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This Freestyle Balance Drill Progression was submitted by Head Coach Mark Gole at William Jewell College in Liberty, Missouri. Coach Mark and his demonstrator, Anthony Aranda, use this series of drills to focus on posture, line, balance, breath timing and catch for a coordinated, efficient and powerful stroke.
Step 1 – Balance kick – We have the swimmers kick on their side with the arm opposite to the side that they breathe to fully extended. Their core should be engaged to maintain a tight body line in the water. The palm of the hand should be facing the bottom of the pool. While the swimmer’s body is turned all of the way on their side, this drill is a slight exaggeration, so the body will not go all of the way to 90 degrees while swimming. It would be ideal for them to have one goggle out of the water and for them to get a breath by moving their mouth away from the surface of the water. It is best to have swimmers do this progression on both sides to determine which side each swimmer naturally breathes better to or more efficiently with their stroke. For the sake of these demonstration videos, Anthony will be breathing to the right, because that is the side that works best with his stroke.
Step 2 – Balance Kick w/turning into the catch – The is the balance kick with a twist…literally and figuratively. The swimmers will maintain that nice balance kick and will turn their body into the catch. As the body and head rotate towards the bottom of the pool, that causes the elbow to pop and to get into a nice early vertical forearm to eventually be able to generate as much power as possible in their stroke. The timing of their breath with their stroke is extremely important, because if they breathe late, their elbow will automatically drop and that will result in a loss of efficiency and power, but it can be much worse. Most swimmers who habitually breathe late tend to develop major shoulder issues on the opposite shoulder that they breathe to.
Step 3 – Balance Drill – This is simply 12 kicks in the balance position + 2 strokes. The first stroke starts as the body rotates down towards the bottom of the pool. The second stroke then turns the body back into the balance kick position. The two strokes should be the rhythm and tempo of two normal consecutive strokes in freestyle. It is extremely important that the swimmers face be down when engaging in the catch on both sides. We utilize underwater Plexiglas mirrors as often as possible to that the swimmers make it a habit of seeing the catch on both arms while swimming freestyle.
Single Arm Freestyle:
Left Arm – If a swimmer breathes to the right, they will start the left arm only drill with their left arm fully extended and their right arm will remain at the side throughout the drill. This is due to the fact that the swimmer’s left arm should be fully extended when they breathe to the right during the natural flow of their stroke. Again, in this drill, the swimmer should be focusing on using the body turning downwards to initiate the catch with their left arm. We ask the swimmers to be very deliberate with every movement and to take their time. If a swimmer is extremely efficient, they will tend to only take 4-5 individual left arm strokes on a length.
Right Arm – If a swimmer breathes to the right, their left arm will remain fully extended during the right arm only drill, because their left arm should be fully extended when they breathe. It should be there to balance the body in the water while breathing. This is similar to how the hands should be underneath folks when breathing during butterfly. Back to the right arm only drill, the swimmer should reach their right arm forward and extend into the catch. Then, while pulling, they will rotate their body into the breath. Their breathe should be finished prior to the right arm coming forward. This drill could help the notorious arm-pit breathers correct the timing of their breath.
Corkscrew – I added this, because when done correctly, it can really help swimmers find the catch in both backstroke and freestyle. I can’t take credit for this in any capacity. One of my college teammates, Randy Teeters, taught this to me when he was a student-assistant coach at Oakland University. Randy is now a coach with Nitro Swimming down in Austin, TX. Corkscrew to many is a joke and a fun way to make swimmers dizzy. Randy taught me that it is the best drill to teach the catch in both freestyle and backstroke. It is all about turning the body and head into the catch of each stroke. The first thing is patience. They must take their time with this drill. If you start with a freestyle stroke, the swimmer needs to keep that arm extended until rotating the head and body towards the ceiling. That will result in the elbow dropping and going directly into a backstroke catch. Then, when the swimmer takes a backstroke pull and the opposite arm extends into a backstroke entry, their elbow will elevate into a freestyle catch when they rotate their head and body towards the bottom of the pool. It is wild how well this works when done correctly.
William Jewell College reinstated the swimming program in 2011-2012 when the institution made the jump from NAIA to NCAA Division II and competes in the Great Lakes Valley Conference. In the past three seasons, the Cardinals sent two swimmers to the NCAA Division II National Championships in 2015, three in 2016, and eleven in 2017. William Jewell College is The Critical Thinking College and is located in Liberty, MO, which is just north of Kansas City.
Head Coach Mark Gole started the Cardinal program from scratch in 2011 and it has grown from 11 swimmers in year one to 50 in four years. The team has consistently excelled in the classroom in addition to the swimming successes up to this point. Mark swam for Oakland University and has coached at the Oakland Live Y’ers age-group swim team in Rochester, MI (1998-2005), Wayne State University in Detroit, MI (2000-2005), and Truman State University in Kirksville, MO (2005-2010).
Anthony Aranda is a junior from Missouri City, TX. He entered his career at William Jewell College with a best time in the 200 Freestyle of 1:41.78. Anthony lowered that time to 1:39.75 as a freshman and his 1:38.23 as a sophomore got him invited to compete individually at the 2017 NCAA Division II National Championships. Anthony became the first swimmer in program history to swim four individual events at the NCAA Division II National Championships. He competed in the 200 IM, 200 Free, 500 Free, and 100 Free. He was also a member of the 400 Free and 800 Free relays that competed at the National Championships. Fun fact, Anthony holds the team record in the Mix Kick and Dash which is a 100 where they do the following: 25m underwater dolphin kick from the blocks, 50m swim, then the last 25m is kick with a board. Anthony’s record time is :59.61.
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