Swimming Ideas Podast

A closer look at swimming lessons, swim team practices, swimming games, and why coaches and swimmers do the things they do.
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Swimming Ideas Podast





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Now displaying: 2016
Jun 15, 2016

Today we're going to look at the "staple" games for swimming lessons. These are the go to games I use for most swim lessons.


Once you get a group of swimmers with you more regularly where they know you and are used to your system and routines, you can start playing more inventive and dynamic games.


For beginners, for summer temporary staff the best games are the staples, the basics, the go to games.




Fun, first game we teach swim instructors. The easiest game to play, requires fun and energy which are often in high supply for beginners who are often younger.  Gives lots of opportunity to bond in a positive trust earning way with swimmers



Bake a Cake




Assisted, unassisted, and different types of jumps. Most successful when given a certain number of attempts each time. The clearer you are with instructions, then the more benefit.


Typical uses: refreshing or resetting when doing a lot of work with specific skill focus. When you're doing a lot of repetitive glides and arm stroke work, break up the monotony with jumps.


Effective for getting used to going underwater, effective for learning how to recover after falling in.  Let participants hold your hands, and control the depth to which they fall in.


Make additions to the jump using clear instructions. For example: jump in, swim to instructor then streamline back to the wall with a boost. Or jump in, roll over on back, then kick on back to wall. 


Physical challenges:


varying options and dynamic category of games instead of just *one* game.

Poses, flips in seconds, body position challenge, contest




Every game in this podcast can be created on the fly using the formula found in the book, How to Create Fun and Effective Swim Games. You can get a copy at amazon now!




Jun 6, 2016

The importance of lesson plans.


Lesson plans are not necessary for everyone. Veteran and highly experienced teachers can do without them. However levels, move up criteria and overall progression planning is necessary.


You have to know where you want to go before you start moving forward.


Majority of swim instructors are inexperienced.


Park districts hire 15-22 typically, often employee's first job. Temporary job, part time job, no long term growth, few continue teaching lessons past college age.


Small population of professional instructors.



Lesson plans provide the experience of veteran professional instruction to novices.


Swimming Ideas is an accumulation of 20 years of swim instruction experience and refinement.  The levels and testable skills point to swim teams. Underwater, body position, glides, arms, breathing, then outward to competitive strokes.


There are layers of complexity within the lesson plans:

  • Overall goal: swim well
  • Level goals: which order to teach in
  • Skill progressions: incremental steps to cross promote skills and maximize effort and time
  • Scripts and repetition to reinforce essentials.
    • Distill down the essential basics for each skill
  • Games and fun to practice skills



Novice instructors don't have the "vision" for the life-cycle of the swimming participant. They typcially think in objective based narrow vision. They see swimmers that can't do front crawl or go underwater and can creatively work towards that goal while ignoring other things, or over teaching and overwhelming young swimmers.


Teaching exact hand position and high elbow recovery to children that can't keep their body straight or kick and move arms at the same time. Foolish and wrong time.


Start broad and then narrow focus.


Underwater (broad) > Glides and body position (posture, line, balance) broad > arm circles (more narrow) > turning head to the side to breathe (narrow) > arm recovery target; return to position 11 (narrow) > high elbow recovery (extremely narrow).


Without lesson plans the instructor may know all these steps but do them out of order or skip some entirely. More efficient and successful in less time to follow the progression.



Lesson plans also follow generally this "planning wheel from:




From <>




We warm up by going underwater, introduce our lesson: "We're going to practice front glides."


We demonstrate.


Then we practice with repetition to learn the skill: 3 x streamline + kick


Push each individual to next step of progression based on their personal ability.


Play a game or do another skill that incorporates learned skill just done.



Lesson plans provide guidance. Standardize language. Allow for opportunity of games and deviation. Not designed to follow blindly forever. Generally designed for Skill, Skill, Game and each skill builds on itself and progresses in difficulty.


