Sherman, C. A., & Rushall, B. S. (1993). Improving swimming stroke using reverse teaching: a case study. In W. K. Simpson, A. LeUnes, & J. S. Picou, (Eds.). Applied Research in Coaching and Athletics Annual 1993. Boston: American Press.

The "normal" progression for teaching or correcting most skills in sports is to start at the beginning and progress through the action eventually ending with the last important aspect of the technique. This start-to-end sequence has been shown to be relatively inefficient for teaching and altering behaviors.

The authors of this case study document a reverse order teaching progression designed to eliminate errors in the crawlstroke technique of a talented Canadian swimmer. In a one-to-one coach-athlete interaction, the number of successful and unsuccessful trials at each step of the progression were documented.

The swimmer's total technique was corrected in three 40 min sessions. Stroke rate was reduced by 15.8% at training pace and 9.1% at race pace. Most attempts at change produced one or no errors in each 25 m practice lap.

The article contains a detailed description of the procedures and strategy for introducing this alternative approach to stroke correction.

Implication. The accepted practice of focusing on initiating swimming strokes correctly before moving onto the next logical unit of the stroke has been questioned. Although it may seem to be sensible to teach or correct strokes in that order, experimental research in learning suggests differently. By concentrating on the last important feature of a technique first, and then when it is done correctly moving to the next-to-last element, and so forth progressing through the stroke elements in reverse order is demonstrated as being very effective and powerful.

It is recommended that coaches consider reverse teaching progressions for correcting and instructing swimming strokes. A general description of the order for focusing on crawlstroke technique would be as follows.

  1. Hand exit - elbow bent; hand feeling a push back on the water.
  2. Extension to exit - maintain accelerated pressure on hand/forearm.
  3. Initiation of extension - no hand change; keep acceleration and constant pressure feeling.
  4. Center of pull - 90 degrees of bend accentuating forearm pressure backward.
  5. Forward pull - start accelerating hand and forearm as a unit with the elbow well bent so that the arm is close to being square to the line of pull. Concentrate on adducting both the internal and external rotators in balance.
  6. Reposition the arm by outwardly rotating the lower angle of the scapula, medially rotating the humerus, and flexing the elbow.
  7. Use the reposition action as the opportunity to compress the water so that the optimum direct resultant force can be sustained in the acceleration phase of the stroke. This compression initiates the acceleration of the swimmer through the water and the "fixing" of the propulsive surface so that the body is propelled past the arm.
  8. Initiate flow into the stroke as being a gradual, smooth acceleration so that the swimmer eventually moves fastest as the hand exits the water.
  9. The hand should enter the water with fingers flat so that downward and backward forces can be initiated immediately. Any sliding or extending further under water should be avoided.

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