View Full Version : What makes a good masters coach?

August 21st, 2009, 04:11 AM
I've been swimming with two masters club for the past year and I feel a bit left out in the dust with one of the clubs I am in.

The first club is fine because we pay the annual pool fee and that's it ($238 bucks). So, the coach we have during the training session volunteers his time to coach us from time to time. I respect that and I don't expect much since I don't pay for his coaching anyway.

However, in the evening... I swim with a different masters club, which their instructors are composed of coaches and students from a varsity team (2 - 3 people per session). This club, I pay for pool and coaching fees. However, all they do is pretty much stand there and chat up with each other and never really focus on me to improve on my strokes. They can tell I am a beginner... and I see no motivation from them to coach me at all. It ticks me off because I am paying for their coaching and sometimes they say nothing to me for the entire session. What's up with that? I can tell they have favorites... and I feel like I am left in the dust to improve on my own, which I need help on.

Anyways... I am getting off topic here... I would like to know what makes a good masters coach, because I don't feel comfortable spending my money on people who are utterly useless.

Please advise.

August 21st, 2009, 08:03 AM
Funny because I was wondering about this recently in another thread ("Do you have to swim in a team to improve")...
I do not know about you guys in the US but here up North in Canada, I'd say that a certain number of Master Squads are coached by unskilled coaches (either young age group swimmers, outdated coaches etc).

Lots of talk, lots of poor advices, lots of doubtful sets. Lots of master coaches are down below at the bottom of the Coaching food chain.

To answer your question, here are some important qualities common to good Master coaches:
- Ability to easily establish meaningful contact with every swimmer no matter their level. This is important in order to know what people's goals are
- Minimal planning abilities (I can tell when not enough thoughts are put into building sessions)
- Great capacity to foresee and prevent injuries
- **** IMPORTANT ***** Video Support. We all know now about the huge importance of seeing ourselves swimming for better stroke correction. Feed back without Video support won't get you very far.
- Being organized in the way you deliver feed back. Swimmers should not have the impression that all they do is always wrong. Tackle onto something meaningful to work on with every swimmer, and stick to what really counts.
- Ability to adapt the workouts/sets to the level of their swimmers.

I'll stop there and finish with a little advice. These coaches are not well paid. We have to be forgiving at least to some extent.

If you want more feedback, I'd recommend that you go after them and ask for it. Bring your video cam with you and ask them shoot you etc... *Ask*

August 21st, 2009, 08:05 AM
Have you ever asked for their help? It does sound like the coaches you have aren't really "coaching" from your description. If they're young, they may be intimidated telling "older people" what to do. Or maybe they're just lazy. You should see if asking for their help works at all.

August 21st, 2009, 08:54 AM
masters clubs often have a huge range of abilities and experience represented in just a few lanes. it is difficult, at best,to offer every swimmer what they want or need when it may range from basic instruction to competitive workouts.
you might be better served by finding a few other swimmers with like abilities and goals and starting your own workout group, or supplementing your masters sessions with lessons from an experienced stroke mechanic.

August 21st, 2009, 11:22 AM
Have you ever asked for their help?

Ask and ye shall receive.

We have a similar situation with my team - most of our coaches are current or former University Varsity swimmers. Initially, I've found that most our coaches are a bit overwhelmed coaching such a diverse (abilities, ages) group and content to write something on the board and sit back. But once we get to talking with them - feedback on their workouts, sharing our goals, asking for help, etc. - they are all over us like flies on :censor:. Since we've been more proactively involved with our coaches, there have been a lot more success stories across the board from our swimmers.

Bottom line here: if you're paying money for coaching, you deserve to get something out of it. Ask for help.

August 21st, 2009, 11:51 AM
A great coach:

Energy, enthusiasm, passion -- all the more important for those early AM workouts
A willingness to push their athletes and not just treat this as "it's just Masters"
Humor -- okay, sometimes it is "just Masters" and great to joke around

More importantly, though, a great coach needs great "students" who possess the exact qualities above and who:

communicate their goals / needs to the coach so the coach can help them
ask, ask, ask for feedback

I'm really fortunate that I get to swim most of my workouts with someone who I think is one of the greatest Masters coaches out there, Laura Winslow. She's also a HS swimming coach and brings all of the above to our workouts and then some. When Paul Smith is on the deck, I get all of the above, plus some motivational trash talking. However, I've also swum with Masters teams around the country, most times just for a workout on a business trip. As long as I ask or let them know what I'm looking for, I generally get it.

I think more often than not, the "bored Masters coach" is more a function of the swimmers in the pool not asking/demanding more and not engaging the coach.

August 21st, 2009, 11:27 PM
Agree with alot said.

Of course a good coach will try to make eye contact with everyone and provide some feedback at least once a practice. But many times you gotta speak up and ask.

Swims With Twins
August 22nd, 2009, 04:14 AM
My wife is my coach. She gives me specific training and feedback to find ways to help me improve. During the week, she gives me specific things to work on. Then, we video on the weekends and review everything together. I get an excellent opportunity for meaningful comments and ideas for improvement. Plus, her fee is very reasonable.

Swims With Twins
August 22nd, 2009, 04:16 AM
Because of her ability to give me regular, high quality feedback, I have made good improvements, most notably on breaststroke.

