Friday Interview: Stefan Szczepan Ph.D. Discusses Immediate Feedback in Swimmers

Friday Interview: Stefan Szczepan Ph.D. Discusses Immediate Feedback in Swimmers

Dr. GJohn Mullen Biomechanics, Blog, Latest&Greatest, Training 1 Comment

1. Please introduce yourself to the readers (how you started in the profession, education, credentials, experience, etc.).
Hi, my name is Stefan Szczepan. I’m a scientist at the University School of Physical Education in Wroclaw, Poland and I work at the Department of Swimming. This year I received a doctoral degree. I’m interested in motor control and learning included motor skill acquisition processes in the water environment, especially teaching communication, forms of instruction, augmented feedback, and practice schedules. My mentor is Professor Krystyna Zaton, the head of the Institute of Physical Activity in Water Environment in my University. She guides me in the science. I’m very proud of this relationship and I am very thankful for the trust and the knowledge transfer. My most recent research is about the impact of immediate verbal feedback and concurrent visual feedback on the improvement of swimming technique. I am the author or co-author of a few articles in research journals. I connect theory with practice while teaching swimming and swimmers trainer.

2. You recently published an article with immediate feedback and swimming. What are the different types of feedback?
Feedback is sensory information that results from movement. There are two types of feedback: intrinsic (integral) and extrinsic (augmented feedback). Intrinsic feedback is the sensory information arising as a result of physical activity by the means of sensory mechanisms (exteroreceptors and proprioreceptors). Information that derives from the receptor allows for movement regulation as well as the adjustment of motor task completion to the desired model of physical activity. Extrinsic feedback is formed after the completion of a motor activity and is transmitted by a third. Examples of extrinsic information are verbal communication, gestures, video, timer displays. There are several distinct types of feedback which are categorized according to the time of its transmission: concurrent feedback (provided during motor task concern continuous information), immediate feedback (provided during motor task concern discrete information) and delayed (transmitted after the completion of the motor action). Types of feedback are the most important to me. The most effective information is verbal and immediate. If you are interested in it – follow this link: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25114741

3. In your study you worked on improving the swimmer’s stroke length, can you explain how you did this?
This study that we conducted together with Professor Zaton concerns the issues related to the importance of the transfer of feedback in an immediate manner to the learner during the learning swimming process. The work shows that the time in which the feedback reaches the learner is important in the motor control and that it improves swimming technique. The feedback communicated to the learner in real time manner regarding a performed motor function allows for the removal of errors in the short-term memory or prevents their formation. I chose a simple kinematic parameter of swimming movement as stroke length to confirm the importance of immediate verbal feedback. In this way, the emergence of an error in the time-space structure of swimming motility was eliminated. The objective numerical dimension of the mistakes made allowed for a quantified relationship between the shortening of the swimming stroke length and the constant frequency of the propulsive movements. These factors led to a decrease in the efficiency of swimming, which was noted in the swimming velocity and a decrease in the economization of the swimming techniques, as indicated by the index SI. For these purposes, I used special wireless tools including a system, transmitter, and receiver for swimmer and teacher. This gave a possibility of a verbally and immediately control of swimming movement. It’s an amazing technology that I spent significant money to develop and it works incredibly well.

4. What were the main results of your study?
The use of these tools in an experiment conducted on the experimental group, in which the information regarding the execution of the performed activity was transferred to students in an immediate manner, indicated that the swimming stroke is significantly improved along with an increased swimming speed while maintaining the same frequency of movements. This resulted in an effective movement in the aquatic environment. In the control group, however, where such information was not given, there was no observed swimming stroke elongation while maintaining the same frequency of movements. The transmission of immediate feedback in order to prevent the occurrence of errors or to eliminate them entirely, this also resulted in an improvement of the economization of swimming motor functions. The economization of swimming techniques was assessed using the index of SI [stroke index], which was considered as its measurement. Increase in the index SI values will see a decrease in the physiological cost of effort. In the control group, this increase was not observed. It looks like that work tool and the assumptions of study can be used in any other motor swimming motor activity, not only stroke length. An example would be learning and improving movements of the legs and hands, body position in the water or coordination aspects, as well as other swimming motor elements.

5. What were the practical implications for coaches and swimmers from your study?
With the breaking of communication barriers, the following improve:

  1. Preventing the occurrence of errors and removing them from the motor memory.
  2. Improving motor structures and the cost reduction of physiological effort.
  3. Conditions will be created to improve the quality of swimming techniques with varying degrees of accomplishment of utilitarian.
  4. Recreational values of physical culture, as well as antagonistic values noticeable in the competitive sports oriented towards maximizing achievement.

