Swimming Game – Tic Tac Toe

Every year I get a few new assistant coaches that help me run my developmental swim practices. Once they understand the language that I use, the routines and habits for the different groups, and are comfortable with the flow and format of most practices I give them opportunities to take ownership of the groups.

I let them write practices on the fly with revision, feedback, and guidance. I let them lead portions of the practice while I take a step back and have the kids see them as leaders.

This game is designed by a 17 year old assistant coach that has been swimming for a long time on the competitive swim team, and began working with me in November. Let me know what you think.

Category: Group Challenge / Group Activity
Core Skill: Reading the board, self-guided practice, coach’s choice
Name: Tic Tac Toe Competition


This game is appropriate for swimmers that have some understanding of your routine, language, and typical activities. We do a lot of the same framework for many different activities. For example my swimmers are familiar with what 3 x SL + 3 FR means. They know that they set up their lane, do a streamline plus the thing after it. In this case three freestyle strokes without breathing. They go through it on their own rotating through, and receive feedback from coaches on how well they do each attempt. This is our primary learning vehicle. This game also requires that swimmers can read. They also need to know what a 25 is, or a 50.

Play this game with swim teams, or swim lessons where participants have been in your group or program long enough to know what is going on so you don’t have to explain in detail every little step. Terms and activities should be obvious, or clearly written so as to require little explanation.


This game works on speed for racing, excellence for not getting disqualified, and reading the board. In general you want the skill you choose to put in each “box” to be small achievable skills that require some sort of swimming.

Most of the beginner items are things like:

  • 3 x SL on back to the flags
  • 3 x SL + 3 free + flip
  • 25 FREE
  • 25 BACK
  • 2 dives off the side

Things that are very accessible and do not require a lot of explanation. You can make each item or box complex with multiple steps or short with one or two steps.

Through multiple rounds we found that it was best to limit each box to one or two very short activities. 50 Free, or 2 x SL + 5 Free + 1 breath instead of a long string of actions.


Write a tic tac toe board on the board. Write a second smaller one to the side.

Inside the main large # (hashtag) board, write out different skills and activities. My assistant coach had a stroke of brilliance and in the corners put more challenging skills and in the wings more fun or easy skills.


Play the game with two lanes. One lane is the “O” and the other lane is the “X.”

Each lane should be no more than 4 or 5 swimmers. The lanes choose which square they’re going to attempt to mark.

You can choose whether or not you tell the lanes what the other team is doing. If you do NOT tell the lanes what the other one is doing then the lane that finishes the activity first gets the mark. So if both do the middle, then whoever completes it correctly first gets a mark. If they DQ, or get disqualified, then you can have them fail and not earn a mark. Coach’s choice.

Swimmers attempt to make a “three-in-a-row.” This is where you use the second board.

When one lane wins, then erase the second # and start a new game. You can change the activities as you go through rounds or keep it the same.

Have you played this game or a variation of it? If so share you thoughts in the comments below, or connect on twitter @swimmingideas or Instagram @swimmingideas.

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