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Backstroke – Single Arm (Rouse-Style Execution)

Originally posted December 24, 2004

Execution:
noun: the act of performing; of doing something successfully; using knowledge as distinguished from merely possessing it

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Talk about an attention-getting word! But it’s that time of year when most competitive swimmers begin to focus, or maybe start to dread. The subject of this article, execution, has many different meanings. Instead of giving a nice joyful message about the holiday season (I really do wish everyone a special holiday) we’ll discuss the 2nd definition in my handy dictionary, the definition that focuses on performance.

Over the past two years, we’ve done our best to present something USEFUL in each Drill of the Week. Sometimes the information may seem a bit mundane or obvious, or a drill may seem too "easy" or basic for you, but that’s the kind of challenge we like to present. Someone who really THINKS about how he or she swims, can find something to learn and something of value in just about ANY drill. It’s all in the execution. The message I want to get across in this, our next-to-last DOTW of 2004, is really a question: When you swim and when you drill, do you just go through the motions…or do you EXECUTE?

Backstroker Jeff Rouse is a Master of Execution. In this week’s Drill of the Week, we throw him one of the simplest drills in all of swimming — something we all know: Single-Arm Backstroke. Let’s watch how he "executes" it with the twist of an Olympic-Champion.

First, here’s some background on Jeff. At the 1992 Olympics, he took silver in the 100 back and gold in the 400 medley relay. At the 1996 Olympics, he won gold in the 100 back and 400 medley relay (and was chosen Captain of the USA Olympic Swim Team). He’s a 7-time NCAA champion and 4-time USA national champion. Oh, and did I mention he once held the world record in the 100 back, and was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame? Then, in 2004, after a long layoff and at the age of THIRTY-FOUR (34), he was 5th at the US Olympic Trials. Simply put, Jeff Rouse is one of the most successful swimmers in history, and he’s been THAT GOOD since he was a very young age-group swimmer. The guy’s a legend. In other words… he’s REALLY GOOD!

Do accomplishments like this just happen? Well, let’s look at Jeff’s "execution" of a simple drill.

How To Do It:

1. Decide which arm you’re going to pull with, and leave the other arm trailing by your side.

2. Push off, and start your pull. Make sure you rotate enough to one side to expose your shoulder to the air. This is where you start to see how "execution" separates the greastest swimmers from, well, the rest of us. Watch how even Jeff’s TRAILING hand follows the rotation of the body, and flows softly and gracefully back into the water.

3. Make sure your head stays very still as you rotate during the pull. You can virtually FEEL the focus and concentration as Jeff keeps his head perfectly still during this move. As Jeff goes through this drill, his head barely moves.

4. Slice your hand OUT of the water, thumb first. When you watch Jeff do this, notice how everything is aligned. The shoulder begins the recovery, and is totally clear of the water. The thumb is drawn out in connection with the entire arm. Heck, if THIS tiny item was the ONLY thing you focused on during this drill, you’d have a better backsroke. If you try to look just a LITTLE BIT like Jeff, it would help your backstroke.

5. Slice your hand back IN to the water, pinky first. Jeff waits until the last instant to turn his hand, but he NEVER misses. Whether he’s swimming slow, or fast, his hand entry is always the same. Jeff swims with a rare precision and grace, built on YEARS of focused practice — and drills executed with great awareness. It’s his focus on the details IN PRACTICE that allows him to NOT have to think when he’s in a race.

Over this past year, we’ve had many wonderful opportunities to work with some of the greatest swimmers in history. We’ve learned so much by watching them — over and over and over again. Through the filming, capturing, production, and post-production stages of putting together a DVD, we become completely focused on what these swimmers do, and how they do it. We sometimes get lost in the work, and miss the details. Only when we really step back, and watch it again, do we understand HOW they’ve become so good.

It’s execution, not just doing.

Is there really ANYTHING that you do while swimming that’s not important? Do you take each day as an opportunity to improve, or is it just another day?

Give yourself the BEST Christmas present of all (as an athlete). Give yourself the gift of success. Start to think like Jeff does, and start to swim like you’re an elite-level athlete. Start by executing movements, rather than going to swim practice.

A very wise man once told me, "If better is even possible, good is not enough". Thanks, Dad.