Love Swimming, Love Life

I don’t usually sounds so gushing about a lifestyle and a love for swimming that turned into a hobbyist teacher having got my own children swimming when they were 4 and 6, but for now at least I’ve got the balance right: not too much, but enough, paid to do it so I more than simply cover the cost of the petrol to get their, and the professionalisation of club coaching and teaching is to be commended. It takes having the right people in post though; we do. I think we get on, we respect each other as colleagues – at arms length (the generational spread could hardly be greater), we collaborate, cover for each other, talk to each other, overlap our day/sessions from time to time and most importantly, universally I think, have a passion for the sport, as an art form, not just a sport. That sounds pretentious, but let me explain, or rather speak to us about swimming, really ask questions; we go into detail about body position, hand movements, head position, ‘feel for the water’ the nuanced difference between making a human as suited to movement through the water as the human body can be without becoming double-jointed and developing a huge lung capacity.

I’ve drifted off somewhat. The intention was simply to blog my sessions. Maybe I needed the literary warm up; I do. Whatever the activity, need a warm up that is.

I love Wednesdays (and Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays) because I am at the pool for a few hours with swimmers I love Mondays and Tuesdays because I am not. A change is as good as a rest, a rest at the end of the week – like sleep, nourishes the mind. It has taken me a good four months though to cherish and protect my Mondays and Tuesdays from being filled with ‘work’ – stuff, as long as it is varied, is OK – ‘work’ is not. Being a martyr to anything is not a good thing, not that I’m doing the 22 hours a week I once covered, sometimes with early morning swims. I’d be up and out and at it for a film shoot, but that’s another story entirely. On set with a young team and young actors; I’d have enjoyed directing Byker Grove had I pulled that off some decades ago (I did work with the same actors on a number of information films). You see where my mind wanders when I let it? Stream of consciousness. Just the ADHD. I may have deleted this by the time I get to hit ‘publish’ (or not).

To the job at hand:

Three sessions: Para swimmers, PC1 (ostensibly 9-11 year old ‘learning to train’ swimmers) and Masters.

The variety counts for something. Some approaches are the same for them all: play to their strengths, identify and address weaknesses/faults, have empathy towards who they are and what swimming means to them.

I’ve worked with ‘disability’ aka ‘para’ swimmers on and off since I came to the club in 2008. Micro-class sizes, a high ratio of coaches/teachers to swimmers and other support is all vital – lets it work. We are well managed. The swimmers have a ‘safe space’.

What works for my 3 or 4 swimmers may not suit other lanes. Each lane is going at its own space depending on the individuals in the water and their requirements, expectations and levels of, how can I put it ‘bid-ability’. To some degrees what we do is negotiated, not that the swimmers are necessarily aware of these, but you have to get to know that and how they tick and behave to get their best out of them, to see them doing what they can do a little better, to try new things (within their capacity). We take breathers, I ask questions, we share stories and have a laugh – and we swim (well, they do).

The pattern of the session is warm up, main event, and swim down – even if the session is gentle and non-competitive. That said, 1 or the 4 likes to race. He gets to race from time to time but I sense the others are accommodating him, just like he is happy when they do something they enjoy: pushing through hoops, somersaults.

The principles of whole-part-whole and ‘individualisation’ are maintained.

A couple of lengths of front crawl, a couple of lengths of back crawl.

Some kicking on back and front.

Where I can add in a valid challenge I will do so. I like to do ‘Down The Line’ front crawl with all the groups. The simple activity of swimming straight down, and above the black line in the middle of the lane ensuring that the head is looking straight down, and each arm, left and right, is pulling and recovering either side of the black line. I picked this up from one of the dozen or more streams of video-clips I follow on Instagram. I’ve adapted this for back crawl with ‘Follow The Beam’ (no use for the sight impaired of course), where on the back the swimmer ‘lasers’ their upright recovering army through the roof along the beam 20 or whatever feet above their head.

Kicking with a kicker float. Generally one length at a time. Generally I am back and forth the length of the pool to speak to them at both ends. Rest matters. They swim once a week.

From the kick we add an arm stroke, on FC. The kick on the back might include a ‘fun one’ with a plastic cup on the tray-like float pulled along above their knees – the intention to encourage ‘long legs kicking from the hips’ and to discourage so called ‘cycling legs’. (The most advanced challenge tried with partial success, is to kick/swim BC with this plastic cup and a little water, on the forehead).

