Individual Coaching for Competitive Swimming Athletes

It is not uncommon for parents to call us regarding lessons to improve technique for their club swimmer. Private lessons do add expense to the process of developing an athlete, but the results can be seen in not only skill improvement but also in many other areas both tangible and intangible.  Tennis players, golfers, cyclists, and athletes in various other individual and team type sports depend on private coaching to refine skills, improve fitness, change up strategy, and take them to the next level of performance.  The inherent nature of swim clubs and number of athletes per coach makes it difficult to provide individual attention to all swimmers.  At times, it is the gifted or elite athletes that gain the most attention during practices. This leaves other swimmers missing out on what could be the potential for a future in the sport beyond club or high school. What can a private lesson do for your swimmer? Well, for starters, it gives them an opportunity to communicate with a technical coach about what they need and want to work on with no pressure to do sets or have peers looking on. In addition to the skill components, private coaching can help a swimmer overcome a plateau, develop better race strategy, discover their strengths within the sport, and become mentally and physically engaged in the process of change so they can better apply this during practices and competition. Most importantly, it offers confidence boosting and the athlete gains self belief from the experience. This can amplify performance in swimming as well as other pursuits in life.

“To excel at the highest level - or any level, really - you need to believe in yourself, and hands down, one of the biggest contributors to my self-confidence has been private coaching.” ~Stephen Curry, 2014-15 NBA Most Valuable Player

What Swimming Taught Me About Happiness

~Richard A. Friedman

Lesson No. 1: It’s not about how fast you can go.

One day, a few years ago, I was rushing from the pool dripping wet when a man with a Russian accent stopped me and said, “You must come to svim with the team.” I was in my early 50s — too old for swim team, I thought. But the coach — Igor was his name — persisted: “I see you are good svimmer.”

Intrigued, and being a sucker for flattery, I relented and joined his ragtag group of swimmers. Workouts started at 5:30 in the morning, when most sane people were tucked in bed. It didn’t matter because no matter how sleepy we were, we were guaranteed to be wide-awake, if not euphoric, when we finished. We enjoyed our camaraderie and although we were all at different swimming levels, we had one thing in common: We wanted to get better.

One day, a bunch of us were grousing about how little progress we were making in our swim times, how slow we were.

Ever the philosopher of the pool, Igor smiled and said, “You are all confused! Speed is not the goal; it is the result of perfect beautiful technique.”

What really mattered to Igor was excellence — the efficient stroke. Once you mastered that, he argued, speed would follow naturally. Speed was simply the welcome side effect of swimming well.

I’ve been thinking lately that there’s a lesson here that goes beyond the pool. We all wanted to swim faster and the more hysterically we tried, the more speed escaped us. The same goes for happiness. Everyone wants to be happy, yet the more directly we pursue happiness, the more elusive it becomes.

We’ve all experienced this phenomenon. Think, for example, about your coming vacation. You are excited about going to the beach or mountains and relaxing with lots of free time. How happy you are going to be! Then you start to plan out what you’ll do, what you need to bring, what restaurants you need a reservation for. Soon you’re feeling a bit stressed out about your future pleasure.

Research shows that thinking too much about how to be happy actually backfires and undermines well-being. This is in part because all that thinking consumes a fair amount of time, and is not itself enjoyable.

The researchers behind this study, called “Vanishing Time in the Pursuit of Happiness,” randomly assigned subjects to one of two tasks: One group was asked to write down 10 things that could make them become happier, while the other wrote 10 things that demonstrated that they were already happy.

The subjects were then asked to what extent they felt time was slipping away and how happy they felt at that moment. Those prompted to think about how they could become happier felt more pressed for time and significantly less happy.

This jibes with the argument the journalist Ruth Whippman makes in her 2016 book “America the Anxious: How Our Pursuit of Happiness Is Creating a Nation of Nervous Wrecks.” Trying too hard to be happy — downloading mindfulness apps, taking yoga classes, reading self-help books — mostly just stresses us out, she writes. So what should we do instead? Maybe simply hang out with some friends, doing something we like to do together: “Study after study shows that good social relationships are the strongest, most consistent predictor there is of a happy life.”

