Coaching and Teaching Swimming | Swim Teaching and Coaching tips, blog, qualifications and session plans
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Teaching and Coaching tips, blog, qualifications and session
Coaching and Teaching Swimming | Swim Teaching and Coaching tips, blog, qualifications and
The following is the first stage in thinking through the construction of a series of activities or
learning object where thought has been given to improving access - in this case for swimmers and
swim coaches. This collation of the materials in the desired chronology will be re-versioned on the
Xerte platform that offers far greater versatility for the user to set adjustments to the way the
material is presented to suit their individual needs.
Fig.1. A leisure swimmer in the Pells Pool, Lewes. Illustration by Neil Gower.
Figure one is an illustration by Neil Gower done in the style of the artist David Hockney showing a
swimmer doing breaststroke hidden under the ripples of water in a swimming pool.
Swimming breaststroke can tie you in knots - this is how to identify and fix problems.
How to fix Breaststroke
The purpose of this activity is two-fold
Firstly, to help identify and fix common problems in competitive breaststroke so that the swimmer is
not disqualified in a galaSecondly to help the swimmer become more efficient.
The swimmer might be progressing from teaching to competitive swimming or they wish take part in
a gala and realise they may have faults to address.
Let's start by taking a look at what we're trying to achieve.
Here's breaststroke as it should be.
Fig.2. Still of a cartoon animation of breaststroke from BBC Sport
Figure two shows in side video a graphic representation of a swimmer paused at that moment in
breaststroke where they are about to kick the hands out into a glide. This is a still from an animation
produced by BBC Sport.
BBC Sport Breaststroke < CLICK >
A description of the video animation
Repeated on a short loop this animation shows a figure swimming breaststroke.
The stroke is correct in competitive terms with the hands pulling in front of the shoulders and the
leg kick symmetrical.
Other good practice is demonstrated - the body is horizontal in with the hips high, the head is steady
and the chin tucked in - the breath in is short and explosive - the breath out underwater is a slow
trickle. the arms reach forward out, pull out and scoop to the chest in one inverted heart-shape - in a
symmetrical frog-kick the feet rise to the bum, the toes bend out and in a whipping action they press
outwards against the water then come together in a streamline position with pointed toes.
Here's another way of looking at it
Fig. 3. Swimming competitive breaststroke - from Swimming Fastest : Maglischo. (1997)
Figure three is a graphic a line drawing of a swimmer demonstrates in two columns, and - side ways
on - two ways to swim breaststroke.
In the first column we see a swimmer adopting the flat style of swimming competitive breaststroke.
In the second column we see a swimmer adopting the wave style of competitive breaststroke.
Looking at the first column we see that the flat style swimmer keeps his hips close to the surface at
all times as he goes through the sequence of reach, pull, breathe, kick glide.
Looking at the second column we see that the wave style swimmer drops his hips further - this will
create a pronounced undulation in his swim.
In each case the sequence shown ends with the swimmer in a fully extended stretch.
The stretch is important in all competitive swimming, but particularly in breaststroke.
Let's consider why.
Fig.4 A competitive swimmer photographed in mid-glide (from below)
Figure four is an underwater photograph of a swimmer overhead who is stretched out, their head
tucked down, the hands clasped one over the other above their head - their legs stretched out
behind them with the toes pointed.
How would you describe this swimmer?
The swimmer is stretched out horizontally on the water, head down, arms stretched out legs
extended and toes pointed.
This is the streamlined position.
What metaphor might you use to you describe this position?JavelinHarpoonArrowLike a dolphin
Why is streamlining important in swimming?
The streamlined position minimises resistance.
In breaststroke you are moving faster and more efficiently through the water when you are doing
nothing at all - this streamline position is vital. The arm pull is short, the legs whip out against the
water to get you into this sliding, gliding, streamlined position.
As a teacher or coach observing a swimmer you will be familiar with the mnemonic - B.L.A.B.T.
Do you remember what it stands for?
B = Body
L = Legs
A = Arms
T = Timing
Once your swimmers are warmed up, and ideally using a lane by the side of the pool - ask them to
swim 'their best breaststroke'. Walk along the pool observing them as they swim and register, using
B.L.A.B.T, what they are doing. Keep your observations objective. Record what you see if you can or,
as you see more swimmers in your group identify the key faults that they present so that you can
then offer a sequence of progressive fixes and drills.
