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Six Secrets to be a Great Swimming Coach

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.

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6 Responses to Six Secrets to be a Great Swimming Coach

  1. Sarah November 20, 2014 at 11:28 pm #

    I’m a parent who loves my 11yr old son’s swim coach, thanks in no small part to Rod and the amazing atmosphere at our club, my son, who has ADHD and is on the Austism Spectrum, is improving and growing in leaps and bounds both in and out of the pool.

    I had to chuckle about point one in this article. While I can appreciate your frustration of observing incorrect body position, I would ask you to consider refraining from judging all coaches of swimmers demonstrating incorrect body position. Rod most definitely does consistently reinforce body position, my son certainly knows he’s supposed to keep his head down in his backstroke and does so in training. But if he decides in one particular race he’s going to look at his toes, then damn it he’s going to look at his toes, and if you look across the pool deck you will observe both coach and parent performing a face palm. (Backstroke head position is not the only example, but the most obvious and frequent occurrence of my son’s habit of out of the blue trying something different in the middle of a race, thankfully the instances are becoming less frequent.)

    I guess put simply my point is, just because you observe a child performing incorrect body position, doesn’t mean a coach isn’t trying in earnest to correct the habit. Some children are just more stubborn, or unpredictable than others.

    • Gary November 21, 2014 at 7:14 am #

      Thanks Sarah. It sounds like Rod is a wonderful coach. Yes I understand very well that many swimmers, open elite athletes included, will do something different in a middle of a race. This may include something that affects their body position.
      My article above is directed towards the many coaches who fail to reinforce good body position on a regular basis, not the ones who continually work with their athletes to help them improve (whether they do make all the improvements or not).

  2. Sam November 21, 2014 at 1:06 am #

    So 100% of you swimmers hold 100% correct body position 100% of the time? I enjoy yor tips and ideas, but this article has bordered on judgy and preachy.

    • Gary November 21, 2014 at 7:20 am #

      I wish they did Sammy however as we all know, this will not happen. It does not mean though that a coach should walk away from the goal of improving each swimmer on a daily basis because once a skill is practiced often enough correctly, it will become a habit.
      Yes the article may be construed by some to be “judgy or preachy”. The purpose of the article is to challenge coaches in general to improve in these areas and what I have written is what many of the best swimming coaches do every day.

  3. Darren November 23, 2014 at 11:02 pm #

    Gary, well done. Another great guide reminding us of those basic elements that are easily forgotten. A superb effort yet again.

    • Gary December 4, 2014 at 12:21 am #

      Thanks Darren for the feedback

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