how to create swim team workouts

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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 coaches learn the lingo and provide you with guidance on how to write awesome swim workouts for your team!

This swim coach 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. Our 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:


The Basics: Focus on One Stroke Each Week

Work on one stroke each week:

  • Week 1: Start with freestyle
  • Week 2: Then move on to backstroke
  • Week 3: Next is breaststroke
  • Week 4: Complete the 4 week cycle with butterfly

This keeps the short-axis strokes (free and back) and long-axis strokes (breast and fly) together.

It is also a medley relay order (back-breast-fly-free), so easy to remember. After week 4, reset.

Beginner level of swimmers 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%

Let’s dive into each… (pun intended).

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.
  • 50 Pull: We recommend a Junior Pull Buoy.
  • 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.

Assign swimmers in each lane a number to determine who will go first, second, third, ect. That way you can address all the number one’s, two’s, and three’s to start together.

To start a swim, say “All the number one’s, ready go! All the number two’s, ready go!” This is also super helpful if you are still learning all the names of the swimmers.

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).

Beginner Swim Team Celebration
Practice all aspects of racing!

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:

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!
Beginner Swim Team Language
Use positive language.

Workout Time

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.

You can do that with the trusty tool of every swim coach: a stopwatch.

“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”.

Beginner Swim Team Wording
Try using smooth instead of easy.

Cool Down

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.

Positive Vibes

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.

Beginner Swim Team Coaching
Swimming is a privilege, not punishment.

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!

Make a point to address every swimmer at least one time every workout to give feedback. The feedback can be corrective or reinforce something they are doing right!

Conclusion on The Swim Coaches Beginner’s Guide to Writing Workouts

Overall, the above guide will help you be a better coach. Develop your own style as your gain experience.

It is also important to remember when working with kids, sometimes you need to throw the game plan out the window and go with the flow!

Here are two more great resources for coaches and swimmers:

*Get the most out of your next swim with our Athlete Approved Guide to Lap Swimming Equipment! Equip yourself for success with our ultimate swim gear guide.*


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