From Focal Point to Muscle Memory: Part One
by Terry Laughlin

Posted on March 5th, 2014

Last weekend, Friday Feb 28 to Sunday Mar 2 I joined coaches from Total Immersion-UK at a Triathlon Show in Sandown Park near London. Each day, I spent an hour demonstrating TI teaching methodology in an Endless Pool, coaching five swimmers for  only 10  minutes apiece in each hour–a total of 15 swimmers over three days.

Every swimmer achieved noticeable improvements in relaxation and efficiency–swimming with considerably more ease at the same current speed. In only 10 minutes. The extraordinary power of well-chosen Focal Points was a primary reason.

When teaching in the Endless Pool in our home Swim Studio I teach from in the pool more than 90 percent of the time, relying heavily on hands-on help and cues to aid my students understanding and acquisition of new positions  and movements.

At Sandown,  I was wearing a wireless mic to explain the what and why of my teaching choices to onlookers. Thus I taught from outside the pool, relying exclusively on Focal Points or ‘Stroke Thoughts’ to convey the skills I was teaching.  For nearly every skill I used at least two of the three forms of Focal Points:

Internal — A message from brain to muscles. For head position, an internal focal point would be Hang Your Head, signaling the swimmer to relax neck muscles that usually hold the head up (or, in a couple of cases, muscles that were depressing the head below a neutral position.) Ninety percent of the time we introduce a new skill with an internal cue.

External — This is feedback from your  environment–mostly tactile in swimming, but also auditory (listening for splash) or visual (watching for bubbles or observing a hand position). For head position the external cue I gave was “Notice the density of water and how it supports or cushions your head when you release its weight.” Research has shown external cues to be the most effective in accelerating acquisition of a new skill.

Visualization – Use  imagination to aid sensation. Visualizing improves retention by creating more robust neural circuit with stronger synaptic connections.For head position, I instructed “Visualize your head-spine line projecting like a laser from the top of your head. Notice where that laser is pointing–in the direction you want to travel, or elsewhere?”

Cognitive research has shown conclusively that the strength of our self-perception increases markedly when we combine all these forms of focus. Consequently Total Immersion coaches and videos teach multiple forms of focus for every key skill we teach.

Self perception is critically important when you can’t see what you’re doing. And even when receiving direct instruction from a coach, as you swim after receiving instruction at one end of the pool, and getting feedback at the other end, internal guidance is all you have to rely on.

The stronger your self-perception the better able you are to convert a coach’s instruction into effective action.

In this brief video clip from Sandown I use an auditory/external Focal Point with Simon Griffiths, the founder and editor of H2Open magazine.  Prior to using it Simon was getting my shirt wet with splash from his entry. A minute or two after this was shot, I was able to stand close by without getting wet!

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2 Responses to “From Focal Point to Muscle Memory: Part One”

  1. Pat says:

    I am kicking myself here that I did not realise you were in the UK beside me last month . Are you planning to make a return visit or is there a TI coach at this facility on a regular basis? Where can I find more info about this ? Sorry for all the questions but I am at a stage where I believe I need some one on one help.

  2. Marwan says:

    Concentrating and focusing are two of the most important things to do while swimming. A swimmers thoughts can also strengthen him and also decrease the amount of tiredness. If a swimmer focuses and concentrates on how his arms glide in the water, the swimmer would be able to perfect it easily and efficiently.

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