1. Please introduce yourself to the readers (how you started in the profession,
After a PE certificate in 1998 and swim coach certificate in 1999, I used to teach PE and to coach swimming in France for 4 years. Then I achieved a PhD degree in Sport Sciences in 2003, in the field of Biomechanics and Motor control. I mostly focus on coordination dynamics both for clean swimming part and start-turn. The starting point of my research question, which feeds my view of teaching and coaching, roots in systemic approach, and more precisely Complex dynamical system. In clear, it says « the whole is more that the sum of parts » ; to me it means that all internal components (limbs, joints, muscles, etc) but also external components (environmental and task constraints) interact and should be considered as coupled…so finally without internal-external view relating to an individual. In practice, it means I won’t try to correct a swimmer technique by giving a lot of instructions, in order to correct his technique in a microscopic way. Instead I approach the problem with a macroscopic view that focus on the main parameter of the behaviour…often the perceptual motor coordination (because coordination already means interaction between and within elements). Doing that means that I manipulate constraints, i.e., I set boundaries to the swimmers in order to prohibit unexpected behaviour instead of to prescribe desired behaviour. In fact I set a problem to involve problem solving in practice (and not through cognitive process) rather than telling them what to do (… the solution).
2. You have done a lot of research on swimming, but I want to start by discussing your research on starts. What are some common flaws in swimming starts?
Swimming start is a big compromise for me; a compromise between several choices:
- React rapidly versus take time to provide high impulse.
- Flat aerial trajectory for lower entry and gliding phase, which often means short aerial trajectory, risk of large hole and lead your to swim early versus pike trajectory to later encounter aquatic resistance, which often corresponds to deep dive, higher CoM speed at the entry, cleaner entry but the need to recover parallel position to the water surface, so potentially lost of speed.
- Last swimmer has to deal with more or less glide part before kicking and swimming, with the need of hydrodynamic and effective swimming.
3. Do you think there are any kinetic or kinematic differences between breast, fly, or freestyle starts?
I see the main differences during the aquatic part, especially time dedicated to glide …particularly in breaststroke where you perform a complete arm strike, then glide with the arms at the tight before moving them forward. I would say, that there is also the great interest of doing leg undulation in both fly and freestyle that need a particular attention to perform effective leg undulation
4. With the evolution of underwater kicking, do you think starts will change at all to accommodate more underwater kicking?
I think it would depend on the capability of swimmer to perform effective leg undulation personally I would favour high acceleration through a medium vertical amplitude, so involving stroke rate rather ample undulation.
5. You published on an article on the kinetic and kinematic differences between elite sprinters, what were the main findings?
The main findings related to the need of considering individual characteristics to have an individual approach of start. I does not mean necessary individual style but to lead swimmer to discover his most efficient technique. Indeed, it’s quite different to swing the arms forward or backward during the impulse. While the first solution favours flight, the second favour rotation so different aerial trajectories may happen. According to the compromise I presented earlier, swinging the arms forward or backward will lead you to solve differently the compromise.
6. Do you think these starting styles and differences still exist with the new Omega OSB 11 kick back starts?
The new Omega OSB 11 only stop previous debates between grab and track start, but not the debate between forward or backward swing of the arms. So there is still place for exploring his own feeling of performing start. However, a the legs push off could be really support by the block, it would increase the importance of a good arm-leg coordination.
7. What progressions or areas do you think elite sprinters can still improve in their start?
As stated previously, one way of improvement is the good co-ordination between arms swing and leg impulse…still with a compromise between quick start or long push off.
8. In your discussion you stress the importance of individualization, are there any parameters or anthropomorphics to help a coach prescribe a starting style to each individual?
Individualized training mostly relates to have an individual approach of training (instead of applying theory in practice with a consideration of expert model in mind that should be imitated) rather than looking for the individual characteristics to prescribe a style. I’m not comfortable with « prescribing » strongly what to do. I’m confident with the ability of swimmers to explore and to solve the perceptual motor task I request.
9. What drills or practices do you think are best for improving a start?
I like disrupting with routine, so I like introducing variability in practice. It does mean « always different » but very slight differences in the instructions every 3 or 4 trials…instructions being mostly on the movement outcome rather than on the movement form. I usually formulate my instructions as « find the way of… ». I also like using analogy, i.e., giving biomechanical metaphor.
10. Do you think starts are practiced enough on swim teams? If not, how often would you suggest practicing starts?
I’ve not a clear idea of how start is performed over sea, but around me, we don’t take enough time to practice start. I would prefer to practice it more often to stabilize learning and under different conditions (fresh, fatigue, following by sprint or not, under temporal pressure or long concentration).
11. What research or projects are you currently working on or should we look from you in the future?
As I stopped coaching swimming, I also move my research topics to learning especially following what we call non-linear pedagogy (see recent publication of Jia Yi Chow and colleagues for a good example). It’s more or less what I explain previously about using constraints-led approach rather than prescriptive approach.
I also focus on how using technology in swimming to provide rapid feedback, especially using IMU (inertial measurement unit combing 3D accelerometer, 3D gyroscope, 3D magnetometer) to assess joint angle, instantaneous speed etc. For an example, see recent paper of Farzin Dadashi with whom I collaborated.