Imagine that you have been given a new piece of electronic equipment for your birthday; say, a new phone or a games controller.  How do you go about learning how it works ?  Do you pore over the instruction manual ? Do you get someone to show you and take you through each function in a logical manner ? Or do you just have a play about with it and kind of pick it up as you go along ?

There are many valid approaches that will work for you to a greater or lesser extent but you’ll probably find that there’s one method which is your default. For myself, I’m definitely a twiddler and fiddler of knobs and buttons although in fact it would be far quicker for me to find someone who knows what they are doing to demonstrate each function! (Manuals don’t work for me at all and tend to get flung across the room fairly quickly in my house. Normally, shortly after I’ve realised that an instruction I’ve been puzzling over such as “insert mains lead to input housing and connect to a suitable power source – see fig. A” actually means “plug it in and turn it on”).

But maybe that my way of going about things is not how you go about things and that, of course, is perfectly fine. It doesn’t mean that either of us is right or wrong. Our styles are different and, to use a completely unscientific term, our brains are simply wired in different ways for learning.

The surprising thing is, as per my own experience, the way you initially choose to learn something may not be the optimum way for you to learn it. Therefore, knowing what works for you and what doesn’t is invaluable in saving you much time and money.

I had tried many half-hearted attempts at teaching myself to swim before eventually admitting defeat and turning to a coach in my late forties.  My preferred approach of trying to work things out for myself was always going to be a disaster and whilst books, manuals and other articles definitely have their place in teaching swimming nothing beats having a coach alongside you when you are learning or developing your stroke.

But knowing that live instruction is best for you merely opens up a new set of options.  Will you learn best in the relatively relaxed atmosphere of a swim camp abroad or would an intensive two-day course in a group work better for you? Or perhaps you would prefer to go at your own pace with one-to-one lessons? Hopefully, cost would not be the only factor in deciding; the likely effectiveness of the learning experience is also paramount.

Credit: Jamee Small © Mediterra International, LLC.

For example, what about when you get in the water, what sort of instruction works best for you there ?  Let’s say the coach wants you to concentrate on getting your body moving forwards.  They might ask you to feel the engagement of certain muscles.  Or perhaps to tune in to the feel of the water flowing over your chest.  Or maybe to imagine there is a fisherman at the far end of the pool reeling you in on their line.  Each instruction is aiming at more or less the same thing but which do you think would be most effective for you ?

The more you can discover about how your brain responds to information and how it learns the better.  Never be afraid to feed that information back to your coach, even in a group environment, so they can personalize you learning experience. Knowing what isn’t working can be just as valuable to them in as knowing what is.  So if your coach is using weird images such as fishermen and fishing lines and it’s all a bit overwhelming or you just can’t connect with it, tell them.  Equally if you simply can’t tune in to the internal movements of your body or the way it is reacting with its environment, that is just as valuable to them. Coaching should be a dialogue not a monologue and the more you know about what works for you and the more information you can give your coach the more likely it is that your instruction can be made even more effective.

Enjoy your swimming.  And if anyone knows how to set the clock on my microwave, I’d love to be shown how to do it…

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