De Anza Cupertino Aquatics – Novice Swimming Programs by Tammy Hopkins (2005)


In today’s talk we are going to focus on DACA’s novice swim program. I am going to give you a brief overview of the programs that DACA does run. DACA operates 7 programs or businesses. All 7 programs are operated independently of each other. Decisions that are made with regard to those programs are based upon what is best for that particular program, not necessarily as a feeder to the next program levels. We have a swim lesson program that feeds into our pre-competitive programs, but again, we don’t base decisions upon that. The programs that we have: 1) an indoor year around swim school, 2) two summer only swim lesson programs, 3) year around water polo club,4) a coached adult lap swim program,5) the college program at De Anza College of Swimming and Water Polo teams and we also help to fund those programs. 6) We have a pre-competitive swimming program and a 7) competitive swimming program.

Our year around swim school – they practice for a half an hour one day a week and we run roughly about 2500 swimmers through that program per week. There are four sessions per year and we have run water babies all the way what we consider to be advanced swimming while we are working on the four competitive strokes. The levels in this program change as the swimmer progresses and it is a 1:4 coach to swimmer ratio.

Then we have our De Anza College in Saratoga High School summer swim program – those are structured differently. Again, they are offered in the summertime only. We have four two week sessions. In those programs that run Monday through Thursday and there are five levels in those programs – what we consider to be a beginner all the way through an advanced swimmer – again – we are working on the competitive strokes.

Our club water polo – we have a 14 and under team and a 12 and under team. We are hoping to branch out into high school age. We have only been running this program for about a year now and it has been going nicely.

Our adult lap swim – we run morning and noontime sessions and it is not a club membership. These people pay as they go so they are not members of United States Masters swimming – it is a coach/lifeguard out on deck and they pay $5.00 to come in and swim for an hour and a half each time or there is a punch card that they can purchase.

We do run the men’s and women’s swim and water polo teams at De Anza College – those are run by DACA coaches that coach competitively with our program as well and as I stated before, we do help to fund those programs.

Our pre-competitive program classes run a half an hour to 40 minutes, two days a week. They have their choice of Monday/Wednesday or Tuesday/Thursday classes. We run four sessions per year that are roughly 9-12 weeks per session. Five levels in this program and this program primarily focuses on the competitive swimming skills.

Within our competitive swim team we have three tiers to our 10 and under program. We have four tiers to our 11-14 year old program and we have 4 tiers to our high school age program as well and we consider the entry levels – the green group and the red group for the 10 and under’s and the 11-14’s to be part of our novice swimming program as well. To get into our pre-competitive program, our novice program, swimmers must be able to do 25 yards of freestyle with side breathing and 25 yards of backstroke. If they are not able to do that at the point that they are trying out for the program, we send them to one of the alternatives. There are four 8-12 week sessions per year, two days a week for 30-40 minutes, depending on the level and there is a 1:7 coach to swimmer ratio. In these groups all seven swimmers swim in the same lane where is it very focused and as you will see later on in the discussion it is very easy to get a lot done with seven swimmers in one lane. Weekly workouts are written for each of the levels in the program.

With our competitive program we allow the coaches a lot of autonomy with regard to their season plans and the practices that they write. We don’t do that with our pre-competitive program and it is extremely structured. Weekly practices are written so we may have six barracuda levels practicing at out De Anza college site, six barracuda levels practicing at our Saratoga high school site and every group is doing the same workout – the same amount of yards on the same days. One of the biggest, most popular parts of our pre-competitive program is our evaluations and there are copies of those evaluation forms in those packets as well. These are done at the mid-term point in the session and at the very end. They are given essentially report cards that talk about the strokes – their kicking – some of the more advanced groups are dealing with the times that they are swimming. The feedback has been absolutely incredible – both with regard to the differences that you see in the children the day after they come back from receiving the evaluation. It is extremely popular with parents. We have parents that schedule vacations around mid-term time. It is something that is distributed at the beginning of the session so everybody knows when it is coming and they are expecting it and we coach the coaches in how to write effective evaluations for the kids. It is not just – needs work – pass or fail – there are comments that they need to be writing down if there is a child that needs work in one particular stroke.

