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by Terry Heggy

October 16, 2018

Communication is key to great coaching

Tremendous technical knowledge of swimming’s stroke subtleties has no value if you can’t effectively pass it on to our swimmers. Therefore, communication is the cornerstone of the coaching craft.

You have an abundance of communication resources, including email and social media, the way you write the workouts, and links to U.S. Masters Swimming articles and videos. But when you’re on the deck with swimmers in the water, your voice and body language become your primary communication tools.

Here are some ideas to improve the vocal component of your coaching.

Read the Room

Most pools aren’t designed with acoustic perfection as a goal, so it’s often a challenge to make yourself heard. You may not be able to do much about it, but you should at least investigate improving the conditions if you can.

  • Explore amplification—If your facility has a sound system (microphone, amp, and speakers), consider using it to explain your workouts. A mobile mic is best, because you want to maintain eye contact with swimmers as you speak.
  • Eliminate echo in indoor venues—Flat walls and floors of indoor venues let the sound bounce around, so look for ways to break up or absorb those echoes. Foam baffle panels hung from the ceiling or attached to the wall are great, but even a few towels draped in front of certain surfaces may help.
  • Suppress surrounding sounds—During workouts, turn down the music when you’re giving instruction, close the pump room doors, and silence any unnecessary machinery.
  • Stand in the sweet spot—Test various deck locations to see which position gives you the best chance to be heard by the entire team.

If conditions are really bad, your team may be willing to do fundraising to finance acoustic upgrades. Age-group teams, water aerobics groups, and even the lifeguard staff may be delighted to contribute.

Volume and Projection

You may think of coaching as an intellectual activity, but I’d urge you to also think of it as something like a stage performance.

  • Practice projection—Breathe deeply and use your diaphragm to put power behind your voice. If that’s challenging for you, consider taking lessons from a vocal coach. The team expects you to run the workout with authority and confidence, and your strong voice inspires them to find their best effort.
  • Focus on faces—In addition to making personal contact with each swimmer at every workout, strive to ensure that everything you share is actually received. Make eye contact (especially with those farthest away) so you can spot indications of confusion that result from not hearing (or understanding) what the coach has said. Learn which swimmers might have hearing loss and take care to ensure they get the message, too.
  • Enhance with emphasis—Use your body to demonstrate the concepts you talk about, such as turning your head when you talk about breathing. Change your speech cadence to match your intent, as well. In other words, if the drill is about stroke length, stretch out the word “l-o-n-g” when you say it. If you want them to sprint, raise your pitch and say your words rapidly to givetheimpressionofspeed!
  • Establish your signature—Just as every baseball announcer has a unique home run call, each Masters coach should have a signature shout. Whether it’s the way you start a set by yelling “Ready, go!”, “Hup!”, or even honking like a horn, your swimmers will learn to recognize your style and respond to it during competition.
  • Critique confidentially—Although it’s an asset to have a booming voice for talking to the team, individual conversations should be up close and personal. When you have stroke suggestions or other comments for a specific person, bend down and speak quietly so that the message becomes theirs alone. Use these personal conversations to develop trust with each member of your team.

Whatever your style, your presence on the deck should be unmistakable. Take pride in being seen and heard!


  • Coaches Only


  • Coaches
  • Coaching
  • Communication