Coaching a Swimmer with ADD and/or Auditory Processing Disorder by Jan Curley (2008)


[Introduction] My name is Mary Anne Gerzanick-Liebowitz. I am the assistant women’s swimming coach at Oregon State University and I am the First Vice-President of ASCA. I have the honor today of introducing our next speaker, Jan Curley. She has been practicing for the past 17 years as a speech language pathologist. She has experience with both adult and pediatric populations in the area of neurology, dysphasia language, fluency and voice articulation. She has a Bachelor’s Degree in Speech and Hearing Science from the University of Iowa and a Masters Degree in Speech and Language Pathology from Ohio State University. Jan is married to Coach Mike Curley and they have three boys, ages 15, 12 and nine– all of whom swim. Would you please help me welcome Jan Curley.

[Jan Curley] You all are probably a little surprised to have a Speech Pathologist, or as most people know us, a Speech Therapist talking to you today. Usually people say to me “well don’t you just work on R’s and S’s?” Yes, I do that also, but a big part of what we do now is work with a lot of kids that have auditory processing and attention deficit disorder. They are the two most common disorders that kids are diagnosed with today. That is, for learning disabilities. Adults are also being diagnosed, but today I am going to mainly address kids.
I would be surprised if you all don’t have kids on your team that have or will be diagnosed soon with one of these disorders. Before I address strategies and how to work with these kids you need to understand a little bit about what these kids are going through and the kind of things that I, and other professionals, address with these kids. First of all we are going to talk about auditory processing and what it is. It is a mild neurological dysfunction that affects how a person processes sound input. Mainly it is an issue of hearing and processing correctly sounds going from ears to your brain.

Attention deficit disorder, which is more common, is a neurobehavioral disorder. There are three basic types and we are going to talk about all three. INATTENTIVE ADD: These are the kids that you can usually see in the classroom or in the pool. They are the most well-behaved kids, but when you ask them a question about what you just talked about they have no idea what you said to them. These are the kids that have difficulty organizing or finishing the task and paying attention to details. These sometimes are the kids that will start their homework and sit there for an hour and you will go and ask them “are you finished? What did you do?” And they will not have done a thing. They will have just sat there. They have difficulty following instructions or conversations. They are extremely easily distracted, which is very common with both disorders, and they forget details and daily routines.

The hyperactive impulsive ADD seems like it is the most common. It is not that it is diagnosed more, but these are the kids that really attract everybody’s attention. These are the kids that are like the pinball machine –bouncing off the walls. They grab things from others and have difficulty waiting for their turns and difficulty with waiting for following directions. They fidget. They are constantly on the move. These are the kids that when they sit down to do their homework might sit there for five minutes and before you know it, they are watching TV. Five minutes after that they are out shooting hoops. Then they will turn around and they will be like, “oh my gosh, I think I can’t remember what I was doing originally.” Well, they should have been doing their homework. They have a very, very hard time sitting still. They often interrupt others when they are speaking and I am sure a lot of you have that happen. “Coach, coach, can you tell me this? And you are “wait a minute, let me finish what I was saying.”

We also have what you would consider the combined type. These are the kids that really portray both types. Something in their makeup makes them have the hyperactive trait sometimes and then the inattentive trait sometimes. Again they have difficulty with organization, difficulty paying attention to details and following instructions. They forget easily, are very impulsive, fidget and talk a lot.

So – what is the difference? Auditory processing and attention deficit overlap a little bit. A lot of times it is hard to determine which type is going on, but with auditory processing the distractions seem to be external. It is stuff going on outside of their heads so it might be the splash of the water that gets them distracted. With some it may be others talking, the air conditioner or the television. I’ll ask kids “when you are sitting in the classroom and the teacher is talking to you, what do you hear?” A lot of times they say they hear the air conditioner. They never hear the teacher talk. All they hear is the air conditioner.

Attention deficit disorder – the distractions are internal. Many times these kids have so much going on in their heads that they really can’t stop themselves to focus on what the speaker is saying. They might be thinking about what they did last night, what they are going to do for vacations or their favorite song. I had a second grader one time and I said to him, “Grant, what did I just say to you”? And he said, “I really don’t know Mrs. Curley, I was thinking about that movie that I watched last night.” We were the only two in a room and he had no idea what I said to him.

