Safety Notice to Member Clubs and Coaches Regarding teaching of racing starts

Swim Start Child MediumIn its experience, USA Swimming observed that the greatest risk of serious head injury in swimming occurs in connection with teaching racing starts. In response, our insurer engaged Indiana University to conduct a racing start study. Several important observations from that study are:

  • A swimmer who is told to dive straight down with arms at the side may well have sufficient head velocity at a six-foot depth to cause serious injury.
  • Racing starts from the side of the pool are typically no shallower than racing starts off the starting blocks.
  • Experienced swimmers can always control the depth of their racing starts (unless they are trying a new technique). Most, but not all inexperienced swimmers can control the depth of their racing starts.

USA Swimming has taken the following steps in response to these observations:

  • The American Red Cross Safety Training for Swim Coaches Manual and training course have been modified to emphasize the importance of appropriate safety measures in teaching racing starts, including the use of a proper progression for novice swimmers and the elimination of any technique that involves diving with arms at the side, over sticks, or through hoops, unless that technique is performed in a diving well. The revised version of the Safety Training for Swim Coaches Supplement manual is now available. It can be downloaded at the bottom of the American Red Cross Safety Training for Swim Coaches page . (See Chapter 2: Head-first Entries and Racing Start Safety.)
  • Effective May 1, 2009, USA Swimming’s Board of Directors has modified the racing start rule, 103.2.2 (which already provides that racing starts should only be taught in at least six feet of water) to further clarify that racing starts should only be taught under the direct supervision of a USA Swimming member coach, and to expand the definition of teaching racing starts to make clear that no swimmer who has not been certified as proficient by his or her coach should be performing racing starts into less than six feet of water (revised Rule 103.2.2 is attached).
  • The certification process is described on the Racing Start Certification Checklist which was also approved by the Board. That document requires that for swimmers age 10 years and under or swimmers with less than one year of experience, the coach must certify that the swimmer has been trained according to the progression set forth on the form. . For older or more experienced swimmers, the checklist requires the coach to certify appropriate skill level based on the coach’s observation. The required certification is based on the coach’s professional judgment and must be recorded in writing for each swimmer. The Racing Start Certification Checklist can be downloaded below. There is also a FAQ about this process below as well.

Required Checklist Form & Teaching Suggestions

Racing Start Certification Checklist

Teaching Head First Entries and Racing Start Safety

From Swim Essentials: Teaching the Fundamentals to Age Group Swimmers

FAQ on Racing Start Certification

  1. Why did the USA Swimming Board of Directors implement the Racing Start Certification Checklist?  The experience of USA Swimming and a racing start study commissioned by our insurer observed that teaching racing starts can potentially result in serious injury if not performed correctly. In response to these observations, the USA Swimming Board made changes to the existing six-foot depth rule for teaching racing starts. Those changes included making clear that the definition of teaching racing starts includes all racing start training until the swimmer’s coach certifies that the swimmer has the skill to perform a shallow racing start on demand into four feet of water. The Racing Start Certification Checklist establishes criteria for that certification.
  2. What are the criteria for racing start certification? In order for swimmers age 10 years and under and/or swimmers with less than one year of experience to be certified, the swimmer must have satisfactorily completed the racing start learning progression set forth in the American Red Cross Safety Training for Swim Coaches Supplement manual also found on the Racing Start Certification Checklist. For swimmers age 11 and older with more than one year experience, certification is based on the coach’s observation that the swimmer is capable of safely controlling the depth of his or her racing starts. In all cases, the certification is based on the coach’s professional judgment—it is not and cannot be a guarantee.
  3. What if a swimmer is certified at one club and then transfers to another? The swimmer must be recertified at the new club.
  4. Who is responsible for keeping copies of certification forms? Each club is responsible for retaining, for three years, a certification form for each of its swimmers. There is no requirement that these forms be sent to an LSC or to officials responsible for any competition.
  5. Does the certification process impose more liability on coaches? No. A coach’s liability is already based on the coach’s exercise of good professional judgment in deciding whether a swimmer has the skills necessary to safely perform a racing start into less than six feet of water (including racing starts into the USA Swimming minimum starting depth of four feet). Certification simply documents that for each swimmer, such professional judgment was exercised. Similarly, coaches are also already responsible for following the progression set forth in the American Red Cross Safety Training for Swim Coaches Supplement manual to teach racing starts to young or novice swimmers. Certification documents that the steps in the American Red Cross Safety Training Manual have been followed.
  6. If a certified swimmer is injured while performing a racing start, will the coach be covered by insurance? Yes, if the injury occurs in practice, at a sanctioned or approved competition, or at a closed competition. Competitions that are not an approved, sanctioned, or closed competition under the provisions of USA Swimming’s Rules and Regulations have never been covered by our insurer. A coach who fails to follow the certification process will not be insured by our insurer in the event of injury.
  7. Does the certification make a coach liable when a swimmer is injured performing a racing start at times other than under the coach’s supervision? No. To address the fact that swimmers may practice or compete outside the supervision of their coach, USA Swimming has prepared a Safety Notice to Parents, for posting at all member clubs. That Notice makes clear that it is the parents’ responsibility to make sure that no child who has not been certified attempts to perform a racing start into less than six feet of water.
  8. Are LSCs or meet officials responsible for checking that each swimmer participating in a competition has been safety certified? No. It is the responsibility of the coach who is supervising his or her swimmers at a competition to use reasonable care to make sure that only swimmers who have been certified perform racing starts into less than six feet of water. It is the responsibility of the parents in circumstances where the coach is not supervising the swimmers.
  9. Can swimmers who have not been certified still participate in swim meets? Yes. However, they may not start from either a starting block or from the side of the pool and may start only from within the pool.
  10. Where can I find information about teaching head first entry progressions and racing start safety? Answer: The progressions are described with accompanying photos in the American Red Cross Safety Training for Swim Coaches Manual. It can be downloaded at the bottom of the American Red Cross Safety Training for Swim Coaches page . (See Chapter 2: Head-first Entries and Racing Start Safety.)