SIP 038: 2016 and Language

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Using external language to get better results posted an article about External and internal focus for optimal learning.


Basically: external focus is better. Using golf, darts, and balancing a board, researchers have shown that when you focus your attention on doing SOMETHING to something, you get better results.


This applies to swimming lessons because it gives us an insight into how we frame our language to get the best results.


Why do we say:


“Squeeze your ears, Look down, lock your thumb.


“Keep your arm straight, look down, and stay on the surface


Are these effective? Or are these internal cues.


Swimming and moving in the water is a highly personal thing and we often think about telling someone to do something by guiding their body. We assume they are attempting to move their body in a certain way, and they are!, but it may be more effective to give them a target, instead of giving a path.


Perhaps this is why “11, Y, scoop and Reach” is so effective.  It isn’t a “reach your arms up, keep them straight, sweep out, then shoot forward quickly.” It is instead, providing a visual target, or an external cue that swimmers need to externally achieve by moving their bodies toward!


How can we use our language as swim instructors and coaches to use these external cues.


We tried it at swim practice


  • Point your fingers to the walls when you do your back stroke
  • Aim your face to the lane lines when you breathe
    • Aim your nose
    • Shoot a laser out of your nose to the lane line when you breathe
  • Hit the target over your shoulder on the surface with each arm stroke before you do

“zombie” and pull during freestyle

  • For breaststroke we said, “shoot your arms forward like a bullet” and “throw your hands at the target over your head.”


target external

We drew these on the board.




We tried it in swim lessons:

  • Reach your arms as far forward as you can
  • Place them on the surface gently
  • Look at my toes underwater
  • Reach for me when you push off


It really works well when you do two benches facing each other:

  • Go 5 times from bench to bench.
  • Your goal is to get to the other bench while still in streamline, or still in position 11


Specific swim lesson activity


  • Swimmers stood on the bench, and were told to keep their body in a soldier position: straight back, straight head, arms at side.
  • We held a noodle just at the limit of their arm’s reach and asked them to make windmills with straight arms and “slap” the noodle each time they came around
    • This was for a long straight reach out in front for when they swim.
  • Moved the noodle “just” outside of reach, and asked to do again, encouraging hip rotation to reach the noodle for the “slap”

Better swimming.
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