When you know some basic synchronized swimming elements, which I hope to help you with, you are all geared up to start your own team, please take into account the following advice, which comes from 25 years of experience.
Please bear in mind that what you want to teach is the awesome Synchronized Swimming sport, not swimming. For example, because it is your first experience in building a team, maybe you or your club is more interested in knowing the interest of the community in the sport, so you do some trials. Good, this is the right track. Let’s continue.
Now, you have a few swimmers that heard about the sport and want to give it a try. You are interested in them and they are in the sport and you want to keep it this way. When you test them you want to pay attention to a few things….they need to:
- Know how to swim – Not an awesome technique, but the correct one. I will explain later the importance of this.
- Feel comfortable with their heads underwater – You would be thinking “duh” and yes, I share the thought, but a lot of swimmers that want to do synchronized swimming do not really think about this specific aspect of the sport and having to keep their heads underwater for relatively long periods of time.
- Have the age to pay attention – This starts I believe around 8 years old. Before this age, what you will have is recreational synchronized swimming or you can call it, Introduction to Synchronized Swimming, which is awesome also, and you can use it as an introduction for competition synchronized swimming.
Ok so now, why it is important for the girls (yes, usually girls respond, not the boys) to know how to swim? This is really a simple answer because you want to TEACH synchronized swimming. So, why do you make a big deal out of this? Well, in my experience, the importance of having a big group of potential swimmers swimming in my club team has been more important for the club ($$$$) than for the development of a good, solid base synchronized swimming program and so, I have had swimmers with scissor breaststroke kick (when they kick with a knee in instead of both out) that, as a result, delays the learning of a good eggbeater (basic synchro) or good body boost, because they did not learn well this swimming style from the beginning. As you can see it may seem small, but then affects more and more things. If you want to start things right from the beginning, this will be key, although I totally understand if it does not go your way.
Here is a guide to a simple test that you can use to evaluate a potential synchronized swimmer (again, most of the time it does not work like this, but we can all dream):
- Swimming styles: Freestyle, backstroke, and breaststroke
- Underwater: see how far can they swim underwater or how long can their hold their breath.
- Float: On their back relax, then with the legs together, arms up, arms down, you can play with this.
- Teach a little bit of the eggbeater.
What to look for with this little test
Freestyle: you want them to swim with the head in the water, not over it. Also, watch out for the right breathing. If the swimmer does this right, go the extra mile. Ask the swimmer to breathe every third stroke. This is how you ultimately would like your swimmer to swim a freestyle stroke. You will search for bilateral control, but this can also be taught or worked on. See also this post on synchronized swimming for 5th graders.
Backstroke: you want them to layout in the water as much as possible, get the ears wet and look at the ceiling/sky, with hips close to the surface of the water and nice long lined-up strokes.
Breaststroke: here is the tricky one. Look for a right kick. You really do not want to spend time teaching this, because the swimmer that learns this the wrong way, takes a long time fixing it, or this has been my experience. And you might not have enough time in your training to teach the swimmer, plus synchronized swimming. They don’t need to swim like Rogers “Tiger” Holmes, but some understanding is welcome.
Underwater: First you want to see the level of confidence the swimmer has in the water and also it is good to know her limits. Usually, it can be from one second up to 10 seconds. If the swimmer does more than this, awesome! There is no right or wrong on this exercise but the athlete needs to be willing to always go for more.
Float: It is not determining, but for an 8-year old that does not float, or does not feel comfortable laying down in the water, it will be really hard to do synchronized swimming since many of the basic positions start like this. You can even at this moment teach them other synchronized swimming basic positions like back layout, tub and tuck positions.
Eggbeater: It is really hard for a swimmer to learn eggbeater on the first day, but it can give you some feedback on how well they listen to your instructions and respond to them. Also important is a basic butterfly swimming technique for kids.
When you are starting a new synchronized swimming group it is not only exciting for you, but also for the swimmers. Try to keep this emotion alive by bringing new challenges to the training every single day.
With the club team you are working with, set goals for the first year, to build a school with two to three days of training a week, but do have in mind that, if everything goes well, you will grow and will need some help. In other words, do not recruit only swimmers, but also other coaches, especially ones with experience in flexibility field like gymnastics, ballet, dance, etc. that can help with this important aspect of the sport.
If you are one person, do not try to have more than 12 swimmers at the same time. It is almost impossible to teach good, quality synchronized swimming with more than this.
Now, go, start your synchronized swimming team and then tell me all about it. Go, come on, you can do it! I believe in you! Go, stop reading, go, go, go!! 😉