The Building Blocks of Swimming:
By Coach Bob Duin
Successful swimming programs share many common attributes. The typical aquatic pyramid consists of a neighborhood swimming lesson program as its base component which feeds its next block, the neighborhood competitive swimming team. The local United States Swimming teams draw their swimmers from these neighborhood programs. These programs also provide the participants for local high school swimming, diving, synchronized swimming and water polo teams. Most successful programs adhere to this model. Some of the most successful models make sure that there is a unified command structure that ensures a comprehensive approach to swimming on a community wide basis.
Community swimming pools are one of the most popular recreational vehicles in the United States. Many children spend a lot of time at the pool with their families and friends and it is the ideal place for a party for the kids. Adults have also been known to take advantage of the fun a pool has to offer. There are very few activities that beat a dip in the pool on a hot summer day. Paramount to the success of any of these activities is safety.
Well run aquatic facilities are usually staffed with an adult supervisor and a staff of credentialed lifeguards. Today the trend is to do away with adult supervision and in some cases lifeguards so as to reduce costs but communities pay a price for this indiscretion. Today’s teen agers still require supervision. Homeowners Associations (HOA) that have their community’s best interest at heart have an adult supervisor on the premises. In spite of advances in many areas regarding supervision and curriculum, teen agers are still teen agers and require guidance.
Staff members who have been trained as Water Safety instructors or have been certified by an alternative organization may also serve as instructors for the community “Learn to Swim” program. There are various types of teaching models including the Red Cross, YMCA, the Swim America Program and others offered by private swim schools. Their mission is to serve the community by teaching its non swimming members how to swim so as to avoid potential drowning. These same families may also visit rivers, lakes, and larger bodies of water where they will use these skills. Drowning is the second leading cause of unintentional injury-related death for children between the age of one and 14. (Centers for Disease Control, 2003)
Nine people drown in the United States every day. (CDC)
- Two-thirds of all drowning occur between May and August. (Orange County California Fire Authority)
Six (6) out of seven (7) teenagers drowned last year in Shreveport, La. The media is full of accounts of similar tragedies, some of which result in law suits being filed against the aquatic facility, its staff and in some cases the H.O.A. It is critical that communities invest their funds in a well trained credentialed aquatic staff. Prevention is the name of the game.
Once basic swimming skills have been acquired, young swimmers may consider joining the neighborhood swim team. The benefits offered by summer swimming programs are numerous and include some of the best summertime memories for its participants.
- It is a source of exercise that improves muscular coordination.
- It develops and builds confidence.
- It promotes physical and mental skills by reinforcing sequential thinking skills.
- It is quite often the first experience in competition for its participants and teaches the values associated with winning, losing and good sportsmanship.
- It reinforces the relationship between hard work and results.
- It is a co-educational sport and allows both sexes to work and compete together.
- Older swimmers serve as role models for the younger swimmers.
- It is a great way for neighborhood children attending public and/or private to get acquainted.
- It is a great way for new members to the community to meet other families.
- It unifies the community.
- It is a source of employment for teen agers who have participated in the program.
- It is ultimately “FUN”.
There is a down side to the neighborhood swimming team. Non participating families, adult lap swimmers and others may not be allowed to use the facility during swim team practice resulting in complaints. Some parents drop their children off and consider the swimming program just another baby sitter type activity.
Successful summer swimming programs share common denominators. US Swimming studies list the following as some of the key indicators of successful clubs.
- Credentialed Staff (usually via the American Swimming Coaches Association ASCA); other credentialed entities include the National Swimming Coaches Association NISCA, and state organizations such as the Texas Interscholastic Swimming Association TISCA.
- Successful background checks conducted by reputable companies such as those employed by US Swimming and Texas School Districts.
- A structured business relationship between the coaching staff and the team parent organization
including some typical elements such as contracts, payment schedules, and bonuses.
- Coaching continuity.
- Strong Parental support.
- A positive relationship between the Head Coach & the Community Swimming Pool and/or Team Board providing for efficient facility and program management.
- A healthy coach-swimmer ratio following US Swimming safety guidelines.
- Additional support programs which further the development of swimming skills.
The quality of the staff determines the quality of the program. The adage “you get what you pay for” applies to any program involving the education of our youth, especially in athletics. Coaching swimming requires many skills.
- Knowledge of the sport.
- Knowledge of the summer league and its rules.
- Technology skills and ability to operate programs such as Hy-Tek’s Team Manager or others that are on the market.
- Excellent communications skills.
- Managerial skills.
- A great sense of humor.
In addition to these skills, coaches must wear many hats when coaching a summer league team. Small clubs typically hire college students who are assisted by high school swimmers and parent volunteers. Larger clubs with more financial resources hire coaching professionals who in turn typically have access to a larger pool of trained swimming professionals to hire as staff. Successful clubs devote a significant amount of their budget to paying their coaches. Good coaching builds good programs which in turn grow providing more black ink. It is a circle of success.
Teaching and coaching large groups of children advanced swimming skills is difficult. Coaches incorporate many teaching strategies to expose as many of the team members to drills and skills that foster the development of the competitive strokes. Some children will be able to master these skills in large group instruction while others will struggle. There are always a certain percentage of children that require small group instruction. One on one instruction is of course ideal if one can afford them. Swimming coaches with advanced certifications and a history of success charge fees that are on a par with other sports such as tennis, golf, and personalized trainers. Coaches of large programs seek to expose as many of their swimmers to small group instruction as possible. One of the most efficient methods for achieving this goal is to conduct stroke clinics, especially during short competitive seasons that last 8 to 12 weeks.
Stroke clinics for small groups are ideal for swimmers that need instruction and cost effective for parents. It allows the coaching staff to maximize instruction in a small group setting when children of similar ability levels are grouped together. A small group may be defined as a class with a three to one (3-1) teacher to student ratio. Senior instructors can utilize older swimmers with basic knowledge of the sport as well as good communication skills as aides thereby sharing organizational and teaching skills and providing on the job training (OJT) for the next generation of instructors and coaches. Benefits include lots of individual hands-on teaching as well as peer coaching and students learn by observing other students. It is also fun to learn with your peers.
Successful swimming programs share many common attributes. I have shared some of the concepts that are utilized by successful clubs around the country. New neighborhood pools are coming on-line on a more frequent basis and families are seeking cost effective, fun and rewarding programs in which to enroll their children. The neighborhood swim team offers all of the above and it is usually bike riding distance from the house in many cases. It is fun for the entire family. See ya’ll around the pool this summer.
Coach Bob Duin has over 30 years of coaching and teaching experience at all levels of competition including USS, High School and Summer Club. He is currently the Head Swim Coach at Madison High School, Head Coach for the Rogers Ranch Rapids Summer Swim team and the Senior Mentor Coach for the NEAT branch of the Alamo Area Aquatic Association in San Antonio, Texas. He is level 4 ASCA coach and a member in good standing of ASCA, NISCA, TISCA, and PADI.