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Old 11-21-2010
terry terry is offline
Head Coach
Join Date: Apr 2008
Posts: 2,305
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Default Poll: Focal Points or Stroke Thoughts

This is mainly a semantical question. Those who've followed the evolution of the names of various TI drills from one generation of videos to the next may have noticed my fondness for giving things new names. These changes carry the potential of introducing potential confusion, but my motivation is the opposite, to pursue greater clarity, and in some cases greater emotional power.

Calling a thing by one name may give it a utilitarian label.

Calling it by another can make it more colorful-and-thus-memorable, and even more inspirational/impactful.

UnderSwitch was a label that accurately described that switches happen beneath the water.

SpearSwitch conveys that the drill is designed to transform a human body into a barracuda-like, water-piercing instrument of efficiency and speed . . . Or so I hoped.

ZipperSwitch was an accurate, if utilitarian, label when I introduced it. At the time we instructed swimmers to initiate it by "drawing your hand along your lower torso as if pulling a zipper up your side." In time we discovered that while the action had a certain elegance, it introduced tension in the recovery and instability from excess rotation.

When we modified the drill to a wider recovery, I knew we needed to change the name to reduce the likelihood of swimmers being influenced to keep "pulling a zipper."

I chose ZenSwitch because (1) we could still use Z-Switch as shorthand and (2) to emphasize that "Total Immersion" also means "Mindfulness."

But I was never fully satisfied with that name because it failed to describe the action.

So with the 10-Lesson Perpetual Motion Freestyle Series (PMF another recent label) I christened it SwingSwitch.

This drill name was intended to more accurately describe the movement. When teaching this we tell students "Swing, don't lift," the elbow." But also to connect it to an admittedly obscure reference from rowing. In his 1985 book about Olympic rowing, "The Amateurs," David Halberstam describes the magical feeling rowers experience when perfect synchronization among eight individuals makes rowing seem almost effortless: “When oarsmen talked about their perfect moments in a boat, they referred not so much to winning a race but to the feel of the boat when it seemed to lift right out of the water. Oarsmen called that swing.”
SwingSwitch has a similar effect to swing in rowing. When you get it right, the effortless propulsive power it provides seems almost magical.

I'm about to start work on a new book to replace the original "blue-and-yellow" TI book. As I hope this book will introduce and explain TI to a far larger group of people who are not yet familiar with it, I want to choose terms for essential aspects of our practice. I'm enlisting the help of the most motivated, informed, thoughtful and eloquent swimmers on the planet - those on this Forum - to help me make the right choices. I'll do that via a series of polls in which I invite you to not just vote, but give persuasive reasons for your choice. First poll is whether we should call the stroke refinements we think about -- or focus on -- Focal Points or Stroke Thoughts.

Focal Points came first. I didn't give it much 'thought' when I chose it. I didn't even think of it, at the time, as an enduring label. It was a convenient, and somewhat utilitarian, descriptor.

More recently, if unofficially, I've begun describing them as Stroke Thoughts. I made the switch because "focal point" seemed a bit general and "stroke thought" more specific. Also because the term "stroke thoughts" is already in common use in golf, another activity that is clearly about skill, not conditioning.

Your vote?
Terry Laughlin
Head Coach & Chief Executive Optimist

May your laps be as happy as mine.

My TI Story
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Old 11-21-2010
vconroy vconroy is offline
Junior Member
Join Date: Nov 2010
Posts: 2

Hi Terry,

I'm relatively new to TI, but have heard all of these terms used in various books, videos and the workshop I attended. The terms that worked for me were the following:

1. "Focal Point" - I'm not sure why "stroke thought" doesn't do it for me. Maybe because I think of "stroking" with my arms. Many of my recent focal points have involved streamlining my legs, getting proper hip rotation and breathing without losing tempo. For cases like this, "focal point" seems more appropriate to me.

2. "SpearSwitch" - Captures the idea of spearing forward. When I do this drill correctly I feel my body spearing toward my target.

3. "ZenSwitch" - I understood from the workshop that one of the main purposes of this drill was to reduce tension in the recovering arm and enter the water at the correct time. I had a very hard time getting used to doing this drill because my hand was not relaxed and therefore created a lot of drag. In order to get the drill right, I had to let my hands be in more of a "Zen state", yielding to the water rather than trying to force my arm into it.
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Old 11-21-2010
CoachPamR CoachPamR is offline
Join Date: Jul 2008
Location: Gauteng, South Africa
Posts: 2

Hi Terry,

Having just read this, my initial reaction is that I prefer "Focal Points" merely because sometimes the focal point may actually not be part of the stroke eg relax, stay calm, exhale etc etc.
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Old 11-21-2010
westyswoods westyswoods is offline
Senior Member
Join Date: Nov 2008
Location: Rio, Wisconsin
Posts: 564


This is an interesting and also necessary thread. I for one prefer the concept of focal point over stroke thought. Coach Pam explained it well. Focal point is to me more encompassing while stroke thought seems to be more attuned to the physical movement of a stroke.

