David Jones, 27, is a swimming coach and personal trainer working in London. He tells us what it’s really like. Dave provides a prestigious swimming coaching and personal training service through his company Sculpt. How long have you been working as a swimming coach? For a little over four years now. After I finished university I started work in the sports press, and wanted to pursue a media or PR based career (my degree was in Media & PR studies). However, having been a competitive swimmer for many years, even during my time at university, I took up coaching on the side, and then got more and more interested in the work. After two years working in the media I moved to London and it was then that I decided to take up coaching and training full time. I set up a new website recently and I now have a well-established training service, split between swimming and more conventional physical training, with a wide client base ranging from adult professionals to children. What do you do in a typical day at work? I generally have a few different slots in my day and my routine is based around these. I always wake up early, at 5:30, have breakfast and then leave home in time for sessions with a couple of clients before they go to work. Then there is a quiet period before a couple more clients, then lunch, then more training. The majority of my swimming coaching is done in the 4-6 afternoon slot, as most coaching is with children and the most popular time for children’s classes is after they finish school. Swimming coaching is obviously done in the pool but I do some other training activities outdoors or in the gym. After that I sometimes have more clients, and finish around 9, or just finish after the swimming. Wednesday is my day off and I do tend to work weekends, but it’s something you have to do in order to fit in around clients’ work demands. What do you like and dislike about the job? I love being my own boss. When things are going well it is really satisfying and you really feel you earned the rewards. You also get the full financial benefits of your work, as well as a lot of flexibility – to a certain extent you can dictate how many hours you work, and when, and this applies to taking time off for holidays or short breaks as well. I suppose in many ways it’s a lifestyle job and I certainly enjoy most aspects of the job, particularly being active, travelling around, meeting different people and staying fit in the process. I guess that in some ways the client does the hardest part of the work; often you are watching and advising them rather than swimming or working out yourself, although you always have to be professional and know how to present yourself. On the down side the early and late starts can be quite gruelling. For the first 15 minutes of each morning the world doesn’t seem a very nice place, especially in winter when it’s cold and dark outside! Sometimes you get difficult clients, and of course this is the same in any job, but the coaching side almost always involves lots of time working with children, and this can be difficult as sometimes it is hard to get a message across or find ways to get through to them if they are not listening. Another thing that makes the job less certain is the lack of easy career progression. Once you are set up you really need to make a name for yourself and building a school or company, and employing other people is important. Also, to an extent, people are buying into an image and so you need to look the part to sell your service, and this means you have to take care of yourself (although I would do this anyway). Any other advice? I would definitely advise prospective coaches to go and try it out first. You could do this by volunteering at a local school or swimming pool. Once you have some experience and know you like the work, then you can go and get qualified. It is important to realise that much of your time will be spent working with children so it is worth finding out if you enjoy this aspect of the job. Finally, I think you need to know and love swimming and be able to perform yourself. It is not essential for the training but to deliver a good service, especially to adults, you need to have a deep understanding of the techniques you are teaching, and this only really comes with personal experience.

How To Be a Better Swim Coach

As a coach, you’re at the helm of your team’s success. What you do, and don’t do, on a daily basis will impact everyone’s performance. So take some time to assess your own skills and develop some of the areas where you need improvement. You’ll see your swimmers flourish inside and outside of the pool!

1. Technical Knowledge

Your team looks to you and your coaching staff to be the experts on swimming technique, warm up routines, nutrition tips, and other specialized knowledge to help them be the best. Take time to develop your expertise in these different areas and do some continuing education to stay abreast of what is current in the swimming world. Use your coaching network, other staff and training experts, as well as online resources to help you improve your technical knowledge of the sport.

2. Professional Demeanor

If you want your team to be the best, you have to act like it! Set the example and always act in a professional manner. This means being on time, responding to parent concerns, and treating each player with respect. You’ll also want to be accountable to your coaching staff and school professionals and produce any reports or updates in a timely manner. Don’t be the guy who is always late or letting administrative work slip by. Work on your time management skills to manage your day and stay on top of the demands of your job as a swim coach.

3. More Than Your Sport

The best coaches know that a child or teen’s success is not just what happens at the meet. Inspire your team to be better people after they leave the competition with pep talks on leadership, work ethic, academic success, and being a better person. Connecting your team to something more than the sport of swimming builds a positive culture and connects the team to each other. This type of team atmosphere will inspire each student-athlete to perform their best not just for themselves, but for the entire team as well.

