Instructors provide important information for swimmers in the form of feedback. Feedback can be verbal, written, visual and tactile. Video analysis has become a crucial part of feedback for any level swimmer (www.swimmind.com). Swimmers are often surprised when they see themselves swimming, not realizing that their stroke often appears different from how it “feels.”
The learner’s brain will learn the correct and incorrect technique equally well. In the early stages of learning, the instructor should correct the swimmer by providing positive, constructive feedback as often as possible. Lack of supervision or quality control at any step makes the next step more demanding or more difficult. This is common mistake in many Learn to Swim Schools that do not provide much individual attention to its swimmers, having large groups of swimmers without following any system. In this respect, it is also important to maintain the quality of previous skills as a drill progresses or moves to the next step.
The instructor must feed regular information to each swimmer. Generally it must be positive, constructive and effective for the swimmer. Giving a simple ‘good‘ is not adequate. The skill practice may be ‘good’ but why is it ‘good’ and can it be improved? If so, how can it be improved?
As long as the instructor is giving effective feedback and the swimmer is progressing steadily, the swimmers is productive.
For example, when Susie attempts a new stroke drill, the instructor says:
“Hey Brian, that was a great effort [start with something positive]. I liked the way you worked your kick during that drill. In this next lap, I want you to think about how your elbows are moving when you do this [give demonstration]. Can you show me? [swimmer gives feedback and demonstration of the key element of the drill before pushing off]
To tailor programs to suit the needs of swimmers, instructors should encourage swimmers to participate in the program design. Swimmers and instructors can meet together to work out a program or seasonal plan for competition. Recent sporting successes of leading competitive swimming teams have shown that swimmer input is very motivating for individuals and the team as a whole. However, they must have the maturity to give useful input. The instructor should provide an opportunity for all interested swimmers to voice their opinion then judge whether their input is useful and worthwhile. This should be done away from the pool deck at group/team meetings to avoid possible conflicts between instructor and swimmers during training.
This is also a good time to have the group set behaviour and discipline standards for the group, such as the following:
- Being on time
- Listening to instructions
- Talking responsibility for own training gear
- Bringing a water bottle to every session
- Telling the instructor if I am sick or injured
- Being late
- Being rude or disrespectful to the instructor or anyone at the pool
- Drinking from someone else’s drink bottle
Modifications to style and method
Instructors must be aware that certain instruction styles and presentations are not effective in every instance. Experienced instructors can adapt their style according to the swimmers’ personalities, the type of swimming group, the swimmers’ level of motivation and what they are training for. The instructor’s main goal is to get the best out of everyone – to achieve productivity requires a flexible approach. Teaching at this level is ‘an experiment of one’ and the instructor must have the ability to modify group instruction to accommodate this fact.
Communication is feedback
The instructor’s body language operates as feedback for the swimmer. A ‘thumbs up’, a smile, a simple clap or a nod can reassure the swimmer, acknowledging the good work. The instructor’s ability to communicate can have a lasting impact on swimmers. It can help form their attitudes to life in general, sport, work and their interpersonal relationships. Therefore, the instructor acts as a role model, with the potential to help shape the life of the swimmers.
Characteristics of a successful instructor:
- has great communication and listening skills
- has a good knowledge of stroke technique
- has good time management and planning skills
- is imaginative and flexible when designing programs
- is enthusiastic and able to motivate
- gives constructive feedback and ground rules
- has a good sense of humor
- is able to manage staff and interact well with the swimming community, professionally and personally, seeking feedback from all members of the swimming community, from sources such as SwiMMinD, especially the swimmers
- has good teaching skills – focusing on the educational outcomes
- ensures that the program is swimmer-centered so that every goal is for the swimmers’ benefit
- realizes that their own behavior will have enormous impact on the swimmers’ behavior, performance and attitudes
- is able to clarify what a swimmer has learnt by questioning and observing any change in performance
- sets up a time especially to discuss the program and encourages input from swimmers
- solves stroke fault problems