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NCCP Swimming Fundamentals Coach – Coaches Workbook  

A LOOK AT MEMORY AND LEARNING IN CHILDREN: IMPLICATIONS FOR COACHING 

There is a consensus among researchers that memory improves as children get older, starting at birth and 
reaching ‘adult’ levels of performance by around 15 yrs. This means that younger children (e.g. 6 and 7 yr olds) 
generally have worse memory than older children, and kids have generally poorer memory performance than 
adults.  As coaches, we have to take this in to account when we are teaching children. Listed below are some 
findings from memory research in children and how you might apply this information when teaching/coaching. 
 

™  Kids are not able to keep many “chunks” of info in their head all at once. For instance, a 7 yr‐old can 
only keep about 3 or 4 things in their mind at once. This means that if you try to give children a whole 
lot of things to keep in mind at the same time (what is sometimes called the shopping list style), they 
will likely forget a lot of it. 
o Tip … Keep It Simple! Only give them a few things to keep in mind at once. 
 

™  Kids have been shown to process information more slowly the younger they are. This means that 
information you give them may ‘fall out of their head’ fairly rapidly. 
o Tip … Repetition! You may have to remind younger kids more often about what you want 
them to do because they lose the info quickly. 
 

™  Kids have more trouble ‘inhibiting’ irrelevant things from popping into their heads. This makes it 
more difficult for them to focus on the important things, such as instructions being given by you! 
o Tip … Again, Keep It Simple!  Fewer bits of info flying around in their head makes it easier for 
them to focus on the important things. 
o Tip … Get Their Attention Before you Teach! With all those other things going on in their 
heads, unless they are focused on you whatever you say is more likely to get lost in the clutter. 
 

™ People can remember things easily if they can link them to things they already know. Since kids 
starting swimming will have little to no ‘knowledge base’, it makes it more difficult for them to tie in 
what you are teaching with what they already know. 
o Tip … Patience and Repetition!  Swimming skills are complex and it will take new swimmers a 
bit of time to ‘wrap their head’ around all the new knowledge that is being thrown at them.    
 

™ People learn things best when they are paying attention. As most of us know, kids usually find it 
difficult to pay attention to one thing for a long period time (especially if there is a bunch of 
distracting stuff going on around them … like on a pool deck!). We also learn better by learning things 
bit‐by‐bit over many practice sessions rather than trying to cram everything into one session. The 
time in between practice sessions gives our new memories a chance to ‘consolidate’ (i.e. grow 
stronger). Finally, we tend to remember things that produce a strong emotional reaction better than 
things that don’t.  
o Tip … Keep It Short And Sweet!  Making things interesting will capture and hold the kids’ 
attention, and if a kid has a positive emotional reaction to what you are teaching (e.g. “WOW, 
that was really FUN!”) they will probably remember it well. Keeping things short will also 
ensure you are not trying to teach too much in a single session and ‘overloading’ your 
swimmers. 
Reference 
Haberlandt, K. (1999). Human memory: Exploration and application. Allyn & Bacon. 
Page | 3.2 TEACHING AND LEARNING
 
© 2010 Swimming Canada – www.swimming.ca NCCP Swimming Info – www.nccpswimming.org   

 
NCCP Swimming Fundamentals Coach – Coaches Workbook 
 

A REVIEW OF “BEYOND LANGUAGE BARRIERS: TEACHING TECHNIQUES FOR SWIMMING” 
– BY E. JAMBOR (1996) 

• The article by Jambor (1996) presents a “case study” to illustrate how using 3 types of teaching
tools helped a group of beginners learn the basics of swimming.

• The teaching situation was especially difficult because of the language barrier between
swimmers and teacher/coach – the instructor spoke only English and most of the students
spoke mainly Spanish.

• Despite the language difficulty, the teacher was able to use the teaching tools of Task
Analysis, Creativity, and Peer Teaching to help the students better understand and learn the
swimming skills that were being taught.

o Task Analysis – is ‘breaking down’ a complex skill (e.g. the full Freestyle stroke) into
basic parts (e.g. kick, arm pull, breathing, etc.) that can be more easily explained,
understood, and learned. Once these parts are understood, they can be learning. Once
they are learned, the student can start to combine them with one another to form the
whole complex skill – the simpler parts are “steps” toward learning the complex skill.

o Creativity - in this case, the instructor used creative descriptions of the basic parts of
the freestyle stroke to help the non English-speaking students understand the skills. He
did this by working with the English-speaking students to come up with terms that had
more meaning as a description of the physical skill (e.g. using “flapping kick” instead of
“flutter kick”, or “side breathing” instead of “rhythmic breathing”).

o Peer Teaching – the teacher had the English-speaking students describe the skills to
the non-English students in their native language. Coupled with a physical
demonstration of the skill by the teacher, this helped the students to understand and
learn the skill.

• The teacher also engaged in a rapport and confidence-building exercise that involved sitting
with his students before class and discussing their past swimming accomplishments. The author
believed that this exercise helped increase the students’ confidence before they attempted new
(and possibly frightening) swimming skills.

The main conclusion of the article was that by using the teaching tools described above, along with
physical modeling and confidence-building, communication barriers could be overcome and more
students could be included in the learning process. 

Reference 

Jambor, E. (1996). Beyond language barriers: Teaching techniques for swimming. Journal of Physical Education, Recreation 
& Dance, 67, 34‐36.  

Page | 3.1 TEACHING AND LEARNING


 
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