I am going to give you a scenario here. I am not a swimmer, so I got a little bit of help from my husband with this. Let’s say a swimmer is going to swim the 400 IM. He comes up to his coach and asks “how am I going to swim this?” The coach says, “This is what I would like. I would like you to build up the first hundred butterfly, be light on the legs, make sure you have a great transition from fly to back and work your walls. When everyone else is resting on the walls, I want you attacking the walls. After the first 100 build-up I want each 100 after that to be negative split. Build-up the 50, bust a 50. Build-up a 50 – bust a 50. Be tougher than everyone else the last 50.

This might be what the auditory processing kid hears or is thinking. “Okay – the first 100 butterfly builds. Did you say light on the legs or go to the right? Transition from back to fly or fly to back? Okay – rest on the wall. Negative split the first 100 and build the next 100. What am I doing on the 50’s? Oh, okay, be tough the last 50.” As you can see – the message just kind of gets disorganized.

This is what the attention deficit disorder kid may be thinking. “Build the first 100 butterfly. I love this race. WOW, coach’s hair is out of control. I wonder where my cap is? I think it is in my bag. I hope I have got something to eat in there; I am really hungry. What was that? Oh, be tough the last 50. Got it, coach.

Now, I am sure that you all have experienced something like this, and literally, these kids can be looking you straight in the eye the whole entire time and you are thinking “they got it, they got it.” Then they get in the pool and you are like , “what just happened? You know – I know this is what I told you, but they did the total opposite or they just got in and kind of floated.

Now, one thing that you really need to remember, every child that is a poor listener does not necessarily always have auditory processing disorder and every child that is hyper does not always have attention deficit disorder. So, how is a child diagnosed? Diagnosis is very, very important. A child will go to an audiologist who will not only make sure that they can hear, but will put him in a booth and will give them sounds to hear. Then the audiologist will ask him what he heard. A lot of kids, especially with auditory processing, can be presented with a sound like “cheap” and will report “I heard ‘peach.’” So sometimes sounds get really disorganized between the ear and the brain.

Speech language pathologists do a lot of testing. The big thing is following directions. Can kids follow directions? A lot of these kids really, really struggle – even with a one-step direction. It is very popular for teachers and schools to recommend psycho-educational testing. What a psychologist does is run a very large battery of tests. Through that he can determine where the difficulties are occurring and can really pinpoint whether or not it is attention deficit or auditory processing. Is it curable? No, not really. This is something that kids are really going to deal with for the rest of their lives. However, through therapy and maybe a little bit of behavior prevention they can learn strategies to learn how to deal with this.

With attention deficit disorder – not auditory processing – a lot of times medication is recommended. That is a very, very sticky situation because a lot of parents really do not want to put their kids on drugs. There are a lot of parents who are like, “I don’t care, just whatever is going to help.” Even if a child is put on some sort of medication, he is still going to need a lot of help with behaviors and just coping skills in school, in the pool or wherever. Behavior therapy is a really, really big thing. It doesn’t mean a child has to go to a behavior therapist, but it is important that everyone knows how to work with that swimmer or that student. So, there are many key areas which may be affected. All of these areas are really what helps us get the information from the speaker to the brain and to be able to keep it there.

The first area is Auditory Awareness and Recognition. Often this population has difficulty determining what auditory input to focus on, i.e. the air conditioner. You might have kids in the pool that you are talking to who are listening to the other kids five lanes down and they have no idea what you said to them literally because of what they are focusing on. Perhaps you have experienced this. You are in a conversation with somebody, but yet you keep hearing what is happening right next to you and sometimes it is a little hard to focus. A lot of people are really good at focusing on two different conversations, but these kids have a very hard time distinguishing. “Do I listen to what my friends are saying or do I listen to the coach?” And they may not even know that you are even talking because they are so focused on what their friends are saying.

If you watch these kids sometimes, they are not very good at eye contact. The reason that they are not is because they know that they are supposed to be listening to you. They are looking at your mouth because it helps them. They learn strategies very, very early on and know that if they look at your mouth they will be able to determine kind of what sounds you are saying. They are pretty good lip readers. Extraction or decoding of message: Can they understand what you said to them? You could be saying, “I want you to go fly to back,” and they hear back to fly because sometimes things just kind of get jumbled up.

