Coaching for coaches

I’ve had a couple of great opportunities to study with the leading coaches in our sports this week. On Thursday I attended a Swimsmooth coaching clinic, and on Saturday I was at the University of Salford for an England Athletics course for endurance running coaches (more on this course in my next post.)

Swimsmooth are regarded by many as the leading swim coaching company in the world. Having attended their course, it’s easy to see why. Run by coaches Paul Newsome and Adam Young are both the kind of coaches that I want to emulate – friendly, personable, knowledgeable.

Here are some notes I made about the course:

  • Good venue, professional presentations, well prepared and branded powerpoints, very professional looking. Creates a real feeling of quality for the athletes.
  • Paul has an exceptional memory – he is excellent at remembering names, swim times, stroke flaws. Lots of people commented on how impressive this is. (Made a big impression on me.)
  • 12 is a good number for a swim improvement clinic. Enough for a nice group feel, but ensures everyone has plenty of individual attention.
  • Videos of Bill Kirkby and Jono were brilliantly filmed, and gave everyone a real picture of what a perfect swimmer looked like.
  • Swimsmooth ‘swim types’ is genius. Especially clever how personalities seem to fit swim types – very interesting, and something I’ve noticed in runners as well. Need to explore this further.
  • Favourite quote from the course – “ ‘Glide’ should be a dirty word in swimming – ‘cyclical’ is much better” – before attending I wouldn’t have really understood this but it makes perfect sense with my new stroke. Wish I’d come on one of these courses 5 years ago!

Being on pool deck and working with a big group really gave me an insight to how we can help quickly improve swim speed. Although Paul often said that there’s no ‘silver bullet’ for improving swimming, it was obvious with each athlete that there was usually one major flaw in each of their strokes that was reducing the swim speed that their fitness could be delivering. Once that flaw was addressed, they immediately looked smoother in the water, but they were also MUCH faster, often immediately. Obviously it’ll take time for the new swimming habit to replace the old stroke completely, but all of the athletes left swimming faster than when they arrived.

I know from my own swimming the massive leaps forward I’ve made after a one to one session, especially after being able to see myself on video. I think it’s the single most important thing that can happen to a swimmer. Often, stroke flaws are obvious to the swimmer immediately. What can be most frustrating in swimming, though, is trying to work out how to correct the problem without help from a swim coach. That reminds me of a story …

When I was a teenager running on the track, I developed a really sore left ankle – probably as the result of constantly running hard in anticlockwise circles! When I went to the physio, he treated my knee, which seemed very strange to me at the time! The reason he did this, of course, was that the pain in my ankle was being caused by a trapped nerve in my knee – which was telling my brain that my ankle was hurting. The physio's knowledge helped solve a problem that, although was painful in one place, was actually being caused somewhere completely different.

Fixing swimming stroke flaws is similar to this – usually, what’s slowing you down isn’t what’s causing the problem. We saw several examples of swimmers who were splaying their legs out as they breathed, which was acting like a parachute behind them, slowing them down. In each case where the swimmers were aware they were doing this (and several weren't even aware of it), they were doing lots of leg kicking drills to try to reign in their unruly legs. That seems to be common sense to them - they thought their legs were the problem. They weren't.

The real solution to the problem was often what they were doing with their hands or arms. These flaws were easy to fix with simple drills, which led to better balance while breathing, and fixed the leg scissors immediately (or, at least, vastly reduced the effect.) Result – same effort in the pull, but MUCH less drag, resulting in an immediate increase in speed.

British Triathlon are going to be using swimsmooth's teaching methods for teaching coaches how to teach swimming in the very near future, and it was great to ‘get in early’ with the new coaching system. I’m very grateful to them both for letting me inside and giving me the opportunity to learn from them. It’s given me a ton of ideas to use in coaching my own athletes. Thanks, guys!