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MatHudson 09-07-2010 08:32 PM

Sculpting A Swimmer
Reading Terry's blog post "Should you ‘perfect’ a skill or move on?" reminded me of my own similar pondering I have been meaning to bring up with Terry and other coaches, and see how it rings with you all.

I bring up the question of when to stay and perfect a stroke skill until it is sufficiently perfected, versus when to 'rough-in' a skill until it is 'close enough for now' and come back to it later.

First the analogy:

Not being one myself I would imagine that a sculptor intending to shape the human form from a block of marble, after marking out the proportions, starts roughing in the major features of the form. Rather than park it in one spot and finish that section before moving on, it seems that he would go over the whole sculpture, dozens of times, more finely tuning the the entire form in each cycle. Like in so many carving arts (and even concrete finishing, which I do have extensive experience with) the artist goes over the entire form beginning with the most general shaping tools and motions, then goes through successive cycles with more finely touching instruments until it is time for polish or texturing of the finished surfaces.

Now the application:

I wonder if this analogy is helpful in how we look at the process of training our swim students.

For advanced swimmers, whose overall form is already cut and somewhat refined, staying on some critical feature of the stroke and working it to some satisfactory level of refinement seems to makes sense. For these kind of swimmers usually the overall picture is understood and the motivation is high and stable.

For newer or younger swimmers (or disabled ones), there may be more of a a need to 'rough-in' certain skills at first, then come back over and over for greater refinement. For some of these swimmers the overall picture is not so well understood and often they need help protecting their motivation, and we need to be sensitive to their developmental realities.

I find it much easier working with adult students because they generally have (or quickly get) a better understanding of the process they need to go through to get to where they want to be. I can offer my advice, then just ask them if they want to stay working on this, or move on to the next skill and come back to this later. My position often feels more like one assisting them in their learning and refining process rather than dictating it. They are in the driver's seat.

However, with newer swimmers and children I notice two things: #1 there seems to be a limit to how refined they can get in a day, and in a season, (a developmental limitation), and there's limits on how creative I can be to keep it fun for them (a motivational limitation). And #2 with newer swimmers and children (and often more importantly, the parents watching me), they are often looking to me to tell them what we should do in order to progress. They expect me to be in the driver's seat, or rather, in the water with sculptor's chisel in hand.

It's one of the big parts of our challenge as instructors: knowing when to coax a student to be patient and keep working, or when to move them on.

I might define “Stay Put and Persist” as when we realize that this student will need or at least greatly appreciate the breakthrough we're working on now when we try the next level of complexity in our drill sequence. But we risk their boredom or discouragement if it takes too long.

And 'Close Enough, Let's Move On” is when we feel we've reached some limit in the student beyond which we will start getting diminishing returns for the effort- physiologically and motivationally. But in moving them on too early we risk their frustration when things get overwhelmingly complex in the next step.

It's a tough call for a trainer, that I trust will get easier with more experience.

So what do you think? How do we sculpt a swimmer? What are your thoughts on when it's time to 'Stay Put and Persist', and when it's time to call it, “Close Enough, Let's Move On” ?

terry 09-07-2010 09:36 PM

My favorite posts and threads are those that give us a lot to ponder and chew over. This is one.
I was greatly entertained by your analogy to carving something from a block of marble. I used a highly similar analogy in my blog Take Away What Doesn't Flow. I suggested a simpler way of thinking about technique by describing the process of a woodcarver, transforming a wood block into a duck-like form by taking away what is not-duck. When observing a stroke, look for what doesn't flow.

I also noted the similarity between three types of tools a woodcarver uses, progressing from power saw to carving tools, to sandpaper and rasps and three categories of TI drills - for Balance, for Streamlining and for Propulsion.

An advanced student may appear balanced, yet it is virtually always helpful to dip into balance drills briefly. A novice - particularly one who is profoundly uncomfortable, perhaps even fearful - can often benefit from spending quite a few hours on balance drills in one form or another. With this student, we're not just changing body position; we're healing the psyche.

