Teaching your baby to swim (part 2 – front floating)

Once your child is confident at skill 1 the next step is to teach front floating.

Floatation is a base skill for swimming

In this stage the 4 steps to succcess are

1. Holding – supporring under the torso in a horizontal position

2. Part face in the water

3. Face in water

4. Independant floating.

u swims YouTube channel is a great resource for video examples of all of this

Always remember the
Name, Ready, Go” instruction from skill 1

Once your child is confident in preforming this skill consistently they are ready for skill 3

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Conditioning your baby, how to teach your baby to swim

In this little series if blogs I hope to give some advicd on how to prepare your child for their 1st swimming lesson

At Peter Hill Swimming we want every child to enjoy the water in a safe environment

Quite often I get asked what can we, as parents, do before we come to swimming lessons.

I found this really very good YouTube channel that will show you in very basic steps how you can make your child’s experience of the water as enjoyable and positive as possible.

In this video the  ‘name, ready, go’ instruction is vital. Use it in their bathtime as an intoduction. 
We use it in the lessons in Sullivan with our beginners.


If you have any questions don’t hesitate to ask.

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posted by Peter


I have heard coaches, parents, swimmers saying things like they practice until what they do becomes 2nd nature. Until it becomes automatic.

Got me thinking…….

Do I really want the athletes I coach to preform as if it has become automatic?
Now I’m not an authority by any stretch of the imagination so may be I’m wrong on this but I’m not entirely sure this is what I am aiming for.

What exactly does it mean to be automated?

The dictionary definitions are
1. The technique, method, or system  of operating or controlling a process by highly automatic means, reducing human intervention to a minimum.

2. A device that functions automatically without input from the operator.

Now i appreciate that these definitions are not specifically talking about sport but it doesn’t sound to me like this should be our aim as coaches.

Any one who knows me knows that I believe that we are that which we repeatedly do. I believe that in order to achieve perfection there must be repetition and a lot of it. I believe it takes 10000 perfect practices to achieve perfection.

So is this a form of automation?

I don’t believe so no.

In fact I believe that we practice so much so that we can avoid automation at all costs.

Automation to me imply that the athlete has disengaged from whatever activity they are doing. I want my athletes to be actively in the moment at every stage. I want them to know how to react to every situation and have the ability to respond.

In my opinion we, as coaches, need to teach our athletes to think for themselves, to assess what they are doing in every set and actively learn from each experience. I don’t want them to become automated in their approach to training or racing THAT is the exact reason we train so much.

Does this conflict with my believe in the highly structured controlled environment I want to create?
I don’t think so.

My aim is to encourage every athlete in the club system to become more thoughtful in what they do, more concidered in their approach and try things. When they fail, they learn and they improve.

This learning and constant evolution of skills as we strive for perfection, in my opinion,  means that, if we are to become  truly world class, we move beyond automation to a higher level of execution.

Just a short 1 today. Till tomorrow

posted by Peter

Creating a High Performing Centre (part 3)

I guess the most visually obvious, the most tangible, factor in developing any program is the squad structure. Can you design a structure that allows, or rather, encourages athletes to develop at their own pace in an environment where failure is seen as a learning opportunity.

I decided a while ago that I was going to go fully down the LTAD path. To apply the principles directly to the squad structure as possible.

Long Term Athlete Development (LTAD) is a sports development framework that is based on human growth and development. In short, it is about adopting an athlete-centred approach aimed at achieving optimal training, competition and recovery throughout an athlete’s career, particularly in relation to the important growth and development years of a young person’s life.

So this blog is really an outline of the squad structure I have landed on. I warn you its not exactly ground breaking or revolutionary (which disappoints me a little – I was hoping people would see me as a visionary)

Scientific research has shown that it takes at least 10 years, or 10,000 hours, for talented athletes to achieve sporting excellence.

There are two ways in which young swimmers can improve their performance:

1. Training
2. Growth & development

All young people follow the same general pattern of growth from infancy through adolescence, but there are significant individual differences in both the timing and magnitude of the changes that take place.

A number of scientists have reported that there are critical periods in the life of a young person in which the effects of training can be maximised. This has led to the notion that young people should be exposed to specific types of training during periods of rapid growth and that the types of training should change according to individual patterns of growth.

These findings have been used by Dr Istvan Balyi to devise a five stage LTAD framework that has been adapted to swimming:

1. FUNdamental – basic movement literacy (female 5-8yrs, male 6-9yrs)
2. SwimSkills – building technique (female 8-11yrs, male 9-12yrs)
3. Train to train – building the engine (female 11-16 years, male 12-15yrs)
4. Training to compete – optimising the engine (female 14-16yrs, male 15-18yrs)
5. Train to Win – maximising the engine (female 16+yrs, male 18+yrs)

Obviously when implementing a new structure there is a choice go make. Do you go with a soft transition and move towards the ideal or do you make all the changes overnight.

