Tribute to Terry Laughlin

Terry Laughlin

The death of Terry Laughlin is a sad loss to the swimming community, but his legacy will live on. By Simon Griffiths

The last time I met Terry Laughlin, earlier this year, we played a game of pool. He wasn’t very good at it. But with every shot, he got better. Winning or losing didn’t matter. It was the process of continuous improvement that inspired him and gave him joy. He watched, he analysed, he practised and he got better.

He told me he’d go away and practise some more, and he promised me a re-match. Sadly, that re-match can’t happen now. Terry died from complications linked to prostate cancer on 20 October 2017. He was just 66.

The process he applied to our game of pool extended to all areas of his life, especially swimming and the teaching of swimming. He also greatly enjoyed writing about swimming and was passionate about sharing his love of the water. He was a consistent and thought-provoking contributor to these pages between 2013 and October this year. In our August issue, he wrote movingly about living and swimming with cancer.

The central concept behind Terry’s approach to swimming was that our primary focus should be on reducing resistance rather than increasing propulsion, which runs contrary to our instincts when we hit the water. His second powerful idea is that, instead of training ourselves to be able to sustain hard physical effort for longer, we should seek ways to minimise our energy expenditure while swimming and avoid wasteful efforts. As a consequence, we should be able to swim faster for longer.

Terry spent countless hours watching the world’s best swimmers and trying to figure out what makes them so fast. He was a skilled observer. For example, in the summer I shared a video with him of Ferry Weertman approaching the finish of the 10km World Championships, which he won. It looked to me as if Ferry was breathing both sides, every stroke. Terry disagreed. He said Ferry was merely turning his head to keep an eye on the competition. We asked Ferry, through Twitter, and he confirmed Terry was correct.

Once he’d made his observations, he considered what he could incorporate into his own swimming and that of the people he taught. He advocated focusing on one technique point at a time and fully engaging your brain in the swimming process to accelerate learning. He would constantly measure his stroke rate and stroke count – the two measures that determine your speed through the water – so he could track the effect of changing his focus points. He didn’t train for swimming, he practised. He never stopped looking for ways to swim more efficiently and this meant his swimming was always a journey and always a pleasure.

As a teacher he developed a process that works particularly well for people who come to swimming later in life or take up swimming again after years of neglect. He appreciated that most of us will never have the fitness, strength and time to spend in the water as elite swimmers but we could at least emulate the techniques that made them fast, and we can also experience great joy in both the learning process and swimming journey.

My own experience with Terry’s teaching has been entirely positive. I swim faster now than five years ago and have a much greater awareness of what I’m doing in the water, and I enjoy swimming more. Terry didn’t just teach front crawl either. I once did a half-hour session with him on breaststroke and a few months later I knocked six seconds of my 200m time.

His passing is a sad loss for the global swimming community. We are fortunate that his name and legacy lives on through the network of Total Immersion coaches he has nurtured through his life’s work.

Cover November 2018

Issue 20 November 2018

  • Swimterview - Tom Gregory on swimming the Channel aged 11
  • Training - Should you ditch the kick sets?
  • Tried & Tested - Cold water swimming kit
  • Swim Travel - Greece, Sardinia, Isles of Scilly

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