By Tori Caudill, Swimming World College Intern
Taking swimming lessons is common at a young age. Ages three and up will crowd pool facilities for half-hour lessons to learn the fundamentals of the sport. Fun gimmicks and mnemonic devices are sometimes the best way to teach these fundamental skills of swimming to the lively youths.
However, with the constantly evolving stroke techniques, some of these ghosts of swim lessons past may come back to bite the swimmers hoping to transition into the more elite levels of competition.
Here are four parts of swim lesson curriculum some of us wish we could forget…
1. Picking apples to develop freestyle.
One popular way to teach the freestyle arms to young swimmers is with the concept of grabbing apples from a tree and placing them into a basket to re-submerge the arm in the water. This increases the tendency of the swimmer to develop a straight arm freestyle, with an inefficient underwater pull. Another possible effect of using the picking apples technique is the development of a freestyle stoke that is cut short, which again results in stroke inefficiency. But these possible negative outcomes of the understandable analogy does not mean that picking apples should remain exclusively in an orchard. As long as the habits are corrected by the instructor, picking apples is still a fun way to teach freestyle.
2. Knees-down butterfly kick.
For some reason, when first learning butterfly kick, kids have a tendency to only kick from the knee down instead of engaging the whole body. This comes from the teaching of dolphin kick without highlighting the chest press and hip movements that accompany the butterfly kick. One possible way to correct this kick is to train the swim lesson children with fins, if available, in order to allow for a more controlled kick. Another way to resolve the knees-down butterfly kick would be to incorporate the teaching of the chest press and hip movement along with the kick, to train the new swimmers to take advantage of the full body involvement that creates a more efficient foundation for butterfly kick, and the stroke itself.
3. Making and cutting pie.
Breaststroke seems to the most complex stroke for a swim student to learn. When focusing on the arm movement, one technique that can be used is the pie concept. This concept involves making a circle with your arms (making the pie), and then forming a slice with your arms and thrusting them forward (cutting the pie.) This way of teaching breaststroke paves the way for two technique problems. The first issue that could lead to is a tendency to drop the elbows and bring the hands all the way to the chest making it very hard to get an effective pull out of the stroke. Another issue this could lead to is an ineffective reach because of a tendency to overshoot the water, losing the power from the stroke. This technique can be modified by “making the pie” smaller in front of the body correcting the first issue, and emphasizing a skating water extension.
4. Bigger frog kick is better.
Breaststroke kick has been evolving for years. Part of this evolution has included the decrease in size of the kick. In swim lessons, many times breaststroke kick has been taught as frog kick, because of the likeness of early breaststroke kick to that of a frog. This wide, simplistic view has become extremely outdated. When teaching breaststroke, a way to correct this kick would be to introduce the idea of keeping the knees together (perhaps with a buoy), while turning the feet out, allowing the swimmer to correct the previously learned kick.
Swimming technique has changed dramatically just over the past decade. With these changes, swim lesson instructors (who usually have a background in swimming themselves) should also be looking for new ways to impart these technical changes to their students.