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by Emmett Hines

March 1, 1993

The advantage of seeing your swimming on video

Every swimmer has a mental image of themselves when they swim. For many, their mental image swims like Matt Biondi or Summer Sanders. For others it may be more like Charlie Brown or Bart Simpson. The longer I am involved with this sport, the more I realize that, in general, swimmers mental images are not even remotely accurate.

Most people are surprised (sometimes shocked, even) the first time they see themselves on videotape. Approximately half the time it's a pleasant surprise. Other times it is not:

Several years ago we had a swimmer (we'll call him Brian) who had never seen himself on videotape. Brian was one of these guys that knew he had perfected his strokes and had no use for swimming drills, constructive criticism or helpful hints. While we were showing videos of a workout one night, Brian was characteristically making snide remarks about what several people's strokes looked like. Then we came to some footage of a particularly awkward looking freestyle and Brian busted out laughing, saying something like "Who's that Bozo?" Everyone else got quiet. At the end of the length the swimmer turned and flashed his pearly whites for the camera - it was Brian. From that day forward both Brian's attitude and his strokes began to change for the better.

Often, seeing yourself on videotape can bring into sharp focus a point your coach has been trying in vain to get you to understand. Having an accurate mental image can go a long way toward helping you to coordinate the complex combination of movements and body positions that define proper swimming strokes.

To get the most out of video you need to see yourself from time to time to help in forming and adjusting your mental image. The first time you get videotaped you will undoubtedly see something in the video that you want to correct. You'll go off to the pool and make sweeping changes that promise to yield wholesale improvements on your next screening. Upon seeing your next videotape you are surprised to see little or no change whatsoever. Have no fear. This is normal. This is where you realize why your coach always wants you to exaggerate some new change to your stroke. It generally takes a very large perceived change to result in a relatively small actual change. (Kinda like a grain of sand in your drawers - feels like a lot but, really, its not.) It may take several iterations of seeing yourself, deciding what adjustment is needed, making that adjustment and seeing yourself again, before you begin to cash in on the true power of video analysis.

It is also worth noting that the most important adjustment you will make in this process is that of learning to form an accurate mental image based on what you feel in the water. The very best swimmers possess this ability naturally. The rest of us must work at it. By using video feedback you too can learn to form accurate mental images.

Guaranteed - seeing yourself on videotape is always a learning experience.

This Article first appeared in Schwimmvergnugen, the monthly newsletter of H2Ouston Swims.

Emmett Hines is Director and Head Coach of H2Ouston Swims. He has coached competitive Masters swimming in Houston since 1982, holds an ASCA Level 5 Coach Certification, was selected as United States Masters Swimming's Coach of the Year in 1993 and received the MACA Lifetime Achievement Award in 2002. His book, Fitness Swimming (Human Kinetics, publishers), is in its third English language printing and is also available in French (entitled Natation, published by Vigot), Spanish (entitled Natacion, published by Hispano Europea) and Chinese (entitled Jianshenyouyong). He can be reached for questions or comments through his web site where more of his articles may be found.


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