Scorn Not

By David

Many Swimwatch stories discuss matters that concern elite swimming. We have written about swim suits, international championships, Mare Nostrum swim meets and national coaches. My favorite coaching is working with swimmers like Rhi Jeffrey, Oswaldo Quevedo, Jane Copland, Toni Jeffs, John Foster and Nichola Chellingworth. The revelation that, even these World class competitors were all once in someone’s Confident Beginners class, will surprise no one. In recognition of that fact, every day, I make a point of taking our juniors for the stroke correction portion of their practice.

For several reasons, it is well worth the twenty minutes. You become a better coach. A teacher once told me that elementary school teachers are better at teaching than university tutors. Teaching junior students requires more skill. At this level the task is not only to transfer information, but to transfer information in a manner that instills learning skills at the same time. That’s true for swimming too. Taking junior swimmers requires better explanations. For Rhi, “Catch a bit deeper,” is sufficient. She knows what it means and how to follow the instruction. She is also physically able to do it and even understands why it is important – and all without a long explanation from me. For juniors, good teaching requires that all that information is explained. Which means the coach has to know and think through the how and the why as well. And therein lies an exercise that is good for the coaching soul. I think I’ve answered more interesting whys and hows from juniors than from all the Rhis of the world.

Besides making the coach explain stroke techniques better, teaching young swimmers is a constant reminder of the breadth of the swimming curriculum. When all you do is coach Jane Copland type swimmers, it’s very easy to forget how much needs to be learned. I was at a swim meet with our junior swimmers this weekend. One of our eight year olds was not only swimming in his first backstroke race but ended up winning it as well. Before the race I was helping him find his lane and prepare for the right race. Americans do not bother with all that marshalling stuff so popular in the rest of the world. At big meets here you’d never get through them if you tried to carefully marshal all the swimmers. As we stood waiting for the start the eight year old asked, “How soon after I dive in do I roll over and start swimming backstroke?” Before you think that we must have omitted to cover backstroke starts, I should explain that backstroke starts had been taught on several occasions. This particular eight year old had however assumed that our in-the-water tuition had been to avoid getting out of the pool during what has been a cold Florida winter. Moments like that make you realize how much detail needs to be taught. And even then I bet there are a thousand small things you will miss. There is nothing like a few disqualifications to make you realize just how much has been missed.

The photograph below was taken at the same swim meet and is a classic illustration of this point.

It shows the start of the 10 and under boys 50 freestyle. Three of the boys in the photograph are members of our team. For one of them it was his first race, for another his second and for the third his fifth or sixth event. I’m very loyal to all the members of our team. However in this case I have to acknowledge we are still a little short of Phelps’ type starts. The really good thing about all this though is that progress is so obvious and exciting. From the uncontrolled tumbles shown in this photograph to well honed dives is not a long process and happens soon enough. We hope the three boys involved keep this picture as a reminder of how far they have progressed. We hope you enjoy the photograph and thank one of our mothers, Lori, for the skill and luck she had in capturing the moment.