Common Approaches to Teaching TechniqueTechnique training usually goes like this: The coach explains the task at hand and possibly demonstrates on land how it should be done. Then the swimmers try to perform the action in the water. Meanwhile the coach evaluates what the swimmers are doing and when they come back the coach gives them feedback. After feedback the swimmers continue by trying again and so on.
Next I will discuss the problems that arise out of this kind of technique training. Why do the swimmers often not make any progress?
In my opinion there exist at least three major problems in this type of coaching style. Firstly, there are usually at least ten swimmers per coach and it is thus a very hard task to evaluate all the swimmers at the same time. You can, of course, solve the problem by getting more coaches, but usually this is not possible. The second problem arises when you try to observe the swimmers´ underwater movements. It is often impossible owing to the reflections of light on the surface of the water. The surface also distorts the view and makes it very hard to judge the movements. And that is not all. Some of the swimmers´ movements are constantly hidden under their bodies. It is thus very hard to evaluate the movements of swimmers accurately.
Coaches have tried to overcome this problem in various ways. One solution is underwater videotaping, which has become increasingly popular over the past couple of decades. However, the problem in videotaping is that the coach cannot watch the videotape before the practice is over. If that is the case then the feedback is given too late or at least non-optimally. Naturally, it is useful to remember that there are also video systems in which one can simultaneously obtain the underwater perspective as well as give feedback every time the swimmers approach the pool end where the coach is. Another solution is the use of underwater windows. Unfortunately these do not exist in all swimming facilities and if they do they may be in the wrong places. In addition we should not forget the method which has already been presented by Doc Counsilman: put your mask on and dive in. Definitely a good method but how often can you see this happening?
If we do not have the above-mentioned possibilities and we do not have reliable information on swimmers´ technique we end up with the third problem. How can the coach give the swimmers feedback if he can not evaluate the swimmers´ movements reliably?
Of course he can't or at least he can't do it well. So what can we do to improve feedback? Examination of the swimming literature reveals a number of attempts to solve the problems already presented. The essential point in these attempts is to delegate part of this difficult job to the swimmer. Simply make him more responsible for his own training in technique.
The FeelAs far back as 1968 Counsilman spoke about using "feel". Silvia presented the "hand-foot concept" in 1970 to sensitize the hands and feet and later in 1992, Colwin introduced drills to develop better feel in the water. Also Laughlin supports the idea of feel in the water in his book published in 1996 as well as Berger in her doctoral thesis the same year.
It is in fact a revolutionary idea because now the swimmer is also involved in working towards bettering his technique. By doing this the swimmer is doing the evaluation, getting immediate feedback from his own movements and guiding the stroke on the basis of this information. Although this seems to be a good method it is not that simple. In fact the feel method is very complex. Although Counsilman believed in the feel he had to face these problems when he started filming his swimmers underwater. In those days Counsilman tried to make his swimmers swim with straight arms and directly backwards. When the swimmers were asked what they were doing they said that they were doing exactly what they had been asked to do. When Counsilman saw the films he noticed that the best swimmers used bent arm and curvilinear movements. Hence the problem was that nobody knew properly what they were doing before they saw the films. The good thing was that the best swimmers actually swam better than their coaches instruction would be allowed. They intuitively created a new and better technique.
It happened as Talbot has stated: "Champion swimmers teach the coach." The biggest problem still remained, since only a few swimmers had that magic feel. It was claimed that in those days Weissmuller or Spitz had that gift: the feel for water. If others did not learn a good technique then they did not have the gift. No one knew how to teach that feel. Even Counsilman said "We do not know how to evaluate feel for water "or "the swimmer either has it or does not have it and no amount of coaching or teaching will give it to him." or "This natural swimming ability is primarily an inherent factor, beyond the influence of a coach or a teacher. I suggest that the problem of teaching feel is still unsolved.
When some coaches have tried to teach "feel" they have said that the more pressure a swimmer feels on his hands the better and by acting accordingly feel would guide their movements. Unfortunately it is not that simple. Typical example where you can get a wrong impression or feeling is the catch phase. If you try to get too much pressure on your hand you are doing wrong. The same kind of problem often arises in sculling practice . It is also important to remember that sensations are different at different swimming speeds and that is why they are hard to distinguish.