View Full Version : Coaching kids with special needs

December 23rd, 2010, 03:43 AM
I know this doesn't relate to coaching Masters Swimmers, but it does relate to coaching. I have been coaching kids with special needs for about a year and a half now. They have a wide range of conditions from autism to Down syndrome. A very small number of them have been able to enter special competitions. I was wondering if there are other coaches that have perhaps done this kind of work, what has been your experience, do you have any advice for working with kids with special needs, what did you like and dislike about it, what kind of methods did you use?

Viva O Fear
December 24th, 2010, 02:55 PM
I teach adaptive PE with these kids. Unfortunately I don't ever get a chance to get them in a pool. That would be so cool. You just need to work with each kids ability and keep it fun. The amount of conditioning and stroke development will be unique to each swimmer and their ability to comprehend and apply what your doing. They really like peers, if you can get some swimmers of the same age to help you be part of the workout that would be great! Best of luck to you!

December 28th, 2010, 07:37 AM
When I was looking for information about teaching swimming to kids with special needs, I didn't find many organization in North America. Europe has that organized a little bit better. It's too bad you can't put them in the pool. We use a Halliwick swimming method, and after they develop enough confidence and an individual style of swimming we start teaching them regular techniques. But you know the best thing about it is that we are carrying out the training in a public pool, and they have been mingling with the kids from regular classes. That to me is an important achievement, removing the stigma surrounding some of the conditions these kids have, and seeing them interact more and more with the general public. Sort of two way education.

December 28th, 2010, 09:18 AM
I used to coach the local Special Olympics swim team. We didn't get much in the way of training tools so I just worked with each participant to help them get to their highest level of ability. I kept it fun and interesting, we played pool games and did lots of small practice races... having a bunch of helpers was key.

January 6th, 2011, 09:43 AM
when I was a HS senior in Fairfax County, Virginia I signed up to help with a special needs swimming program as a part of my senior work. I wound up doubling the minimum hrs because it was so much fun.

I had a little 3 yr old that suffered a heart attack at birth as well as a 20+ something man that loved indiana jones and jumping on me. I think because of my size I got assigned to him. both of those kids taught me alot about myself.

this was 17-18 yrs ago, but I think they are still running something similar might be worth trying to contact some of the pools in that area.

January 7th, 2011, 09:12 PM
:angel:Great Thread......I have a sister with special needs - would love to be able to get her to a pool. When we were younger, we shared a lot of fun in the water. One summer I worked as a Camp Nurse for Multiply Disabled Adults, I helped with them in the pool and they expressed a lot of joy. Something that we can forget when we are training......

January 10th, 2011, 01:11 PM
I asked the aquatic director at one of our YMCAs about this.

She gave me these links:




March 9th, 2011, 10:40 AM
I have some experience with adapted aquatics. I used to live in Lexington, Ky and the parks and rec department had a division of therapuetic recreation which had a variety of programs for people with disabilities of all ages, included an adapted aquatics program - which I was involved with for several years. I currently teach special education for students with moderate to severe disabilities as well. Abilities and comfort level will vary greatly with these individuals, so you really need to create an individualized program for each. I did have a couple that were close enough in ability levels that could participate as a group, and we ran modified workouts (similar to what you would see in a typical practice, but scaled down greatly).

I moved to Western Ky about 5 years ago, and facilities and programs are much more limitted here than in the lexington area. I would love to get a program started up in this are to benefit some of the kids I work with as well as others in the area. We have a growing special olympics program in this area, and I have talked to them several times about swim programs, but nothing has come of it - hopefully in the next couple of years.

Keep up the good work, and stay focused on the kids. I am in my 11th year teaching in this field, and have worked with people disabilities of all ages for the last 15 years. They say this area has a high "burnout" rate, but I don't understand that. I have one of the most enjoyable jobs imagineable.

