There are some secrets to being a successful swimming coach of junior and age group swimmers. Most of these secrets are never taught in coaching courses and most coaches do not understand the importance of these skills.
Listed below are six key skills that successful swimming coaches use. Do you do all of these?
1. Teach and Reinforce Correct Body Position
It does my head in going to a junior or age group swimming competition and watching more than 50% of swimmers in every race swimming with an incorrect body position.
Common faults include the head is too high or too low, the hips are sinking in the water, the feet drag behind like an anchor…
Great swimming coaches teach the correct body position first. A swimmer’s body position will be different in each stroke and it will change slightly over time. These coaches also continually reinforce a good body position throughout practice and stop and correct swimmers who move away from the correct position… on the day!
Competitive swimming is about reducing resistance and producing power. Most coaches work hard on improving each swimmer’s power and strength as they swim through the water. Many coaches however forget to talk about, teach and reinforce correct body position on a daily basis, or they are just too lazy to correct it.
2. Continual Development of Technique
Swimming is a technique driven sport. Without learning and developing correct technique, a swimmer will NEVER reach their full potential.
A great swimming coach will continually focus on the development of every swimmer’s technique.
To do this, coaches need to get out of their comfort zone and get moving. Move around the pool deck while your squad is swimming. Talk to your swimmers at either end of the pool. Provide feedback on what they are doing well and what they need to improve. Get them out of the water and ask them to demonstrate correct technique to you. Then get them back in the water to do it when swimming. Video them and get them to watch themselves both how they are swimming now and also when they have made the change. Develop hand signals for key technique corrections. For example pointing to the roof when a swimmer is doing backstroke will remind them to lie their head back (correct body position) and look up.
Every piece of feedback that you provide to every swimmer is helping them to reach their full potential.
Every stroke that you let a swimmer take with incorrect technique is reinforcing the incorrect technique that they already have. Great coaches work on technique in warm-up and swim down every session. The best ones work with every swimmer at every session and maximise feedback in warm up and swim down and use prompts or reminders during hard sets.
3. Coach at the Level of Swimmer you are Coaching
Most swimming coaches I meet want to improve themselves so they observe and talk to coaches of athletes performing at a high level. They then go and replicate the sets these older swimmers are doing, swimming more distance and using the stopwatch more and more often.
Great coaches of junior and age group swimmers work at the level required for the group of athletes they are coaching. Yes, you can have high standards and expectations however always remember that these are young children who need to be treated as such.
The type of training young swimmers do is very different to that of older swimmers. Don’t just take a program and replicate it with a slower time cycle. Think it through and work out a plan for what is best for the age of swimmer you are coaching.
4. Be Coachable Yourself
We all want our swimmers to be coachable but how many of you are coachable yourselves.
I have worked with hundreds of coaches over the years and to be a great swimming coach, you must be coachable. You must be willing to learn and develop yourself, your knowledge and your skills. You must be willing to listen and take on ideas. You don’t have to use all the ideas you hear, but at least consider them.
Listen to coaches who have been there before and done that. Listen to coaches who have had success coaching at the level and age group that you are coaching at.
Be willing to make changes to your style of coaching and how you communicate. Aim to improve the technique of every swimmer in your squad every day and develop your communication and teaching skills at the same time.
Great coaches are coachable.
5. Excellent Communication
I watched a young swimming coach on the weekend work with a squad of 20 swimmers at a swim meet. His communication skills and the way he spoke to these children was excellent. He is still learning the trade of coaching however he continually worked at eye level with the swimmers he was coaching and spoke to them in a language that they understood.
To be a great swimming coach you must develop excellent communication skills.
Excellent communication is not just about speaking confidently with children and their parents, its also about listening when they have a concern or some feedback and their reading body language.
I’m not sure if it a conditioning process however too many coaches put up a wall the minute any parent wishes to talk to them. The best ones have no wall and listen carefully and respond appropriately. Yes, it may not always be what the parent or swimmer wants to hear, however by keeping the lines of communication open, you will avoid many of the unpleasant situations.
6. Praise and Encourage
Great coaches provide praise and encouragement when it is deserved.
While I am not an advocate for the common thought that “a child should receive 5 positive comments for every negative comment they receive”, I do believe that most coaches struggle to provide enough positive reinforcement to young swimmers.
Junior and age group swimmers look up to their coaches and some positive words from the coach when they have made improvement in an area of technique, skill or effort can be very motivating.
If there are other areas that you believe coaches need to be great in, please leave them below.