Practice independently while playing in an orchestra

Like a musician, a swimmer needs to practice and fine tune their own skills.
Learning to swim and train as a competitive swimmer was the same for me as so many other swimmers; kick sets, pull sets, train hard, work hard.
Looking back I didn’t enjoy, but rather endured swim sets.  I certainly didn’t train smart or understand how to work with the water.
When I picked up swimming again in my early 30s, I  quickly realised that  I wasn’t as good as I remembered and couldn’t swim that far until I felt exhausted. Very humbling!

Skip forward to my late 40s both body and brain now understand how swimming works in relation to biomechanics and physics, how we can slip through the water rather than work against it.  Our incredible bodies can work as a cohesive integrated whole, allowing for impressive almost effortless  power, rather than a using our body in a way that works as separate independent parts that often work against each other.

Twelve years of teaching I have shared my knowledge to over 1800 pupils at school, my colleagues and the adults I teach, challenging the status quo and a more traditional, conventional way of thinking about swimming.

Prioritising balance, streamline and integrated body movements and weight shifts to move effortlessly through the water before adding any misguided attempts at power or speed.  Effort that can often be lost rather than resulting in forward motion.  

Encouraging progress through mindful practice and experimenting that hopefully becomes a pleasure.
When learning at Bancroft’s School (Years 3-13) we have taken away the floats even with our non swimmers, they mask our own ability to find balance and weightlessness in water.  Co-operating with gravity, finding balance, understanding our own weight distribution in water and how our breathing keeps us calm, relaxed and afloat are our first learning steps.

Next we learn how to shape and move our body in a way that doesn’t immediately cause fatigue and take away the sense of calm and control we need to feel in water.

We have no concern over distance travelled, prioritising the quality of movement and the ability to stay calm and remain attentive.  Movement through water applies  physics and Laws of Motion so the priority is to make smarter choices.  Distances build as swimmers learn how to repeat a pattern of breathing and non breathing strokes.  The outcome being they increase the distance they can travel.

This is my watery bubble and the experiences of others are not always the same, where progress can be hard won and terminal mediocrity can be the experience.

Michael sharing his Form goggle results and improvement following his 1:1 adult coaching and the mindful practice of 2 technique focuses.


Once our swimming technique is in place, we progress by staying on the edge of our comfort zone where we can stay focused and challenge our level of skill.  This is where the greatest growth happens.

Too often, competitive swimmers, triathletes and adults experience swim sets that are almost the opposite of these guiding principles, sets focus on working hard, kicking, pulling and the progress you have made and the feelings of swimming with ease are quickly lost.

Training in these group environments can make staying mindful and focused on your technique a huge challenge, taking you too far beyond your own comfort zone.
This may resonate with you if you are feeling frustrated by your progress within a group and want to swim more effectively and efficiently and with a greater sense of comfort and control; or find that when you try to swim faster, you end up going slower or feel your technique quickly deteriorate or you fatigue.
If this is you, be brave, step into your own bubble where you can control your progress, manage the challenge on your terms, even if this means moving away from a group for a while or excusing yourself to the back of the lane.  Do not be afraid or let your ego stop you from some time practicing on your own or in the ‘slow lane’’.
Swim slow to swim smooth, swim smooth to swim fast.
Swimming is a cognitive skill, just like learning a musical instrument, where it’s impossible to get better without individual purposeful practice.  
A piece of music would never be learnt at full speed, but learnt slowly and broken down and pieced together, with time spent focusing on areas of difficulty before moving on to play the piece of music as a whole.


As with the musician, a swimmer needs time to independently practice before joining and while training in a group.  A group environment can be a lot of fun and motivational, but it doesn’t always guarantee the improvement you are capable of.  So take the time to focus on your own improvement and if a group isn’t for you enjoy the pleasure of swimming and practicing on your own.


I was in a group session last night and swam really well when I least expected it. I held the rhythm of my lane and was able to comfortably change the gears between ‘easy’ and ‘harder’ swimming times I have aspired  to for a long time.  I’ve achieved my first goal to prove that I can swim relaxed at sub-2min/100m pace.

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