Wright, B. V., Comett, A. C., White, J. C., Parry, T. E., & Stager, J. M. (2011). Professional swim coach opinions regarding the competitive swim start: A national survey. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 43(5). Supplement abstract 3243.

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This study surveyed professional swimming coaches regarding two related topics: 1) the skills required prior to teaching a swimmer a competitive racing start, and 2) the essential elements of a successful competitive racing start. A coaches’ survey was developed in a three step process:

  1. An open-ended survey was created and given to local area swim coaches for interpretation. From the responses, the survey was modified and sent to 500 additional coaches.
  2. Upon return of the open-ended coaches' survey, responses were reviewed, condensed into frequently repeated responses, categorized, and a shorter closed format of the survey was developed and reviewed by the local coaches.
  3. The final version of the coaches' survey was then approved by the university's institutional review board, posted on the internet, and instructions to complete the survey were distributed via email to all USA Swimming registered coaches.

The eventual analysis involved 471 responses. In the coaches' opinions, there were no paradigms to assess whether or not a swimmer had the appropriate motor skills to complete a racing start safely and successfully. In addition, no consensus was evident regarding the characteristics that constituted an acceptable and safe racing start. When swimmers were hesitant to use the starting blocks, 63% of coaches encouraged them to perform a deck start. When asked if a checklist was used when teaching starts, 5% of coaches reported using a written checklist and 88 % a mental one. Of those that used a progression to teach racing starts, 65% used a personally designed progression and 15% used information provided by a professional organization (e.g., American Red Cross, YMCA).

Implication. Teaching the racing start in the swimming coaching profession is an informal process. There appears to be little agreement among coaches regarding specific characteristics of the skill. More importantly, the lack of use of an authoritative resource to guide the teaching of racing starts to novice swimmers warrants further investigation with regard to the safety of this complex skill. One should be wary of adopting the recommendations for starting or possibly any motor skill of the sport of any swim coach and should rely on or wait for scientific findings that will guide properties for instruction or program content.

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