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Into the Comfort Zone

February 1, 2013

We so often talk about “getting out of the comfort zone”, but in reality, we can only execute at the peak of technical proficiency when we are “in the comfort zone”. The following blog describes the efforts of a year-round swim coach to raise his swimmers level of comfort when performing flip turns. Similar to the way that driving 60 MPH feels really slow after you have been going 100 MPH, his activities are efforts at “acclimitization” (note: safety and supervision are key when attempting any drills or activities). While the pursuit of more comfortable flip-turns may not be directly applicable to an open water swimmer, or even someone who does not do flip turns, the basic principle is the same – fear undermines focus and focus is the essential ingredient to peak performance.

Speeding Into the Wall
We have been trying to ‘embrace the fall’ all season, especially in respect to approaching a turn in free and back. Many of them decelerate (even the elite swimmers) as they approach a wall for simple lack of spacial awareness and confidence in their training. I noticed in workout one day how they all raise their head as they approach a turn in free (sectional level swimmers) and asked them bluntly what they were doing and they all responded with the fear of hitting the wall! So that inspired me to work on what we have termed ‘stroke accelerators’, (really poor name for this drill as it doesn’t really describe what we are doing), where we accelerate to top speed to the flags and attempt to carry the speed into the flip with no fear (or less and less as time goes on). I know it is a very basic concept but it has them focused on racing into the wall and keeping their head down and their speed up, it is particularly successful for backstroke as we are doing stroke count to the flags so they anticipate the flags and can accelerate from the expected arrival of the flags rather than be surprised by the arrival of the flags.

This was reinforced by a video on floswimming where a group of swimmers, including Nathan Adrian, were doing a running start and diving in at the flags and racing through the turn. I embraced this high speed approach to the flip and used this drill with varying success at practice. Again because many of them were afraid of hitting the wall from 5 yards out and were therefore bracing for impact and decelerating.

This also reminded me of an article I recently read from USA Swimming ( where Stu Kahn used juggling and riding a unicycle as a form of creating athleticism, brought me back to the days at OSC playing hackey sack in the back courtyard. I have always believed that increasing athleticism can not only make them better athletes and therefore more adept at picking up stroke corrections but can at the same time add the joy to workout that is often lacking at elite levels of training. From playing disc golf to football and ultimate frisbee to running outside in the woods in the spring/fall and summer this all breaks the monotony of training and still achieves the impact of making the swimmers better athletes now and in the long run.

David Hardy is the head coach of Flying Gull Aquatic Club in the suburban Maryland/D.C. Metro area.

From → Coaching, Swimming

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