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Swimming coaches help swimmers of different ability levels to improve their technique, fitness and performance in the water using a range of exercises, and fitness and dietary programmes.
Being a swimming coach involves a range of activities. Common tasks would include:
- Attending training sessions with groups or individuals
- Keeping up-to-date on developments in sports science
- Advising clients on technique and performance
- Developing training routines for swimmers
- Demonstrating strokes and styles in the pool
- Advising on diet and fitness
- Attending competitive functions with athletes
- Collecting equipment at the end of sessions
- Managing private business accounts
- Completing tax returns
- Expanding a client base through marketing and advertising
As swimming coaching, like almost all coaching jobs, is based on an hourly rate for clients, this means that most independent coaches’ earnings vary depending on the number of clients on the books and the number of hours’ training completed. The hourly wage is often good, rising from £15 up to as much as £60 or more, dependant on qualifications and experience, but earnings are flexible and potentially unreliable as a result. Some coaches are employed by leisure centres, gyms or swimming pools on a full time basis, providing more stable employment, with salaries ranging from £15k to much more for better-qualified individuals.
Swimming coaches have the job of helping people to swim faster and better, and sometimes even teaching adults or children from scratch. Often clients will come to a coach with a range of objectives or requirements and the coach will help them to plan a programme of exercise, often including dietary and non-swimming fitness elements. The coach will then help the client to meet their objectives over a given period of time, providing motivation, encouragement and advice along the way.
Sometimes duties will involve training children or adults as competitive athletes, sometimes as part of a club or team, advising on race technique and timing in order to maximize an individual swimmer’s performance.
Qualifications are an important aspect which should be taken seriously as a swimming coach. There is a range of formal qualifications and different stages to complete, but many coaches have also been competitive swimmers themselves when young, something which is an advantage when proving credentials and expertise. The most common progression is to do the British Amateur Swimming Association qualification. Level 1 confers assistant teacher level, and Level 2 confers full teacher status. Above this, it is also possible to become a club coach.
Being a swimming coach requires a range of skills, including:
- Excellent knowledge of swimming and good swimming ability
- Patience and good people-skills
- Flexibility to meet changing demands
- Good organisational skills to juggle different clients
- Good instinct for publicising services
- The ability to manage a network of clients
Swimming coaches spend most of the time at the swimming pool, though not usually in the water. This means the working conditions are fairly safe and warm, if not overly active, for much of the time actual coaching is taking place.
Actual experience of being a coach is perhaps less important than having the right qualifications, although if you are unqualified you will be expected to have experience of being a professional or competitive swimmer. Many keen swimmers become coaches after they finish competing or reach the peak of their ability, and to be a coach it is important to know about the way in which swimming competitions work, what it is like to compete in them and so on, especially when dealing with athletic swimming.
Most swimming coaches are self-employed but a few are employed by teams, clubs or leisure centres on a full-time basis.
Swimming coaches depend on having a wide enough and solid enough client base to provide a consistent income. They must also be able to take on new pupils as old ones drop out. Some coaches start as junior coaches or assistants and the first step beyond this is to become an independent coach with an independent coaching business. Beyond that it is possible to employ assistants or run or set up a swimming school or academy. After this, some coaches graduate to club coach level.
Also known as…
- Swimming trainer
- Swimming teacher
What’s it really like?
David Jones, 27, is a swimming coach and personal trainer working in London. He tells us what it’s really like.
Dave provides a prestigious swimming coaching and personal training service through his company Sculpt.
How long have you been working as a swimming coach?
For a little over four years now. After I finished university I started work in the sports press, and wanted to pursue a media or PR based career (my degree was in Media & PR studies). However, having been a competitive swimmer for many years, even during my time at university, I took up coaching on the side, and then got more and more interested in the work. After two years working in the media I moved to London and it was then that I decided to take up coaching and training full time. I set up a new website recently and I now have a well-established training service, split between swimming and more conventional physical training, with a wide client base ranging from adult professionals to children.
What do you do in a typical day at work?
I generally have a few different slots in my day and my routine is based around these. I always wake up early, at 5:30, have breakfast and then leave home in time for sessions with a couple of clients before they go to work. Then there is a quiet period before a couple more clients, then lunch, then more training. The majority of my swimming coaching is done in the 4-6 afternoon slot, as most coaching is with children and the most popular time for children’s classes is after they finish school. Swimming coaching is obviously done in the pool but I do some other training activities outdoors or in the gym. After that I sometimes have more clients, and finish around 9, or just finish after the swimming. Wednesday is my day off and I do tend to work weekends, but it’s something you have to do in order to fit in around clients’ work demands.
What do you like and dislike about the job?
I love being my own boss. When things are going well it is really satisfying and you really feel you earned the rewards. You also get the full financial benefits of your work, as well as a lot of flexibility – to a certain extent you can dictate how many hours you work, and when, and this applies to taking time off for holidays or short breaks as well. I suppose in many ways it’s a lifestyle job and I certainly enjoy most aspects of the job, particularly being active, travelling around, meeting different people and staying fit in the process. I guess that in some ways the client does the hardest part of the work; often you are watching and advising them rather than swimming or working out yourself, although you always have to be professional and know how to present yourself.
On the down side the early and late starts can be quite gruelling. For the first 15 minutes of each morning the world doesn’t seem a very nice place, especially in winter when it’s cold and dark outside! Sometimes you get difficult clients, and of course this is the same in any job, but the coaching side almost always involves lots of time working with children, and this can be difficult as sometimes it is hard to get a message across or find ways to get through to them if they are not listening. Another thing that makes the job less certain is the lack of easy career progression. Once you are set up you really need to make a name for yourself and building a school or company, and employing other people is important. Also, to an extent, people are buying into an image and so you need to look the part to sell your service, and this means you have to take care of yourself (although I would do this anyway).
Any other advice?
I would definitely advise prospective coaches to go and try it out first. You could do this by volunteering at a local school or swimming pool. Once you have some experience and know you like the work, then you can go and get qualified. It is important to realise that much of your time will be spent working with children so it is worth finding out if you enjoy this aspect of the job. Finally, I think you need to know and love swimming and be able to perform yourself. It is not essential for the training but to deliver a good service, especially to adults, you need to have a deep understanding of the techniques you are teaching, and this only really comes with personal experience.