Then there are the drills: Zip-up or ‘zipper’ is a favourite for FC, though variations that develop the ‘high elbow’ recovering include ‘dragging fingers’, ‘little person running across the water’ and ‘hesitation’ – in each case the recovering hand staying close to or against the body and so encouraging a high elbow. I try to encourage a shoulder rotation and reach too. With BC the drills include ‘slomo’ and ‘hesitation’ : the recovering arm pausing at the vertical for a couple of seconds, or the recovering arm taking its time to recover. Either way it is necessary to kick a bit harder, to keep the body flat, the hips up, and ideally there is some shoulder rotation.

We do breaststroke, but only when I can easily have each swimmer doing their own thing. It might be a hip/knee issue, or coordination or resistance somewhere to change, or my figuring out how to ‘correct’ it, but this assumes I could or want to have them swimming legal breaststroke with the required symmetrical, synchronous arms and legs. It possibly is more natural to swim a sidestroke kick.

We also do butterfly, but for my lane, kick only. The fly kick is useful to incorporate into the transition on FC and BC of course, and is fun in its own right. We have used fins, and I’d recommend them. A little more propulsion helps with ‘feel for the water’, at speed, and is fun.

Along the way, or take fill a few minutes at the end of the session we do ‘three things’ each swimmer enjoys: a handstand or somersault for one of them, a star float or mushroom float for another, ‘streamlined bounce’ and ‘sitting on the bottom of the pool’ – playing watching TV or a video game! For a bit of fun!

I’ve used hoops to push through, noodles under the arms and pullboys for arms only, and even water-polo balls to swim with and throw over the 5m flags.

Have I missed anything? Probably.

PC1, the ‘Learning to Train’ group of 9-13 year olds are on Breastroke this week. My MacroPlan for the year has a 4 to 5 week rotation by week and calendar month between each of IM, FC/BC and BR with dive/turns and other skills part of the mix in every session. Closer to galas more time is spent on starts, turns and finishes.

A new intake of 8 or so swimmers at the beginning of the year changed the complexion of the squad considerably, particularly with a handful of 12/13 year olds who have come through our Academy later than we might have wished because of missing swimming during Covid lockdowns. Our hope is that these older swimmers will be advance to a competitive or development squad sooner rather than later. It means I have four swimmer types and would ideally have four lanes. A slight 9 year old may not train well with a developing 13 year old, and the two tend not to wish to be in the same lane in any case. Like playing an instrument in an orchestra, or ballroom dancing I guess, or any sport, ability level is the differentiator. More or less this squad is at the same stage, they are learning how to train, they still need to be taught to fix issues with butterfly especially, breastroke to some degree, competitive dive and turns and finessing/correction to FC and BC.

With an assistant/second coach, in this case a former club/university swimmer with considerable talent, 11 simmers only (out of a squad of 25), and only two lanes, we kept our eyes on a lane each. After a warm up I then build up the distance in a pyramid on the basis that after 1, then 2, then only 3 lengths at a time we will have notes to share, things to fix, stuff to talk about. We cover the usual things: kick too wide, warms pulling too wide, head bobbing (mostly addressed now), short/curtailed transition into the stroke. We also have one asynchronous illegal kick but with ‘hip/knee’ problem cited we need to go carefully. Ideally this would be looked at by a sports physio or taken up by a sports doctor – if indeed there is a problem. We can find that the default of the individual is to excuse something that they have always got wrong and no one has been able to put right as they have come up through the club. (In our younger teaching group swimmers we have a plague of screw-kicking !)

Drills include: breaststroke kick on back, three kicks one stroke (3K1B), extended glide (kicking into a two second glide, also one down, one up (1D1U) where the transition ‘keyhole arm pull’ is followed by a normal stroke. Others might have included fly or FC flutter kick with BR arms, or ‘one leg, one arm’ when the swimmer reaches diagonally behind their back to hold the opposite leg – then swims with just one arm, and one leg. If their BR is sound many can do this – flat on the water, finding their rhythm.

And onto Masters. A session I have taken since September but am now handing over to a newly appointed Masters Coach. A former Merlins Swimmer who swam through university (Bath), he will become quite the technical swimmer. He is hugely interested and invested in the biomechanics of the sport and has an urge to use technology. We wax lyrical about electronic whiteboards, or projecting videos onto a wall – Masters swimmers however, are probably not the most open to change. Once qualified I can see him gravitate towards elite age group swimmers where finessing the stroke is more achievable.


Teaching Diving

There are basic prerequisite skills necessary for successful diving. 

