Coincidentally, this topic has come up several times in the last week, and so I will offer some encouragement on it.
When practicing a body position or skill on your own, without the coach present…
How do you know if you are doing it correctly?
The short, simple, but difficult answer is this: you must learn to feel it.
And this all comes from setting up your own feedback system.
As you read through this, please read the very last section also – that will improve your understanding of what your definition of ‘correct’ should be.
Build Your Feedback System
To feel it, you must first develop body awareness which is the ability to pay attention to the sensation coming from your whole nervous system that tell you where your body is at and what it is doing in water is the first step. Your nervous system is constantly sending signals to your brain from all parts of the body. When you ignore all other thoughts in your head and pay attention to only the sensory information coming from your nerves that connect throughout your skin, muscles and joints.
Side thought: Does it sound difficult to ignore all those other thoughts? That is exactly what mindfulness training helps us do – control the attention. If you are having a hard time doing this in swim practice, you may consider taking up some basic mindfulness training at home. Just 5 or 10 minutes a day, every day for several weeks would greatly improve your ability to control your attention.
Once you engage body awareness you can notice how your body is positioned and how it is moving. This is using your proprioception which relies upon that internal sensory information, not eyesight.
Next, you have to deliberately associate a sensation with appearance. For every position or motion you must connect ‘How Does It Look?’ with ‘How Does It Feel?’ This is the crux of the matter. You can start by looking, but you must finish with feeling. For each body part, for each piece of the movement, in order for you to sense if it is closer to the idea or farther away you must notice the sensations that tell you whether it is closer or farther away.
Imitate To Acquire Feel
You may look at an ideal example from a photo, from the coach giving you a demonstration, or from a video. Memorize this demonstration of position or motion – burn it into your mind. You may even use visualization to first practice this motion, memorize and develop expectations for how it should feel.
Then you must imitate that body position or motion. First, stand (in rehearsal) or lay down in the water (in drill position) and look at your body part if you can to make sure it is positioned or moving as you intend. If possible, stand in front of a mirror or reflective window so you can see yourself to check that your body is matching the ideal image in your mind. Then turn your eyes away as you keep doing it – you may even close your eyes – so that you must feel that position or motion. Look back again to make sure it is still doing what you intend – then remove your eyes so that you must feel it. Go back and forth.
To do this you may use some techniques for self-correction described in our library:
Whole Stroke Requires Feel
Once you move from drill to whole stroke, you can’t see most of your body or movements yourself (unless you have a video camera – but even then, you only see it after you are done moving). By this point you must have the ability to feel the motion and notice whether it is closer or further away from your ideal. Otherwise, what are you controlling your body with?
Here are some rehearsals videos (found on our Video Tutorial page) you may view to imitate the rehearsals and work on acquiring the feel for each:
Once you are swimming whole stroke your control panel consists of mostly of internal sensory information. Your ability to swim smoothly and to control energy use depends on your ability to monitor those signals coming from your body and make adjustments with the skills you have developed during countless hours in practice.
The Ability To Change
Lastly, I want to encourage you with this – not only are you training your body to swim more skillfully, you are learning how to train you body – reshaping your body is a skill itself.
Here is the basic message: you are trying to do it correctly the first time, but the fact is, you won’t be perfect. Even your understanding of ‘perfect’ is not perfect. Simply practice doing it better today than you were doing it yesterday. Make changes that take you in the direction of what you currently believe to be the ideal, and that is good enough to strengthen this skill for making changes. Next time you are with the coach you may receive an updated understanding of the ideal and then you will make changes according to that new information.
Every time you practice making improvement toward an ideal you have in your mind – even if that ideal is not ‘correct’ – your ability to make changes increases! So, when you receive new insight you can make changes and make them stick faster.
So, do your best today with the understanding you have today.
Here are a couple posts that may explain more of this: