Friday, February 19, 2016

Swim Social: We find out more about benefits of Skills & Drills video analysis

Swim Social Blog (Chris Kane): Swimming coaches working with our elite athletes use a huge variety of techniques and technologies to squeeze every ounce of speed out of our Commonwealth and Olympic swimmers.  That level of attention is not normally available to you and I, but technological advances and falling prices are helping Tollcross International Swimming Centre based swim coach Mark Wilmott hone the “skills and drills” swimmers at his weekly classes.  Mark is using a GoPro camera in a waterproof housing to film his pupils and show them what they’re doing wrong and where they can make improvements.

Mark says, “Most coaches can improve anybody’s swimming technique in one session.  But it relies on them being able to see what the swimmer is doing wrong and then communicate that to them in a way that they understand and can process.  That’s easy enough at entry level lessons where we’re helping people learn to swim, but with “skills and drills” we’re helping them swim faster and better and often we’re trying to explain small details such as the angle you’re swimming at in the water.  The GoPro lets swimmers see exactly what they look like, that lets them visualise what they are doing wrong and makes it much easier for them to grasp how to improve”.

I was intrigued and last week headed along to see Mark for a lesson with his camera. First of all, the camera came at the end of the lesson – for the first hour it was standard skills and drills class and I’ll write about that another time – and for that I’m thankful. By the time the camera appeared Mark had ironed out a few of my basic problems. The two areas that Mark wanted me to see on film was the way my arms were moving and the position of my body in the water. 

Mark says, “Your arms were moving in a swimming stroke but not working efficiently. You weren’t scooping as much of the water with your hands to get the maximum pull from your stroke and you were swimming with both arms gyrating at the same time. What we needed to get you doing was using one arm at a time, which would slow your stroke down considerably meaning you’ll go faster using less energy. Also, you need to swim with your head looking down in order to get the right angle for your body; you were swimming with your head up looking where you were going. That dropped your legs and too much energy was being used to move water out of your way when swimming.  You weren’t streamlined enough.”

My instinct was to disagree with the angle because I felt I was lying pretty flat while swimming.  As for the arms, I thought I had a nice swimming stroke. Hearing that I resembled a Mississippi paddle steamer with its big wheels was a bit disheartening.  However, the camera never lies and at the poolside I could see exactly what Mark was referring to. I was swimming at an angle like a Space Shuttle coming into land and my arms were all over the place. The video helped me visualise what Mark was saying.  I realise now that it wasn’t his communication style that was stopping me grasping what he was saying, it was my instinct to disagree with the well intentioned criticism of my swimming style. 

Mark says, “This is hugely simple technology technique which is having a great impact on the way people in the class are understanding how they swim.  I simply put the camera on a pole, place it in the water and follow you from the poolside while you swim.  We can review the footage immediately, but I also like to analysis it after the class because often I can pick on much smaller details so that when you come back the next time, I know exactly what we need to work on.”

Mark’s camera lessons are something I hope catches on because it’s a great idea, simple to implement and in my case, very effective. I would say however that Mark has permission from everybody in his class to be filmed and he ensures that nobody else but the person having the lesson is in the shot. Don’t turn up at your local pool with your own camera and expect to get in – you’ll get in trouble!

I’ve got a copy of the footage which I’ve watched a couple of times and I’m learning things about my swimming style. I now know what to practice and hopefully when I next have a lesson with Mark I’ll be gliding through the water rather than steaming up it like a Mississippi riverboat.

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