View Full Version : Confused by first USMS practice. Expectations vs reality?

July 23rd, 2013, 11:13 PM
Greetings everyone,

I am a full time university student and a brand new member to USMS. My first practice was yesterday and I guess you could say it was WAY different than I expected. I apologize in advance this will likely end up being a bit long.

I have always loved swimming but the only "formal" classes I have had are limited to the "how not to drown" stuff they teach you in 3rd grade. I am comfortable in the water and swim every chance I get. I am nearing 30 and at 5'4 and 230lbs I am visibly out of shape. I live an active life. I dont drive and easily walk several miles daily. I eat well. But for the most part but I have not been making fitness a priority for the last few years. I have a medical condition that makes it very difficult to lose weight and extremely fatigued all the time. I just got diagnosed and am currently taking medication for it. This has made me feel well enough to take on new challenges. I have decided I want to become a good proficient swimmer.

So that brings me to the topic at hand. I first looked at options my school offers (it has a really nice pool). The swim team would be unlikely as I am a beginner. They had some clinics but they are over for the summer. That left masters swim. The community was described as:

"USMS programs draw people from all walks of life and provide their members with a community that offers active support for a healthy lifestyle through aquatic fitness, friendship, and camaraderie...... Programs are open to fitness, competitive, open water, and triathlon swimmers alike. Whether you have just taken your first strokes in a swim lesson, are trying to break a national record, or just want to stay fit, U.S. Masters Swimming provides a fun and friendly atmosphere for you to work toward your individual goals. You don't have to be racing the clock to experience the rewards and support found in U.S. Masters Swimming."

The school website then directed anyone interested to the main usms website which says (excerp)

"This is something a lot of Masters coaches (http://www.usms.org/content/coachcert) hear. However, most Masters coaches and swimmers don’t care how fast you are. In nearly every program, there are others of similar ability, or those who started where you are and have improved. Don’t let your perceived ability (http://www.usms.org/articles/articledisplay.php?aid=1927), or lack thereof, hold you back. Although it’s important to have a physical examination before starting any exercise routine, you don’t need to be in shape to start Masters swimming—Masters swimming will help you get there (http://www.usms.org/articles/articledisplay.php?aid=1924)."

Etc and so forth. I bolded the most important parts. I got the feeling that USMS is the place that would help me get where I want to be. I also hopefully pictured a social group of like minded folk. So I took the plunge and signed up (paying the non refundable 50$ fee) and all. I already had an appropriate swimsuit (solid one piece for fitness) and goggles. I showed up the next day at practice ready to go.

He took one look at me and raised an eyebrow and smirked a little at me. I admit I looked NOTHING like the sleek swimmers already in the pool but still.. not a very nice welcome. It is very intimidating to show up to a place like that as it is. Oh well moving on.

I told the coach that I was a beginner and he asked if I knew how to swim. I assumed that meant "are you able to not drown in water". I said yes and then he told me to take a lane and pointed toward a dry erase board with a bunch of stuff on it. I explained that I am a beginner and I do not know what any of that means. He asked me when the last swim lesson I had was (3rd grade?) and then explained that masters swim is for people who have been taking swim lessons their whole life only (not to be confused with most of the members just happened to be at that level).

At this point I was REALLY REALLY embarrassed and everyone was looking at me. I told him as politely as I could that I was under the impression based on the usms website that that level of proficiency was not required to join. Apparently (according to him) he has NEVER BEEN to the usms website before. He had no real knowledge of the overall organization itself. This was his first time coaching anything. He had to look at the school pamphlet to even see what was said about it. I explained that I had followed all steps listed in the school pamphlet and I had to sign up and pay the 50$ before I could even show up the first time. (You have to be a member of usms before you can show up at a local team or something)

He then tried to tell me to take some swim clinics instead that were 20$ a piece. The money wouldn't have been an issue its just that I had already looked into that option first and they were done for the summer.. which I am surprised he did not know because he teaches them.

I was already in the water at this point and I guess he didn't feel like arguing anymore and so he started telling me to do stuff. I listened to instructions and completed the tasks he gave me. He seemed to be giving me instructions out of boredom/mild amusement.
I ended up doing what he says is 1100 meters the first day. My shoulders hurt alot from using the kickboard during some of it but otherwise I was ok. The weirdest thing is my heart rate was up but my breathing was normal until the very end. I suddenly couldn't do anything at all and my form fell apart. That was really bizarre!

The coach seemed impressed by the end of it and said I did really well and that I can come back if I want...and just work out on my own in a lane near everyone else. Yay.. er...right? I was hoping for a little more interaction I guess but I understand that at this moment Im nothing more than a newbie and no one likes those;)

So I guess I would like to know your opinion on all this. Is USMS right for me? Did I completely misread everything? Should I trust this person to train me if he has never coached before and doesn't know anything about the organization itself? He seems very confident in his swimming knowledge and was good at explaining things.. but.. honestly my expectations need to either be managed or completely changed to meet reality. I am always open to the idea that I am in the wrong here too. I dont expect the coach to spend the entire hour on me (really!)

