Successful teaching and, thus learning how to swim, is totally based on using appropriate imagery. To do so, a trainer is supposed to be fully qualified according to Swimming.org. Which means the following to me, whether a trainer has a competitive swimming background or not, they definitely need to have a comprehensive understanding of the right stroke technique for each recognized competitive stroke. Techniques are fundamental to teaching the correct stroke patterns and maintain good observations. In addition to the above they must be qualified to teach.
Knowledge of the laws and principles of water is needed in order to better address the subject. For a example, thanks to the Archimedes principle or the law of buoyancy, it’s a well-known fact that a body at rest fully submerged in water is naturally pushed up. Not only do swimming drills help to learn how to swim but also if this natural support from the water is taken into consideration, the learning process becomes more efficient. They learn to be supported by water subconsciously.
As written in the same article on Swimming.org, “Keep lessons interesting and appropriate” which is the second quality out of seven qualities of a good swimming teacher. What comes to my mind is Albert Einstein’s saying,
Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler
A trainer shouldn’t waste their students’ time on long explanations on what they are supposed to perform. Learners fall into the following categories: visual, auditory and tactile. Trainers will benefit if they understand that the students might belong to either of those categories. The students can differ in their levels, abilities to learn, and/or being prone to some particular stroke, i.e., freestylers and breaststrokers. Speaking for myself, I combine explanations and demonstrations as clearly and precisely as possible.
Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world
is another beautiful quote from Einstein.
In my experience children use their imaginations to be creative when they make up their own analogies, and this could be useful to help improve their swimming strokes and skills.
A very good example of this is one of my little students who at the very beginning of our classes called her style of swimming the «heart-stroke» which resembled breaststroke. Later, when she started to swim breaststroke “the right way”, she started to give the sequences names, leopard for the breaststroke arms, frog which is obviously for the breaststroke leg kick and the arrow for the glide needed to perform the breaststroke itself. This very sequence, when I ask her to perform the breaststroke, I actually use her word sequence with strong use of intonation on “the arrow” which allows her to swim a nearly perfect breaststroke with the correct timing of pull, breathe, kick, glide.
Swimming is not the only physical activity that uses analogies. For example, in yoga there are poses or asans that have their own names, such as Child pose, Cobra, Downward Facing Dog and so on. These “imagery words and phrases” easily paint a picture in the student’s mind. The yoga instructors use these names for the verbal cues for the appropriate positions.
Although all the swimming trainers have detailed knowledge of the techniques for all the strokes there is a danger this could lead to information overload and complications which can make conveying the instructions to a learner more difficult.
Let’s take, for an example the backstroke leg kick. The technical point here is that the action starts at the hip but, is it clear enough for a learner to understand and then perform this? What I usually do is I ask my students to kick their legs so that their knees and toes stay under the water, but the toes and not the knees should create a fountain.
Some time ago I watched a video of Mickey Wender, the head swim coach of the University of Washington, talking about some basic concepts which helps an individual to swim from a technique stand point. He talks about breaststroke and introduces the swimming drills for learning and perfecting the breaststroke.
Mickey Wender uses the following visual cue; you have a big bowl of ice-cream out in front of you and it’s filled with your favourite flavoured ice-cream. Imagine you reach out to the edge of the bowl, scrape the edges of the bowl, get as much as you can, bring it to your mouth and go back for more.
As soon as I heard this analogy the imagery worked perfectly for me and I immediately added it to my arsenal of imagery terminology. And by the way it works every time.
To sum up I think the most swimming trainers would accept that imagery plays an important role in the process of teaching swimming. However, the imagery must fit with the correct technique, because if it doesn’t work it will lead to imperfect technique which brings to mind the well-known quotation “Practice makes permanent. Perfect practice makes perfect”.