Traditionally, in club sessions, we may leave these skills to the end of the session as the ‘alternative activity’ for five minutes, however there are many that can be introduced while swimming lengths, such as pushing off deep, streamline glide, somersaults, and surface dives. 

Swimmers must be comfortable under the water before introducing a dive. 

They need to be able to do the following.

Head under water:

  • Blowing bubbles
  • Controlling your breathing
  • Being comfortable/happy under the water … and at different depths
  • Pushing off the bottom of the pool ‘like a rocket’
  • Push and glide in a tight streamlined position on front and back 

Jumping in from the side:

  • Different jumps off the side
  • Tuck jump
  • Pencil jump
  • Star jump

And activities that ‘get the hips higher than the head’:

  • Somersault
  • Handstand
  • Surface dives

Other activities include:

  • Bounce up the pool (in streamlined position)
  • Jumping through noodles
  • Kicking through hoops
  • And any similar challenge to take their mind off their nerves.

In addition:

  • Floating
  • Tuck Float (mushroom/canon ball)
  • Look for each other, thumbs up.

The steps into a competitive dive are:

  • Sitting Dive 
  • Kneeling Dive 
  • Crouching Dive 
  • Standing Dive (Lunge)
  • Standing Dive (Plunge)

Points to consider are :

  • Stance
  • Flight
  • Entry
  • Transition

Commands might include:

  • “Keep looking down, or you’re going to get a pink face and a pink chest”
  • “We want our legs to be together”
  • “Aim for the upside-down T”
  • “Chin on the chest, squeeze your ears”.


  • Always have a noodle to hand. This gives them something to dive over, and can be on the surface of the water, or held up. 
  • Loads and loads of praise. Kids love it 🙂 
  • Build up good relationships so that they can trust you.
  • Don’t force them into anything.

Things they must remember:

  • One hand on top
  • Arms in streamlined position
  • Chin on the chest
  • Eyeline looking down
  • Arms parallel with the water

Kneeling Dive

  • Good to start from deck level
  • Push with the back leg
  • Taken up by the forward leg
  • Split leg mid-flight
  • MUST push with your legs
  • Aim over the upside-down T (REPEAT OFTEN)
  • Remind them ‘EYES DOWN” or their chin will be off the chest

Crouching Dive

Sitting Dive from ‘Know the Game: Swimming’ ASA
  • Bend the knees
  • Arms parallel to the water NOT aimed at where they are going
  • Eyes Down
  • Hips still need to be above the knees
  • Lean forward and knock ourselves off balance
  • Aim passed the upside-down T
  • Nice and straight body

Plunge Diver or ‘Full Standing’

Sitting Dive from ‘Know the Game: Swimming’ ASA
  • As crouch, but slight bend of the knees
  • High hips
  • Good for transition into a racing start with hands to the feet

Faults, Causes and Corrective Practices


Diving too deep:

  • Fix:
    • Make sure they have the stance right. 
    • Have a point they are aiming for

Hands Coming Apart: They’ve not got their hands together in a locked position. 

  • Fix:
    • Set up the streamlined. 
    • Take them back a step with push and glide through hoops if they are splitting their hands. 
    • “Straight as an arrow, straight as a pencil”.

Falling in: Anticipating, excited, in a hurry. 

  • Fix:
    • push and glide
    • surface dive
    • feet first to get them to jump.
    • how high you can get in the air. 

Surfacing too early: Pulling hands apart.

  • Fix:
    • Take them back to progressive practices.

Chest entering first: Head up, chin up …

  • Fix:
    • Remind them to focus their eyes.
    •  Are you squeezing their ears?
    •  Imagine having a £5 tucked under their chin. 

Corrective Practice

  • Take them back to the progressive practices 
  • Build up the progression
  • Reiterate the instructions

Coaching IM

According to my Meta Plan for the year I coach IM in the first week of the month – so a bit of everything.

The set of always written in advance, the metres totted up and times calculated. I like to jot down how this goes on the whiteboard so that I can make later adjustments for future sets.


This has more changes in it than usual.

Having introduced the Backstroke to Breaststroke turn I then took the opportunity to add Butterfly to Backstroke and Breaststroke to Front Crawl.

I then wanted some sprints, and to push them a bit. So include 2 x 50m with 3 or 4 swimmers against each other.

My second 90 minutes took in two teaching groups. Teaching Breaststroke can often be a challenge but today was the first time in 20 years of doing this that I had all 7 swimmers unable to do a breaststroke whipkick. This will take some unpicking and a whole raft of ideas to fix: kick with one float, then two, running through the kick in the side of the pool, kick in back, old English backstroke and so on. We managed to for in some dicing too.

