Teachers using the Socratic method create an environment where individuals learn based on a series of questions that stimulate their thinking and help illuminate specific concepts. The Socratic method can be modified and utilized by coaches and athletes for open water swimming.
A coach should be inquisitive – not instructive – after an open water race. By asking questions, coaches can enable their athletes to internalize and understand what they did in a race – both the good and bad. By encouraging the athlete – of any age and any level – to visualize who they were swimming with, what their pace was, how did they feel, the shape of the pack, their positioning during the race, the athlete will eventually become a more seasoned performer.
Coaches who question their athletes before and after a race help the athlete understand what can be done in the open water. The athletes are out in the open water by themselves with every decision they make at the start, at the turn buoys, setting up the finish and during the final sprint, has a direct impact on their placing. Because these decisions must be made quickly in competitive situation, coaches can assist their athletes by constantly questioning them and pushing them to come up with the right answers for themselves in innumerable situations.
Before the race, coaches can ask:
- Will you use Vaseline® or lanolin?
- How many pairs of goggles are you taking to the race?
- Who is your competition?
- What is your goal?
- How did you do last year? Where you satisfied?
After the race, coaches can ask about the start:
- Where were you at the start?
- Who was next to you?
- Did you choose that position?
- What was the pace at the start?
- How did you feel until the first turn buoy?
Coaches can ask about the middle of the race:
- Where were you in the middle of the race?
- Did you purposefully go to this position?
- Where you boxed-in at any point?
- When did the pace pick up?
- Who was swimming in front of you?
- Who was swimming behind you and to your left and right?
- Are these swimmers faster than you?
- What was your stroke tempo?
Regarding the turns, coaches can ask:
- Did you speed up before or after the turn buoys?
- Did you have the inside position around the turn buoys?
- Did you get hit?
- How can you avoid getting hit around the turns?
- What was your position going into the turns?
- How did you actually make the turn?
Regarding navigation, coaches can ask:
- Did you know where you were going at all times?
- Was it hard to see anything?
- Did you take a good line to the finish?
- Did you feel any ocean swells out there?
- How often were you lifting your head to sight?
- Did you see the lead kayak?
- What sides were you breathing on?
Regarding the finish, coaches can ask:
- When did the sprint begin?
- Did you catch up to anyone once the sprint began?
- Were you using your legs the whole time?
- Was there any physical contact coming into the finish?
- Were you satisfied with your finish?
- How can we train better for a better finish?
While it is not exactly what Socrates had in mind, the idea is to help the athlete improve and understand the myriad situations that happen in the open water.
Steven Munatones, world champion marathon swimmer, is a USA Swimming National Team open water coach, board member of the World Open Water Swimming Association and creator of The Daily News of Open Water Swimming.