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by Matthew Edde

March 18, 2015

A coach’s guide to helping swimmers stay on course

Most swimmers who train in the pool use both the lane lines and markings on the bottom of the pool to tell them whether or not they’re swimming in a straight line. With the visual feedback from these markers, swimmers can easily see when they need to make a course correction. But each time they go off course, they add just a little bit of length to an otherwise standard-length pool. The inability to swim in a straight line can cause even greater problems in an open water race.

Everyone Swims in Circles

Nobody has a perfectly symmetrical stroke. One arm might reach a little further to one side, or one leg will have a stronger kick over the other, and so on. Swimmers put in open water and told not to sight at all eventually make a circle. Depending on how far they’re swimming, it might take miles to make the circle, but the fact remains that they’re adding time and distance to their swim. So how can we help our swimmers correct for the natural asymmetry of their strokes? With drills!

Drills to Straighten Strokes

Correcting anything stroke-related takes time and patience, and not everyone is going to learn it the same way. It helps to have a good arsenal of drills to reinforce swimming in a straight line. Here are a few I like to use with my swimmers.

Important! When running these drills, have each swimmer do one length at a time, in the same direction, to prevent head-on collisions.

  • Swim blind. Have your swimmers complete 25 yards, swimming 10 strokes with their eyes closed (12 strokes in a 25-meter pool, 24 in a 50-meter pool.) The object is to swim down the center of the lane and stay directly above the black centerline.
  • Five-stroke sighting. With this drill, which also runs down the center of the lane, have your swimmers keep their eyes closed for four strokes, then sight the end of the lane on the fifth. This is a great drill for training for open water swims, especially if you’re working in a 50-meter pool.
  • Kick and spin 180. This drill involves kicking while rotating 180 degrees. The idea is to remove the arms from the equation and force a full-body rotation. Have swimmers grasp their elbows with the opposite hands, above their heads. An alternate position for swimmers with limited mobility is arms at sides. Regardless of position, the arms should remain immobile throughout the drill. You want them using their shoulders, torsos, legs, and hips to propel the rotation, not their arms. Watch each swimmer as they kick down the length of the pool and make corrections if they’re rotating more on one side than the other or driving that rotation from just their shoulders or just their hips.
  • Look Ma, no lines! Remove the lane lines and have your swimmers swim in a triangle formation in the pool. If you can, position yourself somewhere high, so that you can video record your swimmers completing the circuit. Some video apps will allow you to draw on your videos to illustrate technique points. If you have such an app, draw a triangle over the path that swimmers should be taking. Then show the swimmers how straight they swam compared to the line. Once they’ve received some feedback on how close they were to the intended course, have them repeat the drill and try to improve their accuracy.

Drill, Swim Straight, Repeat

There’s no practice like getting out in the open water, locking in, and swimming straight at a target. Make sure to get your swimmers in open water as much as possible. But when you have to stay in the pool, these drills can work wonders. And it’s not just the open water swimmers who will benefit—swimmers trying to win pool races can shave off small bits of distance from their swimming, too.

Just as it is with any drill, you’ll want to be repetitive. Remember, it takes a solid month working at something every day before you can pick up a good habit. 


  • Technique and Training
  • Open Water


  • Drills