It’s taken me an inordinate length of time to give this a go. Maybe I just prefer my voice as the written word rather than the spoken word. But needs must and professionally people have been pushing me to get behind podcasting as a thing – for them, rather than me!
But I can’t teach others how to podcast unless I’ve got a series under my belt. For this reason I am, over the course of the next 10 weeks or so, going to put out around 16 episodes of a podcast for swimming teachers. I’ve done it for long enough – pushing 20 years, some 14 of these professionally as a ASA now ‘Swim England’ qualified Swim Teacher and Swim Coach.
I use the warm up every time to check what needs fixing. I won’t do butterfly right off, but they’ll swim some front crawl [FC] and back crawl [BC] and a little breast stroke [BR]. I’ll get some fly [FLY] in eventually, initially as a kick on back/kick on front or fly kick with BR arms.
In the first episode I took a brief look at Front Crawl. By brief I mean under 5 minutes. We swim teachers are busy! We barely have a few minutes to ourselves before or after a session so I’m guessing this is the right length – where you can sneak in some ideas ‘poolside’ before a session starts.
Here’s my first episode. On AnchorFM!
Starting with body position, then legs, arms, a bit on breathing and timing.
A push and glide into the ‘streamlined position’ is so important here – years down the line in coaching we are still trying to get our swimmers to keep their heads down – looking at the bottom of the pool so that they are streamlined.
The trick is to go over it poolside: one hand resting over the other, arms stretched in the streamlined position above their heads, elbows tucked in behind their ears – and then in the water with loads of push and glide, the head facing down, through the transition into the stroke.
Have someone to demonstrate. One of your swimmers will be great at ‘push and glide’ this, or if not, rope in a swimmer from another lane if you can. Best of all, if there’s someone handy, volunteer a junior squad swimmer to demonstrate. The younger swimmers will love this.
Have a picture handy of what ‘streamlined’ looks like – I know a teacher who has a set of laminated cards for this, or do what I do and draw ‘streamlined’ position on a mini-white board to show them – you might even have a video clip you can show them on a phone or tablet.
A clear demonstration works wonders.
For a bit of fun put in a ‘streamlined bounce’ down the pool, it’s good for the push of motion too. Run a competition to see who can push and glide the farthest down the pool – on their back as well as on their front. Another one I do, is an exercise called ‘dead swimmer’ where the swimmers start off floating head down and legs down in the water – like a dread swimmer, they slowly come back to life, stretching out arms first then legs into the streamlined position, and then with a few short dolphin kicks they set off down the pool.
The leg action for front crawl and back crawl is the same: long legs kicking from the hip. Constant correction is required here to fix cycling legs or any kind of non-synchronous kick. Kicking with a board lets them concentrate on the legs only, while also improving stamina.
While the arms are a specific skill that is developed and improved all the way through teaching groups and squads: from the high elbow and sliding the hand into the water, a firm catch and an accelerated ‘pull’ the length of the body. Depending on the grade of your swimmer they might learn the correct arm stroke one arm at a time, poolside then in the water with a float.
Breathing is best developed out of the streamlined glide: the swimmer rotates the head to the side, drops the head back into the water to slowly ‘trickle exhale’, then turns again to the side to breathe – as soon as they can develop the alternative breathing technique the better.
Timing in Front Crawl comes naturally and with practice. Swimmers may have 4 or 6 kicks to every arm-cycle, or perhaps a 2 + 2 cross-over pattern. The important thing is that it is steady through the breathe and is at least strong enough to keep the body flat in the water.
As we know, each grade has its development points and each swimmer their own faults to fix and good habits to praise. Keep up the feedback – best delivered on the spot, clearly with a poolside demonstration where required.
And stay happy! If you’re smiling there’s a reasonable chance they will too.
Until next time.
In any one week I will currently take between five and six sessions with our grade 1 to grade 7 swimmers. I’m happy to be moved around to cover for other teachers or to pick up a class where some extra help or my experience is required. Experience means I have ‘seen it all before’ – more importantly, and what invigorates me with my swim teaching, is that since September 2021 I’ve been on a Post Graduate Certificate in Education [PGCE]. I jumped the gun with an MA in education a decade ago … it is the practical side of teaching, pedagogy in practice rather than the theory of education or EdTech that counts for so much.
This is the spoken script from an earlier run through of a planned lesson :
“Before we do anything please familiarise yourself with your tools: some crayons, drawing pens and pencils and two paper plates each. Please turn the plates over and on the first draw a smiley face and write your first name – and on the second a sad face.
Show me your smiley face. Great
If you find yourself in a tv studio …. or a tv crew came in here to interview you in all likelihood you’d be hooked up with a tie mic or be accosted with a boom microphone and asked: « What did you have for breakfast? »
The sound engineer is not interested in what you had for breakfast.
But I am.
Your task is as follows:
You have two minutes to draw what you had for breakfast.
I am not interested in your drawing skills.