The applied value of the method used, in which the verbal feedback was transmitted instantaneously in an immediate manner, in the practice of teaching and coaching is the enrichment of the communication technology regarding the correct structure of swimming motor functions. This is the main principle. The above assumptions are based on the physiological structure of human memory, whose different types are classified depending on how long information is stored in them. At first, site takes include human motor memory and the second site augmented immediate verbal feedback. I give a method with used immediate verbal feedback for improves swimming technique and effectively the swimming learning process.

6. Do you think the results would be different if you had older, elite or untrained swimmers?
For sure people perceive information differently, due to age, sex or seniority. Probably we would observe differences between elite and non-swimmers. This study showed the impact of immediate feedback on young swimmers. It can apply for all swimmers, but the results may be a little different. In the future, I will plan other studies that answer this question clearly.

7. Do you think immediate tactile or visual feedback would have different results? 
Teaching and improvement of swimming technique are effective when external information is transmitted in three forms: words, images and practical actions. In the case of the tactile, I need to appeal to kinesthetic differentiation. It is one of the most important motor abilities. This ability is a precise perception of strength, time, and space. Feeling spatial movements, feeling of movement speed, what it’s called “water feeling” makes precise control of the movements. Tactile feedback can improve kinesthetic differentiation and makes to decrease energy cost and achieving better results. We deal with this issue at my University. As regards the visual feedback I use a special device. For example, it is the optical fiber giving the swimmer concurrent visual information. The light beam also provides the swimmer with the information on swimming speed. The ability to control the speed of swimming is an important part of preparation during swimming training. This is especially important when the desire is to obtain a pure training stimulus. Swimming with a defined – constant speed impacts on economical labor, and allows for maintaining a low physiological cost. Therefore, the development of a method that allows for the acquisition and improvement of that skill is an important methodical goal in the process of swimming training optimization.

8. When working on biomechanics, how do you suggest tapering down feedback when the swimmer is progressing?
The role of the teacher is to provide feedback as long as the swimmer will acquire the motor habit. Motor habit in human motor memory are formed after several thousand repetitions, therefore, the time of their acquisition is different. The next step in order to improve the quality of swimming mobility is multiple individual repetitions of the correct structure for motion, which was acquired by the use of immediate, verbal regulation regarding the swimming motor structures. Of course, if there are errors the teacher must again respond. Feedback can be addictive. In order to avoid the negative effects of frequent augmented feedback various techniques have been applied such as faded, bandwidth, summary, average or self-controlled schedules have been used.

9. Should teams utilize immediate auditory feedback?
I have a plan to develop my device and bring it to the swimming team. This allows the delivery of the individual swimmer and for the whole group. It will be easier to conduct training.

10. What makes your research different from others?
An innovative aspect of the subject undertaken is to identify empirically, that the time in which the information reaches the learner is important in the learning process and that it improves swimming technique. My work examines important aspect impeding the process of teaching of swimming and technique improvement. The interference in didactic communication – it is particularly noticeable when an exercise is executed in an atypical environment, for example in water. The aquatic environment hinders the reception of information because of a number of disruptive factors such as the distance between the teacher and the learner or ambient noise favor errors in a given exercise. Thus, the environmental factors make it hard to use verbal feedback to its full communicative potential in the process of swimming acquisition or technique improvement. It may also be challenging to immediately eliminate or prevent (within short-term memory) errors as or before they appear, as I said early. I believe that the results of the present research work should contribute to defining the actual significance of immediate verbal feedback in swimming acquisition and improvement.

11. Which teachers have most influenced your research?
The person who influenced the most on my research has been my professor Krystyna Zatoń. For me, she is a really big scientist. All the time she teaches me how to be better. It requires a lot of my sacrifices. Since I started working with her at the Department of Swimming my life sped up, but I like it. I can learn a lot from a great biomechanics of swimming, a professor Marek Rejman too. We work together. I guess that we are a good scientific team. Also, I take inspiration from different scientists who are engaged in motor control and learning. There are many in the world, so I need to check of the database brand new publications.

12. What research or projects are you currently working on or should we look from you in the future?
I’m currently working on the evaluation of the achievements of swimmers. This evaluation is performed during motor activity in real time. Ability to take correct feedback to evaluation swimming technique can increase swimming performance. Usually, data are obtained from delay, e.g. by using movement analysis software. In addition, the aquatic environment interferes with the commonly available device for the evaluation, e.g. Infrared. Therefore I develop telemetry measuring swimming techniques. It enables in real-time provide feedback on the structure of the swimming movement. A wireless method of assessing swimming techniques can be used for research purposes to create maps of swimming techniques, to quantify. In addition, I’m interested in biofeedback and the implementation of transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) in the verification of feedback in swimming learning. Both issues seem to be good for my future. Many questions pertaining to increase the process of swimming acquisition and teaching remain unanswered and further research appears necessary. I hope it finishes successfully. I have one rule in my life, that says never stop.

Thanks, Stefan!

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