Confidence: A Key Building Block to Competitive Swimming

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Hi, Mike Walker here from Gold Medal Swim School. This month I would like to talk about what we as parents, coaches, and mentors can do to help your swimmer improve their confidence, skills, and love for the sport of swimming, even while they are away from the swim school.

Here at Gold Medal, we have a strong group of dedicated teachers who love kids, a method which teaches swimmers what to do in survival situations, and Core Value-driven fundamental skills which enable swimmers to not only excel at a recreational swimming level, but be able to potentially swim through high school, college, and beyond, as well.

One thing you will hear me say over and over is while you are swimming with your children, whether you are in your backyard pool or the local community pool, I ask you to not focus on what your child is doing wrong or what they could improve on.

Instead, encourage your swimmer to show off for you. Let them pick a skill and ask them to show it off. Let them be the BOSS of their swimming. Let them show you all they have learned, let them demonstrate it, then celebrate it.

This is a great way to both build your swimmer’s confidence and have a great interaction with them. It allows your swimmer to become more connected with the sport, grow more in love with the sport, and most of all, have better interactions with us as parents, teachers, and caregivers.

I look forward to seeing you around the pool! Thank you for trusting Gold Medal Swim School with your swimmer. I’ll see you in the water.

Position is everything: Swim to Success with Better Body Position

swim to success with better body position

Today I’d like to talk about body position, one of the five Core Values here at Gold Medal Swim School. What do we mean when we say body position? What does it entail? There’s a lot more to it than simply looks and appearance, so let’s delve deeper.

A swimmer’s body position is a lot like the frame of a car. If the frame is straight, and wheels and an engine are attached to it, then what we have is a good, functional vehicle we can drive. In swimming, things work the same way. For example, if your swimmer is swimming Backstroke with a tall, straight body (meaning a body that is firm) and they add kicks and arms to it, they will move efficiently down the pool.

However, young swimmers instead will often pull their heads up, causing their bodies to sink, or wiggle their bodies side-to-side, causing drag. This is a safety concern because a body sinking is not a safe position, nor is it easy to maintain. Correct body position, on the other hand, gives you the ability to maintain a float easily, an important and potentially life-saving skill. In terms of competitive swimming, swimmers aren’t as efficient with improper body position because they spend so much of their time fighting sinking and fighting the water by moving side-to-side.

So, the idea is when I watch swimmers, regardless of age, I look simply at body position first, just like the I do with the car I drive. If the body position is straight, if the head is in the right place, if the body is firm, we can attach speed to it and zoom down the pool. If the frame of our car is straight, we can attach speed to it and drive down the road.

We emphasize body position in our curriculum because we believe proper body position is vital to your swimmer’s safety around the pool and their long-term swimming success.

Looking forward to seeing you around the pool!

Yours in swimming,

Mike Walker

3 Reasons Why We Teach Underwater

3 Reasons why we teach underwater!

Today, I would like to talk about something we do here that is unique and different in the swim school industry. The fantastic thing I’m going to share with you today is how we teach underwater. Why is teaching underwater a big deal? Well, let’s discuss. When we go underwater and interact with our swimmers, several things happen.

First of all, we are underwater with our swimmers, allowing them to feel like someone is doing the skills and activities with them. The sounds and sights underwater are unlike any other and, for new swimmers, they can sometimes feel overwhelming. With an instructor accompanying them, swimmers are going to feel more relaxed, they are going to feel safer, and they are going to feel a little less stressed underwater. That is going to help them do better and progress faster.

Secondly, when we interact with our swimmers underwater, we can monitor their stress and tension levels. We can only monitor these when we are actually underwater with them and watching both their facial expressions and their actions. These cannot be monitored properly from above the surface.

Lastly, we can teach and monitor air regulation much more effectively underwater. Blowing bubbles is very swim school standard. Instead, we take it further. What we do is we regulate air. Air regulation is letting go of air underwater and then taking a breath on the surface. Underwater, we can make sure swimmers are able to relax and let go of their air, setting them up for success in every aspect of swimming.

