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Teaching and Golf

Sometimes, when you least expect it, good things start happening. Last week, we had another great opportunity to visit friends and to teach involved swimmers. After a good weekend of teaching, we even got to spend a day on the golf course for a great charity event.

Saturday and Sunday were very long days, spending 8 hours on deck with close to 60 swimmers. They were broken into groups, so it wasn’t like they were all in the water at the same time, but it did turn into very long on-deck sessions of 4-hours straight, twice a day. Each group was at a different skill level, so we invented different progressions for each group, based on what we were seeing in the water. I love to coach and teach this way, because it keeps both me AND the swimmers on their toes.

One of the things we’ve been focusing on all summer, is "ranges." This means we help each swimmer become aware of his or her unique abilities, and then encourage them to experiment, test, and discover the best way to do things WITHIN THEIR OWN STROKE. A big part of our job as coaches is to show swimmers WHAT to think about and encourage them to EXPERIMENT. No two swimmers and no two strokes are the same. While all swimmers are similar, like snowflakes and fingerprints (and my golf swings), no two are the same.

I know it sounds silly to consider that every stroke you take is unique, but consider that we are working in an element that does not afford us the consistency of a solid surface. Based on the waves in front of us, the turbulence under us, the currents around us, our level of fatigue, the speed at which our body is traveling, combined with the varying speed at which the hands and/or feet are moving, it would be ridiculous to consider that any two strokes are exactly alike.

Because of this, and because of my own experience in swimming close to 20,000 meters, day in and day out, as a youthful breaststroker (with NO knee problems), I’ve come to realize that we can lessen injuries if we teach swimmers how to vary their own strokes, by teaching "ranges." Varying the stroke also aids in limiting injuries because you’ll be using a little bit different part of the muscle each time you shift the focus.

Eric, Judd and Art golfing At last weekend’s camp in Buffalo, we focused much of our attention on these ranges. We urged swimmers to think and to experiment. Should they pull wider or narrower? Should they push back farther, or less? Should their eyes be up, or down? Should they recover with a straight arm or a bent arm? Should the kick be bigger or smaller? Should they be in a perfect streamline, or allow their arms to separate just a bit to allow for better body utilization?

These are the types of questions that can occupy a swimmer’s thoughts and can direct his or her practice for a LIFETIME. Each question leads to the next, which leads to either an answer, or to another question. The real question is, WHO can answer these questions? Who is best able to determine where, within each range of options, YOU should be? What’s the right point — for yu — within the range, based on the desired result? Are you interested in quick speed, or a relaxed pace to cover a long distance with little or no effort? See, I told you. The more questions you ask, the more questions you’ll think of asking.

Now that I’ve asked all of these questions, you may continue reading, hoping that I’m going to answer some of them. You want to know all my secrets. But, see, that’s the problem. All I can do is make you aware of what kinds of questions to ask. It’s up to YOU…the swimmer…to come up with the answers that are right for YOU.

Once, during the camp, as I tried to make the point about whose responsibility it was to answer all the questions and to master all the ranges, I made sure the swimmers knew that if they worked on this every day, they’d have it all figured out within 10 to 15 years. Wow, discouraging huh? It is, in a way. But look at it from the other side. Once you realize how tough it is to perfect something, you’ll also realize that there will be few people who really strive for that level of mastery. The number of people you really have to be concerned about racing continues to get smaller and smaller, simply because you’ve spent so much more time preparing, thinking, and discovering. On every stroke you take, you’ll be completely aware of what’s going on, and what’s going to happen next. That’s true mastery.

The difference between someone who’s trying to master all the ranges, and someone who’s simply goes through the motions was shown in dramatic form last Monday at the golf outing. It turned into a great example of everything we worked on all weekend. Only, we were on land, with clubs in our hands — certainly a strange place for me to be. The ability to chose the right club is like the ability to pick the right stroke cadence for a particular event. The ability to know how hard to swing is like the ability to know how hard to pull or kick to accomplish the desired goal. The ability to aim at the hole is, well…OBVIOUSLY something that’s completely foreign to me. I mean, sure, golf is one of those games that has a way of convincing you that YOU, TOO, could be a Tiger Woods. For one or two shots, you put it all together. You convince the people you’re playing with that you’re not a complete incompetent out of the water. This is the point where, if you were smart, you’d simply walk off the course — you know, quit while you’re ahead.

But in golf, they make you keep going and going. On top of that, people watch. They not only watch, they STARE. Becoming a Tiger Woods is certainly NOT going to happen, especially if you play golf only once a year. Along those same lines, becoming a great swimmer is also NOT going to happen if you just go back and forth without thought. Tiger has 800 shot variations for each shot he takes. I have one. Do you have variations on each stroke that you swim? And can you change at will — to fit any situation? Or are you stuck in the amateur mode of, whatever I’ve got is what’s going to come out?

I can’t even begin to cover all the varying ranges we worked on this past weekend. This is where our job as coaches becomes more of an art form, than a pattern to follow. While we have guidelines we like to follow at our camps, we can’t be limited by a sheet of paper that says we have to cover these drills, in this order, within this amount of time. If the athletes aren’t getting something, we may decide to shift the focus completely to make sure that, by the end of the camp, they’re feeling BETTER, not confused, and that they know what to THINK about when they swim.

If you’d like to see a simple example of "range," we’ve been playing with this for some time now. Not only have you been exposed to ranges on the Free/Back Drills DVD (if you already have it), but we’ve also given away some ranges here on the site for free.

Back to golf…I want you to know that I didn’t completely embarrass myself (because there weren’t that many people watching). My teammates (pictured in this article) did a wonderful job holding me up. Eric McClaren hits the ball really far, which came in handy; Judson Aungst hits the ball really far, then grabs his neck and complains about the futon he was sleeping on (I have to learn this technique); and Art Aungst saved us many times with straight-as-an-arrow shots that sailed gracefully down the fairway. I was, however, victorious on the over/under betting on how many balls I’d lose. The line was 7, and I lost only 3. There’s hope for me yet.