March 9th, 2011, 11:44 AM
I am a P.E. that works with tons of "special needs" kids in my regular classes, I also volunteer weekly with the Special Olympics swim team in my area. I'd say the more helpers you can get the better off you will be. A great number of these kids can progress but usually need one-on-one assistance. We normally have the main "coach" on deck and the rest of us in the water one-on-one with the swimmers. It doesn't take much technical swimming knowledge to work in the water with the kids, just a kind and giving heart and lots of patience. Have fun! :angel:

March 9th, 2011, 02:03 PM
My daughter has particpated in SO swimming for seven years now. Her one year of SO swimming gave her enough confidence to go out for the high school swimming and water polo teams. She actually lettered in polo at her HS Senior year! We have a great team coached by a former collegiate swimmer and a mom of one of our Downs athletes. We routinely qualify more athletes for state than any program in Illinois. They use HS swimmer volunteers to assist during the weekly 1 1/4 hour practices. Great kids, all. Lanes are grouped by ability and workouts are tailored for each. The web site is www.catsswimming.com (http://www.catsswimming.com) . I'm sure the coaches would be happy to help you any way they can. My daughter and another athlete are now swimming on our Masters team and she competes at occasional meets - normally finishing last in her Master's age group but with improving times! The dedicated coaches, volunteers, and committed parents are the most important aspect. Plus they love the matching team suits, caps, towels, & bags.

June 6th, 2012, 05:31 AM
I am a USA Swim coach of a Special Needs team in NM. We train three times a week I work with then just like any other swimmer. There are 7 athletes on the team at this time. They range in age from 15 to 41. The team competes against “normal’s” all the time,. Have high expectations and work with the different disabilities. Start them out just learning how to free style swim and back stroke. Be patient and expect greatness they will surprise you. Special Olympics is a good place to start and regular swim lessons. I also have a special needs daughter who is on the swim team.

Swim with Heart
June 12th, 2012, 11:49 PM
I worked with kids with special needs, love it, get results, and hope to have them all make their highschool teams someday. Repetition is key and we all teach very hands on. I motor plan their strokes for them and that is how I get the results the fastest. If you have specific questions, please feel free to contact me directly. I specialize in teaching and reaching kiddos with autism.
I do run it as a typical team-we do small sets and repeats.
It is the best job.
I love it and the support from the community is amazing in Santa Monica, CA.
I am not a big fan of SO--only because my kids are lower functioning--and realistically would not be able to meet the standards--staying overnight without a guardian might never be possible for some of my swimmers.
Make sure the swimmers are inhaling and exhaling properly. That is the first thing that I work on when parents tell me that their kid has taken lessons for 9 years and still can't make it cross the pool.
Good luck!

October 3rd, 2012, 12:33 PM
I started a Special Olympic swimming team in my town about 6 years ago. It is so much fun. My swimmers will not make the High School team and I do not enter them in any USS swim meets. We are happy competing in our Special Olympic competitions.

As was stated earlier-repetition is important! Get the basics down-we do quite a few simple drills and basic kicking and then put the strokes together. We started out with freestyle and now we have people doing free, back and fly. Breaststroke is difficult because of the co-ordination-we only have one person who can do the kick correctly but not for a whole 25 yards!

Praise each individual over and over again! My athletes look for acknowledgement for their efforts and I love giving it to them! They encourage each other and that is fun to watch!

I have a blind woman, a deaf woman, many intellectually disabled people-from severe to moderate, a woman with muscular dystrophy, several with CP and one with epilepsy. Each person is an individual with their own gifts, talents, strengths and weaknesses. I try to give each person one thing to work on-too many things confuses them. Keep instructions simple-too much information at one time is difficult to process

When I see someone struggling-I put a life jacket on them. Then they can then master a skill without having to work on keeping afloat. As they become stronger and more confident, off comes the life jacket. The first year of our program, we had a boy about 8 years old. He couldn't swim 12 yards without panicking. Put a life jacket on him, and in about 6 weeks, he took it off and swam a length of the pool without stopping! Everyone cheered him on. Later that year he won the 25 free at our Special Olympic State meet!! He now swims the whole practice and even swam the 25 fly at last years regional meet. (He is just one awesome story!)

Have fun! When your athletes see you having fun, they too will have fun! You will also need lots of patience-some days more than others!