Written By: Eric Holden
It can sometimes be difficult to balance the training increase capacity and speed with drill/skill work to increase efficiency and stroke proficiency, especially with 12/unders! Here are three things that I do to help streamline technique focus without cutting out other aspects of training:
CUE WORDS/SKILL BREAKDOWN:
Actively breaking down a skill into simple steps and assigning them cue words BEFORE a workout has greatly helped me teach skills and provide feedback throughout a practice, even if the certain technique point is not the primary focus of the set. I will write the skill and the cue words on the whiteboard to provide a visual and reference point for the swimmers and emphasize the importance of the skill during the set explanation. Once the set begins, I can use the simple 1–2-word cues to help direct corrections to the swimmers. By breaking the skill into components, I can also specify feedback to the swimmers more easily based on what they need to work on. For example, we have recently been emphasizing not breathing into the wall and a strong final arm pull on freestyle turns. I have been using the cue words of “Breathe, Stroke, Pull, Tuck” to give the swimmers an order in which each skill component should be done. During a set, I can remind a swimmer to “Breathe then stroke” to have them not end with a breath, or to “tuck” to reinforce getting their head down into their turn.
It can sometimes be challenging to watch and give feedback to all swimmers during a drill set, especially with a large squad. To help increase feedback, I have been doing Stations workouts to increase the swimmer-coach ratio. Typically, my stations have three or four 15-minute groups; Drill Group, Application Group, and 1-2 Training Group. In Drill Group, swimmers work with a coach on a specific stroke or skill by running through drills and slower swimming with lots of opportunity to think and perform with lots of feedback. They then rotate to the Application Group, where swimmers take what they have been working on and add it to a set with more of a training/speed component. Another coach is at this station reinforcing these skills with the swimmers while they add endurance or race components to the desired skill. Finally, Swimmers rotate to a Training Group. This is typically a set that they have done before or something that can easily be independently with some coach supervision from the other Groups. With this rotation, I can watch and provide feedback to 1/3 of the training group at a time during the Drill Group instead of the entire squad. This allows me to connect with every swimmer and provide individualized feedback for them to then apply to their training.
Although I do not do it often, and typically not until mid-season, I have found that peer coaching has been a beneficial exercise for practices. I have found that it works best for turns, starts, and race sets with lots of rest, when there is naturally more waiting time. I guide the swimmers to provide something SPECIFIC to their teammate that they are watching. It could be something that the swimmer did well, or something that they could do better. The combination of watching a skill, talking about a skill, and then performing a skill helps to reinforce proper technique in multiple ways. Plus, it’s a great icebreaker activity to get swimmers talking and invested in their teammates swimming improvements. I am always surprised by the quality of feedback and engagement this gets from my swimmers.
Eric Holden was a competitive swimmer for 15 years and is beginning his fourth season as the Head Age Group Coach with the Wilton YMCA Wahoos in Wilton, CT. Eric directly works with the 9–12-year-olds and oversees the 10/under developmental program. In addition, Eric is an assistant coach for the Wilton High School Warriors. Eric began his swimming career age 8 and progressed through the local, high school, national, and NCAA Division 1 levels. Eric earned his Undergraduate and Master’s degrees from the University of Virginia in Kinesiology/Health and Physical Education, where he was a 4-year member and captain for the Virginia Swim and Dive teams. Eric’s passion for the sport of swimming and his training as a physical education teacher led him straight to coaching in both Charlottesville VA and Connecticut at the summer league, high school, and club level.