I was asked a while ago if I could write some tips on choreography for teams with a wide range of skill levels. This must be one of the most challenging things to do as a coach besides teaching beginners to do eggbeater.
When I think of routines that I have seen or coached that have a range of skills there are 11 tips that stand out.
1. Always position the swimmers to be successful. This will build their skills and confidence to do more challenging skills later in the season.
2. Choreograph moves that are good from day one. You do not have the luxury of hoping the swimmers will get it. You need to make the routine look as good as possible right from the start.
3. Consider using a combo style approach or cadences to some sections to allow stronger swimmers to have harder parts and weaker swimmers to have easier parts. I do not mean swimmers should do nothing. Some examples are while some swimmers do a hard hybrid the others do the same movement but with their arms. Perhaps some swimmer pull down into a hybrid later or in highlights have some swimmers do arms beside the highlight to get an extra break.
4. Coach the swimmers to swim the standard you want by the end of the year especially in the easy skills like layouts and presentation. Remember you do not need to be a strong swimmer to have great presentation.
5. Separate the skills of the routine in practice. For example, if some swimmers are having a difficult time with synchronization because they cannot keep their height, give those swimmers some bottles to hold onto so they can focus on just one thing. Do pattern changes on land to help those who cannot eggbeater as long. Do eggbeater sections with float belts to help weaker eggbeater swimmers.
6. Set your routine early on and do not make changes for at least 3-4 weeks before a competition if you can. This will dramatically help synchronization and consistency of the routine. Only make changes that must be made and that will increase the execution of the routine. Stay away from changing things you don’t like. You may never like everything.
7. Keep it simple. It’s my opinion and experience that cleaner and better executed routines do better.
8. Highlights do not necessarily need to be throws or lifts. They can be cool pattern changes, joined hybrids or arms. Highlights are something memorable. If your team is not great at the throws and lifts consider trying a different type of highlight.
9. Set realistic goals and communicate them to everyone involved. One year I coached a beginner team and we were weeks away from our first competition with an unfinished routine. In fact half of the team still could not perform eggbeater. Because I had communicated to the parents ahead of time that our goal was to get the synchro basics it was an easy call for me to focus on the skills and take a penalty for the routine being too short. Position yourself to be successful too.
10. Be patient and focused. Set some key areas to focus on and then be patient waiting for the results. Don’t be quick to abandon something because often the results are just around the corner. This does not include choreography. Get rid off choreography that does not work. I am talking about being patient with training eggbeater height, posture, . . the technical and physical side of synchro.
11. Never ever choreography a move so a swimmer ends up in a specific spot if it disrupts the flow of the routine. For example, you want a certain swimmer in a specific highlight position and they end up swimming half way around the pattern to get there. Figure out a better way like adding a pattern change before the highlight.
Ultimately you will need to be more creative with your routines. Also be clear with what the goal for the season is. The goal will determine what you need to focus on.
Share your best tips on my Facebook page or comment below. Send me an email if you have any specific questions.
Yours in Synchro,
Author of upcoming book Synchronized Swimming Patterns, Pattern Changes and Synchronization Options.
Feature Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net