Can they get all the meaning? With some if you are talking really fast they just cannot keep it organized in their heads. The slower you speak, the more precise you speak gives them time to process the message. I have to tell teachers all the time, even in kindergarten. If you went into a kindergarten classroom you would be surprised at how many teachers are giving three step directions. I am sure you do that also because you want to give as much information as you can. You are telling kids, “I want you to go and get your kickboard. Then I want you to come back here and I want everybody to warm up. Well, these kids hear, “okay, go get my kickboard. Okay, what else did you say for me to do? It happens everywhere we are. Everybody in our society wants to get out as much information as possible. These kids need to have it slowed down because it gives them time to process. Some of these kids also have difficulty when they read. They may be reading along and often have to go back and re-read. It is for the same reason – because things kind of just get jumbled up.

Attention is a huge one. Are kids ready to attend to the message? Are they ready to focus on what you are saying? With a lot of these kids you almost need to just go up and slightly touch them because they may be looking at you, but they may not really be attending to what you are saying. Can they keep that attention and are they able to divide or multi-task? A lot of these kids cannot multi-task and they cannot divide their attention, especially the auditory processing kids. They have a very, very difficult time taking notes – especially in class. They have a hard time hearing and writing down. It is two things to do. They can hear it, but then when they start to write it down they lose focus as to what the speaker is saying. A lot of these kids have to carry around tape recorders in between lectures and then they have to take it home and listen to it over and over because it is very hard for them to multi-task.

Memory is a really, really big thing. You can hear a message and this is another reason why you almost need to talk pretty slow and concisely with these kids because they can maybe hear it and understand it, but if they cannot get it into their memory there is no way that they are going to remember it. In order to remember things, there are certain steps that the brain needs to go through. Most of us need to label things. Think of your memory system as a filing cabinet. When you hear something you put it into memory. We put things in the exact same filing cabinet. You wouldn’t put things about swimming in the same filing cabinet as you would about things like Spanish. These are two totally different things. So, it is almost like you have to label it. So, if we have an apple, you label it — apple. You have got the name. Categorize it, you put it in the category of fruit. Associate it. Can you associate it to different things? Well, it is round like an orange, kind of like a lemon. Then organize. The reason we need to keep our brain organized is because when you try to retrieve information you have to know exactly from where you are going to go to get it.

For a lot of these kids the filing system is way off. That is why you will ask them a question and they sit there and are “umm” and they may come up with something totally off the wall or it might take them a really long time because they haven’t labeled things, categorized them and put them in order.

Q: “For memory, if you have children who can recall a set you’ve given them, then they kind of have it, right?

A: Yes and no. That is a great question because with a lot of kids you can say a set to them and they can spit it right back to you. Then you ask them a minute later and they have no idea about what they are supposed to do and the reason is because they didn’t put it into memory. One thing that I have a little bit later and that I do with all these kids is have them visualize and ask them “can you make a movie in your mind about what I am saying to you?” And this is a great thing for swimmers. “When I give you a set, can you picture in your mind exactly what you are going to do?” And oftentimes if you can picture something in your mind, you can remember it. It is as if you are going somewhere. I feel like I am pretty good with directions. I can’t tell you the names of the streets, but if I have been somewhere and I have driven that route I can get there anytime, anyway. But if somebody tells me the directions and I cannot picture in my mind exactly where I am supposed to go, I can’t get there. There is no way.

So, it is the same thing with the kids. If they can picture it in their minds and they can get it into memory, they will probably be able to do the set. A lot of kids can just spit back the information, but that is about it. So integration, if they have got it in their memory, if they have heard the message the correct way, can they get the meaning from it? So, do they know what to do? They may have the set in their memory, do they know what to do with it?

Can they problem solve? A lot of kids have a hard time with this. So, let’s say they get to the pool and they forgot their suit – again – for the umpteenth time. Do they know what to do? Can they problem solve through that step? A lot of these kids probably can’t. I mean, they may come up to you, “coach, I forgot my suit again. Or they may just sit inside the locker room and say to themselves “I forgot my suit, I don’t know what to do and I know that I am going to get in trouble again so I am just going to sit in here because I have no idea what to do.” These kids almost need to be taught what to do.

