If you have gone much beyond ‘dipping a toe’ into TI, you might well have practiced a dozen or more drills – some older, some newer — and 20 to 50 Focal Points or Stroke Thoughts, especially if you practice four strokes, rather than just freestyle.
Consider that just one part of the crawl stroke — Recovery and Entry, lasting a fraction of a second — can be polished via 10 or more SwingSwitch and OverSwitch drills, and five or more Stroke Thoughts (Circle the Elbow, Marionette Arm, Draw a Line, Ear Hops, Mail Slot). Though the average observer would be unable to distinguish any difference in the movement as a swimmer worked through them, countless people have found each of these thoughts consequential.
I recently realized that, after 20+ years of practicing and teaching all those drills and thoughts, I’d wandered so deep into the forest, all I could see was trees. I needed to regain the knack of conveying the essence of the TI Method — the fundamental principles that distinguish TI from other swimming methods and can help any swimmer answer questions and set priorities for practice.
I received the gift of simplicity from Shane Eversfield, TI Master Coach and creator/author of Zendurance. While leading TI Teacher Training in Poland in August, he related to me that, at every step, he reminded trainees of three unifying principles — Balance, Streamline, Propel. In training teachers myself I’d conveyed a mass of detail (drills, mini- and micro-skills, stroke thoughts, SPLs, Tempos, etc) without the clarity and unity of those three principles.
I realized Shane had revealed the TI version of what Einstein called the Elegant Solution: The simplest explanation is usually the most effective. In fact, regardless of how many drills or thoughts we devise to teach them, TI follows the same progression in every stroke.
Master Balance. Balance means ‘in harmony with the water.’ It’s also the foundation without which skilled movement is impossible on land and in water. Balance provides the new swimmer with both physical control and mental calm. It replaces the reflex of survival stroking with the possibility of thoughtful choices about every subsequent aspect of skill. Balance is hardest to master in crawl, but once learned, allows you to swim almost any distance. If you tire while running, you can always walk. Balance gives swimmers a ‘walking option.’
Master Streamlining. There are two forms of Streamlining. In Passive Streamlining, you shape your body to be longer, sleeker, more hydrodynamic. In Active Streamlining, you stroke in ways that move your body forward, rather than moving the water around. Your greatest energy savings – and therefore increases in both endurance and speed — come from Streamlining.
Master Effective Propulsion. Traditional swim methods fall short because they start with Propulsion, progress to it too quickly or give it too much importance. They also overemphasize the role of power. The TI Method teaches two elements in Effective Propulsion: (1) Direct ‘available’ forces, rather than Generating muscular forces, another felicitous phrase from Shane. Maximize use of naturally-occuring forces, particularly the combination of gravity and body mass, to minimize reliance on muscular force. Because the available forces are ‘free’ this reduces energy cost. (2) Convert Force (horsepower) into Locomotion. This means stroking to move yourself forward, rather than to move your hand, or the water, back.
In every stroke, in every skill, in every question or decision that arises, if you address Balance first, then Streamlining, then Propulsion, you minimize the potential for frustration or confusion and maximize the potential for clarity and success.