There is little doubt that video analysis is one of the most powerful tools in the swim coach’s armoury. The ability to record a swimmers’ stroke, review it carefully in slow-motion and frame-by-frame, and to play this back to them so that they can see for themselves exactly where their strengths and weaknesses are is invaluable, particularly for those who are not very aware of what their own body is doing (which is called ‘proprioception’).

However, before a coach can whip out their device to start filming in a seemingly public place there are a number of factors to consider. With heightened awareness of child protection and data privacy rules one has to be mindful of the situations where filming is restricted or simply not allowed. The rules are, of course, understandable and vital for protecting the rights of the swimmer but there is no doubt that they present difficulties for those people who have legitimate and innocent reasons for filming.

Photo by Pete Wright on Unsplash

For simplicity’s sake, I will deal only with the situation in the United Kingdom. For those coaching in other countries it is vital to acquaint yourselves with the appropriate information regarding the law in your own region.

In the UK, the position regarding children is very clear. Swim England have a published policy to minimise the risk posed to under-age swimmers by filming which could potentially lead to images being published on-line. Wavepower 2020-23 | Child safeguarding for Swim England clubs (swimming.org) This, in turn could potentially lead to the identification of that child and their personal details, with repercussions for child grooming or safety concerns if, for example, a parent has been denied access for legal reasons. Although primarily written to cover swimming galas and competitions, the guidance nevertheless covers training and coaching in general. On page 89 it states “parents/guardians must be provided with full information, such as when the filming is proposed, its purpose, who is filming, how the film will be used or published and an agreement on what will happen once the film has served its purpose. This allows parents/ guardians to provide informed consent or otherwise. Written consent to the filming should be requested from the parents/guardians. Invite parents/guardians to be present at the filming; if this is impractical allow them to view the film before publication”.

This is, of course, common sense and hopefully comes as second nature to most coaches by now. Nevertheless, it is essential that all proper procedures are followed to ensure that the coach does not place themselves in a position where they might be accused of misconduct.

The exact position concerning the filming of adults is a little less well defined although it could be assumed that many of the same principles should apply as for the filming of children. Since the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) rolled out on May 25th 2018, filming in EU countries entails awareness of the law to not breach the privacy of the public. Within reason, it is perfectly acceptable to film in public areas (which covers most Open Water scenarios such as beaches and rivers) where the public could have an expectation that they might be viewed by others. However, significantly, public swimming pools are not considered as “public areas”. As such, permission needs to be sought from the facility owner for the right to film.

Even if granted, notices should be displayed so that other users of the pool are made aware that filming is taking place and they can opt to swim in an area where they won’t be seen. Failure to follow these simple rules may have serious repercussions. In my local Health Club, for example, a coach was filming a pupil during a lesson. However, a female swimmer in an adjoining lane took exception to this and made a formal complaint. Despite the fact that it was proved to her that she only appeared on the film very briefly as she passed by in the opposite direction and was certainly not the subject of the film, nevertheless the coach’s actions threatened to spiral into an extremely serious incident. Fortunately common sense prevailed and the matter was resolved. However, despite this the potential damage to the reputation of the coach caused by rumour and gossip about inappropriate filming could have been significant.

The reaction of the lady in this story could be seen as disproportionate. However, coaches would be well advised to remember that the standards they apply to themselves are not necessarily shared by others. By the very nature of swimming, participants are invariably in a state of undress to a certain degree and, for some, this makes them feel somewhat vulnerable. Add to this certain cultural and sometimes religious considerations regarding being seen in swimming attire and it becomes clear that coaches need to show some caution and sensitivity before beginning filming.

Often, however, the question becomes somewhat academic as pool owners will impose a blanket “no filming” policy at their venues regardless of the reasons behind the request to film. Whilst they may accept the legitimacy of the request by a coach and understand the benefits to be gained, it is easier from their point of view not to relent in their policy for anybody for fear of setting a precedent for others.

Photo – Julie Ward

So, unless the pool has been closed to the public, (for example, if the coach is running a training camp and has hired the entire pool for the duration) this presents a dilemma and a significant restriction for the coach on their ability to be able to provide feedback to their swimmer.

If filming is completely restricted, creative solutions to overcome the absence of video analysis will be required. To fill the gap a coach may need to rely more on verbal feedback, using dry-land rehearsals, in-water demonstrations and hands-on assistance in correcting the stroke. 

If allowed, before making plans to film, it would be a good idea to connect with the pool director or owner to understand their policy completely, then work out ahead of time a plan for satisfying the privacy rules and minimizing the chance of a misunderstanding with other patrons. A coach might choose more suitable times, use certain camera positions to reduce the likelihood of capturing others in the background, and even going so far as to chat first with the swimmers in adjacent lanes to let them know and demonstrate your consideration for their privacy before any filming starts. 

Among our community of coaches there are likely many stories of things gone wrong with filming as well as many good stories where solutions were found for filming or ways of working without it. We do well to take advantage of our colleagues’ experience to ask questions, hear stories, and learn how to avoid these problems.

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