End objectives are the Level goals or testing criteria. Each step in the lesson plan drives towards that goal and gives multiple opportunities to practice, or test those skills.



May 29, 2016





Swim RVA



Fitness and swimming pool in Richmond VA


I follow them on Facebook and Twitter and their "ring the bell" concept is amazing.


Loud, physical, tangible thing to do announcing to everyone and yourself that someone has succeeded in something.


We don't do anything similar. I want to install something like this.


They follow Swim America and thus, use the stations to progress. There are 10 so there are regular intervals of success built in if participants show up.


Makes success prominent, gives participants something to do outside of the pool. Works very well for younger swimmers.





May 15, 2016

USA Swimming has this article linked to their Learn To Swim page at




We're going to look specifically at this portion:



  Moving and Learning

Recent neurological research links movement to learning and memory.  Since neurologists now agree that active movement is scientifically linked to intellectual development, how early should movement training begin?   


Babies are born with most of their neurons, billions.  But they have few interconnections (synapses) between the neurons.  As a baby moves and interacts with his world, the impulses flowing through his neurons stimulate the cell fibers to grow more branches and twigs reaching out to other neurons. When neurons are stimulated through movement, they develop interconnections (synapses). The more interconnections, the more capable the child is of learning (Whitehead).   


Interaction or communication between the neurons is necessary for learning to take place. Neuroscientists at University of California at Irvine discovered that active movement activates the release of BDNF, a brain-derived neurotrophic factor (Kinoshita 1999). BDNF is a protein that acts on certain neurons in the brain; it supports the growth, function, and survival of these neurons and synapses in the hippocampus, cerebral cortex, and the basal forebrain.  These are areas of vital learning, memory, and higher reasoning (Whitehead).  


Every time a synapse is used, it becomes stronger and easier to send messages in the future. Every time a movement is repeated, less energy is used to repeat it in the future. As an infant repeats movements, the brain groups those movements together in a neural memory. A newborn has very few memories stored in his synapses. As he moves and interacts with his world, his nervous system accumulates more neural memories (Ayers 1991).   


A child has neural memories for everything he can do. These sensory/motor memories create an internal picture of the body. This body image is stored in the child's nervous system. The child's brain refers to this internal picture to plan his movements. The more accurate the internal body image, the better able a child is to navigate unfamiliar movements (Ayers 1991). By giving a child many varied sensory experiences like the active movement in swimming, his movement experiences become more plentiful and diverse, resulting in a more developed internal body picture. However without this information, the child would not know where the parts of his body are or how to spontaneously move from one place to another without conscious planning.



Varied movement in swimming produces automatic responses later. If we practice repetitive motions in different and varied ways, when we go to move through the water that motion will be done quicker, better, and automatically without thought: automatic response when under duress, or a "fight or flight mode."


We use progressions of increasing difficulty so when we go to do the activity it is done well without conscious thought.


Free play

Kicking motions

Position 11

Front glides supports

Back glide


#1 take-away from the article? Loving, slow, fun environment is significantly better than "life or death situation" training.  DO NOT TOSS YOUR CHILD IN THE WATER AND SEE IF THEY CAN SURVIVE! Even with supervision, even with repeated steps.


Instead, teach "using gentle, nurturing lessons that are taught based on building skills upon skills until the movement is learned."


May 10, 2016

You're likely getting ready for your summer lifeguard trainings this month. You have returning staff and new hires eager or reluctantly attending your mandatory trainings.


These are critical hours you have a captive audience. Here are 3 things you can do as an instructor or facilitator to make sure your participants aren't leaving after your two day session saying, "well that could have been done in 2 hours."


With these three cures you'll have effective and efficient trainings where your participants will learn, be active, and be engaged.


What democracy doesn't have 2 presidents? What company doesn't have 2 CEOs? Ditch the Co-instructor format and have one lead instructor and multiple aides.

