What are you doing with your Junior Squads?
Are you doing the same thing every single week (or day) without any variety to the squad sessions?
Are your swimmers feeling uninspired to come to squads?
Do you write a program that encourages, engages, fulfills and motivates a group of young independent swimmers?
All swimmers no matter age or ability have a skill in the water they prefer and a skill in the water they least prefer. A common example is a talented Breaststroker. This swimmer is technically perfect in Breaststroke however performing a few laps of Freestyle and their skill, confidence and happy disposition disappear. How does this swimmer know they will get the opportunity to perform their favourite stroke or skill on a regular basis and get your feedback about their swimming?
There is nothing worse for a swimmer than coming along to a squad and doing exactly the same they did last week. You also need to accommodate for the swimmer who attends once a week and the swimmer who attends 4 times a week.
The trick to keeping all your swimmers confident, happy and progressing is ‘Consistent Variety’.
There are 3 key parts to a successful program that utilises Consistent Variety.
1. 5 Learning Areas
The 5 Learning Areas
These are Kick, Pull, Distance, Sprint and Drill.
This means that the set for that particular day must focus on that particular Learning Area, Kick for example. As a coach you should have a variety of skills you can provide to your swimmers to ensure they are engaged and repetition doesn’t becoming boring. When these 5 areas are worked on separately they will come together to develop a well-rounded and experienced swimmer.
Strokes - Pair your strokes
There are 4 competition strokes Butterfly, Backstroke, Breaststroke and Freestyle. These 4 strokes can be categorised into short axis and long axis strokes.
Short axis strokes are Butterfly and Breaststroke. This is because of the undulation through the hips (the short axis of the body) during the movement of the stroke.
Long axis strokes are Backstroke and Freestyle because of the extension and rotation of the arms and legs around the long axis (the spine).
When writing a program pair a short access stroke and a long axis stroke together. For example Week 1 Breaststroke and Freestyle. This will help engage a swimmer no matter what their preference.
These are the extra parts of developing as a squad swimmer. This includes Scull/Safety, Turns, Starts, Dives/Entries, Finishes and Individual Medley Order (IM). Again as a coach you should have a variety of skills you can apply to these areas to keep them fun and enjoyable. These 6 Skills should have a series of measurable progressions for the swimmers to be able to achieve.
Why do I have to include ‘Safety and Entries’ in my program?
Because they are an important life skill. You may have a group of very confident swimmers however nothing guarantees water safety in an emergency situation. You can however, help provide the skills for your swimmers to utilise in an emergency situation.
Water safety skills should be a part of every lesson. Swimmers may have learned the survival strokes, safe entries, how to rescue and help others in and around the water but if these skills are not refreshed and repeated they can be easily lost, just like any other skills in a squad program. Your young squad swimmers will soon be entering the age of risk taking behaviour and part of your role is to provide them with the skills to assist in an emergency. Water safety skills are simply a skill for life and are if not more important than competition skills. They shouldn’t be forgotten.
It is best to write up a program and have it on display so it can be easily referred to for the swimmers, parents and other staff you are working with. (example below). Despite the day of the week, Learning area, Stroke or Skill, as a coach you should be attentive and provide a positive learning experience throughout every session.
There is not a perfect squad program, but a good program is always subject and open to change and variety. If you put the work into planning any program your job satisfaction will increase and developing your swimmers will become easy and rewarding.