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Improving Your Learn to Swim Program

By John Leonard, SwimAmerica and American Swimming Coaches Association.

6/4/13

The Skills of Backstroke.

Most learn to swim programs teach backstroke swimming. Here’s a few keys to doing it well.

What’s different about backstroke? Well, for starters, you can’t see where you are going! Nor can you “see” what your hands/arms are doing underwater.

Second, you have your mouth and nose out of the water, so access to a breath is easier.

Third, for most Learn to Swim Students, the body position is “difficult”.

Here are some ideas on addressing each of these.

First, all good backstroke starts with a “still head” with no movement in the vertical or horizontal planes. This “still head” position allows the swimmer to have an “anchor point” and a consistent hand entry position. If the head is still, the entry position can be consistent, which will lead to a consistent underwater pull. Start with kicking on the back, keeping the head still.

Then kick “on the side” with the head still and then, swim with the head still.

Breathing should be Rhythmic as in all other strokes. Most coaches will say “Inhale on one hand entry and exhale on the other hand entry.” If it works for Olympians, it will work for novices! Do not allow the student to “hold their breath” or to “breath whenever they want.” Breathing “whenever” will not allow for a rhythmic stroke rate. Like in all other strokes, good rhythm begins with good breathing.

Holding good high body position is key to good backstroke. With today’s children generally being “weaker” than their predecessors, this is an issue…Core strength really helps maintain position…being able to do “back planks” on land will help. Being Instructed to “hold the core straight” will help prevent “sitting down” in the water, as well. And of course, a good backstroke kick is key as well. Backstroke kicking will be a bit deeper in the water than the good flutter kick in freestyle. Remember to remind students to point their toes and kick from high in their hips…(“use the whole body to kick” can be a good instruction.)

Happy Teaching! JL

 

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Improving Your Learn to Swim Program Articles
 

Fixing that Elusive Breaststroke Kick - Posted December 2011

Simplicity - Posted 5/22/11

A Changing Paradigm of Learning - Posted 8/23/11

Language for Each Stroke - Posted 9/19/11

Communities Find Alternatives to Eliminataing Learn-to-Swim Programs - Posted May 2011

Quality Feedback - Posted 4/15/11

Coaching Kids with Disabilities - Posted 4/1/11

Teaching Backstroke...some important teaching points - Posted 3/3/11

Establishing your Make-Up Policy - Posted 2/1/11

How do you improve a near perfect program? - Posted 1/7/11

Teaching Children To Swim Breaststroke - The Pull - Posted 12/14/10

Standardize Your Kicking Test - Posted 10/19/20

Getting the Freestyle Lines Right -Posted  9/10/10

Learning the Kick -  Do's and Do Not's - Posted 3/25/10

Fixing the infamous "one foot turned out, one foot turned in" of breaststroke kick fame... - Posted 4/29/2009

Improving Your Learn to Swim Program   5/29/12

Teaching Freestyle (Flutter) Kick

By John Leonard

        Fundamental to learning to swim, right behind the concepts of air exchange and learning buoyancy, the flutter kick is easy to teach, but not so easy to teach correctly.

        The essence of this short lesson is this: each leg must EXTEND fully, with the back of the knee joint flat out to 180 degrees or beyond (hyper-extended knee joint) and then kick back “upwards” to be effective.

        While this may seem obvious, I am constantly amazed at the number of learn to swim students that I see who appear to be kicking correctly, but in reality, are not moving forward at a rate commensurate with the effort they are making.

        On close inspection, they are kicking “from the knee” and not extending fully downward and kicking through the toes.

      Key Points to remember:

     Toes pointed, but not “rigid”.

      Kick down till the knee is straight.

      Kick back “upward”.

      Initiate all kicks from the buttocks, not the knees.

      A fast, steady kick “within the shadow of the body” is best.

 

Techniques that create problems:

#1. Overuse of “kicking on the wall”. Teachers will use holding onto the wall as a means of teaching kicking. When you do this, the child quickly learns they cannot “move the wall”, so they “adapt” to give the instructor what they want…by bending their knees and never finishing the kick….It looks good, but it does not teach them to move forward with the kick.

#2. Kicking “only on the stomach” with a kickboard will encourage the same “non-finish” of the kick. Kick on the back, on the sides, and on the front. When possible, limit the use of kickboard until the kicking technique is correct…once it is correct, resume kickboard use, and build leg strength and endurance. And once again, WATCH for resumption of incorrect technique when they are tired. Practice makes habit. Only correct practice makes perfect.

JL

Posted: 3/13/2012

Improving Your Learn to Swim Program

By John Leonard, ASCA

Dave Robertson, today in his late eighties, was one of the pioneers of Learn to Swim Classes in the USA. Coach Robertson taught at New Trier High School in Winnetka, Illinois for decades and in addition to having one of the most elite high school swim teams in the USA, New Trier was known for the “New Trier Guard”.

The Guard was a group of students who volunteered to teach swimming lessons every Saturday at the High School Pool. Over the years, this program turned out literally many tens of thousands of competent swimmers and hundreds of High School All-American elite swimmers. All the success came from the time and devotion that Coach Robertson put into training his “NT Guard” students to teach competently, teach with expertise and teach with heart and feeling for the importance of learning to swim and learning to swim correctly.

Coach Robertson never met a detail too “small” to focus on. He did a wonderful job of teaching all his staff how to understand the importance of all the parts of learning to swim, from calling students by their own name, to how to support a child properly in the water to create the greatest sense of comfort and confidence in the instructor, to the mechanics of teaching well organized stroke mechanics in a consistent way to each and every child.

Dave is credited with being the “founder” of the STATION TEACHING METHOD, where multiple skill levels are taught by different instructors in the same pool at the same time and where the lesson is CHILD FOCUSED…so when each individual child is ready to move, they progress to the next station in the system. It’s a fantastic method to encourage children to learn quickly, learn well, and LEARN TO SWIM.

Station teaching focuses on the child learning to swim and not on “teaching swimming lessons.” And isn’t that what every educated consumer parent wants to protect their child?

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Teaching Article - Improving Your Learn to Swim Program

By John Leonard – December, 2011

“Fixing that Elusive Breaststroke Kick”

   All Learn to Swim professional teachers and coaches of novice swimmers will tell you that one of the hardest, most persistently difficult problems to fix is that swimmer with one foot properly turned out on Breaststroke Kick and the other foot…..turned inward…

    While teaching an ASCA Level 2 Stroke School in New Zealand a few years ago, I got help with the awful problem…… Just as I said “I have no idea how to fix that!”, a lady in the rear of the room, who was likely in her 9tth decade on the planet, stood up and said “I can help you with that Coach John!”

      I will admit to a modicum of “skepticism” since I have “been everywhere and heard everything”…..but the “modicum”escalated somewhat when we continued with ….”my seven year old great-grandson showed me how”.  I must admit to a certain inward groan. But I politely said…”yes, madame, please do..”

 

And now comes brilliance…so simple. Like all brilliance.

She said “My great grandson told me to simply “FAN MY TOES” with the little toe pushing outward, and all would be good.”

If you are at all like most of us, your toes “fanned in your shoes” as you read that, and you know INSTANTLY, how effective that bit of advice is. I have since repeated it all over the world and asked coaches to immediately go home and try it with their swimmers with a “stubborn foot” in breaststroke. It always works!

And the greater lesson of course..never close your mind…you can learn from anyone, anywhere, anytime. So huge thanks to that fine lady and her adept great grandson!  

Do great teaching, the future depends on it!   JL

 

Improving Your Learn to Swim Program
By John Leonard
Posted: 9/19/11

John Leonard’s  “language for each stroke”
Sept. 2011 (It changes regularly!)
Note that this is “first layer of the onion” for novice swimmers of all ages, advanced swimmers get some modifications and a bit more sophisticated stuff.

Freestyle

  1. Eyes look down.

  2. Body straight and “snaps” from hips, side to side.

  3. Shoulders follow hips.

  4. Hand enters on a line with the shoulder.

  5. Hand enters index finger first.

  6. After entry, hand extends out and DEEP.

  7. Fingers down, elbows us.

  8. Pull, Push with fingers down, elbows up.

  9. Push through, thumb your thigh to finish.

  10.   On recovery, elbow up, fingers close to body and close to water.

  11. Breath with one goggle in water, one goggle out.

  12. Fast, steady kick.

Backstroke

  1. Head Still – “resting on a pillow” – it NEVER moves.

  2. Body rotates around the core.

  3. Hand enters just outside the shoulder line.

  4. Hand enters little finger first and drives down deep.

  5. Rip hand “up and out” to the hip.

  6. Hand exists little finger first. (hand on edge coming out.)

  7. Recover with arm straight, reach for the sky, Fast Hands on Recovery!

  8. Once past the vertical, little finger leads on recovery.

  9. Fast, steady Kick.

Breaststroke

  1. Timing is KICK, STRETCH, Pull.

  2. Eyes look downward, throughout the stroke.

  3. Hips stay high.

  4. Toes out, kick back fast.

  5. Squeeze thighs at back of kick.

  6. Hands always start out in front, arms STRAIGHT, palms out, index fingers together. Same Starting point on Every Stroke.

