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Practice Groups

We developed a list of 10 Practice Principles for coaches to follow and six distinct swim levels to ensure that every swimmer is getting the instruction and support they need to meet their personal goals. These swim levels allow us to break our practices into practice groups based on the age and abilities of our swimmers. If you have any questions about your child's practice group or if you think she/he is ready to move up, please discuss this with your a coach or email [email protected].


Practice Group Descriptions:

In the summaries below, we offer general guidelines for the typical ages and abilities of swimmers in each swim level. Please remember that swimmers are assigned to groups based on their swimming skills/needs and their ages and coaches have the discretion to move swimmers into the group they feel will best meet the needs of the swimmer and the team.

Minimum Qualifications to join VST for the 2023 Season:

  1. Be at least 5 years old and complete kindergarten
  2. Can swim at least 50 yards unassisted and push off of the wall and glide on the water's surface with face in the water.
  3. Can routinely complete a practice session without leaving the pool

*Please let us know if your child will require any special accommodations. These requirements are not meant to exclude swimmers with special needs.

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Level One

Swimmers in this group are generally 5-10 years old and new to competitive swimming.

This swim group will focus on maintaining a horizontal body position for freestyle and backstroke. Swimmers in this group will also learn breathing and kicking techniques to maintain proper body position. We will introduce the concept of a streamlined body position and begin teaching kneeling dives.

Level 1 Objectives (Exit Competencies)

1.Can execute a racing dive from the starting blocks and hold a streamlined position for one and one-half body lengths

2.Can breathe within the rhythm of the stroke while maintaining good body position (for freestyle and backstroke)

3.During backstroke, uses flags and stroke count to estimate the distance to the wall

4.Attempts a freestyle flip turn

5.Can complete at least 25 yards with a legal breaststroke kick (with a kickboard)

6.Can swim continuously for 200 yards without stopping at the wall for more than two seconds per lap

7.Can routinely complete a full practice session without leaving the pool

Skills to introduce (competence is not required for progression to the next level):

1.Introduce breaststroke

2.Introduce freestyle flip turns

3.Introduce butterfly kick

Can complete the following practice sets (with proper technique):

6x50 yards freestyle on 1:30 6x50 yards backstroke on 1:45

6x50 yards kicking on 2:00

*note- the swimmer does not need to perform all three sets in a row to advance to the next level

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Level Two

Level 2 Objectives (Exit Competencies)

1.Can execute a racing dive from the starting blocks and hold a streamlined position for at least 5 yards

2.Consistently completes at least two lengths of the pool with a legal breaststroke

3.Consistently completes at least one length of the pool with a legal butterfly stroke

4.Can perform a legal 100 IM

5.Can breathe within the rhythm of the stroke while maintaining good body position (for all four strokes)

6.Follows practice set directions and can reliably count laps and reps without assistance

7.Can perform vertical butterfly kicking in the deep end for 5 seconds at a time with arms crossed at chest

8.Consistently perform freestyle flip turns during races and practice sets

9.Performs breaststroke and butterfly turns with proper technique

10.Performs effective and legal finishes during races and practices

Skills to introduce (competence is not required for progression to the next level):

1.Introduce backstroke turns

2.Introduce breaststroke pullouts for starts and turns

3.Encourage the use of underwater butterfly kicks at starts and turns (for fly, back and free)

Can complete the following practice sets (with proper technique):

8x50 yards freestyle on 1:00 8x50 yards backstroke on 1:00 8x50 yards kicking on 1:30 3x100IM on 4:00

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Level Three

At this level, swimmers have very good technique in all four strokes and can swim at least 100 yards of each stroke with good form. These swimmers will learn to perform backstroke flip turns and fast relay exchanges. At this level, swimming is physically challenging, but these swimmers will also learn to develop the mental skills needed to reach their best race performances.

