Samples from Swim Coach's Starter Guide

Part 1: Building a Team

Swimmers who feel a responsibility to their team stick through the tough times. This is the foundation of building a long-term successful club. This is how we build a generational team that continually improves from year to year. As head coach, CEO, King/Queen of the pool it’s your job to create this culture and maintain it through the years. Fast swimmers come and go, but culture is present every day.

Tangent: When people talk about going to the moon, we use terms like “we” and “our accomplishment.” In reality, only a handful of people ever stepped on the moon’s surface, but we all feel part of the accomplishment, part of the team.


A vision statement is your “why.” This tells you, your assistant coaches, your parents, your swimmers and your community why you exist and what your vision of the future is. It gives everyone involved a purpose and meaning. This is what we are all working towards. This is also NOT attainable. The vision is never fulfilled. Instead, it is a never-ending quest for improvement. Here are a few examples of vision statements:

  1. To increase the mental engagement of swimmers and coaches in swimming (Swim Smart’s vision).
  2. Creating people we want living in our world
  3. Improving our community through great individuals

It is purpose that created us, purpose that connects us, purpose that pulls us, that guides us, that drives us; it is purpose that defines, purpose that binds us.”

 – Agent Smith

A mission statement on the other hand is your “how.” How are you going to go about achieving your vision? This helps guide the team with their daily decisions and whether they are working towards accomplishing the vision. If a vision statement is the destination, the mission statement is the journey. You need both to reach the end. Here are some examples of mission statements:

  1. Creating products and resources that fix swimming problems and creating “Ah Ha” learning moments (Swim Smart’s mission).
  2. Using swimming as a way to teach life lessons that lead to hard work, dedication… and fast swimming!
  3. Creating a swim team culture that works towards elevating everyone to their maximum potential.

A team goal is your short-term step by step “result.” While a vision and mission statement won’t change over years, a team goal should be set and changed every season. It should also be something everyone can contribute to. If you make it based on how fast a person swims, not everyone will be able to contribute and it won’t be a “team” goal anymore. When we talk about the swimmer’s job, we will go over individual goals, which is where we will introduce swimmer specific goals. If the vision statement is the destination and the mission statement is the journey, then the team goals are the steps you take along the way. Here are some examples of team goals:

  1. Write a book that inspires coaches to challenge themselves, their swimmers and parents (this book)!
  2. To be the best underwater kickers in the state.
  3. Have the largest and most active team in the LSC.
Tangent: “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” – Simon Sinek


Setting a vision, mission and team goal is the easy part. Holding on to it is hard, especially in the setting of great success. Most anyone can focus on a non-swimming related goal when they have a “slow” team. No championships on the line to lose, no Olympic trials to perform well at, no Division I team to sell your “product” to and prove how great a coach you are. But when those things start to happen, it’s easy to forget purpose and instead focus on the results. It’s easy to let ego get in the way of the process. We start to focus on what we can lose instead of what we’re really there for: making badass kids who want to conquer the world by conquering themselves!

On a daily basis, you as a coach really only have two jobs:

  1. Set the expectations higher than the team is comfortable with.
  2. Motivate them to reach that goal.

We all need someone to push us out of our comfort zones. We can almost never do it ourselves; we need someone else to hold us to a higher level of excellence. Your job as coach is to set that target outside everyone’s comfort zone. That’s how we create growth and character. That’s why we need coaches and mentors. A swimmer’s first mentor in their life could be you. Make sure you do a good job!


Part 2: Managing a Team

The first step in running a great practice is for you (the coach) to show up before everyone, at least 30 minutes before practice starts. Sometimes kids will be hanging around the pool long before practice starts since they get off school early or they could only get an early ride and an adult should be around to keep the peace. More importantly, you need to get there early and write up all your sets on multiple whiteboards and to help set up any specialized equipment to be as prepared for practice as possible. If that means putting in the lane lines, then help there too. The goal is to be done with this process and free to chat and teach as the kids trickle in. Remember, this is where the swimmers build friendships and where you build the team culture. What you have actually prepared in advance will be the topic of Part 4.

Next is warmup. But first, what is the purpose of warmup? Many biological and nervous system elements in the Swimming Machine need a few minutes to ramp up and we won’t get into the details. Another major part of warmup is to focus on a couple of weaknesses the group has so that everyone gets a chance to improve those techniques at least a little bit every day. Lastly, warmup gives the kids a mental signal that real work is about to go down. Since none of these goals change on a daily basis, neither should your warmup. Have a standard warmup that the kids do every day the same way and only change it every few weeks or months to focus on another weakness. You may think the kids will find it boring and repetitive, but after a few days they come to appreciate not having to spend the first 5 minutes of practice memorizing a new warmup each day and they get to feel exactly the same at the end of warmup and feel prepared for workout. A standard warmup will also save you as a coach. Now, we have one less set to write and explain giving you time and energy to focus on your job. Secondly, if you or a swimmer are running late, everyone knows the warmup so it is easy to get things started or for a late swimmer to jump into the warmup without much explanation. 

Lastly, this is the same warmup we want to use at swim meets. That means less headaches at meets, but it also means that equipment use should be minimal since you won’t get equipment at busy warmup pool. No pull buoy, no kickboards, no paddles…


Part 3: How to Teach the Strokes

We need to take a step backwards and like a complex patient, breakdown each stroke into its essential components. Once we have our components laid out, we are going to use a limited number of drills to work on each component separately. Each drill only has a single focus! We don’t want to give the brain too much to think about at any one time. These drills build into one another up to the full stroke. This way, we don’t just jump into a complex swimming stroke and try to do too much at once. The best part of using dedicated drills to help teach the strokes is that we can use these tools throughout the season to teach, reinforce and train better and better strokes. More to explore in Part 4 (hey that rhymed)

One last thing before we jump into the strokes. Obviously, our goal with any of the strokes is to go faster. No matter the stroke, all the advice and training we do and give our swimmers falls into one of two categories: increase power or decrease drag. All of our drills work towards improving the power to drag ratio and these will look a little differently for each stroke. It is essential to teach and re-teach your swimmers all these concepts so they know what to focus on for each drill and each stroke. 

Now, let’s start as all races start… with a great looking dive!


Part 4: How to Write Workouts

Imagine you wanted to take a couch potato and make them a great 100 freestyler. Assuming you went through Part 3 and technique wasn’t an issue, the fastest way would be to start with 100 free repeats all out. The body will adapt most specifically and most quickly to that goal. But after a while, the improvements start to fade. They plateau. So what next? Next we break down the race in terms of endurance and sprint training. Improvement begins again and joy is had. But then they plateau again and you have to break it down further, training multiple sprint and endurance gears as well as training details of the race like the dive, turns, distance per stroke, tempo… and so on. 


We are going to use our model of training described earlier in Part 2 and pretend we have three age based groups: Novice Group (8 and unders), Age Group (9-12 ish) and Senior Group (13 and over). For each group, we will follow the same path and in the same order to develop their seasons and workouts:

  1. Group goals
  2. Workout quantity/focus
  3. Template sample
  4. Daily walkthrough
  5. Sample workouts
  6. Taper
  7. Changes over the season

It is almost impossible to get anywhere if you don’t know where you are going. That’s why we will start each section talking about the group goals each training group is supposed to focus on. Not all groups will focus on all things all the time. We want to separate out and simplify what each group is going to be working on. Doing all this work up front is going to help us write effective and trustworthy workouts for each group.