August 22nd, 2009, 08:49 AM
I'm willing to bet these kids are intimidated. They probably do not understand what the goals are for each individual.

Some people don't want advice, some do. Some people only want to swim distance freestyle and they complain if they aren't doing that and some people complain because the want to sprint. A lot couldn't care less...they just want a good workout and some social time. A lot of masters swimmers are a total pain in the neck and not very coachable. They already know what they want to do and they want you to do that. (I used to coach a lot of masters swimmers.)

I think the best masters coaches are the ones who focus solely on masters. they are not kids who still swim. they are professionals who swim and compete themselves. they understand the goals and objectives of the masters swimmers.

These people are hard to find because there is no money being offered. Which is a shame because there is money to be made. In a reasonably populated area a good coach can grow a pretty big masters program.

My advice to the original poster is to tell the coaches what your goals are and ask them if they can help you achieve these goals.

August 22nd, 2009, 08:55 AM
I will add one more thing...

A good masters coach listens and understands what the goals of the individual are, they are experienced in coaching, and then the coach tells everyone to shut up and exclaims "this is what we are doing and this will help you achieve your goals, regardless of what you think you need to do".

August 22nd, 2009, 09:30 AM
These people are hard to find because there is no money being offered. Which is a shame because there is money to be made. In a reasonably populated area a good coach can grow a pretty big masters program. Agree here.

Reason why teams still cut on MS program expense is that they use the profit made to finance other less profitable activities.

My favorite master squad at the moment doesn't belong to any organization. It's a master squad period. They can afford a decent coaching staff and great pool availability.

August 22nd, 2009, 01:34 PM
Talk with them, if no change - then find a different club !

August 22nd, 2009, 05:08 PM
It's funny you should have this question because I'm going through this a bit myself. I started swimming on a masters team about 5 years ago and the coach was a great young kid home for the summer from college. He was a great swimmer and a great coach who:
wrote 3 levels of workouts (newbies, triathletes (free-only), and "challenge")
spent time actively supervising and giving advice to every group
gave every swimmer some kind of positive or instructive input at every single practice
didn't let us get away with just coasting through practice

He only was with us for that one summer and while the next two coaches were good, they just weren't up to this guy's standard. After that the Y kept hiring "warm bodies" to run the masters program and I stopped going - it cost extra, the workouts weren't challenging, and there was no instruction or coaching going on. But these people didn't have the knowledge to provide any of that

It sounds like the second of your two teams at least has knowledgable staff. I agree with all the responders above who say to just ask...it could just be a confidence issue with them...some kids are afraid to give unsolicited advice. If you still get no satisfaction, maybe it's time to move on....

I stopped going to the masters program years ago, and I'm considering going back, not because the coaching has improved (it hasn't) but because I want to hang with more 3d swimmers than I currently do. The forum is fun, but it's not like having real swimbuds!

August 23rd, 2009, 12:33 AM
I forgot to mention, the main coach in my second masters swim club is the assistant coach of the varsity team, so she does have a mass amount of experience and the other coaches are the swimmers in the swim team. I guess I am intimidated by them, don't know why.

There are times when I constantly ask the student coaches if I am doing my strokes properly, they provide good advice, after that, they don't monitor me UNTIL I ask or remind them.

BTW: There are times when the head coach is not there... and her student coaches who assist her are are different from time to time. So it's hard to keep a consistent relationship with the other student coaches. Okay, I'll will try to ask her directly rather than keep quiet to her.

August 23rd, 2009, 12:16 PM
You know what?

In order for me as a coach to manage feed backs, I had to write them on papers.

You're raising a very interesting point, hence the fact that it got me reacting.

While I was sharpening up my coaching philosophy several years back (I was coaching Varsity and Master and AgeGroup levels, my bosses were Olympian athletes coaches and high level varsity coaches), I addressed the point you're referring to by making sure of the following:
- No orphan feed back. That is no feed back that I can't make a follow up on
- Follow up MUST include measures such as impact on either DPS (distance per stroke) SR (Stroke rate) combined with time
- Feed back will often include slight video session. I used to always coach with a VCR/Video Cam all the time (I really mean all the time here...)
- Never a second feed back related to something else without having first sorted out the first feed back

I really had a log with notes about all I would say to anyone at anytime. Before issuing a feedback, I'd check in this log. But this, I am telling you, is an attitude/philosophy that is very rare. Even in varsity teams or other high performance organizations you'll often see coaches throwing disorganized and unmonitored feed backs.

Do this. Then no follow up. Then Do that, or put your elbow like this. Then no follow up then an other unrelated feed back. I find it stupid, I forced myself not to do it, but I have to admit that you can't expect the same from most coaches you'll meet in your life.

So the swimmers (children of these coaches) just mimic what they had witness during their swim career. It's a vicious circle that had always made me feel at the right spot as a coach, even if I never really performed at the level of the folks I was coaching back then.

Being a swimming is one thing, being a coach is another thing. But at the moment, I'm sure if you make a survey, you'll notice that good swimmers are often picked first for coaching job, even if over the years I came to the conclusion that they often suck.

So on this aspect, I join my voice to that of other members, your feed back is your responsibility. You have to make sure you get the follow up yourself.

And more importantly, when you receive a second or a third feedback about things other than that you are working on, just tell the coach: Remember this thing you said to me last week? I am still working on it.