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High school swimming: "the quest for Gold", Part I.

It is ironic that in sunny Southern California during the pre-World War II years, there were very few high school swim teams simply because of the dearth of year-round pools.


Less than a decade later, coinciding with the population boom, most of the new high schools were being built with swimming pools on the campus or adjacent to a community year-round facility. In addition, all the new homes were being built with pools and private swim schools were popping up all over.

This sudden boom in swim schools was directly attributed to the "Quest for Gold", a movement orchestrated by a group of influential critics who felt that the U.S. needed more young elite swimmers to compete with the European athletes in the Olympic Games. In the year that followed, the number of swim schools multiplied ten-fold.

That was the good news. The not-so-good-news was that in many of our high schools today there are not enough athletes to compete in four-level swimming meets.

The small number of male youths is more noticeable in the middle and lower socio-economic areas. As a high school swimming official in Southern California, I'm always wondering whether the rest of our schools are experiencing the same problem.

In Southern California, over 90% of the high schools have elaborate swimming facilities. In many of the older schools, the pools range from double-wide 25-yard competitive pools to a single 25-yard competitive pool to a single 25-yard six-lane pool alongside of a warm-up pool.

Two high schools have newly built 50-meter by 25-yard Olympic-sized pools with state-of-the-art electronic timing systems and bleachers.

With the number of pools available, it is difficult to understand why all the high schools do not have enough boys to compete in a four-level meet.

There has always been a larger turn-out of qualified swimmers in the higher socio-economic areas, enabling them to swim six-level meets. These areas provide swimmers with agegroup and YMCA expertise, many of whom have recorded faster times than some of the senior swimmers.

Largely due to Title IX, there has also been a noticeable increase in female swimmers. The colleges are offering considerably more swimming scholarships to them, largely because of their availability.

The elite male swimmers have no problem getting scholarships to Division I colleges. The marginal swimmers usually have to enroll in Division II or III.

Many of the boys who aren't offered scholarships will continue swimming to keep in shape, but focus more on water polo. Needless to say, the main conversation from the parents in the bleachers is about scholarships.

It is not unusual to see a strong, well-coordinated youngster who can throw and catch a ball do somersaults in the air or run and jump effortlessly power his way to a fast 250-yard freestyle swim while holding his breath. Yet, more often than not, be unable to swim a relaxed 50 yards using a rhythmic breathing pattern.

Many well-coordinated adults can swim the crawl stroke faultlessly, holding his breath, but stop swimming the moment they have to take a breath.

Learning to breath rhythmically is one of the basic skills that should be taught in every swimming class. Many athletes are unable to develop a good breathing pattern. This accounts for the large number of adults who can swim the breast stroke, which does not require the coordinated breathing you need in the crawl.

An experienced coach might recruit the youngster who can swim a fast 25 yards holding his breath, then start him on distance swimming to help build up his endurance to correct his breathing problem and stroke.

The wise coach will take a step back and analyze the reason for shortness of breath. It could be because the swimmer is so uncomfortable in the water that his natural reaction would be to over-kick. The swimmer may often solve the problems by slowing down the kick.

When in doubt, the coach should review the swimmer's basic skill of rhythmic breathing. There are many ways to adapt a breathing pattern for the individual swimmer.

In the freestyle, the arms create 90% of the power needed for that stroke. Roy Saari, the first man to swim the 1500 meters under 17 minutes, introduced a new theory for the crawl stroke by using a trdujen (scissors) kick with a two-beat flutter kick.

Swimming coaches started experimenting with a four-beat kick combined with a faster arm-turn over for their distance swimmers. It produced a tremendous drop in the clocking. While the arms provide most of the power to locomote through the water, the flutter kick basically stabilizes the body position.

With beginning swimmers, it's important to work on basic fundamentals before exposing the athletes to too much distance.

The Southern Cal schools with smaller numbers of swimmers are placed in leagues that are compatible in the size and quality of their swimmers. Most of the schools swim both the junior varsity and varsity swimmers in their league prelims.

Several of the leagues have so few swimmers that they can only swim their varsity in the league prelims. The exclusion of the JV swimmers from a league prelim will be detrimental to the program.

The prime objective of having JV athletes (no matter how few) in any sport is two-fold. It allows many more athletes to compete and it helps build up the varsity team.

The experience gained by competing in a championship meet helps develop confidence and motivation.

