On this page you will find information that can assist you in teaching better strokes. You will also find information that assists you in being a better teacher of aquatics. I would love to hear your feedback and questions on the information posted on this page.
Teaching backstroke can be difficult to communicate to young students. Here you will find an article by John Leonard with his solutions to the problems of teaching backstroke.
By John Leonard Teaching Backstroke – Some important teaching points. When working with small children ages 10 and under, backstroke can sometimes be problematical, due to the size and proportions of the “young child body”. Here are a few key things to look at.
Head Position – Competitive coaches will like the idea of a head position that is “resting on a pillow”. But in learn to swim, with children with short frames and large heads, it is often necessary to force the head a bit further back that the “pillow position” and thus help lift the hips closer to the surface and remove the tendency to “sit down” in the water. Of course, the head should be still with no movement in any direction.
The Legs – We all know that kicking is important to any core teaching of backstroke. It’s important to keep the kick narrow and at least initially in learn to swim, “up and down” in the vertical plane in the water, with toes pointed. I like the idea of teaching them to “kick a ball off their toes” as a way to finish the kick effort. Even in the smallest child, the leg muscles are large compared to the rest of the body, and some “conditioning” may be necessary in order to achieve optimum use of the legs while trying to swim.
More Legs - One of the most common issues in backstroke kicking is the emergence of a “bicycle kick” with the knees breaking the surface and the child trying to “push backward” with the feet after the knees come up. First correction is simply “point the toes” and the second can be helped by holding a kickboard over the front of the knees (on the surface of the water) with the instruction “don’t let your knees hit the kickboard”. This will keep the knees below the surface and the child can hold the kickboard in that lengthwise position themselves.
Arms - Best to begin with a simple straight arm pull. Easy enough later on to introduce an elbow bend and a bent-arm pull, but it’s probably a level too complex for learn to swim. Keeping the arms working opposite each other is a good goal for learn to swim level backstroke.
Body Position FLAT to rotation…..in the beginning, best to just try to maintain still head position and float flat on the back and then use arms and legs. As the child strengthens, the coach will begin to get their body to roll side to side, while keeping the head still….so the hand can drive through the surface of the water and catch ahold of water beneath the surface….but at the start, simple flat on the back position is more stable and the best place to start. Even the best backstrokers today in 2011, do less rotation than the great ones did 10 years ago.
Again, another article by John Leonard. This one may assist you when teaching the breastsstroke to children.
By John Leonard
Teaching Children to Swim Breaststroke – the Pull. Learning to swim “downhill”. One of the small points of breaststroke swimming that is sometimes neglected, is the line of the body as it moves through the water. Most human beings have more weight in their hips and derriere, than in the upper body. As a result, the natural flotation line of the body tends to be lower in the rear, (the legs and butt) than in the front. In order to compensate for this in Breaststroke, there are two key stroke techniques that are important; First, the eyes should be looking DOWN into the water and NOT “in front”. Standing at the end of the pool, with the swimming on-coming, you should be looking at the top of the swimmers head, and NOT at their goggles or eyes. Getting the head down will rebalance the body with the hips substantially higher. The second key point involves the hand position at full extension of the arms. IF the fingers are “on the surface”, the sensation is similar to “swimming uphill”. Conversely, if the child is taught to reach out and downward, so the hands range from 6-12 inches below the surface of the water at “full extension” of the arms, there will be a “forward lean” that will make the stroke feel like it is “swimming downhill…with the head down and hips on the surface. This position naturally will be both easier and faster in the water. The auxiliary point that is made with a deep start to the stroke is that as the hands pitch outward and the little finger drifts upwards on the outsweep of the pull, (to a position almost touching the surface at the widest part of the pull, the hands are high in the water, poised for a downward and inward sweep that is the powerful and propulsive portion of the breaststroke pull. When the hands are left on the surface at full extension, that outward sweep has to transfer energy somewhere and since the hands won’t rise out of the water, instead, the body rises and we get a pronounced and unwanted up and down motion to the body during the pull. We want to pull resulting in forward motion of the body, not up and down.
