Thursday, March 1, 2012

The Mysterious Mind of a 7 Year Old....

Most coaches grow……”tired” of coaching 8&Under’s (I guess that’s a nice way to put it!).  You must have patience beyond belief.  You are working with little ones submerged in water.  You can not hear under there!  They have goggles on, but half the time they are filled with water so they are blind as well!  They are bumping into each other constantly, which for a 6 year old is a big deal.  “Stop touching me!”  “Billy grabbed my leg!” …… it never ends….  

Patience, Patience, Patience.  I cannot tell you the number of times that a swim parent has told me “I have no idea how you do it.”

What are 8&Unders REALLY after?  When I think about how to deal with a swimmer who is 6-7-8 years old I think “What do they like to do?” 

Have fun?  Maybe.
Swim fast?  Maybe.
Drink a gallon of Gatorade in an hour?  Maybe.

ALL kids, not just swimmers, like one thing over anything else.  They like getting better at THINGS.  At what?  WHO CARES?  They come home from school and they say “I can count to 10!”, “I know the alphabet!”, “I got a 100% on my state capitals test!”, “I can do 40x200’s IM on 3 minutes!”…..

I try to help put them into situations where they CAN get better, they CAN get recognized for it, and they WANT to take it to the next level.  At practice we try to do awesome stuff and then I always include a “Great job!  Maybe next time you can do those while breathing every 3rd?, that would be awesome!” or a “1:50 is a great time for you! How long before you are under 1:40?”  Get them excited about their accomplishments and get them excited about the next step as well!

How do communicate with 8&Under’s?
·       I joke.  Constantly.  Sure, they almost never get my jokes, but it keeps me laughing!  As I said in my last blog post – I constantly refer back to something my brother once told me: “If you are not having fun, they are not having fun.”

·       We keep things neat and concise.  We focus on a few things a day AND we switch it up.  Some people will tell you that children learn better when you take one skill, work on it all practice and really focus in on it.  Some will tell you that you should mix things up.  I find that doing a little of both of those seems to work best.  We will work on a skill for a while, then move to something else.  We may only spend 10 minutes on Backstroke finishes, but we will do that every day until they have mastered the skill.  I like to target 4 skills a month and then switch to different skills the next month (while still touching on the previous skills).  Instead of spending four 10 minute blocks of time on streamlines in a month (where a swimmer will miss 1-2 of those sessions), we are spending twelve 10 minute blocks.  We really get SOMETHING done this way. 

·       I ask questions.  What is your favorite stroke?  What is your favorite thing about swim practice?  What is your favorite animal?  Who do you think would win in a swimming race – a walrus or an alligator?  This is a chance to talk to the swimmers about something other than swimming if I want.  It not only keeps me entertained, but it also lets the kids tell stories.  They learn that the pool is a place where you can laugh, have fun, and do some swimming at the same time!  Once they are hooked then in a few years you can crank out 50x400’s Butterfly or something…….


I have a saying about 8&Unders:  “Keeping it simple keeps the coach sane.”

One year I worked with a group of almost 40 8&Unders at the same time.  Sure there was another coach there…but come on!  40 kids ages 6-7-8 in 6 lanes?  There were a lot of swimmers, questions from the swimmers, goggle problems from the swimmers….a lot of everything.  One of the things that seemed to help settle everyone down at the start of practice was working on one of the most complicated movements for 8&Unders - the backstroke flipturn.  We started each practice with backstroke flipturns and it was great.  Everyone had plenty of backstroke flipturn work.  It was our warm up that had a purpose.  If a swimmer was running late, they could just hop in and start doing some turns.  They knew the drill.  I didn’t have to explain the warm up to each of the 5 kids that came late that day while taking my eyes off of the swimmers who did come on time.  This really taught me that showing the swimmers what you expect was key.  The swimmers could do something that they understood and we could congratulate them for doing a good job instead of getting frustrated and end up yelling at them. 

I gave up on teaching these kids complicated things years ago.  I have a list in my head of maybe 2-4 things for each stroke that 8&Unders need to know.  I do not usually worry about much outside of that list.  If they master those and they are ready for the next level of the team.  I let those coaches deal with more complicated stuff!

What about teaching them stuff that doesn’t have to do with “swimming”?
Teaching younger swimmers the “in’s and outs” of how to be on a swim team is a very rewarding experience that other age group coaches down the line appreciate!  We have many conversations about where to go at swim meets.  How to count our strokes.  How to use the pace clock to find out when to leave the wall.  How to get our times from the pace clock.  Doing these things teaches the swimmers to take some responsibility for themselves, their sport, and their performances.  It builds confidence.  It encourages them to master new skills on their own.  I think this is something our program really benefits from and will continue to benefit from as swimmers come through our program.  It is something that takes time and may not show results in the 25 Freestyle, but will show up later.  Major confidence builder.  Confidence is KEY.

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