Swimming better different from swimming faster

My last column provoked a couple of email responses to my assertion that swimming laps is not the way to swim better. Both swimmers claimed that they only swim laps and they are swimming faster than ever. And no doubt that is true.

But consider the difference between their choice of terminology and mine. Swimming BETTER involves stroke mechanics to produce more efficient strokes, the purpose of these articles.

I want to promote fitness and efficiency rather than competition. Nevertheless, I use competition myself for fun and to measure progress in a congenial atmosphere.

On the other hand, swimming FASTER involves mechanics, but also physical and mental training.

The former is the result of teaching; the latter is produced by coaching. So, it certainly is possible to swim faster without swimming better. By the same token, however, those faster swimmers would swim even faster if they swam better.

Swim teaching does not have to involve an instructor. For instance, my book is intended by subtitle for instructors, but as well as for self-instruction. Neither does coaching necessarily involve an on-deck coach.

I am self-coached, mostly, after many years of education and experience in the aquatic field. However, at times I do solicit the advice of another experienced coach (my wife was a head coach in Division I swimming for more than 10 years) to observe my strokes at practice and competitions.

Competitive swimming depends on efficient stroking, but also very much on conditioning. The controllable factors for success involve frequency, duration and intensity.

One can swim more often, for longer distances, or with greater speed. These can be combined into an infinite number of workout situations, depending on stroke and competitive goals.

Competitive swimming can be enhanced by mental preparation. Racing is affected by practice speed, number of repetitions, and amount of rest between efforts. But it is affected also by mental rehearsal and pure mental determination.

Olympic championships are often won by hundredths of seconds. Such differences are impossible to be determined solely by conditioning. Rarely are races won by chance or opportunity, but by effective practice, both physical and mental.

As a high school teacher of English and as a college professor of physical education, my career has focused on instruction, always on doing BETTER. Coaching involves too many extraneous factors not always controllable. Therefore, while I have enjoyed success at both, I have always preferred, by practice and by book, the simpler act of teaching to the complexities of coaching.

Dr. Bob Colyer of Bluffton is an actively retired college professor, coach and author of "Swim Better: A Guide to Greater Efficiency for Swimmers & Instructors," directed primarily to non-competitors. bobcolyer@yahoo.com


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