Swink or swim 

We can surely agree that there is both long term memory and short term memory.  How is swimming affected by this?  And what the heck does swink mean?

When we are young we experience the world with a blank slate. Once we have practiced new things long enough, in our short term memory, like walking or talking, they are moved into long term memory. Simply speaking you can do them without actively thinking.  So then our thoughts get on with more important things while we continue to control our formerly difficult actions through our long term memory.

However like language, small changes begin to emerge; like a local dialect. Similarly, as vehicle drivers, we cut corners, fail to signal properly, roll through stop signs, hold the steering wheel with one hand, and are distracted by roadside curiosities or mobile phones.  Vigilant driving can save your life, but concentration takes practice, bad habits can surreptitiously form.


Swink or swim?

Laziness is not the only guilty party to weaken habits. Sometimes a change happens due to an adjustment to an event. For example if you miscounted your strokes into the wall on backstroke and smashed into the wall. After that you may always slow down into the wall and look rather than count strokes making your turn slower than it should be. Maybe you hit another swimmer head-on. After that you will swim looking forwards with your head up high. Another example is a swimmer may have swallowed a lot of water and so they change to raise up their head very high to get their mouth far from the surface. If a swimmer doesn’t know they have changed then they won’t change. So it becomes their new ‘normal’.

An inexperienced instructor or coach may innocently describe a stroke section completely wrong but it may still give some forward propulsion so its left as ‘good enough’. Sometimes a problem is too difficult to fix and has exasperated the coach like the ubiquitous horror: inverted breaststroke kick. These things must be changed.

Our brain learns how to do things by creating and sending a complex message to our body. I describe that messaging process, and how it becomes normal to swimmers, like this: The first person to walk across a field covered in snow has a tough time but importantly they leave a steps. The next person follows those same steps and over time a path is created. To move out of that path requires a change and is much harder than staying in the path. Creating a new path right next to the original path can be tricky.  Paths that are very close together can trick you into the original because it’s an easier  and more established way.  To create a new path takes vigilance and then to make a change you must swim AND think: swink.


Once a new path is created then it will move into long term memory and an automatic system starts to take over. To change a stroke, a swimmer must be explained how and why, plus some experimental drills developed, to learn the new skill. A swimmer then can understand why they are making the change and then are more aware of the reasons behind it.  Then the  stroke must be monitored periodically to ensure it has been successful.

img_0855 When making changes, one change is enough, but two is possible if it is an interrelated action.  This makes monitoring easier for both the swimmer and coach.

In a 1-2-1 scenario changes can be made easily and quickly. From that point onwards swinking is essential until the new stroke moves into long term memory. A new path has been created and the old path becomes covered over.

Without swinking you will sink.

About Coach Gary

I competed in the 1988 Olympics in Seoul representing Canada and coached in the 2000 and 2004 Olympics for Great Britain. I have a degree in History and a minor degree in Psychology from University of Calgary. I have travelled extensively and have been very lucky to see so much of the world while representing Canada and Great Britain at swimming competitions. I am very proud of the fact that I coached a swimmer to become number one in the world in the fastest swimming race in 2002. I pride myself in my ability to find new and interesting ways to teach swimming. I am an accomplished artist specialising in sculpture, I have another blog called 'swimmingart' where I publish some of my swimming drawings. I have three young children; all boys. I have recently taken up painting and yoga....but not at the same time. You can see my new paintings at: https://www.artgallery.co.uk/artist/gary_Vandermeulen
This entry was posted in General Knowledge on swimming and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s