Cast your Vote: Focal Points or Stroke Thoughts
by Terry Laughlin

Posted on November 21st, 2010

Here’s a semantical question. Which term do you prefer for the TI practice tool that promotes mindfulness and stroke improvement: Focal Points or Stroke Thoughts?

Those who’ve followed the evolution of the names of various TI drills may have noticed my fondness for giving things new names. These sometimes cause confusion, but my aim is actually for greater clarity, and  sometimes greater emotional power.

Calling a thing by one name may give it a utilitarian label.

Calling it by another can make it more memorable, inspirational and impactful.

UnderSwitch was a label that accurately described that switches happen beneath the water.

SpearSwitch conveys that the drill is designed to transform a human body into a barracuda-like, water-piercing instrument of efficiency and speed . . . Or so I hoped.

ZipperSwitch was an accurate, if utilitarian, label when I introduced it. We’d been instructing swimmers to “Draw your hand forward as if pulling a zipper up your side.” In time we discovered that  action led to excess rotation.

When we modified the drill to a wider recovery, we also changed the name to reduce the likelihood of swimmers being influenced to keep “pulling a zipper.” For a time, we called it  ZenSwitch because (1) to continue using Z-Switch as shorthand and (2) to emphasize that “Total Immersion” also means “Mindfulness.”

But I wasn’t fully satisfied with that name because it failed to describe the action. So with the 10-Lesson Perpetual Motion Freestyle Series I christened it SwingSwitch.

This drill name was intended to more accurately describe the movement. We tell students “Swing, don’t lift,” the elbow.”  But also to connect it to an admittedly obscure reference from rowing. In his 1985 book about Olympic rowing, “The Amateurs,” David Halberstam describes the magical feeling rowers experience when perfect synchronization among eight individuals makes rowing seem almost effortless: “When oarsmen talked about their perfect moments in a boat, they referred not so much to winning a race but to the feel of the boat when it seemed to lift right out of the water. Oarsmen called thatswing.”

SwingSwitch has a similar effect to swing in rowing. When you get it right, the effortless propulsive power it provides seems almost magical.

As I start work on a new book to replace the original “blue-and-yellow” TI book, I want to choose permanent and standardized terms for essential aspects of our practice. I’ll do that via a series of polls in which I invite you to not just vote, but give persuasive reasons for your choice. First poll is whether we should call the stroke refinements we think about — or focus on — Focal Points or Stroke Thoughts.

Focal Points came first. I didn’t give it much ‘thought’ when I chose it. I didn’t even think of it, at the time, as an enduring label. It was a convenient, and somewhat utilitarian, descriptor.

More recently, if unofficially, I’ve begun describing them as Stroke Thoughts. I made the switch because “focal point” seemed a bit general and “stroke thought” more specific. Also because the term “stroke thoughts” is already in common use in golf, another activity that is clearly about skill, not conditioning.

Your vote? Either weigh in by leaving a Reply below. Or join a discussion on this choice at our Discussion Forum.

4 Responses to “Cast your Vote: Focal Points or Stroke Thoughts”

  1. Anna says:

    Hi Terry,

    You’ve touched on my only complaint with TI swimming: the terminology. I don’t find it intuitive at all — and the fact that the names of the drills keep changing is especially frustrating. I consider myself a success story with the method inspite of the terms, not because of them.

    To follow up on one of your examples: “Underswitch” switch tells me, “Oh yeah, this is the one I do underwater” — although calling it “underwater switch” would be even better. Spearswitching could be darned near anything — isn’t the point ALWAYS to be barracuda-like, whether when drilling or actually performing a stroke?

    I think user-testing some of your terms would greatly improve your method because it would improve students’ abiltiies to remember the drills and concepts. Although I appreciate that you’re trying to use the names to communicate your vision, I think they’re an impediment to the initial learning, which doesn’t help your overall cause. They also impede getting back to the drills and concepts after any kind of break.

    Some actual testing is probably the best way to find out what works for most people — introduce the terms and concepts and then test students’ recall. But if we’re voting in this forum, I’d advocate for the descriptive term over the inspirational term every time. You could bear the terms with a vision: The underwater switch helps you learn to spear the water like a barracuda. 🙂

    Thanks, Terry!

  2. Isaac Ohel says:

    To me both terms serve well for different purposes.

    “Spear on a wide track” seems to me a FOCAL POINT. I can keep it in mind even while struggling for breath.
    “Baracuda-like etc. ” is a STROKE THOUGHT. I need a Zen-like calm to incorporate it.

  3. Anna, You make a cogent argument. I guess the point of this poll is to do what you suggest – user-test terms and seek input or explanation for why someone might respond more strongly to one vs another.

    As an alternative yet parallel view to the one you express, would it be equally valid to prioritize the inspirational/impactful term, yet tie it to the descriptive: “SpearSwitch happens mostly underwater. And here’s why.”

    Also, isn’t visual the more powerful and most accurate form of description? Whereas the inspirational/impactful part is somewhat harder to depict graphically. (One way would be to show video of a barracuda paired with video of someone performing SpearSwitch in the intro. I think I just got a great idea – for which I thank you!)

  4. Chris Livingstone says:

    I prefer focal points: less wishy-washy.

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