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Tips for Swim Team Coaches
In the world of swimming, you may hear terms like descends, threshold, FRIM, FSOP, on-the-top, and ask yourself: What does it all mean? We are here to help you learn the lingo and provide you with guidance on how to write awesome swim workouts for your team!
This guide will explain how to conduct a swim practice for beginner level swim teams, however, a lot of the ideas can be applied to all levels. This Athlete Approved method incorporates a mix of education and fun. Our goal is to help swimmers learn and keep them coming back for more.
We categorize “Beginner Level Swim Team” as swimmers who can swim a legal lap of free and back, with a general understanding of breast and fly.
This guide will teach how to create swim workouts that:
- Focus on one stroke each week: Freestyle, Backstroke, Breaststroke, Butterfly.
- Win the warm up: Keep it consistent.
- Teach: Use a progression.
- Workout: Vary speeds and effort levels.
- Cool Down: Gradually lower heart rate.
- Positive Vibes: If you have fun, your swimmers will have fun.
The Basics: Focus on One Stroke Each Week
Work on one stroke each week. Start with freestyle in week 1. Then move to backstroke in week 2, breaststroke in week 3, and butterfly in week 4. This keeps the short-axis strokes (free and back) and long-axis strokes (breast and fly) together. It is also a medley relay order, so easy to remember. After week 4, reset.
This beginner level of swimmer may only come to practice one or two times per week, so writing swim workouts using this method ensures each child will have the opportunity to work on the stroke you are teaching that week.
These swimmers will workout between 30 minutes to one hour. Use this ratio for managing practice time:
- Warm up 30%
- Teaching 30%
- Training 30%
- Warm Down 10%
Win the Warm Up
“Wait what are we doing? What’s a 25 mean? What’s Freestyle?“-Every Kid Swimmer
Solution: Keep your warm up consistent.
Making a routine will save time explaining, and get your swimmers into the water on time. This will allow for your swimmers to get a sense for how they are feeling that day. This will also ensure chaos does not unleash when you turn your attention to whatever may come up that day.
Try 5×50 for younger groups. Feel free to add your own personal touch or adjust to 75 or 100. Here is an example:
- 50 Free
- 50 Social Kick – Ask the swimmers to tell you something new they learned from their teammate. Try Junior Kick Boards for kids (20% off all Finis gear for Athlete Approved readers).
- 50 Pull – We recommend a Junior Pull Buoy (20% off all Finis gear for Athlete Approved readers).
- 50 Swimmers Pick to Review a Drill From Prior Workout – This is a nice check in to see what they retained.
- 50 Stroke you are working on that day – Provides an update to see what we are working with.
Ask your swimmers to focus on one very important aspect of swimming. For example, streamline, finishes, or a finer technical point you have been teaching.
After each swim, check in with them to make sure they completed. Most young swimmers have the short-term memory of Dori from Finding Nemo, so you may need to remind them.
The most common injury in swimming are collisions. Be sure to remind your young swimmers to circle swim.
Athlete Approved Tip: When you work on finishes, ask your swimmers to do a quick celebration when they finish correctly. That will keep it fun and rewarding. It will also help them visualize the real thing! Most importantly, it will be entertaining for you! Be prepared to learn the latest TikTok craze (you’re welcome).
See below for a fun video about swim celebrations.
Time to Teach
When you write your swimming workout, teach technique using a drill progression. Pick three drills that flow together. There are hundreds of drills out there.
The best drills are the one’s you come up with (and allow your swimmers to name). Below are examples we like to use.
Freestyle Drill Progression Example:
- Kick on your Side – Work on head and body position.
- 6-Kicks and Switch – Timing and hip rotation.
- Set-Up and Drive – Put it all together, click here to learn drill.
Backstroke Drill Progression Example:
- Kick Flat on Back – Eyes in the sky or ceiling (watch they do not bump their head at the end of the lap).
- Supermodel Backstroke – With hands down at waist, rotate to side, neutral, then to other side. Like a super model walking down a runway.
- One Arm Backstroke – Working rotation.
Breaststroke Drill Progression Example:
- Breaststroke Kick on Back – Will prevent knees from coming forward.
- Breast Pull with Fly Kick – Focusing on timing (pull… and then kick).
- One Pull + Two Kick – Think timing and guide.
Butterfly Drill Progression Example
- Worm Drill on Front – Works undulation.
- Worm Drill on Back – Kicks should be even up AND down.
- One Arm Fly – Explain to kick when hand pulls and kick when hand exits.
Athlete Approved Tip: When giving feedback, word it positively.
- Say it this way: “Keep your elbow high when you pull”
- Don’t say it this way: “Don’t drop your elbow when you pull”
- Tell your athletes what they are doing right!
For the workout portion of the practice, incorporate things worked on above. Keep in mind, if it is butterfly week, do not make the entire workout butterfly. Use freestyle as your base stroke.
When your swimmers begin to get tired, they may revert back to poor technique. For beginners, keep an equal eye on progress through time improvement and technique improvement.
We recommend this stopwatch (20% off all Finis gear for Athlete Approved readers).
“Under pressure, you don’t rise to the occasion, you sink to the level of your training”Navy Seals
Nothing is worse than a series of swims with no focus. To construct the best workout keep your swimmers engaged by incorporating:
- Descending – Swimmers get faster on each swim in a series.
- Building – Swimmers get faster throughout that one swim.
- Ascending – Swimmers start fast and end smooth.
- FRIM (Freestyle IM) – Free, Back, Breast, Free (a Coach Bob Bowman favorite to keep Michael Phelp’s fly fresh).
- FSOP (Fastest Send Off Possible) – Pick a challenging time interval.
- In and Outs – Getting in and out of the pool increases athleticism and is fun. Feet first entry for shallow water.
- Race – Raise excitement and competitive juices by racing.
Athlete Approved Tip: Avoid using the term “easy” in practice. It teaches swimmers they can disengage. Instead use the word “smooth”.
At the conclusion of practice, allow your swimmers to cool down to gradually lower their heart rates. Feel free to mix up the stroke.
Then allow them to be creative by inventing their own stroke. By “playing” in the water, they will discover new connections and end on a high note.
End practice when all the swimmers are at the wall together. Ask them to wait for their teammates and exit as a team. This will help build a team culture. And if any swimmer is taking forever to finish, the team will encourage them to hurry up!
Finish up with a cheer. The louder the better.
When correcting a swimmer who is breaking rules, use a stern and calm voice. Only raise your voice when being positive or for safety matters (like a collision from not circle swimming correctly).
Athlete Approved Tip: Swimming is a privilege. If a swimmer is not listening or acting inappropriately, sit them out for a swim. Punishing by making them swim Fly, for example, teaches that Fly is a bad thing.
There are times you should be strict. The bottom line is if you are having fun, your swimmers will be having fun and most importantly improving as swimmers!
About the Author: Bobby Savulich
At The University of Michigan, Bobby was a 6x NCAA All-American and a 13x Big Ten Champion. He also won a Short Course National Championship. He was named captain his senior year and was a member of two Big Ten Championship teams.
On the international level, in 2005 Bobby was a member of the United States Junior Pan Pacific team. In the summer of 2011, he swam at the World University Games in Shenzhen, China. He won a gold medal as anchor of the 4X100 Freestyle Relay. He also represented the United States as a member of the Pan Am Team, winning two silver medals.
He is currently the Aquatics Director for the Bay Club in San Francisco, California.