The ability to communicate is one of the most important skills a teacher can possess. It is a vital component to the smooth running of a class, workplace, or business. Once this skill is mastered, you can rest assured that you will be on the road to success in your desired position, field, or industry.
In the swimming industry, we communicate with a number of different individuals – children, parents or care givers, pool administration, deck supervisors, lifeguards, and work colleagues – just to name a few.
As an instructor, the way in which you communicate with each individual or group of individuals will differ greatly. It is important to arm yourself with a number of techniques to ensure you are communicating effectively to suit the needs of each individual or group. This piece will focus on the communication between the swimming instructor and the following groups:
- Children and parent / care giver groups.
- Children in group classes.
- Parents no longer participating in the class (watching from the side).
It is essential that each of these groups receive information and or instructions effectively in order to provide them with an appropriate lesson or aquatic experience that is reflective of their individual needs.
Child and parent class groups:
Swimming instructors often deal with teaching very young children. In many cases, the classes will involve parental participation. The swimmers in these classes may have limited or developing language skills and will have short attention spans. With this in mind, when dealing with younger swimmers, it is important to keep language and instructions short, sharp and simple, and to provide good visual demonstrations or non-verbal cues to back up the words being used. Using too many words with younger children can be confusing and time consuming when you just want to get the class moving, learning and swimming.
In classes where parents or care givers are still active participants in the water, you will able to go into more detail with your instructions (for each individual helper). Where possible, explain WHY you are doing certain skills and drills within the class. Show them how knowledgeable you are and give them a purpose in their child’s learning process. Most parents or caregivers will be thrilled to have more specific information that will enable them to help their child learn, grow and further develop their swimming skills. It is important to provide the adult participants with the same simple key instructions and visual demonstrations that you may use throughout your teaching, as this will assist in keeping your class consistent, flowing, safe, and free from mixed messages to the swimmers from the parent and instructor.
Likewise, using your parents as helpers and support crew can benefit you in more ways than just having an extra pair of hands and eyes for safety. Ask them questions about how to get the best out of their children. What motivates them? What techniques do they use for disciplining their child? Talk to the participating parents or guardians about ways to engage with their children. Taking an interest in their child shows that you care and that you are dedicated to helping them achieve the best outcomes for their little swimmers. Use the information provided by parents to engage with their child and to develop trust and bonds that will enable you to provide your students with a wonderful aquatic experience and productive learning environment.
Children in group classes:
Once swimmers graduate or transition into class groups that no longer require parental involvement, it can be an exciting and overwhelming experience. As an instructor, if you are lucky enough to already have a relationship with the swimmer from previous classes, this transition may be smooth. In some instances, the transition may be rocky and require more attention to build a strong and trusting relationship with your new students. Ask these swimmers questions about their likes and dislikes, favourite colours, or cartoon characters, and try and engage with them on a personal level. In addition to building relationships with new swimmers in your class groups, it is vital to set ground rules with these students and to be clear about class expectations. This not only helps with behaviour management, but can also assist in keeping the class a safe environment for all participants.
These swimmers may have more developed language and comprehension skills, however, attention spans may still be short. Once again, instructions should be kept short and sharp and be teamed with appropriate visual demonstrations. Younger swimmers in a learn to swim group will not need the “whys” about doing certain skills or drills, but as they age and develop through the program into stroke development groups or mini squads the “whys” can help to develop their skills and improve the swimmer’s technique.
For some parents, getting out of the pool and ceasing the pool participation can be a relief and they may see it as an opportunity for some “me time” – an chance to read a book, catch up on their emails, or check out what is happening in the world of Facebook or Instagram. For others, it can be distressing, hard for them to let go, and they may want to be perched right on the edge of the pool to ensure their child is doing okay. No matter which category the parent or guardian falls into, it is important to keep the lines of communication open to ensure they are kept in the loop with any issues within the class, their swimmer’s progress or any other feedback you may have to report.
Some ways to include or engage parents who no longer actively participate in the pool are as follows:
- Use a deck supervisor or administration staff member to have a chat with the parent while the swimmer’s class is in progress.
- Over exaggerate your non-verbal feedback cues such as “thumbs ups” or “high fives” to swimmers so that parents viewing from a distance can see you are engaging with their child.
- If parents are close enough, give a quick shout out – “Hey Mum/Dad/Aunty…. Jack/Jill’s kicks are so fast today! A real improvement from last week…” or “Watch Jack/Jill’s next lap he/she is doing an awesome job today!”
- Use administrative staff to send email / text messages with any relevant information or feedback about swimmers to parents (if this is acceptable practice for your workplace).
Incorporating a few of these ideas may help to show parents you are engaging with their swimmer and that you care about their progress and development. This is something that is easily visible to them and that they can talk to you about when they are class participants, so ensuring communication continues once they are no longer in the water can help keep their mind at ease and ensure they still feel like their aquatic experience is a valuable one.
General communication tips:
- It is important to remember that the aquatic environment can be loud and you may be competing with a number of other instructors and excited swimmers in and around the pool. Your voice is one tool that enables you to communicate effectively. Some things to consider when using verbal communication are as follows:
- Think about the volume and tone of your voice when giving instructions – there is a difference between yelling and projecting your voice.
- Consider where you position yourself to provide instructions and feedback. Stay close to the group and maintain eye contact so you can gauge interest and understanding.
- Engaging swimmers and providing equal attention and feedback to all participants is of utmost importance. To enhance the learning environment, ensure that each swimmer receives some type of feedback every time they swim past. Feedback should be continuous and constant for the duration of the class. This can be achieved by the following:
- Non-verbal thumbs up as they swim by (under water or above water).
- Generic verbal feedback – “great job”, “well done”, or “awesome swimming”.
- Swimmer specific verbal feedback – “tummy up”, “toes under water”, or “two hand touch for breaststroke”.
Regardless of which technique you employ, ensure that each swimmer receives feedback and that it is visible or audible to spectators in order for them to understand that you are providing equal and individualised attention to all the swimmers in your class groups.
- Using non-verbal cues can help spectators to see you are providing a positive experience for swimmers in an environment that isn’t easily audible. Here are some cues that may help you improve your non-verbal communication:
- High fives / high tens
- Knuckles / fist bump
- Thumbs up (above water/ underwater)
- Air punch
- Motion to “kick faster”
- Motion “high elbows”
- Raise your eyebrows
- Nodding / shaking of the head
- Hand signals to move over
- Waving hands to signal swimmers to go
- Head tilt / hands on hips.
If you can over exaggerate your non-verbal cues this shows spectators you are engaging with the swimmers and trying your best to communicate and provide feedback.
- Ensure you provide honest feedback. It isn’t always possible to tell a swimmer they are perfect or doing a fabulous job. When giving corrections which may appear to be negative, try and “sandwich” these corrections with some positive feedback. Eg. Instead of saying “your freestyle arms aren’t long enough”, try “your kicks were amazing, I need to see you reach out more with your arms on the next one, keep your breathing the same because you timed it perfectly!”
- Get together with some colleagues and brainstorm some ways in which you can improve your communication. For example, take five minutes and try to come up with as many alternatives for the phrase “good job” as you can. Try and incorporate some of these phrases in your classes.
Incorporating a number of the communication tips or techniques found in this piece may help improve your classes and the quality of the aquatic experience provided to your swimmers and parents alike. Use the points that may resonate with you as an instructor and never underestimate the power of good communication skills – communication is key!