Sink or swim…

His goal? To qualify for the GB age-group team at September's World Champs in Hyde Park. How? Via £10 notes and clamped cheeks. Here's Matt Lawton...

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Imagine clenching a £10 note between your buttocks. It’s something I now do every time I swim, along with one or two other drills in an effort to improve my freestyle technique. I picked this new trick up at a recent swimming lesson conducted with the use of a video camera to establish the few things I do right… and the many things I do wrong.

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My coach for the day was Tom Hibberd, from TFN Tri Club in Nottingham, who I have to thank for his kindness when it came to assessing my strengths and weaknesses. “Nice relaxed shoulders,” he enthused, as I caught the side-on view of me swimming the length of the University of Nottingham pool.

I’d never seen myself swimming before. And do you know what? I looked okay. Until, that is, Tom filmed me from above with the use of his camera boom. Was that me or was Tom mistakenly showing me footage of a frog with a severe leg wound? Watching myself at the side of the pool on Tom’s laptop, I winced. What the hell was going on with my left leg? Why was I doing this strange scissor kick thing? It didn’t get much better,
either, as he then showed me exactly what takes place beneath the surface of the water. Look at that left knee bend! My left thigh acts like a bloody brake every couple of strokes – apparently runners are notorious for having a poor leg-kick.

Tom tried to convince me he’d seen worse. Fine, I thought, but had any of them been daft enough to publicly declare a desire to secure an age-group place at the World Championships come September? Tom, I have to say again, was brilliant – not only in identifying why I did what I did, but also in giving me different drills to try to alleviate the many problems. The left leg flicked out because I lifted my head too much whenever I breathed to my right. I could see how much better I swam when I breathed left – much flatter and smoother. When I breathed right, however, the head also acted like a brake, the body rolled too far and the
left foot flicked out in an attempt to provide me with a bit of stability. “It’s a natural reflex,” reassured Tom.

There were issues with my ‘catch’ as well, but that was simpler to address. I could see for myself what I was doing wrong – the angle of entry. Simply too much energy being wasted pushing down rather than pulling that imaginary Swiss ball. Tom’s advice: get back in the water and try these new drills.

First, I had to imagine I had a steel rod running the length of my spine and passing through the top of my head. “Now,” said Tom, “turn your head on the steel rod when you breathe.”

I might have felt like Frankenstein’s monster, but Tom explained that the key to all of this is understanding what you were doing wrong before and trying to correct it. I could feel myself lifting my head too much, just as I became aware of my left foot flicking out. Once you’ve seen it – and forgive the rather unscientific explanation – the brain’s sensors seem to pick these things up more effectively.

Without over-complicating matters, Tom gave me one or two other drills to try. I needed to brush my big toes together, I needed to stretch an imaginary piece of elastic between my nose and my stomach – my core has always been rubbish – and I needed to grip that tenner with everything I had.

These are the thought processes I’m now forced to go through when I’m in the pool. “Turn on that pole, stretch that elastic, brush those toes, grip that tenner.” Only I’ve started using fivers now. It was getting
far too expensive.

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Pics credited to Tom Hibberd