How do they get to that next step? How do they change routine when given new information? If you tell them “Thursday we are going to do a kick set and then Friday we are just going to work on stroke technique.” They may show up Thursday and they will be “wait a minute, I thought we were working on strokes today.” Sometimes they can’t figure out and adapt or change the information and if you tell them “we are going to do this set today. “Oh no, no, no – we are going to do that on Friday,” they get that all jumbled up. They cannot get that organized in their mind. They have a really hard time making that change.

Q: Along with that one, you can have sets that you do over and over again and they can have that, but you go to change it up – you just change one little detail of it or you add one little detail – they didn’t hear that. They are going to do what they have always done.

A: Did you hear that in the back? Not being a swim coach or a swimmer myself, here is a pretty good example. A lot of times you will give your kids at home instructions. “Go brush your teeth and then I want you to put on your pajamas and then you can read for 15 minutes and then we will go to bed.” Well, if you change that up with some of these auditory processing kinds or ADD kids and you say, “okay, tonight I want you to read first and then put on your pajamas and then brush your teeth” you will follow them around and they will not do it the way that you just told them. They are going to do it the exact way that they always do it because they can’t make that change.

Q: Is it that they cannot make it or it may take a little bit longer time to adjust?

A: It could be both. It could be that really they cannot make that change in their minds. They cannot reorganize that information to have it be the way that they just heard it OR it is taking them so long to process that information that they kind of figure, “screw it, I am just going to do it the way that I always do it because I know it is going to get me to where I need to go.”

Q: For a way to cope or handle that situation, would you need to react differently or really try, “we are making a change here?” Rather than just making an aside to the rest of your group? “This is very different from what we have done.”

A: Absolutely. You need to be very precise with these kids and you almost need to break it down in such small increments for them that some of the other kids feel like “oh my gosh, how come we always have to do this?” But it probably will help all your kids because I think really honestly we all have a small form of this. I know I do. Having three kids I call it my mommyitis because I cannot remember things and I cannot attend to details like I used to. I think every child really can benefit from us breaking down the information and making things more precise and if you change something, say to them “I am changing this so I want you to think. We are not doing it the same way. I want you to change it. This is what we are going to do.”

Organization and Sequencing: there are many steps to this. It is the basic level. Can they organize the sounds correctly? Like I said before, with some kids you might say “peach” and they hear “cheap.” Like getting ready for bed they may not hear that you are supposed to read, then put on your pajamas and then brush your teeth. They get the steps all jumbled up. A lot of kids when I test them and give them a three-step direction may hear the first step and the third step and never know that I gave them that second step. A lot of times kids do this that have these disorders. The first thing that you say to them, as in this scenario that I gave you, they can get the first thing because they are attending and they are paying attention and they can get the last thing because all of a sudden they are like “oh my gosh, okay, I know that they are finishing,” so they can hear the last thing, but the information in the middle is lost.

Q: Are you asking them to repeat the instructions?

A: Yes and no. I am going to get to some strategies in a little bit, but as I said if you just ask them to repeat they may not really have it absorbed. They may not have really put it into memory what you are asking them to do. If you say to kids “bring your fins on Thursday and your paddles on Friday,” they may hear it the opposite because organization is a big thing for them. These are the kids too that you look in their backpacks – whether it is their swim bag or their backpacks for school and there is stuff everywhere and you are like “how do you ever find anything?” And they can’t. They may have just put their math homework in their backpack and they will turn around and they will come back and they will be “I can’t find my math homework. I don’t know where it is.” Their organization skills are really bad. You look in their lockers, everything is falling out because they do not know how to organize things. I think most teenagers have a little bit of problem with this, but I think that is just teenagers, but with these kids it is with everything they do. These are the kids also that are showing up to practice without their swim bags and I am not talking about once or twice. I am talking about a lot. They may forget their swim suit. They may get up behind the blocks and they forgot their goggles. They cannot keep themselves organized and they cannot think about what they need to do for the next step.

So, how can you effectively coach a swimmer with APD, that is the terminology we use for auditory processing or with ADD – attention deficit disorder? The first step is to communicate with the parents. You almost need to treat the parents with kid gloves because some parents can be extremely defensive. Go to them and say, “I have noticed that when I give Johnny a set he is not quite sure what to do in the pool. Do you notice that at home? What have you seen?” I wouldn’t come out and say, “I think your kid has attention deficit disorder or he is awful. He cannot remember anything. He is always the last one to finish everything and he never can remember a set.”

