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by Terry Heggy

November 20, 2018

Hammer home technique tips to establish good habits

No coach wants to be known as a nagging nuisance, so we might sometimes be tempted to keep our observations to ourselves. Indeed, some swimmers may not be interested in receiving feedback, and we do need to be sensitive to that.

But swimming is a highly technical sport depending on motions that humans never replicate during their dry land lives. It takes a ton of feedback from the coach to help our athletes develop and retain solid form.

  • Swimmers can’t easily watch their own body parts as they move through the water and are often fooled by their kinesthetic senses. They may think their breathing is smooth and their entry is clean, but you can clearly see opportunities for improvement.
  • Upon receiving feedback, the athlete may show an immediate and dramatic improvement. But the body tends to revert to old habits after time away from the water, so your corrections will likely require repetition in future workouts. Continue to provide correction until the proper technique has become an unconscious habit.

Contrary to the familiar adage, mere practice does not make perfect. Practicing perfection does. That’s why it’s so important to constantly watch technique and provide corrective advice and drills as the foundation of your coaching.

Perfection Preparation

Each swimmer is unique, so individual feedback is a critical part of each athlete’s development. It helps to keep notes about specific corrections you suggest so that you can follow up with that person a few days later to ensure that the new form gets locked in. At the same time, some technique tips are so fundamental to good swimming that their regular repetition benefits the entire team. Allocate an early part of each practice to drills or nontimed swims with focus on form, so that everyone will think about their technique during the main sets. Be flexible, though; if you see common flaws during warm-up, feel free to change your perfection prep set to correct whatever seems to afflict people that day, emphasizing the strokes featured in the main set. Don’t overload synapses with too much feedback—just choose one or two focus areas per practice. These might include the following:

  • Entry and catch—Remind swimmers to recover smoothly, enter cleanly, and perform a proper catch. Watch for and provide feedback to correct turbulence, crossover, dropped shoulders, etc.
  • Arm effectiveness—Whether it’s the length of the pull, early vertical forearm, hand paddle shape and orientation, or acceleration, provide reminders about the subtleties that contribute to generating power.
  • Breathing—Watch for and correct excess head motion, lack of lateral symmetry, and inhale/exhale rhythm issues.
  • Kick—Foreshadow the main set by talking about kick cadence and depth, ankle flexibility, or core engagement. For breaststroke, emphasize recovery angles and closure.
  • Starts and turns—Remind everyone how much free speed they get when they leave the wall quickly with a great kick and efficient streamline. Challenge them to maximize the opportunity that each wall provides.

The purpose of these sets and drills is to create the habit of mindfulness and the ability to maintain form during the hard work sets to follow. Feel free to reinforce this focus by shouting out keyword reminders during rest intervals within the main set.

Friendly Feedback

Avoid words that put a negative image in a swimmer’s head. Instead, provide corrections by describing the good behavior you want to see. In other words, don’t describe the mistake; instead give an example of the change.

  • Instead of saying “you’re slapping the water on your entry”, say “I’d like you to cut in cleanly.”
  • Instead of saying “your hips are wiggling”, say “Try tightening your core to hold a straighter line.”

Try to phrase your feedback in terms that encourage and excite the swimmer. “You did a great job on your catch that time. If you combine that with just a bit more acceleration through your pull phase, you’ll cut two seconds off your 100 time.” Or “Nice! I saw a couple of perfect one-goggle breaths on that length. Let’s do it again to lock it in for the entire 25!”

Recognize that the swimmer may not immediately accomplish the intent of your feedback. It may be best to use phrases such as “I’d like to see what happens if you…” or “I think you can become more streamlined by trying…” That way, if the swimmer isn’t immediately able to accomplish the change you’re looking for, you can offer another phrasing of the suggestion without implying that the swimmer is at fault or has failed. In other words, use words that show that the two of you are working together toward the swimmer’s goal.


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