As a swim coach, are you demonstrating correctly to your swimmers? Using correct demonstrations will fast-track the development of swimmers under your guidance.

Everybody has heard the old saying that a picture paints a thousand words. When you stand as a coach in front of athletes, the picture you paint will assist or detract from their skill and technique development. Coaches must use correct demonstration whenever they show their athletes how to improve their technique.

To demonstrate correctly, you must firstly have a solid grasp on the correct stroke model for each competitive stroke. Stroke models are a key to teaching correct stroke patterns and providing feedback to correct strokes. You can access comprehensive stroke models as part of your membership to Swim Coach Advantage. We not only provide stroke models for the 4 strokes but also include stills and videos of each key element of each stroke. This stuff is gold and will help you tremendously with your coaching.

Demonstrating a new skill or technique is an important component of coaching and it is the most common means of communicating on skill performance.

Good demonstrations, performed with a live model or through use of videotape, require thought and planning.

Why are good / correct demonstrations so important?

The reason is quite simple: Incorrect demonstrations can be extremely harmful. If you constantly demonstrate incorrectly, the swimmers in your squad will imitate you and they will swim with incorrect technique also. Once they start doing this, it is very hard to make the necessary changes for them to swim with correct technique. So make sure you demonstrate correctly in the first place.

There are three key elements in effective and correct demonstrations:

  • attention,
  • facilitative memory, and
  • coaching / teaching feedback.


The teacher / coach must start by:

  • pre-planning the key points of the demonstration
    • where will they stand to deliver the demonstration – in water (teachers), out of water (teachers & coaches)
    • what are the key messages or points
  • making sure that the environment is conducive to learning
    • Be aware of distractions such as the sun, traffic or other groups
    • Move away from gutters on pool deck due to noise
    • Choose a time or space away from other noises eg aquarobics.
  • Make sure all the participants can see the demonstration
    • All swimmers should be placed in the best possible viewing position for the demonstration
    • The skill should be demonstrated from the angle at which the swimmer will execute it (about to swim in this direction)
    • For complex skills, demonstrate it from several angles (example: butterfly arms)
    • Use a slow motion demonstration always followed by a full speed demonstration, enabling the athlete to perceive and judge the difficulty of the movement. (acceleration at the end of a stroke)
The teacher / coach must then:
  • focus only on the key points of the movement
    • the average person has a limited capacity to take in and store meaningful information, especially on a new task.
    • Eg teaching a new task (freestyle arms, legs might drop off, focus on arms)
  • never overload the learner with information
    • especially if it isn’t critical to the successful execution of the skill.

As a rule of thumb, each demonstration should be two or three key points and focus or use cues on these points during the demonstration.  The learner’s attention should be directed to the most relevant aspects of the skill.  The coach should then alternate short periods of practice with demonstration.

Facilitative Memory

For optimal retention, it is important to have the athletes practice the skill immediately after the demonstration.  The practice skill should mirror the demonstration to maintain the continuity of the teaching progression.

Mental practice can also be a tremendous aid in skill retention. The learner should be taught to imagine the skill as vividly as possible (e.g., complete with colour, environmental conditions, crowd noise, etc.).  The athlete should, in short, imagine himself executing the skill correctly and successfully.

The activity can be practiced individually or in a group situation.

When teaching the athletes this concept, the coach should observe these simple guidelines:

  1. Have them close their eyes and “picture” the perfect execution of the skill.
  2. Ask them to mentally summarise the key points you have taught them.
  3. Have them verbally summarise these points.

Advantages of mental practice:

  1. Provides practice of the cognitive and decision-making aspects of the skill.
  2. Enables the athlete to rehearse the possible actions, strategies, and probable outcomes of the actual performance.
  3. Builds confidence for subsequent performance, which allows for effective management of stress and anxiety.


Feedback from a knowledgeable teacher / coach is critical to the learning process for all swimmers.  Teachers or coaches who do not interact with the athlete will severely impair the quality of practice.  Proper feedback motivates the athlete to try harder, learn faster, and improve his capability to correct mistakes.

So, what is proper feedback?

  • The feedback should be concise, clear, and specific.

The most common type of feedback revolves around errors. It is extremely important for the feedback to be given in a positive manner.  For instance, rather than shouting, “No, no, that’s all wrong!”, when a mistake is made, it would be better to say, “This is a much more efficient way to do it!”

This will help the athlete focus on the correction rather than on the embarrassment incurred by the mistake. It is an especially effective technique in the early stages of working with very young swimmers.

Coaches should also focus on providing feedback for positive behaviour. Coaching involves more than correcting mistakes. It must also include rewarding and encouraging athletes for performing well and exerting great effort.  The coach should be liberal with his rewards and encouraging statements, especially with beginning athletes. A simple pat on the back, a smile, a friendly nod, or a “way to go” does wonders in enhancing self-esteem.  It also helps the beginners enjoy what they are doing. Having fun is an integral part of maintaining interest in a sport or a skill.

One caution about rewards: They must be given with sincerity to be effective. The coach should avoid sarcasm, even in a light-hearted manner, as it may foster negative feelings and wounds that may never heal.

World Class Stroke Models

Correct demonstrations should supplement the basic coaching program They should be brief and specific, and should be followed immediately with proper practice.

As a coach or swimmer, it is important to know what good stroke technique looks like. Being able to model perfect technique is an important aspect coaching and swimming and can assist with stroke development and correction. You can now gain access to world-class stroke models for each of the four competitive strokes.