How to Swim Better

By Lawrence Goodman / March/April 2010
March 19th, 2010

Win Wilson's competitive swimming career began when as a Brown freshman he decided to take a dip in the pool one day. The coach of the swimming team happened to be there, and after noticing Wilson's form, he asked whether he'd like to join the team. Wilson demurred, explaining that, even though he loved the water, his experience was limited to a tour as a junior lifeguard. No problem, the coach said.

Wilson went on to become Brown's top male middle-distance swimmer. This story about the coach is recounted in Wilson's self-published book, Good Swimming: Pathways to Better Swimming for Recreational and Lap Swimmers, Triathletes and Other Competitors, which contains many such remembrances.

The real strength of the book, though, is the tips it provides to help readers become better swimmers. Eighteen years in the making, Good Swimming contains chapters on proper breathing, relaxing in the water, and perfecting the flutter kick and the back, freestyle, and breast strokes. Wilson, a member of the Brown Athletic Hall of Fame who has been competing in the U.S. Masters program for more than thirty years, has won numerous national and world championships. Although he has never officially taught swimming, he says other swimmers have always sought him out for guidance.

"I discovered once I got into it," he says, "that people were looking to me to lead the charge. People would look at me and say, 'How do you do this? How do you do that?'"

Here are some of the key insights Wilson offers in his book:

"Breathing is without question the fundamental building block that must carry the rest of our swimming skills."

"In good [freestyle] swimming, the elbow stays higher than the hand from the catch to the finish."

"Average talent can produce excellence if the dedication is there. It's a question of goal setting and willingness to follow through."

Wilson says he sees freestyle swimmers most often making three mistakes:

(1) They don't get rid of all their air when their face is underwater, (2) They don't pull their arms all the way back at the start of a stroke, and (3) They kick too much when they should instead be relying more on their arms.

Soon after Wilson joined the Brown swimming team, the coach finally told him why he'd chosen Wilson, a complete amateur, to compete. The coach was desperate, he said. He would have chosen just about anyone who could do a front crawl.

Read an excerpt from Good Swimming at

What do you think?
See what other readers are saying about this article and add your voice. 
Related Issue
March/April 2010