I woke up at 7:15 with the sun streaming into my hotel room. Another steel cut oats and coffee start to the day. The high school pool is only a block away and it felt more familiar today. The coach trainee group gathered about 2 hours before the students arrived while Terry gave us some guidelines about how the class would be organized. 16 students are signed up for the Perpetual Motion Freestyle course being taught here for the first time in Total Immersion’s new 10 lesson format. In addition, there are the 4 coach trainees, 4 experienced coaches and Terry, so the student:instructor ratio was 2:1. And each coach trainee had their own experienced coach as a mentor. I can’t imagine a better scenario, had it been planned out that way.
When the first student walked into the classroom around 10, it suddenly hit me…there are REAL STUDENTS coming to this course expecting us to teach them how to swim! Oh my. What had I gotten myself into. I don’t know how to teach someone to swim! My initial brief panic quickly turned to excitement as one by one the students arrived. They came in all shapes and sizes and ages, with all different levels of experience. Terry gave an introduction to the course, which I wish I had on tape…not so much for the exact words, but simply for the framework that he was providing for the class. Being able to give a group of students just the right amount of information, at the right time, in the proper context is a real skill that unfortunately takes a lot of trial and error. Terry’s had a lot of experience giving framing talks to groups of swimmers and I wanted to memorize all the points he brought up.
Then it was pool time! Just like yesterday, the very first order of business was to shoot video. This time only one side and one front angle due to the number of students. We then launched right into lesson 1. The group was divided into 4 lanes of 4 people each. Intially they were simply numbered based on the alphabetical order of their first name. I was with #1-4 in lane 1 (the shallow lane, presumably because I’m short) with Dave Cameron as my other coach. Terry gave the general instructions for the first lesson, the Superman Glide, and then off the students went!
One by one they set off towards me where I would help to guide them, tow them gently to help provide momentum, and little by little gently move position or nudge certain body parts in certain ways to help them find their proper position. Many of them commented that it felt foreign when we guided their arms/hands to the proper place. This is because we are just starting the process of breaking old habits and trying to form new ones. The brain naturally wants to revert to what it knows and it takes conscious effort to create a new movement pattern. Initially several of the students were very resistant physically to being gently moved. They were holding tension in their bodies so tightly, that a gentle nudge of the wrist caused their whole body to twist. Little by little everyone started to relax into the water, and started to feel the sensation of being completely supported by the water, rather than fighting it.
Some of the more common things we worked on included arms crossing over the center line, arms to close to the surface, arms laying down on the water instead of hand piercing in first. The head position was also a tricky one for a lot of students. One or two in particular had a difficult time separating a tilt of the head to the side, from a rotation of the neck towards the bottom of the pool. Inorder to initiate rotation, there was a tendency to tilt the head towards the rotating shoulder, then rotate, This created a lot of stiffness and tension in the head and neck…areas that should be loose, relaxed and compliant. In order to ultimately achieve effortless flowing weight shift from one side of the body to the other, all that tension in the neck and head needs to be released into the water to let the body rotate along it’s axis without spending extra energy to overcome your own resistance to movement.
All of these things are things that it is impossible to consider, feel or focus on if you are busy trying to get to the other end of the pool. When the students are given permission to just float 5 or 10 feet then stand up…when the realize that the goal is to feel and experience, rather than to get quickly from point A to point B, the learning really starts to sink in and accelerate.
After a 1 hour lesson, the students took a break while the instructing crew debriefed. We re-organized the group into 4 general ability levels based on what we saw so that the afternoon lanes would be a bit more balanced.
AFter a sunny lunch of quinoa and broccoli, we met in the classroom to review the video. I was equally as engaged as the students were as Terry and Kim went over the pre-clinic videos. Some stroke flaws were seen over and over again, while everyone had their own strengths and weaknesses. it was interesting to see how some people had great front to back balance, while others had good kicks and others had good hand and arm entry. Whet I am finding most instruction for me is to be able to trace back the cause and effect of various body position mistakes. A “U-shaped” body for example, seems to result from the head looking up or forward, frequently in a lean male whose hips are sinking. Knees bent frog style kicking happens in an effort to buoy the hips back up to the surface with every stroke.
Another common error that sank in today was the cause of having the arm and hand go in flat and push downward first. There is a resistance felt underneath the hand & forearm that feels comforting. There is a surface on which the swimmer can “lean’ in order to keep the head up to take or finish a breath. These strokes were always more common on breathing strokes. By the time the breath is finished, the hand/arm combo pushing downward to buoy the body up was frequently down at the bottom of the pool long before the recovering arm entered the water. the result of this stroke flaw is multiple…the body sinks down once that downward support is gone (and the arm is pouting downward), the pulling arm has lost all grip on the water and the recovering arm typically slaps down on the surface as there is no buoyant support of the body…so the cycle starts all over again.
Lesson 2 started in the afternoon with the new groups, and the instructors mixed up again. (I was still in the shallow lane, thank you Terry). Durng the second lesson we started with laser lead rotation, then spearing and skating. This was really difficult for many of my students. Each new change or addition to body positioning caused them to first revert to the habits that they knew. By remiding them to first set their position in superman glide, memorize the location of their hands, and continue to place their hands in the same starting positions, we were able to bit by bit get everyone through the drills. They were harder for some people than others as far as breaking old habits. Those old habits sneak back in at any moment the mind is vulnerable!
By the end of the 2nd lesson, 2 of my students who had started the day seeming flustered and confused actually had smiles on their faces. Both of them had nice bodylines and relaxed hand entries in a good position. There is of course a lot of work still to be done, but what great progress we saw today.
Form a coaching perspective, I’m starting to see some patterns of movement in my students that I helped to correct. The physical contact I’m able to make in the water is actually a lot more than I anticipated and all the students are receptive to the touch and correction and towing. Everyone seems to be starting to gee the flow of the TI way of learning. I can’t wait for tomorrow’s lessons.
Coaches Stroke Practice
After the 2nd student lesson, Terry ran a brief 30 minute coach training session. Rather than specific drills, he ran a stroke focus “workout”. 4 x 75 with the 75 broken up as 25 superman glide to spear (stand and repeat), 2nd 25 superman glide to spear, 3 strokes and skate, then 25 of whole stroke while choosing a focus. Throughout these first 4 75s, Terry commented on some things he was noticing about his stroke…small flaws that still remain despite 20 years of his mindful practice. He devised a new drill on the spot to allow him to work on his newly recognized weakness, so the next set of 4 x 75 we did his new drill. I actually liked it because it really allowed me to compare one side to the other and see which side was smoother and which side needed work. For my whole stroke practice on the 2nd set I focused on a relaxed recovery and entry. In my swim video from yesterday, my hand was still very stiff on entry, with a wacky, wayward thumb that actually created a lot of bubbles when it entered the water. I felt the significant increase in relaxation of my whole body and stroke when I kept my focus on simply relaxing my thumbs (my left thumb in particular).
Overall, it was a great day to overcome some mild anxiety about what to do with students in the water, recognizing some new movement patterns and how they are connected, and recognizing a few different learning and personality styles in the water. The best part was seeing the change and the smiles on the students faces as things started to sink in.
Tomororow starts at 9AM in the pool, so it’s off to bed forme.