On a clear day you can see your face in Ralph Kryder's sport coat. "People call me the Mirror Man," says Kryder, 38, a high school science teacher and swimming coach in a suburb of Houston who sometimes goes about his business with a 4" X 4" square of reflective plastic hanging from his lapel. That way everyone can tell when Kryder is steamed up. "What scares me is that this may be the greatest thing I'll ever come up with," he says grimly.
Kryder is the inventor of Swim-See underwater mirrors, and his lapel piece is a small advertisement for the real thing. Actual Swim-See mirrors are larger (either 4' X 4' or 4' X 8'), costlier (ranging in price from $79.95 to $289.90) and considerably more functional than the lapel model. The mirrors are a simple training aid that Kryder thinks will revolutionize swimming. "They provide instant feedback," he says. "The swimmer can see what he's doing wrong and correct it immediately. I call it 'bioreflective feedback.' Someone who is 30 percent efficient in his technique can become 100 percent efficient. Almost anyone can."
Eight major college teams already use the unbreakable plastic mirrors, which can be placed on the bottom of a pool (at 22 pounds per 4' X 4' section, they need no anchoring) or attached to the sides of a pool, both above and below the water's surface. "We'll probably buy enough to cover about half the length of the bottom of one lane of our pool, plus another section to use above the water's surface," says Mark Schubert of the Mission Viejo ( Calif.) Nadadores swim team. "It's a great training aid." Adds the legendary Doc Counsilman, who bought three mirrors for his Indiana University team, "They're especially helpful in teaching stroke mechanics. We show our swimmers a film of, say, Rowdy Gaines, so they can see what an elbow bend should look like. Then they can go work on it with the mirrors. It's much faster and easier than making underwater videotapes. Less expensive, too."
A slim budget prompted Kryder to become inventive. As a high school and age-group coach in Iowa City in the late 1960s, he had virtually no funds and limited pool time. "We had only 50 minutes to an hour to practice, so we had to devise more efficient ways to train," Kryder recalls. "The mirror was one." Actually, Kryder, a former breaststroker at the University of Iowa, had been intrigued for years by the idea of a swimmer watching himself in action. "In high school I would have paid 5,000 dollars to see myself on videotape," he says. "I always wanted to find the perfect techniques and training methods, but back then it was like the Dark Ages." All Kryder knew about swim mirrors was that they were too dangerous. "Glass didn't belong around pools because glass breaks," he says.
Because his 1969 Iowa City high school teams couldn't afford $4.00 a pair for commercially made hand paddles (used for certain drills), Kryder had the swimmers make their own for $1.00 a pair in shop class. "I went to a plastics company in Cedar Rapids to buy the materials," he says. "While I was there I saw these little reflective squares, roughly eight inches by eight inches, with designs on them, the kind of thing that could be hung on a wall. I asked if they had any bigger ones. They didn't, so I had them make up one four feet by four feet. That was my first mirror."
Kryder mounted the plastic on plywood, laid it on the floor of the Iowa City Recreation Center pool, put on trunks and goggles and went for a swim. "My reflection was clear as a bell," he says. "I could tell if I'd missed a spot shaving." His swimmers were equally enthusiastic, if only because the mirrors made their workouts more fun. "But I kept it secret for 13 years," says Kryder. "I wanted to keep the advantage over my competition." His age-group program soon became the best in Iowa.
Other coaches had tried using mirrors before with little success—Bob Kiphuth of Yale set out regular glass ones on the pool deck and Counsilman, as long ago as 1950, was placing two-foot-square ferrotype photographic plates on the bottom of his pool. "We needed so many of them the picture was fragmented," says Counsilman. "It wasn't much good."
Kryder decided last summer to go public with his product. He claims his primary goal is to help U.S. swimmers win more Olympic medals in 1984. "I really want to stomp the Russians," he says. "You hear that they're training 20,000 meters a day and that the only way Americans can keep up is to do the same. I disagree with that. Practice doesn't make perfect; practicing perfection does. That's where the mirrors come in. If the Russians swim 20,000 a day, we could beat them by swimming 6,000."
Kryder's already working on Swim-See refinements and accessories. Soon there may be brackets to hold the mirrors onto pool walls—most coaches now use ropes—and, for backstrokers, a Swim-See that hangs facedown over the water. One version of his product may unroll like a carpet along the bottom. For coaches who wish to combine mirrors and videotaping, Kryder is planning a periscope that will attach to the lens of a TV camera. And for golfers—no water-hazard jokes, please—he has Swing-See in mind.
Kryder introduced Swim-See at an American Swim Coaches Association clinic in Dallas last September, installing three 4' x 4' sections in the pool of the Hyatt Regency. More than 70 coaches dived in to test it, and few surfaced without having discovered imperfections in their strokes. The 62-year-old Counsilman, for one, came out of the water and said he'd found he had two shortcomings. "I'm dropping my elbow," he said, "and I'm too fat." At least the mirror helped with his elbow.