I read an article on the American Swim Coaches Association (ASCA) website a while back. It’s written by John Leonard, the head of ASCA, and it’s a response to an email that he got from a coach about practicing with good swimming technique. His response highlighted the importance to coaches of making sure that their swimmers were practicing skills correctly at every practice. I thought about making the post because of Brown, Roediger, and McDaniel’s article on practice from yesterday.
The part that caught my eye was:
Long practices, with high training volumes will make all swimmers VERY good at what they are doing. Repetition builds habit. Habit stands up beautifully under the pressure of competition…when in fact, nothing else does….as the pain of competition effort removes all traces of thought from the brain…..it becomes habit that the swimmer relies upon to get him home to the finish.
Unfortunately, if they are practicing poor technique, that will be learned and habituated, just as well as good technique. And poor technique makes you biomechanically inefficient at the time of greatest stress. Hence you struggle more, go slower and your stroke collapses at the end of races.
This makes swimming a technique limited sport. Your child will be severely limited by the degree with which they can perform the strokes with good habits, instead of poor habits.
A little training with good habits, will result in a good swimmer and one that is “unlimited” in their future.
We have moved away from mass swim practices and are focusing more on smaller group, coaching intensive classes and group swims like our advanced child stroke refinement classes and our Fast Forward Adult Program. The reason for my change is that I feel like with 5+ people in lane it’s very difficult to make sure that the kids or adults were practicing the right thing. These “mass practices” would turn into a lot of “swimming back and forth” just to manage the size of the group rather than on delivering individual value. There’s such a strong culture in competitive swimming and triathlon to “put in the yardage” and let the stroke mechanics sort themselves out over time. The swim parents who bring their kids to us for lessons and classes can attest to how frustrating it is to sit in the stands and watch their child make the same mistakes over and over again with no correction from the coaches.
Our programs dial in to what John Leonard is talking about: make sure that the foundations are set correctly and then build the training regimen to reinforce those biomechanics. It’s too easy to turn your brain off and just grind it out. As the famous expression goes: “garbage in, garbage out.” If you are a triathlete or a parent of a competitive swimmer, look at what the practice says and what the coach is communicating and see if it bears out in the pool. As Brown, Roediger, and McDaniel wrote, you need to look at how you are practicing to make sure that the development is going the right way. Mass practice isn’t always the best way to go about things and practicing the wrong thing a lot certainly isn’t the way to go.
To read the full text of the article, go to the CBD Website and read the Training vs. Learning article.