Does My Swimmer Need Private Lessons?

by SwimSwam Contributors 15

July 03rd, 2017 Lifestyle

Courtesy of Elizabeth Wickham.

I’ve read that private lessons for youth sports have become a multi-billion dollar industry. Do private lessons pay off? Are they necessary? Parents today are spending money on expensive equipment and private instructors to help their kids get an edge in their sports. Many dream of college scholarships and they believe private lessons will give their kids an advantage. In swimming, we already pay dues for club teams, fundraise and have travel expenses—not to mention the tech suits. Are private lessons another expense we need to pay—especially when we see other swimmers in private lessons?

According to Jeff Conwell, CEO and Head Coach of Piranha Swim Team in Southern California, he views private lessons the same as tutoring in school. “Some students get everything they need in class and don’t need the extra help. Others go to tutoring regularly as a preventive step and to review what’s been taught. There’s also the student that for whatever reason fell behind and is struggling in a class. Tutoring can give extra one-on-one attention that can help them catch up.”

Are lessons ever not in the best interest of a swimmer? “In most cases, getting extra help can’t be a bad thing. The only time it’s negative is if the lesson and practice are not in conjunction. Ideally, if your math teacher can be your math tutor, that would be the best case scenario for long term benefit. Occasionally, a fresh perspective or new way of explaining things can be good, as long as the overall objective of the lesson matches practice. This is where getting outside lessons without your coach’s knowledge can be a problem. It’s critical to communicate with your coach if you feel you need them. After the lesson, If your coach didn’t do the lesson, communicate the focal points. Ultimately, if the lesson doesn’t carry over into workout then it’s a waste of time and money,” Conwell explained.

“As a coach, I try not to recommend private lessons and I make efforts to give athletes who want extra help, that help in practice. But, there is no doubt that one-on-one time makes teaching and learning easier. I make sure to not teach anything in lessons we don’t cover in workout so that nobody feels lessons are necessary to have the advantage.”

Giving lessons can be mutually beneficial, Conwell said. “I credit private lessons with helping me develop as a coach. Being able to fine tune in a one-on-one setting can really help fine tune your own coaching methods and technique philosophies.”  

Here are a few tips if you’re interested in private lessons for your swimmer:


Talk to your coach.

It’s ideal to have lessons reinforced in practice, so your child’s coach is usually who you want for private lessons. Also, the coach may be able to spend a few minutes after practice helping with a particular skill. If you decide to go to a coach outside your team, be sure to let your coach know what your swimmer is working on. They may have entirely different philosophies or ideas about technique and it may confuse your child to get conflicting messages.


Is your private lesson coach outstanding?

If you’re going to spend money on private lessons and make the time commitment to add one more thing to your family’s schedule, you’ll want to have a coach who is knowledgeable about technique and can communicate with your child. There are all levels and abilities of coaches and some are better at technique and instructing than others.


Lessons can help your child catch up or breakthrough.

If your swimmer is newer to the sport, learning proper technique in a one-on-one setting can definitely help them catch up to other swimmers their age. Or, if your child is in a plateau, working on specific skills may be the impetus to a breakthrough swim.


Lessons provide more time to connect with the coach.

Having one-on-one private lessons can help your child be more comfortable with their coach, especially if they are new to the team, the group or shy. Lessons can help coaches and swimmers build better working relationships.

What do you think about private lessons for your swimmers?

Elizabeth Wickham volunteered for 14 years on her kids’ club team as board member, fundraiser, newsletter editor and “Mrs. meet manager.” She’s a writer with a bachelor of arts degree in editorial journalism from the University of Washington with a long career in public relations, marketing and advertising. Her stories have appeared in newspapers and magazines including the Los Angeles Times, Orange County Parenting and Ladybug. You can read more parenting tips on her blog.

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5 years ago

If the team’s coach thinks there are reasons for private lessons he should talk to the parents and say what should be improved in the technique.
And should be the coach saying who will be the private coach for that lessons, himself or someone who he is confident on!

5 years ago

My 11 year old has had private lessons from the beginning. The reasons for those lessons have changed over the years. Lane pressure at his club team is currently the main reason for his continued use of private practices. As a buttflier and IMer, it really helps to have a lane of his own a few days a week. At his club team practice, he rarely is able to swim a length without having to constantly pull a one arm butterfly.

Joanne Koury
5 years ago

I love doing private technique coaching and focus strictly on technique and strategy, some nutrition recommendations when appropriate. My student athletes love it too and you do connect more with families creating a mutual goal setting team for the athlete…plus, in any sport that requires individual performance – the elite player/athlete has several coaches, example: Tennis.

5 years ago

I think the analogy in the article provided by Coach Conwell is spot on. No one takes issue if a student seeks out tutoring to achieve academic goals. The student / teacher ratio & time allotted often doesn’t allow for the instruction needed for some kids to “get it.” Same with swimming although the ratio is much higher ~ one coach / 40+ athletes in my daughter’s group. No disrespect to her club coach but the attention to detail and technical breakdown from a practice versus a private is incomparable. Coach with 2 eyes & 40+ athletes. It’s simply not possible.

Coach MDL
5 years ago

$80/half hour for an 9 yr old (with an illegal kick) to learn to raise their hands over their head during breaststroke recovery. Or to learn straight arm freestyle. Or butterfly side breathing. Guess who’s NOT on the finish line when tears of disappointment start.

Reply to  Coach MDL
5 years ago

Woah. If you’re paying $80/half hour…I hope it’s with someone who has coached an Olympic medalist.

Michael Lawrence
Reply to  Braden Keith
5 years ago

Welcome to the world of Guru Swimming. $80/half hour? That’s to someone who has never been credentialed at LSC Chsmps!

5 years ago

Speaking as a coach, private lessons are completely unethical and violate the coach-swimmer relationship, which should be treated as sacred. You think any of the greats ever had private lessons? Did Phelps ever take instruction from anyone beside Bowman (after the age of 11)? If you’re not getting everything all the tools you need to succeed from your program, go to a better program! In the long run, whether or not a swimmer had good turns at the age of 10 will have no bearing on the ceiling of their career in the world of swimming. If you don’t trust your club’s coaching staff to give your swimmer everything they need, there are much larger issues at stake than simply… Read more »

Reply to  Cookies
5 years ago

Seriously, unethical?? That’s a tad extreme.. There are reasons why people have to go outside their club for privates. Switching clubs isn’t always easy or available for everyone. Not all coaches at a club are “created equal”. Sometimes the best coaches do not have availability.. I do think sticking to coaches within your club is best, but if they are not available and your swimmer needs the extra help, you do what you must. I’ve sent my 13yr old swimmer to Bolles, Peak & Monverde camps. Three completely different swim programs, but he gained knowledge, strength & skills from all three…

Reply to  Cookies
3 years ago

So, you recommend team hoping until you find the “perfect” head coach? Your comment is about the worst example of a coach having a fixed mindset. No one can can give anyone “everything they need”. Coaches demanding fealty from their 10 year old swimmers is frightening.

5 years ago

As a coach, I’ve both given private lessons and had swimmers seek outside help. Generally the swimmers who seek private lessons are ones who struggle on a specific thing and regular practice just doesn’t allow enough time to fix (starts, turns, timing in breaststroke, etc.). 5-10 minutes after practice isn’t always enough. A lot of swimmers in the area I coach in don’t start competitively swimming until middle or high school and it can be hard to rewire bad habits.

5 years ago

I agree with private lessons as long as it’s with your own. My daughter just had one to work on some techniques and it did help.