Thank you for reading this novel of a post!

July 24th, 2013, 12:32 AM
Every team is different. There are going to be some that are able to cater to those with little swimming experience and others that cannot. I think you can appreciate the fact the majority of teams are going to have limited resources and a coach can't be expected to spend the bulk of his or her time with one swimmer. Many teams are going to cater to those swimmers who are already proficient. It sounds to me like this is the type of team you found.Because of this it's a good idea to talk to the coach of a team before starting to see if it's right for you. Good luck!

July 24th, 2013, 08:18 AM
That coach was rude. In a university setting, you will get a team of more proficient swimmers. However, that does not give the coach or team the right to discount a beginner, or older swimmer, that may be slower or need more instruction. It's always a good idea to talk to a team representative first, to get a feel for how the program works. Often times, teams will offer a trial membership or drop in rates. You were absolutely right in thinking USMS is the place to become a better swimmer and better fit. It sounds to me that you need to either find a different program, or take the current coach aside, and explain your goals, the USMS mission, and ask for his help to get there. Good luck to you.

July 24th, 2013, 12:10 PM

I am the USMS membership director. I'm sorry to hear about your experience. I'd like to speak with you. If you would be able to give me a call sometime, my direct line is 941-556-6279. I'm in the Eastern time zone and am usually here until at least 5:30pm. If that timing doesn't work for you, send me an email at Membership (at) usms.org and we'll figure out a weekend or evening time.

Anna Lea Matysek

July 24th, 2013, 12:11 PM
That does sound like an odd experience and I definitely have to say that I've never seen something like that happen.

Typically most teams will let you try things out for at least a few practices (I think my team does a week or 2 week trial). After that, you discuss with the coach if what you've seen/done works for you and if you want to continue.

I learned to swim as a kid but was never a part of a swim team until I joined a masters group. I had done a few triathlons, and thought I was a decent swimmer. I'll never ever forget going to my first masters swim workout. It was at the U of A (I was living in Tucson at the time), and the coach put me in the slowest lane. I made nearly all of the typical mistakes, I swam too hard too soon and nearly killed myself before we were halfway through the set. I don't know if I even got in 2000 yards that day. But the nice thing was, I wasn't alone. I kept coming back...

Long story short, that was about 16 years ago, and other than vacation or injury, I've been swimming since. I've switched groups a few times (due to move and convenience). I've also tried swimming solo for a while. But there's something about swimming in a team environment that I really enjoy. Heck, even when I travel for work or vacation, I usually end up swimming with other groups too.

Are there any other teams in your area that you can look at? If not, I'd probably follow some of the advice above. See if the coach can meet you before or after workout sometime, explain what you want out of a program, and see if he is willing to work with you.

July 24th, 2013, 01:47 PM
USMS is not a top-down organization. It offers services to swimmers and clubs. It doesn't charter clubs based on their commitment to do things the USMS Way.

Some teams don't even have coaches, and the members take turns being on deck. Some teams, like the one you visited, have novice coaches. Some have really experienced coaches. Some teams have limited time and space at some or all of their workouts, and can't accommodate drop-ins of any ability let alone people who can't just hop right in a lane and do the workout. Some teams have lots of time and space at some or all of their workouts and encourage newer swimmers to come to those.

You have to investigate the particular team to know what you should expect. I visit other USMS teams when I travel but I always call or email the coach first. Just showing up at a workout is rarely successful, and most teams' websites are maintained by volunteers who don't always keep them up to date.

So now you know what to expect from this group and this coach at this workout. Did you enjoy the swim once you got in? Was there enough pool space for you to have your own lane without crowding other people? (It's not that no one "likes" newbies; it's that organized swimming depends on having people with similar objectives and abilities sharing a lane. I would disrupt your workout every bit as much as you would disrupt mine if we had to share.) If the coach encouraged you to return, do. You can help this coach move from novice to non-novice at the same time as s/he helps you.

July 24th, 2013, 02:17 PM
the coach's rude behavior shouldn't mean that everyone else in that group is equally rude -- if there is a spare lane, nothing wrong with taking advantage of it to work at a pace that's more comfortable for you (and that avoids sore shoulders) & that lets you observe more experienced swimmers -- you'll likely find a few who stick around after the end of the workout willing to translate coach-talk for you & give you a few personalized tips

as for the fine print on the white board, most of us can't read anything that small that far away anyway

best wishes!

