Teaching swim lessons and coaching competitive swimming, while similar, are approached in different ways. In competitive swimming, it is not required that everyone have had at least some form of lessons, but it is recommended.
In swim lessons, teachers will mostly be focusing on getting kids comfortable and acquainted with the water. They will also teach children basic skills such as floating, putting their faces in the water, holding their breath, kicking, and jumping in the water, among others. Swim coaches go further, by working on refining strokes, building endurance, working on details (i.e., turns, starts, etc.), and developing mental stamina, strategies and competitiveness.
There are four major strokes in competitive swimming –- freestyle, backstroke, breaststroke and butterfly. Free and back are the easiest, both to teach and to learn, and are developed through progression in the sport. The kick, as well as body position, are important in terms of both the freestyle stroke and the backstroke.
The breaststroke is usually learned after the freestyle and backstroke, and is a more advanced stroke. Head position is important in this stroke, and so is using motion from the chest and hips, rather than relying solely on motion from the arms and legs. The butterfly has the same principles as the breaststroke, and is the hardest stroke to master. With any stroke it's important to know where the body should be in the water.
When it comes to teaching strokes, or coaching athletes in general, patience is key. Breaking down strokes bit-by-bit is the easiest way to teach them. Break the strokes down and try to relate each movement to something the kids already know how to do (i.e., throwing a ball, kicking, etc.). Try to point out things the kids are doing well, rather than what they're doing wrong.
Of course, encourage! Get excited! Motivate! And most importantly, have fun –- joke around, but know where to draw the line between work and play.
Additionally, give parents feedback; don't be afraid to approach them and get them involved. Explain your sport –- some parents don't participate because they don't know what's going on or don't know the lingo. And remember to keep a positive attitude, and continually encourage kids even if they didn't win or drop time.
Kelly Peschl is assistant club coach, Alexandria U.S.A. Swim Club (Minnesota)