Level 3 Objectives (Exit Competencies)

1.Can swim a legal 100 yards of each stroke

2.Routinely uses underwater dolphin kicks for 3-5 yards after starts and turns (for fly, back and free)

3.Routinely performs legal breaststroke pullouts (with a butterfly kick) at starts and turns

4.Performs legal relay exchanges with good technique

5.Breathes within the rhythm of the stroke in all four strokes without losing speed or form

6.During flip turns, the arms are streamlined before the feet touch the wall

7.Butterfly and breaststroke turns are completed with good technique and without gripping the wall to li^ the body

8.Consistently completes legal backstroke turns with good timing

9.Can complete at least 15 yards of underwater butterfly kicking after a backstroke start

10.Can perform a backstroke start by lifting the hips above the water and landing in a streamline

11. Performs relay exchanges with advanced technique position

12.When turning during breaststroke, consistently performs a full pullout, single butterfly kick and underwater breaststroke kick that matches or exceeds the swimmers surface speed

13.Maintains consistent stroke rates and times throughout training sets

14. Performs starts with advanced technique

15.Performs breakouts without losing speed

16.Can describe the different energy systems used for sprinting vs. distance swimming 17.Can describe how specific training sets impact the performance of specific energy systems

18.Understands the relationship between stroke rate, distance per stroke, and swimming speed

19.Understands the impact of being late for or missing practices and takes responsibility for attendance and practice habits

20.Demonstrates ability to use visualization, positive self-talk, and breathing exercises to prepare mentally for a race

21.Takes responsibility for setting and tracking personal goals for the season

22.Can quickly recover from the disappointment of a bad race in order to prepare mentally for the next race

23.When turning, consistently performs 5 yards of underwater butterfly kick that matches or exceeds the swimmers surface speed (does not include breaststroke)

24.Follows detailed set directions the first time the coach gives the instructions

Can complete the following practice sets (with proper technique):

10x50 yards freestyle on 1:00 10x50 yards backstroke on 1:00 4x50 yards butterfly on 2:00 10x50 yards breaststroke on 1:30 10x50 yards kicking on 1:15 5x100 IM on 3:30

Can perform vertical butterfly kicking in the deep end (with arms crossed at chest) for 10 sets of 10 seconds on/10 seconds rest

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Level Four

This level does not have exit competencies. Work at this level will be intense and focused on meeting the swimmers’ goals, perfecting technique and increasing speed.

Please note that this list uses terms familiar to coaches but might need some explanation for non-coaches. As always, you should contact your swimmer's coach with any questions.

Practice Principles:

Our coaches are committed to following these practice principles at every practice. These principles are the basis of our coaching philosophy and help ensure continuity across our coaching staff. Please contact a coach if you have any questions about these principles.

VST Practice Planning Principles for Coaches:

1. Every practice should have an aspect of fun, surprise and/or variety built into it. Swimming is not an inherently fun sport unless coaches make this a priority.

2. Each practice should have sets designed to improve technique, and each swimmer should get personalized feedback at least once per practice session.

3. Yardage for the sake of yardage is unhelpful and potentially injurious to swimmers. Every lap or activity should matter and be directed at a specific goal. If a coach cannot easily explain the purpose of any particular lap or activity to the swimmers, then that lap or activity should not be part of the practice.

4. When appropriate, swim groups or fun activities should be combined to develop a sense of camaraderie between the age groups. Older swimmers often serve as mentors for younger swimmers, so opportunities to encourage this should not be missed.

5. Get in the water. Coaching from the deck works most of the time, but coaches should not miss opportunities to reflexively jump in to demonstrate or correct a technique at the instant the opportunity presents itself. Also, much of a swimmer’s technique can only be evaluated beneath the surface of the water. These opportunities are missed by coaches who are reluctant to enter the pool or who are not dressed appropriately to swim. Coaches should plan to enter the water several times per practice, even with older swimmers.

6. For younger swimmers, coaches need to be in the water for almost every minute of the practice. If a coach dislikes getting into the water, the kids will notice and their attitudes will follow suit. Make your love of swimming obvious to the kids; they will learn to share your enthusiasm.

7. Start practices on time. Even if the swimmers aren’t ready, coaches should be prepared to begin on time.

8. Prepare the pool before swimmers arrive. Swimmers need lanes, backstroke flags and blocks for every practice. If swimmers arrive early for practice, they can help with lane lines, but it is the responsibility of the coaches to put in the lanes on time.

9. Coaches should help swimmers to develop personalized goals for the season. Practices should be designed to recognize and support these personal goals whenever possible.

10. Summer swimmers are sprinters. Practices should focus on swimming at full speed whenever possible with short-duration, high–intensity sprints followed by adequate rest periods. Swimmers don’t learn to sprint when they are swimming long sets.

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