The Power of "The Feel"
Do you ever see a swimmer who makes swimming look so effortless, like their natural habitat is the water? Hopefully we’ve all come across swimmers like this in our coaching career, and hopefully we will come across many more in the years to come. But what is this? How can we as coaches help athletes develop a natural feel for the water.
The key to this lies in the pressure created by the hand on the water. The more pressure a swimmer can feel through their hand the stronger the neural pathways within the brain for generating that movement will become. Therefore the “feel” for the water is in fact the feeling of neural pathways strengthening and developing within the brain.
How then, as coaches can we help athletes develop a better feel for the water? Answer: focus on movements that move the water. The most common of these is sculling. An often overlooked skill, sculling is crucial to developing the neural pathways in the brain, in itself the skill is solely used to move water in the most efficient way. You can then progress this further; following the simple principle of the larger the surface area the greater the volume of water moved and thus the greater the pressure created. Good ways to increase the surface area of the hand are to use finger paddles, hand paddles, small floats and so on. Another way to get swimmers to appreciate the feel they have for the water is to take it away and then give it back. Asking swimmers to swim with their fists to reduce the surface area of the hand and then progressing to open palm swimming will help them understand the feeling of the water. Just like the saying “you never know what you have 'til it’s gone”
Ultimately, having a great feel for the water and strong neural pathways associated to the feel of the water within the brain will eventually lead to greater stroke length and more efficient swimming as athletes will be able to move more water within a stroke.
I would be interested to hear how you get your swimmers to develop a feel for the water.