How to Teach Diving with Hollie Field 

Illustration from Ruben Guzman’s Swim Drill Book

Is there anything you can’t teach online? I used to think many of the practical things needed to talk in person: dance, woodwork, public speaking, massage, but it seems there’s nothing that can’t work with a video call, slides and a video. Over a decade ago I completed an ASA course, ‘in person/in trunks’ course on diving – not only was it face to face, but it took the best part of the day, required a drive of over 100 miles, and had us all in swimming cossies by the side of the pool jumping in, diving and doing somersaults. You’d think that would have been enough for a lifetime – but I like a refresher, and like butterfly and breaststroke there are always new ways to fix old problems. Even with swimmers who have come through our Academy and are ‘learning to train’ I have those who lift their head, dive too deep or bring their legs in behind them. I needed this and it was really helpful and rather fun, Hollie Field is a class act – she knows her stuff, has a cracking sense of humour and is a great teacher (teacher qualified too, she works at a secondary school). 

Rather than featuring Hollie’s slides (her copyright), I have picked some examples from two great books: Ruben Guzman’s Swim Drill Book and a long out of publication ASA pocket book ‘Know the Game: Swimming’.

Here’s how to get in touch if you’d like to book a course with Hollie:

LilliePad Aquatics

25 Casswell Crescent, Fulstow, Lincs, LN11 0XJ

07719 547851 

F: LilliePad Aquatics

I: @Lilliepadaquatics

T: @Hollie96371326

We were online a little before 9:30am and ready to go. Zoom. We were scheduled to go on until 1:30pm but were able to finish at 1:00pm, Hollie explained that she built in extra time for a larger group, overruns in demonstrations and questions … and any other hiatus that can occur when teaching online, such as losing a signal (teacher or attendee). 

We’d be looking at Swim England Swim Stages 1-7

The Level II Swim England book was suggested as a reference, as were:

Swim England Awards

Swim England Toolkit

The four attendees talked about their own route into swimming and swim teaching and shared their objectives for this course. My goals were a ‘refresher on the required steps to get young swimmers diving competently with confidence – with an eye to competitive swimming and  fixing once and for all, perennial problems: lifting their head, bending the knees and making an almighty splash, letting their arms spread, losing their goggles … 

Teachers must have a coaching qualification to teach off the block. This rather suggests that teachers should only teach diving from the side. There is nothing wrong with this … we are advancing swimmers too quickly. They need to be able to push and glide well before they can dive, and when they do dive for the first time they should begin with a sitting dive. 

The Learning Objectives 

  • To understand the safety aspects when teaching diving
  • To know the progressive practices for diving
  • To understand the faults and causes and how to correct them
  • To be able to apply the above in your lessons

Health and Safety Considerations considered depth of water, forward clearance and ‘freedboard’ (the height from the water’s edge. 

  • Toes must be over the edge of the poolside (so they don’t slip)
  • We only teach diving from the stationary position.
  • The water ahead needs to be clear of swimmers.

In ‘break out rooms’ we considered the value and need for swim hats and goggles. 

Earliest learners do not wear goggles, the thinking being that if you are teaching water safety and competence as much as anything else, you don’t have time to put your goggles on should you slip and fall in the water.

We discussed ways to organise swimmers, as most swimmers in their early stages are swimming widths, not in lanes – and how they should set off, in canon or waves. 

Back in break-out rooms and then together we discussed the prerequisites to diving – the skills/confidence swimmers need to have. Some, though not all would be relevant to MSM swimmers and included:

Head under water:

  • Blowing bubbles
  • Controlling your breathing
  • Building confidence
  • Being comfortable under the water … and at different depths, as they can’t dive unless they go into the deep end
  • Pushing off the bottom of the pool ‘like a rocket’
  • Push and glide in a tight streamlined position on front and back 

Jumping in from the side:

  • Different jumps off the side
  • Tuck jump
  • Pencil jump
  • Star jump
  • NOT twist jumps for health and safety reasons
  • Three jumps: standing leap, pencil jump (into deep water), 360 twist.

And activities that get the hips higher than the head:

  • Somersault
  • Handstand
  • Somersaults
  • Surface dives

Other activities included:

  • Bounce up the pool (in streamlined position)
  • Jumping through noodles
  • Swimming through hoops
  • And any similar challenge to take their mind off their nerves.

