Originally posted September 15, 2006
Since technique is our main focus at goswim, it’s always a good idea to revisit the most simple of questions: "What makes a good technique coach?"
As coaches and swimmers, we watch a lot of swimming. We study swimming videos, we watch elite swimmers on TV, we witness swimmers at meets, and we evaluate what we see. We take the knowledge that we’ve acquired over time and project it onto whichever athlete we’re watching. We think to ourselves (or even say out loud), "that person should do something different," or "that looks sloppy."
The more you read, watch, and evaluate, the harder it gets NOT to look at a swimmer and question what it is that they’re doing. I would hazard a guess that if you did a pie chart of who spends the most amount of time on technical analysis, SWIM PARENTS would be the largest slice of the pie. This group, looking down from the stands, spends countless hours watching coaches, swimmers, and especially that one… their swimmer. Given all that they see on a daily basis, swim parents have to ask the question: Is my child’s coach giving good technical instruction?
A coach’s capacity for teaching technique is, by far, the TOUGHEST thing to evaluate from the sidelines. Why? Because unless you hear every word that the coach says to every swimmer at every practice, then the evaluator is getting only part of the sotry. A swim parent can watch the group and make a generalized judgment based on "how things look," but that doesn’t give a totally complete or fair evaluation. the coach is SO totally committed to ONE way of doing things… unless there is a step-by-step, staged approach toward coaching the masses… and unless every word that the coach says to every swimmer at every practice, then the evaluator is only getting PART of the story. Even by watching the group, and making a generalized judgement based on "how things look." is just not going to give a fair evaluation.
Our work at GoSwim has given us a tremendous opportunity to witness many various techniques. What we’ve learned is that the only conclusion we can make is that there is no one perfect technique for any stroke…or for any single aspect of the stroke. There is no one path we must all take to the end. With that said, what should be seen in a typical team practice is not cookie-cutter uniformity but a hodge podge of techniques. From one lane to another you should see swimmers doing things a bit differently in each stroke.
A good technique coach reads, watches, and studies many various ways of doing things. A good technique coach is knowledgeable about many avenues to get the swimmers to the end result. The coach takes pieces of technique, and dishes them out carefully, telling what is needed to one swimmer, while telling something totally different to another. Technique advice needs to be based on what a PARTICULAR swimmer needs, and should not be limited to creating something that simply looks a specific way from afar.
Being a good technician means you must be equipped to give individualized instruction while at the same time you require the entire group to perform certain things in the same way. For example, we’re probably all in agreement that the best way to leave the wall is in the streamline position. From that, one might assume that the underwater dolphin kick should always be performed in the streamlined position. But this is not always the case. Many swimmers get "locked up" when they try to streamline and dolphin kick at the same time. They feel restricted and can’t use their bodies effectively. By separating the hands just a bit, they free the chest to create more energy and a more powerful dolphin motion. Someone watching from the stands might notice only that the swimmer is not in streamline. They think, "that swimmer looks sloppy." Remember, sloppy isn’t always bad.
Another example is illustrated in the video clip. Our first impression might be that this swimmer is not performing a proper breaststroke kick. I can pretty much predict that someone will say, "this swimmer will improve if he would just FINISH HIS KICK." But what the viewer doesn’t know is that this swimmer has worked with someone who is widely known as the best technique coach in the world — someone just about ALL of us would love to have help us on our swimming. The viewer also doesn’t know that this athlete has worked harder to get to this conclusion than anyone reading this. We can watch and wonder and comment, but we can’t assume that we know better than this swimmer what works for him. We could also simply watch…and try to discern why and how this technique works for this swimmer.
What makes a good technique coach? Caring. Caring for the swimmers. Having their heart in the right place, and trying their best to always give something useful to the swimmers. I find very few coaches who don’t care for their athletes or want them to perform at or above their potential. Coaches don’t tell things to athletes to make them slower, and they don’t make suggestions that would harm the swimmer’s ability to reach his or her goals. Even a coach who’s committed to a "system" is promoting it because he simply believes in what he’s doing.
That’s what makes a good technique coach. Its not the technique itself, because we have been shown time and time again that NONE of us knows what good technique is, because we continue to see various methods to success. Good coaching is the ability to communicate ideas that the athlete can try.