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What To Do When Instruction Doesn't Work

Ever provide a swimmer with an absolute textbook instruction of how to execute a skill, and they proceeded to do something completely different?


Ever have to remind a swimmer 11 times to keep their breath low?


Ever spend 5 minutes helping a swimmer learn a skill that would make a HUGE impact on their performance, then watch them go back to swimming normally 10 minutes later?


Ever get just a little tired of it?


I know I have.


It’s absolutely no fun, and it’s not helping swimmers get faster.


Of course, it works sometimes, so I just figured some kids get it and some kids don’t and that’s the way it goes.


However, my goal has always been to help every swimmer, and that certainly wasn’t going to happen if I was trying to help swimmers improve just by telling them what to do.


While it’s easy to get frustrated with swimmers, the reality is that it can be really hard to ‘think’ about skills for extended periods of time, especially when fatigued.


I figured there had to be a better way.


I just didn’t know what it was.


I learned as much as I could about how to instruct more effectively and how to provide better feedback.


It turns out, that wasn’t going to solve my problem.


It all started with a random interview I read on a website that had nothing to do with swimming.


That’s when I first read about Keith Davids, a professor who is an expert in skill development.


And he was blowing my mind.


He was talking about a completely different way to help swimmers learn skills, and it had NOTHING to do with teaching.


The basic idea is this:


Rather than trying to tell swimmers what to do, give them activities that force them to engage in how they’re swimming, and require them to swim with more effective skills.


That changed EVERYTHING about how I coach.


Before you decide this is ridiculous, realize that you already do this.


Ever have a swimmer swim with a paddle on their head to improve their breathing?


You’re using a TASK instead of teaching.


Ever have a swimmer swim with closed fists to improve their pull?


You’re using a TASK instead of teaching.


This type of activity isn’t new.


What IS new is that you can use this strategy to develop just about EVERY skill.


It’s not just a party trick for a couple isolated skills.


It’s a framework that can be used to improve all the skills swimmers need to go fast.


Here’s why it’s powerful.


1. Dramatic Change


Most times, when you ask a swimmer to do something different, you get a tiny change.


I have no time for that.


I am always looking for big changes as fast as possible, and nothing can create change like a good task.


Good tasks are so effective because swimmers don’t have a choice.


They have to change, and they usually have to change in a major way.


And once you get a change, THEN you can start to train it.


2. Scalability


You can coach ALL swimmers at the same time by giving them effective tasks.


You’re not limited by your ability to talk to them.


They can all learn, and they can all improve.


You multiply the impact of your coaching.


That is a BIG deal.


3. Increased Attention


Swimmers have to engage in what they’re doing, or they can’t do it at all.


Rather than hoping that swimmers pay attention instead of letting their minds wander, you’re giving them problems to solve.


And these problems provide them with constant feedback as to whether they’re being performed correctly.


YOU don’t have to keep them focused.


The task does it for them.


4. Training


Ever worry about missing out on important training to teach or work on skills?


All you have to do is use the same tasks and do them faster, longer, and harder.


And do the same with full stroke swimming.


Because the tasks are doing the teaching, you don’t have to worry about them focusing on their skills.


They don’t have a choice.


The training becomes the skill development, and the skill development becomes the training.


Those are four BIG reasons to start thinking about skill development in terms of task design.


And there are more.


This was one of the most important shifts for me in coaching.


Rather than trying to ‘teach’, my goal became designed tasks that make learning inevitable.


Once you realize what’s possible, it’s impossible to go back.


All you have to do is start to build your library of strategies that create change and get the job done.


If you’re looking to make this even easier, I my favorite strategies for developing skills in each of the strokes in Stroke Fundamentals


And I show you which skills are more important to improve, and why.


If you want to improve your swimmers’ skills, consider grabbing a copy here.




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