In addition:

  • Floating
  • Tuck Float (mushroom/canon ball)
  • Look for each other, thumbs up.

The Swim England stages are:

  • Introduce
  • Develop
  • Master

Headfirst Dives

  • Sitting
  • Kneeling
  • Crouching
  • Standing Dive (Lunge)
  • Standing Dive (Plunge)

Teaching points:

Demonstrate from the side

Or sit on a chair – anything to demonstrate it.

Then consider:

  • Stance
  • Flight
  • Entry
  • Transition

One hand is on top of the other.

Wrap the thumb around

Commands might include:

“Keep looking down, or you’re going to get a pink face and a pink chest”

“We want our legs to be together”

Give them a point where you want them to enter, such as “Aim for the upside-down T”

“Chin on the chest, squeeze your ears”.


Always have a noodle to hand.

Vs Doing a ‘dropper’ (just falling in). This is because they are not comfortable about going in headfirst. They must lean forwards.

Have or create visual aid. Use photos or videos. 

Sitting Dive

Things they must remember:

  • One hand on top
  • Arms in streamlined position
  • Chin on the chest
  • Eyeline looking down
  • Arms parallel with the water

Kneeling Dive

  • Good to start from deck level
  • Underrated
  • Push with the back leg
  • Taken up by the forward leg
  • Split leg mid-flight
  • MUST push with your legs
  • Aim over the upside-down T (REPEAT OFTEN)
  • Remind them ‘EYES DOWN” or their chin will be off the chest

Crouching Dive

  • Bend the knees
  • Arms parallel to the water NOT aimed at where they are going
  • Eyes Down
  • Hips still need to be above the knees
  • Lean forward and knock ourselves off balance
  • “Push when I say push. With the last little umph with the legs.
  • Eyes down
  • Aim passed the upside-down T
  • Nice and straight body
  • If they go in with bent legs, they are holding back

TIP: Loads and loads of praise. Kids love it. You’re not being patronising.

Plunge Diver or ‘Full Standing’

  • As crouch, but slight bend of the knees
  • High hips
  • Good for transition into a racing start with hands to the feet
  • “The higher the hips, the more umph you’re going to get out of the block”.
  • You keep those listening ears going.
  • Build up good relationships so that they can trust you.
  • Don’t force them into anything.

Faults, Causes and Corrective Practices

Faults discussed and our collective answers:

Diving too deep: not reaching forward, associated with picking up sticks. They’ve not got the angle of entry right.  Want hands level and parallel to the water. Pushed at the wrong time and the legs flip over. Hands not entering where you want them. Are they bending their wrists or separating their arms? Have a point they are aiming for. Make sure they have the stance right. Emphasise the teaching point.

Hands Coming Apart: They’ve not got their hands together in a locked position. They very quickly drop their hands and go in headfirst. Set up the streamlined. Going floppy when they enter the water. Because they want to get up quickly or stay on the surface. Get them on the side of the pool. Take them back a step. Push and glide through hoops if they are splitting their hands.  “Straight as an arrow, straight as a pencil”.

Falling in: Anticipating, excited, in a hurry. Not concentrating. Not ready. There’s no push whatsoever. ‘Ploppers’ … Correction: push and glide, surface dive, feet first to get them to jump … how high you can get in the air. Saying “kick like a donkey”, rocket, challenge of streamlined bounce up the pool – try to reach the 5m flags. Have someone demonstrate. Put the noodles in.

Diving to the side: Can veer off to one side or the other, stance wrong, or favouring one side or the other when pushing off.  With the tiny/smaller kids. The kids aren’t balanced. Not holding the tight position. Get them to follow the blue line straight up the middle.

Surfacing too early: Pulling hands apart, kicking up to the surface as soon as possible, water in their goggles, hands are raised as they dive in – they need to be straight, the pitch correct.  Not confident. Do things to get them confident. Take them back to progressive practices.

Chest entering first: Head up, chin up …  (their trunks are not done up). Used to be ‘a pound coin’ on your chest … but could hurt their throat, rather, you must hold onto a £5 until you enter the water. Remind them to focus their eyes. Are you squeezing their ears?


  • Haven’t been taught well
  • Lack of confidence … got a fright in the past
  • Lack of opportunity

Corrective Practice

  • Take them back to the progressive practices 
  • Build up the progression
  • Reiterate the instructions

TIP: Lay a noodle on the water to dive over. “Dive over that”.


  • A diving challenge. How far can they get and use a marker at the side of the pool.

