What are the qualities of a good coach? A good coach listens and has great communication skills. He or she builds rapport and is motivating and inspiring. A good coach has curiosity, flexibility, and courage. The good coach recognizes that everyone is different and have different needs, and with the flexibility to react to those differences. Coaches must have the courage to have a strong belief in their self and a strong determination to do what is best for their athletes. A good coach believes that his or her athletes are capable of reaching the goals that are set with the ability to individualize their training and approach to reach those goals.

One of the most common questions from swimmers is whether they should use alternate-side, or bilateral, breathing. And the quick answer is yes, you should breathe to both sides. At least in practice. And on some occasions it can be an advantage while racing too.

The primary reason is that it promotes more symmetry in the stroke – i.e. whatever happens on one side of the body, happens the same way on the other side. Here’s a lesson I learned about muscle memory on my very first day of coaching in September 1972: It seemed that virtually my entire team at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, NY, had lopsided freestyle strokes, rolling more to one side and a wider recovery on the same side. The next day for warmup, I had them swim 800 yards breathing to the “wrong” side. Instantly, every stroke in the pool was more symmetrical and balanced—the “blank slate” effect. Lacking a history of practicing bad habits, each swimmer’s less-natural breathing side, though it probably felt awkward, was more efficient.

Virtually all swimmers breathe to one side most of the time. Trying to breathe to the other side feels awkward, so you just don’t do it. Who needs to feel even more awkward? The problem with breathing this way is that it tends, over time, to make your stroke lopsided and asymmetrical. And small wonder; in just an hour of swimming, you’ll probably roll to your breathing side about 1,000 times, meaning all your torso muscles pull more in that direction and less to the other side. Multiply that by hundreds of hours of swimming and you can see how a lopsided stroke can easily become permanent.

Why you should breathe bilaterally in training

As much as I’ve written about swimming more efficiently and adding more drill practice to your program, some coaches may think that I uniformly advocate for swimmers doing less yardage. It is not a Total Immersion goal to do less yardage. Instead, we’d like coaches to recognize that any swimmer (even the current world record holder), because they are human, can still find opportunities to improve their efficiency. By doing so they can shave a few more seconds or tenths from their current best much more easily and quickly than by looking for another training tweak or increasing their volume or intensity.

Anyone who has read Total Immersion or Swimming Made Easy knows that I think of Alexandre Popov as a great model for emulation. Why did Popov go undefeated in international meets for nearly a full decade? Because he was developed and has continued to train with untiring focus on techique and fluency. Popov, on occasion, does over 100,000 meters per week. Not for conditioning as his coach Gennadi Touretski explains but for “more opportunities to imprint perfect form on the nervous system.”

In my last article I raised the question of how much payback is produced by the countless hours swimmers spend pushing a kickboard up the pool. If there were kickboard races in meets, then the quantity of kickboard training coaches give might be justified. The main issue for me isn’t really whether kick sets are a waste of time, but whether there might be some better use of the precious time spent doing them...particularly in high school programs where there are usually fewer than 100 hours of practice in a typical season. So here are some thoughts on how to develop an efficient kicking action in each stroke and some alternatives to kickboard training.

This year I’m the head coach at a different school in town. It has forced me to review things that were taken for granted in my old position. I should have sat down and reviewed a great many things with him. First and foremost is discipline. What are your expectations for your assistants as far as discipline goes? The assistant coach in a difficult situation can tell a swimmer to leave the deck and change but cannot tell an athlete he is off the team. I expect him to constantly encourage , prod or verbally insist a swimmer not stop during a set. If he continues to stop or miss repeats, the coach can tell him to sit out for a time. If this process is repeated by the same swimmer he is told to change. If this happens on repeated days, he is told his status on the team is in jeopardy. After a conversation between my assistant and me, I would inform the swimmer he is no longer a part of the team. It is my responsibility and at no time should an assistant be asked to do this. We have not had to do this this season but it is something I failed to do before the season started. My assistant understands this from practices but I was remiss in not making this clear.

In the last NISCA Journal I wrote a piece titled, “Successful Swimming with Limited Pool Time.” One of my suggestions was to incorporate mental training into practice. I defined mental training as involving sets that challenged swimmers mentally as well as physically by incorporating drill work, stroke changes, and focused interval swimming. Mental training, while especially beneficial to short practices, also enhance longer training sessions.

My favorite mental training sets combine vertical and horizontal descending swims where an athlete must not only descend from one swim to the next, but also descend “across the set.” For example, on a set of 9 X 100, descending 1-3, 4-6, and 7-9, the swimmers must also descend the final swims of each circuit, or swims 3, 6, and 9. By swimming to descend “across the set,” swimmers must pay particular attention to their pacing and effort. Requiring swimmers to recall their times when the set is over further enhances the mental aspect of the set.

The little things that coaches do while coaching and around their athletes many times carries more of an impact than anything else we do. These suggestions are offered as a suggestion for improving our effectiveness.