The path I have decided upon is a hard change to a structure designed so that each squad fits as closely as possible to a stage of the LTAD. HOWEVER I have compromised a little on the suggested ages (though I hope that in future years we can move more towards these ages)

STAGE 1.  FUNdamentals
We are very lucky to have a dedicated Learn To Swim in the club. This undertook a serious overhaul last year in order to make it work more effectively. We currently run in line with the Swim Ireland LTS structure. Starting with stage 1 and working through to stage 6. Once the young athletes pass stage 6 they get offered a place in the ‘club proper’.
I am not entirely sure that the Swim Ireland model is the best that every can use. It is very good at providing a range of aquatic skills for everyone coming through the door however I think there are a lot of things in it that we don’t need in order to provide swimmers in a way we need. Maybe there I a way we can distille the system in future down to the bare bones and get a more effective efficient teaching program, but for now we operate this way.
The entry level in the club is where swimmers finish off the 1st stage of the LTAD. We call this the Academy Squad.

The Academy
This is a 3 tired squad. The main ethos behind it is that it takes the stage 6 graduates who can swim 4 strokes and breaks their strokes down to rebuild in the way we want them to swim. (I believe that we can shorten this stage if we revamp the LTS at some point so that it works better for us rather than as generic as it currently is)
In terms of swimming : –
Tier 1 focuses entirely on balance on all 4 strokes. We work on head lead and then hand lead kicking on all 4 strokes and how this relates directly into full stroke.
Tier 2 focuses on basic drills. These are arm drills that look to improve movement patterns for all 4 strokes. These are obviously related directly back to full stroke swimming.
Tier 3’s focus is on more advanced hesitation drills that improve learnt movements teaching swimmers to pause, assess and correct while learning self assessment.
Along side this we aim to teach racing starts and turns.

STAGE 2. Swim Skills
The Swim skills section of our club is the Development Squad. Once again this stage has 2 tiers (ultimately I don’t want 2 tiers but as an interim step in order to correct a previous habit of rushing through this stage this is what we have). Like I said I believe that this stage of the LTAD is the 1 we tend to either overlook or rush too much. Trying to change this habit is the area I am having diffulty convincing people of. The over riding feeling seems to be that taking the focus of this squad away from performance and towards developing skills is a backward step. It is my conviction that taking g an extra year at this stage is more than worth it.
Better skilled swimmers at this stage have more chance of achieving their optimum performance later on in their career.
This squad runs on an 8 week cycle and assessment is on an ongoing basis but because the next stage in the club sees and increase in training volume and intensity I also feel it is appropriate to wait for PHV before promoting anyone even if they possess the right skill base. This means that the age limit on this squad is a biological one not a chronological one.

STAGE 3. Train to Train
Now this is where I may deviate from the letter of the LTAD a little. I do believe that this stage of development is about taking the skills and technique developed through the 1st 2 stages and building on them. But rather than focusing on volume my focus is on teaching the athletes to train in a way that I will ask them to train in the next stage. Letting them experience the sort of work we will be doing but on a smaller scale. Teaching them that failure is ok, that it is an opportunity to learn and become better. We will start emparting the tools they will need to become self sufficient in this sport. One of the things that I have really started to work on is putting my stopwatch away. I have found that when I’m not timing I’m actually coaching more. Started me thinking that rather than timing everyone and calling times out (during which I a missing the actual swimming), which really isn’t coaching but simply providing training,  im going to insist on coaches actually coaching.
Now i appreciate that this may seem like commonsense, and I accept that it def should be, however bad habits sneak in and coaches can get stuck providing training.

STAGE 4. Train to compete
This is a new thought process for me, I have traditionally been a volume coach, but recently i started thinking a little differently. What is endurance training for swimming really? Is it not the ability to hold race pace and form for 200/400 meters (or whatever race distance you are doing)? I used to take some pride out of swimmers being able to complete a 10,000 meter swim set, but they never won anything really. So I started reading about some alternatives and there are a lot out there.
So now at this stage of the LTAD (and in our Youth squad) we shift the focus onto the swimmers ability to compete. We focus on 200 stroke swims and 400 FS which I believe, coming from Northern Ireland is the safe bet and gives a good competitive base. If anyone shows an aptitude for longer (or shorter) distances then we train them for those.
We focus heavily on skills involved in racing and the athletes ability to hold pace for prolonged periods of time.
I have borrowed some thoughts from USRPT and when we do race pace we stop if we not holding pace and aim to get up to three times race distance total volume per set.