  7. Press hands wide, pitch hand up.

  8. Vertical hands at the corner.

  9. Hands wider than the elbows.

  10. Pull fast, thumbs leading, down and inward.

  11.  Fast hands on recovery, leading forward.

  12. LEAN forward as hands recover, swim DOWNHILL.

Butterfly

  1. Hands go in, butt goes up.

  2. Eyes down throughout the stroke.

  3. Breath “down”.

  4. Hands enter wide.

  5. Hands sweep inward.

  6. Hands sweep outward.

  7. Hands exit little finger first.

  8. Little finger leads on recovery.

  9. Recover with arms low, flat and straight.

  10.  Kick stays  narrow and fast.

  11.  Press the chest, lift the hips.

  12. Breath at the back of stroke when hands are still in water.

  13. Head down before the hands pass the shoulders on recovery.

Remember…”first layer of the onion”. It will change after they master the fundamentals.   JL

Improving Your Learn To Swim Program
By John Leonard
Posted: 8/23/11

A Changing Paradigm of Learning
        Teachers who have been teaching for decades, will tell you that children have changed.
The older method of Explanation, Demonstration, Practice, Feedback, repeat….has to be changed to teach effectively with today’s child.
Today’s child is visually oriented, with a secondary emphasis on trial and error. Where did they learn this? Their world is focused around televisions and computer screens. (not listening). This has made them “visual learners”. So you need to be a “visual teacher”.
Secondarily, computers and computer games have made them “trial and error” learners. So you need to be a “practice and repetitions” teacher.
My recommendations for a process for TODAY’S child, is…….Demonstration, practice, Feedback, repeat….with a very limited amount of “explanation”. Very limited. Like phrases, rather than sentences. Make sure the “phrases” paint a clear and simple “picture”. It’s really John Wooden style of coaching. (if you don’t know who John Wooden is….it will make a great Google Search…you’ll learn a lot about teaching….)
Get good demonstrations done by children the same age or a year or two older than those you are teaching.  Let them “try it”. And again. Lots of experiential learning.  “Talking AT” them is close to useless.
And some things do not change…..BOYS learn differently from girls…boys have to be MOVING to learn….some body part has to be in motion. They can’t “sit still”. They are NOT all ADHD, they are all BOYS, who are wired differently. Let them learn like boys.
Do great teaching, the future depends on it.
JL

IMPROVING YOUR LEARN TO SWIM PROGRAM.
By John Leonard
Posted: 5/22/11

SIMPLICITY
    Watching some good teachers in the water last week, I was struck by one thing…the simplicity of their instruction.
Freestyle – “eyes down”- Reach – Roll- fingers down-push through-
Backstroke – “head still – reach out – “pull with your whole body” (first time I’ve ever heard anyone describe the “Crunch” style of engaging the core of the body.)
            Simple words, simple descriptions. Repeated over and over. Quality repetitions of very short distance efforts. But many, many, many good repetitions. 
            And endless drilling on one thing at a time.  Demonstrations first, then practice, then short one or two word “feedback” and then again, Demonstration, practice, feedback, and repeat.
         Sometimes I wonder if we make it all too fancy. The best businesses do the simple things exquisitely well.
         JL

Communities Find Alternatives to Eliminating Learn-to-Swim Programs
By Michael Popke  Athletic Business Mag.    May 2011

Five years ago, KNIK Aquatics, a USA Swimming club based in Anchorage, Alaska, took over the city's learn-to-swim program at Bartlett Pool, the state's only 50-meter facility. That arrangement, in which the municipality charged the swim club 30 percent of the revenues the club brought in through its lessons, made sense at the time. The city still provided the water and the lifeguards; in return, the club provided personnel the city couldn't afford to spare.

But as Anchorage's budget gap widened, the city increased the fees it assessed the club, forcing KNIK Aquatics to charge more for swimming lessons simply to cover basic costs. "I can no longer afford staff training," says Michelle Caldwell, volunteer director of the club's Learn2Swim program. "I have not bought new equipment in two years, except out of pocket."

As a result of the fee increases, Caldwell says fewer families are signing up their children for swimming lessons, which now cost $80 for six 40-minute sessions. That means fewer residents are learning how to swim in the largest city in Alaska — a state that boasts a longer coastline than all other states combined. "Alaska's drowning rate is incredibly high," Caldwell says. "Our kids go fishing and clamming, camping near rivers and open water, at very young ages. Our biggest issue is the temperature of our water, which leaves little time for rescue, even in the summer."

Anchorage is not alone in struggling to keep learn-to-swim programs afloat. Earlier this year, city officials in Reno, Nev., proposed cutting 13.5 positions from the city's parks and recreation department, along with $215,000 in annual operating expenses. That would have meant closing two of the city's four outdoor pools — which in turn would crowd out high school and private swim teams and reduce swimming lessons. (The Reno City Council later sacrificed new playground pads, park maintenance supplies and a little-used children's program to keep the pools open.)

"Obviously, the importance of learn-to-swim programs is that our drowning statistics haven't really changed, despite a lot of different organizations' efforts," says Mick Nelson, facilities development director for USA Swimming, which offers its own water safety initiative called Make A Splash. "If you don't teach people how to swim, they run the risk throughout their entire lives of something happening around the water — and they can't really avoid being around water anyplace on this planet."

Nationally, drowning remains the second-leading cause of accidental death among children, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. An estimated 300 children under the age of five drown in swimming pools and spas every year, and more than 4,200 kids 15 and younger visit hospital emergency rooms because of non-fatal submersion injuries, including those that result in permanent brain damage.

Some communities have fought to save learn-to-swim programs through private fundraising efforts, corporate sponsorships, joint ventures, or creative programming and staffing. But it hasn't been easy. "There are people making decisions in the public sector that don't have any idea what swimming lessons and pool operation are all about," Nelson says. "One of the first things that enters their minds is, 'If we cut back on programs or close the pool, that saves on staffing money, and that's the answer to the problem.' To them, swimming is just another piece — a very expensive piece — of the puzzle."

Last spring, faced with a reduction in tax revenues and a nearly depleted emergency revenue fund, city officials in Bartlesville, Okla., decided to close Sooner Pool — a 31-year-old 50-meter outdoor pool — and keep recently renovated but much smaller Frontier Pool open during the summer. But because of that pool's shallow depth, only first-level swimming lessons were offered, and lines to enter the facility often were long.

"It was all happening so fast; we didn't have a whole lot of time to think about what was going on," says Brian Olsen, co-chair of Sooner Pool Friends, a nonprofit organization of volunteers dedicated to raising enough money to reopen Sooner Pool for the 2011 summer season. "In the course of three weeks, if you hadn't been keeping an eye on the newspaper, Sooner Pool went from being open to shutting down. We didn't feel like people had a chance to voice their thoughts about this, so we just started a Facebook page. That got pretty wild."

Within 60 days, 1,000 people "liked" the page and used it to vent their frustrations. "People could say what they wanted and if it was really offensive, we would get it off our page," says Olsen, the father of a competitive swimmer who also lives near Sooner Pool. "But things still got hostile."

Despite what Olsen calls "the Facebook onslaught" against city officials, municipal leaders allowed the organization to include fundraising flyers in residents' utility bills. "We believe that brought in about $17,000, and the city did not have to do that," Olsen says. The group also generated thousands of additional dollars via a series of in-home ice-cream socials hosted by members of Sooner Pool Friends and donations from local businesses.

Sooner Pool Friends in Bartlesville, Okla., posted public updates on fundraising efforts to reopen the 50-meter pool. (Photo Courtesy of Sooner Pool Friends)

Money for swimming lessons was not included in the initial fundraising goal of $51,000 — a figure reached through consultation with the city via a memorandum of understanding that would allow the pool to open and operate on a bare-bones budget. Additional fundraising goals were assigned for swimming lessons (a goal that was reached with financial assistance from a local bank), extended lap swimming and a concessions stand expansion that is expected to bring in extra revenue. The organization, which acquired the nickname SPF51, likely will cut back on fundraising efforts later this year but remain intact as a community resource.