Talk to them very kindly and I will bet that the parents will say, “This is what is going on. A lot of times parents do this more with teachers because they are spending all day with their child. I don’t think parents think about telling their kid’s coaches unless you have a child that is extremely hyperactive. Then maybe they might tell you more often. But most of the time I bet parents probably don’t even think that they need to tell you this so I would just ask them. Ask them nicely.

Q: How do you deal with some of the parents who say that they are getting divorced and one parent agrees with the medication and the other doesn’t and these kids are like two different kids during the week?

A: You know what? There is so much controversy out there about medications. Then there is behavior. What do you do for kids that are with mom or dad certain days. They may be with one parent and their behavior is really good and then they are with the other parent and it is not. These kids need a lot of consistency because if one thing changes, it throws them off. It is like giving them a different set. It totally throws them off. They do not know what to do. It is the same thing with routine, diet – just everything.

Q: One thing that I notice is that kids on medication are very consistent. Then for some reason their doctor changes the medication and it is almost like I taught the medication how to swim or do the drill and the new medication does not know what I am talking about. Then I have to teach the new medication how to swim or how to do the drill. I do not know if there is anything that we can do.

A: That is really a good time to communicate with the parents. Shoot them an email. “This is what I noticed today. Is there something going on? Has the medication changed?” If you know the medication has changed I would let them know what you are seeing in the pool because they need to relay that back to their child’s physician because there are so many medications out there for ADD right now. There are a lot of physicians that are fantastic at diagnosing these kids and prescribing what these kids need. There are a lot of physicians that are not good at prescribing what these kids need. The parents may be going to them and saying, “Listen, this kid cannot sleep at night and is not eating and it is not helping.” And the physician may be thinking, “No, you know what? They are fine. We are just going to go with it for two more weeks.” So it is a very, very hard thing, but I would just communicate with the parents as much as you can.

As we go through strategies you may have a strategy that works great Monday through Friday of this week and even if nothing has changed and you get to the next Monday and that same strategy does not work. I have some baseline strategies, because each thing you do with a swimmer is going to be specific to that swimmer. You may have two kids that have attention deficit disorder and the same strategy may not work for both of them and it may flip for the next week. It is really, really hard to tell. Parents are really good too at having strategies that work at home. Ask them. “What do you do at home if you find out that he is not following directions? How do you get him to follow directions?” A lot of times the parents will have great strategies to use.

Q: How to deal with a lot of kids?

A: It is a huge issue. Teachers with large classes don’t have any help. They just want these kids to sit because they may have five kids in their room that are bouncing off the walls. You sympathize with them because you want to get in there and do your job and you know that you have to get through this curriculum by next Friday or the kids aren’t going to get where they should before they move on to the next grade level. But for these kids it is very hard for them to be on the medication for a little bit and then not be on the medication at night. I think it has got to be very, very hard on their bodies. That is why therapy and working on behavioral strategies is so key. For these kids it is up to them to monitor their behavior and to figure out strategies that work. You would be amazed at what these kids do. I worked with one of my husband’s swimmers. He was a junior when he was finally recommended to see me. I tested him and he had severe auditory processing and he was compensating. He was doing pretty well. He was getting B’s in school. He figured out the best way for him to learn and I said to him on day, “Greg, what do you do when Coach Curley gives you a set?” He said, “I just make sure I don’t leave the lane and I just follow what everybody else does.” I said, “so you have no idea what you are supposed to do?” He said, “NEVER.”

That was very interesting to me. I was like, “WOW, I bet there are a lot of kids out there that are doing the exact same thing.” But that strategy worked for him because he could figure out what he was supposed to do just by watching everybody else. If you go into a classroom you can tell immediately which kids probably can’t understand or can’t attend to what the teacher is telling them to do because they are looking around, looking to see what everybody else is doing. They are following along with everybody else. They are never the leaders.

