On Sunday May 15 British Triathlon were running an Open Water Coaching CPD at Knockburn Loch which I attended. There were 12 coaches there from all around Scotland and as it was the first such Coaching CPD in the UK there was discussion around the format of the day at the end of the day too.

The day was run by Scotland’s only Swim Smooth accredited coach Alan Cardwell. We spent the morning inside the Loch Centre Hall discussing OW safety procedure and details to bear in mind when filling in the risk assessment for OW Coaching venues. This was in the main based around managed centre such as Knockburn Loch.

After that we were put into smaller groups to put together a session plan for a session we would run in the afternoon. I was in a group with 2 others, Alan from Glasgow and Jacqui from Aberdeenshire. Alan would do the land based warm up and Jacqui and I would look after the main session with Alan in the water. In the afternoon a group of roughly 20 swimmers joined us so that we could put our coaching session into practice.

The swimmers were of mixed ability and also had some or no experience of swimming in the open water. Our group mostly consisted of swimmers fairly new to OW. Knockburn Loch was 12 degrees on the day but we had little wind and the sun occasionally made an appearance.

Alan’s land based warm up helped a lot to warm the swimmers up before they got in the water and then we gave them some time to acclimatise to the temperatures and get their faces in the water. The 3 coaching groups and three swimmer groups and their own areas to work in which allowed us to focus on the tasks at hand. For safety there was a kayak in the water even though the area we were working in would have allowed any swimmers stand up as the maximum depth was 1.5 metres.

Knockburn Loch – situated in Aberdeenshire – feels a bit like coaching in a pool as you can walk up and down the water’s edge while the swimmers are swimming beside you and easily talk to them form the shore. All three groups had sets of buoys to work kayak was useful in positioning ours. It would be great to have a venue like Knockburn Loch within reach of Edinburgh. The closest are the Helix in Falkirk, Lochore in Fife and Foxlake near Dunbar all of which are still at least 30-40 min away depending on evening traffic. At present we are most likely to use unmanaged venues such as Threipmuir reservoir or the Musselburgh lagoons as they are much more accessible (you can get there by bike).

In our group we got swimmers practising sighting, did some drafting work and the corkscrew turn round a buoy. There were a couple of interesting learning points from my point of view in terms of coaching in an OW venue. Instructions have to be short and concise and coaches very specifically need to know who is doing what to ensure swimmers remain stationary for the shortest amount of time. It is also extremely important to check with swimmers that they are warm enough. Lastly the intensive land based warm up is a great idea as it really helps get the body temperature up before heading in the water.

Doug MacDonald, the Triathlon Scotland Coaching Officer, always says at the end of day that he has organised that everyone should put in place at least one thing he learnt that day in the coming week. For me it was the land based warm up which I got my athletes to do who went Open Water swimming.

Thank you to Alan Cardwell for delivering the course. We got some very good and useful feedback from the swimmers at the end of the day too and they all went away with more confidence in OW swimming.