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Teach The WHY & HOW

Written By: Eric Holden

Children are curious. They ask questions about what they see, hear, feel, or don’t understand on what may seem like a continuous basis. Asking questions and making observations is a huge way that kids grow, develop, and discover the world around them and learn about the areas that interest them.

I have found that feeding into this curiosity has improved the technical skill of my swimmers as well as their overall effort in practices. If I can, I try to explain the “Why” and “HOW” instead of just the “What” during practices.

“Here is the set, here is the interval, here is the focus, let’s make it great!” All of this is important for the swimmer to know WHAT it is that they need to do to get better and perform to expectations. But WHY should the swimmer do a streamline off the wall? And HOW should the swimmer pace a certain race?

When talking about WHY a swimmer should do something technical (for instance, a streamline off the wall), sometimes demonstrating why it is the best option for speed is helpful. Having the swimmers push off on the surface, too deep, with their arms at their side, or arms in a “Y” shape can show them how a strong and stretched streamline is the fastest and least-resistive way to move through the water. Even talking about resistance in a mini physics lesson helps reinforce the technique. The reason why is no longer “because my coach told me to.”

The HOW can also almost always be related back to a specific race as well. Discussing how different breathing patterns waste or conserve energy during different races and how to pace yourselves gives a swimmer a plan of action. Then practicing these skills in a controlled practice setting gives the swimmers a chance to build confidence in those skills. Spending time to explain the how gives the swimmer a solution to a problem rather than letting them figure it out on their own by chance.

By purposely spending time on the WHY and HOW, I have noticed a greater sense of intent with many swimmers’ skills at practices and meets. In addition to the swimmers motivated to be their best by refining their skills, I am hopeful that the deeper understanding of WHY to do something and HOW to do it results in a better understanding and importance for the swimmer to master the skill.

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.

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