Your asking for input from forum participants only reinforces my belief that TI is unique in creating a positive sharing and learning environment, which is user friendly.

One of my frustrations through the past four years of TI has been the evolution of terminology. Teaching techniques surely evolve with time, case in point being the switch from a very drill oriented weekend workshop to one which brings an integration of whole stroke more into the time spent. This I believe to be a very positive move.

The other side of the coin is what seems to be a constant changing of terminology. I attended a weekend workshop and assisted Coach Mike from Chicago in two others. I also spent a week in Lake Placid with Coach Shane and a weekend with Coach Dave in Minn. I discussed with all three coaches that I do not see the benefits of changing terminology. Coach Dave made some valid points as to why zen was switched to swing and I buy it.

Is and has the concept and technique changed or is it just the semantics of it. If the later I believe there needs to be a higher threshold of reason.

How about a glossary of old vs new when changes are made. My main point is we all have to be on the same wave to be successful.

In closing kudos for seeking input. Hope to see you in VI and discuss in more depth.

Be Well and Swim Silent
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Old 11-21-2010
drmike drmike is offline
Join Date: Sep 2009
Posts: 31


IMO the original “Focal points” is more to the point, therefore more effective.


Last edited by drmike : 11-24-2010 at 08:15 PM.
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Old 11-21-2010
atreides atreides is offline
Senior Member
Join Date: May 2009
Posts: 293

I guess I'm going to disagree with everyone but I think "stroke thought" focuses you on what you are trying to accomplish which is propel yourself through the water. Since 90% of the propulsion comes from the activity involving the stroke, it seems that somehow everything comes back to that. Whether it is 2bk or balance or spearing, they all can be put in the context of when or what you are doing before, during, or after a catch and pull. I think that sometimes the things we are supposed to work on are needlessly compartmentalized from what the primary function should be. 'Stroke thought' makes the point that swimming is an interrelated activity in which its components can be organized around an important if not the most important function.
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Old 11-21-2010
aerogramma aerogramma is offline
Senior Member
Join Date: Nov 2009
Posts: 155

Hello Terry,
personally I don't mind too much if you use stroke thoughts or focal points.

To me te real point is that those bullet point one liners have to be sustained by a thorough explanation of what they actually stand for.
It was very interesting to hear about the genesis of zen switch, zipper switch, swing switch.

What I'm saying is that while a single line catch phrase maybe be easier to memorize I much rather rely and recall the thoruoghly explained reasons behind it.

That way you'd never have to go through the motion times and times again like westywood so well pointed out.

I'd say extended explanations first and only then focal points/stroke thoughts


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Old 11-22-2010
jsmith2113 jsmith2113 is offline
Junior Member
Join Date: Sep 2010
Posts: 11
Default Learning

It's more important to learn the meaning of the word than it is to learn the word. I think the text of the book does a superb job explaining what "it" is and changing the word won't make much of a difference for me.
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Old 11-22-2010
cynthiam cynthiam is offline
Senior Member
Join Date: Jun 2009
Location: San Francisco, USA
Posts: 169

Originally Posted by drmike View Post

This is a personal quirk, but for some reason “Stroke Thoughts” always reminds me of Jack Handey, which engages the abs but defocuses my mind. IMO the original “Focal points” is more to the point, therefore more effective.

Thanks a lot! Now I will no longer be able to read "stroke thought" while keeping a straight face. (I guess that also betrays my age...)

As to the question -- I agree with several posters here. I prefer and use Focal Point. Stroke Thought always seemed a bit vague and more like an overall feeling rather than a particular aspect (even if the Focal Point I'm using is an overall feeling).

I've gotten confused and a little frustrated more than once trying to figure out the name game. I understand why they change sometimes; I just feel like I need a scorecard to keep track. IMO, "swing switch" is very evocative and makes the most sense of all the names for it.
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Old 11-24-2010
borate borate is offline
Senior Member
Join Date: Jun 2010
Posts: 533

This is mainly a semantical motivation is pursue greater clarity, and in some cases greater emotional power.
Echoing thoughts of some other members, I favor clear, descriptive verbiage, as contrasted with metaphysical concepts - as valid as those may be.

One term that I found confusing is "wide tracks." Self-coaching exclusively with Net resources, I realized only belatedly what the phrase meant.
It initially conjured up an image of a wide Y entry.

More apt might be "straight track." Draw an imaginary straight line between hip and shoulder. From recovery to pierce, have the hand follow that line.
This almost ensures a bent and "high" elbow.

As for ST vs. FP, focal point seems more precise in zeroing in on a particular aspect of the stroke.
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