Number 32

Produced, edited, and copyrighted by
Professor Brent S. Rushall, San Diego State University


Brent S. Rushall, Ph.D., R.Psy.
[May 20, 2002]

The role of credible sports science is to indicate additions and erroneous applications of performance parameters in sport. Sports science should indicate the boundaries of what is correct and incorrect in coaching lore. Of major importance, is the description of what scientific tenets underlie correct coaching procedures. When speculative tenets are proposed, their disproof should change coaching procedures by removing the bases of practical applications, and consequently, changing what is coached. Since swimming coaches have penchants to "do something different" to signify their programs, there is a fertile field for investigation of the validity of any "coaching innovations". In those investigations, there usually will be debates between "sport scientists". Without debate, the possibility of objective verification of coaching procedures is reduced markedly. In turn, sport scientists need independent peer evaluations as much as coaches need scientific evaluations.

The Role of Lift in Swimming

At the end of the 1960s, "lift-propulsion" was a theory introduced to swimming. It was new, deceptively alluring, and accompanied by many visual aids that sold it to the overwhelming majority of swimming coaches. It directly impacted swimming coaching. "S-shaped" pulling patterns and a sole focus on the hand as the propelling surface changed the content of teaching and coaching swimming. Although the emphasis was mostly on crawl stroking, lift-propulsion was applied to all competitive strokes.

Lift-propulsion theory altered the nature of swimming coaching and instructional content. It was proselytized in many biomechanics textbooks and coaching courses. It was a dominant concept that changed a sport. That dominance was based on the belief that it was right (correct) and credible. Occasionally over the past 30+ years, there have been voices in the swimming "wilderness" that have questioned this acceptance. However, changes were maintained in the "bibles" of swimming and many "parishioners" went along with the worship. Many coaches and pseudo-scientists joined as preachers while the skeptics and heretics were ignored and/or ostracized to outside of swimming.

An Alternative

There now is a growing cadre of coaches and scientists who rely on evidenced-based knowledge to govern their interpretation of science and its applications to the coaching of swimming. Much of that evidence comes from swimmers who, despite instruction, have adopted patterns of movement that do not adhere to the implications of lift-propulsion. In concert with the swimmers, there has been a progression in scientific method to analyze actual data, rather than the diagrams and cartoons of others. Mounting evidence and its implications for swimming are at odds with the coaching of "lift-propulsion".

So that swimming coaching can improve, it is necessary to debunk lift-propulsion as the propulsive force, and replace it with what really happens. That replacement should indicate coaching procedures that will benefit swimmers more than what is advocated by lift-adherents. To produce change, it is necessary to promote a mode of behavior and to remove competing modes. To improve coaching, it is necessary to promote more effective teaching methods that generate greater propulsion, and to remove those methods that are counter-productive and incompatible with the new knowledge. It is necessary to rid lift-propulsion from the swimming domain and to focus on instructional techniques that produce better performances.

If lift-propulsion is not exposed for its uselessness, then coaches will continue with their knowledge inertia and swimmers will continue to be denied effective coaching. The removal of lift-propulsion from the preaching of pseudo-scientists and swimming coaches, will make it easier for swimming coaches to change for the better.

A return to focusing on drag-propulsion and the removal of lift-propulsion should promote beneficial changes in swimmers' performances. Those changes will be reflected in better coaching. The continually expanding, objectively verified knowledge base of sports science, suggests why lift-propulsion is wrong and at least what a better alternative might be. Those who are open-minded enough to change should benefit from the removal of lift-propulsion as a basis for coaching content and practice.

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