The Levels System, Part 1

Hi All,

I trust everyone is getting settled into their new school routines. The swimmers seemed to be less dazed than they were a week ago. Routines are a good thing. If your child is having any difficulties adapting, please let us know. We want to maintain the right balance for each swimmer.

The Levels System

This season, we are fully utilizing a program structure I have used with great success in the past. It is called, “The Levels System”. This post will give you a better understanding of the system, how it will be implemented and how it can be used for goal setting, parent education and long term athletic and personal development.

Some of you may have seen something about the Levels System on our website. If so, great. You will then have a basic understanding of the conceptual underpinnings of the program. That said, I had to water it down last year to meet the realities we faced when I came on board. This year, we will use the system as designed. The standards are much higher. Fortunately, humans are great at adapting. These higher standards will mean faster and more meaning growth will be the result.


The Levels System was conceived in the early 1990s as a way to emulate the way gymnastics structured their programs. Let’s be frank. Move ups can be one of the most polarizing internal aspects of any swim club. If Sally gets moved up and Jane does not, and there is no sound rationale for the moves, you create strife within your organization. I originally used the system to ensure that we never had those issues on my teams.

It worked. We no longer had any drama when it came to move ups. Things were clearly spelled out and everyone, swimmer, parent and coach, knew the expectations. A funny thing happened. I found that the system had many more benefits than originally intended. Implemented properly, it is also was a great way to educate our parents about the sport.

Swimming is not your typical sport. Swimmers are not typical athletes. Asking someone who was a former baseball player to understand the rationale for double workouts plus dryland training requires a lot of education. The Levels System is more than just about swimming fast. It is a communication vehicle that is just as important for the parents as it is the swimmers. When a family understands to objectives and paths a child will take, they can better support the team’s initiatives. They become better long term swim families.

The Levels System immediately became a goal setting tool. I used goal setting in my programs for years before we implemented the Levels System. The first year we used it, over fifty percent of our swimmers used parts of the system in their early season goal setting sessions. As the years went by, that number increased dramatically. Children thrive when they have structure. The Levels System is a great way to provide that structure, while giving them built in goals at every level of their development.

Speaking of every level, the system is designed to ferry swimmers from their first splash to their last race. Novice through national level swimmers have challenges to meet in multiple arenas throughout their careers. The approach is holistic in nature. This means that were are not just developing the athlete, we are unleashing a true champion; one who can be successful in all phases of life.

Below is an introduction to the Levels Systems I wrote a while back. This should give you even more insight into the system. I do not want to kill your eyes by sending everything at once. I look forward to sending you more information and updates on this important initiative soon.

Introducing, The Levels System

A System For Progressive Athlete Development

As parents, educators and coaches will all have the same goal; to properly prepare the children in our care for long-term success, in a variety of arenas. To meet that goal, we strive to develop a set of skills within the child that they can use to meet future challenges. As coaches, we use swimming as a vehicle to introduce these skills. The Levels System guides us throughout an athlete’s career to ensure that we introduce these skills in an effective and a developmentally appropriate manner.

With a clear picture of type of individuals we are trying to foster, we can define the skills sets we need to develop. The Levels System has identified the skills needed for success growth in our sport by beginning with the end in mind. Our sport is fortunate to have Olympians as role models. We used that ideal as our model.

We know that not every swimmer will be an Olympian, but they can all learn, internalize and live the Olympic ideals of vision, focus, persistence, commitment and discipline. These ideals have set the standard for Blue Wave and are the basis for selecting the skills to be included in the system.

The Levels System also gives us a road map to help determine when to introduce the skills and how much to stress them. If a skill is stressed too much or introduced too soon, the athlete’s long-term development may be compromised. Have you ever seen a novice body builder with huge arms and virtually no lower body development? Skills should be introduced at the appropriate time to complement other skills and prepare the athlete for the next set.

The skills are not just about competitive performance. The Levels System addresses physiological, psychological, tactical and technical factors as well as other areas of personal and athletic development. An athlete must address every aspect required for level completion to progress through the system…not just competitive performance-based ones. A holistic approach to athletic development, lessens the risk for injuries, plateaus or burnout.

Development is a process not an event...and we want everyone involved to enjoy the process. We invite to explore the system with your child. When the swimmer, parent and coach all have the same vision and goals, success is inevitable.

Thanks for being a part of our team - Rich