1. When talking to swimmers in the pool, whenever possible kneel or squat down to get closer to them. This little effort shows them that you care enough to make sure they understand the point you are trying to make. Putting yourself on their level means somethings special to them.

Jingle Bells Kicking Set

Easy /Max ladder (25, 25, 50, 50, 75, 75, 100, 100, 75, 75, 50, 50, 25, 25) swimmers sing jingle bells on every easy kicking step on the ladder. As a reward for a great set we let a swimmer pick the Christmas carol.

In the running of a swimming meet, either interscholastic or intercollegiate, it is usually the case that the spectator’s interest is lagging when the diving is on. There are several reasons for this. In the first place, most of the scoring is not understood by the average layman. Secondly, diving has a tendency to drag out, thus causing the onlooker to lose interest. The other events take place in rapid-fire succession, ending in a thrilling finish. Diving, even at the end of the event, still remains in the balance as far as determining the winner until the final results are obtained much later in the meet.

The first big job to improve spectator interest in diving is largely up to the announcer, who, if he wants to put an ounce of showmanship into the event, can do so by explaining what the flash cards mean and what happens to the award after the difficulty has been multiplied.

What all needs to be considered in the high school coach’s season planning?

(A) Determine your team personnel. The number of experienced club swimmers that may be a part of your high school team will effect your planning. The number of those swimmers that might be at a high level such as national and junior national qualifiers will also effect planning. The lesser level of swimmers who have had age group experience only may blend in more easily with the high school season only swimmer. The seasonal swimmers and those with some previous competitive experience will have to be classified as those who are physically fit and ready to contribute to team point totals this season, and those who are unfit and inexperienced. If your policy is to keep all swimmers on the team that show up, then a plan to prepare the unfit and inexperienced swimmer so that swimmer can be a potential point winner for your team in the future. A plan that emphasizes on deck strength training, and water work that consists of technique drills and speed work would be appropriate. These team candidates should not be taking up too much water space and time that the more experienced and fit swimmers require in order to contribute to team success this season. If your policy is one of team tryouts and cutting these swimmers then a plan for them is unnecessary. A non swimmer or very low level probably should be directed to available swimming lessons. However, a low level swimmer sometimes can turn into a contributing team member when placed in a physical fitness program and speed training after one or two years.

This article originated as a discussion thread on the Total Immersion Forum (www.totalimmersion. net/forums). Many who frequent this forum are interested in swimming longer distances to race in open water or triathlons. Thus the distance and pace examples given are typical for an adult swimmer or triathlete. But the insights and ideas for how to think about and improve speed can be applied in any stroke or distance, and by any age or ability of swimmer.

A. Essentials

1. Streamline, streamline, streamline in a full platform torpedo position off every wall, under the water and the surface tension. a. Streamline drills. On the deck and in the pool.

2. Always swim into the walls strong, or fast. Build your momentum and speed going into the wall and you have the greatest potential of coming off the wall fast and with great momentum going into your swimming strokes.

I have been a regular attendee since 1991 and the NISCA convention has proved to be very beneficial to me as a NISCA member. I believe that any convention for coaches is beneficial, but I especially like this convention for a number of reasons:

1. The NCAA Men’s Championships

A. I watch how the swimmer stretch and warm-up before the meet. This gives me ideas of what I can use with my team. They have interesting drills and procedures that they go through that can add variety to our warm-ups.

B. I look at the T-shirts and what they say. It gives me ideas for our shirts. One of the most memorable was worn by the Auburn team. It had a picture of Coach David Marsh and underneath was “Marsh Madness.” A little play on the “March Madness” for the following week, NCAA Basketball tournament.



Each year as high schools enter a new school year and a new swimming season approaches, there are many overlying issues which can have an infl uence on the weeks and months ahead on the competitive aquatic program. These issues may vary in many ways and can differ from school to school. For example, if a team has graduated the previous year a strong senior class which is replaced by younger, more inexperienced talent, the program might have to go through a “rebuilding stage.” A team’s quality can be hurt by a member from a previous year who moves to another district, or a team can be enhanced by a new swimmer who has just moved into the specifi c district. The hiring of a new coach or assistant coach can send a team in a different direction, or facility issues (renovation of a current facility, opening of a new facility, or the breakdown of a part of an older facility) as well can change the landscape of an upcoming competitive swimming season.

As all Americans have noticed over the past eighteen months, and especially during 2009, the economy has been on a rollercoaster ride that has infl uenced one and all in every imaginable way. Gas prices, the recession and rising unemployment have all been issues that are reported on daily on the airwaves. Unfortunately, as the 2009-2010 season approaches, the economy will have direct, indirect and an overlying infl uence on high school competitive swimming. It is the objective of this presentation to discuss a few of these issues to make coaches aware of what is ahead for the upcoming competitive scholastic season.


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