Coaching Starts

Following are some considerations and instructional hints for teaching racing starts to young and/or inexperienced swimmers. Safety is a major concern when teaching starts, especially head first entries. Be sure to tell swimmers of the potential dangers and that they can get hurt doing the start incorrectly or fooling around on the starting blocks. Follow teaching progressions recommended in Safety Training for Swim Coaches and ensure that swimmers can execute a shallow head first entry before attempting to teach racing starts. Be aware that USA Swimming rules mandate minimum water depths for both teaching racing starts and for using starting blocks in competition. Have all swimmers first demonstrate the ability to do shallow head first entries into deep water. If swimmers are fearful or unable to complete a shallow head first entry, teach or review the process. Refer to The American Red Cross Safety Training for Swim Coaches supplement, pages 12, 13 and 14 for teaching progressions. Backstroke starts can also involve danger in that the swimmers are moving backwards and cannot see what is behind them. Do not allow swimmers to practice any racing starts unsupervised. Use caution when practicing movements on a wet pool deck which may be slippery.

Forward Start (Freestyle, Breaststroke and Butterfly)


  • Swimmers can use either a grab start with two feet forward or a track start with one foot back. Dependent upon their age and development, swimmers may feel better balance in the track start.
  • Strong leg back, toes straight ahead
  • Other leg forward, toes over the edge
  • Hands grab block on each side of front leg, thumbs forward
  • Look down or slightly back
  • Forward knee over the toes, hips over the heels
  • Lean forward


  • Pull down for an instant
  • Head and arms  thrown forward
  • Drive with the legs
  • Perform a shallow dive


  • Leaning back excessively
  • Head too far up or too far down. (Keep head in neutral position after leaving block)
  • Hands or head thrown too high
  • No leg push
  • Breaking at the hips or executing a start in the pike position

Progression (Racing Start Progression)

  • Swing jumps on deck
  • Swing jumps from the deck into deep water
  • Swing jumps from the blocks into deep water
  • Swing dives from the blocks into deep water


  • Safety warnings
  • Awareness of water depth with appropriate warnings and instruction
  • Remind swimmers to execute a shallow dive
  • Stand next to the block
  • Check start position and make adjustments
  • Ask “what goes out?” (hands and head)
  • Ask “how do you enter the water?” (shallow)


Teaching dolphin kick off of the forward start may not be appropriate for young or inexperienced swimmers. There is a documented tendency for young or inexperienced swimmers to hit the knees or toes on the pool bottom in shallower water


Backstroke Start

Very young swimmers often cannot reach the handles on the starting blocks intended for backstroke starts. Teach them to start by gripping the gutter.



  • Strong foot slightly lower than the other foot
  • Feet shoulder width apart
  • Bring head toward the wall, not up, but in
  • Hips point down the pool, not next to the heels
  • Knees at 90 degrees
  • Arms bent, head down


  • Hands, head, legs, in that order
  • Arms throw out and around
  • Head goes back
  • Legs drive


  • Pushing legs first
  • Head too far back
  • Going too deep
  • Hands thrown straight over head
  • Slipping caused by pulling up too high or improper foot placement


  • Quarter squat jumps on dry or non-slippery deck
  • Arm throw on dry or non-slippery deck
  • Off the ladder in the deep end


  • Safety warnings
  • Awareness of water depth with appropriate warnings and instruction
  • Stand next to the block
  • Check start position and make necessary adjustments
  • “Push your belly to the sky”

Relay Starts

Swimmers love relays, both in practice and in meets. Teach them right away to do correct relay starts. “Step” relay starts are probably not appropriate for young and/or inexperienced swimmers.



  • Feet are shoulder width apart, toes over the edge
  • The back is parallel with the water surface
  • Arms outstretched at about 45 degrees
  • Knees slightly bent


  • Arms lift, head drops and the body begins “falling”
  • Arms swing up, back and around (in a clockwise movement) and coordinate with a leg drive as they swing through and forward


  • Stand on deck, hands out front at 90 degrees to torso
  • Move arms up and around
  • Swing and jump
  • Swing and jump from side of the pool
  • Swing and dive


  • Teach safety. Be sure of headfirst entry skills and racing start skills before teaching relay starts
  • Practice the movements first without having a swimmer in the water
  • Stand beside block and check body position
  • Ask for key words: swing, dive
  • Once the swimmer can perform the movements, have the swimmer do the skill with a swimmer in the water approaching the wall.
  • Remind the swimmer in the water to stay low until the swimmer leaving the blocks has completed the entry
  • Practicing without blocks is potentially dangerous. The swimmer in the water must stay low in the water and could be advised to stay on one side of the lane until the swimmer executing the start has completed the entry.

ArenaBMWMarriottMyrtha PoolsOmegaPhillips 66SpeedoTYR