And on nearly all drills, I set highly individual standards for my students on when to say "nicely done" and move on.
Sometimes my choice is driven by their skill level or readiness to absorb new material. Other times it's influenced by my sense of whether they are impatient or outcome oriented vs patient, engaged, curious and in-the-moment.
I will naturally seek to influence the former student toward being more process-oriented, but not push to the point of resistance. In most cases, I can "seduce them into patience."

haschu33 09-08-2010 01:47 PM

Sculpting myself...
I can only share the experience of sculpting myself.

Since I learned freestyle using TI methods completely self-coached, this might reflect some significant points about the drills, what effect they have and the transition or not transition from and to them. I have the impression that the majority of TI-swimer had freestyle experience before they start TI, and not all beginners run around self-coached (Hello to Inca, if she's still around here).

Drills as such are not necessarily fun (sometimes they are, though). So, either very simply the coach tells you to do so and you do it, or, like in my case, you need to have a motivation. I got it through reasoning. When I decided to learn the freestyle stroke I looked for information, mainly in the internet, to find out how to learn it. Mainly through the website I gathered enough information to order the 'Easy Freestyle' DVD, and ignored all possibilites of potential help in local pools, swim clubs, co-swimmers etc.
For the first 4-5 weeks I did basic drills. There was no question of transitioning to whole stroke - I couldn't. It was September last year and it was starting to get cold. I was in an outside pool most of the time and I still remember getting cold in the water, specially around the shoulders. I was absolutely convinced that it would work out so I kept going. After about 5 weeks I did my first lap of fullstroke. Or something that beared a faint resemblance to fullstroke. In fact it was not worse than most of the strokes I could see around me.
I still thing I was quite brave sticking to those drills. It is a lot easier to do drills if you actually know how to swim the freestyle stroke in contrast to drilling and knowing that this is all you got.
I never regarded drills as being the goal, but contributing something that would eventually lead to the goal. So I never had and still don't have the idea that a drill as such is something to be perfected. The final goal, the freestyle stroke, is to be perfected. I started with the first drill, and when I had the feeling that I would'nt really improve on doing it longer, I started the next one. In that very swim session.
Next time in the pool I would start again with the first drill. And again I did it until I had the feeling there was not more I could get out of it at this point, which was more than last time I practiced it.
I still follow this principle today. If I am in the pool I still do the whole number: I start with Superman Glide, Superman Flutter, up to ZEN switches with fingers dragging in the water. In between I do quite a few couples of laps fullstroke and notice the improvement in that very session from the drills.
It usually takes me about 90 minutes until I am done with all the drills. And I do that everytime I am in the pool. Everytime the outcome of (most of) the drills is better than the last time I practiced it.
So, regarding the question how long to do a drill, I'd say, it is impossible to do a drill until you perfected it. The whole thing only works, to follow MatHudsons great image, to refine more and more the whole thing. To stick with a drill and 'finish that section' is something that is impossible for my experience.
There seems to be a natural limit to what you can gain from a drill at a certain level of your freestyle. And even if you have a perfect stroke you can still gain something from practicing drills.

What drills to do? There was a time, more in the middle of my learning process, where I rushed through the more basic drillls, like Superman and Core Balance, and focused more on the stroke oriented drills. Since a couple of months I have my focus a lot more back on those 'basic' drills, particularly the core balance drill.
I had a quick look at the videos of Terry's latest presentation, and heard him say: swimming slow with keeping your feet still takes a lot of body control.
Last night in the pool I did some very slow laps with fingers dragging on the water and lots of gliding time between strokes, trying to keep my body absolutely still. I realized that I start to gain body control and what a great amount of body control it takes to swim like that, and how true this statement of Terry was. I saw those people with their splashy strokes around me and thought: yes, doing that is really piece a cake compared to doing a slow and controlled fullstroke. And I believe that this body control is a crucial part of successfull swimming at every speed level.
So it can vary what drill is best to do. It depends (what surprise). But it is good to always do some drills, I think in the end that is what makes the difference to a very average stroke.
Also, there where times when I found fullstroke frustrating because it was not as 'good' enough as I expected it to be and I went back to drills simply because I felt more comfortable with them. That's of course not an ideal path to follow.

