Written By: Dan Mascolo
One of the most important skills that you can teach and keep refining with your athletes is body awareness in the water. Unfortunately, balance and body position can be boring when you are teaching it to younger swimmers, and you can see older swimmers just go through the motions depending on what you do to focus on these skills. Over the past few years, we have been brainstorming how to best engage swimmers of all ages to remain dedicated to focusing on what their bodies are doing in the water.
How it began: About 7 or 8 years ago, when I was working primarily with 12/unders in Cheshire, we had lost access to our main pool, so our 12/U swimmers moved to a small 5 lane pool and needed to have more swimmers per lane than we were used to. The days of a longer swim to start warm up were over since the lanes were too crowded and I don’t feel like sloppy swimming sets the kids up for a quality practice. So instead of our usual 400 Free, we started doing 8 x 50’s but they had to streamline past the flags without any kicking. We called this Arrow drill because they were trying to become “Narrow as an arrow”. This new pool was also shallower than the one they were used to, so we started doing Streamline Blastoffs. These are exactly what they sound like; the swimmers jump off the bottom of the pool in a streamline and see how high they can “blast off”.
The Next Step: Fast forward to 2018 when I moved down to Y-Spartaquatics. I brought Arrow Drill and Streamline Blastoffs with me. As I was working with older swimmers here each of these skills alone were very basic, so I decided to see how well we could connect multiple skills. We stared doing 25’s where they would push off about 8 yards in Arrow, then flip to a standing position, then 3 Streamline Blastoffs before finishing the last with smooth swimming. They quickly picked up on this, so we just kept connecting different skills.
Cucumarias: Over the past few years we have expanded upon these skills and have named them Cucumarias (a genus of Sea Cucumbers). Now a full Cucumaria goes as follows:
Arrow to 3rd Line (approx. 8 yards)
Flip to Standing – 3 Streamline Blastoffs
Flip to a balance float or some other position
Drill/Scull/Kick to 15M or the Flags
Some other skill into the wall
Ex. Build to race finish
Fast finish to feet
Underwater fly kick
½ speed finish
Depending on what skills we are working on, we may add another flip (or backflip) at the 15M/Flags to set the body in the right position for the final skill of the 25.
Benefits: We have found that once the swimmers understand the basic formula you have endless combinations of skills at your fingertips. The swimmers remain actively engaged with the skill and you can make it as easy or complicated as you’d like. We now have all of our different age groups doing some version of Cucumarias and actually teach them when we visit summer league teams and swimmers of all ability levels are able to grasp the concepts and show very rapid improvement.
We are always evolving this process and there is no wrong way to do a Cucumaria. The most important thing is that you are forcing the swimmers to think about what they are doing, which helps them to retain the information better. Have fun with it and let me know what combination of skills your Coaching Staff likes the best!
Coach Dan Mascolo has been at the helm of the Y-Spartaquatics Swim Club since 2018. During his time as YSSC Head Coach YSSC has seen tremendous growth in all facets of the program. Back-to-back overall runner up finishes at YMCA Nationals, 2021 YMCA Festival Women’s Team Champions and YSSC is the only team to have ever won the South Carolina Short Course Senior State Championship having won both in its inaugural year 2020 and again in 2021. Prior to joining the YSSC Coaching Staff Coach Dan had been the Associate Head Coach of the Cheshire Y/Sea Dog Swim Club from 2005-2018, along with being the Head Coach for the CT State Champion Cheshire High School Girls’ Team from 2012-2017. Coach Dan has provided leadership to YMCA National Championship and Connecticut High School State Championship winning teams with CHS winning the 2017 State Championship and Cheshire YMCA Women winning the 2017 Long Course and 2018 Short Course YMCA National Championships. Coach Dan was named the 2020 South Carolina Coach of the Year, 2019 Short Course YMCA National Coach of the Meet, has twice been recognized as the Connecticut Age Group Coach of the Year, won the YMCA Character Champion Award, coached over 100 swimmers YMCA National Top 10 performances and multiple YMCA National Records.