The ability to be relaxed and comfortable underwater is the foundation to becoming a lifelong swimmer. In stressful situations, being able to think and process what you need to do to get back to the wall can save a life. So, when you see our instructors underwater, they are not simply playing with swimmers. They are monitoring, they are checking-in, and they are supporting our swimmers to help them succeed and have the best underwater experience possible.

Yours in Swimming,

Mike Walker

The Secret to Coaching Up

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When we think about how we teach, encourage, and coach people up, the attention is usually put on the areas which need improvement. Instead, let’s talk about how to capture the positive moments and stretch them into something greater.

Take any great moment you have with your kids, athletes, students, or even friends, and stretch the great moment to something truly magical.

We educate, we teach, we talk about things we want people to improve on, and we miss the moment by focusing on parts which aren’t as good. When someone gets an activity exactly right for ten percent of the time, most coaches, teachers, and people tend to focus on the ninety percent that’s not right. To me, that’s missing the moment. You’re missing the opportunity to stretch something good into something better.

Take the ten percent of the activity which is so awesome, and stretch it. Praise it. Encourage the people you work with to do more of that ten percent. The next time, maybe you’ll get fifteen percent of the lap, or fifteen percent of the homework. Then, you stretch it again.

Continue to encourage, praise, and cultivate the part which was so magical. Forget about what’s wrong, what’s not working. Focus on the small part you get and stretch it. Watch the results happen!

I’ll see you around the pool,

Mike Walker

3 Tips to Improve Your KICK!

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Hi, Mike Walker from the Gold Medal Swim School. I am excited to talk today about kicking. Everyone knows the basic idea of Freestyle kicking, but here are three tips to INSTANTLY make your kick better.

1. Air Fuels Your Kick

We want to make sure that we are blowing our bubbles and getting clean air. This way, our leg muscles, which are oxygen gobblers, can always be ready to work.

2. Slightly Bend Your Knees

Knee bend is a little bit like cheesecake – a little bit goes a LONG way. We want to make sure that our knees have some flexion, but not so much that they create drag. To do this, keep your knees with a slight bend. If you must err, make your knees a little too straight rather than too bent.

3. Point Your Toes

Your kick should be on the top of your foot so that you are pushing the water down and lifting it up. Your feet need to be soft and pointed, with thick, goopy caramel on your foot so that you can hold water pressure. The combination of water pressure, plus a little bit of air on our feet, will make for a great kick.

The Life Saver and Speedy Swimmer Back Float

The Life Saver

Back floating is a foundation that can, not only save your child’s life, but can also make the difference between a good competitive swimmer and a great competitive swimmer.

Parents, swim coaches, and swim teachers often force the back float. They grab the student’s forehead, shove their head backwards, and make them back float. In contrast, our Core Value approach here at Gold Medal Swim School emphasizes, “Relax into a great Body Position.” Correct Body Position, in combination with propulsion from the legs, is best achieved while in a relaxed state. Relaxation is the key to proper Body Position on the back.

When I look at the fundamental characteristics of not only Olympic swimmers, but of great swimmers here at our swim school, the swimmers who are relaxed and hold proper Body Position tend to be in the correct position to efficiently propel down the pool.

Body Position begins in our Baby&Me program with our “ears wet” skill. In Starfish and Seahorse, we allow swimmers, with support, to melt back into the water. In higher levels, correct Body Position allows swimmers to race to the best of their ability without worrying whether they are floating correctly.

I often see high-level swimmers carry all sorts of tension, their jaws are tight, they are not breathing well, and their bodies resemble the shape of a banana. You will never hear someone say, “Oh, look at that fast banana swim across the pool.” Rather than a banana, body shape should resemble a torpedo, a missile, or an arrow. The shape of the body in the water makes a big difference, as the correct shape allows swimmers to swim fast and efficiently.

