I often encounter swimmers who are kicking incorrectly. Triathletes would be particularly guilty of this charge.
The crux to teaching anything new, is to try to find ways of experiencing the subjective experience in a ‘hands-on’ way. Touch is a very important way of learning, and since language is so poor in translating something as complex and unusual as swimming, you really need to find a way that is tangible.
By tangible I mean tangible in a way that is rewarded by something that you can feel. Something that is kinaesthetic. The Coin-on-the-bottom trick is one of these kinaesthetic learning tools.
For swimmers who swim with stiff ankles, and don’t let their feet and ankles bend and flex, you will find this trick very helpful. Swimming with your toes poking towards the bottom is a very slow way to swim. In fact, I have seen some swimmers who kick this way, on a kickboard, actually going backwards. That is slow.
Take a coin and let it sink to the bottom of the pool. You should be in shallow water, maybe at hips depth or deeper. Try to make the coin flip and move, by sweeping your foot towards it. Your foot shouldn’t touch the coin but the plume of water that your foot has created by making a sweeping motion should be strong enough to make it move. Lighter coins are easier, or even something like a poker chip (for adults only). If you could see the way the water moves when you kick towards the coin it would help you to see that different ways of bending your foot will make the water move in different ways. Watch as you or your swimmer flicks their feet towards the coin; how it reacts to the movement of your feet. You will feel pressure in different parts of your foot when you bend your foot in different ways. What happens if you sweep back and forth with a floppy foot as fast as you can?
You can try this trick using one leg or two. You can use it for any kicking style.
Like many tricks of the trade I learned this through experience. I like to look for those ‘hey that’s interesting’ moments. Not ‘eureka!’ but more like: ‘hmmmm’. I read about Dr Whyte Black of Dundee University who had a ‘hey that is interesting’ moment. His moment discovered propranolol. I’m not saying I’m a brilliant Doctor-Scientist who discovered the world’s best selling drug, far from it, but I can learn from him, even if I can’t use a petri dish.
Dr Whyte Black (who must have the coolest name ever) was looking for something completely different than what he found one day in one of his petri dishes. Instead of throwing out the sample and saying ‘something must be wrong’. He investigated and discovered, by chance, Propranolol. In a TV documentary he was interviewed and explained his experience. The interviewer said “weren’t you really excited to have discovered something?”, he said, “no I just thought it was interesting and I wanted to know more about it”.
My ‘hey that’s interesting’ moment came when I was cleaning a pool that had sand enter the pool due to a filter breakage. There was lots of sand sitting on the bottom. The filters were quickly replaced but in the pipes the sand that escaped the filter continued to migrate through the outflow pipes. So the pool always has a bit of sand coming into the pool. While trying to sweep a sand deposit with one of those giant long aluminium brushes, maybe the most awkward tool ever invented, towards the sump, I thought that there had to be an easier way that sweeping. I thought I could use my leg kick to move all of the sand because I have seen how much sand you can move when you kick the sand on the bottom of the ocean. So I jumped in the pool and moved all the sand in a fraction of the time. While pushing all the sand towards one end of the pool using my leg kick I thought “I bet this would be a good way to teach how to bend your ankles and kick correctly”. My next private lesson swimmer did this and its now a regular part of my ‘tool box’ of drills that help swimmers with similar problems.
So there you go; teach yourself, teach your swimmers. Tutor your instructors on this important drill by using someone else’s’ idea. Or just tweet it to your following of swimming interested people. Bendy ankles, floppy ankles, that works the best! It might cost you 2p out of your fee though.