Which brings me back to swimming. When I swim, I feel that I have all the time in the world, in part because much of what marks time — my everyday life — vanishes the moment I step in the water. And all the while I’m there with my buddies, bound by mutual exertion and joking about life.

Our technique has improved, thanks to Igor. We have a smoother pull, never dropping our elbows, and a steadier flutter kick. Some days, I swim a little faster than I did before. But even if I don’t, I feel great.

In the end, happiness is a side effect of living well — just like speed can be the result of excellent swimming technique. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to the pool.

Richard A. Friedman is a professor of clinical psychiatry and the director of the psychopharmacology clinic at the Weill Cornell Medical College, and a contributing opinion writer for The New York Times

The New York Times; NYTimes.com; July 27, 2019

Blue Mind - Experience Life

~Wallace J. Nichols

Go Swimming

Even the most landlocked among us can usually find our way to a lake, stream, or pool, and swimming is an excellent way to get your Blue Mind on.

The feel-good effects of swimming are similar to the “relaxation response” triggered by activities like hatha yoga. In swimming, the muscles are constantly stretching and relaxing, and this movement is accompanied by deep rhythmic breathing, all of which helps put swimmers in a quasi-meditative state.

Like other forms of aerobic exercise, swimming stimulates the release of endorphins and endocannabinoids (the brain’s natural painkilling substances), and these reduce the brain’s stress and anxiety response.

Finally, swimming builds brain strength even as it relaxes the mind. We may spend our first nine months in the “water” of the womb, and we are born with basic abilities to kick in the water, but the crawl and sidestroke are skills we learn. This means that the combination of cognitive effort and aerobic exercise involved in swimming can provide the brain with the satisfying, stress-reducing feeling of “flow” that comes with the practice of an embodied skill.

Excerpted from the book: Blue Mind, Wallace J. Nichols, PhD, 2015; Little, Brown and Company, New York, NY

Blue Mind and Flow


~Wallace J. Nichols

How being around water can help us overcome creative blocks

Benjamin Franklin, Edmond Rostand, and Vladimir Nabokov did much of their writing while in bathtubs. Hilary Mantel reports that she takes showers when she gets stuck in her writing. Oliver Sacks reportedly got over his writer’s block with long swims every day in Long Island Sound.

“There is something about being in water and swimming which alters my mood, gets my thoughts going, as nothing else can,” Sacks writes. “Sentences and paragraphs would write themselves in my mind, and at such times I would have to come to shore every so often to discharge them.”

Being on, in, around, or near water can calm our overactive minds while it imbues our senses. It might help overcome creative blocks because of our long-term association between water and the unconscious mind. It may also help us by tapping into ancient neural maps that we developed when the sight of water provided us with the pleasing message that we could survive.

Either way, it’s clear that water can help us access the state called “flow,” where we connect to the default mode network, or daydreaming parts of our brain. This can restore our ability to focus and perform cognitive and creative tasks with greater ease.

Excerpted from the book: Blue Mind, Wallace J. Nichols, PhD, 2015; Little, Brown and Company, New York, NY

Wallace J. Nichols, PhD is a research associate at the California Academy of Sciences and cofounder of OceanRevolution.org. He hosts the annual Blue Mind conference, where neuroscientists and cognitive researchers gather to explore neuroconservation, or how our deep connection with nature might influence the desire to protect it.

Learn to Swim for a Safe Summer

Long summer days means more water activities at the beach, lake, river, or pool.  With greater access to water in summer months, comes increased risks for water accidents or even drowning.  Learning to swim is the best way to be safe near any body of water. Be sure to have your child’s swimming skills tested by a qualified instructor before summer. Children regress in endurance and skill when they haven’t had swim instruction year round.  Drowning can happen anywhere, even in a small backyard wading pool.  Be sure to supervise children and teens around water at all times and never swim alone. Building survival and swimming skills takes time so schedule your lessons well in advance of the summer season and your next vacation near water.  Year round lessons and participation on a swim team can keep your family safe and fit and is an investment for LIFE!

Open Water Safety

The chilly air and wind in February and March makes us know winter is still here, but there are signs of spring in the longer days of sunshine.  You might be making  summer plans for activities near water such as boating or beaching, or preparing for a triathlon swim.  However, keep in mind that open water is a powerful force that we should respect.  We can’t always avoid every danger inherent in open water, but there are some we can learn to handle better such as rip currents that account for 80 percent of beach rescues.

