Something we all have to overcome as swimmers is the desire to PULL BACK in order to MOVE FORWARD. Our instinct and intellect tell us that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. This principle seems to make perfect sense in just about everything we do. When we get in the water, however, pulling BACK doesn’t necessarily send us FORWARD. And pulling back REALLY HARD only seems to make matters worse.
In the water, pulling SIDEWAYS is often more effective than pulling BACK. This sideways motion is called SCULLING, and it’s one of the most powerful skills you can learn in swimming. Sculling allows your hands to have a continuous "grip" on the water and this, in turn, helps you move forward in a continuous way. Sculling allows you to leverage your power against the resistance of the water.
Instinct tells you to pull, but weï¿½re telling you to SWEEP. Use your hands more like the propeller of a boat, only instead of spinning them round and round, you sweep them back and forth, constantly changing the pitch of your hands to make sure you always have a surface area thatï¿½s forcing the water backwards.
OK, so now explain that to a kid!
Why Do It:
When you watch great swimmers, especially from under water, you can see that propulsion is all about moving the body past the hand, not the hand past the body. The ability to anchor the hand and hold on to the water through the entire pull cycle — by sculling — is one of the fundamental skills of fast swimming. If we can teach young swimmers to associate swimming with sculling rather than with forceful PULLING, they’ll be well on the way to effective technique when they get a bit older.
How To Do It:
1. No matter how much bad stuff youï¿½ve heard about pull buoys, theyï¿½re great for sculling, and you know how much kids like to use STUFF. So have them use a pull buoy to isolate the hands and arms. The extra flotation that a pull buoy gives helps the body stay in a great position and allows the swimmer to move forward. It allows them to focus on their arms and hands rather than on getting air. Itï¿½s a great morale builder for the struggling little ones.
2. Make sure they keep their eyes facing directly down. This ensures proper body position, and allows them to move forward more easily (see, itï¿½s all about making sure they know theyï¿½re getting somewhere).
3. Start talking to them about windshield wipers. Sweep the hands out and in, always making sure the palms are facing in the direction the arms are moving. Push the palms out, pull the palms in. Even though the goal is NOT to push out and pull in, we gotta start somewhere.
4. Youï¿½ll notice that as you begin, the swimmers hands will be very near the surface, moving back and forth, pushing out and pulling in. Once they have this down, get them to point their fingertips downward a bit. Youï¿½ll notice on the video that when they first try this, the tendency is to cup, scoop, or tense up the hands into tight balls. The hand should be mostly flat, and the motion has to be fluent and smooth.
5. As the fingertips start to aim down (the slight difference between the 3rd and 4th picture, so weï¿½re not talking a lot here), notice that the arms drop down just a bit. This is good, because it sets them up more for a swimmin-like motion. Keep the rhythm consistent as you practice this and keep the hands sweeping.
6. Experiment with how wide the hands are sent. Youï¿½d like the swimmer to have the hands move in an arched motion pretty far outside the shoulders. If they keep the hands too tight in front during the outsweep, youï¿½ll see a bit too much wrist movement.
7. Finally, as with everything you do with kids, make sure you do it only for a short time. Itï¿½s all about teaching them some perfect movements, then moving to something else. If theyï¿½re not getting it right away, donï¿½t POUND IT INTO THEM. Take a break, allow them to play (with push-ups, jumping jacks, sit-ups, you know, coaching kind of playing). Most of all, make sure theyï¿½re having a good time, as in the last photo. Without that, itï¿½s going to be a long day for you AND your swimmer.
How To Do It Really Well (the fine points):
As always, emphasize rhythm and fluency. As youï¿½ll see in the video, if the movement is too choppy or too rigid, it just doesnï¿½t work. Keep it smooth, and keep the hands flowing in and out. Make sure the fingers are angled down just slightly so the swimmer will have something actually moving him/her forward.
Keep it fun, and play games with it. Tell them to watch how the bottom just seems to glide by as they sweep their hands out and in. No backward pulling allowed!
Now get out there, and Go Swim!