Do please annotate your sketch if needs be.
If you find you have time to do some colouring in I have probably given you too long for the task but you can always oblige for homework.
I’m hoping that we’ll get plenty of variety.
If you’re better with observational drawing rather than using your imagination here are some breakfasts.
A full English
A bowl of porridge
Hoping for a wide variety here.
The smiley face and sad face are for if you have a constructive contribution to make or a question to do with the task = smiley face or if you’re stuck or just need a bathroom break = the sad face.
We’ve gone for one minute and you have one minute left.
If all you have is a coffee just draw a little coffee cup on your plate.
If you skip breakfast leave the plate blank.
Your chance will come later when you come up with an evening meal 🙂
Five seconds to go
Let’s get a photo.
Please show me your plate. Don’t worry it won’t spill.
If you don’t want to appear in my picture hold it over your face – this is for my eyes only.
So what have we got?
Tell me about your plate of food.
Is this something you eat?
Does it keep you going ?
Would you have a second helping of anything?
Does the family eat the same thing?
Tell me about your plate of food.
Tell me about your plate of food.
These are the two extremes:
1: No breakfast at all.
I’ve asked this question to young and mid teens and got: ‘nowt’ which isn’t much for a sound level so I’d ask what about lunch and I’d get “chips” I’d ask is that all and be told at best “cheesy chips”
2: A tea-tray sized plate of ham, eggs and hash browns that could have fed six.
The teenager is most relevant to us because I now want you to role play as the parents or guardians of a group of performance and competitive swimmers.
Here they are:
14 to 17 year olds girls and boys who have been with the club since the age of seven or eight and they have been competing since the age of 9 or 10. Outside lockdown they train 12 to 16 hours in the pool a week plus 2 or 3 hours in the gym and they may have school sports too.
What do you think their breakfast looks like?
Will it differ if they had early morning training?
Or rather, what should it look like?
Into groups: Barracudas, Sharks, Dolphins to discuss (but not today).
Instead I want you to think about the ideal breakfast for an age group performance swimmer. I’m going to provide some ideas.
Optimal nutrition and hydration.
Healthy meals and snack choices that enable them to train hard, restore muscles quickly, keeps them alert during the day and helps them sleep at night – and much more besides.
Personal Best Times
In training and competition these swimmers live for PBS. They have seasonal goals for Counties, Regionals and Nationals. The discipline they show poolside does not always translate to what goes on the rest of the day.
There are issues amongst our swimmers of them eating too much of the wrong thing, the draw of the vending machine and its contents, cheesy chips at college and takeaways of fish and chips, pizza and or Chinese – one swimmer is asthmatic and reacts to monosodium glutamate, another diabetic, a third food allergies.
All these must be taken into consideration: as in training what they eat will be individual to them.
Swim coaching is very much about training and pushing their bodies to adapt to the challenges of the stroke and distances and races that they’re doing
Like choreographing a dance.
It’s like having gymnasts and one of the things that are really important is their hands.
I’d like you to take your hands and place them on your cheeks and chin – show me your hand.
So you now have the cupped hand. This is the best position for the ‘catch’ – to grab a column of water. Maybe you think it’s slightly splayed for swimming but we’re going to use this to help indicate the size of portions of key ingredients for our meal.
A cupped hand of carbohydrates: grains, pasta and bread. These are important because …
Not your cupped hand – but their cupped hand. So the handful is going to be smaller or larger.
Now create is a fist.
So once again, this is carbohydrates and here we’re thinking of fruit and veggies:
So fruit and veg is important because …
The thumb for fat because …
we’re talking about nuts and seeds and oils
Palm of the hand.
So this is how we get our protein in the palm of the hand such as a piece of fish, because …
Vitamins and minerals
As p art of these healthy choices.
They should not be taking supplements at all under 18 year with exception being made for medical reasons with medical advice.
So again amongst our group of swimmers:
Type 2 diabetes
Eat too little
Eat the wrong things.
So now we’re moving on to the second opportunity to draw a plate of food.
So given the ideas.
Cupped hand of carbohydrate grains,
Fist of carbohydrates : fruit and veg.
The fat is the thumb
The palm protein.
You chose: another go at breakfast, or a lunch or their evening meal – which is likely to be the main meal of the day.
Your two minutes start now!
We’re thinking more Grayson Perry having some fun … you may annotate or explain yourself in an email later.
So as you draw:
May I remind you:
You are the parent of a performance swimmer
They might be 11 to 17, male or female.
They might be five foot five or six foot five, but try and stick with one person in mind for this plate of food in the family
The individual might be vegan or vegetarian.
You need to think of a plate of food that they’re going to find nutritious and appetising.
Does it fit in with what the rest of the family are eating?
So keep on drawing. Once again, this isn’t meant to be a fancy piece of artwork.
If you can draw I’m going to indicate some indication of what it is fine.
So another 30 seconds to go I think and then we’ll be done.
