Number 17(1)

Produced, edited, and copyrighted by
Professor Brent S. Rushall, San Diego State University




A purpose of any competitive age-group swimming program is to stimulate performance improvement in swimmers. The intentions of most age-group swimming programs are desirable but seldom are progressive structured developmental procedures used or documented. There is sufficient evidence in the fields of swimming biomechanics and growth and development to suggest that guidelines can be structured to produce an instructional curriculum.

Three common weaknesses with many age-group programs revolve around:

  1. a lack of definition of what should be taught at various levels of a program,
  2. a lack of coordination between levels of program instruction, and
  3. insufficient attention to good instructional planning and progressions.

A curriculum that brings together a logical structure of content, progression, and multiple experiences would remove these weaknesses. It is a step for improving the offerings that could be experienced by age-group swimmers.

Why a Curriculum?

All good institutions have a curriculum which the staff is expected to follow. It and its implementation is then refined by the constant sharing of stories of what works and what doesn't and with whom. With the guidance and direction offered by curriculum content, pedagogical experimentation should lead to better instruction and behavior change agents. With a curriculum come goals and expectations for coach and pupil performances. Administrators and clients can "observe" pupils and see if they are or are not being taught the curriculum content. The effectiveness of programs can be evaluated. These are features which a curriculum will bring to an age-group program. They are rarely incorporated into swimming programs.

With any curriculum, the content to be included needs to be defined. In typical programs, two extremes of content are offered. One is the "generalist" program which usually covers all aspects of the four competitive strokes at every practice session, and the other is the "specialist" program that emphasizes one stroke or form of training over another. Neither of these options is satisfactory for the development of young people nor are they appropriate for long-term development. The specialist programs do not cater to the undifferentiated young swimmer who should be grounded in all disciplines in the sport. It is contended, and supported by research, that specialization which occurs too early is detrimental to the long term performances of a developing athlete. Specialist programs have their place in swimming, more appropriately with older and already specialized athletes. The clientele that is serviced by age-group programs is better served by programs which consider all strokes are under the direction of some developmental scheme.

The best structure for an age-group program is to have each practice session contain as its first portion intense learning experiences covering limited skill content that ensures some development/change/improvement as a result of participation. This curriculum describes the content focuses for that to be done.

The curriculum contains specific elements to be taught at each of three levels of age-group swimmer competency. If teaching is conducted correctly, swimmers should be able to retain knowledge and understandings gained from the instructional portion of a practice and continue to employ them for the rest of a training session. The transfer of benefits is likely to be greatest if swimmers are encouraged to concentrate on the instruction of skill elements as being the most important facet of age-group practices.

If each level of swimmer competency is limited to the scope of what is to be instructed for that level, participants have the potential to experience sufficient amounts of concentrated direction that will yield improvement. Instructional levels should not attempt to teach everything about swimming on all occasions. The proposed curriculum describes the limited content to be coached for each level of age-group swimmer.

There is a hierarchy of swimmer sophistication assumed for the various levels of competency. Level 1 is the lowest, Level 2 intermediate, and Level 3 highest, the last category being available only to selected swimmers. The proposed curriculum programs basic elements of strokes and pool activities for each level. Level 1 programs assume that participants have attended swimming instruction programs and are now ready to participate consistently with a view to performance improvement. Swimming skill is the emphasis of Level 1 programs. Level 2 programs assume that the teachings of Level 1 have been experienced or are known and focuses on the addition of even further elements and the refinement of swimming skills. Some balanced attention is given to conditioning swimmers. The majority of swimmers in an age-group program will likely fall into situation-specific sub-groups at this level. Level 3 programs are concerned with performance excellence in all strokes. Specialization is not fostered. Participating swimmers should be exposed to a program that emphasizes skill development more than any other facet of training. This structure results in a vertical curriculum that facilitates progression through the ranks of a program. The curriculum illustrates expected swimmer development and accommodates stages for that progress. The curriculum removes the haphazard content of commonly observed age-group experiences.

Follow-up is accommodated in the curriculum by the express requirement that progression is to be based on skill competency not purely performance time.

The proposed curriculum contains elements which are based on the principles of growth and development for pre-pubertal, pubertal, and adolescent swimmers. Each specific interpretation of a technique feature is verified by the latest scientific research. The combination of these two basic tenets of curriculum content will ensure the latest and best forms of age-group developmental experience.

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