June 26, 2013

Technical challenge

Not all swimming strokes are the same

By Devin Golden

— Coaches and swimmers with the Dalton Dolphins Swim Club agree that the breaststroke and butterfly techniques are the toughest to master.

But the reasons are quite different.

While the butterfly stroke requires the most personal strength, the breaststroke needs more technical savvy.

“The breaststroke and butterfly will be the ones they struggle the most with,” said Joana Rosales, a former Dolphins swimmer and now the 8-and-under and 9-10-year-old age group coach. “You see that with our meets. The beginner kids get to swim freestyle and backstroke exhibition. We don’t do exhibition for the other two strokes because they are the hardest to learn.”

Taylor Mathis, an upcoming senior at Dalton High School, is a butterfly swimmer for DHS’s boys swimming and diving team, which won the Georgia High School Association Class A-5A state championship last year. The 17-year-old standout said “it took a while” to get used to the unorthodox body motion of the butterfly stroke, which requires the swimmer to jump out the water with the upper body and form a counterclockwise motion with the arms. The breaststroke has a swimmer’s body forming a straight, tight line and then the hands move out and back in for a clockwise motion, while the knees bend and the legs and feet do a similar circlular motion.

“I’m still bad at the breaststroke. I can never get the hang of it,” Mathis said.

“For some people, it comes natural. I’ve seen a few (Dolphins) who started off not being able to do it, but now they’re getting where they are becoming butterfliers, too.”

Kathryn Stafford, a 16-year-old on the Dolphins who was on Coahulla Creek High School’s inaugural swim team last year, is best at the backstroke. She’s another example of someone who always was bested by the two motions. And she has a tough time explaining why.

“I struggle with breaststroke more,” she said. “I just don’t know how to do the kick. You have to do your legs a different way.”

Ethan Pence, a 14-year-old enrolled at the Georgia Connections Academy, said he swims his butterfly faster than his freestyle. And his freestyle is quicker than his breaststroke. The issue some have with succeeding at the butterfly is the amount of shoulder and abdomen strength required for the motion, he said. A taller swimmer with a longer body has a natural advantage in both styles.

“I’m just sort of stocky, I guess you could say,” he added.

With the breaststroke, it’s a different type of difficulty.

“Breaststroke is the most technical,” said 10-year-old Abby O’Ferrall. “That’s what makes it hard. The pulling and kick is the hardest part. With the kick, you have to be so perfect. Your feet have to be pointed out and your toes pointed down.

“Fly is just physically the hardest. A lot of people don’t like that stroke because over a long distance it becomes tiring. You have to do a lot of pulling. ... My shoulders already have kind of been getting bigger from doing the butterfly.”

Times from the 2013 GHSA Class A-5A state swimming and diving meet indicate the breaststroke is the slowest stroke. The 100-meter freestyle champion posted a time of 44.49 seconds. Dalton High School’s Taylor Dale won the 100-meter backstroke with a time of 49.11 seconds, and also won the 100-meter butterfly with a time of 49.86 seconds. The 100-meter breaststroke winner had a time of 57.93.

Charles Todd, Dalton High School and Dalton Dolphins head coach, said the time difference is standard.

“Pretty much freestyle is your fastest event,” he said. “The butterfly and backstroke are pretty equivalent at all levels. The breaststroke is your slowest stroke. It’s a different stroke because you use more legs. The other strokes are more upper-body strokes, and the breaststroke is more about the lower body.”

Jason Meszaros was on Dalton High School’s 1993 boys state title team and graduated in 1995. He said a swimmer’s value can rise if he or she can handle the breaststroke and butterfly. However, the Dolphins don’t try to pigeon hole swimmers into a specific stroke too early.

“Collegiately, it might depend on what that particular team needs that year,” he said. “It certainly adds value if you can do those strokes. You see a lot more breaststroke specialists than you might a flyer. A lot of times you’ll see a flyer who can do a really good backstroke or freestyle as well. There are times when you see a straight-up breaststroker. A lot of times they may be pretty good at a backstroke and a breaststroke, and they’re good for an IM (individual medley).

“I don’t like any of my kids to be specialists. We train our age-groupers to be IM swimmers.”

During practice, the younger age group coaches try to focus on one particular part of the stroke rather than trying everything at once.

“We do a lot of drills and a lot of kicking,” Rosales said. “We start from the base, with the kicks, and do a lot of drills. We take it one step at a time and do arms one time around and then do kicks and bring it all together.”