Michael O'Brien, the city manager for Worcester, Mass., decided not to wait for residents to take such initiative. When plans to replace nine aging municipal pools with three new aquatics facilities and five new spraygrounds fell through because of the turbulent economy, the city of 181,000 faced the possibility of being able to offer only limited swimming lessons.

Left with few options, O'Brien, a former parks and recreation administrator, gathered leaders from city government offices, local businesses, nonprofit organizations, colleges and universities, and neighborhoods and churches to develop the summer "Wheels to Water" program. Debuting in 2009, the program runs from early July through the end of August and provides transportation and all-day accommodations at public and private partner facilities for kids between the ages of 7 and 18. The free activities include swimming lessons, open swimming, sports clinics, arts and crafts, and a reading program.

The number of Wheels to Water participants more than tripled between 2009 and 2010 (to 1,468), as did the number of swimming lessons conducted (2,367). And O'Brien, who estimates that 35 organizations will be involved in 2011, expects participation this summer to double. Meanwhile, major donations keep rolling in, including $135,000 from the community benefits arm of UMass Memorial Health Care and $25,000 from Worcester Polytechnic Institute.

"I think in this day and age, with the realities of the recession, it really comes down to strategic partnerships," O'Brien says. "We need to leverage the best from everyone around the table, because no one can do it alone — certainly, government can't do it alone anymore."

To some extent, fundraising, even corporate fundraising, is futile, Nelson argues. "I'm not against fundraising, but it's strictly a Band-Aid answer," he says. "You can only ask for so much money, and you can't do it every year. People are only going to donate so much. Pools should become more self-sustaining through programming."

Nelson suggests offering a menu of learn-to-swim options, including small-group, semi-private and private lessons. Tiered programming should be based on what clientele can afford. The average cost of group lessons today is about $5 per class, Nelson says. But facilities can charge $15 or $20 for a single semi-private lesson (featuring two or three individuals with one instructor) and even more for private one-on-one sessions. "We're not trying to discriminate; we're trying to offer options. Everybody doesn't shop at Nordstrom's, but it still exists," Nelson says, adding that upper-level programming will generate enough revenue to sustain small-group, community-level programming.

The keys to success with a menu of options rest with ensuring proper staff training via curriculums such as those offered by The Y, the American Red Cross, Swim America or Starfish Aquatics Institute and then promoting those options not just on municipal websites and in seasonal programming catalogs but through church bulletins, retail outlets, chambers of commerce, school flyers, public libraries and golf courses, and home-school organizations.

"There are private people in small pools out there teaching a million dollars a year in swim lessons," Nelson says. "Those people should be no different than a person who works at a park district who has committed to make learn-to-swim his or her career path. The difference is that the private sector has more marketing tools and knows a little bit more about how to present the programs to the community. I'm not saying that we need to compete and put everybody in the private sector out of business, but I think everybody should be able to compete on an even playing field."

Joint-ventures are one way organizations are trying to at least open up the playing field. In Abilene, Texas, the city's Parks and Recreation Board recently approved sharing operational duties of the Stevenson Park and Rose Park swimming pools with the YMCA of Abilene. The two-year agreement calls for the Y staff to operate the pool and allows the organization to offer outdoor swimming lessons to complement lessons at its indoor pool. Meanwhile, the city — which lost $50,000 running both pools last year — will handle maintenance duties.

And in Menasha, Wis., a new collaboration with the YMCA of the Fox Cities to offer reduced-price season passes at the Jefferson Park pool this summer also could result in positive changes for swimming lessons, lifeguard recertification and pool operations, officials say. "We've been told that a lot of the Y membership wants an outdoor experience," Brian Tungate, Menasha's parks and recreation director told Appleton's Post-Crescent. "If we can offer one at less cost, and they like our facility, and we are able to generate greater attendance, that's a positive for us and a positive for Y members."

Regardless of the steps municipal pool operators take to keep their facilities open and their programs intact, alternative models are becoming the new norm. Their goal, however, remains the same as always: to teach individuals how to swim.

When asked what advice she has for fellow aquatics administrators facing cutbacks in — or the elimination of — swimming lessons, KNIK's Caldwell responds solemnly: "Pray," she says. "I really believe, and it scares me to say this, we will have a tragedy. It will take a drowning to change people's minds. I would like to ask those voting on budgets, 'Are you willing for it to be your kid, your grandkid or your spouse?' We spend millions of dollars on requiring seatbelts, bike helmets, crosswalks, car seats and vaccinations. So why not on acquiring a lifelong skill like swimming?"

IMPROVING YOUR LEARN TO SWIM PROGRAM.
By John Leonard
Posted: 4/15/11


Quality Feedback.
               Every learn to swim business owner will affirm that the most important part of their business being successful is quality swimming teachers/coaches. There are multiple characteristics, of what makes up a “quality teacher”.  One of these is the ability to provide quality feedback to their students.
              So let’s examine what that means, in as specific a way as possible.
              The “expert on expertise” is Anders Ericsson, a scientist and researcher at Florida State University.  Anders reports that it takes 10,000 hours of purposeful practice to become an “expert” in any field. This roughly corresponds in swimming, to the “normal practice hours” required to progress on a swim team from ages 8 to 18. Interesting.
              One of the three keys to “purposeful practice” is SHORT, EVOCATIVE, CLEAR feedback to the student.
Short – a few words, not a few paragraphs.
Evocative – words that produce immediate “word pictures” in the mind of the learner.
Clear – teaching language appropriate to the developmental level of the child.
Interestingly, the greatest basketball Coach in history (and perhaps, according to many, the Greatest Coach in history in any sport….) the late John Wooden, advocated the exact same teaching method.  Just a few words, delivered quickly, crisply and constantly, moving from player to player (student to student), giving reminders and instruction at a continuous pace.
In order to do this successfully, the learn to swim teacher must use a “shorthand” of words to teach what the instructor wants. Here’s a simple example when teaching freestyle to young swimmers of 5-7 years of age.
“Here is what we do in freestyle…first, we rotate from side to side. Our eyes look down when we swim, we roll to breath. Arms reach out in front, pull underneath with fingers down, push though, thumb your thigh, and recover your arm elbow highest, hand close to the water and close to the body.” “Point the toes and kick hard!”

Now, we have key words to give great feedback with….”rotate” “side to side”, “eyes down”, “roll to breath”, “reach out”, “fingers down”, “thumb the thigh”, “elbows up”, “hand close to the body” and “fingers close to the water”.
It’s a very clear foundation for the stroke. As the child conquers the first foundation, we can add in complexity to the words known, movements known, movements connected.
And the words allow our instructors to be constantly providing the quality feedback so important for great learning to take place.

JL

Posted: 4/1/11

“Coaching Kids With Disabilities”

Elizabeth first came to Swim America in 2004 as a vivacious first-grader; eager yet fearful to explore the water.  Elizabeth was Swim America’s first student with Down Syndrome, but the process I developed to coach her has proved successful over the years with many other disabled clients.  When teaching any child with a disability here are some things to keep in mind:

Many coaches may be tempted to treat special needs students as “special,” but I have found that children with disabilities are just like my “regular” students. Just as with any other student, disabled children have varied and diverse learning styles.  Some may be auditory learners, some visual and some kinesthetic. It is always important for instructors to recognize and cater to a child’s specific learning style, but especially so with special needs kids.

Coaches must remain flexible and responsive to the needs of any student, but should not prematurely develop assumptions about the physical capabilities of special needs students. Instructors should always assume that the child can and will perform normally alongside his classmates in a group setting.  Adjustments to the regular program should only be made if it becomes apparent that the special needs child lacks the physical abilities necessary to meet these demands. You would be amazed by how successful a special needs child can be when working with a coach who refuses to give up on him. 

Remaining positive and giving the special needs student enough time to meet program goals is essential, but this must be grounded by the understanding that some tasks will not be possible for certain students. It may take longer for a special needs child to develop the muscle memory to perform certain strokes or drills, but coaches should give the child every opportunity to excel in class alongside their peers before modifying standards to accommodate that child’s needs. For example, some students may have distinct weaknesses—a child who has suffered from a stroke may find it difficult to synchronize movement on both sides of their body—but the goal for every student should be that they do their absolute best. 

Elizabeth participated in her first ever swim meet in the summer of 2010 after six years of lessons at Swim America.  Although her path to competition was long, the ecstatic pride radiating from her face as she completed her race proved her commitment had been worthwhile and fulfilling.  As a coach, I could not have been more proud of or happier for my athlete. The experience of coaching a special needs child may present a unique set of challenges, but the rewards are momentous!

