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by Stuart McDougal

March 15, 2017

Correcting technique can be difficult, but it’s an important part of coaching

Coaches often find problems with their swimmers’ technique, but persuading swimmers that something’s wrong can be difficult. It’s our responsibility as coaches to help our swimmers go from not knowing there’s a problem to swimming with improved technique unconsciously.

Here are four ways to help swimmers bring perception (“I’m already doing this right”) and reality (“This needs to change to avoid injury or make you go faster”) together.

Embrace the Extreme

A common problem is when swimmers cross the midline on their freestyle recovery entry, especially when they breathe. This causes bending of the spine, or “fishtailing,” something that could lead to lower lumbar pain or other back issues.

Fixing this crossover is tough for swimmers, because the perception of where their hands enter and where they actually enter is usually different, so I ask them to enter “extra wide.” They think this is awkward when it’s just an inch or two farther out.

Using a clock for reference, with their nose at the center, I tell them to enter at “11” with their left hand and “1” with their right hand. Swimmers might feel that their entry is way outside their shoulder line, when it’s actually in front of their head but no longer crossing midline. It’s an improvement, but sometimes they still fishtail.

When that happens, I pull out extreme corrective perceptions and ask swimmers to enter at 9 (left hand) and 3 (right hand). They might feel like they’re reaching for the lane lines, but they’re actually entering at the right spot and not crossing their midline.

Film It

One of the best tools—and one that’s quite sobering for swimmers—is video. Record swimmers using their current technique and then using the new technique. The visual feedback immediately corrects a swimmer’s perception. I often hear swimmers say, “I had no idea I was doing that!” This helps coaches and swimmers build stronger, trusting relationships.

I use a tablet with a waterproof cover on a telescopic pole to take above-surface and below-surface shots, but even using a smartphone filming above the surface works.

If your team practices in bright sunlight, you can use a kickboard to shade the tablet or smartphone screen while you’re playing the video for swimmers in the water. You could also do post-swim analysis indoors or in a shaded area after practice.

If you have time once a month or so, post-swim video analysis with the team is also excellent. Swimmers learn a lot by observing teammates’ similar issues and hearing corrective actions and learn to give feedback to one another during swim practice. It’s a wonderful team-building exercise.

Underwater Conversations

You can buy a transmitter for a coach on deck and waterproof headsets for swimmers. These allow coaches to give feedback while swimmers are still swimming rather than waiting until they get to the wall.

Using the crossover example, as a swimmer goes down the pool, a coach can say, “Enter wider,” “much wider than that,” “3 and 9 o’clock.” When your swimmers hit the right position, let them know immediately. This real-time feedback helps immensely.

I have two headsets and put them on swimmers who aren’t responding quickly enough to feedback delivered at the wall. I know of several coaches who have 12-16 headsets. There are multiple channels and you can dedicate one to give feedback to all the swimmers in a lane or any combination a coach desires.

Mix Good with Bad

Have your swimmers swim four strokes with correct technique, the next four strokes with the wrong (previous) technique, and the last strokes with the correct technique. Feeling the difference in body position and comfort level using both incorrect and correct technique imprints the positive stroke changes.

Remember to be patient because every swimmer is unique. The novices, the elites, and everyone in between have varying experiences and perceptions and learn at different rates. This diversity makes coaching fun and fascinating. Embrace and enjoy it!


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  • Coaches
  • Coaching
  • Stroke Technique