Drills: Why do we use them?

Parents often ask swimming instructors about the progress of their children and what they are learning in swimming lessons. A common question we hear on the pool deck is:

Why do swimmers do so many drills instead of swimming laps?

The answer is simple. Swimming is not a simple skill to learn. It requires much repetition to master a skill correctly, and there are many skills combined to master a swimming stroke proficiently.

If swimmers try to put it all together without mastering individual skills they will end up with poor technique and less efficiency when they are trying to swim. Swimming is hard work and an inefficient stroke makes it harder still. I know I want my students to LOVE swimming and if it is too hard it won’t be enjoyable for them. Teaching correct technique will make swimming easy and fun!

Let’s take a quick look at the basic breakdown of freestyle and how much is involved to give you a better understanding of why drills are so important in the learn to swim process.


Body Position

Swimmers should be in a streamlined position (horizontally) on top of the water. This position is best for movement. A good floating body position should be mastered before attempting other skills.


Kicking action

This important propulsive skill assists swimmers to move fast through the water. Straight legs and relaxed feet that feel water pressure on the sole and the top of the foot while kicking up and down is the most effective technique. Swimmers require lots of practice to perfect this skill and may require physical manipulation to iron out any kinks or “bicycling” action that is commonly seen in early swimming development.


Arm movements

This propulsive skill also assists with movement in the water. It requires long strokes and a good feel of the water.


Side breathing

This skill allows swimmers to maintain a streamline position when breathing. It creates less resistance for swimmers when taking a breath and allows for continual forward movement.


Combination of skills

Swimming proficient freestyle requires combining all the skills mentioned above. If swimmers struggle with any of those individual skills, they will struggle with performing the full freestyle stroke. Therefore, doing drills to master individual skills is important.


Picture: This young swimmer performs a freestyle drill combining arm, leg, and breathing skills. Notice length of stroke and low breathing.


Keep in mind that swimming has completely different patterns of movement to land sports and walking or running in general. It takes time to build neurological pathways to the brain to create muscle memory. In addition to having to perform unfamiliar skills, it must be done while holding your breath, submerged in water. Talk about tough! Starting with simple skills or drills, gradually building on them and following teaching progressions will give you a better result, a lifelong skill and hopefully a love for swimming.


What are some of your favourite freestyle drills? Share in the comments section below.


To learn more about what you need to know CLICK HERE!

Kate Lawrence

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