The shape of the body also matters in the survival sequence. If the swimmer’s head is up while their bottom is sinking to form the banana shape, they will struggle more. This can cause the swimmer to panic. Get them to relax. Support them through their back. Even when you watch your high-level swimmers on swim team, ask them to push back and relax, do not force them into the position. It is exciting when you watch swimmers doing great back floats because not only will they be happier in the pool, but they will also swim a lot faster and better.

Yours in Swimming,

Mike Walker

Why We Love The Turnaround Jump (And You Should, Too!)

Swimming Tips with Olympic Coach Mike Walker

I love the way we teach survival swimming here at the Gold Medal Swim School. We use a three-part approach which involves Sit, Listen, and Wait, the Turnaround Sequence, and our Core Values.

Our approach always begins with Sit, Listen, and Wait. Every time a child goes near a pool, they should Sit, Listen, and Wait to be invited in by an adult. Please help us, and help your child, by having your child practice this simple yet life-saving skill over and over without exception. If your child knows to not enter the pool without supervision and permission from an adult, they will be much safer around water.

The next layer of our survival swimming approach is the Turnaround Sequence. Developmentally, it works really well for small children. We teach this as a simple, conditioned response by teaching students that if they do fall into the pool, they can simply turnaround and get back to the wall.

The last piece to our survival sequence is our Core Values, which we utilize every time your child enters the pool area and swims with our amazing teachers. Our CORE VALUES are Safety, Relaxation, Body Position, Air Regulation, and Propulsion. Focusing on these Core Values is how we help amazing children become amazing swimmers.

The Core Values are used throughout each lesson at the Gold Medal and are truly the foundation of all our sequences and skills. For example, everything we teach is built upon the Core Value of Relaxation and it is easily one of the main reasons why Gold Medal swimmers are so successful. Relaxation allows your child to learn and swim with less stress yet more confidence, which gives them the ability to THINK of what to do while in the midst of a survival situation. Swimmers at Gold Medal feel supported and confident in their own abilities around the pool and have low levels of anxiety regarding it.

People often ask me, “Why do you need these Core Values to do these sequences better?” The answer is simple: years and years of experience in and around the pool, from teaching babies to Olympic champions, and every age and skill level between.

The Core Values of Safety, Relaxation, Body Position, Air Regulation, and Propulsion are key components to helping your child not only become safer around the pool, but become a swimmer for life.

Yours in Swimming,

Mike Walker

The key to great swimming: Air Regulation!

We Teach Underwater!

One thing that makes me excited about our program and what truly separates us from the industry is our five Core Values. I want to take some time to talk about one of my favorites of the five – Air Regulation.

It is seemingly so simple, the ability to exchange air. In swimming, it relates to the idea of being underwater and letting out your air, then taking in air at the surface. However, this movement completely goes against our instincts.

Every class, you will see our swim instructors spending a fair amount of time underwater because it is pivotal to what they do. They go underwater, not only watch for your child to let go of their air, but to check the relaxation, comfort, and stress level of your child. We want to help your child learn to relax as they let go of their air, which goes against their primal instincts.

This concept relates to competitive swimming. You might notice when you see side-breathing during the Freestyle stoke at the Olympics, the swimmers catch that breath so quickly and it makes their speed overall much faster. Here at Gold Medal Swim School, from the Baby&Me level to the Adult level, we are actually practicing Olympic-level concepts. It is a little unique, a little different, but it is the idea of really watching and valuing the regulation of air.

People often ask me, where does this concept come from? It started back during my college coaching days, both at UC Berkeley and at University of Texas, where we would spend time simply doing bobs in the water. At the beginning of the season, you are working to set yourself up for excellence so we always began with relaxation and breathing. This might even mean simply doing basic meditation on the deck and then carrying that into the pool.

Breathing, relaxation, and meditation are all precursors to great swimming. Remaining calm in a survival situation not only allows us to think more clearly, but it also matters to the very essence of swimming. I am pleased that here at Gold Medal Swim School we not only value it, but we get excited and passionate about it, as well.

Yours in Swimming,

Mike Walker

Going Fast and Going Slow, Friend or Foe?