Communication with the kids is key, too. And not so much that you need to make it evident that you are talking to them, but you need to talk to them and say, “hey, this is what I am noticing. What do you think we need to do here? How can I get you to hear what I am saying to you?” And they might say, “hey coach, you know what? If you could just reach down or tap your foot right at me when you want me to listen.” Little things like that really help. These kids are so smart about what they need in order to attend. I even have first graders that I say to them, “what do you think we should tell the teacher about what is the best way for you to listen and to attend and to get what you are supposed to do?” These kids come up with great ideas. The reason is they have dealt with this their whole lives. They have already figured out ways to kind of get around what they can’t do. You also got to be very, very, compassionate. With these kids for 80 percent of the school day information is given vocally. Those that are having problems hearing the message, keeping things organized in their mind, making sure that they heard the right thing, making sure that they heard everything and have it all into memory have really low self-esteem. Many times they are super smart. You wonder “are they really smart because they are working their brains overtime to adapt to what they are having to do all day or is it just a coincidence?” I am not quite sure, but most of the kids that I work with that have auditory processing disorder or attention deficit are pretty smart and figure out ways to get what they need in order to cope in our society.

So, when you are talking to these kids and their parents make sure that the other swimmers don’t know about it if you can because many times they do not want to be singled out. When I told this swimmer Greg, “Do you mind if I tell my husband? He said, “Please make sure that my son Harrison doesn’t know, because he is worried about what my son thinks about him even though there is like a three-year age difference.” With these kids their egos are just kind of shot.

So, some strategies. If you have strategies that you have used or have not used and don’t work, raise your hands. I would love to hear them. But the very first thing – clear and concise. As I said before, if you are changing a set you need to make sure that you say to them, “I am changing this.” They need to know. If you change it and you do not tell them they probably don’t even know that you changed it. Giving one step at a time is really important for these kids. Talk slowly. For the kids that you know are having difficulty attending to you or hearing the message – look at them. Tap your foot at them when they are in the lane – anything – but you need to make sure that they know that when you tap your foot at them this is to get their attention. You do not really want to be calling out their name and saying, “Johnny, okay, listen” because that draws attention to them and that is the last thing they want.

Q: If you are giving the information to the swimmers verbally, but you also have it up on a board, are they picking up what they see there?

A: Perfect – visual aides. Some kids have a hard time reading a lot of information because it is just too much for them to process, but if you have access to a white board and you can put it up on the white board, that is awesome. I went to my husband and said, “listen sweetie, this is what I think you need to do with some of these swimmers.” He now prints out the workout before- hand and has it right outside his office so the swimmers can come by the locker room beforehand. Even the kids that don’t have any problems with these disorders are picking up the set because they want to know what they are doing. If they have access to it before, they can picture in their mind what they are going to be doing that day. Again, if you change it during the middle of the set you need to make sure that you tell them that you are changing it. Another thing that my husband has started to do is he prints out a bunch of sheets that have the workout on it. I think he does two to a page, rips them in half and hands one out to each lane. The kids wet it down and they stick it so the kids have access to it the whole entire workout. Now sometimes there is a lot of paper flying around because after workout they do not always pick it up, but that is perfect because they can stop the set and know exactly what they are doing next because they can read it.

Q: But then don’t you get the kids that cannot focus because then they are worried about the next set. I have that problem when I give them the whole workout. They cannot focus on what we are doing right now because they are so worried about the next.

A: Yeah, that is kind of another issue. I don’t know what to tell you about that.

Q: I have experienced this with a younger group that if you are using a white board and there is a lot of white space all the way across, it is going to look the same as hearing all of that.

A: Absolutely.

Q: So you might explain six 50’s on this, this, this. You write six times 2 and then the next set would be four 25’s, whatever it is. Then they can look back and see it and it is clear. I have a hard time with the parents being the coach. They want their kid to be fastest. He is yelling at this kid, “you are not listening and da da da.”

A: I have always heard that people say if your child has attention deficit disorder put them in karate. I would agree with that because it teaches kids discipline. We need to be out there saying put them in swimming. It teaches them discipline. I think somehow, someway the brain really responds very well to that rhythmic motion that you get in swimming and maybe it organizes brains a little bit. I don’t know, but I think swimming is phenomenal for these kids. Not only does it wear them out and they are exhausted, but it teaches them how to keep going and it teaches them discipline.