4. Multi-tasking

As a swim coach, you’re expected to wear many different hats. One day you’re the cheerleader at the meet, the next you may be mentoring a swimmer through a life crisis, and later that same day you may be counseling someone through failure. Whatever the situation calls for, you’ll have to be able to effectively multi-task and sort out what each teammate needs from you. Also, remember that you’ll need to deal with the academic pressures that some of your student-athletes might be facing. Your team is balancing a tough training schedule with the rigors of a challenging school schedule, so be mindful of this and give them inspiring talks to help them see the value of succeeding inside and outside of the classroom.

As the great coach Bill McCartney once said, “All coaching is, is taking a player where he can’t take himself.” So use these ideas to definitely become a better swim coach and inspire your swimmers to go beyond their limits and reach for success!


Preparing for Coaching Practice

By Rick Wolff

One unspoken fear that holds many parents back from volunteering to coach youngsters is uncertainty about how to organize and run an efficient practice session for kids. That’s a shame, too, because putting together a crackerjack practice for kids in any sport needs only the following ingredients:

  • Preparing in advance
  • Managing the practice time
  • Coaching by walking around
  • Planning “spontaneous” drills during practices
  • Having fun

Whether you’re coaching the local swim team, a soccer club, or a peewee basketball team, an efficient and productive practice session starts with your preparation to ensure that the practice is worthwhile. Nothing is more boring or nonproductive than a practice session in which the coach simply stands around, circles the kids together, and says, “Okay, gang, what do you want to do today?” That’s a sure sign that the coach isn’t prepared.

Instead, prepare for your practice using the following steps:

1. Several days before your practice session, take out a sheet of paper and a pencil.

2. Think about the last game the team played, or if they haven’t played a game yet, determine in your mind which basic skills they have to develop in order to improve.

3. Jot down a quick list of those skills and drills you want to cover.

4. Keep in mind your total practice time available, and then block out 5-, 10-, or 15-minute blocks of time for each drill.

5. From there, start mapping out the order of your practice session.

For example, assume that you have practice on Saturday morning, and the practice time lasts for one hour and 15 minutes, or a total of 75 minutes. You have chosen six skills to cover. Spending 15 minutes on each skill will take 15 minutes more than you have. If you allow 15 minutes for three drills and 10 minutes for the other three, you allow no time for rest in between.

A more realistic plan may be to practice only five skills or to spend only 10 minutes on each skill so that the kids can take breathers and you can conduct some team business.

Dividing your practice sessions into regimented segments or blocks of time allows you to keep to your schedule. It also ensures that the team works on all the drills they need to, and keeps the action moving along at a brisk pace. Be sure to bring a watch with you to every practice!

Here’s a sample practice schedule for a youth basketball team:

First 5 minutes:

Two laps and simple calisthenics to stretch and loosen up.

Next 5 minutes:

A quick review of what the team did well and not so well last game. Always talk about the team — never an individual player.

Next 5 minutes:

A simple drill, perhaps a line of lay-ups.

Next 5 minutes:

Defensive stance and lateral movement.

Next 10 minutes:

Rebounding and how to box out opponents.

Next 10 minutes:

Free-throw shooting.

Next 10 minutes:

Passing drills and how to hit the open player.

Next 10 minutes:

Running offensive plays and teaching basic give-and-go.

Last 15 minutes:

Controlled scrimmage.

75 minutes:

Total practice time

This simple act of thinking ahead about what the team has to work on makes each practice run smoothly and gives the kids a solid sense of progress toward their goals. Even better, when the session ends, you walk away with the self-satisfaction that your outline worked and that the action moved quickly.

Great swim coaches will be the first to tell you that they are constantly learning.

Whether we are trying to improve the technique of our swimmers, develop better culture, or helping athletes become mentally tougher, we are always on the search to sharpen our knowledge, and by extension, the performance of swimmers in the pool.

The following list includes some of the books I have found most impactful in my own career as a swimmer and as a coach. There is a little bit of everything in this list, including technique, periodization, mental training, and inspiring stories from some of the greats of the sport.

The goal with this list is to give you a broad foundation of knowledge to work with.

Here are my selections for best books for swimming coaches.

Swim Coaching Bible (Volume 2)

One of the swim coach classics, Swim Coaching Bible, Volume 2 was put together by Dick Hannula and Nort Thornton, who collaborated with some of the top swim coaches on the planet, sharing workouts, training tips, periodization strategies, sets, and much more.

The list of contributing coaches reads like a who’s who of American coaches, including Mike Bottom, David Durden, Teri McKeever, David Marsh and more.

From mastering the underwater dolphin kick—that section is written by Bob Gillett, the coach who helped propel the underwater fly kick to its current status by way of Misty Hyman—to making your program more fun, the Swim Coaching Bible Volume 2 will help you become a more rounded swim coach.