The coaching staff – this is probably the least experienced portion of our staff, primarily high school and college age athletes and we do an extensive amount of training with regard to how we want them to teach particular drills for particular strokes. There are things that are correct we feel for swimmers that are more advanced that are not appropriate for this level of athlete so we need to make sure that all of the coaches are using the same terminology. They are using the same drills and they are teaching those drills and strokes how we want them to be taught. Program emphasis: we do an exceptional amount of kicking in our program – particularly at these levels and we do it in a completely flat body position. They are not on their side. They are taught to do it with streamline arms out in front. We do not utilize any equipment – no fins, no kick boards, pull buoys – everything is done without equipment. We feel that it is important to teach them to kick with their bodies in that flat position so that they can actually learn how to do it in a spot that they are comfortable in. Once they start getting to their sides, they turn into the big wide scissor kick and this is something that we keep continuous through the program.

Once they get into the competitive program then we start to work on rotation with freestyle and backstroke. One of the things that we do, which is a little bit unusual with freestyle – we teach a straight arm recovery at all these levels in this program. We are not bending the elbow at all and sometimes this is something that you have to make sure that you are emphasizing with the coaches that you bring into the program. You will see them demonstrate a relaxed bent elbow recovery and that is not something that we are doing. The same thing with backstroke – we are working on straight arm pull under water. We do not teach any bent elbow whatsoever when they are underwater. A lot of times we feel that when you are teaching children to do backstroke initially and you are trying to teach the bent elbow underwater you get the bent elbow out of the water. We want the body position to be comfortable. We want the kicking to be correct and those are the primary things that we are working on here. Later, once they get into the competitive program, we refine everything that we are doing. The same thing – if you are teaching bent elbows – a lot of times you are going to get a really, really short stroke – we just teach everything straight and long. With breaststroke kick – it is actually not to be considered to be a passing kick if they are doing frog kick and bringing their elbows up to their arm pits. We work primarily on breaststroke with trying to keep their knees a little bit closer together and with butterfly we are working on body undulation. I believe you also have in your packets the five different levels and what we are working on at each of those levels.

In our barracuda level we are working on streamlining and push offs from the wall are to be done in streamline position and they have to kick to the flags. We work to teach them to do underwater, but even if they are not at the point where they can streamline underwater to the flags – they kick to the flags before they start their first stroke. We emphasize kicking freestyle and backstroke with the flat body position in the water, straight arm recovery for freestyle and straight arm underwater for backstroke.

At shark I level they are the same skills – they are just for older swimmers. We get a lot of kids that are 5 and 6 years old that are swimming in the barracuda level and we try to separate them from maybe 12 year olds – 13 year olds that might be at the shark I level. Shark II – they are continuing all of the skills that they had learned in the pre-competitive program – we will focus on those for the first few weeks of the session and then we will introduce freestyle and backstroke turns and breaststroke kick.

Dolphin level we are still working on those same skills introducing open turns for breaststroke and butterfly, working on dolphin kick, introducing how to read a clock and working on breaststroke arms and breaststroke pullouts.

Our emerald level – which is the most advanced in our program. It is set up to get them ready for the competitive program. They need to have mastered all of the above skills and we continue to work on those. They work on the finishes of each of the four competitive strokes, the dives and they begin to learn intervals and what that actually means.

Once they have gotten through our pre-competitive program they are a candidate for a competitive program. The competitive programs start at four days a week for 45 minutes and they are essentially ready to start their first swim meets. We are completely confident that once the swimmer has made it successfully through our pre-competitive program they have the knowledge to go to a swim meet and be successful. They know that they are supposed to do a two hand touch and all of the things that go along with the stroke. It doesn’t always happen, but at least they know how to do it. They have been shown how and you can tell them afterwards – do you remember we taught you how to do this – so they know how to correct it for the next time.