How to put all of this into a lesson

Prerequisites: they are comfortable under the water. Introduce it as a contrasting activity

As a contrasting activity with butterfly – as the arms with fly quickly start to struggle.

Takeaways (for me).

  • Importance of arms parallel to the water
  • Repeating instructions through their dive likes “eyes down” and “push”

PC1 Coach

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.

Teaching Butterfly to 8 to 11 year olds 

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’.

Front Crawl MSM Grades 2 to 7

 24 August 2021 Worksheet [Teacher: Jonathan Vernon] 

Front Crawl & TurnsDrills/ Activities Focus Points
IntroductionBody positionStreamline / NeutralSide of pool / against wall Draw on white boardShow from book
Warm upAll / most from a dive if the depth is available.
Depending on grade:4,3,2,1As FC, BC, BR, Fly kick
Body position 
Whole Part Whole 
KickKicking front and back with or without board
Kicking on side, roll, pull under water every 8 kicks

Kicking on front 1 arm extended 1 by side

Swim F/C, every 6 strokes somersault

Long legs / pointed toes 
Straight / neutral body position

Continual fast shallow kick

Kick from hips

Maintain rhythm

Streamlining/Distance from wall to turn
Hands/ArmSwim with fistSwim with correct hand
Reducing stroke count – length of strokeHigh Elbow‘Shark Fin’Touch
High ElbowRoll shoulderReachSlide hand inCatch 
BreathingHead remains neutralBreathe in the bow wave3 strokesTry over 100m 3 strokes, 5 strokes, 7 strokes, 9 strokes25m dive, through transition 1 to 3 breaths the entire lengthHead neutralControl inhale/exhale
Body Position ‘Dead Swimmer’ game From prone ‘dead swimmer’ straighten legs/arms into streamlineAdd a few fly kicksTransition into FCSwim along black line keeping the stoke even and symmetricalStreamlining
Turns/Transition Somersaults against wallPush off and glide drillsApproach drillsX3 each minimum from 10m out to the wall and back againAs much about the approach and the transition out of the turn as the turn itself.Accelerate into the turnHead down in and out of the ‘red zone’Control breathingQuality/speed of flipQuality/efficiency speed/length of glide and underwater phase 
Dive/TransitionDive and glide – streamlinedDive, glide 6 fly kicks – glideDive, glide, fly kick into transitionAs above 3 strokes min: into full stroke StreamlingControlling breathingQuality and effectiveness of the fly kick 
Drills/Fitness development[Higher grades]‘Piggy back’ using pull-buoy as a kicker and pull-buoy over 2 lengths.Or kicker/pull-buoy at opposite ends and swim a 3 length cycle: kick, pull, full-stroke and repeat. 
FunStreamlined bounced from a pencil jumpStreamlinedPower of push of the bottom
‘Sea otter’ i.e. duck-divesBreath controlHead under waterTuck/pre-somersault
Dive DevelopmentJump off blockJump with distanceDive progressions from sitting to kneeling to crouch diveCompetitive and track startsNOTE : Flight, not just a plungePower off the blocksFlightClean entryTransition 

SwimJV or Swim Swim Swim

The Triangle, Burgess Hill home to Mid Sussex Marlins. April 2021

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.

The versatility of a mini whiteboard: notes on things to look at this session. Later I’ll add a drawing of body position, a drill position, even distances for a gliding competition, strokes per length and times.

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!

Front Crawl basics

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. 

FC body position, 73% motion from the upper body and importance of the ‘catch’ to pull a column of water down the length of the body. Am unhappy face for the head raised which causes resistance and slows the swimmer down.

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.

Optimal Nutrition and the Age Group Swimmer

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.

Starting now!

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
  • Continental Breakfast
  • A kipper
  • 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 

  • 4
  • 3
  • 2
  • 1

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?

Plate 1

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?

Plate 2

Tell me about your plate of food.

Plate 3

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
  • Asthma
  • Allergies
  • 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?
  • Portions
  • Weights
  • Hydration

Links to the slides and script

Additional reading for you and for them 

Feedback quiz

Could you give me an indication of how it has gone ?

  • Hold up a smiley face or a sad face!

These are the slides used in the presentation:


Here are some additional resources:

The Plate Method Cartoon YouTube

Harvard Medical School

Harvard T H Chan 

Health eating for kids: What they should eat and then click through to why

Swimming Science Bulletin,10%2D11%20years%20for%20boys.

High Protein Breakfasts

19 High Protein Breakfasts That Keep You Full

Ten Delicious Breakfasts

The watering cans were not enough …

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.