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

Swim Start Child Medium

New Backstroke start Certification takes effect on May 1, 2018

In 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.
  • At the 2015 USAS Convention, the USA Swimming House of Delegates adopted safety guidelines for teaching and performing backstroke racing starts. In 2018, the Operational Risk Committee’s recommendations for Backstroke Start Teaching Protocol and Certification were adopted. The recommendations took care to keep this process as streamlined as possible for coaches. This new certification is now combined with the Forward Start Certification adopted in 2009. The new requirement (Backstroke Start certification) is to be effective on May 1, 2018. The 2007 Forward Start Certification protocol and 2009 rule amendment requiring a depth of 6 feet for teaching racing start remain unchanged and in effect.
  • 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 an electronic or paper certification form must be completed for each swimmers. 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

Racing Start Safety and Backstroke and Forward Start Protocols

From Swim Essentials: Teaching the Fundamentals to Age Group Swimmers

FAQ on Racing Start Certification

  1. Why did USA Swimming implement the Racing Start Certification Checklist?  The experience of the USA Swimming’s insurance companies and independent racing start studies have indicated that teaching racing starts (forward and backstroke) can potentially result in serious injury if not performed correctly. In response to these observations, USA Swimming made changes to the existing six-foot depth rule for teaching forward racing starts in 2007 and backstroke starts in 2015. With this addition, the definition of teaching racing starts now includes all racing start training (Forward and Backstroke) 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. Who must be racing start certified?
    Certifying Athletes for BOTH Forward and Backstroke Starts
    a) For swimmers with less than one-year experience and for swimmers age 10 years and under:
    The swimmer must have satisfactorily completed the appropriate forward racing start teaching progressions as set forth in the Racing Start Certification Checklist. The American Red Cross Safety Training for Swim Coaches Manual has the Forward Racing Start Checklist and will include the backstroke learning progression after a 2018 update.
    b) For swimmers with more than one-year experience and/or swimmers age 11 and older:
    Certification is based on the coach’s observation that the swimmer is capable of safely controlling the depth of his or her racing starts.
    c) Backstroke Racing Start with the Ledge
    If an athlete will use the ledge in competition, certification with the ledge is required. If an athlete will not use the ledge in competition, certification with the ledge is not required. The same age stipulations as in (a) and (b) above apply.
  3. Who is responsible for keeping copies of certification forms? Each club is responsible for retaining, for three years, an electronic or paper 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.
  4. 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 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.
  5. What if a swimmer is certified at one club and then transfers to another? The swimmer must be recertified at the new club.
  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? 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.) 
  11. Where can I find information about teaching backstroke start protocols and racing start safety? Racing Start Safety and Backstroke and Forward Start Protocols are available from the USA Swimming website and will ultimately be available in the American Red Cross Safety Training for Swim Coaches after a 2018 update.
  12. What if my team does not have access to the Backstroke Ledge for certification? While this may seem a burden, the safety of all our athletes is the primary concern.
    a) An LSC could sponsor a clinic where clubs could come and coaches could work with their swimmers to teach, and certify them, on the ledge at a facility where a ledge, or ledges, are available. It may be possible for the LSC to purchase several ledges for this purpose.
    b) Several teams could share the purchase price of a ledge and share use of the ledge for practices.
    c) While swimmers can technically be certified during a meet warm-up (with at least a 6’ depth), it would be a disruptive to attempt to certify a whole team in a sprint lane. Particularly in early season meets, host clubs can set a time prior to the meet warm-ups (day before or just before) when coaches can come work with their swimmers so they can become certified.