Posted: 3/3/2011

IMPROVING YOUR LEARN TO SWIM PROGRAM.
By John Leonard

Teaching Backstroke – Some important teaching points.
           When working with small children ages 10 and under, backstroke can sometimes be problematical, due to the size and proportions of the “young child body”.  Here are a few key things to look at.

  1. Head Position – Competitive coaches will like the idea of a head position that is “resting on a pillow”. But in learn to swim, with children with short frames and large heads, it is often necessary to force the head a bit further back that the “pillow position” and thus help lift the hips closer to the surface and remove the tendency to “sit down” in the water.  Of course, the head should be still with no movement in any direction.

  2. The Legs – We all know that kicking is important to any core teaching of backstroke.  It’s important to keep the kick narrow and at least initially in learn to swim, “up and down” in the vertical plane in the water, with toes pointed.  I like the idea of teaching them to “kick a ball off their toes” as a way to finish the kick effort.  Even in the smallest child, the leg muscles are large compared to the rest of the body, and some “conditioning” may be necessary in order to achieve optimum use of the legs while trying to swim.

  3. More Legs -  One of the most common issues in backstroke kicking is the emergence of a “bicycle kick” with the knees breaking the surface and the child trying to “push backward” with the feet after the knees come up. First correction is simply “point the toes” and the second can be helped by holding a kickboard over the front of the knees (on the surface of the water) with the instruction “don’t let your knees hit the kickboard”. This will keep the knees below the surface and the child can hold the kickboard in that lengthwise position themselves.

  4. Arms -  Best to begin with a simple straight arm pull. Easy enough later on to introduce an elbow bend and a bent-arm pull, but it’s probably a level too complex for learn to swim. Keeping the arms working opposite each other is a good goal for learn to swim  level backstroke.

  5. Body Position FLAT to rotation…..in the beginning, best to just try to maintain still head position and float flat on the back and then use arms and legs. As the child strengthens, the coach will begin to get their body to roll side to side, while keeping the head still….so the hand can drive through the surface of the water and catch ahold of water beneath the surface….but at the start, simple flat on the back position is more stable and  the best place to start.  Even the best backstrokers today in 2011, do less rotation than the great ones did 10 years ago.

Hope that helps you have more success with your teaching of the backstroke in learn to swim!
All the Best! John Leonard

Posted: 2/1/2011
Establishing your Make-up Policy

By Nancy Knowles, Swift Swimming Porgrammes, Nassau, Bahamas

When we re-started our Swim America Program in 2002 it was small. One site, 8 half hour classes offered a week, year round, 12 kids per class, total number of clients about 50. This made offering Make-up classes fairly easy and everyone was happy. Of course that resulted in growth. So as the number of students per class increased to 40 in 2 half hour classes using a 7 lane 25m pool, with nine staff members between the Site Supervisor, check-in & sales person, and in water coaches, it became a crazy, but controlled, one hour experience. I don’t know when I realized it, but it became apparent, that offering the make-up classes was adding major stress to everyone’s life. Also I became aware that most excuses for missing a class were ridiculous – they had a birthday party to go to, mommy didn’t feel like driving that day, the student didn’t feel “well enough” to swim, etc. and to top it off, some of the clients wouldn’t even show up to the make-up after you re-arranged everything to suit them.  Also you realize that by adding another student to a lesson takes away from the students that are already scheduled in that time slot and puts an extra burden on the assigned coach.

When we added our second site in 2005 and introduced the Pre-school programme, controlling the make-up classes became even harder. So we changed it to only when a class was cancelled by the Site Supervisor because of weather conditions – our pools are outdoors, pool conditions, or holidays. This did relieve some of the demand for make-ups. But it was still a pain.

Then when we added our third site in 2007 and employed 2 full time coaches in 2010, it became necessary to completely eliminate all make-up classes!  The coaching staff all got together, discussed all the issues of how to deal with the parents, nannies, etc. to make sure we were all on the same page. We run our classes in 5 week Sessions, if a public holiday happens to fall on a Monday during a session and you have signed up for classes on a Monday, it’s up to you to know that you will be short one class. Cancelations because of “acts of God” eg. weather, are just a loss for everyone. If the pool is out of commission, two of our sites are close enough together to send the clients to another site.  The other site has never had that problem so far, so we are still working on how to handle that if the situation arises.

We have the Make-up Policy posted on the notice board at each site, on our Registration Forms, and on the Website

We found that it was only a certain set of the cliental (say 10%) that were always looking for the make-up classes. Of this group, once you explain your position to them, from a business and quality control point of view, they were fine. There will always be the small percent of “never happy with life” people. I will always remember what Bob Steele shared years ago to a parent who insisted on coaching their 6 year old from the poolside; “We’re a happy club here. You are obviously not happy, but you might find another club where you will be happy!”

Posted: 1/7/2011
Improving Learn to Swim
Sarasota Swim Academy/Sarasota SwimAmerica

How do you improve an already near perfect program? If you have nearly perfect children, there is no improvement required.

Children come in all variety of abilities, whether physical or intellectual. As coaches, we may feel that the skill techniques we teach are “clear cut”, the child sees that technique as an ultimate challenge. Some children achieve these challenges with sheer determination and other children approach the challenge with total self doubt. Some children are capable of “jumping in” and attempting the skill, willing to fail until they achieve and other children are sure they will fail until prompted and encouraged to achieve.

What to do with the child who for their age are not physically mature or coordinated. Patience and encouragement can make all the difference since in a few swim lessons we will not be able to overcome physical or emotional shortcomings.
I think the program could better address how to advance and work with these physically immature children.

Example, I had a 6 year old boy who could not and would not back float, required to advance station 2, no matter how many “tools” we used. After 10 30 minute classes, Coach Ira, our Program Director, advanced him to Station 3, Station 4 and continue to Station 5, while continuing to work on his inability to back float. His kicks and freestyle were very advanced. His little brother, also in the same timeslot, moved quickly through the program, also advancing to Station 5. Both Mother and son battled frustration and disappointment in this dilemma but by moving him through the other stations while continuing to work on that particular skill allowed one young boy to become safer in the water although not totally competent in all skill areas of our program.

Part of our training in SwimAmerica should include dealing with varying ability levels of so many different children.  Being stymied to the point that no progress is being made is not helpful to the child nor to our programming.  One point that we as Directors and Coaches must hold dear is that in the case of learning to swim, failure is never an option.

Posted: 12/14/2010
Improving Your Learn to Swim Program
By John Leonard

Teaching Children to Swim Breaststroke – the Pull.
Learning to swim “downhill”.
         One of the small points of breaststroke swimming that is sometimes neglected, is the line of the body as it moves through the  water.
Most human beings have more weight in their hips and derriere, than in the upper body. As a result, the natural flotation line of the body tends to be lower in the rear, (the legs and butt) than in the front.
       In order to compensate for this in Breaststroke, there are two key stroke techniques that are important; First, the eyes should be looking DOWN into the water and NOT “in front”.  Standing at the end of the pool, with the swimming on-coming, you should be looking at the top of the swimmers head, and NOT at their goggles or eyes.  Getting the head down will rebalance the body with the hips substantially higher.
       The second key point involves the hand position at full extension of the arms.
IF the fingers are “on the surface”, the sensation is similar to “swimming uphill”. Conversely, if the child is taught to reach out and downward, so the hands range from 6-12 inches below the surface of the water at “full extension” of the arms, there will be a “forward lean” that will make the stroke feel like it is “swimming downhill…with the head down and hips on the surface. This position naturally will be both easier and faster in the water.
The auxiliary point that is made with a deep start to the stroke is that as the hands pitch outward and the little finger drifts upwards on the outsweep of the pull, (to a position almost touching the surface at the widest part of the pull, the hands are high in the water, poised for a downward and inward sweep that is the powerful and propulsive portion of the breaststroke pull.
When the hands are left on the surface at full extension, that outward sweep has to transfer energy somewhere and since the hands won’t rise out of the water, instead, the body rises and we get a pronounced and unwanted up and down motion to the body during the pull. We want to pull resulting in forward motion of the body, not up and down.

So, to review, two key points…get the eyes downward (back of head in line with the spine) and reach OUT AND DOWNWARD with the hand recovery, in order to swim DOWNHILL.