  • You must have a clear lead instructor.
  • If you have aides teaching, do not interrupt them or "add" to their discussion in front of the group.
  • Lead instructor is responsible for being prompt and clear with what is next, avoiding unnecessary downtime, and keeping everything moving.



Utilize small groups whenever possible. At some point working with a lot of people turns into just herding sheep.

  • Randomize the groups, switch up the groups regularly
    • Don't use silly names for groups. Simple 1, 2, 3 is most effective than trying to remember random animals or colors.
  • Rotate aides and instructors for each group and topic so participants get different styles and interaction with each manager/instructor
  • Small groups are more effective at discussion, getting things moving, and speed up the process.
  • Use a large group debrief to share what small groups talked about and to swap stories.


Have a specific agenda before you start teaching.

  • Know what you are teaching, how much time you'll spend teaching it, and what you are going to do next in as much exact detail as possible.
    • Avoid forcing people to sit and wait for you to figure out who is going to decide what to do next, when, and where.
  • Write it out and distribute it to all participants. At this time we're doing this, at that time we're doing that. Be clear, be specific, and pad things with a little extra time.
    • Participants will appreciate early release over excessive time. 
Apr 25, 2016

Front glides, back glides


  1. Put your shoulders in the water
  2. Put your arms out in front of you
  3. Put your face in the water
  4. Push off to me


Back glide script:


  1. Stand up straight
  2. Turn away from me
  3. Put your shoulders in the water
  4. Tilt your head back
  5. Push off to me


Why they're important

What each phrase does.


How they're integrated into incremental progressions and swim lesson plans.

Apr 19, 2016

Set up systems for better success


Look in your favorite search: importance of systems in business


You'll find a huge list of why you need to have systems. What is a system and why is it important for swimming lessons or swim teams?


I think of a "system" as a template or a guide for how to proceed with a certain action.


If I hired someone, the system would be the paperwork I needed to fill out, and who to turn it in to. The order I did that paperwork and when is the "system."


In a large sense, how a participant signs up for your classes, what they fill out to register, and who and how much they pay is all part of your marketing and registration system.


Systems simplify making money. They simplify "how to do stuff."


Swimming Ideas offers a "system" to teach swim lessons.


For us, it is the general format of a class, which we further break down into ability levels and activities.


We follow logical progressions to get to desired goals and do things with the same language because we're following the system.


General activity system: short distance skill work with high volume, specific target goals, feedback, and incremental progression.


We move short distances (most of the time).

We do something a lot.

We give a few key goals (look down, lock thumb, squeeze ears).

We give feedback based on those goals.

We challenge by adding the next incremental step of difficulty.


Success comes when you can flow into this system with any person in your program with any teacher and just pick up where they left off.


Swimmers expect the routine of your system, and flourish under it. Systems remove the unique "what do you mean" moments that waste time.


Systems create trust in your swimmers.  Fear and hesitation are a huge element to swimming with the potential to not breathe. We can earn trust through our systems because participants know what to expect.


Do you have a system? Do you follow ours? Let me know in the comments, or on facebook, or twitter.

Apr 11, 2016

Learn when it is time to stop an activity and move on.


  • When you feel you're forcing it
  • When participants are distracted by something else
    • Loud reset
  • When goofiness takes hold
    • Use a distraction skill: my go to is "jumps"
  • When participants are not "getting it."
    • Reteach, or explain better
    • Too complex for intended group


Is it better to try something new and fail, than it is to only do what you know works?



Failure leads to success:


Article about school that grades character instead of using homework and standardized tests.


When you persevere, make attempts, fail, and then are corrected with help and direction success is earned and learned.


The process is important.


Swimming is so much easier than just "learning overall" we have a specific body motion goal we are working towards.


We can get there by making learning attempts for our participants. 


Come up with interesting ways to provide the following key elements:

  • Specific skill/body motion
  • Multiple attempts
  • Challenging or fun activity to work on chosen skill
    • Sometimes challenge and fun is simply in act of doing it (streamlines can be fun - they're fast).  Pulling super boost example
  • Consistent opportunity for feedback from instructor in a non-disruptive way.