STAGE 5. Train to Win
As things stand we currently do not have the swimmers for this stage of development. While we have swimmers who have broken national records for fun this year I do not consider this to be winning. The standard of Irish swimming is such that breaking records is possible in the train to train and compete phases.  Again I may be wrong but the impression I get is that swimmers in Ireland win national titles and break records and are happy with that. I want that to change and I want there to be a pinnacle to this LTAD pyramid.
I have been fortunate enough to place swimmers on every national team that has been available, it is, given the right application by coach and swimmer, not that hard (in Ireland if you make the time you usually make the team) however making the team should be not be the pinnacle. The pinnacle is seeing Irish swimmers standing on podiums at International meets.

So this is the challenge, this is the whole purpose of the LTAD, to provide the right stimulus at the right time to enable peak performance. Will that peak be the Olympics for everyone? No. But the pinnacle will be that persons ‘Olympic performance’ their ultimate, highest possible achievement.


posted by Peter

Developing a Culture of Success

I’m not really sure where this is gonna fit within the little series of posts I have been making. Maybe it wont fit at all.

But having spent some time reading and gathering some information on how to develop a program in which excellence can become the expected norm. It seems that the root of it can be distilled down to 4 basic building blocks thoough having these blocks in place is not sufficient, the real challenge is the extent to which they are positively influencing athletic performance within the training environment. Does my stated purpose or ambition inspire people, does it challenge them, and does it align the athletes in a way that drives everyone to achieve more?

1. ‘Unreasonable ambition’ Engage everyone behind a goal to become the best possible swimmer they can be. People are at their best when in pursuit of a great goal or challenge; one which excites them and challenges them. A journey of transformation starts with a single minded determination by both coaches and athletes to try and become the best they can possibly be. Although starting with individuals they act as a catalyst to this shift in mindset and it very quickly becomes a shared ambition – the mindset of aiming for excellence is contagious. The genuine pursuit to try and become the best in the world at something that can have a huge impact on the culture in a club. Suddenly every event, every training session, even every meal you eat; is measured against the standard demanded by that aim. If we are to great that culture where success is inevitable the athletes must be challenged every day with goals that they have to stretch to achieve.

2. Create a culture of responsibility

‘If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood or assign them tasks, but rather teach them to long for the immensity of the sea’ – Antoine de Saint-Exupery

‘My aim as performance director has been to build a team of world experts, and give them responsibility which challenges and allows them to excel’ –  Dave Brailsford, British Cycling

The role of a coach is not too push, but to ‘light a fire’ – to inspire. A subtle but absolutely critical characteristic of the highest performing environments, is that the drive for improvement comes from the athletes. They are being challenged and supported in their pursuit of excellence, but the ‘push’ comes from them. In order to develop a high performing centre we have to created a generation of athletes who are: Ambitious – intent on being the best , and believe they can be Questioning – scientific in their approach to thinking about performance, searching for anything that can give them an edge Disciplined – in their application of what they know they need to do in order to win So where does this inner drive and responsibility for performance come from? So as the coach how do we create thus responsibility? The first step is to create a hunger in every individual to try and become the best in the world in their role, coupled with constant feedback on where they are against that standard. The second is to give individuals much more responsibility. Start to replace the drive from the coach with a shared ambition in the players to win and excel, and a greater responsibility for improving performance. Steve Redgrave said of his coach

‘most coaches gave us detailed instructions for how to conduct the race, with different [rowing] rates for every 10 metres.’ Jürgen’s approach was to give us much more responsibility for working it out ourselves, ‘I want you to lead the race by one boat length at half way, & then open up the lead.’

They did, and they won. However autonomy without clarity of goals or accountability, is a recipe for disappointment. But when combined with a clear focus and accountability, it is the key ingredient to unlocking potential. Unlock potential in people by getting them to challenge themselves to a higher standard, to aim to be the best they can.

3. Turn winning into a science

“Your training plan [strategy] has to excite you. If you don’t think ‘in my hand I have a piece of paper which is like a recipe, a blue print, for winning a gold medal’; then scrap it and start again.

Sir Chris Hoy Trying hard is not enough The desire to win is an essential ingredient for achieving excellence, but it is not enough. The use of sports science to develop a much better understanding of what success depends on is essential to allow us to focus our energies on the areas that will give the greatest returns. There are (at least) three key areas we need to excel at in order to be the best Psychology – mental strength and the ability to stay calm and resourceful under pressure Physiology – power through the stroke, and fitness to maintain that power through the race Technique – effectiveness and efficiency in the application of the power through the stroke to make the swimmer travel faster To gain an edge in psychology high performance centres need to seek out the best available psychologists available. It is my personal belief that when competing at the highest level this is the area swimmers in Ireland need to spend more time on. When it comes to gaining an advantage through technology we are limited as a sport as every races in the same suit. However we should look to using technology within training as possible. Any way swimmers can get immediate feedback on their stroke length stroke rate and pacing has to be benefitial to both the swimmers and the coach. It frees the coach up to spend more time coaching technical aspects of the strokes etc.

