Top 5 tips to get started in Para swimming from 13-time world champion Barlaam

Barlaam was one of the most successful swimmers at the Madeira 2022 World Para Swimming Championships this month, winning six gold medals and breaking three world records 28 Jun 2022
A male celebrates by stretching his hands out after a race.
Simone Barlaam became a Paralympic champion, in the men’s 50m freestyle S9, in his Games debut at Tokyo 2020.
ⒸSimon Bruty/OIS

Are you looking to get into Para swimming? If so, there is a good chance you already have one of the biggest skills required. 

Always with a smile on his face, Italian Para swimmer Simone Barlaam says that trademark grin is one of the keys to his success in the pool.

And he should know. Barlaam is a Paralympic champion and a 13-time world champion, most recently becoming one of the most successful athletes at this month’s World Para Swimming Championships in Portugal.

The Italian swimmer won five individual gold medals in five races in Madeira and also broke two world records, in the men's 100m backstroke S9 and 100m freestyle S9. For the final event of the competition, Barlaam helped Italy win gold and set a world record in the mixed 4x100m freestyle relay 34 points.

That was Italy's 27th gold medal in Madeira, which took the country to the top of the medals table for the second consecutive championships.

Barlaam also made a mark at the previous World Para Swimming Championships, held in September 2019. He won five gold medals there and was voted Best Male Swimmer in a poll held by World Para Swimming.

Barlaam took his world titles count to 13 at the Madeira 2022 World Para Swimming Championships in June. @Pedro Vasconcelos/Madeira 2022

Swimming has been a part of Barlaam’s life since he was three years old. He was able to float in the water before he learned how to walk, at six. 

In many ways, it was the sport that suited him best. Born with a malformation of the hip and hypoplasia of the right femur, Barlaam could swim without the risk of getting other fractures. The pool was also a place where he felt completely free.

If you want to experience some of the joy that Para swimming can bring, check out the five tips this multi-champion shares on how to get started in the sport:

1. Sculling

Sculling is crucial to get that feel for the water that us swimmers often talk about. Adding some drills and sculls to your practice can really help to improve your stroke, especially as a youngster. 

2. Have fun and work hard

Swimming is a tough sport, so you have to enjoy it. You need to find the stroke (or strokes) that you enjoy the most and focus and what you like. After that you need to be ready to follow a consistent training routine and try your best at all times!

3. Find someone who can help you

I think that a positive environment is fundamental to perform and enjoy the sport. Training is hard sometimes, and being with some friends makes the daily life much easier. Looking for the right club and coach can be difficult, but you'll know that it's the right one when you find it.

Becoming friends with fellow swimmers will make training more enjoyable, says Barlaam. @Joel Marklund/OIS

4. Don’t take yourself too seriously

This is something that I've learned growing up. When I was younger (not that I'm old now) I used to put too much pressure on myself, and that was never a good thing. Not taking yourself too seriously doesn't mean not being professional. You can be focused, performing and ready even with a light and relaxed mind. Before some of my best races to ease the tension I used to dance and joke with whoever was there with me. So, don't put too much pressure on yourself, relax, focus when it's needed and most of all: enjoy the moment. 

5. Smile 

Smile! No matter what! It is proven by science that smiling has a lot of benefits for both the mind and the body. So why should we not use this little trick to help us be a better version of ourselves in everything we do?