What I learned on Day One as a Coach
by Terry Laughlin

Posted on November 18th, 2010

Yesterday’s post TI History on Radio mentioned experiences from my first year of coaching and discovering my life’s calling at the tender age of 21. That reminiscence prompted TI Coach Suzanne Atkinson to ask on Facebook if I remember the first workout I gave.

Actually I do remember it – at least what I observed during the warmup and how that led to an  insight that has remained with me for 38 years.

For warmup I told my team – 15 or 16 college-age males at the US Merchant Marine Academy — to swim 800 Free. I don’t remember the rest of the workout, but I distinctly remember being struck by how asymmetrical most were, with bodies and heads turning and arms swinging more to one side than the other.
This prompted three ideas:
1) Their asymmetry was probably caused by single-side breathing
2) They would probably swim better if they were more symmetrical
3) The way to be more symmetrical would be to breathe to the other side — the ‘blank slate.’
The next day I tested my hypothesis  by modifying the warmup:
“Swim 800 Free. Breathe on the “wrong’ side.”
They looked at me funny. Some probably grumbled a bit. But at least for the duration of warmup I had a symmetrical team.
The basic insights that efficiency and symmetry are related and that simple solutions are often best have remained consistent in my coaching ever since.
My first insights also revealed an instinct that “what looks better probably is better” and that coaching by sight might be as good or better than coaching by the clock.
As I mention in the interview, my first team performed stunningly well, improving far more  than any team I had swum on in the previous 7 years. That stoked a passion for coaching that has never dimmed. It also gave me confidence in technique-oriented practice.

One Response to “What I learned on Day One as a Coach”

  1. surfsalterpath says:

    Every new swimmer that shows up to our little noon time
    sess gets this discussion. We are not coached. Just a bunch
    of guys who want a workout and have fun. Our way to get others
    to adapt is to suggest ‘breathe into the rope’ on every length. Then
    we try breathing ‘every 3rd stroke’ intervals.
    That way alternative side breathing can be practiced by all.
    Thanks for sharing.

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