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“Head” Coaches Wanted

(Or, Joining The Secret Stroke Society)

Reprinted from an article which first appeared in Schwimmvergnügen in 1999.

Cam went swimming for the first time in Los Angeles yesterday. She got in and found out she was taking 21 strokes per length and could not get it down. She put on fistgloves and drilled for almost the entire hour and got it down to 17 strokes per length.

At the end, I showed up on deck and asked her to show me what she was doing. Sure enough she did 17 strokes, but I noticed that she was flat in the water (not getting all the way up onto her side in the balanced position).

I could see she was taking so many strokes. Since she was not on her side, when her arm recovered it started the next stroke right then. It also completely stopped her glide, so she took more strokes. That was the main thing I saw so I had her do Stop-Stop-Switch (SSS) drill to get the feel of what really getting into good side glide balance position for the recovery was.

During SSS, I noticed that, instead of reaching straight out in front of her when she put her right hand into the water, she was pushing it under the water causing that screwy bounce she has had in her stroke for years. She did SSS one more time, correcting both the hand entry and the full side glide balanced position.

Then she did a regular 50, and did 11 strokes on the way down, and 13 on the way back (because she didn’t get all the way up on her side for a couple of strokes). When I asked her how it felt to be an 11, she couldn’t believe it and did it one more time just to check. She did 11s again, but said she was so slow. On the second 50, I was watching the clock and noticed that she did almost the identical time as she did with 17 strokes before. She couldn’t believe it because it was so easy. I told her she just thought she was faster with 17 strokes before because she was wasting a lot more energy and just trying harder. Then I welcomed her to the Secret Stroke Society.

I also noticed a lot of people listening to what I was saying to Cam and thinking I was nuts. On the way out I stopped to watch the age group team, and the poor kids were getting taught the wrong thing. The coach was up on deck encouraging the kids to try harder, with the parents looking on approvingly. People who do the TI stuff swim with both their head and their heart, the thrashers just have heart. We need more “Head” coaches. I love this stuff.

By the way — We tried to get Turner (a toddler) in but it was too cold, and he did not have a good experience. He just doesn’t get the balance thing yet! We will try again many more times. I wonder what it will be like to just start with good habits? Maybe you will get an email from the Turnip in a couple of years to let you know.

© H2Ouston Swims, Inc. 2000

Rob Rollins swam at Grinnell College, a division III school in Iowa, specializing in only the 50 and 100 free because he did not know the tricky things Emmett would teach him later. He is most famous for taking almost 20 strokes per length for almost 15 years of swimming, and the key learning that jelly beans are not the breakfast of champions. Rob is currently an out-of-water Masters swimmer in Los Angeles, California.

Coach Emmett Hines notes: Rob is one of those precious swimmers that understands that learning and teaching go hand in hand. As he explores the outer reaches of more effective swimming for himself he also spreads his current knowledge by teaching others. By observing and analyzing others he accomplishes two important things at once. On one hand, he “spreads the word” about better ways of moving with the water, helping others to become more effective swimmers themselves. On the other hand, and more importantly, he refines his own understanding of aquatic ambulation — whether by expanding his personal mental images of our sport or by exposing gaps in his knowledge which point up new avenues of experimentation.


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Masters Swimming, contact United States Masters Swimming usms@usms.org.
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