Whenever I need advice and inspiration on how to begin a new season, I go to my video store and rent The Karate Kid. Itï¿½s very important that I rent the original film and not Karate Kid II, III, or IV, because no sequel is worth making (except The Godfather Part II and The Empire Strikes Back). In The Karate Kid, there is a scene that relates more to me now than it did when I first saw the movie in the early 80s. Daniel Son (Ralph Macchio) takes up karate so that he can learn to punch and kick ï¿½ specifically, so that he can punch and kick some neighborhood bullies. He wants immediate results. Mr. Miyagi (Pat Morita) has him take a more indirect approach. He tells an overly anxious Ralph Macchio that ï¿½first you learn balance, then you learn how to fight.ï¿½ So on our first day of practice I told all of my athletes, who are chomping at the bit to get swimming, ï¿½first you learn to balance, then you learn how to swim.ï¿½
So we set out with the task of getting a fluid, balanced team of swimmers. There are lots of ways to go about this, and every year that Iï¿½ve been coaching I have tried a slightly different method. The first two to three weeks here are dedicated solely to skill development. We try to imprint a quality of movement in our athletes by getting them to be cognizant of a physical activity — AKA your head is for more than decoration. Many of our swimmers have never really thought about how they can get faster; they just jump in the pool and try and go faster. This year I have been very pleased with how we have implemented this task through a mixture of focused swimming and drilling. Also in the initial skill-development phase we are trying to keep the practices to an hour and a half in length. I think this is about the right amount of time because it gives athletes time to experiment with something that they have learned — without getting fatigued. After the first full week we will increase each practice to two hours, and will focus more on aerobic training. We have the luxury of a long season, so we can take our time during the first week to get everyone into the swing.
The following is an example of what we have been doing. This is not all of the practice, but will give an idea of the way we mix drills with swimming, and in what percentage.
Total Yardage: 1000
6 x 25 of each of the following four drills. First 4 X 25 are for learning; next 2 X 25 are with multiple switches or cycles of the drill. After each 6 X 25, swim 100 with a particular focus.
Drill #1: Underwater Recovery
ï¿½ Start from a long balanced positionï¿½
ï¿½ Recover the hand under water, sliding it along the belly and chestï¿½
ï¿½ When you can see your hand, ï¿½switchï¿½ and roll to a long balanced position on the other side.
100 Swim: Focus on rolling your body.
Drill #2: Wrist Swim
ï¿½ Start from a long balanced positionï¿½
ï¿½ Recover the hand along the side of the body with the entire hand fully submerged — ï¿½palm-inï¿½ï¿½
ï¿½ When the hand reaches your head, switch and roll to a long balanced position on the other side. During the switch, switch everything ï¿½ one hand for the other, one hip for the other, one side for the other.
100 Swim: Focus on early entry of the hands.
Drill #3: Touch and Go
ï¿½ Start from a long balanced position ï¿½ nose down…
ï¿½ Recover the hand with fingertips barely out of the water ï¿½ ï¿½palm-inï¿½ï¿½
ï¿½ The hand touches the head then goes back and touches the hip and then comes up one final time into one fluid switch.
100 Swim: Focus on high elbow on the recovering arm.
Drill #4: Single-Arm Free
ï¿½ Start in balanced position, nose up, then go nose downï¿½
ï¿½ Take one stroke with your leading arm and return to a nose-up, long balanced position. The trailing arm does NOTHING.
ï¿½ Use core rotation to help you rotate and get back to a balanced position.
100 Swim: Focus on early catch.
We picked four drills that we feel will help the athletes think about how they move through the water. For the initial phase we have all swimmers recover with a high elbow. I donï¿½t think this is the only way to swim freestyle, but it allows the athletes to focus on some other aspects such as using their hips, and balancing. The first four 25s are done with a particular focus on each one of the drills (e.g., keeping the head still, switching with the hips, anchoring the hands). The next two 25s are more fluid. The athletes are encouraged to try as many switches of the drill (without air) as they can comfortably do. On the 100 swim, they concentrate on ONE THING the whole time. The requirement to FOCUS is one of the biggest changes that I have made in the skill-development phase this season. The final two 25s of drilling with options on multiples of switches, allow each athlete to take ownership of his or her swimming. When this is followed by a focused 100 swim, they see that the drill is an exaggeration of what they want to do while they are swimming. The focused swim gives me more of an opportunity to see the quality of motion that we are hoping to attain.
After two days we are getting great results. The returning swimmers have been able to pick up right where they left off. First-year swimmers are already starting to make huge leaps in their approach to swimming. On every length, they are challenging themselves to prepare, mentally, for a physical task. At every practice, we want to give our swimmers a license to experiment, but with a mandate to THINK. I believe this daily approach to practice, and ability to experiment with what they are trying to implement, makes the athletes successful in this program. There is a stark contrast between our thrashing freshman and our fluid seniors, who have had three years to THINK while they swim.
This week the attitude on deck has been very relaxed. I am trying to get to know some new faces as well as get caught up with people I havenï¿½t seen for three months. I like to use humor in my approach to coaching. This does not mean I donï¿½t take myself or my position seriously! I have found that if you can get people to laugh about what you are presenting, then they will be much more receptive. The last thing theyï¿½re looking for after a day of classes is another lecture. On our team we have an athlete who is a gifted singer as well as a tremendous athlete. To help demonstrate the importance of rhythm I asked him to sing ï¿½Danny Boyï¿½ for the rest of the group. After that the group seemed to move with the flow of an old Irish folk song. Everyone thought it was fun, but also got the point I was trying to make.