As we continue to refine our coaching skills we look for more effective ways to communicate concepts to our swimmers - and to each other as coaches. Lately we have been working on teaching the all important catch portion of the stroke by referring to the position of the knuckles and palms early in the propulsive phase of the stroke.
Most swimmers know where their knuckles and palms are. The trick is to get them aware of how to position them, especially early in the stroke. And if you think about it, if you can determine which anatomy part they are more familiar with then you simply teach that part since the other is always in the exact opposite position. So, if you get one correct they both will be.
James "Doc" Counsilman, one of the great scientists and coaches our sport has seen, popularized our profession's awareness of the Bernoulli Principle. In a nutshell, fluids flow faster over curved surfaces than flat surfaces creating unequal pressure. If your hand is placed properly with the palm (flat surface) facing backward and the knuckle side (curved surface) facing forward (in the direction you wish to travel) you hand has a greater tendency to stay in place in the water allowing your body to move past it.
When your finger tips are pointing toward the bottom of the pool in freestyle your hands are in the correct position. Anytime your fingertips are pointing forward (at the beginning of the stroke) or backward (at the end of the stroke) your palms are facing down with your knuckles up and you are not going forward.
The trick then is to put your hand in the water and immediately get your fingertips about 8 inches beneath the surface pointing down. There are a number of different drills for this and many work best with a snorkel (to eliminate the need for altering body position due to head movement for breathing). The most basic one is when you pause your stroke with one hand in the catch position and the other in the push position at the end of the stroke.
Our typical progression goes like this. Swim one lap with a 3 second pause, then another with a 2 second pause, then 1 second pause and finally a lap of regular swimming. If your hand is in the correct position you will feel your knuckles pushing water with both hands during the pause phase. If you feel that you will know your hands are in the proper position. Keep practicing until you can distinguish the difference between fingertips pointing forward and backward (not propelling you forward) and pointing at the bottom of the pool thus allowing you to anchor your hands pulling your body past them.
Let us know how it goes and you coaches out there please feel free to share your drills on this concept as well. The more we share our knowledge the more satisfaction our swimmers will have...and that is a wonderful thing!