What faults might you identify?
Even at the elite end of swimming breaststroke can be improved, so what at the level that you are
teaching are the common problems? What level are they in the scheme that you use? They are likely
to be in a senior teaching group or in a competitive development group.
Make a list of the faults you identified or think would be most common. Use B.L.A.B.T to ensure that
you think about all aspects of what the swimmer is doing.
Common faults includeThe head tips back and forth rather than being steady, the chin tucked in as
the shoulders rise from the water.The fingers are splayed.The arms pull down to the hips rather than
staying in front of the shoulders.The arm pull is broken into two or more parts rather than a
continual action.The arm pulls out wide, rather than staying shoulder width.The hips are low in the
water.The leg kick is not symmetrical and synchronised - one leg may be kicking later than the
other, one may do a screw kick, there may be a short flutter kick or dolphin kick at the end of the
stretch - all of these would result in disqualification in a competitive gala.The legs go out, but the
action is slow, not a whip kick.,The legs fail to come together in a streamlined position.Watching the
feet and ankles do the toes pull in as they are raised to the backside then push and flex outwards,
planta flexion, as they kick ending with pointed toes and the streamline position?The inhale and
exhale take equally long instead of a short, explosive inhale and a long, trickle-like exhale when the
head is underwater.
The correct timing should result in a fluid, even dolphin-like 'stitching' through the water. This can
only occur if there are distinct phases - pull, breathe, kick, glide.
Whole Part Whole
The simplest approach to isolating parts of the stroke to put in a fixing drill or exercise is known as
'whole-part-whole'. This means, simply, that having seen the full stroke, you then concentrate on one
part at a time, typically arms or legs, though sometimes it is possible to isolate the breathing and
head position, or to look only at the ankles, for example, dipping your head underwater to blow out
to teach ways to breathe or sitting on the side of the pool running through actions with the flexing of
Sometimes with breaststroke if you plan to work with swimmers out of the water it may be best to do
some drills before they get wet - for example if you wish to take them through the arm action or leg
action and be able to stand or crouch next to them. With due care and appropriate actions in relation
to child protection issues, or simple manners before you touch an adult swimmer, the teacher may
wish to physically put the swimmer's arms or legs into the correct position and move the swimmer's
arms or legs through the correction motion.
The following table shows a sequence of progressions that can be used to develop breaststroke or to
fix specific problems (see below for details):1DRILLPurposeTIPSDistance /
Duration2Breaststroke arms standing (poolside or shoulder high in water)Establishes the correct
arm action.Begins to address swimmers who pull down to the their thighsKeep arms in front of
shouldersPutting tomato sauce on a pizza2 minutes3Breaststroke Arms with flutter kickKeeps the
body horizontal and moving forward making it easier to develop what may at first be a weak arm
stroke in front of the shoulders.Keep the flutter kick steady. Wear fins if you have them. A dolphin
kick is a good alternative.2 x 50m4Arms with WoggleExcellence to provide a physical barrier or line
that indicates how far the arms may pull back too.Push off slowly to keep the Woggle in place.2 x
25m5Legs: Kick with floatTo develop the correct kick and to introduce and develop the 'whipping'
action.Bend, Open, Snap2 x 50m6Legs: 2 kicks one pullTo develop the kick and put emphasis on the
gliding action.Breathe out slowly, chin tucked in - head looking down breathe in explosively.2 x
50m7Whole Stroke DrillTo develope the glide in breaststroke.Pull, breathe, kick, slide
Hold the slide for a count of 3 seconds2 x 100m
Table. 1. Six drills for breaststroke.
Table one comprises four columns and six rows. Each row represents a logical sequence of drills for
breaststroke, beginning with arms only drills, then leg only drills, then whole stroke drills. The
second column in each case gives the purpose behind the drill. The third column offers some tips in
relation to the drills - suggestions that can be made to the swimmer. The fourth and final column
suggests that two minute should be spent on the first drill, while each subsequent drill is expressed
as a repeated distance over the length of a 25m pool.
1 Breaststroke Arms - Standing - walk through of the arms
Fig. 5. Breaststroke Arms out stretched
Figure five is an illustration of a person standing upright in a water over their shoulders their hands
together and reaching out in front of them, thumbs touching, palms down.
