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” ?
- Mat Hudson
Certified Total Immersion Instructor
Mediterra International Swimming
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