A recording of this session will be available online for you to follow afterwards and it will cover things we have been able to talk about today.
So as the two minutes comes up – keep on drawing.
Let’s take a look at what you’ve got.
So once again, if you could just hold up your plates to show me what you have in mind. Hide behind your plate if you’d don’t want your picture taken.
Plate 1,2,3 (time dependent)
Can you tell me about this plate of food.
And what do you have in mind?
And who is your swimmer?
And do you think it’s giving them the things they need?
Are we getting towards our goal of ‘optimal nutrition’?
And is this going to be sustainable across seven days a week?
And this one – what do you think you have here?
Do you think that will do the job?
The cupped hand full of grains.
It has the fist of fruit and veg.
We’ve made a start, next:
How often do they need to fuel up?
Why do they need these foods?
How far do we need to take it?
Links to the slides and script
Additional reading for you and for them
Could you give me an indication of how it has gone ?
The club came out of Covid lockdown at the beginning of September only to close again at the beginning of November. During this time I was poolside teaching a couple of times a week: four groups in all.
The organisation was fantastic. We had only six swimmers per lane, rather than the usual maximum of nine. It was regimented and efficient – meeting swimmers by the fire exits off the side of the pool, allocating them to lanes by Grade and teacher, then taking them in to a designated spot taped off to socially distance right around our 8 x 25m pool.
In the first weeks diving was not permitted. Once allowed we were asked to slosh down the block and handles between swimmers. So we went into the learn to swim kit and grabbed ourselves a plastic watering can each 🙂
And so we progressed, with swimmers using blocks in alternate lanes.
Sadly, with the latest lockdown the Triangle Leisure Centre has once again closed – despite everyone’s best efforts. The allocation per lane was just about full every time – so there has certainly been the demand and willingness of parents to bring their children to the pool. And for them, to then sit outside in their car waiting for the session to finish.
We now should think about what the swimmers can do while the are away from the pool and if online classes in things like nutrition, hydration, time management, psychology and flexibility exercises would be worth doing.
Working to set times over three lanes at @800m, @400m and @200m Pace. To establish the differences PBs from a swimmer in each lane were used to set targets. It took some running around but I then got the times, to the nearest second, that were being achieved.
It is taken a good decade longer than I expected to take on a Head Coach role, or even at substantial coaching role with a swimming club. This is entirely down to the need to keep my other interests and activities going, not least a day job. Swimming Coaching is not kind to the working day with the likelihood of early morning training, evening training and weekends at galas.
The opportunity at Hailsham suits because the club swims out of a private pool and so has hours that are far more favourable to the working day: I can hold down a day job, take coaching and still get to bed in good time.
My philosophy for teaching & coaching swimmers comes down to one organisation, two people, two books and an academic sports science paper.
Swim England (formerly the Amateur Swimming Association) has been my guide and source of all training since 2002. Through the ASA, and then Swim England I have taken Level I & II Teaching and Coaching qualifications, and completed 10/11 parts of the Senior Club Coach Level III certificate too. And many other CPD days: coaching swimmers with a disability, transition to competitive swimming, Child Safety and Diving come to mind.
The books I swear by are The Swimming Drill Book by Ruben Guzman for swim teaching.
And Championship Swim Training by Bill Sweetenham.
My biggest influencers as a coach are the former Head Coach at Marlins SC. Beth Ross, and the current Head Coach Stephen Murphy.
It was Steve who introduced me to ‘A Swimming Technique Macrocycle’ by Brent S Rushall Ph.D. This paper, his Ph.D dissertation I believe, put sports science and human bio-mechanics first. This is how to nuance a swimmer’s technique towards perfection. We are always a long, long way short of this.
This translates into my sessions as an emphasis on basics such as streamline, on perfecting technique and then swimming at speed – as it is corrections to technique at speed that counts in competition, rather than overdoing swimming slowly doing drills which are best kept for learning levels.
I ought to have completed my Level III Coaching Certificate with the Institute of Swimming by 2011 or 2012 … but life got in the way. I had successfully completed 10/11 of the modules and only had to organise a poolside assessment. However, I took a job at the Open University and was working away from home for a year. I tried to find a club, but that would have meant spending weekends away from home not just through the week. When I came home I struggled to get a coaching slot with my club and by then my son needed taking to football coaching and games instead- so I stepped back from swimming for a further year.
Here we are six years later and I am poolside and making myself available. I have kept up the teaching, and for the last year 1 3/4 hours coaching with our ‘Training Groups’ and 2 hours with Masters.
Having done these 10/11 modules the IoS will let me submit evidence of my coaching experience, practice and understanding. It works thus:
Being in contact with our Club Manager and Head Coach I hope to be able to find the time poolside. I have offered to go to early morning sessions, and to work any evening through til 9.00pm. I have a day job and live 30 mins from the pools so don’t want to be staying out later.
The issue will be working alongside my fellow coaches who already take county, regional and national squads, and our Youth I and Youth II Training Groups.