Science of Swimming Faster

If it’s science-backed swim coaching you are after, the Science of Swimming Faster has you covered. The two editors, Dr. Scott Riewald and Dr. Scott Rodeo run through the literature on the sport that will help you understand how to apply the most current science to your coaching and to your swimmers.

Whether it’s mastering the timing of a taper, helping your swimmers recover, or what types of mental preparation works best, Science of Swimming Faster will give you plenty of ideas to take to the pool.

Championship Swim Training

Written by two of the big names in the sport, Bill Sweetenham and John Atkinson (currently the high performance director of Swim Canada), Championship Swim Training covers the four strokes, the medley, training zones, periodization, drills, and so much more.

For coaches who are looking to get more comfortable with their long term development plans, plotting a taper schedule, and evaluating their own program, Championship Swim Training is a great resource.

The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups

A high-performing team culture is the goal of every coach. When the culture is good swimmers are motivated, they are engaged, and they perform towards the peak of their abilities (and sometimes beyond, such is the power of team).

While we all know what great culture looks and feels like, it can be difficult to nail down exactly what creates and sustains it. Coyle—also author of The Talent Code—spends time with some of the most high-performing teams across numerous industries and markets to see what they have in common.

The result is a list of tips and suggestions that you can use to help crank up the performance of your team and swimmers. (I did a lengthy review of the book here.)

How Good Do You Want to Be?: A Champion’s Tips on How to Lead and Succeed

Nick Saban, head coach of the football team at the University of Alabama, is the most successful coach in college football, offers up his process-based philosophy in How Good Do You Want to Be?

Nick Saban’s “the process” has become a rallying cry for coaches and organizations with its simple stick-to-your-job and stay-in-the-moment philosophy that decreases performance anxiety and helps athletes focus on the things they can influence.

Written after he’d won a national championship at LSU (he has since won five more at Alabama) Saban’s How Good Do You Want to Be? gives actionable advice and suggestions on how to crank up organizational excellence and get the most out of your athletes.

The Score Takes Care of Itself: My Philosophy of Leadership

One of the all-time great football coaches, Bill Walsh breaks down his approach to coaching in this classic that details Walsh’s arrival to San Francisco when they were one of the worst football teams in the NFL. A couple years later they were world champions.

His approach is rooted in organizational excellence and mastery of the fundamentals. Once these things are taken care of the results (or the score in this case) takes care of itself.

Walsh’s vulnerability shines through quite a bit in this book, which gave me an added layer of respect for the man—he was great, but he readily admits his shortcomings and doubts.

The Golden Rules: Finding World-Class Excellence in Your Life and Work

Michael Phelps’ long time swim coach Bob Bowman outlines his philosophy for coaching success, breaking down his process into a series of steps or rules that swim coaches, swimmers, or anyone looking to advance in their respective field can adhere to for proven results.

Bowman’s The Golden Rules (which I reviewed in-depth here) includes lots of background on his time with Phelps, including some of the less-than-awesome moments in their sometimes tumultuous working relationship.

No Limits: The Will to Succeed

Michael Phelps is the greatest swimmer in the history of our sport. In No Limits, Phelps talks about his journey from age group phenom to Olympic legend, with an emphasis on his magical week in Beijing where he won 8 gold medals, surpassing the most gold medals won in a single Olympics.

From using the trash-talking of his competitors as motivation to how he prepared on race day, Phelps lets us behind the scenes of his time developing into the biggest swimmer in history.

Conquer the Pool: The Swimmer’s Ultimate Guide for a High-Performance Mindset

Full disclaimer, this a full-blown and shameless plug.

This book was written by me (more about me here if you are at all interested) and was written in conjunction with 200+ head coaches, Olympians, former world record holders and NCAA champions.

It’s a workbook that has helped thousands of swimmers and coaches develop legendary mindsets in the water. The mental training book covers everything from how to set goals that kick butt, to learning how to master the process, to mastering your anxiety and nerves behind the block on race day.

Click here to learn more

More Stuff Like This:

5 Essential Books for Competitive Swimmers. A quick reading list for swimmers that covers the biggies: motivation, habit formation, skill building and injury prevention.

The Best Stopwatches for Swim Coaches. We run the best stopwatches for swimming through their paces. Let’s get our digital hand clock on!

6 Best Gift Ideas for Swim Coaches. Looking to pick up a gift for your swim coach? Here are some of the best things to pick up for your swimming coach that says, “You rock.”

How to coach swimming?

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