BASIC ASSUMPTIONS UNDERLYING SKILLS CURRICULA FOR AGE-GROUP ATHLETES
[Extracted from the article A CURRICULUM FOR THREE LEVELS OF AGE-GROUP SWIMMING: SECTION II -- A CURRICULUM FOR LEVELS OF AGE-GROUP SWIMMING authored by Brent S. Rushall, and published as an issue of the Swimming Science Bulletin in the Swimming Science Journal (1997).]
Underlying Assumptions of Program Structure
- Level 1 focuses on improving swimmers through the development of skilled technique in the four competitive strokes and their associated skills (e.g., turns, starts, training pool conduct). Since skill is the major determinant of swimming success, its emphasis from the beginning of a competitive swimming experience should be the central focus for improvement. Participants are assumed to initially have unsophisticated competitive swimming styles.
Swimmers in this group are assumed to be pre-pubertal, both males and females, and only interested in occasional competitions. Training will be overwhelmingly aerobic in content.
- Level 2 advances the teachings of Level 1 plus introduces training etiquette and procedures. The performance of all strokes is required and emphasized equally. The underlying assumption is that training without good technique is detrimental to good swimming development and performance.
Participants are assumed to be late pre-pubertal or pubertal, both males and females, and interested in minor competitions. Training will be dominantly aerobic in nature.
- Level 3 completes the instruction of techniques and the concentration on correct swimming. This is the final stage of an age-group program and still does not emphasize physical conditioning as the path to success. Technical efficiency and control should be stressed along with an expansion of other swimming requirements (e.g., mental skills, advanced racing skills, full training schedule with moderate volume).
Swimmers will be pubertal or adolescent, males and females, and oriented toward serious competing. A major portion of training will be aerobic, with sprint training being of a different nature for each gender to satisfy differences and training response characteristics.
- The provision of a curriculum will allow stability and consistency to be employed in a program. A curriculum, always with the potential for review and alteration, means a certain level of expectation for performance can be asked of swimmers and coaches, a factor that will provide an impetus for the standard of swimming to improve.
Assumptions About the Curriculum
There are several assumptions that underlie the curriculum. They are listed below.
- Skill improvement is the best emphasis for swimmer development. It is important for swimmers to swim well prior to training hard. Hard training with poor skills is detrimental to long term development and thwarts future development.
"A child placed into a swimming race without good technique is like asking a child to do algebra without first doing arithmetic."
- The curriculum across the three levels is structured vertically in content. Each follows the other with an understanding that participants will be familiar with the previous level's teachings. This allows progression in development and precision as a swimmer moves upward in standard. Levels 2 and 3 will have instructional content that revises what was done in the previous level. That revision is intended to ensure that swimmers "do not miss out" on any aspect of technical development.
- The focus on skill represents a "new" shift in emphasis for swimmer development in that it is likely to generate faster and more swimmer improvement than an emphasis that stresses "hard" training (conditioning) or a pure work ethic. The instruction of technique is the mainstay of any age-group program. Until growth has been completed, attempts to specialize in one or more strokes should not be encouraged. Age-group swimmers should "grow" and "advance" in all strokes despite inclinations to "prefer" less than all strokes. This is predicated on the evidence that specialization which occurs late rather than early in an athlete's career leads to higher levels of ultimate achievement.
- Because growth occurs continually in the vast majority of age-group swimmers it is pointless to instruct minute details of swimming techniques. What is a learned position or movement path one day might change literally overnight in response to a maturation spurt. Altered lever length and limb control usually necessitate some relearning of an action. Thus, if stroke details are restricted to basic mechanics, techniques can be learned and adjusted in concert with modifications in a swimmer's structure.
- The individual physiques of swimmers require instruction that allows for adaptations in mechanics to fit each person's requirements. There is no one way of performing any action that is common to all swimmers. Thus, exact instruction of details to groups of swimmers will suppress the development of necessary individual adaptations. This assumption is in accord with the training "principle of individuality."
- Repetition and feedback are necessary features of good instruction.
- The curriculum is divided at each level into two blocks. This allows for "follow-up" on progress and or revision after the first instructional block. The second block revises the teachings of the first (at least 50% of time allotment) but also includes further extensions in technique aspects.
- Each pool session where new conceptual content is to be presented (most technique facets are concept-oriented) should be preceded by a lecture and discussion of what will be instructed in the lesson. This activity will reduce the amount of inactive pool time that would be consumed by detailed explanation. Reduction in distractions in dedicated instructional settings will enhance understanding and retention of content.
- Although techniques for all strokes are stressed, it is likely that only one stroke can be instructed at each practice session. This leads to a training session structure of introducing new content for one stroke in the "learning" part of the practice and then using the remaining practice to reinforce and revise already instructed skill elements for all strokes from the present and past lessons.
- The conduct of one training session emphasizing one stroke will produce sufficient concentrated learning that its effects will last even though the remainder of the training session will include other emphases.
- For effective and lasting skill development, stroke techniques must be learned as a series of progressions according to verified principles of instruction (the science of pedagogy). To violate a progression will not result in the best learning or terminal behavior. Such progressions are termed "shaping" and have to comply by exhibiting characteristics which:
- develop progressively for movement control from the center (e.g., body actions and alignments, head positions) to the periphery (e.g., hand and foot movements);
- commence all propulsive movements from the point where they are concluded and then progress finally to the point where they are initiated (also known as "backward shaping);
- are structured in small enough steps so that the transition from one step to the next is relatively easy and the likelihood of difficulty or failure is minimized;
- each step is explained adequately so that a swimmer can self-evaluate the quality and adequacy of performance.
- Good instruction will feature repetition of concepts but a variety of presentation methods until skill aspects become technically proficient and habitual. Growth factors will frequently intervene to disrupt skilled performance causing skill levels to deteriorate. For that reason, the curriculum contains frequent in-depth repetition of content to ensure an orientation toward propelling efficiency.
Assumptions About the Coaching Staff
For an age-group program to succeed, the coaching staff has to adopt a particular role and display a certain level of competence. It is assumed that participating coaches will have the following characteristics:
- A knowledge of the latest techniques.
- Adequate instructional skills to provide meaningful positive feedback to swimmers at a high frequency and a bent on providing positive rather than correctional (negatively-oriented error correction) feedback
- A willingness to adopt a role of supporting the curriculum rather than treating each training session as an opportunity for self-indulgence.
- A willingness to embrace the curriculum.
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