What Can Robin Hood Teach You About Your Swimming?!

Paul Newsome

Posture & Alignment Is Key To Great Swimming Technique

Growing up as a kid, I vividly remember Kevin Costner’s portrayal of Robin Hood in the Prince of Thieves, mainly due to the best selling theme song by Brian Adams that seemingly played on repeat on every radio station across the land all of the time. Happy memories.

Of course Robin Hood was known for robbing from the rich to give to the poor, but he was also a dab-hand with a bow and arrow (as the story goes!).

So, What’s All This Got To Do With Your Swimming?

Back in 2004 when we set about the fair lands of Sherwood Forest ourselves, spreading the Swim Smooth word, we were but a small team of merry men (and women!). It was often impractical for an internal coaching team to travel from pool to pool to run our 1-day coaching clinics, and so instead we would encourage local coaches to attend the courses and partake. One of the key advantages of this approach was that it allowed us to leave a little bit of Swim Smooth to develop with the local coaches when we left. 

What was always interesting to also experience was how the diverse dialect and accent across the UK meant that the local coaches would often ‘translate’ something I’d said in a subtly different way. Sometimes this nuance would allow that teaching point to be more readily picked up by the local group of swimmers. The adage “same, same, but different” was never more true. It allowed me to personally develop my coaching phrase ‘tool box’ to allow a wider vocabulary of terms that could often be tried when a particular swimmer seemingly struggled to grasp a particular concept.

This was very much the basis of the pedagogy that Swim Smooth is known for and why it’s been endorsed by British Triathlon and the International Triathlon Union in 119 countries around the world. With this fortunate exposure the coaching vocabulary has been able to extend even further. It’s an iterative process with thousands of swimmers over almost two decades: never perfect from the get-go, and always still in refinement.

Over the last 17 years, one such concept that we’ve always taught - and have Maid Marian herself, aka Mrs Newsome, a brilliant physiotherapist with a keen interest in shoulder health for swimmers to thank - is that of posture and alignment when swimming:
Simple drills such as side kicking, 6/1/6, Broken Arrow etc, all challenge a swimmer’s ability to hold good body tone when they kick on their side and essentially replicate the position of full extension whilst breathing (albeit with an exaggerated amount of rotation to challenge the swimmer’s balance). We would typically encourage a swimmer to “swim proud” by drawing their shoulder blades together and down.
“Shoulders back, chest forward!” is what I lovingly recall Mother Smooth telling me as a kid to improve my own posture - and that was way before mobile devices became the scourge of healthy stances! When this is translated into the freestyle full stroke, this helps avoid cross-overs as the hands go into the water and set the shoulders in both a healthy position and one which truly readies the swimmer for a good catch and pull through.

So Again, What Has Robin Hood And His Archery Skills Got To Do With This?

Just a few weeks ago I was working with one of my squad swimmers, Sean from Limerick in Ireland, on this exact concept - something he’d heard me talk about countless times before. But this time something was different in his understanding. Something properly twigged for him. Perhaps it was my visual demonstration? Perhaps it was a subtlety in the coaching vocabulary? Who knows? But Sean immediately likened what I was trying to get him to do to improve his alignment like the drawing back of a bow and arrow by an archer. OK, so maybe it wasn’t specifically Kevin Costner, or even Robin Hood, but the visual was perfect and since that session I’ve used this analogy with every swimmer I’ve worked with to brilliant effect. Thank Sean! 

It’s amazing how in life you can be saying something one (or even multiple) ways for 17 years and then suddenly stumble across a new way of saying the same thing that happens to trigger something more visceral in a person’s understanding. 

People often ask me, after having delivered this same methodology for so many years, “don’t you get bored of saying the same thing over and over again?”, but the answer is always an emphatic, “no, because there’s always a better way of saying it!”. 

Keep on swimming. Keep on coaching. Keep on learning. Never stop. 

Paul & his band of Merry Coaches 😉
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