Practice Groups

We developed a list of 10 Practice Principles for coaches to follow and six distinct swim levels to ensure that every swimmer is getting the instruction and support they need to meet their personal goals. These swim levels allow us to break our practices into practice groups based on the age and abilities of our swimmers. If you have any questions about your child's practice group or if you think she/he is ready to move up, please discuss this with your a coach or email

Practice Group Descriptions:

In the summaries below, we offer general guidelines for the typical ages and abilities of swimmers in each swim level. Please remember that swimmers are assigned to groups based on their swimming skills/needs and their ages and coaches have discretion to move swimmers into the group they feel will best meet the needs of the swimmer and the team.

Minimum Qualifications to join VST:

  1. Be at least 5 years old and complete kindergarten
  2. Swim at least 25 yards, unassisted, without stopping
  3. Can push off of the wall and glide on the surface of the water with face in the water

Level One - 5-8 years old:

Swimmers in this age group are generally 5-8 years old and new to competitive swimming.

This swim group will focus on maintaining a horizontal body position for freestyle and backstroke. Swimmers in this group will also learn breathing and kicking techniques to maintain proper body position.We will introduce the concept of a streamlined body position and begin teaching kneeling dives.

Level Two - Experienced 8 year-olds and Intermediate 9-10 year-olds:

These swimmers will improve their freestyle and backstroke speed and technique and learn how to swim breaststroke. Butterfly will be introduced at this level as well as racing starts from the blocks.

Level Three - Experienced 9-10 years old:

These swimmers will be able to swim each of the four strokes with proper, legal technique and will be able to perform 100 yard individual medley events.

Level Four - 11-12 years old:

At this level, swimmers have very good technique in all four strokes and can swim at least 100 yards of each stroke with good form. These swimmers will learn to perform backstroke flip turns and fast relay exchanges.

Level Five - 13-14 years old:

At this level, swimming is physically challenging, but these swimmers will also learn to develop the mental skills needed to reach their best race performances. These swimmers will be able to turn without losing speed, conduct starts and relay exchanges with advanced technique and develop as strong sprinters.

Level Six - 15 and Up:

These swimmers will have intense and challenging practices designed to meet their performance goals.

Interested in reading more about our Swim Levels? Click here for the full list of skills for each level. Please note that this document uses terms that are familiar to coaches, but might need some explaining for non-coaches. As always, you should contact your swimmer's coach if you have any questions.

Practice Principles:

Our coaches are guided by a set of core principles that should be incorporated into every practice. These principles are the basis of our coaching philosophy and help us to ensure continuity across our coaching staff. Please contact a coach if you have any questions about these principles.

VST Practice Planning Principles for Coaches:

1. Every practice should have an aspect of fun, surprise and/or variety built into it. Swimming is not an inherently fun sport unless coaches make this a priority.

2. Each practice should have sets designed to improve technique, and each swimmer should get personalized feedback at least one time per practice session.

3. Yardage for the sake of yardage is unhelpful and potentially injurious to swimmers. Every lap or activity should matter and should be directed at a specific goal. If a coach cannot easily explain the purpose of any particular lap or activity to the swimmers, then that lap or activity should not be part of the practice.

4. When appropriate, swim groups or fun activities should be combined in order to develop a sense of camaraderie between the age groups. Older swimmers often serve as mentors for younger swimmers, so opportunities to encourage this should not be missed.

5. Get in the water. Coaching from the deck works most of the time, but coaches should not miss opportunities to reflexively jump in to demonstrate or correct a technique at the instant the opportunity presents itself. Also, much of a swimmer’s technique can only be evaluated beneath the surface of the water. These opportunities are missed by coaches who are reluctant to enter the pool or who are not dressed appropriately to swim. Coaches should plan to enter the water several times per practice, even with older swimmers.

6. For younger swimmers, coaches need to be in the water for almost every minute of the practice. If a coach dislikes getting into the water, the kids will notice and their attitudes will follow suit. Make your love of swimming obvious to the kids and they will learn to share your enthusiasm.

7. Start practices on time. Even if the swimmers aren’t ready, coaches should be prepared to begin on time.

8. Prepare the pool before swimmers arrive. Swimmers need lanes, backstroke flags and blocks for every practice. If swimmers arrive early for practice, they can help with lane lines, but it is the responsibility of the coaches to put in the lanes on time.

9. Coaches should help swimmers to develop personalized goals for the season. Practices should be designed to recognize and support these personal goals whenever possible.

10.Summer swimmers are sprinters. Practices should focus on swimming at full speed whenever possible with short-duration, high–intensity sprints followed by adequate rest periods. Swimmers don’t learn to sprint when they are swimming long sets.