I would like to dedicate this article to a topic that has been on my mind for a while now: the importance of mastering techniques before learning to perform them fast.
When you begin to learn a new skill or technique – be it in the pool or otherwise – it is crucial that you take the time to teach your body how to do it properly before putting any real force behind it. Going through the motions in a slow and smooth manner will ensure that you understand the principles behind whatever it is you are trying to learn.
First, you need to ISOLATE the movement pattern.
Let’s use the front crawl as an example.
A new swimmer should not attempt to side-breathe on freestyle before they have a firm grasp on what the arms and legs are supposed to be doing. Without proficient strokes, a side breath will most likely be ill-timed and throw the rest of the body even more out of alignment than it already is.
And without a strong kick, good luck on getting any of the above to come together, period. Each of the skills must first be learned in an individual, slow and controlled manner.
This takes a good deal of time and patience, and at first, it might seem like you are making little or no progress whatsoever, but there will come a time (oftentimes sooner than you think) where it will just click and feel better than ever.
Only then should you begin to COORDINATE your new skill with others. In most cases, putting two or more skills together creates a new one entirely. In our example, once a swimmer has mastered both the flutter kick and arm strokes as individual skills, they are ready to combine them to create a new skill: the front crawl.
And once they have conquered the front crawl, they can begin to learn how to breathe to the side…first practicing it by itself, and then plugging it in to the full stroke.
All of the above is done slowly, with a keen attention to timing and detail. And even after all of the practice and preparation, a swimmer may not be able to move very far before they become too exhausted to continue with satisfactory technique. At that point, they enter the ESCALATION phase, that is, increasing distance and learning how to perform the stroke fast.
It is a matter of slowly building up some endurance, going a little bit farther each time and training the body to last longer, as well as learning how to swim faster while maintaining proper technique.
Having taught swim lessons and coached competitive swimmers for many years, I’ve encountered many teachers and coaches who rush their students through the skills, and add speed and distance to their lessons, hoping to appease both them and their parents by moving them on to the next level before they are ready. It only sets up future problems (including possible injuries) and unnecessary drama.
The same ISOLATE – COORDINATE – ESCALATE principle holds true for all athletes on the planet.
No two swimmers are alike. Each has their own strengths and weaknesses, and it is crucial that all parties – swimmers and coaches alike – understand this. Everyone progresses at their own rate. It is both unreasonable and unfair to compare one swimmer with another.
No two swimmers’ circumstances are alike.
Everyone is on their own journey. . . take the time to appreciate where you’re currently at, whether it’s at home, work, athletics, or some other endeavor. Each stage is unique, and will likely never come again once you’ve reached the next one, so don’t be in such a big rush to learn a technique that you’re not quite ready for.
If you do your due diligence and focus on the here and now – which could be something as simple as learning how to execute a proper flip-turn or do a perfect push-up – you’ll find that it probably won’t take as long as you think, especially if you’re making the effort to appreciate where you’re currently at.
Learning something slowly will result in smooth techniques, and it ends up being a lot more fun, too.
And throughout it all, a funny thing happens that probably won’t make any sense right away, until you really sit down and think about it…or at least experience it over and over again. By going slowly and smoothly, developing proper habits and becoming a master of whatever stage you’re at, you’ll naturally be able to go fast, especially when adrenaline kicks in during your race.
Slow is Smooth…Smooth is Fast.
This is a concept that comes from special operators like the Navy SEALS, but holds true for anyone seeking to master any physical endeavor!