by Elizabeth Dohm – Waterworks On Wheels Instructor & Office Assistant
At Waterworks On Wheels, we offer lessons for children who are non-swimmers, those who can swim and want prepare for swim team, and every level in between. While we do not have a competitive swim team, we do offer our competitive swimming class which breaks down the four strokes and completely readies a child for a recreational swim team. Not only does it prepare a child for swim team, but we give them the tools to allow them to succeed on a swim team. From freestyle breathing to butterfly endurance, our trained instructors strip down the strokes to the most basic steps so your child understands why the technique is important.
In a competitive swimming class, freestyle is broken down into these 3 steps:
Step 1: Just Like You’re Making Mac & Cheese
The power from the freestyle is derived from the kick. It is the propelling force, the “motor”. Children often mistake a fast kick for a big, splashy kick. In reality, an efficient freestyle kick must be small and fast and legs must be straight. Terms such as “make the water boil, like you’re making Mac & Cheese”, “Barbie doll legs”, and “toe bubbles” help children to grasp this concept. At Waterworks On Wheels, we use “superman” (streamlined arms with a small, fast, straight-leg kick) to commit the kick to muscle memory.
Step 2: Put Your Hands Where I Can See Them!
If freestyle kicks are thought of as a motor propelling a boat, then freestyle arms are similar to oars rowing a boat. Freestyle arms can assist in propelling a swimmer through the water if done correctly; however, poor technique can slow a swimmer down. This is referred to as “drag”. When teaching proper arm technique it is important for a swimmer to understand that water is harder to move through than air. Arms must be out of the water for the “reach” and under water for the “pull”. To properly lift arms out of the water, a swimmer must lead with their elbow (which is simplified for children to “high elbows”). High elbows properly align the swimmer’s arm for the reach. After the reach comes the smooth entry. Waterworks’ signature term for smooth entry is “airplane landing” (that is, the landing we all want our airline pilot to make). The airplane landing readies the child’s arm position for the pull. To maximize the result from the pull, it must be done completely under water. Many drills are used to practice the different components of freestyle arms. A few of these drills are “fingertip drag” (which works on high elbows and airplane landings), “catch-up” (which work on underwater pull), and “thumb drill” (which exaggerates the high elbow technique). Reminding kids to “put your hands where I can see them” keeps each reach well out of the water.
Step 3: Superman and Noodles: The Key to a Good Side Breath
Once students master freestyle arms and kicks they must learn to breathe efficiently. Lifting the head straight out of the water in a “yes” motion drastically slows the momentum of the stroke. The proper way to breath is called bilateral interval breathing (which is just a fancy way of saying “breathing to both sides with a break between breaths”). The most common interval for bilateral breathing is “breathe every three”. Breathing every three arm strokes (on the 3rd stroke) will naturally guide students to breathe to both sides. When teaching this method to students, Waterworks On Wheels instructors use key phrases and tricks. The most common method of teaching side breathing at Waterworks is to start using a pool noodle. The noodle helps young swimmers to balance in the water as they turn to breathe. The noodle is then replaced by the “superman” with a side breath (including the arm pull) and then finally incorporated into the full stroke. When swimmers learn the proper breathing techniques, it aligns their body properly in the water and brings the entire stroke together.