I am a newcomer to the coaching game. Although I’ve been swimming my whole life, I only started as an assistant coach back in April of this year and it’s been a challenge because in general, I’m not used to writing workouts for age group swimmers. I’ve been fortunate enough to be mentored by some very seasoned age group coaches and just this short course season, I now have my own group that I coach.

The age range for my swimmers is about 95% 8-10 yrs old, anywhere from 2nd to 5th grade. In terms of swim groups, they are the second most novice level on the team, and so in addition to swimming, I’ve had to work with them a lot on their cognitive skills (things like reading the clock, listening, digesting, and executing the set I give them, and general swimming etiquette when sharing a lane with others). So far the hardest concept for them to grasp is circle swimming.

Inevitably, no matter how many times I tell them or even use the term “circle swimming”, they swim down the middle of the lane. They swim on top of each other. They do back flips on the wall into the next swimmer trying to finish. Their swim manners are pretty bad at this age. I was trying to think of fun creative ways to actually demonstrate circle swimming other than just shouting, “We swim down this side and back the other side!”

So last night I came up with a game that I called “Last Swimmer Standing”. First, I got them all out of the pool and asked, “does everyone know what circle swimming is?” Blank faces. We took a few minutes to go through what it was, and why it was important, and how it is okay to come into the center of the lane to pass someone, but how you should then move back over, and not continue to ram into them and push them back….

The game: First, move them all in one lane. Pick an amount of time (I picked 10 minutes) and instruct them to swim continuously. They can swim whatever stroke they want, even kick if they want, but the object is not to cross the line down the center of the pool unless they are passing another swimmer. If any swimmer starts swimming down the center of the lane, stop them and move them over in the next lane to kick (or do something like jumping jacks, vertical kicking, etc). The last swimmer standing that doesn’t cross over wins.

It turns out, a game is a great motivator and I only had one swimmer cross over and fall out. We went for about 7-8 minutes of continuous swimming and they even demonstrated how to pass each other correctly. Most importantly, they all had fun.

A game is always a great way to demonstrate a key concept you want to get across, but when all else fails I think you can always get in the pool and show them yourself. I’ve done this too with some drills and turn work, and they all think it’s a real treat when the coach gets in with them (especially if she does an epic cannonball to get in).

Good swim manners are so important for the younger swimmers to learn, especially as they progress to more intense groups with harder sets. I’d love to hear other ways to go about teaching swim etiquette, please share your comments and experiences!