Swim Club Blog: Focus On The Critical Things

Swim Club Blog: Focus On The Critical Things


Triathlon and open water swimming are relatively new sports. We've seen a huge number of people taking up open water since lock down and more specifically, there's a huge number of people aged 30+ who have never swam competitively and they are now aiming to improve their front crawl. If you haven't figured this out for yourself yet, if you weren't a club swimmer who learned correct technique as a child, it's incredibly difficult and frustrating as an adult. 

Forget excellence, focus on the critical things

There is a very traditional model of coaching, which is referred to as the 'excellence model'. The easiest way to explain this is to take a novice swimmer and video their swim stroke. You can then sit with them and watch their stroke, whilst simultaneously comparing them with a video of one of the world's best swimmers. The coach will alternate between the 2 videos saying "look how they do it and then look at what you do" followed by "you need to do it like them".

This coaching method works really well for young swimmers who train with clubs/squads. There is no reason, given the attention required, that a 10 year old swimmer, by the time they reach the age of 21, will not have the same stroke as the best swimmer in the world. HOWEVER... just in case you haven't worked it out for yourself, if you're an adult learning to swim, you will NEVER look like the best swimmer in the world. So given that information, why are you comparing a video of yourself with the best in the world and hoping to attain something which is way beyond your ability?

Critical V Non Critical

If we were to compare a video of you and the best swimmer in the world, we could potentially generate a list of 500 things which you need to change / do better. Any coach with half an ounce of knowledge can compare and list the faults. Some coaches love to do this, as it demonstrates their in depth knowledge of the swim stroke. Sadly, what it also demonstrates, is their lack of understanding of you and your personal needs. 

From the list of things which are 'wrong with your stroke' the most important thing in terms of your performance, is deciding which errors should you work on first? From 500 errors, there may be 5 CRITICAL things which will make you 20% faster and the other 495 NON CRITICAL things might add a further 5%.

How do you decide what to work on first?

Usually the first thing to work on, will be the first thing the coach or bystander spots.

"Hey Billy!! Just noticed that when you swim, that left elbow recovers a bit funny, you need to get it higher!!".

"Yeah and you're not rolling enough, roll more from the hips"

There's a lot of 'snapshot coaching' which takes place. This is a term for when a coach, bystander or other athlete spots a specific fault and tell you about it. You spend the next session thinking about nothing else but trying to correct it, with no real idea how to correct it, or whether it's right or wrong.

The other thing to consider is that swimming as a very aesthetic sport. We are often judged by the way we look, rather than how we perform. If your swim stroke looks like a 'car crash' but you're at the front end of a race, then who cares? It's not a beauty competition and you're not awarded points for how graceful you look. 

The first step to correcting your stroke is to look at EVERYTHING and then make a list. From that list, whittle it down until you are left with a small number of critical things, which will make the biggest difference. As an example, if your legs hang really low in the water, solving your 'sinking legs' might save you 10 minutes, but working on a high elbow recovery will probably make no difference to your performance. 

1. Focus on the 3-5 CRITCAL things which will make the biggest impact to your performance (admittedly you may need some help working out what these are). For now forget the other faults. You can probably only focus on 1, maybe 2 things at most anyhow when swimming. 

2. Give up on trying to be perfect, it's not going to happen. You need to set a realistic target for improving your swim performances.

3. Do some swimming... you'll be surprised how good you can get by focusing on a few basic technical things and actually swimming some decent volume! Don't get bogged down spending all your time focusing on technique. 

4. Drills are absolutely useless for 90% of swimmers... there, I've said it. Just swim and work on improving your stroke whilst doing so. And before you start screaming "but technique is important!!" .... I didn't say that it wasn't important, I said that drills are useless at improving technique for most people. 

5. This is the most important point to remember... ENJOY YOUR SWIMMING. If you spend every minute of your swimming thinking about your endless list of faults and trying to correct them, you'll learn to hate swimming... It's that simple. Just relax, let it flow and enjoy being in the water.

Join our coached open water swim sessions

We deliver an open water swim session every Wednesday & Saturday from April 17th. The location is perfect for novices and you can swim in skins or wetsuit. To read more and register GO HERE

We also offer 1-2-1 coached lessons, for more info email testing@theendurancecoach.com 

Need a new wetsuit or buying your first?

We've got a range of wetsuits in store and a huge amount of experience! If you're buying from us, you're welcome to try them on and we can ensure you get the perfect size and fit. We're based just off junction 27M6, in Wrightington, Lancashire. Call us on 01257 251217.

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