JL

Posted: 10/19/2010
Improving Your Learn to Swim Program
By John Leonard

Standardize Your Kicking Test.
        Most swimming people would agree that kicking skill is highly indicative of future performance in competitive swimming.
        You can create your own data-base of information that will allow you to provide many of your learn to swim clients with “good news”! (always welcomed by parents, when it comes to their children!)
        By creating a standard kick test that you can administer at the same time to each child, perhaps at the end of the first set of swim lessons, you can tell the parent at what point in the spectrum of kicking, their child lies.
       The kick test we recommend is as follows:

  1. Use a kickboard. (same size, make, etc of kickboard for all children)

  2. Start with feet touching the wall.

  3. Swimmer pushes off wall on the the “GO!” signal from the instructor.

  4. Swimmer kicks as fast as they can for 10 yards (30 feet).

  5. Stopwatch starts on the GO and ends when front of kickboard crosses the line.

  6. Kicking all freestyle is the simplest way to measure. (so we’re measuring leg speed and leg “feel” for moving the water.)

  7. Keep records for each child and list their AGE.

  8. Aggregate and chart all the 6 year olds, 7 year olds, etc.

  9. Know the 50th percentile time for each age group, as well as the 60th, 70th, 80th, 90th, and 95th percentile.

  10. When you test, send all parents a “report card” with the kick time and percentage for their age group, encouraging them to keep the child in this activity for which they show so much promise.

We’ve  found that up to age 12, there is no reason to separate the genders.

          This is a well respected test that has shown with a good degree of accuracy, children who have potential to be able to swim fast, if they continue in the sport.
 
          Ten yards is a short enough distance that “endurance capacity”  or “training” does not enter into the equation in a significant way. Therefore, we are really measuring kicking “talent” at that point in their life.
    
          We can also indicate to parents whose children wind up near the bottom of the rankings, that hard work in swim lessons can quickly improve their scores and abilities. Kicking, when it comes right down to it, is primarily hard work……thus, it can be improved for everyone.

    JL

Posted: 9/10/2010
Improving Your Learn to Swim Program

Getting the Freestyle Lines Right…..
By John Leonard
              One of the critical points in learning to swim, is the act of learning to breath while swimming freestyle while maintaining the “line” from lead arm through body, without any lifting of the head to get a breath.
              Over the years, I’ve become a believer in a very simple (but not easy!) progression to accomplish this. Here’s what I call the parts of that Progression.

  1. Side Glide Kick.

  2. Side Glide Kick, twelve kick switch.

  3. Side Glide Kick, six kick switch

  4. Zipper drill

  5. Finger drag drill

When we start with Side Glide Kick, we learn to push off the wall, rotate onto one side, with the lead arm STRAIGHT out in front, the trail arm lying alongside the leg. THE KEY….is to position the head lying on top of the lead arm, WITH THE EAR INSIDE THE SHOULDER. “glue your ear to your shoulder”  is a nice cue. Learn to kick on each side.
When it’s time to breath, the instruction is “roll to breath, don’t lift the head”.  The Body rolls until the mouth is out of the water, and then rolls back onto the side and the child kicks some more as they hold their breath. (keep kicking while you breath!) Then repeat when more air is needed.
Learn to do Side Glide Kick on both sides of the body.
On Side Glide Kick, twelve kick switch, we start the same way, but now the child counts their kicks and when they get to twelve, they rotate from the hips and the trail arm recovers over the water and enters and becomes the new “lead arm”, with the old lead arm now resting lightly down along the leg. (We’ve gone from right side kick to left side kick). The Child counts 12 kicks again and repeats. As the Child rolls, they keep the face in the water until they are kicking on the other side and now resumes rolling as necessary to breath.
Side Glide Kick, Six Kick Switch is obviously the same drill, with only counting to six kicks, before the hips initiate the switch. Remind the child that the head “stays down in line with your back” as you switch and also we “switch from the hips”. “hips move the hands, hands don’t move the hip!”

Next we go to Zipper Drill.
The athlete pushes each push through until they “thumb their thigh” and then drag the thumb from thigh up to the armpit, with the thumb touching the body all the way. (The “Zipper”).  Stay on the side, keep the head down and “ear inside the shoulder” at all times…to prevent lifting that head off the body line. Sometimes its best to start this drill with just 4-6 strokes an no breathing, then when it “looks good, with the swimmer on their side on both sides….” Resume breathing by rolling (not lifting!) with the body.

The Final Step is FINGER DRAG!
       The young athlete keeps the hand “almost” in the same position as in Zipper Drill, but now the hands are no longer touching the body. The Finger tips are dragging ever so lightly though the water right next to the athletes body. Body on the side, rotating with the stroke, with the “ear inside the shoulder” to keep the head down when breathing.

      In each of these drills, the paramount point is KEEPING THE EYES DOWN and the ear positioned “inside the shoulder”.  If you follow this progression, you’ll find your young swimmers dramatically improving their position in the water and keeping it all “lined up” as they swim!

All the Best! John Leonard

Posted: 9/10/2010

Improving Your Learn to Swim Program

Getting the Freestyle Lines Right…..
By John Leonard
              One of the critical points in learning to swim, is the act of learning to breath while swimming freestyle while maintaining the “line” from lead arm through body, without any lifting of the head to get a breath.
              Over the years, I’ve become a believer in a very simple (but not easy!) progression to accomplish this. Here’s what I call the parts of that Progression.

  1. Side Glide Kick.

  2. Side Glide Kick, twelve kick switch.

  3. Side Glide Kick, six kick switch

  4. Zipper drill

  5. Finger drag drill

When we start with Side Glide Kick, we learn to push off the wall, rotate onto one side, with the lead arm STRAIGHT out in front, the trail arm lying alongside the leg. THE KEY….is to position the head lying on top of the lead arm, WITH THE EAR INSIDE THE SHOULDER. “glue your ear to your shoulder”  is a nice cue. Learn to kick on each side.
When it’s time to breath, the instruction is “roll to breath, don’t lift the head”.  The Body rolls until the mouth is out of the water, and then rolls back onto the side and the child kicks some more as they hold their breath. (keep kicking while you breath!) Then repeat when more air is needed.
Learn to do Side Glide Kick on both sides of the body.
On Side Glide Kick, twelve kick switch, we start the same way, but now the child counts their kicks and when they get to twelve, they rotate from the hips and the trail arm recovers over the water and enters and becomes the new “lead arm”, with the old lead arm now resting lightly down along the leg. (We’ve gone from right side kick to left side kick). The Child counts 12 kicks again and repeats. As the Child rolls, they keep the face in the water until they are kicking on the other side and now resumes rolling as necessary to breath.
Side Glide Kick, Six Kick Switch is obviously the same drill, with only counting to six kicks, before the hips initiate the switch. Remind the child that the head “stays down in line with your back” as you switch and also we “switch from the hips”. “hips move the hands, hands don’t move the hip!”

Next we go to Zipper Drill.
The athlete pushes each push through until they “thumb their thigh” and then drag the thumb from thigh up to the armpit, with the thumb touching the body all the way. (The “Zipper”).  Stay on the side, keep the head down and “ear inside the shoulder” at all times…to prevent lifting that head off the body line. Sometimes its best to start this drill with just 4-6 strokes an no breathing, then when it “looks good, with the swimmer on their side on both sides….” Resume breathing by rolling (not lifting!) with the body.

The Final Step is FINGER DRAG!
       The young athlete keeps the hand “almost” in the same position as in Zipper Drill, but now the hands are no longer touching the body. The Finger tips are dragging ever so lightly though the water right next to the athletes body. Body on the side, rotating with the stroke, with the “ear inside the shoulder” to keep the head down when breathing.

      In each of these drills, the paramount point is KEEPING THE EYES DOWN and the ear positioned “inside the shoulder”.  If you follow this progression, you’ll find your young swimmers dramatically improving their position in the water and keeping it all “lined up” as they swim!

All the Best! John Leonard

Posted: 9/10/2010

Improving Your Learn to Swim Program

Getting the Freestyle Lines Right…..
By John Leonard
              One of the critical points in learning to swim, is the act of learning to breath while swimming freestyle while maintaining the “line” from lead arm through body, without any lifting of the head to get a breath.
              Over the years, I’ve become a believer in a very simple (but not easy!) progression to accomplish this. Here’s what I call the parts of that Progression.

