Effective Teaching – Series 1 of 3

Be one of the best instructors

Before I give you this juicy nugget of teaching effectiveness I want to thank you for being interested in teaching swimming. I’m creating swim lesson plans and training documents to improve our own program, but to also improve yours. Take these effective teaching tips from USA Swimming’s Sport Performance Consultants to make sure you’re teaching a great swim lesson. This 3 part series is good for swim instructors, Aquatics Directors, and swim coaches! If you teach in any capacity, this is the email series for you. Incidentally, we’ve also based our training documents on the series’ main points.
1) Stuff “practice” like a Tur-Duck-in (Chicken inside a Duck inside a Turkey)
Whether you’re teaching a swim class to 5 participants or a swim team group of 20 priority #1 is to always do things that have a specific purpose for future success.
Be deliberate:  ask: “Is what we’re doing in this lesson enabling our participants to do a skill well later?”

We want to work on front glides and front floats in a specific way because later on when our participants attempt to swim, they’ll have a basis from which to draw from. They have the specific body position established already through our initial teaching, and now when we’re attempting to add the arms the participant doesn’t need to think about the body because it is now a correct habit.

Example: Our practice goal for day 1 is to accomplish these three goals: 1) Get in the water safely, 2) Establish a routine/way of running a class, 3) Introduce participants to doing front glides and back glides. Our whole lesson plan will be devoted to accomplishing these three goals. Here is a stuffed practice/lesson plan:

  • Soldier Position on deck
  • Flutter kicks on the side
  • Enter water with instructor
  • Bobs (instructor demo first)
  • Supported front glides (instructor demos with willing volunteer)
  • Bake a Cake game
  • Supported Back Glides (instructor demos with a willing volunteer head on shoulder and head in hand if possible.
  • Jumps from side
    • Ask if the participant wants to go underwater – make it clear that you don’t have to go underwater to ensure participation.
  • Kicking from 1 bench to another with barbell
    • Instructor demonstrates


We want the practices and lessons to be full of activities, games, and instruction specifically packed to the brim with opportunities for purposeful practice.






Clumsy Reporter Knocks Down Jenga Tower
Don’t be this foolish

2) Tip toeing around artwork is better than stomping over dominos

Be aware of your settings and be mindful of all your practice activities. You don’t want to be the idiot reporter who walks around a jenga castle and knock it over with your microphone cord.

Carelessly barreling through activities at swim lessons or practice simply creates terrible habits and bad swimming. Our secondary goal is to figure out how to provide opportunities for mindful and deliberate practice at a new or challenging skill. We want to ask ourselves,
“Does this task directly connect to the skill we want to achieve?”
Can we design and provide swimming lessons and instruction with all activities pointing to a productive ideal end result? The answer is absolutely yes! Yes we can!
I think of untrained swim instructors as idiot reporters who carelessly loop their microphone cord around the jenga tower and destroy it.
When you hire high school students and “train” them by giving them a 4 hour run through of how to teach swimming lessons you’re telling them to run through a field covered in domino designs and asking them to not knock any over. By the first few steps they’ve already forgotten the directions and have destroyed hours of painstaking work setting up each individual domino. You may have shown your staff how to hold a child on back glides or how to progressively get someone to go underwater, but if you don’t give them to visual tools or time needed to learn those skills themselves they’re going to forget and get careless in their instruction. When you have careless and untrained staff you get time wasters like “Mr. Fox” and stumbling commands like, “Uhhhh, what do you guys want to work on?”
To recap:
#1  Each lesson or practice should be filled with specific skills designed to reach an ideal endpoint. Have your goal in mind, and provide activities designed to teach a portion of a skill, or focus on a step to your goal. in swimming our goal is to teach forward motion while using Freestyle, Backstroke, Butterfly and Breaststroke. All of our activities and games are designed to reach that goal. Do not teach a lesson or host a practice without some purpose and path to your goal.

#2  Train mindfully. We want to be thoughtful with our learning and our goal is to encourage our swimmers to think about what they are doing. Practicing their arm strokes on deck slowly but well is so much more important than doing them quickly and sloppy. We want repetition of quality. When we do anything in our lessons or at swim practice we should provide immediate quality feedback designed to encourage that mental effort and physical attempt. When we take a level 1 swimmer and do front glides we’re should be asking our participants to think about keeping their body straight, to attempt to blow bubbles, and to keep their arms straight; all things designed to help them streamline better later on in level 2  and 3. As instructors, as coaches, we want to TRAIN our students well so they learn good correct habits instead of sloppy, slow, or inefficient habits.

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