When a coach is poolside and explaining a set or a drill, they are quite frequently interrupted. This can throw your train of thought off but it can also be an important learning moment.
Swimmers who are listening intently but suddenly find that the explanation has taken a turn which they did not follow can do two things: ask a interrupting question to understand (to you or to another swimmer) or be quiet and not understand.
Swimmers whom you have lost their attention and are not confident enough to ask a question; will begin to play. And by doing that you begin to have competition for attention because hand-stands are always more fun that learning how to improve tempo.
If you follow the philosophy that asking questions is a good thing, then you will know that a question is an excellent learning moment. In fact I think a question is a gold mine. It will tell you that your perfect explanation is not perfect. Impossible you say! It is true, the question is letting you know that you are not getting your idea across. And essentially that is exactly what you are trying to do and I assume that if one swimmer doesn’t get it others don’t either.
So try to integrate the question into your explanation, let swimmers know that you allow swimmers to ask questions. Maybe you want swimmers to take their heart rate. It may be obvious to you that you mean at the end of each repeat but maybe you forgot that important bit of information. For example;
“thank you Becky for asking a question, I like questions because it helps me, yes I mean that you have to take your heart rate at the end of each repeat and then tell your lane coach”….” and so now…we will start our set and everyone knows that taking heart rate can give us important information”.
Also if your discourse has moved into ‘verbal diarrhoea’ you have only to look at your group to know that they are bored to tears and begin to play. We all learned how to squirt water with our hands didn’t we? Your body language, your tone of voice, your humour and possibly your demonstration should keep your swimmers’ interest. Or you are doing it wrong.
Even with the best demonstration, you may be competing with other things around the pool, so always be sure there is nothing interesting behind you like an outside window, another squad of swimmers or public swimmers.
Some coaches have asked me the question; how do you get everyone to listen to you like that? The trick is this; don’t start until they are all looking at you. Then…away you go. I always say to a new group (because your regular group should know), ‘I know you are not listening unless you are looking at me’. This is easy to do and easy to see. Just wait, don’t shout. You are in charge.
How you make it interesting and how you keep their attention is your style and charisma once you start talking. Keeping attention is a bit of a trick but basically you should keep the information short; one aspect of information. Not two or three…or ten. Only one. You may find this hard to do at first and certainly I frequently find myself giving too much information but it is much more affective to keep it ‘simple stupid’.
How many times have I overheard this type of direction:
‘I want you to keep your head up and make sure you’re entering with little finger first, keep your stroke count to as low as you can and go as fast as you can on every second length. Hold wrists limp on the exit on the recovery and exhale on each stroke properly. Don’t overkick and don’t let your knees break the surface. And don’t forget to do all your dolphin kicks off the wall. No coming up before the flags. Roll your shoulders too…’ (sound familiar?)
Keeping attention can also be done by finding something that helps you to get your point across. I like to use a white board to get my point across. This is my style and maybe not for everyone but it is different so it is interesting.
Use questions to help you to get your point across and keep your idea simple. It helps to make sure you are the most interesting thing and make sure everyone can hear you by speaking slowing in an echo-like environment.