So, to review, two key points…get the eyes downward (back of head in line with the spine) and reach OUT AND DOWNWARD with the hand recovery, in order to swim DOWNHILL.
Getting the Freestyle Lines Right….. By John Leonard One of the critical points in learning to swim, is the act of learning to breath while swimming freestyle while maintaining the “line” from lead arm through body, without any lifting of the head to get a breath. Over the years, I’ve become a believer in a very simple (but not easy!) progression to accomplish this. Here’s what I call the parts of that Progression.
Side Glide Kick.
Side Glide Kick, twelve kick switch.
Side Glide Kick, six kick switch
Finger drag drill
When we start with Side Glide Kick, we learn to push off the wall, rotate onto one side, with the lead arm STRAIGHT out in front, the trail arm lying alongside the leg. THE KEY….is to position the head lying on top of the lead arm, WITH THE EAR INSIDE THE SHOULDER. “glue your ear to your shoulder” is a nice cue. Learn to kick on each side. When it’s time to breath, the instruction is “roll to breath, don’t lift the head”. The Body rolls until the mouth is out of the water, and then rolls back onto the side and the child kicks some more as they hold their breath. (keep kicking while you breath!) Then repeat when more air is needed. Learn to do Side Glide Kick on both sides of the body. On Side Glide Kick, twelve kick switch, we start the same way, but now the child counts their kicks and when they get to twelve, they rotate from the hips and the trail arm recovers over the water and enters and becomes the new “lead arm”, with the old lead arm now resting lightly down along the leg. (We’ve gone from right side kick to left side kick). The Child counts 12 kicks again and repeats. As the Child rolls, they keep the face in the water until they are kicking on the other side and now resumes rolling as necessary to breath. Side Glide Kick, Six Kick Switch is obviously the same drill, with only counting to six kicks, before the hips initiate the switch. Remind the child that the head “stays down in line with your back” as you switch and also we “switch from the hips”. “hips move the hands, hands don’t move the hip!”
Next we go to Zipper Drill. The athlete pushes each push through until they “thumb their thigh” and then drag the thumb from thigh up to the armpit, with the thumb touching the body all the way. (The “Zipper”). Stay on the side, keep the head down and “ear inside the shoulder” at all times…to prevent lifting that head off the body line. Sometimes its best to start this drill with just 4-6 strokes an no breathing, then when it “looks good, with the swimmer on their side on both sides….” Resume breathing by rolling (not lifting!) with the body.
The Final Step is FINGER DRAG! The young athlete keeps the hand “almost” in the same position as in Zipper Drill, but now the hands are no longer touching the body. The Finger tips are dragging ever so lightly though the water right next to the athletes body. Body on the side, rotating with the stroke, with the “ear inside the shoulder” to keep the head down when breathing.
In each of these drills, the paramount point is KEEPING THE EYES DOWN and the ear positioned “inside the shoulder”. If you follow this progression, you’ll find your young swimmers dramatically improving their position in the water and keeping it all “lined up” as they swim!
All the Best! John Leonard
All good programs have common basics. But not all good programs have good teachers that understand the progressions of teaching. Teaching progressions are important to the success of your students understanding of the stroke. ran across this article by John Leonard and decided it was worth sharing with you about the values of the basic skills, no matter what program is in charge of the instructions.......mary
Do the BASICS Beautifully. By John Leonard
Last month I had an occasion to observe three different Learn to Swim Programs, and noted significant differences in each of them. Yet all three were doing fine jobs, children were rapidly learning to swim, and while one was a Red Cross program, one was conducted at a private swim school, and one was a SwimAmerica program run by one of our most experienced Program Directors, they all shared a common excellence in teaching the basics. Each program:
Taught the concepts of floatation and buoyancy first. Blowing bubbles to get comfortable with a “face in the water” and begin an air exchange process was part of this.
Each program focused next on the kick….in part, to assist with keeping the body horizontal, or helping it attain horizontal position in the water.
Each program moved on to some form or “propulsion with the arms” next.
Finally, each program focused on combining “motion” with the ability to get an air exchange, and then resume forward motion.