How do you reset your instruction? Do you do it often? (goal is infrequent, but when you're trying new things you need to know when to reset).


Let us know in comments below or on facebook or twitter.

Apr 4, 2016

Why we would interrupt a skill progression to play a game, and why it works for swim lessons and better retention.


General swimming lesson information.


Typical swim lesson plans:

  • Enter
  • Underwater
  • Front glides
  • Free swim
  • Breathing
  • Free swim
  • Back glides
  • Back arms
  • Back swim
  • Jumps
  • Games
  • Done.



Swimming Ideas lesson plans:

  • Entry
  • Underwater
  • Front glides
  • Game
  • Arm circles
  • Freestyle swim
  • Back glides
  • Game
  • Back arms
  • Back swim
  • Jumps
  • Front glides with arms


We insert games, and jumps to recapture dulling attention.


Most everything you do in the water should be moving your swimmers to better ability in the water. Sometimes the best way to do that is with a game or a song.


We are essentially teaching "body control" in very specific restricted movements. But that comes with it some requirement to know what the "feel for the water" is.


Basic premise:


Repetitive learning.

Set up similar systems for participant expectations.

When it gets boring, play a game, sing  a song, do alternate activity.

Return to system.



Mar 29, 2016

What are the 3 things to streamline?

  • Lock thumb
  • Look down
  • Squeeze ears


What common problems do these commands/goals/specific words correct:


  • Head lifted and looking forward
  • Arms not tight against head
  • Hands wavering
  • Body not straight
  • Hands at 11
  • Arms bent and slow
  • The "fake" streamline
  • Short streamlines
  • The bad crawl position


By doing all 3 things, it addresses almost every single bad habit in streamlines.


Why do we do it at all? Why do we do it with beginners?


Streamline is the most efficient and best way to move through the water. Every stroke moves from streamline into movement. It is the easiest horizontal motion we can do. It is the starting point. The base.


With beginners we are less strict with the 3 goals, and they can do it on the surface. We still enforce the looking down. We encourage the squeezed ears, and the locked thumb..


As we progress through levels we initiate the streamline deeper underwater and require longer distance traveled underwater in streamline.


Can we make this script better?

We've tried! Can you think of 3 simple commands that will address the majority of issues in streamline?

Mar 21, 2016

Level 1 and Parent Tot.


Our primary focus is going underwater.


When you can go underwater then you can do everything.


The only thing you can do without going underwater is supported activities (being physically held up at surface) and backstroke.


One must learn how to go underwater. They should learn how to react when submerging, how to hold breath, blow bubbles, and not to panic when not able to breathe underwater.


We do that by repeatedly giving opportunities to go underwater to the participant. We build into almost every activity some chance to put the face in.




  • Bobs
  • Rings
  • Superman through hula hoop
  • Supported Front glides
  • Kicking
  • Arm circles
  • Bake a Cake
  • Jumps
  • Monkey walks


Level 1 testable skills:

  • Go underwater completely on own
  • Supported front glide with face in water
  • Supported back glide with ears in water


Do you have some interesting ways to encourage beginners to go underwater?

Mar 14, 2016

Can you teach level 2 and level 3 in the same class? What about 1 and 2?


We go into some in-depth discussion on what each level requirements are, and how you can integrate them into one class.


Is it ideal?


Why even have levels in the first place?


Example of last class taught: level 2/3 and how I taught the class to each individual.


The beauty of short and long distance skill work, and why the short distance cheat sheet is a framework of success.


General Short distance framework:


3 x [something] + [something else]



Mar 8, 2016

How we use it in swim lessons and how we use it at swim practice.


What is it:


Position 11 is:


  • A drill we do to establish a good quality body position and long reach.
  • Something we do every day in every lesson
  • Used in every stroke



 Go here for a free preview:


How do we do it in lessons?

