A decade or so ago I took ‘Mini Squad’ as we then called it. The 9-11 year old competitive swimmers. I’m now back in this roll with so called ‘PC1’ – a slightly smaller squad as we progress them into more advance and demanding competitive squads sooner.
It is a delight to be back and feel so confident in my roll. The Level II coaching certificate that I had to retake having gone through to ‘most’ of Level III coaching in 2008/2009 was a useful refresher.
Having this blog is vital. I can dip into it on almost everything: the strokes and drills, land training and psychology, welfare and more.
A simple Macro Plan takes me through the year alternating through the month on IM, FC/BC, BR and FLY with a different focus and skill each week. And then each week broken into different drills, parts of the skill development and a weekly challenge.
I want to do analysis of every swimmer. We have a GoPro and iPad, though I also have my iPhone 11 Pro and a gimbal which I’d prefer to use so long as people can be reassured regarding child welfare.
These are 45 minute morning or early evening sessions. These swimmers are part of the club’s swim academy and the group are just the second group up from our starters class. Swimmers join us at age 7 or 8 able to swim a length of front crawl (FC) and backcrawl (BC). They may have an issue with breaststroke (BR) and are unlikely to have butterfly (Fly). They are unlikely to be able to dive. All of this should be addressed over a term or two in what we call JA2.
I treat the warm up as part of the set progressions over the term and will include two or three strokes and some kicking, for example: 2 FC, 2BC; 2 FC, 1BC, 1BR building to 4FC, 2BC, 2BR for fullstrokes with kicking on front and back, starting off with a float, but progressing to ‘Kick on Back’ (KOB) and ‘Kick on Front’ (KOF) in the streamlined position. Part of their progression is stamina so being able to swim 200m and then 300m continually is eventually a requirement.
I may spend the first week of FLY working on the legs only knowing that introducing the arms, part of full, too early, is counterproductive.
I may have the swimmers on the side of the pull to get the message over that their legs need to be together, all of the time, for the next ten minutes or so – even for the rest of the session. I help them visualise climbing into a fishtail, or putting both feet down the same trouser leg. To make this tail work they must use their stomach and bum muscles, pushing back and forth. (In one pool this is facilitated by having short fins. Additional drills are possible with short fins).
Back in the water we play ‘dolphin’ where swimmers have their hands at their side, using them as dorsal fins, and can flap and wriggle their way down the pool as fish-like as possible – down to the bottom, lifting their chin to breathe, then down to the bottom. After a length of this I put them on their backs. Ideally they will be in a tight streamlined position, the body flat on the surface, the fly kick propelling them through the water. It is easy for those who kick from the hips and remain tight, not at all easy for those who kick from the knees and drop their hands in the the ‘surrender position’ – what I want to achieve is kicking from the hip.
On their fronts again they each have a Noddle held at the ends at ‘10 O’Clock and 2 O’Clock’ in a letter ‘Y’. This mimics the fly stroke. They fly-kick down the pool, head down, raising the head to breathe and trying to maintain the kick when they lift the head.
We may continue with variations on the above, kicking on the back with the Noodle, or ‘dolphin’ on the front. With a group of swimmers it is tricky to fast track some and leave others behind, this is how our system tries to move swimmers along who are of a similar ability.
To add the FLY arms I have the swimmers on the side of the pool and I go to great lengths to demonstrate and talk through what is required for ‘Single Armed Butterfly’, not just talking them through the actions, but having them do it as well. There are two elements to establish: straight arm recovery and timing, so ‘kick the hand in and kick the hand out’. I hate ever to demonstrate how not to do a thing, but in this instance I will do the arm recovery and have the swimmers shout out ‘Straight!’ or ‘Bent!’. I will endeavour to do ‘straight 4 times out of 5. Once they start the exercise the intention is to do one 25m length with one arm, and then the second length with the other. Some swimmers get it straight away, others struggle. Where most are struggling, or where I know it will help, I will have them swim in pairs up the lane with the swimmers facing each other pulling with the inside arm (right and left arms).
If we have time we can progress to lengths of 2+2+2 (two single arms to the left, two single arms to the right and then two full strokes) and ‘4 kicks, one arm pull’. It really depends entirely on how the group is progressing as sometimes more than a few get stuck with the arm stroke, the timing or still kick from the knees or do a breaststroke kick.
We might do ‘old english backstroke’ with a fly kick, to get the butterfly stroke working (if only on the back). We may also spend some time on the transition – multiple underwater fly kicks in the streamlined position. The session is likely to end on starts: dives from the side (sitting or standing) and even jumps of the starting block (to build confidence): a distance jump, star jump or ‘standing leap’ as far into the pool as possible as a contest – sometimes followed by a ‘dive and glide competition’.
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.