There are valuable lessons from sports psychology that can be applied both to education and business management

I’m reading through this (again) two years after attending the Module 5, Amateur Swimming Association Level 3 Senior Club Coach workshop at the Commonwealth Pool, Manchester. The session was run by the former Ireland Olympic IM Swimmer Julie Douglas (now at Chelsea & Westminster SC I believe).

As well as the book and my notes (and copious notes, Julie was studying for a PhD so was more than able to supply references, several of which I’ve followed up and downloaded courtesy of my being an Open University student with access to an enormous digital catalogue) I am doing through the Level 3 Resources too.

Wonderful that there is overlap with personality types from the OU MBA Module B822 ‘Creativity, Innovation & Change’ and from an educational perspective the Masters in Open & Distance Education (MAODE) that I have nearly completed.

Planning for competitive swimmers

As a coach you ought to ask yourself the following when it comes to planning for competitive swimmers.

Do you keep records of the following?

Sessions plans
Weekly (Microcycle) plans
Monthly (Mesocycle) plans
Annual (Marcrocycle) plans?

You’ll find mine here. Preparation is important, we know that, but it is assessment and reflection of what you did afterwards that will build your knowledge. Better still if you share it with others, those who can set you right, those who are learning from you too, as well as colleagues. Learning is all about collaboration, deliberation and gradual aggregation of experience, beliefs and applied knowledge blended with theory.

By habit I‘ve always kept a journal, I’ve been blogging since 1999. I learnt to type as a teenager and often say that a week doing a touch typing course at Oxford’s College of Further Education has proved more valuable than the three years I did as an undergraduate at the university.

Some people get into the habit of keeping handwritten session plans and these various cycle in an academic page per day diary. Bill Furniss who coaches Olympic Champion Rebecca Addlington keeps such a hard back Collins diary/journal. A bunch of us trainee Level 3 coaches had the wonder of being shown the pages running up to Rebecca’s Olympic swims. It was touching to see Bill’s notes, doodles and clear delight when she won. (I think he made a note to himself regarding how to deal with the media).

On the importance of keeping accurate records

It is important to keep accurate records

Accurate records allow you to contrast, compare and analyse factors that influence the way an athlete may develop, perform or ‘turn out.’ Inaccurate records that cannot be relied upon, or where there are gaps in the information give only part of the picture and can be misleading. The saying goes, “garbage in, garbage out,” which is no more true than here – if the records aren’t accurate they have no value.

By keeping sets of times achieved by swimmers I have coached and taught across different events I am quickly able to profile and assess any new swimmer I meet. Only by keeping test data on swimmers is it possible to make adjusts to their training, what is more, as you a proven right or wrong by what you do and how things turn out your predictions and planning changes.


Details from Hy-Tek Management System,
Details from my bespoke FileMaker Pro DTB
Session plans with assessments from my Session Plan folders across teaching groups, training groups and squads.

A coach is like a juggling artiste from Cirque du Soleil

On top of their water and land training, you’re going to have to think about nutrition. But to keep them motivated how are they handling friendships, school/college work and the costs of swimming. Are they being supported by the family?

1. Relationships

2. Education

3. Money

4. Family

Keeping them in line and motivated can be achieved the by listening; by doing so you come to understand their strengths and weaknesses, their hopes and ambitions. Too often a swimmer will quit when they get into a pre-exam panic; they ought to have planned their study time, production of course-work and revision just as their swimming programme is planned. By knowing where they are headed help can be given here too by liaising with their school, as we should have done through-out their age group and junior squad swimming ‘career.’

There’s no assuming that all swimmers have a ‘busy’ life; indeed they have made sacrifices in order to swim. The club compensates for some loss of a busy social life by having club evenings and trips away at half term, as well as the annual ‘even’ camp which in 2008 went to Australia. To keep teenagers engaged this is vital, otherwise they will naturally start to feel they are missing out.

Poolside without a session plan? Use your head!

There are rare occasions where you arrive poolside without a plan

I will usually be able to recall what is it I had intended to do in the scheme of things and get on with it. I have never gone more than a single session in a week, or month and in all cases such sessions were part of a pre-planned ‘scheme of work.’ I feel vulnerable, like an actor being pushed out onto stage not knowing his lines, if I have not thought through who I am taking, their age, numbers, ability, issues – availability of assistance, the ‘personalities’ from the club or pool operator and so on.

It amused me that Bill Furniss said when referring to the importance of planning said , “if it can go wrong, it will go wrong,’ because working in television for 15+ years that can be catastrophically true, embarrassing at least, unprofessional for certain and sometimes very expensive. You have to know where you have to be, arrive in good time, know who you will meet or have to support you, know your ‘audience’ and what to expect from them and what they expect from you … and be familiar with layout, facilities, access to equipment and basic safety issues.