“If you want to win at your business – commit yourself to develop a deep understanding of the cause and effect relationship between what you do and the results it produces…”

Jack Welch, GE

4. Focus on ‘speed of learning’ Use feedback and reviews to drive a constant focus on learning and improvement Winning in a highly competitive environment is about hitting a moving target. The best predictor of long term success is not how good you are now, but the learning curve you are on. One of the clearest points of difference to strike you when you spend any time around an elite environment or athlete, is the hunger to learn and improve. It is almost frightening to observe the intensity with which elite level athletes still analyse every race (win or lose), to identify areas for improvement. In the high performing environments in sport, the more an athlete progresses up the performance pathway, the more  time and energy they focus on learning and improvement. The aim of a successful high performing centre is to keep the learning curve steep. This is seems to be in contrast with the attitude of some coaches towards their development in the skills of coaching. While newly qualified coaches may embrace a steep learning curve when they first start out or step up to a new level of responsibility, this tends to flatten out very quickly as they grow confident that they are doing an ‘okay’ job. The ambition to be the best in the world, both from a training group and individual perspective, creates a very powerful hunger and positive pressure to constantly improve. Every event or training session is judged against this standard; and the athletes know that if they rest on their laurels for one minute, the competition will eat up any advantage they have gained. Clarity of focus and insight into what winning depends on. The better you understand what success depends on, the clearer you are on what you need to focus on in order to improve. Finally, and critically, the quality and frequency of feedback athlete’s receive on how they are performing (and improving) in each of the key areas of performance. A High Performing Centre sets a standard that every one understands. The coach encourages an understanding of what world class looks like and every single session is measured against that benchmark. The swimmers start to evaluate their performances alongside this model with limited input from the coach. Again allowing the coach to focus more intently on areas of concern. In order to build the club into a high performing centre the head coach must demand excellence of the teachers and squad coaches . No role has more impact on the performance of an organisation, and creating and expectation of excellence from the coaching team is the most important building block of a performance culture.

5. Whole system teamwork: It is useful to think about two types of teamwork. The first being teamwork between individuals in a clear distinct work team (like athletes on a team). The second being teamwork across traditional boundaries [between teams]. The second of these offers a far greater competitive advantage because it is much harder to create.

“If you could get all the people in an organisation rowing in the same direction, you could dominate any industry, in any market, against any competition, at any time…”  Patrick Lencioni

No one in sport is going to disagree but while we all get the importance of teamwork, it seems harder than it should be to make it happen. Developing teamwork is like trying to produce penicillin; you can not force it to grow, what you have to do is create the right conditions for it to emerge over time. Creating a team is about more than a training squad supporting each other ghrough sessions it is the synergy between the different support functions behind the athletes which is key to their individual development. This includes a wide network of coaches; psychologists, innovative coaches who understand the  mechanics of swimming; strength and conditioning coaches, dieticians etc. who know how to get the best out of the human body; and the swimmers themselves. So what are the key conditions for creating teamwork across an organisation?

1. Unite people with a common goal which trumps any individual interests Ego and self interest are often the enemy of teamwork, but you can’t get rid of ego. The key is to unite people behind a common purpose which is more meaningful than their self interest alone.

2. Engender a sense of collective accountability and responsibility to each other: Ensure people understand why teamwork can make a difference to performance. If we can ensure the athletes understand this and will therefore be willing to invest energy in making it work. Where the interdependency and opportunity for adding value to each other is a bit more subtle, it is up to the leader to make the link with performance more explicit. One idea might be a process of contracting between the athletes and the support staff agreeing a set of behaviours they were happy to be held accountable to. These behaviours covered areas like support of each other, ground rules for no negative talk etc. Getting the athletes to come up with the standards themselves was critical, a key aspect of teamwork is accountability to each other, not just to the leader.

3. Create a culture of open (and openness to) feedback and challenge of each other Swimming is obviously an individual sport and athletes have to balance the difficult dynamic of trainjng together and then competitng againsg each ogher and supporting each other and celebrating each others success as a team. A benefit of in a training squad is that the individuals are in each others face day in day out, and this makes it a lot easier to create an environment of open (and openness to ) feedback and and challenges from each other. The challenge here for HPC is that we have to create opportunities for people to come together, to develop relationships and practice performing together – always with the back drop of an understanding that this is in the name of us all swimming faster.

Not so much of  how to when it come to developing this HPC. Rather a few points that have been buzzing around since reading a lot about what links HPC and what common characteristics they have.

The challenge for me as the Head Coach is how do I change the mentality of the athletes under my direction and their parents and the coaching /teaching staff working in the club.

I think the potential is huge in Ireland and I believe we are just waiting for a group of swimmers to take the bull by the horns make the tough decisions and be the 1st to actually do something about it.  Someone not afraid of saying good enough is not good enough.

Fingers crossed this will be there first step

posted by Peter

Adventures in Swimming

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