In our green and red levels in the program, children are expected to be roughly at the C level, probably nothing over a B. It is not uncommon for kids, once they have come in to compete in the first meet in our program to get A times the first time they have ever been in the water. This is where actual racing is introduced, but not really doing any racing at all. We don’t do relays in the pre-competitive program. In the pre-comp you get to work – you get in – you work on the skills – you do the workout – you get out – it is a half an hour amount of time and we really try to get a lot of teaching done within that half hour and parents really, really have enjoyed that program in particular. Just to kind of sum up, our pre-competitive program is extremely structured. Our competitive program is as well, but again, there is not that autonomy with the pre-competitive staff that the competitive staff has. There is no coach variation allowed. It is the same in one barracuda class at any site that we run and the completion of the programs prepares the swimmers for competitive swimming.

Q. In your pre-competitive programs you go up to age 13 – how many of your 12-13 year olds in the pre-competitive program when they go a competitive program do they have a pretty smooth transition or do they feel like they are behind some of the other kids that have been in the competitive program for a while? A. It is a pretty smooth transition. We have got 11 – that is why we have the bulk of our program broken up by age groups – if they are 13 years old, they go into a novice group for 11-14 year olds so they are going to find kids of their like age there or if they are 14 or older they have the option of going into our varsity group which is one of our entry level high school groups in the program. Yes?

Q. For your pre-competitive group do you require the kids to have to register at the USS or do you have a policy insurance for all of them in the pool? A. No we don’t – they are not competing at meets. We do have a separate insurance policy for those swimmers.

Q. Do you keep attendance for your green, yellow and white groups? A. Those are our 10 and under groups in our program. We do take nightly attendance – that is something that is required because of our billing policies, however, we do not have attendance requirements for any 10 and under groups in our competitive program.

Q: Do we have attendance policies for our older groups? A. The bulk of the groups in our program do not have attendance policies so for our red and our orange levels we don’t. Once they get to blue and gold levels the training becomes a little bit challenging for them if they are not coming at least three days a week. However, we have had athletes that are extremely talented individuals that we do not want to discourage from swimming that we have allowed to participate in those levels. In regard to the high school levels in our program, the varsity groups, were actually developed and designed to be a completely non-commitment group. We have some great swimmers in that group that play other sports, but that group was designed specifically for that. Once you get to our senior group, our National Development group and our National Group the attendance policies get to be a little bit stricter.

The question was if we have someone that comes into the pre-competitive program that is already working with the bent arm recovery on their freestyle or one of the skills that we do not emphasize in the pre-competitive program, how do we deal with that? A. We don’t – if it is something that is being done and done well we don’t correct it. What we instruct our teachers to do is to demonstrate the skills in a certain way and to tell them that is how we want it done. If there is a problem or an issue with the swimmer we have a director out on deck for the kid that maybe knows a little bit more Example: this kid is bending their elbows already under water – are they doing a good job with it or should I bring him back a little bit and go back to basics? So, it just depends, if they are doing it well. We will not take it away from them.

The question was: Do we require swimmers to go through the pre-competitive program before they come to the competitive program? The answer is no. We have a lot of kids that come through summer league programs that come onto our year around program right away. We want them to have the four competitive strokes down and the turns that go along with it and we do not require them to go through every level. If the child knows how to do freestyle, backstroke, and breaststroke, and just needs a little help with the butterfly he goes to the top level in the pre-competitive program to learn those skills. One of the other things that we do is, part of my job is to, walk around, watch and look at swimmers. There might be a kid that is really talented and really has a grab on the water and a hold on it. I will pluck that kid up and just put him in the competitive program and that is something that has become a huge issue with our program, talent ID. We are trying to find better ways of doing it so if you have got a kid that is talented and we think will be a really good swimmer we will put him where we think they should be.

The question was: Are your swim school kids going to your pre-competitive program and then to your competitive team? A. Yes, some go. I think it is the third level within our swim school where they should be ready, competent in freestyle and backstroke and able to move to the pre-competitive program. There are people that make the decision to stay with the swim lessons, through the very end. There are people that want to come mid-way through and start at the barracuda level. There are people that come from our swim school and our summer league swim lesson programs and start right into the competitive program.