Position your arms out in front of you.
Thumbs touch, palms down and slightly out.
FOCUS - Keep standing up straight.
Fig.6. Breaststroke Arms reaching outwards
Figure six shows the same person as figure five this time with their arms extended fully and out to
the side, the palms still facing down, the hands lower in the water.
Sweep your hands outward until they are just beyond shoulder width and are an arm's length apart.
FOCUS - Take it slowly at first checking that everyone id getting it right - then speed up.
Fig. 7. Breaststroke arms scooping in
Figure seven shows the same figure as in figures five and six, here he has dropped his forearm from
the elbow - the palms are facing at an angle and into his body as if he is about to scoop the water up.
Rotate the hands inward, begin to bend the elbows back and sweep you hands in drawing an
equilateral triangle as your fingertips come together in front of your chest.
FOCUS - Watch your hands - they should always been in front of your shoulders.
Fig. 8. Breaststroke arms ready to push forward
Figure eight shows the same illustration of the person featured in figures five, six and seven with his
fingers touching beneath his chest.
Shoot the hands forward just below the surface.
FOCUS - Pause in the starting position which equates with the glide in the swim.
[DETAIL IN RELATION TO THE FIVE FURTHER DRILLS OR EXERCISES TO ADD HERE]
After the session take some notes and reflect on how it went.
Run through the narrative - from the timeliness, preparedness and mood of the swimmers, their
response to the individual activities, any feedback they gave and outcomes you observed. Think what
went well and what did not. Bring any assessment sheets up to date regarding your swimmers in
their grade. Add some thoughts on how you would do it differently next time.
Think how you performed. Were you prepared and ready in good time. Were you able to respond
flexibly to changing circumstances?How much time did you spend watching the swimmers compared
to looking at a lesson plan?Were there any safety issues to consider?What was the tone of the
session?Was it fun?Was it effective?Were you in control?Did any one swimmer struggle with how you
put over the exercises and drills?Were you clear?Could you be seen and heard by all of them?Did
they all understand what you meant?How were drills carried out? How many times did you have to
repeat something before they got it right?
What would you share with other teachers about the session you gave?
What tips would you give? What resources would you suggest? Are their tools you would recommend
using? How practical is this? Is there a cost involved? How might you put your ideas into a common
knowledge pool to share with fellow teachers and coaches?
How might you feed back to the swimmers and or their parents or guardians?
Advanced Insight into an Olympic Swimmer
Fig. 9 A velocity pattern graph for East German Olympian Silke Horner. Maglischo. (1997)
Figure nine shows a graph on which the vertical axis shows velocity in meters per second. The base
figure is zero point four meters per second while the highest figure is two point zero meters per
second. The horizontal axis shows time in seconds, starting at zero and rising in increments of zero
point two or two tenths of a second up to one second point to, or one second and two tenths.
Across the top of the graph and covering its width there is an illustrative image of a swimmer doing
breaststroke. The various actions of the strokes correspond to various points on the axis below to
indicate at what point the stroke increases or decreases the velocity of the swimmer through the
The competitive breaststroke swimmer knows that they are moving fastest through the water when
they kick into the glide. This chart shows the velocity of a former world-record holder set against
time shows the peaks and troughs of Silke Horner. Entering the stroke this chart shows how her
velocity is at 1.4 meters per second as she enters the 'catch' when her hands begin to find purchase
on the water, this drops as her arms reach out to 1.2 meters per second, rises as the arms scoop
inwards to 1.5 meters per second, drops again as her arms begin to reach forward and the legs are
drawn up to 1.2 meters per second, lifts a bit to 1.5 meters then drops right away to the slowest part
of the cycle when her legs are tucked up creating resistance and her hands are reaching out to 0.8
meters per second - then, kicking into a streamline glide she accelerates to 1.6 meters. holding this
glide for nearly half a second before repeating the cycle.
Guzman, D (2007) The Swimming Drill Book
Maglischo. E.W. (1997) Swim Fastest
How to do the breaststroke (development)
How to swim breaststroke arms (competitive)
Breaststroke Animation: Side one
Common breaststroke mistakes
How to kick breaststroke - frog kick
Bend, Open, Snap - Breaststroke Frog Kick demonstrated
Teaching Breaststroke by Gator Swim Team
About Swimming Breaststroke
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