Courtesy of Swim Coach Julia Warnken, SwimMAC Marlin Division Lead.
1. Come up with a theme.
There’s nothing better than walking into swim practice from a kid’s point of view and trying to guess what the daily “word of the day” is. I have kids that come to practice and don’t even say hi to me. They go straight to the board and see if I have put up the word of the day. It could be funny, it could be something to do with the holidays, and of course it can be something related to swimming (or, obviously, something that has nothing to do with swimming at all). We have done everything from Marlin 1 Monkey Monday to Marlin 1 Super woman Saturday. Come up with a daily theme that is catchy that keeps your kids interest in the guessing game. You’ll be surprised at how many of them try to come in and see if they can read your mind before practice. If you can’t think of one, it’s a good bonding moment with the group to come up with something together and get their minds working before practice.
2. Have a consistent weekly focus: stroke/skill/component of a stroke, etc.
We rotate our weekly plans with the strokes and go in cycles. The younger the child is the more repetition they need. Does that mean you can’t do anything else but that stroke and skill focus? NO! Put it at the top of your board as a weekly reminder of what the main focus is, then work your daily drills/skills/practice routine into the workout.
3. Daily plan that involves all the items you want to cover.
I plan “5 focuses per day” to cover with my groups at SwimMAC. I pick a stroke, a drill, a kicking set (because stronger kickers equal faster swimmers), an item to review from the week before, and I cover a race skill or event that teaches them about race strategies. Yes, we teach 10 and unders how to swim their events, because they don’t get out there and magical drop Quad-A time. Beyond the “5 focuses per day,” if we have time, we work starts, turns, under waters, breathing off walls, etc.
4. When writing a set, pick three focuses the kids need to pay close attention to.
Three is the lucky number when teaching young kiddos and getting them to remember and pay attention. I number the board 1-3, then let them guess what the focuses are. If they get one right, I let them write it on the board. Getting them involved is a great way to keep them attentive during practice and make them feel good about knowing the answers.
5. Get the kids involved!
David Marsh (SwimMAC CEO and Head Coach) sends the coaching staff inspirational or helpful tips that are important for us to read and act by. He once showed us a sign at a local school that said:
“Tell me and I may forget. Show me and I may remember. INVOLVE me and I’ll UNDERSTAND.”
Involve your athletes. This is as simple as having a swimmer demonstrate during practice or having a swimmer write a set. The best example is getting your swimmers to answer questions you ask or having them give examples. They like to impress you with what they have learned, and they love the attention they get in front of their friends.
6. Learn from your swimmers.
This ties in a little with the 5th tip, but it’s more for us coaches. Swallow your coaching pride and let the swimmer teach you something! Numerous times I have sat there during practice and realized a drill was not working for the group. Swimmers make me realize that just because a drill or a set has been around a long time, doesn’t mean it’s great for this particular group. Watch your swimmers. Study them. If a swimmer does a stroke or drill differently, it may spark ideas for a new drill. Write it down. Stop practice and try the new idea. It’s worth it.
7. Track your weekly plans, take notes on what worked and what didn’t, and new ideas.
This helps you cover what you want to cover and helps you repeat it again later down the road. “Oh yeah, I liked that set. The kids got into it and took charge” or “this challenge really got the kids pumped up for their meet and was skill driven.” Additionally, helps you if a parent complains “My son says you haven’t worked on turns all month.” You can refer to your notes and respond, ”Yes ma’am, we did last Wednesday and Thursday and by the looks of it, your son did not attend practice those days.” You get my point. Track our plans and take notes!
8. Weekly discussion topic.
We generally do this during dryland time, especially if it is too cold to go outside. We write in journals about anything really. Our weekly discussions have been on anything from sportsmanship to health to goals to specific stroke drills. We even discuss what they want for Christmas! Getting to know your swimmers in and out of the pool will help you understand them more, which leads to a better understanding of them as an athletes.
9. Expose them to older swimmers.
Imitation is great at this age and 75% of young athletes learn better by watching someone else. It’s a part of the reason why younger siblings typically become better athletes than their older brothers or sisters. Whether they were dragged to their older siblings events or looked up to their big brother or sister, they do better by watching. Pull older swimmers during practice time to show them what a beautiful straight arm butterfly looks like, or put together an event to go watch a local high school or college team race. After watching, tell them to pretend they are that swimmer and try to copy them! I’m the youngest out of six kids, and trust me, copying is something young ones do well as 10 and unders.
10. Challenge them/do something fun before or after practice.
They are kids. They need to be challenged, and they need have fun in their lives. Try funny dives, cannon ball contests, or goggle tossing to win a relay race at the end of practice. It can be challenging, skill oriented and fun if you’re just a little bit creative. Do it. Your swimmers will apprecitate it!
Coach Julia Warnken grew up in northern Indiana and was a collegiate swimmer at West Virginia University 2002-2006. Julia was team captain her junior and senior year under head Coach Sergio Lopez. Later she began coaching with Sergio Lopez at The Bolles School. At Bollles she grew professionally and decided to coach and impact young athletes. In 2012 she went to work for Pam Swander at SwimMAC where she happily oversees the 10 and under division. Julie loves this age group at SwimMAC, because this is where they build a base of stroke development, create a love of the sport, and introduce the kids to competitive swimming.