Building a Foundation

Feature by Chelsea Howard

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pennsylvania, February 1. LET's pretend we are building a sand castle at the beach. The most important part of the castle is the foundation. If the base is not strong enough, the higher you build the castle on a wobbly foundation, the harder it will crash.

Now take that analogy, and compare it to building up a swimmer and their strokes. The first place to start is within the actual swimmer.

The swimmer's foundation must be strong and stable exhibiting values of dedication, loyalty, and passion towards the sport. The swimmer must be able to set lofty goals and know what it will take to obtain them. They also must respect and trust the program that they have decided to be a member of.

If the swimmer has their own ideas and own stubbornness of going about things, then it will be hard to get the things that need to be accomplished done. All members of the team must be on board and willing to move forward and push each other without interfering and getting in the way of each other due to competition or disagreements in the training plan.

"It's essential to have a strong foundation before a swimmer can start to focus on more difficult skills. Without it, there is no way a swimmer can add things like tempo or breathing patterns to their strokes that will improve your swimming in the long run," Elizabeth Beisel, who swam in the 2008 Summer Olympics and is currently a sophomore from the University of Florida, said.

After the swimmer finds a level of commitment within themselves and within the program they are a part of, then they must find and understand the way their strokes work and pertain to them.

Every swimmer learns this way differently; some have to see it visually on a camera while others can understand with verbal feedback. Regardless of how the swimmer learns, they must know their own stroke before they begin adding hard work, training, and competition to the equation.

"Proper stroke technique is pretty crucial. The right technique avoids injury and helps the swimmer get through the water with ease, allowing effort to be spent on the power behind each stroke," Nina Mascia, a freshman from Dartmouth, said.

Sometimes this is the most difficult part of building the foundation. No two swimmers have the same stroke and not everyone learns proper technique at a young age. A stroke change that works for one swimmer, might not work for another.

"Once you create a habit of doing something a certain way, it takes so much time and effort to fix it into the proper way. If you learn it the correct way first, then you can focus on more of the little things and improve even faster," Beisel said.

As the saying goes "you can't teach an old dog new tricks". It's true in swimming as well. It's much harder to teach a new stroke to an older swimmer versus a young, developing swimmer.

"I learned the fundamentals of stroke technique as an age grouper. When you're 7-10 years-old it is the most important time to master the strokes and techniques," Beisel said.

Learning good stroke techniques and setting the foundation early makes the later years much easier since they can learn and grow into a powerful swimmer without having to worry if they are moving through the water in the most effective manner.

"I am so grateful to have learned the strokes at a younger age because even in college, there are some people on my team who are trying to tweak and change their strokes since they never learned the proper technique at a younger age," Beisel said.

Proper technique can also build confidence in competing when the swimmer knows they have their strokes down on race day. However, a swimmer with bad techniques and habits will have a difficult time getting past the fundamentals of swimming.

"It's really difficult to compete with bad strokes and bad habits. They eventually catch up to you and start affecting the way you compete and how fast you go, which then turns into a hassle when you want to change or break bad habits," Beisel said.