A New Way to Teach Young Swimmers



About a year and a half ago I wrote about a new coaching technique I’d developed to handle a specific situation with special needs swimmers who trained 2 consecutive days a week, and had 5 days off (The Importance of Simple Concepts – here). Before we introduced this new approach, the swimmers were forgetting everything over the 5 days off, and each week we were having to start over.

The results with the new approach were absolutely incredible. Concrete progress was made from week to week, and the team flourished and loved it.  It worked so well that we adopted it the next year with beginning swimmers on our non-disabled team. And this year we’ve expanded it to our Pre-Novice and Novice groups.

The new system works by giving swimmers a one-word cue, such as FLOW, with a short description as to what that word means. I’d say something like, “Pretend that you were born in the water, and didn’t even know what land is. FLOW is when everything is completely natural. No jerky movements. No wiggling. Just flow through the water like you live in it.” And then I’d demonstrate on deck how I want a natural smooth stroke, and also demonstrate what a jerky stroke looks like.

I’d also remind them that fish like to be underwater, so make sure the FLOW includes the underwater off each wall.

Then we’d spend some time having them swim and trying to feel more and more natural each length. The important key here is that swimmers end up internalizing what FLOW means to them. And because of this, they remember it for the next practice. It’s quite astounding to say FLOW to a swimmer at the start of a practice, even if they’ve had time off, and they immediately start swimming the way they were at the last practice.

For NARROW, I’d say something like, “Remember that water is much thicker than air, so you want to sneak through the water. You want to swim like a fish, not a football player, or sumo wrestler. And that means swimming very narrow.” And I’d demonstrate a narrow stroke to them on deck. Again, the cue “Narrow” ends up being internalized by them, and then easily recalled.

QUIET is a more advanced concept that means keeping the stroke simple and quiet in their heads. We usually keep that for a few months later.

Another important point here, is that we don’t introduce specific stroke corrections until much later. Specific and detailed stroke corrections involve externalized models of swimming (our view of swimming, not theirs), and are easily forgotten. Instead we work with them on how to FLOW better. This might be saying we want their body up higher in the water, but we completely avoid specifics, such as ‘high elbow’, ‘early catch’, etc.

Since that original post, we’ve also introduced the concept to our paraswimmers, to another special needs team, and it’s been modified by one of our parents for another group in a non-swimming activity, all with fantastic results. This system of simple concepts clearly works.

For a full description of this Simple Concepts system, it’s best to visit the original post.

Below is a video of our Pre-Novice and Novice swimmers during the first few lengths of our 2nd practice of the new season (just click on the picture). This is after almost 3 months off (no summer leagues here), and without a single stroke correction at this, or the first practice. Most of these swimmers were exposed to this new system when they were in lower groups last season (max 3 hours/week), and they picked right up where they left off.

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7 thoughts on “A New Way to Teach Young Swimmers

  1. I am borrowing this! I think the imagery evoked from “flow” can be used at every level of swimmer. Thank You!

  2. Thank you for your post. I am hosting a clinic at the school I run a swimming programme at and will give these a try throughout the week. I will update on the effectiveness (or not) at the end of the week, however my guess is just from using the key words it will make everything less complicated in the mind, especially in younger swimmers’.

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