Coaching Development – Attending the Swim Smooth Coaches Course

I first encountered Swim Smooth on my way back from Ironman Western Australia. After the race I stopped in Perth and visited Paul Newsome at his pool. He spent an hour filming and analysing my swim before giving me drills and advice to improve my stroke. The impact was huge. I can’t claim it made me significantly faster, but I became significantly more efficient.

Swim Smooth Swim Analysis - Russell Cox

A second session a year later showed the improved technique and efficiency. This translated to improvements in pace with more swimming and increased time at threshold. My current undertrained condition lacks the conditioning to match last year’s peak pace. Attempting to draft Paul on a threshold set was ample demonstration of the hard work lacking from my schedule. I’ve eight months to set myself up for a superb 2012

I didn’t travel to Loughborough to improve my own technique; this trip was about developing as a coach. I’m constantly looking to improve my skills and enhance the coaching I provide my athletes. I knew from personal experience how valuable the Swim Smooth approach had been in my own development. Swim Smooth take a practical approach, they don’t believe in a single perfect stroke. They aim to find a stroke that suits the individual; whatever proves effective.

The course focussed on demonstrating how we could apply Swim Smooth’s techniques and principles ourselves; looking at what they do and how they do it. They have the same practical approach to teaching as they do swimming so the first activity was filming our own strokes to analyse in the classroom. Just like a Swim Smooth clinic there were a range of abilities amongst the coaches so we saw a variety of stroke flaws and consider how best they can be addressed.

Using my video as an example, we categorised me as a Smooth by their swim types. I wasn’t always that way, a few years following Swim Smooth advice changed my stroke for the better; I’m not always a Smooth, I was more like a Swinger drafting Paul on Friday! We quickly noted a few flaws: the left hand crossing the midline resulting in a small scissor kick; the right hand pulling through slightly wide and my left catch being variable in quality. My main focus is stopping that mild cross over, correcting that will straighten up my stroke further.

All twelve coaches went through the same analysis and categorisation; we may not have come to improve our own swimming, but there was plenty of guidance. After more theory on freestyle technique we headed back to the pool to observe a one-to-one session with an athlete. As Paul went through the session we applied the morning’s analysis to make our own judgements. His skill as a coach is remarkable, rapidly identifying the most effective means to improve a stroke; not just choosing the right drills, but communicating them in a way that motivates and encourages. Experience shows.

The session was the starting point to discuss Swim Smooth’s swim types system in depth. They emphasise that there is no one stroke fits all solution, but recognise broad categories of swimmers. Types share common traits in personality, build and most importantly stroke; the stereotyping works remarkably well, you can often recognise an Arnie before they get in the water. The system enables you to quickly identify areas of the stroke likely to need focus, if you have an Overglider then you know the catch is something to address. Sometimes athletes cross categories and it’s a matter of picking the most relevant or utilising the correction methods from both. It’s not perfect, but a useful tool.

Day two contained a similar mix of theory and practical. I particularly appreciated the presentation Adam gave on the Swim Smooth business model and how this can work for other coaches. His views on brand development were a confirmation of the approach I’ve taken so far and the success they’ve had with it is inspiring. Nothing to do with swimming, but it motivated me to work harder on developing CoachCox. Discussing the concepts with Adam has given me a number of ideas. I’ve no plans to announce, but some interesting items in the pipeline.

The bulk of the day was practical. A second one-to-one swim analysis with a very different athlete highlighted how Paul adapts his approach to the individual. Then a session with three upcoming triathletes to see elite strokes in action, proof that a variety of styles and stroke rates can be effective. Stroke rate was a common theme and the elites were used to demonstrate the impact of changing rate. Paul used a Wetronome to vary their stroke rate from too slow to far too fast; it was interesting to see how each struggled beyond different rates.

By the end of Friday we had watched several hours of Swim Smooth coaching and analysis. We’d covered a broad range of topics: stroke technique, critical swim speed (CSS), swim types, stroke rate and the ape index to name a few. I already felt more empowered to understand my athletes’ strokes and had new ways to address the flaws. To round out the course we had a final day observing and assisting on a full Swim Smooth Clinic.

The clinic was a standard Swim Smooth day – starting with the filming and analysis; finishing with practicing a series of drills to address each swimmer’s technique. The twelve athletes who attended had the bonus of an individual coach to watch over them as they followed Paul’s instructions. It was good to be so involved in the process and directly apply the theory from previous days. For those of us who coach at squads it also demonstrated how Paul applies his approach to a wider group and still ensures each individual gets the attention they need. By the end of the clinic it was clear every swimmer felt they had a means to improve their swimming and take steps towards a better stroke.

Three days of study proved more exhausting than any workouts I could have done, I’m glad I’d scheduled an easy week! The course was a remarkable learning experience, crammed with information. If one thing defines Swim Smooth it’s quality, the passion for swim education is evident throughout. There is much I can bring to my own coaching and I genuinely feel it will help me up my game; when things are ticking along it can feel like you’re resting on your laurels. My motivation for coaching is refreshed and I can’t wait to start working on some new ideas.