Synchronized swimming for 5th graders

Do you remember this funny video where 5th-grade boys team “showcased” their synchronized swimming skills?

It was a nice joke, in practice, however, synchronized swimming means a lot of work. It starts by creating a routine.

Usually, when you begin to think of ideas for the first time, you have young girls in your team who are enthusiastic and supported by their parents. Maybe they are about around 10 years old or less.

So, here are some ideas for that age group. There is a theme for these group and you will always find in any competition girls swimming to Disney music.  What is famous now, has been or what are the classics?  If ever in doubt I would use Mambo from Perez Prado, the swimmers find it funny and refreshing.

For 11 and 12-year-olds they are starting to develop their own tastes, and this is great, but still, they aren’t old enough to make decisions.  Believe me, if you let them decide or give them the opportunity, usually, they won’t come to an agreement and sometimes they feel like it is too much responsibility on their shoulders. Learn also more if you check out this post about Roger “Tiger” Holmes.

My advice is that you ask them to bring ideas to the pool (music, movie, pictures, concept, dance, make-up, other routines, anything works) at the beginning of the season and from all of those ideas you chose the best three.

Then, you make a vote for that one with the team, so they feel included in the decision and part of the process overall.  Around this age, it is a good time to introduce sharpness (precise arms or leg moves) into the choreography, so I would even consider a Robot or Soldier themes.  If ever in doubt use a popular pop song.


At 13 years of age, they are usually opinionated, especially one of the members of the team.  Is funny around this age also you will start seeing the personalities in the team: the leader, the overachiever, the lazy, the cool, the follower, the shy, the “last one to get the memo” (that was me, just like Dory from Finding Nemo), the artistic, etc.  And this is great because all of these personalities working together create unique pieces for themselves when working as a team.  So, as a coach, I always try to use this in the favor of the swimmers and help them help the team. This way, they will also learn how to best develop their butterfly techniques.

Ok, so, going back to the subject.  At this age, they want to be the coolest, most awesome swimmers in the world, but they are still learning to control the technique and swim together as a team complying with all the requirements (formations, extension, height, etc.).  My advice is that they choose a piece of music that will motivate them, but it is still a defined beat (for a team event…for duet or solo, depends on the swimmers’ skill level).

This way you will make sure that they get inspired by the music, which at the end will energize them in the competition, but also keep the objective of synchronization covered.  At these ages, if they get really into the feel of the choreography, a good theme could be superheroes or any theme that makes them feel powerful.  If ever in doubt just use a movie soundtrack.

For 16-year-olds and up, I would use whichever music gets them excited or inspires four or five of the members because they will later be the ones that lead the rest of the team.  It could be pop, tango, heavy metal or themes about vampires, fire, and ice, technology, yoga; as simple as classical music or as complicated as mythological creatures (mermaids, unicorns or ugly ones like werewolves, dragons).  Whatever floats their boat.

The more involved the swimmers are the better since it will become their precious project.  Here is an example of the development of a routine from zero.  The Granollers Team from Barcelona, Spain wanted to do something unique, and in synchro, it is always unique when the swimmers are the ones that bring ideas to the routine.  The coach explains the same problem “everything has been swum to”, so, she liked Madonna and to her surprise, when she had the idea and shared it with their team, most 13-15 swimmers didn’t know about the Madonna Era, so, they learned it through videos, liked the music beat and created the moves for the routine.

Elegant, exquisite, magnificent aesthetic, cultures and refined are words synonymous with “artistic”.  It is these powerful words which help us realize the magnitude of the task which presents itself each and every time we, as coaches, embark on the process of … creating a routine that will leave a lasting impression on its audience.

“Impression” is defined as “an effect produced especially on the mind or feelings”.  This definition, together with our understanding of the word artistic convey to us the depth of emotion which is necessary in order to be truly successful in developing an artistic impression and to be totally pleased with a dream created.

Our goal, as coaches, when developing artistic impression within a routine, is to create a magnificent whole which reaches the audience on an emotional and personal level.  Capturing the hearts of an audience (and a judging panel!) is a great challenge as individuals have varying personal tastes, especially related to music selection.

Developing an idea or concept for a routine that will appeal to a universal audience is the first step or base in achieving excellence in the area of artistic impression.  It is this concept that will act as our roadmap or blueprint as we embark on our journey of:

  • Selecting and interpreting music
  • Developing choreography
  • Developing and enchanting manner of presentation

The degree to which we are successful at developing each of these areas as well as uniting them toward a single purpose will ultimately shape and eventually determine the impact of our artistic impression. If you need help with teaching your pupils overcoming some sort of fear of water, check out this post. 

“Everything begins with an…idea”

Choosing appropriate music and developing a concept for a routine go hand in hand.  It is interesting to note, however, that coaches/choreographers may use very different approaches in this regard.  Many coaches will begin cultivating an idea by searching for music first.  When they find music that is inspiring they will then proceed to form a concept in their mind which will serve as the basis for developing the routine’s choreography.

