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The similarities and positive transfer between front and back stroke

This is an excerpt from Complete Guide to Primary Swimming edited by John Lawton.

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These strokes are often referred to as the alternating strokes because of the nature of the arm and leg movements. This unit emphasises not only the requirements for each stroke but also the similarities and the positive transfer that can occur between them. Whilst it is an oversimplification to state that front crawl is backstroke turned over, this statement can immediately help swimming teachers to envisage how learning in one area can transfer to another. The leg actions are very similar, and the arm action in both strokes requires the arms to travel out and over the water (known as an over-the-water recovery). These points illustrate some of the similarities in the strokes. These similarities help learners to move between the two strokes with confidence, particularly as the previous units have brought them to a point where they are at home in the water and are comfortable on and under the water.

To enable the swimmer to move from the readiness stage to the achievement of basic technique, you should use a variety of progressive practices. At this stage it is recommended that you use a part–whole approach; in other words, develop certain aspects of the stroke before putting it all together into the full stroke. At times it may be appropriate, normally having watched a good demonstration, to try the whole stroke followed by practices specifically related to arms or legs (whole–part–whole approach).

Having completed the key skills in the previous units, the learners will already be comfortable floating on the front and back and will have experienced the feeling of being balanced in the water. Subject to the ability to float on the back, it is best to introduce backstroke first because it presents the least problems; the face is out of the water and breathing is unhindered. Although at this stage learners should be comfortable with putting the face in the water and aspects of aquatic breathing, swimming on the back means that they have fewer things to think about and can therefore focus on the actions of the arms and

The first part to consider is the leg action, referred to as kicking, because it follows logically from the previous stage that focused on body position and gliding. Kicking is important because it helps the swimmer to maintain the horizontal streamlined position, thus reducing resistance.

When introducing and developing the strokes, a systematic approach is helpful. BLABT (body, legs, arms, breathing, and timing) provides a structure to help you to observe the stroke as a means of bringing about improvement and also a sequence to teach the various aspects of a stroke. For example, if a swimmer is learning front crawl, achieving an appropriate body position is an important first step. You should observe the body position; if the desired position has not been achieved, then address this problem before moving on to the leg action. Similarly, you should address establishing an appropriate leg action before moving on to the arm action.

Linking to the National Curriculum Requirements

During this unit the learners are introduced to the following aspects of the National Curriculum (NC). The NC references are detailed in How to Use This Book.

Outcome 8.1

Be able to swim on the back with the legs kicking up and down and the arms performing an alternating
over-the-water recovery.

Equipment and Resources

Pool divider to prevent access to deeper water

What to Look For: Technical Aspects

At this stage, the technical aspects should be kept to a minimum. However, it is important to have a mental picture of what the stroke should look like. The main points are as follows:

  • Body: Almost horizontal, stretched and streamlined; chest at the surface with hips slightly submerged; back of the head pillowed in the water with eyes looking upwards towards the ceiling.
  • Legs and feet: Horizontal, close to the surface, knees under the water with feet and toes pointed; steady, continuous, alternating action initiated at the hips with slight bend at the knee; small splash behind.
  • Arms: Controlled, alternating, circular action, over the water with hand entering overhead at full stretch with little finger entering the water first and palm facing outwards; hand and arm pull round by the side to the thigh; hand leaves the water thumb first to start the recovery. The technical description of the arm action is referred to as a straight-arm pull and is appropriate for learners at this stage of their development. However, of all of the four strokes, the difference between the arm action in the learner and the competent swimmer is greater in backstroke than in the other strokes. As the swimmers become more confident and competent, consider introducing the bent-arm action (see unit 10 for details).
  • Breathing: Regular, controlled breathing.
  • Timing: Smooth, continuous movement with kicking, pulling and breathing coordinated and controlled.

Read more from Complete Guide to Primary Swimming, edited by John Lawton.
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Complete Guide to Primary Swimming
Complete Guide to Primary Swimming makes teaching swimming simple. Using this 10-unit programme, you’ll guide your key stage 2 pupils through sequential activities that will help them learn the four strokes: backstroke, front crawl, breaststroke, and butterfly. The book includes easy-to-follow games and activities, outcome checklists for each unit, equipment lists and teaching tips, and illustrations of techniques.
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