Communication Approaches for Coaches

Effective teaching and coaching is all about effective and appropriate communication. The ability of the coach to present information to learners in a format and manner that is meaningful for each individual is one of the key attributes of the successful introductory strokes development program.

A coach must be able to assess when it is appropriate to use certain presentation styles. In some instances, a combination of several styles may be called for.

It is crucial that the coach is aware of the teaching style they adopt in each situation; that is, they should be proactive in their application of coaching techniques rather than reactive to the stress and demands of the teaching environment.

However, in order to cater for the needs of all swimmers, a flexible approach for any session is essential. An effective communication style aims to get the best out of each swimmer. Coaches should not be concerned if they change their style. What is important is that the swimmer responds positively to the presentation style and progresses optimally.

The personality of the coach plays a big part in the presentation of each session. The age, level of experience and maturity of the swimmer will also have an impact of the presentation style. When a swimmer and instructor work together, there is a meeting of two different personalities. The coach has to assess haw the swimmer will respond best. As the coach learns more about the swimmers’personality, the communication process improves.

Friendly and approachable

Many swimmers respond well to a friendly and approachable coach. As long as the ground rules are set, this style of communication is popular and effective. If the coach is able to maintain discipline within the group, this style works well. The friendly and approachable coach must ensure that swimmers understand that their training behavior will be reflected in their results; their success will be based on their own motivation to achieve goals.

Using first names will help to create a casual and friendly atmosphere. Coaches should take time to learn the names of each learned by the second lesson in the program.

Clear, precise and directive

The coach’s aim is to maximise practice time by giving direct instructions. Swimmers respond well to clear and precise instructions. Good demonstrations and accurate, sharp instructions are what swimmers need in the busy and noisy aquatics environment. A direct approach allows swimmers to complete their tasks, maximize their use of the time allocated and develop their skills within that time.

Humor when appropriate

Humor can help to create a relaxed environment. A joke can often relieve tension and contribute to the groups spirit and good atmosphere within the group. A coach who adopts a serious approach – without any flexibility – may cause swimmers to lose interest because they do not learn to enjoy their training. However, an overdose of humor can cause a decrease in productivity. Sarcasm is not recommended at any time. The challenge for the new coach is to establish a teaching environment that is conductive to effective learning, has defined, clear boundaries in terms of behavior standards, yet is fun and enjoyable to be involved with.

The use of group ‘nicknames’ can work well and create a close group of swimmers who enjoy the common bond of training and having their own swim group names. However, quite the opposite situation can develop if the ‘nicknames’ reinforce poor skill levels or highlight physical features such as body shape and/or size or some other negative aspect. The coach should monitor group dynamics and humor to ensure a harmonious learning environment is developed.

Casual when appropriate

A relaxed, casual coach style may help to dispel tension. However, if the coach is too casual and swimmers take advantage of this behavior, control can be lost.

A coach must create a situation whereby the swimmers respect the coach, and choose a presentation style that will bring out the best in the swimmers.

Organized and efficient

Planning and preparation are the key to any good program. The coach must strive to be organized in every aspect of swimming. This will relay a message to the swimming community that the coach is serious about achieving goals and is a well-trained aquatics professional. The high level of motivation demonstrated by the coach will set an example to swimmers. If the coach is well organized, time will be saved in moving from activity to activity. The efficient coach aims to increase productivity and minize disruptions in the group.

A “critical friend”

Some swimmers do not respond well to criticism, whereas others will use the feedback as a learning experience and strive to improve. However, without constructive criticism a swimmer can’t improve. Swimmers need a coach to point out what they need to work on. They can then focus on their weaknesses until they become strengths. As long as the criticism is constructive, swimmers will respond positively to the stroke development challenges suggested by the coach.

It is important to assess how each swimmer respond to criticism. How it is delivered will have an impact on how the swimmer responds. Any criticism should be done in private. Present criticism as a positive challenge to improve. Some swimmers respond well to harsh criticism, becoming more motivated and thus achieving good results. The good coach is able to use criticism in a productive way. Never underestimate the ‘I’ will show you’ attitude that some swimmers have – it can help them to achieve great goals. This is particularly so with high-achieving swimmers.

It can also be useful to talk as a group when addressing any faults. For example: ‘‘How about trying to get our hands in line with our shoulders when entering the water. This will stop us zigzagging.

Motivational and encouraging

A coach who shows enthusiasm and energy on the pool deck is likely to motivate the swimmers. However, the training environment will rearely provide a stimulus more exciting than that encountered at a competition.

Motivational words from the coach can have enormous impact on th eswimmer. Motivation is a major factor in determining successful performance. When swimmers understand that true motivation comes from within they are more likely to achieve success.

A swimmer’s motivation is likely to decrease if personal goal are not being achieved. Motivation to improve skills should be high all the time, not just for a short period before any given competition.

The coach should maximize motivation by giving praise sensibly. As swimmers learn and develop, praise must be generous. Every swimmer should receive some positive words in every lesson they have. However, praise must also be earned – and felt to be earned – in order for the swimmer to respect it.If used all the time, the impact diminishes.


Some swimmers performing at high levels respond to a regimented approach. A rigid, disciplined approach is sometimes necessary for elite performance, when the difference between winning and losing can be a millimeter. Champion swimmers respond to a disciplined training environment – they need it to perform at an optimum level. Many high-level coaches are good disciplinarians – they create a productive atmosphere in the group. However, the nature of the discipline needs to develop not destroy.

As with most teaching tools, discipline when used intelligently and with a logical purpose is an important aspect of an effective teaching program.

However, coaches must be flexible enough to allow fun and relaxed period in any group. Their training must be enjoyable and challenging. It is the coach’s role to achieve the right balance – a disciplined yet enjoyable training environment.

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