Book Review: "The Swimmers" by Julie Otsuka

Paul Newsome

Swim Types: They're Everywhere!

If you've been following us long enough, you'll recall that in 2010 we released our very first 3-day Coach Education course at the Aston University in Birmingham, UK.

For the six years between creating Swim Smooth and launching this course for coaches seeking to refine their own swim coaching skills, I'd been creating a system to recognise the individuality in the swim strokes that I saw daily as part of my coaching on pool deck here in Perth. This culminated in a system I named Swim Types which formed the basis of that coach education course and everything that we've developed since.

It was cartoonised by my sister's fiancé at the time so as to keep the tone light-heartedly, friendly, and above all, approachable:
The mantra:

Coach the swimmer, not the stroke!
...was born out of the recognition that we all come into swimming from different backgrounds, different levels of ability, different heights, builds, gender and even learning styles. Good coaching is all about being fluid enough with your methods to know that a "one stroke fits all" approach will not work for everyone.

Swim Types has provided thousands of coaches and swimmers right around the world over the last 12 years with the framework required to make sense out of individuality, to cater for the "Fifty Shades of Smooth" that we see in people's strokes every day, and to offer a blueprint for success in helping a swimmer (or coach) correct the most pressing areas of concern in the right order.

Back to the book...

So, what's all this got to do with a book written by an author (Julie Otsuka) that I've never even met before?

Well, despite my now huge admiration for her beautiful prose and ability to really sum up what it means to be part of a swimming community - the swimming community - this book brought me right back to the very essence of what swimming is all about, the common unity of swimming that we all share daily, whoever we are:
In any given session in one of my squads here in Perth (and that of our wonderful Certified Coaches around the world) you will find a myriad of people who swim: to learn from scratch; to perform in the pool and open water; for the social companionship in later years; for preparation for a triathlon; for the simplicity of lap fitness; for adventure racing; and of course, for assisting all of the above via quality coaching. All swimming at the same time, together.

Not only do we recognise these swimmers by their Swim Type, but also by their chosen swimming discipline, and we are proud to say that all feel part of this special community as we hope you would too, if you were to ever visit us. You'd always be welcome 🤗 

The community and routine aspect of what we create as coaches for our swimmers always trumps the minutiae of the session itself.

Some Amazing Ratings / Reviews

This brilliant book has been rated 3.89 stars on, received 4042 ratings and 820 comments on this platform alone and was only released less than 2 months ago.

Without a doubt, the perfect summary for me on this site was by a "Barbara" (#8 reviewer), so without trying to recreate what Barbara so eloquently reviewed, here are my soundbites:

#1 on rituals:
Otsuka uses the first-person-plural, which is like a Greek chorus, narrating the daily activities of the swimmers who frequent this underground community pool. “There are those who would call our devotion to the pool excessive, if not pathological.”

#2 on swim 'types':
The chorus assigns pet names to all the members such as sidestroker Sydney, new member Alex, and metaphysician Gwen. But they are also known for the lane they swim in like patent attorney Liane of Lane two. This idea of a community formed by exercise and time is very real, and those of us who have been part of a rag-tag community will relate.

#3 on catastrophe:
For drama, a crack appears in lane four upending the group. The internal scuttle-butt is hilarious. There is the “why us”, and “what did we do wrong to deserve this.” Fear and alarm occur, gossip ensues.

In the last 24 months, our local swimmers here in Perth have not only had the catastrophe that has been the pandemic impact their access to their "church" (the pool), but also an entire pool closure for 5 months due to a similar crack in the lining of the pool.

Whilst these issues might seem trivial in the context of the wider effect of the global pandemic, I think that if you read the first half of the book* with the benefit of looking back at a tough couple of years and seeing some of the humour that Julie Otsuka brings to this incident, it'll bring a knowing smile to your day in the same way as it did for me. 



*the second half of the book is significantly more sombre and focuses on one of the characters, Alice, who sadly suffers from dementia and the effect that the closure has on her. This brought my own mood down a tad and thoughts of grandparents sadly passed, but also places high emphasis on a reminder to make the most of today - never a bad thing!
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