The Swim Professor

Jim Reiser, M.S.

How to use Demonstrations in Swimming Lessons »« Swim Instructors and Body Language

How Swimming Instructors Unintentionally Discourage Students

One sure-fire way to discourage your young learners is by using incongruent feedback. How do you avoid it?

  • You must understand the difference between congruent and incongruent feedback.
  • You must make a conscious effort to use congruent feedback.

So what is incongruent feedback and how can swim teachers avoid it? First, let’s clarify what it means to give congruent feedback: CONGRUENT FEEDBACK refers to relationship between the content of your feedback, the focus of your feedback, and the cues/buzzwords in which you have given for the skill. When your feedback is congruent, you are giving your student information that is directly related to what you have asked your student to do. Incongruent feedback, on the contrary, gives information to the learner that may be important to the skill, HOWEVER, it is not specifically related to what you just asked your swimmer to focus on.

For example, let’s assume that you are teaching a student who is just learning how to swim the freestyle (Front Crawl). You have given your student the cues, “Big strokes, fast kicks.” You have provided demonstrations or good examples that illustrated these two key components to the general, overall idea of the freestyle. You may have even provided demonstrations to illustrate a poor stroke where the arms weren’t coming out of the water and knee bend was excessive.

Having executed the above-mentioned skill presentation, you are off to a good start. Now let’s talk about the challenge: getting a young learner conditioned to execute the movement properly and consistently.

Studies have shown that when teachers give a high percentage of “congruent feedback,” that their teaching becomes more narrow and more focused (Rink, 1993). As a result, your students’ effort becomes more narrow and focused. BUT HERE IS THE PROBLEM: FAR TOO MANY TEACHERS use what is known as the “shotgun approach.” The shotgun approach involves the teacher asking the student to focus on the “big strokes, fast kicks,” HOWEVER, as soon as the student performs the skill–the teacher starts giving feedback on everything the teacher knows or observes relative to the freestyle.

Let’s go back to the example above. You have given your student specific cues and instructions focusing on the big strokes and fast kick. If your feedback is congruent, your feedback after that particular swim should be focused in on just that. Yet at the end of the swim, the feedback given goes something like this instead:

  • “You have to point your toes when kicking!”
  • “Don’t pull so short!
  • “You have to rotate your hips!”
  • “You have to lead your stroke with your shoulder!”
  • “Don’t look forward when you swim!”

Lastly, and extremely important–think of how the psychological effect of the incongruent feedback corrections could have on the student. The young learner is trying so hard to please the instructor working hard to do what the instructor asked, but then the instructor ignores that effort only to give additional corrections. While the teacher’s intentions are good, the incongruent feedback can lead to a very discouraged student.  While each of these statements may be completely accurate, they are examples of an instructor using the shotgun approach and giving incongruent feedback. Students, especially those in the cognitive stage of learning can focus only on a limited number of cues or ideas. Even worse, when swimming instructors use this approach, students find it very difficult to maintain a focus when the instructor continuously switches the focus within short time periods

If you can implement this proven pedagogy practice in your learn-to-swim classes, you will take your teaching to a whole new level and your students will flourish under your guidance! I hope you found this blog helpful. Thank you for visiting The Swim Professor Blog!  .

The International Swimming Hall of Fame has named Jim Reiser the recipient of the 2015 Virginia Hunt Newman Award for his curriculum and approach in teaching infants, toddlers, and children to swim.  Jim is the first American to win the award in 10 years.

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January 29, 2017 at 5:06 pm
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