For me over planning and wishing to stick to something rigidly has been the issue at times

Learning to put down the clipboard, read the situation, see who I’ve got and how they feel and go with what I believe to be required. For example, I’ve learnt at last that leaving skills coaching, say turns, to a particular week or session or period has its shortcomings because there will always be one or more people who miss it … so to a degree it is better to have ‘a bit of everything’ in all sessions; dives, turns and finishes always matter, all strokes will be swum to some degree, there will always be some sprinting and so on.

I had thought that running out of ideas may be a problem but I’ve learnt from other coaches, if not the athletes themselves, that there is much to be said for repetition – it is safe & other parameters can be pushed. They don’t train to be entertained, they train to get fit and swim faster!

Assesments – assignments and written exams for ASA Level 2 and Level 3 Coaching

Paper Assignments

I have in-front of me an Amateur Swimming Associations (ASA) paper for the Level III Senior Club Coach certificate. There are 12 sheets, facing side only. The paper is waxed, copyrighted and stamped with the ASA logo. Having attended a day long workshop on the topic, done some reading and from my own experience I complete these assignment and submit. It ought to be submitted as is; this is in part a test of authenticity. I have handwritten my responses. My habit and way of doing things is to have it in a word document, so I load the text and tables, complete the required questions/tasks, print off and submit both parts. Invariably I get a note about the typed up/printed off version being so much better … it takes skills that even I lack to write something in some of the minuscule boxes.

I was discussing on Monday with the ASA how to avoid plagiarism with e-assessments.

I mentioned Nottingham University medical students attening a computer-based assessment. I mentioned software that can spot plagiarism. I struggled however with the kind of forms the ASA uses as these tests seem to be have written with the EXAMINER in mind … i.e. to make them easy to mark. Which also makes it easy to cheat. The answer is the same, not open to interpretation. More or less. This isn’t strictly fair … papers are returned covered in red ink – I have redone one paper.

There has to be a sign in process that is used to identify a person.

How many people cheat? Is it such a problem?

Apparently so. Even with certificates and qualifications it appears easy to falsify documents. And often, these determined people are excellent teachers/coaches who have learn their trade as competitive swimmers and/or on the job, so they know what they are doing, they simply don’t have the piece of paper.

Memory Cards

I also have in front of me a set of handwritten cards given to me by a colleague who has just taken her Level II Coaching certificate. She failed the written paper. She used these cards to test herself. My intention is to put these into Spaced-Ed, as an exercise, possibly to create or to begin to create a useful learning tool.

I like the way Space-Ed prompts you over the week, tests you on a few things, then leaves you alone. You have time to assimilate the information. Is it easy learning? It is easier learning … nothing beats a period of concerted effort and self-testing to verify that you know something or not.

Whether electronic, or paper … or the spoken word, there is always a bridge to gap, a translation, as it were, of the information a person wants or needs to assimilate and this assimilation process.

Common to all is EFFORT.

Do you work hard at it for longer periods of time … or divide the task up into smaller chunks? Which works best? For you, or anyone? Is there a definitive answer? No. It will vary for you, as with anyone else. It will vary by motivation, inclination, time available, the nature and importance of the topic, the degree to which this topic is covered in print or online, or in workshops and in the workplace. In deed, my contention, would be that the greater the variety of ways to engage with the information the better it will be retained and the more useful it will be when required in a myriad of ways to be applied or is called upon.

On reflection

I learn from writing somethign out by hand. I learn again when I type it up. I may not be engaging with it ‘in the workpale;’ but there is engagement non the less through my eyes, hands and fingers. Similarly the person who wrote out this pack of 71 cards (both sides written up) was preparng themselves, afterall, for a written exam. She knows her stuff poolside, her struggle (as I know is the case for many) is translating this into exam-like responses in a highly false setting, away from a pool, from swimmers, having to read words to respond in text, rather than reading an athlete (observation) and responding with a fixing drill or exercise.

What I do in my coaching sessions to develop the following capacities.

Please correct, or suggest your own. Better still I’ll publish this as a Wiki and we can all dip in to help get it right.


Coaching Activity
Skill Development

Mid-pool turns

Dead Starts


Leaping (from blocks)

10m Underwater

25m Dolphin kick

Bilateral breathing

Turning to different sides

Fitness Development




15m sprints

Kick sprints

10m UW + 4 stroke breakout

Midpool turn + 4-8 strokes



Swimming with parachutes, pull-buoys or paddles.



Weights & repetitions



Mid-pool Turns

Dead Starts


Endurance T.30. No. repetitions. 2 hour sets. High Volume at X pace below Max HRT.




Land Based exercises


Tactical Development


Watching playback of your own races and those of others.

Analysing a competitors strengths & weaknesses.



Psychological Skill Development



Use of language that conjures up images appropriate to the desire outcome.


Relaxation Techniques



Resting after pool time on mats


Goal Setting


Using Personal Log Books

Looking a Calendar of Events

Achieving something as a team




Swimming with a cup of water on the forehead.

Accurately counting strokes or judging pace.

Accurately judging splits & negative splits.