Training Module – Command Language

Spring. Melting snow, longer sunlight, and weather so strange, variable and weird that you have no idea what type of clothing your’e going to need next.

Spring is also the time you need to start thinking about training your new hires when summer starts and your pools open.

If you’re like me and you have a robust year-round program then you’re thinking about training new hires on an on-going basis. In fact, I have a new swim coach who started last week, and two new hires that will start this week.

Here is a quick activity you can do during an in-service or during your new-hire swim instructor training as a module, that will make your staff sound more professional and more powerful when they work with kids.


I have a lot of high school people join my team. They either coach alongside me on the pool deck or I’m watching them teach swim lessons. Do you know what the number one thing they struggle with?

Clear communication.

There are two reasons beginners are not very good at telling kids what to do.

  1. They don’t know the material, so they’re unsure what to say or actually have the kids do. They’re stymied by ignorance.
  2. They sound weak. New people unsure of their ability, their confidence, or knowledge stammer, they use general words without committing to anything, and they turn their commands into questions.


Speak with clear command and action language. You can see an excellent post that covers this topic in depth here:

In-service – Command Language

For this training there will be a brief group lecture of less than 5 minutes. After initial introduction split into small groups, or if your training group size is small, one group. Participants will form teams with a leader watching over up to 5 small groups at a time.


We’re going to talk about one simple thing you can do during your swim lessons that will make you a better instructor. It has to do with your language. Are there any guesses what that is?

(If you’ve done any other training you’ll likely get things like, “Remove ‘okay’ from the end of your sentences,” or “avoid saying “Okay guys, ummm, ahhh, our, ahhh, next activity will, ummm, be…”)

Command language! That’s right. We’re going to learn how to speak in clear concise commands in order to give our swimmers clear instructions.

Here are three ways that you can keep your commands clear, concise, and effective.

  1. Speak in short sentences ending in periods.
    • “Next we’re doing front glides. Here is how you do one. Johnny, you’re going first. Ready, go.”
  2. Know what you’re going to do next before you choose an activity.
    • Have a progression in mind. Avoid the “ummm, ahhhs,” and confusion when you follow a lesson plan, or when you follow the general lesson plan format (activity, activity, challenge).
    • If you want to work on side breathing front crawl, start with glides, then glides with arms and no breath, then glides with arms and 1 breath. Provide support.
  3. Lean on your structure, your format, and leverage it to make your instructions clear.
    • If you’re going to do streamlines and you’re familiar with a rotating format, like 3 x SL, then you’ll remove a lot of the confusion when you start a new skill. You can leverage the existing format that you’ve established to easily slot in actions.
    • Do what you normally do in a way that

We’re going to break up into small groups and do two activities that will give you a chance to practice using “command language with your peers. Create groups with at least three people.

Activity #1: Get their attention

Designate one person to be the swim instructor. Designate one person to be the counter. The last person, or others are participants.

Everyone that is not the instructor should talk loudly to each other. Not yelling, but speaking loud or involved in their own non-disruptive actions like a child not paying attention.

When the instructor gets your attention, listen with effort to their instructions and quiet conversation. If told to make eye contact do so, if you hear them say it.

Instructor needs to get everyone’s attention and say what activity the group is going to do next.

For example:

“Okay! Next we’re going to….” “Hey, i need your attention. Look at me. Johnny, pay attention.” “Okay, we’re doing front glides next.”

If that doesn’t work, then do something like.

“Johnny, Joey, Sally, and Roger, I need your attention. Quiet down. Next we’re doing front glides.”

Once the group is quiet tell them what activity they’re going to do.

The counter should count how many times the instructor uses a “filler” word like “ahhhh,” “ummm,” or a general ineffective term like, “okay guys, hey everyone” or a too quiet voice.

Goal is to have as few filler words or quiet or general ineffective phrases as possible in getting everyone’s attention.

Take turns who is the instructor so everyone gets a chance to do it.

Activity #2: Get results with questions

Find a partner. One person is the question maker, and the other person is the follower.

The questions maker should have a specific goal that they need to get the follower to do by only asking questions. Get the follower to do your goal in less than 15, 12, or 10 questions.

Goal examples:

  • Wrap a towel around your head.
  • Pick up a toy and put it in a different location at least ten feet away in a small space, like a box.
  • Swim a 25 in a non-standard stroke, like spinning one back one free or doing a specific pattern of hops and swims.
  • Go to three locations in the pool, the shallow end corner, the slide, and the bathroom exit and do a pushup, jumping jack, and a sit up at each.


The question maker must only ask questions.

The follower can say “no,” to 5, 4, or 3 questions of their choosing. Change the amount based on the number of questions.

If a question is denied, then the Question Maker must come up with a different way of asking a question to get the result the desire. They are not allowed to repeat the question in the same fashion.

For example, “Will you do a situp?” “No.” “Can you please do one situp?” The questions are the same “do a/one situp.” Must be asked differently to achieve objective.

If the Question Maker cannot get the follower to do the goal they fail.

If the Follower achieves the goal they fail.


How could you get your partner to achieve the goal easier? By giving clear commands. What was frustrating about asking questions to get someone to do something?

How did you feel when they said “no?”

Making your language uncertain, or a question gives the participant a chance to say no. We want instant compliance and by making our language direct, with periods and clear we will get better results.

Remember, kids in our swim lessons want to be told what to do. They like routine, clear expectations and stimulating activities. Provide interest and fun in your routine during the challenge section or the game section of your lessons.

If you use clear command language with out excessive questions or pauses you’ll have better lessons.

Have you done this training module? What were your successes? What can be improved? Comment below!

Better swimming.
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