Great swim coaches will be the first to tell you that they are constantly learning.
Whether we are trying to improve the technique of our swimmers, develop better culture, or helping athletes become mentally tougher, we are always on the search to sharpen our knowledge, and by extension, the performance of swimmers in the pool.
The following list includes some of the books I have found most impactful in my own career as a swimmer and as a coach. There is a little bit of everything in this list, including technique, periodization, mental training, and inspiring stories from some of the greats of the sport.
The goal with this list is to give you a broad foundation of knowledge to work with.
Here are my selections for best books for swimming coaches.
Swim Coaching Bible (Volume 2)
One of the swim coach classics, Swim Coaching Bible, Volume 2 was put together by Dick Hannula and Nort Thornton, who collaborated with some of the top swim coaches on the planet, sharing workouts, training tips, periodization strategies, sets, and much more.
The list of contributing coaches reads like a who’s who of American coaches, including Mike Bottom, David Durden, Teri McKeever, David Marsh and more.
From mastering the underwater dolphin kick—that section is written by Bob Gillett, the coach who helped propel the underwater fly kick to its current status by way of Misty Hyman—to making your program more fun, the Swim Coaching Bible Volume 2 will help you become a more rounded swim coach.
Science of Swimming Faster
If it’s science-backed swim coaching you are after, the Science of Swimming Faster has you covered. The two editors, Dr. Scott Riewald and Dr. Scott Rodeo run through the literature on the sport that will help you understand how to apply the most current science to your coaching and to your swimmers.
Whether it’s mastering the timing of a taper, helping your swimmers recover, or what types of mental preparation works best, Science of Swimming Faster will give you plenty of ideas to take to the pool.
Championship Swim Training
Written by two of the big names in the sport, Bill Sweetenham and John Atkinson (currently the high performance director of Swim Canada), Championship Swim Training covers the four strokes, the medley, training zones, periodization, drills, and so much more.
For coaches who are looking to get more comfortable with their long term development plans, plotting a taper schedule, and evaluating their own program, Championship Swim Training is a great resource.
The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups
A high-performing team culture is the goal of every coach. When the culture is good swimmers are motivated, they are engaged, and they perform towards the peak of their abilities (and sometimes beyond, such is the power of team).
While we all know what great culture looks and feels like, it can be difficult to nail down exactly what creates and sustains it. Coyle—also author of The Talent Code—spends time with some of the most high-performing teams across numerous industries and markets to see what they have in common.
The result is a list of tips and suggestions that you can use to help crank up the performance of your team and swimmers. (I did a lengthy review of the book here.)
How Good Do You Want to Be?: A Champion’s Tips on How to Lead and Succeed
Nick Saban, head coach of the football team at the University of Alabama, is the most successful coach in college football, offers up his process-based philosophy in How Good Do You Want to Be?
Nick Saban’s “the process” has become a rallying cry for coaches and organizations with its simple stick-to-your-job and stay-in-the-moment philosophy that decreases performance anxiety and helps athletes focus on the things they can influence.
Written after he’d won a national championship at LSU (he has since won five more at Alabama) Saban’s How Good Do You Want to Be? gives actionable advice and suggestions on how to crank up organizational excellence and get the most out of your athletes.
The Score Takes Care of Itself: My Philosophy of Leadership
One of the all-time great football coaches, Bill Walsh breaks down his approach to coaching in this classic that details Walsh’s arrival to San Francisco when they were one of the worst football teams in the NFL. A couple years later they were world champions.
His approach is rooted in organizational excellence and mastery of the fundamentals. Once these things are taken care of the results (or the score in this case) takes care of itself.
Walsh’s vulnerability shines through quite a bit in this book, which gave me an added layer of respect for the man—he was great, but he readily admits his shortcomings and doubts.
The Golden Rules: Finding World-Class Excellence in Your Life and Work
Michael Phelps’ long time swim coach Bob Bowman outlines his philosophy for coaching success, breaking down his process into a series of steps or rules that swim coaches, swimmers, or anyone looking to advance in their respective field can adhere to for proven results.
Bowman’s The Golden Rules (which I reviewed in-depth here) includes lots of background on his time with Phelps, including some of the less-than-awesome moments in their sometimes tumultuous working relationship.
No Limits: The Will to Succeed
Michael Phelps is the greatest swimmer in the history of our sport. In No Limits, Phelps talks about his journey from age group phenom to Olympic legend, with an emphasis on his magical week in Beijing where he won 8 gold medals, surpassing the most gold medals won in a single Olympics.
From using the trash-talking of his competitors as motivation to how he prepared on race day, Phelps lets us behind the scenes of his time developing into the biggest swimmer in history.
Conquer the Pool: The Swimmer’s Ultimate Guide for a High-Performance Mindset
Full disclaimer, this a full-blown and shameless plug.
This book was written by me (more about me here if you are at all interested) and was written in conjunction with 200+ head coaches, Olympians, former world record holders and NCAA champions.
It’s a workbook that has helped thousands of swimmers and coaches develop legendary mindsets in the water. The mental training book covers everything from how to set goals that kick butt, to learning how to master the process, to mastering your anxiety and nerves behind the block on race day.
More Stuff Like This:
5 Essential Books for Competitive Swimmers. A quick reading list for swimmers that covers the biggies: motivation, habit formation, skill building and injury prevention.
The Best Stopwatches for Swim Coaches. We run the best stopwatches for swimming through their paces. Let’s get our digital hand clock on!
6 Best Gift Ideas for Swim Coaches. Looking to pick up a gift for your swim coach? Here are some of the best things to pick up for your swimming coach that says, “You rock.”