10 Swimming Coaching Approaches That Don’t Make Sense – by Wayne Goldsmith

13th June 2020

Like all sports and all industries, swimming has its fair share of myths, routines, habits, practices and rituals which everyone does…but that doesn’t necessarily make them right.

Swimming coaching can be a game of “follow-the-leader” with new coaches copying the systems and coaching practices of senior coaches without question.

Yet, as it is in all walks of life, being the best means challenging “what is” and being creative and courageous enough to be the first to do “what can be”.

Think about it for a moment.

If you were completely new to swimming, if you’d never been a swimmer, if you’d never seen a swimming race on TV or live at a meet and somebody asked you to sit down while they explained the sport to you – maybe showed you a few videos of Olympic swimmers in action etc, what would you see?

  • Short, sprint based competition events;
  • Athletes who are explosive and powerful – particularly when they leave the blocks and when they push-off from the walls in turns;
  • Athletes who seem to move easily and effortlessly at high speeds through water – something human beings weren’t designed to do well.

Now put all that together….as a “newbie” to the sport:

Swimming is about speed and power and the execution of great skills and excellence in technique in competition conditions.

So armed with that fresh, new look at swimming, what are the 10 Swimming Coaching Approaches That Don’t Make Sense?

1. Start at 5:00am or earlier 

This has never made sense. The human body needs sleep. Asking children to get out of bed at 4 am and then push them up and down a pool for two hours before the sun comes up isn’t sensible and it’s not necessary. It’s time to re-think the two-hour slogs we call training – the two hour morning and night sessions of mindless lap after lap after lap and look for new and better ways of coaching swimmers.

2. Swim with poor technique

Swimming is a technique driven sport. Moving fast through water demands that movements are technically effective and highly efficient. There’s no point swimming even one lap with poor technique, substandard skills, ineffective streamlining and poor quality turns. Do it right – consistently.

3. Swim long repeats and long sets in training 

As most swimming competition events are over in less than 2 minutes, why do we persist with training sets like 40 x 100, 10 x 300, 15 x 200, 2000 for time etc.

In the “old-days” coaches believed that this type of training made you tougher – physically and mentally. Forget being tougher! When you can consistently swim at maximum speed with great technique and outstanding skills under pressure and fatigue conditions in competition, you’re tough! And you don’t learn these skills by swimming 70 miles a week at slow speeds with poor technique.

4. Warm up 

Think about it for a moment. When is the last time you – or a swimmer you know – pulled a hamstring or a pec or another muscle when swimming?

It might happen…but it’s very very unlikely. Most swimming injuries are caused by swimming with poor technique or from overuse – i.e. doing too much swimming – too hard – too often – and not from an acute incident or accident.

So why waste 10-25% of workout time warming up? Get in the pool, start swimming and you’ll warm up soon enough.

(Obviously swimmers with existing injuries should take time to prepare for training in accordance with the recommendations of their doctor or physical therapist).

5. Kill speed 

Speed is everything. Why do coaches spend months and months doing countless laps of threshold training and hard endurance work then hope that the swimmer’s speed will return during taper? It is all about speed. Why do we spend so much time killing speed when it is the single most important reason we train in the first place?

6. Stretch when cold 

We know that muscles stretch better when they are warm. Why are we stuck in this pre-training stretching mindset?

Why not allow swimmers to swim 300, 400, 500 and then – when they are warm – get them out to stretch, do roller work, complete a brief yoga stretching routine etc?

Why not spend three minutes between sets to stretch or use some acupressure and trigger-point “release” techniques to release muscle tension in key muscle groups?

The aim of stretching is to help swimmers get into technically correct positions without stress, effort or strain. So why try to force cold muscles into technically correct positions before they are capable of doing so?

7. Only go fast in the competitive season of the year? 

And again – speed is everything.

The concept of periodisation does not mean “only” do endurance work pre-season or “only” do speed work during the racing season.

It means balance the skills, attributes and qualities (physical, mental, technical and tactical) required to swim fast over the duration of the swimmer’s program to ensure they achieve their optimal performance level in targeted competitions.

Speed is so special – so precious – that it needs to be enhanced, nurtured and developed all year round…as does endurance….as does flexibility…as does power…as does strength. Periodisation is about emphasis – not exclusion.

8. Only race when you’re at your best

Racing is not always about winning.

It’s about learning. It’s about assessing how training is going and about getting feedback from performance under race conditions so you can change and improve the training program.

Race often – develop a wide range of racing skills and learn the strategies to meet every competitive situation you face and then – when you need to win – when it really matters – you can and you will.

9. Overly rely on equipment 

Swim equipment is fun to use. It makes training interesting. It offers additional variety in training sets and practices.

But until they start offering Olympic Gold medals and NCAA titles for kickboard races and paddle events, minimise their use and have a very clear, very specific reason for using them.

You don’t have to do “pull” in all workouts. You don’t need to wear paddles at every training session. Use equipment when it can make a significant improvement to technique, skills and other essential swimming capacities.

10. Leave mental training until the final weeks before the competition

Everything you do in the water is enhanced by the application of a mental skill.

Drills work and skills development benefit from focus and concentration skills.

Relaxation and breathing control is essential in speed and endurance development training.

Visualization is a wonderful skill to master and use before practicing starts.

Far too many coaches and swimmers hear the word “psychology” and assume it’s either about mental illness or something you only practice the day before the meet – usually during some form of “motivation” talk.

Everything you do in the pool – from learn to swim level onwards – everything you do in the pool – has a mental aspect and benefits from the effective connection between the mind and the body.


Swimming Coaching Practices: Dare to be Different – Look at things from a different angle.

The Internet means anyone, can get information about anything, anytime, anywhere and usually for free.

Increasingly, swimming coaching practices and techniques are being challenged, scrutinized and debated as more and more people access the latest ideas, information and innovations from other sports, other industries, scientific research and other sources.

Now, more than ever, successful swimming coaching is about daring to be different, striving for excellence through creative innovation and about being the first to lead the introduction of new ideas and new directions.

Sometimes we’re so busy doing what we do that we don’t have time to think about what we’re actually doing.

Take time to reflect on your training habits and coaching practices, your routines and your rituals and find ways of helping swimmers to get faster….faster.

Wayne Goldsmith

Source: https://www.swimmingworldmagazine.com/news/coaching-practices/