In short, I would summarize and recommend regarding drills:

- do them a little longer than you like and a little shorter than you think you should
- do those that are the most uncomfortable ones
- do drills if you are quite comfortable with your fullstroke but don't progress any more
- do fullstroke if you start to use drills as an escape route

All this, of course, is based on the assumption that at least part of your motivation to swim is that you actually want to get better.

Happy drills, äh, laps....

haschu33 09-09-2010 11:12 PM


Originally Posted by splashingpat (Post 13047)
I wanted my two beat kick to be admired and it was
but NOT until he made sure that I was aware I made a mistake!
I did! should i be ashamed of them or realize that I can change 'em
can apply!

i make them,
and learn from 'em 2

It's all about improving, in fact the same that life itself is about.
The fuel for that are mistakes - so no worry about them. No mistakes, no progress.


Originally Posted by splashingpat (Post 13047)
... but
I do know the physic has to be dealt with 2

That's right - when we talk swimming.

If you want me to I will admire your 2bk ;-))

splashingpat 09-14-2010 06:06 PM

sure go ahead get in line!

Originally Posted by haschu33 (Post 13062)
It's all about improving, in fact the same that life itself is about.
The fuel for that are mistakes - so no worry about them. No mistakes, no progress.
That's right - when we talk swimming.
If you want me to I will admire your 2bk ;-))

so get ............your video in we will "see".... your mistakes

haschu33 09-15-2010 10:45 AM

I'd absolutely like to post a video - need to get one shot, that's the difficulty.

Nothing to admire about my stroke, no worry here.
I want to see
a) if my feeling corresponds to reality, or in better words: how much my feeling does not correspond to reality, and
b) to find those mistakes and flaws to work with - in addition to those that I already know

Talking abot sculpting still

One day, though... I am counting on my northern Germany TI budies... which I still didn't meet yet...

splashingpat 09-25-2010 11:27 PM the new craze word!

Originally Posted by haschu33 (Post 13159)
I'd absolutely like to post a video -
need to get one shot, that's the difficulty.

Nothing to admire about my stroke,
no worry here.
I want to see

a) if my feeling corresponds to reality, or in better words: how much my feeling does not correspond to reality, and
b) to find those mistakes and flaws to work with - in addition to those that I already know

Talking bot sculpting still

One day, though...
I am counting on my northern Germany TI budies...
which I still didn't meet yet...

you guys know your way around with the language!
do not ya's
oh well .i was just lucky i guess and sometimes it better to be luckY than good

that i am
now when writN & ya see a negative TRY TURNIN' IT AROUND OR JUST TAKE IT OUT!


Richardsk 09-26-2010 11:07 AM

There is an Irish proverb that translates as:

Luck is better than early rising

but as a famous golfer once said

The harder I practice the luckier I get.

Perhaps he should have said

The better I practice the luckier I get

because as we all know mere practice does not make perfect

We often see the quotation

Only perfect practice makes perfect

but that is silly because practice can never be perfect; we must always be seeking to attain perfection, which is why we practice.

Having attempted with varying degrees of success to acquire different skills over my life so far, I have found that for me it is a circular process:

Practice - perform - go back and practice - perform etc.

Some people prefer to acquire skills in one piece rather than in separate pieces but sometimes it does help to concentrate on one element of the compound skill in which case:

Practice element - perform whole skill - practice element - etc.

Sometimes practicing very basic elements can be very beneficial but I think they always have to be integrated into the whole skill.

Merely practicing scales on the piano will not make you into a pianist.

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