Produced, edited, and copyrighted by
Professor Emeritus Brent S. Rushall, San Diego State University
Volume 8, Number 1: January 12, 2006


Forbes Carlile and I recently viewed some unimpressive performances at an age-group swim meet and discussed beliefs versus evidence in both religion and swimming coaching. Forbes asked if I would list 20 coaching principles that are now beyond discussion or cannot be argued to the contrary based on beliefs. The list, in no order of preference or exclusivity as being the "most important" except for the initial placing of skill instruction considerations, follows.

Swimming coaching is largely a religion1. As each interpreter of this religion, that is each coach, selects appealing beliefs as well as imposing his/her own "insightful" interpretations and inventions, the content of swimming coaching continues to increase in its absurdity and error at the expense of what is known through replicated, scientific evidence. The dissemination of swimming coaching information appears to favor belief-based reasoning/fantasy rather than independently verified evidence. It is against that background that these 20 items are proposed. Not to adhere to these 20 tenets of swimming coaching is to act with ignorance and malpractice.

Skill Instruction Considerations

  1. Instruction in the manner of developing propelling forces, reducing frontal and wave resistances, and executing the non-stroking skills (e.g., dives, turns) should be the major emphasis of any swimming program for any group of swimmers.
  2. Instruction that emphasizes flat body-head positions in all strokes should aim to reduce both frontal and wave resistance. This involves the concept of "swimming postural integrity".
  3. Propulsive forces are developed by the arms in all strokes.
  4. The tempo of strokes should be even and continuous.
  5. The application of propelling forces should be achieved with the following characteristics.

Physical Conditioning Considerations

  1. Once peak general fitness is attained, the physical conditioning of swimmers should be divided into exact stimulations and active recovery.
  2. Remove all activities that are irrelevant to the performance of competitive swimming strokes and/or which reduce the time of relevant practice. Dispose of all paddles, fins, or other training devices and paraphernalia used in belief-based programs. The Principle of Specificity and the unerring history of neuromuscular patterning warrant this act. Swimmers like equipment-supported activities (e.g., finning, paddling) because they are easier to perform than free swimming.2
  3. Recovery within and between practice sessions is more important than overload within a session. Rest and recovery are necessary for exercise adaptation to occur. Without them, overload training will not improve performance but will degrade the health and physical status of the swimmer.
  4. Remove high-intensity weight training and excessive stretching. High-intensity weight training damages muscle tissues, and sometimes connective tissues. Excessive stretching (now referred to as "abusive stretching") damages the connective tissues of joints, reduces performance, and in swimming, increases the likelihood of shoulder, knee, and hip injuries.
  5. Remaining swimmingly fit for the entire year removes the need to have sustained periods of hard work. Each swimmer can achieve a maximal level of general and specific swimming fitness within a relatively short time. The majority of a competitive swimming year should be spent maintaining fitness (which requires less training than when developing or changing fitness) and occasionally boosting fitness perchance it has degraded.

Psychological Considerations

  1. A swimmer always should leave a practice with a positive attitude.
  2. Each swimmer should be able to communicate at least one aspect of swimming that improved in each training session.
  3. Continual improvement (achievement) in skill execution, training segment performances, and knowledge about the sport should be the short-term goals of every microcycle.
  4. Swimmers should only be expected to do in races those things that have been demonstrated repetitively at practices.
  5. Detailed swimmer-involved strategies for pre-race and race executions should be formulated for every meet.

Coaching Behaviors and Considerations

  1. Growing swimmers (from seven years and up) should be expected to improve by ~4% per year.
  2. Whole life-experiences impinge upon adaptation capacity.
  3. At every training session, a coach should demonstrate the following behaviors.
  4. Parents should be involved in all aspects of a swimmer's experience. They are considered by swimmers to be more significant in their lives than are coaches and remain mostly an untapped resource. [The reason for coaches' arrogance in actively disassociating parents from swimmers' experiences is an example of the absurdity of the belief-system surrounding competitive swimming.]
  5. On a daily basis, coaches should endeavor to learn one new relevant evidence-based feature about swimming coaching and implement one new relevant evidence-based feature at practice. [This is a strategy proposed to thwart boring coaching and boring swimming experiences; boredom being one of the most potent demotivators and ingredients of overtraining.]

All of the above items are evidence-based, that is, published scientific studies have verified their content. Before disagreeing with any of these edicts, a coach should investigate the extent of both pro and con positions for the item in the published scientific, as distinct from the swimming, literature.



1The traditional formulation of the tenets of swimming coaching has followed similar steps as those of structuring traditional religions, although not as aged. The rejection of evidence in favor of ideas or personal convictions of subjective observations (aka "revelations") is embedded in the history of swimming coaching and has survived primarily through the acceptance of beliefs. This procedure is perpetuated by the unquestioned coaching behavior of inventing unique postulations about swimming and its improvement presumably to offer a program that is unavailable elsewhere. A motivation behind this ploy is to attract better performing customers than other coaches. Within the religion of swimming, are dogma proposed as "truths" that will affect swimming performance in a positive manner. In a real discourse, those truths are shown to be nothing more than fictions for they are not supported by objective evidence.

2 It is common to hear coaches speaking of paddles "overloading" the arms or "increasing awareness of a good hand position", or other such beliefs despite these "aids" making swimming less demanding for performers. Their being easier is one reason why they are preferred by swimmers.

Return to Table of Contents for Carlile Coaches' Forum.