  1. Side Glide Kick.

  2. Side Glide Kick, twelve kick switch.

  3. Side Glide Kick, six kick switch

  4. Zipper drill

  5. Finger drag drill

When we start with Side Glide Kick, we learn to push off the wall, rotate onto one side, with the lead arm STRAIGHT out in front, the trail arm lying alongside the leg. THE KEY….is to position the head lying on top of the lead arm, WITH THE EAR INSIDE THE SHOULDER. “glue your ear to your shoulder”  is a nice cue. Learn to kick on each side.
When it’s time to breath, the instruction is “roll to breath, don’t lift the head”.  The Body rolls until the mouth is out of the water, and then rolls back onto the side and the child kicks some more as they hold their breath. (keep kicking while you breath!) Then repeat when more air is needed.
Learn to do Side Glide Kick on both sides of the body.
On Side Glide Kick, twelve kick switch, we start the same way, but now the child counts their kicks and when they get to twelve, they rotate from the hips and the trail arm recovers over the water and enters and becomes the new “lead arm”, with the old lead arm now resting lightly down along the leg. (We’ve gone from right side kick to left side kick). The Child counts 12 kicks again and repeats. As the Child rolls, they keep the face in the water until they are kicking on the other side and now resumes rolling as necessary to breath.
Side Glide Kick, Six Kick Switch is obviously the same drill, with only counting to six kicks, before the hips initiate the switch. Remind the child that the head “stays down in line with your back” as you switch and also we “switch from the hips”. “hips move the hands, hands don’t move the hip!”

Next we go to Zipper Drill.
The athlete pushes each push through until they “thumb their thigh” and then drag the thumb from thigh up to the armpit, with the thumb touching the body all the way. (The “Zipper”).  Stay on the side, keep the head down and “ear inside the shoulder” at all times…to prevent lifting that head off the body line. Sometimes its best to start this drill with just 4-6 strokes an no breathing, then when it “looks good, with the swimmer on their side on both sides….” Resume breathing by rolling (not lifting!) with the body.

The Final Step is FINGER DRAG!
       The young athlete keeps the hand “almost” in the same position as in Zipper Drill, but now the hands are no longer touching the body. The Finger tips are dragging ever so lightly though the water right next to the athletes body. Body on the side, rotating with the stroke, with the “ear inside the shoulder” to keep the head down when breathing.

      In each of these drills, the paramount point is KEEPING THE EYES DOWN and the ear positioned “inside the shoulder”.  If you follow this progression, you’ll find your young swimmers dramatically improving their position in the water and keeping it all “lined up” as they swim!

All the Best! John Leonard

Posted: 3/25/2010

Improving Your Learn to Swim Program.
Learning to Kick – Do’s and Do Not’s.
By John Leonard
           One of the more fundamental skills in learn to swim, is learning to flutter kick. Given that it is fundamental, it is frequently poorly done with unintended negative consequences.
           The least productive way to learn to flutter kick is to have your students line up in the water, put their hands on the wall or gutter and “kick on the wall” with their legs trailing out behind them. Children, being quick learners, will almost immediately learn  that that pool wall is not going to move. So as the coach/instructor says “Kick!, Kick, Harder! Harder!” the children do the sensible thing and move their legs faster, BUT, since they can’t move the wall, they bend their knees into a perfect “bicycle kick” to move their feet fast and not waste effort trying to go forward, which they have correctly discerned as impossible.
Hence, we accidentally teach totally improper kick mechanics  designed to “not go forward”.
         The next most common practice is to kick on a kickboard. While this is excellent for strengthening leg muscles and building endurance to kick well, the body position thus set up, is entirely “uphill” which is the exact opposite of the “face down, butt up, horizontal position for swimming “ that we want to create and promote. Again, unintended  consequences.
         My preference for  teaching kicking is to extend the arm in the water on one side, and put the other arm lying down along the working leg, get on the SIDE, (Which is where a swimmer using good stroke mechanics spends 70% of their time while kicking) and kick on the right side, then the left, etc. Change sides by repetition, until the swimmer is comfortable kicking well on both sides. (most individuals will “prefer” or “favor” one side or the other. Teach them to be well balanced on each side. They Roll the body to breath, without lifting the head, then the face goes back in the water. I call this “side-kicking”. This most closely duplicates the swimming position, while allowing the student to kick fast and with small, efficient, propulsive kicks.

All the Best for Great Teaching! John Leonard

Improving Our Lesson Programs....

by John Leonard

          “Modeling the Right Stuff

One of the best ways to improve our swim lessons program is to recognize and utilize the concept that today’s children all over the world, are visual learners.

They learn less well by listening and learn better by watching and then modeling.

For the swim instructor, this means less talking, more SHOWING.

The most effective way to do this is with little humans who look just like the little humans who are being taught. Using an instructor to demonstrate is “OK” and certainly better than nothing, but its much more powerful, when trying to show 7 year old how to do something, to use one of the “big kids”...an eight year old!

The more that students can see someone who “looks like them” doing the skill, the better transference of learning will take place....which is a fancy way of saying that they can “see themselves doing it” much better than if a teenager or an adult instructor demonstrates.

I like to teach in two groups. Group 1 and Group 2. If I have 6 children in my group, 3 become “1’s” and 3 become “2’s”.

So the rhythm of my group is “Ok, 6 bobs, group 1, Ready! Go!” When 1’s finish, “Group 2, 6 bobs, ready, Go!” While group 1 is “working”, group 2 is WATCHING and vice versa. This means that they are constantly seeing their peers succeed...and then very quickly its their turn and so on throughout the lesson. We move quickly, so no one is sitting and watching for more than a 15 second period...just enough to visually get the idea and grab a breath of rest.

The visual teaching is excellent, but not so long as to become boring, and the “rest-work” ratio is just about perfect for excellent, fast paced learning. Give it a try. You’ll like it! All the Best, John Leonard

Improving our Learn to Swim
POSTED: 4/29/2009

Fixing the infamous "one foot turned out, one foot turned in" of breatstroke kick fame...

When teaching breaststroke, one of the most commonly seen problems, is the child who can turn one foot outward to do the breaststroke kick, but the other foot stubbornly refuses to turn outward... and the question becomes, how to fix this?

I have seen this problem since I began coaching in 1970 and have heard it expressed by other coaches in the well over 100 Level 2 Stroke School Courses I have taught since 1985. It seems to be "one in every crowd" of learn to swim students has this problem.

In 2001, I learned the "magic trick" during a clinic in Hamilton, New Zealand, when a young lady in her 70's told me that her 7 year old grandson had a solution... and like all great solutions, I recognized the genius of it immediately as my foot moved in its shoe.

He said "grandma, all you need to do is FAN YOUR TOES!"

If, like me, you immediately tried that in your footwear, you know instantly that it works. Take it to the pools this afternoon and try it.

Its an immediate teaching fix. Wow.

All the Best, John Leonard

POSTED: 2/20/2009
A SWIMMING LESSON for the “SUPER BOWL” HALF-TIME SHOW!

3 STEPS in 3 MINUTES

By Jim Reiser

PICTURE THIS:  Your swimming lesson is taking place on the 50-yard line for the SUPER BOWL HALF TIME SHOW!  Over 80,000 people are watching LIVE, not to mention millions of viewers at home!  All your students have special waterproof microphones on so EVERYONE in the stadium can hear them (and you)! 

This is your big chance to show what a great teacher you are! 

Here’s the kicker:  You have to teach 4 five-year olds.  You have never met any of these children before.  All you know is they can do some freestyle but they CAN  NOT breathe to the side properly.  The biggest challenge--you have 3 minutes to make your impression!

Sound impossible?  It’s not!  JUST USE THIS 3-STEP STRATEGY & YOU WILL BE SUCCESSFUL, on this day, and every day that you teach!

It’s called “CHORAL RESPONDING!”  You simply say:

  • “Say what I say” or . . .

  • “Repeat after me”

  •  THEN, one at a time--announce the cues.

STEP #1
For example, you’re teaching the Side Breathing for Freestyle: 
            YOU:  “Say what I say--OY!”
            STUDENTS:  “OY!”
            YOU:   “Breathe”
            STUDENTS:  “Breathe”
            YOU:  “Stroke One, Stroke Two”
            STUDENTS:  “Stroke One, Stroke Two”

STEP #2
Then COMBINE CHORAL RESPONDING WITH A DEMONSTRATION of the Freestyle with Side Breathing.
            YOU:  “Now SAY THOSE WORDS while I do it.”
            (Start with your breath and say the beginning with them.)
STUDENTS: “Breathe, Stroke One, Stroke Two, Breathe, Stroke One, Stroke
                        Two, Breathe, Stroke One, Stroke Two . . . ”  

STEP #3
Give Your Start Signal and Practice!
            YOU:  “Jeb and Nolan—READY GO!”
            (5 seconds later)
            YOU:  “Sarah & Allie—READY GO!”

