photo."
In both long- and short-axis strokes we practice swimming with the whole body. We practice pressing the "T' and using the hips to rotate the buoy in both freestyle and backstroke. We work on balance around the lungs, line, and posture. The eyes are down for freestyle. Head is back and steady with pressure on the "T" in backstroke.
We practice total body undulation and pressing your buoy in the short-axis strokes. We keep the balance in front. In short-axis strokes the energy comes from high in the body and flows out of the body.
Long-axis rotation - We start with vertical flutter kicking in deep water with hands crossed on the chest. I ask them to execute a 1/4 turn to the right using just the action of the legs (specifically NOT turning the shoulders, but rather allowing the entire upper body to "take a ride" on whatever happens at the hips due to the kick). After a few more flutter kicks I again have them take a 1/4 turn to the right purely as a result of leg action. After several such repetitions I ask them to be aware that they are turning to the right when they are kicking the right leg (moving the right leg forward as in kicking a ball) and recovering the left leg. We call the kick action that rotates the body a "transition kick". We repeat the above for 1/4 turns to the left.
Then we alternate a transition kick to the right, several flutter kicks, a transition kick to the left, several flutter kicks and repeat.
Once we've got that working we do the same thing horizontally in full streamline position - which, of course, moves them down the pool instead of being an in-place drill. We do this in both freestyle and backstroke orientation.
Finally, we add an occasional freestyle (or backstroke) stroke, being careful to time the beginning of the stroke so as to capitalize on the entire kinetic chain of muscle contractions starting from the legs and ending with the completion of the armstroke.
We use the Total Immersion progression to teach all strokes. For long axis we do quite a bit of Free/Back Combo. Three freestyle strokes, with a short pause on the side to check balance, turn the nose toward the sky, and then do four backstroke strokes. We encourage them to do it slowly while in balance and to use the whole body to rotate like a log. The new TI Long Axis tape is awesome for teaching this.
Ive had them swim in a lane about two-feet wide (gutter lane), freestyle only. On the first length, I notice them hitting the wall and rope often, then it decreases as they practice it more. Not only does this teach them rotation, it teaches them perfect rotation on the long axis.
Also effective is the use of underwater video analysis in which they can compare themselves to other swimmers, particularly elite competitors.
Question #3: What is the dress code for you and/or your staff on deck?
We don't have an "official" code, but I try to wear UCLA logo apparel whenever I can. I usually wear polo shirts with a collar, or our team sweatshirt, but if it's cold out I'll often have a parka over it. In Davis they used to call me Laverne, because everything I wore had a logo on it (like the big "L" Laverne had on the TV show). I definitely believe it builds team loyalty and spirit when the coach wears club-logoed apparel.
Bear in mind we swim outside year 'round! As long as the coach is dressed in clean appropriate clothing and Manatee gear if available, they're OK by me. Like I said, weather dictates how we dress on deck.
I am proud of my team. I wear items that signify my affiliation either to my state Masters organization or to USMS. I have designed logo patches for my LMSC and wear them proudly. I never know who comes to swim or to observe me in action, so I dress, not so much to impress, but rather to present a professional ambiance. How you act and how you look go a long way to creating a certain image you project. To be treated as a respected professional, you have to act the part. I do.
My staff has picked up on this and they have found that it is just as easy to look good as not. Again, you never know who's watching, so acting and looking your best is good assurance that you will be treated as a respected professional.
I try to look clean, presentable and professional on deck. I usually wear an embroidered team polo shirt tucked-in to jeans, cargo pants or khakis with a belt, shoes and nice socks. The clothing is always in good repair (no rips or holes), and I'm always showered and clean-shaven -- especially at 5:15 am when the swimmers are wandering in with sideways hair. Every once in a while I will wear something more casual, such as a T-shirt and lacrosse shorts. If I'm trying to promote a specific event, such as the One Hour Swim or the Check-Off Challenge, I will wear the T-shirt and tell them about it during announcements between sets. I strictly avoid wearing any apparel with foul language or advertisements for alcohol or tobacco products.
During practices, we require our coaches to wear a bathing suit on deck so they can get into the water to demonstrate a skill if necessary. At meets, they can wear shorts and a staff T-shirt and either sneakers or water sandals.
My answer is complicated depending on what my work schedule is at my other jobs. My evening Masters swim program is on Mon, Wed, and Fri from 6 to 11 am and from 7:30 to 9 pm. I work at Kroger grocery store from 12 noon to 4 pm then I go and teach college on Mon and Wed from 5 to 7:20 pm. My uniform of the day on deck for the evening swim is usually my Kroger khaki slacks and a Kroger shirt. I wear either my rattan pith helmet in the summer time or my Kroger baseball cap the rest of the year. For the morning swim, I wear whatever the weather dictates to stay as comfortable as possible on deck outside during the sultry Georgia summers. Once or twice per year, I thrill my swimmers by wearing a dress to the pool. I always wear my Birkenstock sandals with no socks in the summer and warm socks in the winter time. Between these jobs, what I wear isn't half as important as what I have to say to my swimmers.
I typically wear our team colors, along with a team golf shirt that says "coach." I wear comfortable clothing for the meets, because it can get warm and uncomfortable indoors for three to four hours. So, I make sure that my team's colors are seen on me, and clothing indicating to other swimmers and teams that I am the coach.
My fellow colleagues may forget sometimes, but we are the representatives of our teams. People look upon us all the time, especially at swimming meets. I think that being comfortable and being approachable is the key.
Dress code on Maui - that's a good one. Recommendations are: In winter sweats are optional, but at the minimum your swimsuit. A T-shirt and shorts are appreciated (Who wants to look at their coach in a bathing suit? It's too distracting; besides some swimmers might not return....not). In summer, cool, breathable, lightweight attire is recommended, so the coaches don't overheat. Highly recommend wearing a swim suit underneath, as a dip in the pool immediately following might definitely be called for!!
We have a very lax dress code at our pool. Shorts, a tee, and bare feet are fine. (This is great for me because I get splashed quite a bit by wild flip turns!) However, all staff members must wear their employee ID cards with job titles printed on them--I've found this helps stray lap swimmers figure out who's in charge.
I do believe that the style of dress conveys, to an extent, how you feel about your job and its importance. I virtually always wear a collared shirt, tucked in, and nice shorts or warm-up pants. I always wear shoes. For any coach on the deck, the shirt must always be tucked in and no T-shirts are allowed unless it is a team T-shirt.
It is amazing how many people this impresses. With many people accustomed to coaches looking like beach bums, the customers really appreciate the professional appearance. It says something about your business and your coaching when you care for your appearance and your staffs appearance.
I almost always chew gum before practice so the chance of bad breath is minimal. I do not wear any Kroger apparel.