I got a great question the other day asking if I knew of any organization that has protocols for safety in teaching lifts to swimmers. I cannot think of any and since it is such an important topic I will share with you my opinion on the subject.
The most important thing to consider is choosing highlights that are appropriate for you own teams abilities. This includes physical abilities and cognitive abilities. For example, your team can throw someone up metres in the air, but they lack the awareness of swimmers around them.
Remember that highlights do not need to be lifts or throws either. Highlights need to be something memorable. This could be a float, a unique pattern change, a partner figure, . . .
Here are my personal guidelines:
- When I teach beginners highlights I start off with all the swimmers on land. I make sure they all know exactly what they are required to do. I have swimmers show me how they will grab and/or how they will move.
- Depending on the equipment you have available and the type of highlight you are doing you could have the swimmers do the set-up on land without the top person. This works really well for a classic throw where there is one person on top, a base (the person being stood on) and a swimmer on each foot. I suggest the swimmers be dry and that the coach(es) help get swimmers in position. Check out the the grabs and positions on land. Once the team can hold the position with accuracy then move to the next step.
- On land give the swimmers counts for the highlight. When do they grab (they will train that in the water), when do they squish, when do they push and when do they let go. Have them train the squish and push on land. Coaches are watching for the push from each foot to come at the same time and at the same level as well as the base swimmer standing evenly. Once there is good balance and consistency in the movements, show any extra swimmers where they go in the highlight. Ensure they know all the counts before moving on to the next step.
- In the water have the main part of the highlight do just the set-up. No one on top. Once that looks good practice the grab, squish, push and let go counts. Add the extra swimmers once the timing and stability is there.
- If everything underneath the water looks good add the top swimmer. The Top person is only allowed to stand up. These are the rules for the top swimmer:
- If you do not feel ready for the highlight roll off and away from the swimmers below you.
- Always be listening for the coach. Sometimes even swimmers from other teams can cross your path accidentally or perhaps you moved more than usual and are close to the wall.
- Coach be on the microphone so you can tell a highlight when to stop. Often a coach can see errors that may lead to a problem.
- The base swimmer needs to be aware of the top person. If she senses there is a chance a swimmer is coming down on her she should put her arms over her head to protect her head.
- Make sure the base swimmer has strong uninjured shoulders. All the standing and jumping off the shoulders can lead to more harm.
6. If you have a throw of some kind the swimmer on top needs to know precisely how to do her moves. I suggest working with a diving coach. My teams always had a diving coach once a week. If the top person feels the highlight will not work they roll off or just jump away from the team. Sometimes the top person may not feel ready for a flip or twist, but they can still pull off a plain jump. That is safer than just trying to make a highlight work like it should.
In terms of choreography there are some things to consider as well.
- Make sure the swimmers have enough time to properly execute the highlight.
- Make sure swimmers have a direct path to the highlight. Swimmers crossing paths can lead to confusion under water, swimmers being late to their positions and uneven pushes of the base of the highlight.
- Make sure your swimmers can count the music. In land drill all swimmers need to know the grab, squish, push and let go counts.
- Use the appropriate swimmers in the appropriate places. Sometimes your lightest swimmer is not the best to go on top. They could be scared, unaware of their own body, maybe they do not know how to jump.
- Consider keeping highlights simple for the beginning of the season and increasing the difficulty as the season and the swimmers ability progresses.
- If a throw is not well executed consider not putting one in your routine. Instead train it and show it off at water shows on its own. (Might even be a good idea for younger swimmers to have a highlight event where they could show off a highlight to counts outside of the routine. That is rant for another day)
The key points are:
- Everyone needs to know their job. This includes the coach.
- Everyone needs to know the counts. This includes when is the coach going to start counting on the microphone. Try to count the numbers as well so everyone knows exactly there they are.
- Everyone needs to do the highlight correctly before someone goes off the top.
- Everyone needs to know what to do if something goes wrong.
Ultimately the coach needs to keep their team safe.
That was a pretty long post for today. I hope you found it helpful and I would love to hear your ideas. If anyone does have a highlight protocol please send it my way. I’d love to see it. I know there are concussion protocols, but I think it is better to try and prevent injuries than treat them.
Yours in Synchro,