Other coaches prefer to develop an idea for the choreography first and then proceed to look for music which will help to carry out their vision.  My personal experience and observation have shown me that both methods can be equally effective in bringing a concept to fruition, as long as one keeps in mind that the music and the concept are inseparable and they must be considered equally in order for the choreography to flourish.

Although there is no secret formula which can be employed when developing an idea and selecting music for routine choreography, I can present you with some food for thought based on my own experience and hopefully, these suggestions will help you in your quest to create a total package.  These thoughts are best summarized as follows:

  • Create your vision first – develop a clear and compelling image of what the finished product will look like and try to put this into rather specific words. This will best enable you to select music that will be appropriate.
  • Evaluate the strengths of your athletes – what music would best suit them based on their present age and skill level, aesthetic qualities, team cohesion (both mentally and physically)
  • Consider your audience like a consumer – how well will your product sell, will your concept be clearly understood and appreciated
  • Draw from other artistic sports and cultural events such as plays, opera’s, and dance productions – often these can provide an inspiration for you to build on
  • Use expert in the field of music – often if you present them with your vision or concept they can suggest music that will be perfect for your needs
  • Select music that inspires creativity in the athletes – the music must suggest something, it must show a strong direction, it must paint a clear picture
  • Select music that fits with your overall concept – there must be a reason for putting the various pieces together
  • Trust your instinct! – if you feel passionate about an idea or a piece of music you will be most likely better able to develop it to its fullest potential. Similarly, if your athletes feel this way, trust their input.
  • If the choreography progresses in a frustrating or painfully slow manner, then perhaps you should reconsider the concept and the music plan you have in mind.

Once you and the athletes have clearly established the vision and the concept and selected the music that will best nurture that concept, the choreography is ready to commence.  A great example is Caroline Krattli, though not a synchronized swimmer, she was an inspiration for many on how to swim disciplined! Your concept and music will provide a guiding force for your routine choreography from start to finish.  The stronger the influence in this area the easier your job will be.

In my most recent years of coaching, I have been fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with various individuals from the field of dance.  Through their knowledge, I have grown to understand the importance of creating a story to fit the music.  It is important to note that the story and the concept are different in that the concept is like the general topic and the story provides the specific details.  Each of the individuals whom I have been fortunate to work with have communicated similar messages.  Their input can be best summarized as follows:

  • the details of the story help to dictate the specific movements in the choreography
  • this, in turn, creates a sense of flow and purpose which will draw the audience into the performance
  • although the audience may never fully understand the story you are trying to portray, so long as it makes clear sense to you they will be able to appreciate the choreography and the overall intent of your message

Creating the actual routine, for many coaches and athletes, is by far the most exciting aspect of our sport.  However, just as coaches have different methods of developing an overall concept for their routine, they will also likely have different approaches to creating routine choreography.  Many coaches, themselves, are highly creative in terms of developing unique movements, transitions, patterns, and highlights and rarely seem to run out of ideas. If you read this article about Rogers “Tiger” Holmes, you’ll get the picture.

Others, however, will need to rely more heavily on stimulating the creative processes within their athletes in order that they will be able to create unique and interesting choreography.  In this approach, the coach acts more as a facilitator, than a director.  I have observed coaches working within both frameworks, and they have been equally effective in achieving an excellent end product.  Often achieving a balance between these two styles can be the most effective way to bring about the desired end result.

When all those individuals involved feel that their ideas are being incorporated into the choreography, there will undoubtedly be a greater sense of ownership to the program.  On a deeper level, I have seen this increased connection to the choreography have a more profound effect on the performance of the athletes.  Their love for the routine was immediately apparent in their performance.

Stimulating creativity in both our athletes and ourselves, as coaches, is an important ingredient in maximizing our choreography.  This result can be best achieved in the following ways:

  • having the athletes develop the story that will shape the choreography
  • watching and gathering insight from those performances in the arts that relate to your routine concept
  • researching movements that relate to your music and concept
  • using experts in other fields, such as dance, to work with the athletes and yourself to explore new limits. This can be particularly helpful in enhancing creativity, increasing variety, and developing the transitions if it is done on an ongoing, consistent basis

As the choreography evolves, it is critical that the vision established at the beginning of the project is not lost as the work progresses.  It is important to keep the clear and compelling image of what you want the routine to look like at the forefront of your mind in order to keep the choreography consistently on track.  This notion probably explains why it is often the case that routines which take less time to choreograph usually result in a more complete package.  Conversely, when choreography proceeds slowly, the original vision is often lost and the final product ends up fragmented.

At this point in my presentation, I would like to touch briefly on the area of music interpretation, as this is a very important component to consider when working to enhance the artistic impression of any routine.  Interpreting, or “bringing out the meaning of the music”, is an integral component of the routine choreography.  Here are some key points to keep in mind when you are working to enhance the area of music interpretation:

  • showing contrast within a routine, by using different music or by using the same music in different ways, will heighten this area
  • listen to the music and do what it suggests
  • work to engage the whole body in the interpretation, making sure not to neglect facial expression.