We call those things that you wear on your feet flippers in Australia. Americans usually call them fins, and there are several other names for them. for the sake of the article i will using the Australian name – flippers.
Flippers are a fantastic tool to help specific problems. As with most things, a balanced approach is needed. Similar to the goggles debate, some people in the swimming industry like to turn the issue into a black and white question of flippers vs. no flippers.
The 2 strokes where flippers are most valuable are Freestyle (front crawl) and Butterfly. It is almost impossible to do breaststroke kick with flippers, and kids seem to learn backstroke easily enough without them (we are happy to be proved wrong on this).
In the uSwim program we advise using flippers once a child is able to perform catch-up Freestyle with correct breathing – http://uswim.com/breathing . The important part here is that they are breathing properly with head rolling to the side, not lifting. Introducing the flippers and performing Freestyle drills at this stage allows the swimmer to concentrate more on their upper body movements as the flippers allow for less effort in kicking to maintain good body position. So in these drills with flippers you would then be working on things like blowing bubbles, thumb touching the leg, breathing properly, head down etc.
From a phychological point of view, the flippers are great because the kids go faster and can swim further. This can do wonders for children who are getting bored doing the same thing.
There is a problem with using flippers too much though. Kids can become dependent on them, and lazy when kicking with out them. So, what we do at our swim schools is practice specific drills with flippers, then always take them off and spend roughly the same time swimming without them – but emphasizing fast kicking. As children become better at Freestyle and begin doing Freestyle changes (conventional Freestyle), flippers are used less and less. Upper squads at Aquatic Achievers rarely use flippers for Freestyle, however some coaches or teachers may find them useful.
When first teaching Butterfly kick flippers are almost a must. Young kids find the movement difficult and cannot get enough momentum. Butterfly kick requires huge amount of core strength and pre-teens seldom have enough. So, begin teaching with flippers. When they get the kick, we then use flippers in all our stepping stone drills we have for Butterfly. Once again other teachers may do this differently with good reslults, we have found we get the best results when flippers are used.
Please let us know your opinions regarding the use of flippers here – http://uswim.com/contact-us