In Level 2:

  • On the deck we do Streamline into position 11
  • We review what it is and the three things you use it for
  • We do it with a noodle, or a kickboard
  • WE talk about it as the target or goal body position arms should travel through on FREE and Back
  • We use it when teaching Breaststroke
  • When teaching butterfly
  • When doing short distance training


How do we use it at swim team?

  • Every day we do 2 x 25 position 11 where we review all the steps and goals. And the 3 things to make it easier, which you can find detailed with the Starter Kit and the Complete package
  • We talk about it for all 4 strokes
    • I demo each stroke and ask when position 11 occurs.
  • We build it into every stroke we can as a basis point. It is a lodestone or a reference for most proper hand entries.
  • We use it as a pause position for more complicated drills for breaststroke: 2k + 1 pull, fly: P+U+P+U and stroke
  • Sometimes we ask them to do a front float and lift their heads up and keep it there and "find out what happens" (you sink).



It is NOT easy to do position 11 while kicking free, but when we do it really works on teaching quick breaths, realigning the body to a balanced straight position, and feeling how lifting your head makes you sink.


I love position 11. It works so well we literally use it constantly.


How you can use it in your lessons:


Show someone position 11 in your class.

Ask them to come up with a name for it.

We say position 11 because the arms are like 11's and I couldn't think of anything better than what Steve Haufler said.


When you have your swimmers in your lessons do an activity repeatedly (like go from bench to bench 5 times) have them streamline first, then do position 11 the rest of the way. Encourage them to keep their face in the water the whole time (move benches close enough together).


Use the new name, or call it position 11. Then when you do a front crawl a short distance, or you do butterfly, you can say, always return to position 11 before you do your next stroke. It gives swimmers a good start point or foundation to then do their other swimming moves.

Feb 24, 2016 posted an article about External and internal focus for optimal learning.


Basically: external focus is better. Using golf, darts, and balancing a board, researchers have shown that when you focus your attention on doing SOMETHING to something, you get better results.


This applies to swimming lessons because it gives us an insight into how we frame our language to get the best results.


Why do we say:


"Squeeze your ears, Look down, lock your thumb.


"Keep your arm straight, look down, and stay on the surface


Are these effective? Or are these internal cues.


Swimming and moving in the water is a highly personal thing and we often think about telling someone to do something by guiding their body. We assume they are attempting to move their body in a certain way, and they are!, but it may be more effective to give them a target, instead of giving a path.


Perhaps this is why "11, Y, scoop and Reach" is so effective.  It isn't a "reach your arms up, keep them straight, sweep out, then shoot forward quickly." It is instead, providing a visual target, or an external cue that swimmers need to externally achieve by moving their bodies toward!


How can we use our language as swim instructors and coaches to use these external cues.


We tried it at swim practice


  • Point your fingers to the walls when you do your back stroke
  • Aim your face to the lane lines when you breathe
    • Aim your nose
    • Shoot a laser out of your nose to the lane line when you breathe
  • Hit the target over your shoulder on the surface with each arm stroke before you do

"zombie" and pull during freestyle

  • For breaststroke we said, "shoot your arms forward like a bullet" and "throw your hands at the target over your head."














We drew these on the board.




We tried it in swim lessons:

  • Reach your arms as far forward as you can
  • Place them on the surface gently
  • Look at my toes underwater
  • Reach for me when you push off


It really works well when you do two benches facing each other:

  • Go 5 times from bench to bench.
  • Your goal is to get to the other bench while still in streamline, or still in position 11


Specific swim lesson activity


  • Swimmers stood on the bench, and were told to keep their body in a soldier position: straight back, straight head, arms at side.
  • We held a noodle just at the limit of their arm's reach and asked them to make windmills with straight arms and "slap" the noodle each time they came around
    • This was for a long straight reach out in front for when they swim.
  • Moved the noodle "just" outside of reach, and asked to do again, encouraging hip rotation to reach the noodle for the "slap"