Three skills for success
Over many years of teaching and swim coaching I have developed a learn to swim program that has as its framework the following:
The three most important skills for successful swimming technique are:
1. Body Position
2. Balance and control during movement
3. Effective kicking
A few years ago a parent of a child in my learn to swim program read this and thought I was kidding. He couldn't understand what it meant. "Body position, balance, kicking. What about arms and going fast and fitness? I thought swimmers had to be strong and super fit" he said. I quickly realised there was a huge difference in the way swimming coaches and parents viewed swimming classes / swimming training and the process of becoming a great swimmer with excellent swimming technique.
Great swimming technique is critical
I have since found out that these three core skills or similar versions of them are widely recognized around the world as the corner stones of every great learn to swim or swimming squad program. I will give you a practical example of why these skills are so important and hopefully give you a bit of insight into what we as swim coaches are looking for and what we are trying to achieve in any swim squad.
Look around the swimmers next time you are at the pool. I'm sure you will be able to pick this one out. A swimmer is performing freestyle down the pool. As the swimmer starts to roll for a breath the shoulders rotate, the legs momentarily stop kicking and spread apart in a scissor kick motion, the hips sink down, the arm in the water crosses under the body, the head lifts up and forward and over rotates which makes the whole body sink lower in the water.
This is caused by poor body position, poor balance and control during movement and ineffective kicking. You will also see swimmers the same age and size that seem to flow or glide through the water with ease. These swimmers have mastered the three skills. It has nothing to do with strength or kids fitness. The swimmer with good balance and body position will actually require less effort and use less energy to maintain a faster speed. This is a very important attribute for competitive swimming.
Skill acquisition in swimming, as in most sporting or physical activities, is a achieved by repetition. This is one of the reasons why it's important that quality swimming technique is taught from the very beginning. During any given junior swimming squad session a swimmer completes around 100 laps at an average of about 20 strokes per lap. So at 2000 strokes during a single, 1 hour swimming training session it is easy to see how poor swimming technique and skills can quickly become ingrained. It's much easier and faster to teach great swimming technique at the start than it is to fix poor kids swimming technique later.
Be patient and supportive
Each stage of the kids swimming technique learning process is an important stepping stone and should be mastered before moving on. It must be remembered that when preforming new skills each child develops consistent quality, at their own pace. Skill acquisition should not be rushed, rather taken slowly so that learning takes place at the swimmers pace. Some skills may come easily to one swimmer and not so for another, and vice versa for a different kids swimming technique. This is the reason why you will never see a nice straight line of improvement when mapping a competitive swimmers progression. You will notice spikes and plateaus along the way which generally continues right through until the age of 13 or 14, when their skills, technique and performances start to become more consistent. Parents will have noticed this lack of consistency in their younger swimmers. They may have breezed through one level of the kids swimming technique program easily and quickly to then spend what seems like for ever on the next level. This is normal.