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Building An Age Group Swimmer Curriculum

Updated: Oct 4, 2022

Written By: Jonathan Watson


From the 2022 USA Swimming Rulebook, age group swimming is defined as “the program through which USA Swimming provides fair and open competition for its registered swimmers ages 18 years and younger”. For the purposes of this series, however, I will concentrate on the 14 and younger age group athletes, further subdividing age group swimmers into Beginners (8 & Unders), Intermediate (ages 9-12) and Advanced (ages 13-14).


As many age group coaches begin coaching with a variety of skills in their toolbox, a one-size fits all approach to creating an age group curriculum is a huge challenge. The most important thing is for each coach to start building a toolbox that you feel comfortable transferring to your athletes. Some subject matter will be better suited to older athletes while some may be able to be taught in varying degrees across multiple age groups. A common refrain heard around the country is to be careful not to teach higher level skills too soon or before younger, novice swimmers are prepared to handle the skill. This can be a challenge when coaching accolades fall easily to recognize early high performers. This is often a challenge for over-zealous coaches who are frequently praised and rewarded for developing swimmers who rise early to the top levels of our sport.


The American Development Model for USA Swimming provided a 6-level system that recommended a broad list of skills for mastery in each of the levels. In each level are lists of Biomechanical Skills, Physiological Skills, Character Development and Life Skills, Psychological Skills and Performance Skills. These skills are then further subdividedsub-divided into more narrow categories.


Coach Watson began coaching in Raleigh in 1978 with the Northbrook Country Club summer league team (1978-80, 81, 2006-2008). His year-round coaching jobs have included four years as an assistant with the Tarheel Aqua Racers (1981-1985); 21 years as Head Coach and founder of the New Wave Swim Team (1985-2006); and 13 years with the Marlins of Raleigh Swim Team (2006-present). Watson has coached numerous nationally-ranked athletes throughout his career. Watson is also very active with the North Carolina LSC and currently serves as the Programs Vice-Chairman and Camp Coordinator. He is also currently serving as the Age Group Chairman of the Southern Zone. In his career Watson has coached swimmers who have qualified for Olympic Trials, Nationals, Junior Nationals, Futures, Zones, Sectionals and State Championships. He has also coached nationally ranked athletes and athletes who have achieved state record performances.

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