Take Your Marks! Coaching Starts

Take your marks! We all can visualize hearing this familiar call-to-action as swimmers get ready to spring into the water off the blocks. What we hope to be a successful race actually begins before “Swimmers, Take Your Marks.” Starting well gives swimmers confidence and a competitive edge over the person in the lane next to them. Why, then, do swim coaches find it difficult and frustrating to practice starts in a meaningful and impactful way? Well, there are several reasons for this, all of which we are going to explore in today’s blog…

Let’s Get Started

How Do I Know Which TYPE Of Start To Teach?

Great question! Did you know that there are 30 possible combinations of starts? That doesn’t even include all of the nuances of Backstroke Starts! Understanding the Key Attributes of a Start’s Set-Up, how they impact each other, and how to make an informed decision on which combination to use is more than a little overwhelming. Furthermore, there is actually going to be a different “right combination” for each swimmers, depending upon each swimmer’s personal attributes. This alone makes spending meaningful time on starts an overwhelming task.

Take Your Marks: But Every Pool Has Different Block Features?

Additionally, another variable that keeps coaches from programming time to practice meaningful starts is the fact that almost every block is going to have a different set of features! So, it can feel a little futile to practice all the time on one block only to be thwarted by a different style. There are two keys to success with this problem:

The first is to mentally prepare swimmers ahead of time for these potential changes. That could mean taking time to show them a slideshow of different block features (like the Backstroke Wedge!). Even just having a conversation about how a block can change. If you’re lucky, your facility has multiple different block capabilities. That means you have the capability to give your swimmers intentional practice on every type of block they can. Mental preparation is more than half the battle!

Take Your Marks! But with or without a backstroke wedge? And with vertical or horizontal handlebars?

Then, the second solution to this problem is to practice the FOUNDATION of a start really well, rather than focusing on the little nuances that will change as you add in different block styles. One example of a Foundational Principle is Engaging Your Arms on Your Start. No matter if the block has rails or a flat surface, the arms need to be engaged!

There’s Never Enough Time At Practice

Practice time is ALWAYS a war of priorities. Coaches have to balance many different types of training and needs of their swimmers. That being said, starts are at the top of the list for easily falling to the wayside. Oftentimes I hear coaches saying, “Just practice your start on race day,” or “Four starts at the end of practice and you’re done.” Except, those starts aren’t watched for technique (they look something Like This), nor have swimmers been educated on the key attributes they should be practicing.

Good starts can give your swimmers an incredible advantage!

We recommend that coaches use start practice for times that swimmers might be more beat-down, or needing of a physical break (like in between hard sets). First, pull your swimmers out and take some time educating them on the styles of start you’re looking for. Then, practice a specific amount of each type. This will let swimmers figure out for themselves what works best for them. As always with good coaching, the final step is about having a continual conversation with your swimmer.

There’s Not Enough Start-Specific Coaching Education

If you have ever felt frustrations about these start-specific constraints, take solace in the fact that it’s a sport-wide problem. Thankfully, there’s something we are doing about it to help you (and something you can do to help yourself). Swim Like A. Fish was created with the mission to educate the world on swim technique. That includes starts. Look for a new course dropping very, very soon.

Coaches Take Your Marks! LEARN about starts!

Here’s just a sneak peak at some of the coursework we’ll be programming on starts!

Until Next Time,

Abbie Fish and the Swim Like A. Fish Team

3 Responses

  1. Hi Abbie Fish,
    Enjoyed your piece about teaching starts. I have some input on making time during practice for working on starts:
    A. The start combines intricate movements that must be timed and coordinated correctly, so I don’t teach them at the end of practice, because it’s hard to put together new skills and coordinated when your body is dead tired. Instead, I try to do it after the first set, or even right after the warm up.
    B. I teach the dive in a step-by-step sequence, but backwards, in this order:
    1. Underwater dolphins after entry
    2. Entry streamline (dolphin jumps)
    3. Flight posture and angle
    4. Leg action for the jump
    5. Arm action for the jump
    6. Head action to initiate the jump
    I do it backwards because during the learning of each new skill, the swimmer should know what comes after it.

    1. Hello Etienne,

      Thanks so much for commenting about your personal start protocol! You make a really good point – starts require intricate timing and movements. Practicing them after the warm-up is smart. I also like the idea of teaching the steps backward. Make sure to include set-up on the block in your steps! We’ve got a course on starts that goes more into this if you’re interested: https://swimlikeafish.org/courses/basics-of-starting-101

      Abbie Fish

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