Q: You mentioned earlier about how ADD kids think of everything else but what we are talking about. Sometimes what I do is use that everything else and relate it back to what we are doing. If I know what they are thinking about or I know what is going on or I know what went on during the day, I try to relate that to what we are doing and then they apply it and they learn it fast that way.

A: I work with a lot of kids that have memory deficits, not attention deficit or auditory processing issues but specific memory deficit. I always tell their teachers, parents or anyone that works with them that if you can make what you say relevant to that swimmer or that student they are going to remember it. People laugh at me because they will ask “what is Harrison’s 400 IM time?” I have no idea. I don’t remember numbers very well. I always have to look at the sheets. I have no idea, so times and stuff like that are not relevant to me. You need to make sure that it makes sense to them so you can give them a set and even if it is one that you did last week you can say, “Okay, remember when we did this set last week? It was the day that Johnny threw up in the gutter? This is the set that we are going to do again.” I guarantee you those kids will be like “I remember that, alright. Let’s go.” Because it has got some meaning for them. They can relate to it.

Q: One of the things you can do is to say “look at the board.” When the swimmer is not looking there, not on task, instead of pointing them out, look for somebody who is in close proximity to them and say, “you did a good job looking at me.” Praise somebody that he is aware of and then he will give you the desired behavior once he sees that that is what he needs to do. They all crave positive reinforcement.

A: They do and praise, praise, praise. If you give them positive reinforcement, they will probably go through a wall for you. But if you were belittling them and always calling them out and saying, “You never listen. You need to listen. How come you didn’t listen to that set? How come you didn’t do this?” It is just going to make them feel like they are two feet tall.

Q: Is there any correlation between APD and maybe ADD and bad eyesight? Because I have got a couple of kids that fall into that category that just coincidentally have really bad eyesight.

A: You know, this is really interesting because my son is 12. When he was in fifth grade we started to notice that he would write a paragraph starting on the left hand side and by the time he got to the bottom of the page he was all the way on the right. I took him to a pediatric ophthalmologist and he went like this with his finger and my son’s eyes were jumping all over the place. He did not have strong eye muscles and did not track well at all. He couldn’t make his eyes work well together and by talking with the pediatric ophthalmologist I learned a lot of times these kids have auditory processing difficulties also. So there is a correlation. Do not ask me why, but there is some sort of correlation out there.

You can tell the parents, “This is what I am noticing. You might want to look into it.” I never say to them, “I am pretty sure your child has auditory processing problems.” I always say to them, “Let’s do some testing because it is always better to know that your child doesn’t have it than to always be questioning it.” Parents can relate to that because they hate thinking in the backs of their minds “What if my child really has this. This is probably why they are experiencing this. This is why they are doing that.” So it is always better to know than to never know. Always look at your swimmers, too. Another thing, you can tell when kids are not focusing. If you have got a kid that is like a deer in the headlights, that is probably one of those that you need to ask “What’s going on? How come you look so scared every time I give a set?” It could be they hate that set, but it could also be it is because they are not quite sure what to do.

Q: We have a larger group and have more than what you discussed in one or two instances and the group is suffering, but if you got a group of 40 kids and know for certain that there are 8 of them on medications, what can you give us for that?

A: Yeah.

Q: You would be running along every lane.

A: I know and you know that is when it gets challenging. That is almost when you need to just break things down as much as you possibly can and you know what? Most often these kids will follow the one that is leading the lane and even if you can just get them to follow, that may be all you can do that day, but keep it clear and concise.

Q: I have six lanes and you do have those problems where you have those off days. I do this thing, and they love it, when I see someone way off base that day I take them out and ask “Do you want to be the lab rat today?” If you make them the lab rat you actually get them on deck, but you sit them on the deck. They get an kinesthetic awareness of doing what they are supposed to be doing before going in the water and then they can be the example. But if you have enough kids in the water or older kids who know the skills a lot better, put them in charge of the lane. They know the skills that these kids are having problems with.

A: That is a great idea. Do you know what? I just noticed, I was supposed to be done at 3:15, is that right? I can’t do this in 45 minutes. Hold on one minute, I am going to jump ahead – my last one. I had until 3:30. Okay good, one thing I was going to say and then I am going to get your question. With these kids there are three types of learners: those that learn best auditorily, they can remember anything that they hear. Those that learn best visually. They can read anything and remember it. People who learn best tactilely –they learn best by doing. Most of these kids are either visual or tactile learners, not auditory learners so that is one thing to keep in mind. The majority are not auditory learners and I pound that into teachers’ minds. “Probably not even half of your class is good at auditory learning so why are you always giving the instructions verbally all day long? Write things down. Have the kids do them. If they write it themselves – that is tactile. They probably will remember it.”