The question was: Are the pre-competitive groups and the competitive groups in the pool at the same time? A. Yes they are at both facilities. At the Saratoga high school facility it is a 50 meter pool. They are all located at one end and think that we have got six lanes allocated for our pre-competitive program and they are generally getting in the water every half hour. At RDN, the college site, our National team is in the diving well facility until 6 pm and it is a 7 lane 25 yard pool. At 6 pm we do a switch around and we put 10 lanes in the pool and we run 10 lanes, 20 yards across for our pre-competitive swimmers. That is just a way we were able to get more swimmers in the water and it works for that level of athlete.

Q. The question was: What is the minimum age to start at the swim school. A. We do water babies. So, we start with Moms and babies in the water starting at 3 months.

The question was: Is the swim school extremely structured? A. Yes, it is the same thing they are taught our ways of teaching and there are specific things that we want them to do – specific terminology that they should be using. It is all very, very specific and they are not allowed any variation there.

Q. Do you guys have trouble finding high school /college aged help for the program? A. No. Actually most of the people that work with the program are our swimmers. They get out of workout at 5:30 with our senior group, take a shower, grab something to eat and walk over to our competitive program. We have a lot of people that are former swimmers of ours as well and that has worked as a recruiting tool.
Q. Do they coach all ages? A. No, they can choose Monday, Wednesday or Tuesday, Thursday schedules or all four days.

The question was: Who developed the progressions for the pre-competitive program and the swim school? A. There is a program that is called La Petite Beline in our area and before we started our swim school we sent people there to observe. They brought a lot of that back into our program. The pre-competitive program progressions are something that myself and our pre-competitive director designed.

Q. What is your education? A. I have a B.A. in physical education.

Q. What is your retention rate in the pre competitive program? Retention with the pre-competitive program? A. It is exceptional. Most of the swimmers in our pre-competitive program have the goal of moving on to our competitive program. It is now an issue of working to fit them in.

Q. Are there any other pre-competitive type groups or surrounding teams in your area? The only one that I know of that I think is in Santa Clara – I am not able to comment. Maybe Paulo Alto does – I am not real sure.

The question was: do they come to our pre-competitive program to get to a certain level and then go elsewhere? A. Not generally. Generally, they stick with us pretty well.

The question is: if a child is advanced enough at the mid point in the session do we move them up to the next level? A. Absolutely – we will.

The question is: As the pre-competitive program has grown – have we and will we maintain the swim coach to swimmer ratio? Yes we will. That is something – at our swim school we advertise a 1:4 ratio and in our pre-competitive program we advertise a 1:7 ratio. That is something that has worked very well for us and we are sticking with.

The question was: What kind of coach to swimmer ratio do we have in the younger groups in our program? A. A lot of that depends on the lane space that they have been scheduled. In general, most of the groups in the program are a 1:25 coach to swimmer ratio.

The question was: If a child has not mastered skills do they move up to the next level or do we have them move back down to the previous level if they do not have that skill accomplished. A. No, the child does not move up. If we have a situation where there is a kid whose heart is being broken and has been there every day…we have the records of attendance and he has been stuck there for three sessions and has tried everything, we will go ahead and jump him up and let him try because they are still continuing to work on those skills in the next level. That is not necessarily so in our competitive program. When we do swimmer evaluations, we just did one on Tuesday night where we had 200 new swimmers come out to join the team. We start them at 7:30 at night and then we have several coaches working to evaluate what level each of those particular swimmers is going to be placed in. It is fairly common that a swimmer might be evaluated at an incorrect level. So, over the course of the first two weeks of those classes – we assess those student’s skills and we won’t move a child down after a two week point that they have been swimming with a particular group.

The question is: Is the cost to the pre-competitive program the same as the swim school. A. No. The swim school’s ratio is 1:4 and the pre-competitive at 1:7. Pre-competitive is essentially $7.00 per lesson so we prorate a fee. If they enroll within the pre-competitive session midway through that is prorated from when they start. The swim school – I misspoke earlier, I said it was $11.00 per lesson and I believe that it got jumped up to $15.00 per lesson.

Thank you.

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