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The Keys To Winning Ugly

I have a confession to make.


I don’t care what my swimmers’ skills looks.


I don’t care at all.


All I care about is the outcome they produce.


All I care about is whether swimmers’ skills allow them to go fast.


And I think you should view skill development the same way.


But it took me a long time to get to that point.


Ask yourself the following questions:


  • Have you ever coached a swimmer that looked great and swam slow?

  • Have you ever coached a swimmer that looked ‘non-traditional’ and swam fast?

  • Have you ever helped a swimmer ‘improve’ their skills, they looked so much better, and then failed to improve their speed?


For me, the answer to all these questions is most definitely yes.


And these are all frustrating outcomes because they don’t make sense based upon what we’ve been told and what we’ve accepted to be true.


It’s frustrating to put in a lot of work into skill development and not get the outcomes you’re looking for.


And when this keeps happening?


Even worse.


For whatever reason, a lot of thinking surrounding swimming skill is all about aesthetics.


We care about what swimmers’ skills look like.


We instruct skills to look a certain way and we provide feedback about how swimmers’ skills look.


We even use video to reinforce the visual and aesthetic element of skill.


For a long time, I thought that’s what mattered.


And I organized my coaching around that thought process, providing instruction and feedback about what swimmers’ skills looked like.


But I kept answering ‘YES’ to those questions above.


And that was really annoying, because I knew something was missing.


Something wasn’t adding up.


It all clicked for me when I saw footage of Janet Evans swim.


She was one of the most successful swimmers in history and she was doing everything ‘wrong’.


Her swimming did not look like it was supposed to look.


But she was winning, by a lot.


I realized that ‘skill’ isn’t about aesthetics, but outcomes.


It doesn’t matter what a swimmers’ skills look like.


It matters what result a swimmers’ skills produce.


It matters how they can use their skills to produce and sustain speed.


While fast swimming will tend to look a certain way, that’s just the side effect.


If you focus on creating the side effect, you don’t necessarily get the REAL effect.


I realized that first and foremost, great skill produces an outcome.


So, I dramatically changed how I approach skill development.


Rather than focusing on what swimmers’ skills looked like, and coaching that, I started focusing on what swimmers’ could do, and started coaching that.


I’d give them activities that I felt would improve their skills.


And instead of asking them to try to change what their swimming looked like, I asked them to change the outcomes their swimming produced.


I’d ask them to go faster.


I’d ask them to change their stroke count.


I’d ask them to change their stroke rate.


I’d ask them to do all three in different combinations.


As a result, their performance improved because that’s what we were focused on.


And because we were using activities that improved the skills that create speed, they swam faster.


WITHOUT worrying about what their skills looked like.


The focus was on the outcomes.


Of course, more often than not, their skills looked better, too.


When that was the case, great.


But that didn’t always happen.


And if they didn’t, I wasn’t too worried about it as long as those skills were effective.


By shifting the focus surrounding skill development to performance, swimmers learned how to execute skills in ways that created speed.


And as an added benefit, this approach to skill development is awesome training as well.


Swimmers are going to have the fitness to execute and sustain these skills in races.


That’s what it’s all about.


The goal is not to look pretty.


The goal is to help swimmer learn skills that create speed in a way that allows those skills to show up in races.


Take Action


To improve performance with skill development, it’s critical to focus on improving performance rather than improving aesthetics.


To make it happen, give this approach a shot:


  1. Identify the most important skills

  2. Identify the most effective strategies for improving those skills

  3. Implement those strategies and ‘coach’ them by asking for better performances, rather than providing feedback about what those skills look like


That way, swimmers are going to be using skills that are better because they


If they look good doing it, great.


If not, who cares?


They’re going to be swimming FAST.


And that’s what it’s all about.


If you’re looking to make this even easier, and you want to know which skills are most important to focus on and train, I lay out the key skills swimmers need to create speed in each of the strokes in Stroke Fundamentals


I also show you the exact strategies I use to help swimmers learn these skills. 


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








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