That is how I remember. That is how I taught myself to get through college. I knew if I wrote out my notes a second time I could remember them because I am a tactile learner.

Q/A: It makes it very, very hard for them because as I said before it is not that there is so much going on, they don’t know what to focus on. They are not quite sure and they may not even be hearing your voice so you might always want to be giving the set right in front of their lane – making sure that they are looking at you – and are attending to what you are saying. If the pool is really noisy, get a megaphone so you are talking louder than everything else that is going on.

Q: We have a coach who pulls everybody out of the pool and gives them sets. When she is talking to them she does not try to talk to them when they are in the water because the water itself is a huge distraction and I think that is a great thing, you know? My two lanes are always eyes and ears. I want your eyes and your ears and I will say “eyes and ears” generically to everybody 10 times in a row until everybody’s eyes and ears are finally focused. It is not an individual thing. It is just my line and they get used to that and kind of like it.

A: That is great.

Compassion. I cannot stress that enough. One reason why I wanted to take you through specifically what auditory processing disorder is and attention deficit disorder is is so that you can get a glimpse into what these kids may be going through. If I were to put you in a room and you had to listen to somebody speaking a foreign language that you really had very basic knowledge of and you had to know that information, think of how hard that would be. That is kind of what these kids are going through a little bit though probably not to that point. Any way that you can figure out how to get the message to the kids so that they don’t feel like they can’t ever get it right, they will love you for it. There are a lot of teachers and a lot of coaches out there who decide, “If you can’t get it, then it is not my problem. “It is your problem.” So please, please, please have compassion for these kids. Are there any more questions?

Q: I have to be careful as a coach and as a parent, but it feels like they are challenging your authority often and we are kind of taught to stifle that so I have to be very careful at how I respond and I have to remind myself if I were working with Down syndrome children I wouldn’t get mad at them because of how they are made. I would change me and so I have to be careful about my issues when I am feeling less. I have to change me.

A: We all have those days where we are “this has been the worst day in the world,” we spilled coffee all over on the way to work or whatever. I always find that if I am working with somebody who is giving me a lot of challenges that day I will just say to them, “You know what? I have had a really bad day and here is why I have had a really bad day and I may not be able to handle what you are doing today like I could yesterday so let’s figure out how we are going to make this work.” Kids understand that. They really do. I think a lot of times we do not give them that much credit, but honestly I think they are a little bit smarter at interpreting these things and as long as they know that you are not just really, really mad at them and it was because of something else, it kind of takes the pressure off of them.

Q: As you go through it, are you able to get faster with the instructions? Do they get better and do they progress?

A: That is kind of what my job is. I give these kids some therapy and we start to train the brain a little bit and it is just kind of a lot of practice. It is a lot of organizing. It is teaching them how to sequence things correctly. Teaching them how to pay attention to detailed information. I can get kids to a point where they do not need me any more and they have got strategies and they know what to do. So yes, it can. So if you have a swimmer and you know that they are working with a speech therapist just ask the parents, “Do you think I could possibly email the speech therapist?” They might give you some really great ideas or you could tell them, “This is what I am seeing, I need some help. Can you work on this during therapy?” And they will be more than happy to work on it; most of them should be.

Q: As a coach if you are consistent in the way that you put out the information, the kids, whether they have got problems or not, will appreciate that because they know that things are going to be the same.

A: Absolutely. I think every child likes consistency. I think every adult likes consistency and unfortunately there is not a lot of that out there in the world. So yes, if you can keep it clear and concise, if you are just coaching to the auditory, the ADD kids, the APD kids, every swimmer is going to benefit – absolutely. Alright, I think my time is up. So thank you. My email address, I think I put it on there. If you have any questions, please email me anytime.

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Sponsorship & Partnerships

Official Sponsors and Partners of the American Swimming Coaches Association

Join Our Mailing List

Subscribe and get the latest Swimming Coach news