There YOU HAVE IT!  That’s exactly how I would do it and I GUARANTEE it would work wonderfully!  Your students are engaged.  Their fans (especially their parents) are proud!  And YOU, COACH . . . ARE AN “AMAZING TEACHER.”  The parents will tell all their friends!  And YOU, COACH . . . will have a faster growing list of students than you ever thought imaginable without one penny of paid advertising.  You brand yourself by how you teach, how effective you are, and how positive and encouraging you are to their children.

POSTED: 1/29/2009
How to Get Your Student’s Attention & KEEP IT!

By Jim Reiser

Learning is an every day occurrence. If you are the type of person who says, “I know that, I do that, I’m a 10, 10, 10, 10, 10.” You will never reach your potential nor will the people who work for you. I don’t hire these types of people. Nor should you. I am not one of those types of people. I hope you aren’t either. Personally, I am learning every day. I even learn from my most inexperienced employees. I learn from my best employees and every one in between. I learn from reading. I learn from writing. I learn from observing, and most of all--I learn from listening.

Do you want to be the best you can be? Then simply ask yourself: “How good am I at that?” If you ask that question and you answer it honestly, you will take your teaching and those teachers around you to a level you never thought possible.

No teacher is perfect. No class is the same. No one technique is iron clad. But through years of real experience--I know one thing is for sure: If you care, if you study, if you dedicate yourself to being the best you can be—your students’ will learn more effectively, your business will grow, and you will make a difference in a child’s life.

When you’re reading today’s article, ASK YOURSELF TWO QUESTIONS:

#1 Can you really be effective without your student’s attention?

It seems almost unnecessary to point out that students must be listening to benefit from any instructions you or your teachers are about to give them, yet it is one of the most common mistakes I see teachers making.

You can have the best task presentation in the world, but it is worthless without the attention of your students.

To start effective teaching, you must first give an effective command. A few commands I use and like:

  • “Ducks in a row!”

  • “Stand like soldiers!”

  • “On the bench please!”

  • “2nd step please!”

  • “Oy!”

Is the specific command that you use important? Not so much! BUT whether you are teaching a Private lesson or a Group lesson--what is important is that you take charge of your lesson with a clear, precise command so that your student(s)knows exactly when to be ready to listen and learn!

What do you do AFTER you have their attention?
You lose it by telling your young students’ everything you know about swimming. You throw the “whole kitchen sink at them” so to speak! Why not? You’re a swimming expert. That’s why you were hired, right? WRONG!!! This is, however, precisely why you will FAIL when teaching a young learner. Young students, especially beginners, can’t handle all that information. They just want to have fun. When they are learning to swim, they’re just trying not to sink to the bottom, and they certainly don’t want you to throw the whole kitchen sink at them! Swim in the kitchen sink? Now they may take you up on that. That’s sounds like fun!

Research clearly concludes that young learners need your explanations to be short and sweet, communicating the general idea of the skill, not the details (Fitts & Posner, 1967). The next step is to create an effective set of cues or buzzwords for each skill you teach. The cues/buzzwords clearly communicates the fundamentals of the skill to your young learners in a way the child can understand, which is exactly what you want. From there, you can either “demonstrate” or give them your “start signal.” You get them into practice. Young students especially need as much practice as possible to learn how to swim. ELIMINATE DOWN TIME—INCREASE PRACTICE TIME!
At Swim Lessons University, we give you the cues we use for every skill and every
stroke in each of my DVD’s and laminated lesson plans. If you own a swim school, it is 10x as critical that you have a predetermined set of cues for skills and strokes. If your school is going to successfully grow, you must have consistency from what one teacher teaches to the next. I believe that this is the backbone of your growth and success.

Parents will talk about your teachers, whether they had a good experience or a bad one. One or two bad apples can severely hinder your growth and success. Customers talk 10x more about the bad experiences. Why? They want to make sure their friends don’t have the same bad experience they did. That’s being a good friend. On the other hand, if you’re teachers are exceptional—they’ll talk about that too! AND they will be LOYAL! Loyal parents will bring their children back to you for more lessons and will tell all their friends to do the same!

At our local swim school, The Swim Lessons Company, a franchise-prototype school in Columbia, SC—consistency has been the lifeblood of our success. With 7 locations and over 50 SLU certified teachers nothing could be more important. When a mother enrolls her child in lessons at The Swim Lessons Company, she knows her child is going to get a superior product (swim lesson) and unparalleled customer service!

DON’T MISS “The Swim Professor’s” next column on new strategies that will engage your learners like you’ve never thought possible!

6/3/2008
Lets concentrate on leaving the wall properly and developing an effective kick.

When we leave the wall properly we are streamlined.

  1. teach “front-ready position” – one hand and both feet on the wall. body on its side....one side “pointing” out towards the pool. Swimmer “drops down underwater as the wall hand goes behind the head and meets the “water hand” out in front of the body. Push off the wall with both feet and first glide for a count of 2, then KICK.

  2. The kick continues on the side – “side glide-kick”..with one hand extended out in front, ear tucked inside the shoulder, and body on its side, with the legs kicking (toes pointed) within the “shadow” of the body...nice small, fast kicks.

    (please avoid kicking on the front...when swimming freestyle, over 90% of the kicking force is applied while on the side, so we teach incorrect body position and kicking in the wrong plane when we are on the belly.)

    (and leaving the wall properly is the basis for all other skills...streamline and kick off the wall. The swimmer will do that the rest of their life correctly if you teach it correctly initially.)

John Leonard

5/21/2008

Using a Tempo Trainer in Learn to Swim.

FINIS, Inc. makes a $25.00 tool that is highly useful. The Tempo Trainer can be set for any repetition number/speed. Typically it is set for a “stroke cycle” (right hand entry back to right hand entry.) The adjustment is as simple as two buttons (faster or slower cycle speed.)

When a child is at the stage where they can use their arms, but can’t breath yet, we want to begin to teach them to have a rhythmic stroke. So set the Tempo Trainer to 1.7 seconds per stroke cycle, put it on their goggle strap just behind the ear, (on the bone) and ask them to “Get their right hand in the water every time they hear the beep”.

1.7 seconds is the slowest time for a stroke cycle that will aim them towards effective swimming.

The effect is to improve the rhythm of their stroke. In turn, learning to breath is much easier if the arm action is rhythmic and steady.

Of course, you can use the Tempo Trainer all the way throughout their progression even once they have learned to breath. It will help them at all levels, once the arm action is initially being learned.

John Leonard

5/13/2008

Your Voice.

One of the least recognized and most important tools that you have as a teacher is literally, Your Voice. The way that you use your voice, the inflection and emotion, the excitement or other emotions you convey with your voice is one of the best ways to effectively teach children.

Here’s a few tips:

  1. We have all heard the stern voice. Can you do it? Its vital when teaching. You need to be able to let people know you mean business. Your facial expression needs to match your voice.

  2. We all recognize the “excited voice”...a little higher in pitch and full of “enthusiasm”. This is our “encouraging voice” and recognized by all as such. We use it to encourage repeat behavior.

  3. We need to remember that when we teach, we are “commanding”, not “asking”. Its not “we’re going to bob underwater now, Ok?” it is “We’re going underwater. Hold your breath when i count to three. One, Two, Three, GO!” You are not asking if the child “wants” to do something. You are telling them what you and they are going to do. Match your voice and your language to the situation. It is not a matter of if the child “wants” to blow bubbles, it is that they are going to learn to blow bubbles in order to learn to swim and be safe in the water. Sound like that.

  4. Enthusiasm builds enthusiasm. Children can tell instantly if their teacher is bored. Be enthusiastic by voice. If you’re having a bad day, “fake it till you make it”. You’re being paid to do a great job. That means enthusiasm for learning to swim.

  5. When you need to get children’s attention, do not compete with them on volume of voice. Don’t yell. Be quiet. Speak quietly. Make them be quiet in order to hear you. Raising the volume will often just encourage them to raise their volume.

Explain quietly with your voice that they are there to learn, you are there to teach and you expect them to be quiet when you are speaking

Your voice is one of your best teaching tools. Use it.

John Leonard

5/5/2008
Instructors Body Language says a lot to children.

When the instructor/coach hops into the pool, joyously and excitedly takes a few strokes and comes up smiling, it speaks volumes.

When the instructor/coach tentatively “toes in” and makes a face that says “the water’s cold and i don’t want to get in” that also speaks volumes.

When the instructor/coach is demonstrating EVERYTHING that the swimmer should be doing, in a “follow me” manner, that is the best possible teaching.

When the instructor/coach is standing with her hands under her armpits and has not gotten her hair wet in the first two minutes she’s in the pool, and says “do this, do that” without explanation, it is not surprising that the child does not learn.

