The last week was swim coaching rich for me – lots of interesting sessions, rewarding challenges and much to learn from. And this coming week looks set to be very interesting too.
There were three particular kinds of swim coaching, with a mix of private and Club coaching.
First up, the week started last Sunday with me helping out coaching at our Club’s junior section, Sussex TriStars. I always enjoy coaching the young people, though I feel it’s the area where I have most to learn (more of which later).
Part of the challenge is dealing with a very wide spread of ability and ease in the water – some young people look so fluent and graceful, others are just bundles of high, uncoordinated energy, making more splash than anything. I find myself having to hold back from getting all technical and analytical – the mantra I keep telling myself is “keep it simple, keep it active, keep it fun”. One simple, clear lesson at a time. No long explanations or instructions. Throw in as much fun and encouragement as possible. And wow, do they seem to enjoy themselves!
I’m more at home with the second kind of swim coaching I was involved in last week, with several one to one ZigZag swim clients. One was a new client for me, who said he felt he was swimming in second gear and desperate for some help to find his third and fourth, cruising at speed gears. The others were swimmers coming back for either catch up reviews or, in one case, the second session having started the first completely from scratch.
As I went through the video clips I’d taken and wrote up each of their Swim Forward Plans or Analyses I could see how similar some of the areas to work on were across the different swimmers – for example, several had their hands facing diagonally to the side of the pool rather than ahead to the end of the pool; flat in the water; the elbows dropping below the wrist and shoulders collapsing down, particularly on the breath.
Swim Smooth, on whose methods and approaches I base my swim coaching (and my own swimming), has taken this to the point of identifying six distinctive types of swimmer, each with particular typical stroke faults and areas to work on (read more here). As an aside, I remember feeling quietly chuffed when I went through the Swim Smooth Coaches Education programme and Paul Newsome identified me as a classic Swinger!
Whilst there were lots of similarities in the swimmers I saw last week, it is also the individual differences that I think are important to keep in mind – that each person comes with their own history of past attempts, maybe deeply ingrained fears from early experiences of swimming, different ambitions and goals for their swimming and particular circumstances such as how often they can get to a pool to practice. For me this is all part of the richness of assessing where someone is in their swimming, what will help them most and how they are most likely to be able to progress, find that fourth or fifth gear and make swimming really enjoyable and satisfying.
The third type of session was with the adults in the Tri Club, putting seventeen of them through a 400m and 200m time trial to calculate their Critical Swim Speeds. This again is part of the Swim Smooth approach. Essentially it sets a benchmark and base measure that can be used in regular sessions.
One thing that I felt so good about from this session was to do with how much one of our regular swimmers had quietly improved. I’d noticed her move up from the Developers’ Lane 1 to Lane 2 and could see her getting more confident and at ease in the water. I suspected she was ready to move up another lane, but was hanging back, maybe out of being unsure of herself. Set against the clock, her times revealed just how much she has improved. She posted a comment on our Club Forum, saying “I don’t know where that came from” to which others quickly responded with admiring comments and praise and a comment “just shows you what regular swimming with the club can do.” Spot on!
This coming weekend I take another step to developing my swim coaching and hopefully eventually becoming an active supporter of Level Water - the charity that helps get disabled kids swimming and that I did the Dart 10k for this year. I’m enrolled in a four day Amateur Swimming Association course to be a Swim Instructor. I’m looking forward to learning more about how to help young people to swim and covering an even wider range of coaching challenges. Just hope no one asks me to demonstrate backstroke.