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Coaching Swimming

Child swimmingThis page is designed to help family, friends, rehabilitation specialists, teachers and coaches better prepare athletes with disabilities to compete in the swimming arena. It is important for anyone who would like to train an athlete with disabilities to have knowledge about the disability before training the athlete. Many times, individuals with disabilities take longer to progress, and far too often, parents and coaches who are not experienced with coaching the disabled become discouraged by the lack of progress in one swim season (LePore, Gayle, Stevens, 1998).

Coaching Tips

  • Attend clinics, view videos, and read articles pertaining to specific disability implications.

  • Allow competition after individual has mastered basic swimming skills, endurance and positive attitude.

  • Focus on the stroke or the position in which the individual is most comfortable.

  • Concentrate on sound individual functional mechanics, rather than on traditional stroke techniques

  • Teach the swimmer how to set goals.  Goal setting will not only empower the swimmer but also help the swimmer and coach stay focused.

Apply principles of general swim training to develop a progressive training program that considers the goals of the swimmer, medical indication or contraindications, present level of swimming performances and fitness, and anatomical limitations (LePore, Gayle, Stevens, 1998).

Disability Implications

  • Swimmers with disabilities may not have the ability to turn and push off with legs, feet or hand. It is important for the coach to be aware of legal useful movements for a push off.

  • Swimmers with one leg or hemiplegia may have difficulty coming straight off the wall and may need to adjust the foot on the wall or hand and body position before the push-off.

  • Paraplegics and/or quadriplegics may need to begin their turn prior to the wall and push off using the palm of the hand at an oblique angle to provide propulsion to complete.

  • Teaching the start may be a difficult part of training. It is important to decide on the start based on what the rules say and on the athlete’s functional ability.

  • A swimmer should start on the blocks if he or she has good standing balance and can perform a shallow dive.

  • A sitting dive is not appropriate for individuals with poor trunk or head control, spasticity, or missing lower body parts. Starting in the water may be best for these individuals.

  • Swimmers with impaired trunk, hip, and leg functions may have difficulty with stroke mechanics. Excessive swaying in hips may cause stroke imbalance and difficulty breathing.

  • Walk backwards in front of a swimmer to cut a path in the water, allowing the athlete to propel more easily by reducing water turbulence.

  • Help an athlete compensate by allowing them to kick the functional leg inward and downward, crossing over the midline, helping balance the body and making breathing easier.

  • Perfecting a two-beat kick may also help.

  • Swimmers with impaired hearing and sight may require the coach to tap, speak, and use of signals to aid them during competition.

Competition Opportunities

Competition opportunities for students with disabilities will also include local (e.g. school team, YMCA, swimming clubs) and national competitions for all students that wish to compete in swimming activities.


LePore, M; Gayle, G.W. Stevens, S. (1998). Adapted Aquatics Programming: A professional Guide.

Human Kinetics

Created by Michelle Richardson

Physical Educator, Lewisville Independent School District

Kinesiology graduate student, Texas Women’s University, Summer 2004

page last updated 1/3/2017 1:00 PM