Many boys and girls in every student body have the potential to star in high school swimming. With a well-designed program and an energetic teacher/coach, these schools can develop a representative swimming team.

The revitalization of a beat-up swim team is a difficult task, but far from impossible. One of the prime objectives of the educator/coach is to provide students with the opportunity to learn and succeed in the classroom or the athletic field. All students want to succeed, and success breeds success. When the swimmers start learning the competitive strokes, the news will spread and encourage others to join the team.

To set out to look for a solution to a problem, one must acknowledge that there is a problem. It takes a highly motivated person to take over a failing program. It must be approached in two ways: by (1) providing adequate conditioning for the distance that the newcomers will swim and (2) plan the workouts and treat the athletes as you would for any pre-competitive class of young-age swimmers.

The quality of the high school swim teams can be enhanced by offering swimming classes as selective physical education units.

The teacher/coach should primarily focus on teaching swimmers and motivating the students to join the team. Some high school students, unless they live in affluent areas, probably never had a chance to take a swimming class.

What better way is there to slow down the high rate of dropouts? The more enthusiastic coaches will enlist the aid of the community by forming booster clubs and offering the use of their pools (after the high school practice) to community-sponsored 3-group swim clubs.


Even though there are similarities in coaching high school swimmers who have had none or little training and experience, age-group swimmers who have had years of competitive swimming, there are still some basic differences.

In high schools with very few experienced swimmers, the coach is a Teacher/Coach (more of a teacher, less of a coach).

The experienced swimmers have reached an emotional maturity and are primarily focused on preparing for competition. The younger high school swimmers haven't attained that stage of maturity. They are in the development stage, preparing for competition.

The Teacher/Coach emphasizes conditioning and prepares the swimmers to achieve winning times and peak for the big meet.

Both are concerned with stroke, but Teacher/Coach teaches basic skills while the Coach analyzes and corrects stroke.


Most researchers in the field of learning motor skills agree that motor skill learning can be defined as a change in movement patterns due to reinforced practice. In essence, the correct mechanics of the skill are presented by the teacher/coach in demonstrations, and then the skills are performed in the water in the form of drills. In workouts it is important to include the use of every stroke in every workout.


Several well-known methods of teaching skills have been used in the past by many physical education teachers, particularly the legendary Dr. James E. Counsilman in The Science of Swimming.

The Whole-Part Method involves a break-down of the skill into small units and worked on independently by teachers in beginning classes--a very structured approach.

The Whole Method, where the entire stroke is taught and the swimmer then instructed to focus on one specific skill while continuing to use the other skills in the stroke.

The body is set in the correct position for the stroke. A good example of the Whole Method is exemplified in the teaching of alternate breathing in the crawl stroke.


Both the Part Whole and the Whole methods of teaching motor skills have their merits and disadvantages. The swimmer's age and level of accomplishments should be considered when deciding which approach to use.


As a teacher/coach, it is important to recognize individual differences. The rate of improvement varies from one individual to another. Different body types and temperaments are the keys to predicting stroke specialization and defining distance swimmers from sprinters.

In teaching swimming skills, as in teaching all motor skills, the swimmer's level of physical and emotional maturity should be considered. The observant teacher/coach can tell which stroke could be the swimmer's strongest by taking into consideration the body structure and the way the swimmer walks.

The freestylers, backstrokers, and butterfly swimmers usually walk pigeon toed while the breaststrokers walk with the feet pronated (waddle like a duck).


Learning is best achieved by repeating each skill for very short periods of time every day. Dwelling on the same skill for long periods becomes boring and ineffective. It is amazing to observe young swimmers react to the short-period repetitive method of teaching. If the teacher/coach presents a skill out of sequence, swimmers will instantly react: "Coach! You missed using the right hand only."

It is interesting that all successful college football and basketball coaches use the same drills in every practice.

All young swimmers can benefit from workouts that are designed to combine the teaching of basic skills with a moderate amount of conditioning. By using the repetitive stroke type of work-outs, not only will the Frosh/Soph and Junior Varsity swimmers learn but also gain a sufficient amount of conditioning to swim the meets.
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Title Annotation:SWIMMING
Author:Jacobs, Bert
Publication:Coach and Athletic Director
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 1, 2008
Previous Article:Women's Basketball Coaches Association.
Next Article:Strength training for middle school athletes.

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