Regardless of the age of children being taught, the same four fundamental concepts were taught, and taught beautifully well. The Logic is impeccable……..stay on top of the water, learn to get the “next breath” (our singularly important physical need as non-aquatic creatures) , then learn to kick to stay on top more easily and then use the arms and refine the whole thing to make it easier to get that breath and still keep moving.
With young children, the progression moved from “popping upward” to get that first couple of breaths, while blowing bubbles underwater, to “rolling onto the back” to get an air exchange once horizontal position could be maintained, to finally coordinating with rotational breathing in crawl stroke. Some young children of course, based on age, physical development and body parts of different sizes, could not get to rotational breathing…that was Ok, for them “rolling on the back” was an excellent progression point in their aquatic skill acquisition.
My point this month is simple….while there are multiple skills to be learned/gained in the aquatic environment, it’s only a few basic things that teach us to swim…and as instructors, we need to keep our “eye on the ball” and focus on those few “difference makers”….Buoyancy, kicking, propulsion and Breathing.
All the Best for Great Teaching! JL
Learning to Kick – Do’s and Do Not’s. By John Leonard One of the more fundamental skills in learn to swim, is learning to flutter kick. Given that it is fundamental, it is frequently poorly done with unintended negative consequences. The least productive way to learn to flutter kick is to have your students line up in the water, put their hands on the wall or gutter and “kick on the wall” with their legs trailing out behind them. Children, being quick learners, will almost immediately learn that that pool wall is not going to move. So as the coach/instructor says “Kick!, Kick, Harder! Harder!” the children do the sensible thing and move their legs faster, BUT, since they can’t move the wall, they bend their knees into a perfect “bicycle kick” to move their feet fast and not waste effort trying to go forward, which they have correctly discerned as impossible. Hence, we accidentally teach totally improper kick mechanics designed to “not go forward”. The next most common practice is to kick on a kickboard. While this is excellent for strengthening leg muscles and building endurance to kick well, the body position thus set up, is entirely “uphill” which is the exact opposite of the “face down, butt up, horizontal position for swimming “ that we want to create and promote. Again, unintended consequences. My preference for teaching kicking is to extend the arm in the water on one side, and put the other arm lying down along the working leg, get on the SIDE, (Which is where a swimmer using good stroke mechanics spends 70% of their time while kicking) and kick on the right side, then the left, etc. Change sides by repetition, until the swimmer is comfortable kicking well on both sides. (most individuals will “prefer” or “favor” one side or the other. Teach them to be well balanced on each side. They Roll the body to breath, without lifting the head, then the face goes back in the water. I call this “side-kicking”. This most closely duplicates the swimming position, while allowing the student to kick fast and with small, efficient, propulsive kicks.
All the Best for Great Teaching! John Leonard
by John Leonard
“Modeling the Right Stuff”
One of the best ways to improve our swim lessons program is to recognize and utilize the concept that today’s children all over the world, are visual learners.
They learn less well by listening and learn better by watching and then modeling.
For the swim instructor, this means less talking, more SHOWING.
The most effective way to do this is with little humans who look just like the little humans who are being taught. Using an instructor to demonstrate is “OK” and certainly better than nothing, but its much more powerful, when trying to show 7 year old how to do something, to use one of the “big kids”...an eight year old!
The more that students can see someone who “looks like them” doing the skill, the better transference of learning will take place....which is a fancy way of saying that they can “see themselves doing it” much better than if a teenager or an adult instructor demonstrates.
I like to teach in two groups. Group 1 and Group 2. If I have 6 children in my group, 3 become “1’s” and 3 become “2’s”.
So the rhythm of my group is “Ok, 6 bobs, group 1, Ready! Go!” When 1’s finish, “Group 2, 6 bobs, ready, Go!” While group 1 is “working”, group 2 is WATCHING and vice versa. This means that they are constantly seeing their peers succeed...and then very quickly its their turn and so on throughout the lesson. We move quickly, so no one is sitting and watching for more than a 15 second period...just enough to visually get the idea and grab a breath of rest.
The visual teaching is excellent, but not so long as to become boring, and the “rest-work” ratio is just about perfect for excellent, fast paced learning. Give it a try. You’ll like it! All the Best, John Leonard