They are powerful, channeled currents of water flowing away from shore that quickly pull swimmers out to sea. Rip currents typically extend from the shoreline, through the surf zone, and past the line of breaking waves. The best way to stay safe is to recognize the danger of rip currents. If caught in one, don't fight it! Swim parallel to the shore and swim back to land at an angle. Always remember to swim at beaches with lifeguards. (National Ocean Service)

Also, in summer months, electrical storms occur frequently so be alert.  At the first sound of thunder or sighting of lighting, get out of the water and move to a building.  Wait 30 minutes after the last sounds or sightings to re-enter the water and always wait for lifeguards to give the OK when they are supervising the beach, lake, or pool area. 

Whether boating, water skiing, paddle boarding, or jet skiing, a PFD (Personal Flotation Device) is necessary equipment.  Be sure to wear the proper type and best fit U.S. Coast Guard approved device.  While safety practices and equipment are essential for open water activities, children and adults will benefit from learning to swim and becoming strong swimmers to protect themselves and react in aiding another person in an emergency.

Short Course Swim Season

As another new year begins, swimmers are busily preparing for big meets in the short course season.  In Pennsylvania and many other states, it is also high school swim season so families are on go!  While it might be tough to fit one more thing into your schedule, consider that this is a great time to take a technique lesson and do some tweaking on starts and turns.  Given short course requires more turning, it can make or break a decent swim.  In practice sessions, swimmers have to swim in circle format making it challenging to really focus on target turns.  Even with specific turn practice, it never seems enough to get it right under pressure.  This is where a private lesson can really help you to break down the mechanics and rebuild the turn for conciseness and speed.

Swimming is Not Just a Summer Sport.

With the summer season ending and the start of a new school year, there are many schedule changes and challenges and it is typical to put swimming lessons on hold for next spring or summer.  However, even good swimmers regress without regular practice and new swimmers will lose skill and endurance without regular skills reinforcement.  Keep your child or teen swimming at least two or three times per week to maintain fitness in the pool throughout the school year and try to fit one lesson in each week to continue progressing skills learned in the summer months. 

Swim with Purpose

Are you swimming aimless laps without a real plan or purpose?  This can lead to poor technique and little improvement in conditioning.  When you head for the pool, make a plan for your workout.  Drills for stroke improvement can not only make you faster, but also makes workouts more interesting and can benefit your muscles and joints with the variety of different planes of motion and different strokes.  Add interval training to challenge your aerobic and anaerobic systems for improving speed.  Workout with a group so you can be challenged by swimming with a goal and with better swimmers.  Try using various types of equipment if you haven't already such as paddles, fins, or pull buoys.  Any or all of these methods will keep you charged up about your swimming!

Swimming and Factors that Affect Learning

Learning involves changes in behavior that result from practice or experience. A professionally qualified swim instructor is able to make this process work best by focusing on factors that influence skill accomplishment.  These factors include: fear of water, setting goals, feedback and practice, motivation, and success and fun!

Fear of water and anxiety can lessen a participant’s ability to learn. Many new swimmers will be apprehensive and for good reason.  It is not unusual for students to feel out of control in the water and with a new instructor.  Fearful students may exhibit behaviors that a seasoned instructor can respond to in a way that helps them work through this and establish trust for their instructor.   It takes several lessons to build trust and to help the student realize that you will work at their pace and comfort  level.  This is why it is important to plan on taking several lessons and be patient with the process.

Goal setting helps students to focus especially during periods of learning difficult skills. It also helps shape their motivation.  Helping the student to establish goals and value for learning to swim gives purpose and direction to practice time. Participants need both short term, and long term goals. Short term goals may be something that a person can achieve by the end of a given lesson, or the end of a week. To change or improve performance, participants must first understand the goal of each skill and each lesson.  For younger children, the goals are to develop foundational skills, respect for the water, and learn safety practices.  As students progress, goals become more finite.  With the more competitive swim athlete, the goal may be to refine technique in all strokes and turns to achieve qualifying times for event(s). In the case of a tri-athlete, swimming may be the weak link to overall achievement so improving freestyle will be the key goal.  Long term goals might take several weeks, months, or even years.  These are met as the person successfully achieves a series of short term goals.  The purpose of long term goal setting is to motivate the student by helping them see a benefit to success in swimming – for example: going to a swim birthday party and being able to play in the deep end, becoming a lifeguard, or competing and winning a swimming event or triathlon. 

