Jeff Grace has been involved in the sport of swimming for the last 33 years as an athlete, coach and yoga teacher
He swam at a high level as an age grouper in Canada and was part of relay teams that set multiple national age group records.
He started his coaching career at the age of 16, a career that lasted 21 years. In that time he has coached at almost every level in the sport working with learn to swim athletes, top age group athletes, Canadian Inter University medalists and masters athletes.
In 1999-2000 he did an apprenticeship with Jan Bidrman at the National Training Center in Calgary where he had the opportunity to assist with some of the best swimmers in the world.
In 2012 he received his 200-hour yoga teacher’s certification and is now a 500-hour yoga teacher with specialized training in yoga therapy. He specializes in sport-specific yoga and works with four different swim teams in the Vancouver area including several high performance athletes at the University of British Columbia.
He currently writes a series of yoga for swimmers articles for SwimSwam and has a Youtube channel with several yoga for swimmers classes.
Check out his online videos here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCYfIfs2Fz5G6W_to2PAUS9Q
Jeff has put together a page specifically for listeners to this podcast! Check it out here:
I really enjoyed talking with Jeff from Excel with Grace. I loved how he gave specific examples and connections to the more ethereal mind and attention to specific swimming techniques and learning. One of my first questions to him is how we can connect the mind, and attention to the physical expression of swimming. Jeff answers this question so well and his mastery of this concept comes out clear in how he frames his responses.
How do we connect mindful to physical. Jeff talks about how people always think that yoga is about clearing the mind of thoughts, but that isn’t true. It is about recognizing your deviant thoughts and then finding an anchor for your attention. Allow those thoughts to happen, but notice them, and then move away from your mind using your breath as a focus point, or anchor for your attention.
In swimming, we want to achieve this same goal with our beginner and elite athletes. We want them to focus on a specific skill and improve it while they’re swimming. We know as coaches and instructors that people will not be able to do a physical skill perfectly immediately, or every time. So we use tactics like Dominic Latella’s Redemption Game to aim that attention for short spurts of time. We want to focus that attention on our intended skill, and meditation is a way to flex that attention muscle.
Jeff talks about easy speed, and how meditation allows you to achieve that 100% speed at 95% effort where you remove the tension of forced swimming at maximum effort.
Shivasssana Game: teach a few poses, have everyone do it for a few seconds, then yell, “Shivassana!” and everyone has to lay down and pay attention to three of their breaths. Jeff then gets everyone up and has them pretend like they’re trees. While some people are acting like trees, then others are acting like bees and breathing like bee’s while moving around the trees.
Golden nugget of quality swim instructors: diverse range of experience and pairing it to the audience. Interesting, fun, and challenging while maintaining a specific goal.
Advice for Developmental coaches:
- Teach listening
- Teach Streamline
- Make them want to come to swimming.
Madness time at the flags and act as rowdy as possible within reason, but then Jeff would yell, “Listening position” and time how long they got back to paying attention.
When you’re starting your own yoga for swimming a good place to start is in table top pose; hands and knees on ground, raise left hand, and lift right leg straight. Then slowly build on it.
Progressive posture and pose, like all swim lessons is to gradually step by step increase in difficulty.
What is it about Yoga that makes it so good for swimming?
Jeff says he could go on for another hour about this one thing, but he distills it down nicely into “Balance.”
You have the ability to give the athlete an opportunity to train the body overall and the mind to physically and mentally improve. Yoga provides power, strength, flexibility, increased range of motion, reduce anxiety for poor meet performance, and better body awareness.
His answer is excellent and I highly encourage you to make sure you listen to this portion near the end of our conversation.
Remember, Jeff Grace has kindly given us a page on his website with detailed information on 4 basic yoga poses: http://www.excelwithgrace.ca/swimming-ideas.html