Swimming BFF’s_ Swim Slow to Swim Fast-2

I would like to talk to you about the idea that going slow can actually make you go faster.

Are ‘going fast’ and ‘going slow,’ friends or foe? My belief is they are best friends. The idea here is that when we slow down, higher quality execution can occur. Going slow is the precursor to swimming high quality, fast.

We see this concept executed in every class and practice we offer. We break things down into smaller, easier-to-do parts. With less speed, distance, and stress, we can ask for higher quality.

THEN, once the swimmer can do these smaller parts slowly and with high quality, we challenge them with faster and faster speeds but with special focus on not losing the quality of movement. Quality movements are the name of the game.

As a competitive swimming coach, I would use this concept quite frequently and break down the laps into small parts.

1. Clearly outline a few KEY parts for the swimmer to execute.

2. Ask the swimmer to SLOWLY go a certain distance with flawless execution.

3. Increase speed…BUT as soon as the quality suffers, ask the swimmer to slow down.

4. Repeat this faster-slower dance, lap after lap.

Over time I found that swimmers become more aware of quality moments, value them more, perform the movements EASIER, and can start doing them FASTER and FASTER.

I truly believe there is beauty in going slow. Pay attention to how well can your swimmer do things at a slow pace. Take away the speed, take away the challenges, except for the quality. You can see this being practiced in each program we offer here at Gold Medal Swim School.

See ya around the pool,

Mike Walker

Turning Tables, let your swimmer coach YOU!

January Blog

I am excited to talk about allowing and encouraging our swimmers to teach us, instead of us, as coaches, drilling information into them.

Begin with a basic, pre-curser skill they are familiar with and ask them teach you or even the whole group. Starting small and simple allows them to feel confident and part of the experience – we are looking for emotional buy in.

Then, add and build on this concept with a new or more advanced concept. Ask them to teach you the first AND second concept.

Continue this pattern. Add and build on the first and second concept with a third idea. Then, ask them to teach you the first, second, AND third concept.

Here are some coaching guidelines for this technique:

1. Keep it SIMPLE with the coach’s delivery.

2. Challenge them to teach it back to you with the same SIMPLE and easy-to-understand verbiage. I often ask them to explain it back to me as if I was only 5 years old.

3. Once the concept has been explained and RE-EXPLAINED, have them teach it back to you again and again.

4. Act out the concept exactly how they are describing it…this can be a lot of fun since, early on, they tend to forget basic concepts.

5. Praise what they remember and, as they watch you act out their directions, allow them to adjust and improve their teaching as they see fit.

6. Let them talk and express themselves. Encourage them to elaborate and give you details.

I have used this technique for many years with World Class swimmers AND age group swimmers alike…it is amazing what they will tell you. What I notice is HOW MUCH they really know BUT they have no idea how to rank the concepts in terms of importance. Sometimes they hold on to several small details, causing them to miss the big picture.

I have sat poolside and used this technique with athletes who, once they begin talking, have 10, 15, 20 different concepts they are trying to execute, all at the same time. This is impossible and leads to frustration for the swimmer.

I was at the Olympic Trials in 2000 and was helping a swimmer fine tune a start when I asked her to explain what SHE was trying to accomplish during her start sequence. She named 10 to 15 parts of the start but she was not doing any of them well.

I then asked her to tell me the ONE and ONLY ONE thing she wanted to do with her start. She stood up on the blocks and I asked her to highlight and SHOW me one aspect of her starts. She did exactly that and her start improved immediately. Since this approach was so simple, she immediately applied it in her race and she went on to qualify for the finals at the Olympic Trials.

If your child finishes a swim lesson or your swimmer finishes a practice and they cannot clearly and accurately summarize what they did, they probably did not get it. Let’s step back from force-feeding them information, and instead allow them to explain things to us as coaches and then help them determine the specific points they need to execute.

Then, watch them go to town. You are going to have a great time and your athlete will feel more empowered. Enjoy being part of everyone getting better together.

See ya around the pool,

Mike Walker