Delivering and attending Professional Development Workshops are Gold

Introduction of a Professional Development Workshop

I had the absolute pleasure in travelling to Cooktown to run a professional development workshop on behalf of AUSTSWIM. The great thing about these types of workshops is we need swimmers. The swimmers get to participate in 4-5 sessions over two days and therefore also get technique improvement.

I have been to Cooktown twice in the past 4 months. I will give a brief overview on my first workshop was in November 2016. However, it was my second visit most memorable with the learning I got from running this workshop. The aim of the program was to provide swim instructors with some new techniques in teaching the strokes.

Getting there is not always as smooth as the workshop itself

I must start with a little story about my travels. Like any workshop you need to get there. Well my first trip didn’t start off too well.

I arrived at Brisbane Airport for an early flight to Cairns. Upon arriving to Cairns I was then to get a connecting flight to Cooktown. At 6:30am in the morning it is exceptional rare Brisbane has storms. Well this morning we did. It soon became apparent after several delayed messages, I was going to miss my connecting flight. Problem solved…. I would drive from Cairns to Cooktown.

So 4.5 hours later after I arrived in Cairns I made it to Cooktown. The drive was beautiful and so was Cooktown. So green. The pool was a 25m, 6 lane pool and set in a nice green tree areas.

We had to delay the start of the clinic we got going with the first of the sessions – freestyle. There were four instructors and around 40 swimmers across the session. The next day we run 2 more sessions for backstroke and breaststroke. The key learning the instructors walk away with was the importance of head and body position or what I call the strong position.

Unfortunately due to the fact that I had to drive it meant our time was cut short….and I couldn’t site see that much. Both the instructors and swimmers still gained a lot learning and it was evident that I wanted to come back and they wanted me back. So we organised another visit for February 2017. They had some foundations to work on in the meantime.

This time the weather was on my side and I made it to Cairns with no delays and yes I got the connecting flight. I have travelled to many places and been on many planes but this was the first on a 12 seated where the pilots do the safety talk. You carry on luggage goes in the back of the plane and you have to sit in specific seats to balance the plane.

Once we were in the air, my face was stuck to the window. Oh how beautiful is the reef up that end of our coast. The 45 minutes was breathtaking. The landing was smooth by the pilots and I had landed once again in Cooktown.

Love our country

Learning from in the water

One of the lovely instructors, Chanelle, picked me up and we headed straight to the pool for the first session. Nothing like getting into it.

As per usual, once I was in the water I was at home. The learning began for all of us.

What I am going to go through next is some key things highlighted not only to the instructors and swimmers but to me.

First I must get you to take note.

On land:

  • We learn to walk from an unconscious requirement….ie when we are born our goal is to get upright with our head above our feet and move forward.

  • We learn to navigate the world by experience i.e. we bump into something the next time we go around it….well hopefully.

  • We move from a vertical position.

In water:

  • Swimming is not an unconscious requirement. It is a conscious choice

  • Swimming is an environment we cannot live in and the additional force called buoyancy means how we move is so different to what we do on land.

  • Swimming is done in a horizontal position

Swimming is unnatural therefore we need to consciously work with our swimmers to assist their learning to move in water. If teaching the strokes we need to start with the strong position.

So let me explain what the strong position is. This is the position that swimmers need to be in to engage their muscles in the strongest possible way. Think of it as what position you would stand in if someone was trying to push you over or your were trying to pull yourself over a wall. As our children don’t fall of monkey bars or run around outside as much as they use to, they are not unconsciously learning how to move from a strong position. Concerning water the strong position is:

  • arms above the head, shoulder width apart (there’s more to this),

  • head in neutral position

  • stomach tucked and core engaged

  • feet shoulder width apart

So what did I do to work on this with the swimmers?

This time I had brought my “magic sticks”. These are a piece of equipment I have been playing with to assist swimmers get into the strong position. With a background as a Physical Education teacher and being in the swimming industry for over 25 years, I have noted children’s inability to understand their body, where to move it and how to move it. So I start to play with my “magic sticks”.

I must add that the name of the sticks came from the swimmers from this Cooktown visit. They kept calling them magic sticks and after seeing what they did to the swimmers techniques, they were magic.

What the magic sticks do is give swimmers a reference point as to what is their strong position for their arms and head. Their feet will naturally align from there. Remember when someone is swimming they cannot see where their hands are places. They need to feel this i.e. how far their arms are away from their head, how far their hands are from each other and what the muscles feel like when they are in this position.

My Learning and hopefully yours

At the end of the weekend, the words that came to my mind was… “Gold. These magic sticks are gold”

All I can say to swim instructors is….What are you doing to develop and reinforce a swimmer's “strong position”. It is key this is worked on more consciously in our industry alongside our breath control. For my it is my magic sticks and I am going to continue to play with them to see what I can use them for.

Be strong, stay strong and teach strong.

Stay tuned for more information on “Magic Sticks” and breath control.

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