When the instructor/coach displays enthusiasm for what they are doing, that enthusiasm spreads. When there is a lack of enthusiasm, that also spreads.

Students watch their teachers. Students copy their teachers. Students behave like their teachers.

Make sure your body language and what you say with it, is the message you mean to convey.

John Leonard

4/21/2008
In every learn to swim progression, there is a place where swimmers are learning to use their arms in a continuous fashion, with recovery above the water. Typically this is done without taking a breath.

One of the key points in learning to swim is to establish a swimming “rhythm” that the breathing can fit into. A “tool” from the competitive swimming world can be very helpful at this point.

The tool is called a Tempo Trainer, and is available from the FINIS equipment company, for a very reasonable cost. I’d advise each learn to swim program to invest in 3-4 of these.

The use is simple. Set the timing device (no more difficult than setting your digital wristwatch) for somewhere between 1.5 and 2.0 seconds per cycle. (2.0 for the newest swimmers, 1.5 for the best of your learn to swim students.) and ask them to have their right (or left) hands enter the water every time they hear the “beep” from the timer. The Tempo Trainer attached to their goggle strap right behind the ear and sits on the headbone and can be clearly heard by the swimmer.

This will give them a cycle (two armstrokes) every 2.0 seconds, a very good tempo to “learn at”. Later, they can progress down to 1.5 seconds for two strokes, which is actually a nice racing tempo for a 10 and under swimmer. Having the sound que is the best way to inculcate good rhythm into their stroke, and it has the added benefit of being FUN!

In the next step, they can maintain use of the Tempo Trainer when learning to roll their body to the side and get a breath and maintain a good steady rhythm then as well.

All the Best, John Leonard

3/24/2008
One of the key items in good teaching of anything is the “connection” between the teacher and the student. In learn to swim, coaches/teachers can improve this connection in several ways:

  1. Learn and USE the child’s name on a regular basis. (3-5 times per ½ hour session.)

  2. Get down to eye level when speaking. Be eye to eye with the child, either on land on or in the water. “looking up” to learn is not the best way to do things. Make it easy...eye to eye.

  3. Use language that is easy for the child to understand. Don’t make “what does she mean by that?” be a barrier.

  4. Ask the child a few questions about what they like away from the pool. Learn just a little bit about them....do they have brothers and sisters? pets? do they have a pool at their home?
    What is their favorite TV show? Why? Don’t pry, but learn a little bit about the person...sometimes you can relate that to the teaching/learning experience.

  5. YOU run the lesson. The child needs a teacher, not a peer. Your confidence that they can learn to swim will transfer to the child. Don’t “ask”. Say “this is what we’re doing next” and stick to it. Be gentle, but firm in what you are doing next. Children today are excellent manipulators or adults. You run the show. Their life depends on it.

3/24/2008
One of the key items in good teaching of anything is the “connection” between the teacher and the student. In learn to swim, coaches/teachers can improve this connection in several ways:

  1. Learn and USE the child’s name on a regular basis. (3-5 times per ½ hour session.)

  2. Get down to eye level when speaking. Be eye to eye with the child, either on land on or in the water. “looking up” to learn is not the best way to do things. Make it easy...eye to eye.

  3. Use language that is easy for the child to understand. Don’t make “what does she mean by that?” be a barrier.

  4. Ask the child a few questions about what they like away from the pool. Learn just a little bit about them....do they have brothers and sisters? pets? do they have a pool at their home?
    What is their favorite TV show? Why? Don’t pry, but learn a little bit about the person...sometimes you can relate that to the teaching/learning experience.

  5. YOU run the lesson. The child needs a teacher, not a peer. Your confidence that they can learn to swim will transfer to the child. Don’t “ask”. Say “this is what we’re doing next” and stick to it. Be gentle, but firm in what you are doing next. Children today are excellent manipulators or adults. You run the show. Their life depends on it.

3/3/2008
Boys - The New York Times Magazine on Sunday, March 2, had a very extensive article on the differences in teaching boys and teaching girls. It is highly relevant to Learn to Swim.

The primary point that we care about is that boys are ACTIVE learners. If they aren't moving, they rarely learn. They don't learn best by listening, unless they are listening while they are moving.

They don't learn well with direct eye contact. They learn standing NEXT to the instructor, not across from the instructor. Eye contact at the same time they are trying to process information does not work. They have to "go blank" visually, in order to learn by listening. Best it to listen WHILE moving.

For boys, learning while sitting still on the steps of the pool, just won't work very well.

Girls, conversely, will listen while eye contact is being made. They are well designed to "sit still and listen." They may NOT be as good at learning while moving. The moving may distract them from the listening.

And they do better watching first, then imitating. Boys will want to try it immediately. Girls want to see it done a few times, since they "absorb more" of the information at one time than the boys do.

The bottom line of the article was that ideal learning situations for boys are not ideal for girls, and vice versa. We may not be able to gender separate our classed, but we can be gender aware when we are teaching....of what works best for each gender. JL

2/25/2008
Our topic this week is a simple one: Effective Demonstrations.

First, remember that today's children are uniformly best at VISUAL LEARNING. The environment in which they have grown up (computers, TV, Video Games) is entirely visually based. Many experienced instructors will tell you that without a doubt, the current generation of children is the least able of any in memory to assimilate verbal instructions....and i shudder to think what might happen with written instructions.

So you have to SHOW them.......with as few words as possible.

Now, what are the best ways to show them?

First, all of us want to be like “the big kids”.

To a seven year old, the big kid is nine. Not 15. A fifteen year old looks like an adult to a seven year old.

So your first best option is to do a demonstration with a same age, or slightly older child. Seeing someone of their own size and body type do the skill relates to the learner much better than anything else.

The second best option is for the instructor themselves to provide the demonstration. This is far better than no demonstration and should always be done if there is not a child in the class who can perform adequately.

The teaching language goes like this.

“Class, we’re now going to learn about pushing off the wall, streamlining and kicking.”

“Sally, will you show the class what a streamline looks like? Good, Thank you. Everyone see that? OK, on three, everyone up into a streamline while you stand on the bottom” One, two, three.....Good!”

“Now, we start in the front ready position. Sean show us a front ready position....Good, thank you, nicely done. Everyone now, front ready position”.

“We’re going to follow Sally now, and here is what we are going to do...Front ready position, READY, GO, then streamline underwater and kick to the surface” Sally? Ready, GO! Good, Great demonstration. Everyone see that? Ok, group one going, group 2 watching, group one, front ready position....Ready, Go!”

“Group two, following Sean...Sean, front ready position, READY, GO!....Good, everyone now, Group two.......”

It should be fast paced, action oriented, keep things moving. Demonstration, practice, demonstration, practice, etc. No breaks, no pauses, make the children strain to pay attention and “keep up”.

If someone is failing to keep up, let them sit and watch “for a moment” until they can see the pattern of what you are doing. Then they are right back into the action.

Children learn by seeing, then doing.........Demonstration, then practice.

Thanks for attending to this need. All the best, JL

2/18/2008
I would like the following to be done to improve our lessons operation.

  1. Issue: We have too many inactive children at any given moment. We solve this by dividing the group with each instructor into two groups and each does an activity “together”. “OK, 1’s are bobbing. 10 bobs. Ready Go. 2’s, front ready position, streamline, glide and stand up. Ready. Go.” Then push off the bottom, glide back to the wall. Now, 1’s glide, 2’s bob. NO ONE STANDS AND WATCHES! The goal is all children actively learning all the time. Keep the whole class in front of you all the time so you can see them for safety. With only a very few exceptions, everyone can stand, so this will work. SHOW THEM how to reverse their hands and stand up. Put the shortest in the shallowest water.

  2. Issue: Lack of demonstrations. Kids today learn by WATCHING and SEEING, not be listening to words. DEMONSTRATE FOR THEM, EVERYTHING YOU WANT DONE. Over and over again. Once you have demonstrated a few times, use the best student...like this.... “OK, we’re going to do a back pushoff and float. I want everyone watching Shawna....back ready position, ready, Go!....everyone see? Now, lets go. back ready position, 1’s ready, Go! (they go, then stand up, then push off the bottom and go back...) Now, 2’s, back ready position, Ready, Go! and repeat. We need a lot more action and a lot less talking. We need a lot more demonstration and a lot less talking. They learn by doing. Get them DOING a lot more. Thanks. John

SwimAmerica for Berkshire Children
Bill Meier
Aquatics Director/Head Coach
SwimAmerica Program Director
Bard College at Simons' Rock
Great Barrington, MA  01230