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Break it Down

Previously, I have advocated for a technical approach that relies heavily on full stroke swimming and the use of tasks that nudge swimmers towards novel movement solutions.

From my perspective, drills are not the most effective means to facilitate change, particularly when essential elements of rhythm and coordination are disrupted. However, I don’t believe they are useless Ineffective strategies typically don’t pass the test of time and drills are still around for a reason.

What contexts might traditional drill work prove to be an effective strategy? What role can drills play in the skill acquisition process?

Novice Swimmers

Those who have no aquatic movement literacy, nor a conceptual or kinesthetic understanding of full stroke swimming will benefit from any directed effort at learning movements.

If the novice has no conception of the components of movement, they have little hope of integrating those movements together. As most aquatic movements are ‘unnatural’, different components need to be explored prior to being assimilated. Attentional capacity is simply insufficient, not as function of age, but as a function of the complexity of the numerous movements.

Any learned movement in the water will expand movement literacy and this will have positive effects over time. However, this process should be a kinesthetic as opposed to mechanical one. Communication should center on what movements feel like, as opposed to what they actually consist of from a kinematic and kinetic perspective.

This sensory awareness will create a rich foundation for future movement.

For most, swimming full stroke may also be too challenging physically. Drill-based component training can also develop the physical resources necessary to swim effectively. Physical and technical capacities are different aspects of the same development process.

Skilled Swimmers

I have placed a large emphasis on the importance of developing sensory awareness and a kinesthetic appreciation of what effective movement feels like. As such, including rudimentary and reductionist swimming drills can be an effective strategy if swimmers need to feel a component of the stroke.

Drills can play a role in improving technique, but I believe that it is not about practicing skills. It is about getting a feeling of what is required so the information can be integrated into full stroke swimming. As a guide, the less deviation from full stroke swimming required to ‘get it’, the better.

As opposed to using classical drills, consider what the swimmer needs to feel, and try to create a task that makes that sensory information inevitable. If a classical drill serves this purpose, great. If not, create whatever task that accomplishes the goal.

In sum, I believe that improving skills that will transfer to competition is best achieved while retaining whole stroke characteristics and designing goal-directed tasks that nudge swimmers in the desired direction.

However, simple stroke drills can be useful for novice swimmers to learn the building blocks of aquatic movement. For more experienced swimmers, such drills can be used for ‘sensory enlightenment’, understanding that the information is incomplete and should be quickly incorporated back into full stroke swimming.

When deciding when to incorporate drills, remember the simple rule- there are no rules, just results.

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