Giving positive and specific feedback to the student of swimming is very important in gaining their trust and confidence in the learning process.  Quality feedback requires careful communication about the skill and performance and it has to be honest.  While it is helpful to say a student did a good job, it more valuable to say why or what exactly they did well or what they need to correct.  When a student receives honest and specific feedback indicating they have reached a goal, it helps them to trust their instructor and boosts motivation and enthusiasm to continue to improve.   

Motivation built on successful accomplishments is valuable to encouraging more practice which leads to more success.  Finding what works to motivate a student is more of an art than a science.  Motivation is an internal drive that keeps people moving toward a goal.  This is essential to the achievement of goals in swimming and establishes the discipline to succeed in both sport and life!

A Wellness Solution for All Ages...Swimming

While obesity has greatly risen among Americans and significantly in young people, the sport of swimming may well be the secret to wellness and an activity that can keep all individuals healthy and fit into old age. If you have ever spent much time around a lap pool, you will note that many seniors swim daily and maintain a great sense of overall well being, healthy body weight, strength and flexibility, along with a youthful spirit. Those that swim regularly will testify that “we can't live without it” as it provides amazingly positive mind-body and physiological benefits. Some will even tell you it is a spiritual time for them to meditate amidst endless laps.

Swimming...we all would agree is a vital skill in preventing drowning which is one of the leading causes of death in young children. However, what you may not know is that Swimming is the fastest growing sport for young people and an activity that promotes healthy lifestyles and relationships among parents and their children, coaches, peers, and even competitors. According to the most recent statistics by USA Swimming,

“Membership in USA Swimming has topped 400,000; more than 350,000 of whom are athlete members, with an additional 18,000 coach members and 2,800 member clubs. This represents 46% growth in the past 10 years. The retention rate is 75%, and for athletes age 13 and older the retention rate increases to more than 90%. In today’s youth sport marketplace these are eye-popping positive numbers.” (USA Swimming)

These statistics are hopeful signs that young people are active. Join the growing numbers. Invest in your children's wellness future and your own by learning to swim with a qualified instructor. Once you are swimming well, you will discover the benefits for yourself. It is one of the best health, wellness, and safety returns for your investment.

Strength Training for Kids, is it a Good Idea?

            CLIMB, SWING, JUMP, THROW, REACH AND HANG…ever watch young children play in a playground equipped with ladders, slides, rings, bars, and chutes!  All this fun is really about exploration and growing…growing in agility, coordination, endurance and STRENGTH.  So why is it that there are still doubts about resistance training for children?  Why do few sports programs offer young athletes a quality resistance training experience and why is childhood obesity in epidemic levels in the United States? Well, for year’s people believed that strength training would negatively impact growth. 

Two of the most common misconceptions are that strength training may stunt the growth of children and that children should not lift weights until they are 12 years old. There is simply no evidence to support either of these statements. In fact, all of the major fitness and medical organizations in the U.S. recommend strength training for youth, assuming that basic guidelines are adhered to and that appropriate leadership is present. And about the question of age, children can begin to train with weights as soon as they are able to accept and follow directions—usually around the age of seven or eight.” (Strength Training for Kids: A Guide for Parents and Teachers, American Council on Exercise Fit Facts)

Still, some coaches…and parents believe that strength training for children is unsafe.  So to get them in shape for sports, they prescribe calisthenics. But most young children have difficulty performing push-ups, dips, pull-ups and even sit-ups correctly or repetitively. Actually, a well designed moderate resistance training program provides a means for building specific strength in muscle groups that can improve kids’ ability to perform calisthenics and protect the joints from injury.  In fact, the American College of Sports Medicine states that fifty percent of pre-adolescent sports injuries could be prevented, in large part, by enrolling kids in youth strength and conditioning programs (ACSM l993)