Dive into These 4 Holiday Swim Sets!

Photo Courtesy: Kara Sekenski

By Lianne McCluskey, Swimming World College Intern.

Holiday themed swim practices are a great way to develop more positive energy at practice. Between mid-season championships and school exams, it’s important to find ways to stay motivated in the pool to avoid feeling overwhelmed and be encouraged to continue working hard.

Swimming World asked coaches around the country which sets were their favorite to lighten the mood yet still get the job done during the holiday season. Here are four fun and challenging practice sets to try with your team to help enhance team spirit in the pool!

1. Christmas Tree of Pain

At Nitro Swimming in Austin, Texas, Coach Allison Brohl says the swimmers know this set is coming every year: “It’s a tradition. I found a version of this and made it my own over the past few years.”

What the swimmer accomplishes in the set dictates what they need to do next.

Christmas Tree of Pain

Photo Courtesy: Lianne McCluskey

Definitions of abbreviations are as follows:

  • FR- Freestyle
  • PB- Personal Best (addition sign with a number means amount of seconds slower or equal to best time)
  • JJ- Jumping Jacks

2. Advent Calendar Game

Crimson Aquatics Age Group Coach Jamie Lew uses this holiday themed practice set with his team. “In a traditional Advent calendar, each day in the countdown to Christmas gives you a little gift,” said Lew. “This practice set does the same thing in 24 sets.”



  • Sticky Notes
  • Bag of Chocolate (or something similar)


  • 24 sticky notes, labeled 1-24 on the front, set up like a calendar. On the back will be the sets (see below).


  • Going one sticky at time, pick an athlete to reveal the set on the back of the sticky note (going in order).
  • The athlete reveals the set to the group then gets a choice: they do the set themselves or everyone does the set. Whoever does the set gets a piece of chocolate each time.


  1. 200 Free
  2. 100 Choice
  3. 5×50 Kick @ 1:05
  4. 100 IM
  5. 200 Pull
  6. 50 Dolphin dives
  7. 1 min treading
  8. 100 Fly
  9. 50 Doggie paddle
  10. 200 Kick
  11. 4×100 Free @ :10 Rest
  12. 100 Breast
  13. 100 Free with fins
  14. 150 Streamline kick with fins
  15. 1 min start float
  16. 50 IM
  17. 25 Reverse Freestyle
  18. 50 Partner Kick (one person is the “kickboard”)
  19. 50 high five swim
  20. 25 Underwater
  21. 200 Non-freestyle
  22. 25 Sitting on kickboard
  23. 20 Streamline bobs
  24. 200 IM

3. Snow Ball Relays

At Smith College, head coach Zack Kundel has made it a tradition to finish the last mandatory practice before final exams with Snow Ball Relays.



  • 3-4 large snow balls (about the size of a softball)

Each team begins the relay with a snowball of the same size. Each swimmer on a relay team must swim 2 x 25-yard lengths of the pool in the relay but cannot swim the required distance back-to-back (sorry no 50s). The relay winner is decided by the team who finishes the relay with the biggest snow ball and swims the fastest.


Photo Courtesy: WikiHow (How to make a snow ball)

4. The 12 Days ’til Christmas Set

Twelve days before Christmas, Howard University’s Coach Nicholas Askew gives their annual main set. It’s always the same distance and order, but has a different focus per season. Here is an example of the 2018 holiday practice set on December 13:

  • 12 x 75 @ 1:10 – FR/Stroke/FR
  • 11 x 50 @ :40 – All FR with fins
  • 10 x 25 @ :30 – Alternate Kick/Swim by 25
  • 9 x 75 @ 1:05 – Sprint the last 25
  • 8 x 50 @ :50 – 2 Turns; 1-4 = FR, 5-8 = Stroke
  • 7 x 25 @ :40 – All fast
  • 6 x 75 @ 1:05 Stroke
  • 5 x 50 @ 1:00 – All fast, worst stroke
  • 4 x 25 @ :30 – Kick fast
  • 3 x 75 @ 1:10 – Breathe every 5th stroke
  • 2 x 50 @ :45 Butterfly/FR by 25
  • 100 off the blocks – as fast as possible (AFAP), best finish

Photo Courtesy: Andy Ringgold/Aringo

Holiday practices are a great way to intertwine team bonding with team improvement. Every coach and team does it differently, but the objective is the same – having fun and bringing the holiday cheer to practice!

What’s your favorite holiday swim practice tradition?

All commentaries and research was conducted by the the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Swimming World Magazine nor its staff.