Produced, edited, and copyrighted by
Professor Brent S. Rushall, San Diego State University
Volume 2, Number 1: February 16, 1995


[Presented at the US Swimming's Age-group Coaches' Conference, Colorado Springs, Colorado, March 30, 1995.]

The major event of competitive swimming is competing. Through competitions, swimmers are subjected to the responsibility of doing their best in a public forum. The consequences of such performances are very intense, primarily because of race-expectations and the number of persons (e.g., teammates, parents, relatives, coaches) that witness the swimmer's efforts. Young and inexperienced swimmers have to like competing to fully enjoy the sport.

It is usual for inexperienced swimmers to develop their attitudes towards competing through trial-and-error experiences and less than adequate direction from a coach. Often they are subjected to conflicting instructions when teammates, parents, and the coach all give "helpful" directions.

Principles Involved With Age-group Competing

  1. Competitions should only be interpreted as a positive experience.
  2. In early competitions, the focus should be on reproducing in races what has been done in training.
  3. Competition content of junior swimmers should be determined by the training effects which have been consistently demonstrated in practice.
  4. Competitive stress will be minimized if swimmers are required to perform activities with which they are familiar and comfortable.
  5. Stressing in competitions only those factors which can be controlled by the athlete is a performance principle which transcends all levels of competitions and experience.
  6. The training programs of new and developing swimmers should be dominated by skill instruction.
  7. Asking swimmers to train hard before establishing high levels of technique skill is analogous to asking a student to do calculus before learning to do arithmetic.
  8. No improvement in competition indicates a failure of the training program to influence competitive performance.
  9. The conditions surrounding what is done in races should be practiced as part of simulation training.
  10. If initial competing is an unpleasant experience for a new swimmer, the potential is there to develop an attitude of not liking competing or of interpreting the experience negatively.
  11. The total competitive experience, races and all the other activities that occur leading up to and following them, have to be considered and planned to produce positive effects.
  12. The less familiar a swimmer is with what is to be done in a race, even though it may be easy to verbalize, the greater will be the situational stress caused by the competitive experience.
  13. Swimmers should be taught how to handle disruptive events at competitions.
  14. The coach should model appropriate behaviors at competitions.
  15. Age-group swimmers should focus on keeping to plans prepared for competitions.
  16. Competition goals and preparations should be predictable.
  17. Swimmers should always look for what is done well and what can be improved as a way of maintaining a positive orientation to competing.
  18. When a swimmer is able to control events him/herself, stress is reduced.
  19. The potential for failure interpretation for performances is increased the fewer are the goals of performance.
  20. The goals of competing should be many rather than few.
  21. The package of competitive goals should be challenging.
  22. If athletes are expected to perform at levels and with skill characteristics that they have not demonstrated previously, they could develop negative predictions about the outcomes of their races which eventually might result in problem behaviors and attitudes.
  23. Events or procedures that have not been practiced successfully and consistently should not be attempted at competitions.
  24. Training should include activities which are designed to better prepare an inexperienced athlete for competing.
  25. Pre-race events and activities should be practiced.
  26. The performance features of racing should be practiced.
  27. Swimmers should be taught to use post-race behaviors and events to maximize the "experience" potential of racing.
  28. Simulation training develops significant learning about all the events which surround racing.
  29. If something has not been done in training, do not expect it to be done in competitions.
  30. Vague goals increase uncertainty and increase the probability of misinterpretation.
  31. The primary focus of goal-setting should be to achieve performance characteristics over which the age-group swimmer has control.
  32. Racing goals should be established by the athlete and coach as a collaborative activity.
  33. The coach should model emotional control and an absence of stress in the competitive setting.
  34. The planning and organization around competitions that is controlled by the coach should aim at reducing the level of stress for the athlete.
  35. Physical activity should be emphasized in the pre-race period.
  36. Idle time before races allows problems to occur.
  37. Self-talk focusing on the goals of the race assists swimmers to stay on task.
  38. As the race nears, the inexperienced swimmer should imagine what the start will feel like so that the race will be initiated correctly.
  39. Having the swimmer isolate him/herself prior to a race allows time for planned activities to be executed under total self-control.
  40. When a group functions together, stress is reduced.
  41. The experience of a race should be used to guide future training content.
  42. Races should involve successful activities.
  43. Racing performances should be expected to improve if sufficient training time has been made available for improvement to occur.
  44. Racing performances are an indication of training effectiveness.
  45. The content of training should be influenced by weaknesses displayed in a race.
  46. Racing should be viewed as an opportunity to demonstrate to new athletes their improvements and progress in the sport.


Rushall, B. S. (1994). How to develop healthy attitudes towards racing in age-group swimmers: a primer for coaches. Sports Science Associates, 4225 Orchard Drive, Spring Valley, California 91977 (Phone: 619-469-1537) Cost: $20.00 S&H included.

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