July 25th, 2013, 10:08 PM
Wow, what a shame that you were treated like that. That's not a Team atmosphere. While I agree with one of the posters above, who said that you can't expect to get the bulk of the attention, but the coach should've definitely tried to make you feel comfortable. My Team has all sizes, shapes, speeds, and ages. Our coach orchestrates 8 lanes of varying skills like a conductor. And when new people show up, he takes the time to evaluate the person's strengths and give them tips. Before long, they become integrated with the pack in the lane that best fits their skills. Stay with it and give yourself time. You'll find that you'll enjoy yourself, become more fit and make new friends. USMS is great for the soul.

July 26th, 2013, 01:50 AM
I would like to thank everyone who has responded. I appreciate your feedback very much. I was pretty upset about the whole thing but I am looking forward. Grudgingly or no the coach has taught me enough in the first two practices that I can do my own workout in a separate lane. I have tried to be very mindful about not expecting too much individual time from the coach. I plan on continuing to show up every time and work very hard in order to earn the respect and hopefully acceptance of the others. One of the team members even spoke to me last time! So this may end up being one of those life situations where I have to work with a less than ideal situation, but as long as I am moving forward and have a direction I am happy.

Thanks again everyone=) And flystorms "USMS is great for the soul" made me happy to read. I have noticed that afterwards I feel so happy and calm yet energized! I love this!

July 26th, 2013, 04:38 PM
I don't think that your experience reflects the attitudes of all Masters swimmers. I work out by myself but go to meets and see many people competing who are probably just a few laps ahead of you; they swim for teams and are cheered during their swims. Keep swimming and enjoy having your own lane.

July 28th, 2013, 02:15 PM
Hi there - I'm sorry you found it difficult to get into the pool with this club, but I could also relate to some of it. When I joined a team, the folks there were largely into fitness rather than competition, and they also just pointed to a lane and I did the work out without a whole lot of direction. It took several months before I articulated my goals to the coach, but since then, the coach has done things like recommend variations on the sets with my personal goals in mind, but it's still a very self-driven, self-motivated largely independent endeavor.

Then again, I've also had the opportunity to swim with other clubs where coaches and teams are very much into competition and more organized and focused, and there is a lot of one-on-one.

So it seems to depend on the group and having a clear understanding of your own goals. In other words, there seem to be many different types of "shoes" in masters ... I think you just have to find the one that fits. Calling ahead or getting recommendations/suggestions/input from other local masters swimmers is definitely helpful, so I agree with folks above that have suggested that.

I do hope you stick with it, in spite of the rocky start. It's totally worth it.

August 3rd, 2013, 09:19 PM
I think there is a lot to be said for being involved in Master's swimming but also working out on your own. I am a newish swimmer slowly making progress (currently doing 25 sets of 100s) and have benefited from a few tips that the Master's swim coach as well as a few of the lifeguards have given me. My next short-term goal is to learn flip turns. I have swum next to the Master's team in the lap lanes a couple of times during their practices and went to one meet just to watch and see what the competitions are all about. The coach has made it clear that I'm welcome to attend practices as long as I commit to do it consistently. But I just don't feel comfortable enough with my skills just quite yet to attend practices. So while I understand that Master's is all about encouraging adults to swim, I am also of the thought that one should show some commitment to swimming before marrying oneself up with a team of guys and gals that is serious about swimming. To get "respect" from other swimmers, you also need to give some in return. Just like any other sport.

August 7th, 2013, 05:30 PM
I have found many clubs that only assosiate with USMS for "insurance purposes". The coaches and swimmers themselves might have no real interest in having any actual practical association with the active parts of USMS.

My general experinece has been to find a USA swimming club (age group) that has a dedicated USMS team and coach. Most (not all) coaches at the Masters level worth their pay either do or did coach at the age group/kid level. USA swimming has much higher standards for their club coaches - understandable when you are paying $100/month for your child to train 5 hours a day with this person.

August 7th, 2013, 09:25 PM
Dear Cbach, Congratulations for swimming so well your first practice under less than humane conditions! I'm sorry your were treated so disrespectfully but I think your swimming made the coach take notice that you shouldn't judge a person so readily.
It really sounds like you have a great attitude and I feel like you are going to win this coach over with your work ethic and courage.
At a normal Nasti Practice (the team I swim with) we might have 4 lanes doing the actual workout and the 2 outside lanes doing laps or their own version of the practice. We do not have a designated coach but usually a team member in the water calls the workout and brings small copies of the practice for each of us to put in our lane wall.
If I were you I would go ahead and do your own version of the workout and continue to build on that. Many people new to masters swimming around here pay a private coach to work with them on their stroke efficiency and eventually they work themselves into the main-stream practice.
I'm a firm believer that master's swimming is for everyone who is willing to work no matter what their ability, age, sex, or swimming experience may be. I think most swimmers agree with this philosophy. I hope this team works out for you. Good luck and keep up the great work!!