Education Director Bill Brenner answers your questions
Q: What information about my Masters program should I have available at my aquatic facility?
A: Frequently, I visit aquatic facilities searching for Masters swimming or any form of adult aquatic programming of a horizontal nature. At each location, I picture myself as a swimmer with little or no knowledge of Masters swimming walking into a facility to swim laps or begin an aquatic exercise routine. I ask myself, “What information is available that would identify this location as one hosting a USMS program?” Furthermore, I assess the ease of finding and assimilating this information.
In many cases, I know the facility has a USMS program and when the practices are scheduled based on the information I receive from the coach or the USMS Places to Swim database. But the availability of accurate information at the facility can vary widely.
At most pools, my first stop is the front desk. As I approach the receptionist, I scan the area for any printed information about the programs and services of the facility, looking for clues that will assist my search. I introduce myself, present my USMS business card, and ask, “Do you have a Masters swimming program at your facility?” The replies, often accompanied by looks of bewilderment, vary as much as the accuracy of the responses and are too numerous to list here. Let’s just say I’m astonished that so many gatekeepers of our Masters programs don’t have a clue what the program is or whether the facility has one.
As I pass the gatekeeper, I continue to scan for Masters swimming information looking to see if the information is prominently displayed. And if not, where and how would I advertise the program.
Entering the pool area, I look to see what activity is taking place. If a Masters program is practicing, I envision a new or prospective swimmer’s first impression. In many cases, the first question to pop in their mind will be, “Will I fit in?”
As I get closer to the practice, I start to zero in on the coach and how he or she is interacting with the athletes. I try to make eye contact with the coach to gauge their interest in a potential new swimmer to their program. Nothing is more welcoming than eye contact that produces a smile projecting an invitation to get closer to say hello. Coaches that initiate this welcoming approach make even the seasoned Masters swimmer feel at ease.
In the event no Masters practice is taking place, I look to have a conversation with the aquatic director, head lifeguard, or any other aquatic employee with information about the adult programming at the pool. In most cases, the accuracy of the information is an improvement from what I found at the front desk. If lap swimmers are present, I look at their caps for clues about their swimming involvement. Amazingly, it’s easy to approach a lap swimmer, strike up a conversation, and gain valuable information when you can identify something about them. I look to see whether these swimmers are wearing a USMS cap, a cap with a Masters or age group swimming team logo, or a cap signifying their participation in a pool, open water, or triathlon event.
I walk the pool deck looking for anything that gives me information about a Masters program at the pool. Many Masters coaches write the daily workout on a board and leave it out for swimmers who missed practice and may swim later in the day. If I see this, I read it and make sure I understand the workout. As with other foreign languages, swim workouts come in a rainbow of local dialects.
If I’m lucky, I’ll locate a USMS banner or a bulletin board with Masters swimming information. Remember, if a new or potential swimmer passively wants to learn more about the Masters program, information on a bulletin board may pique their interest. The best bulletin boards I’ve seen include:
Welcome brochureProgram mission statementInclusiveness of the program, i.e.: "We welcome new swimmers of all ability levels,” or “try us for free.”Coach’s picture and profile, pictures of swimmers, and pictures from events such as meets, open water swims, clinics, and socialsPractice schedule including the days best suited for beginners, triathletes, and stroke technique refinementWebsite addressTeam logoPractice terminologyPractice and lane etiquette standardsUpcoming eventsUSMS mission statement and membership informationSponsorsContact information
If you have a bulletin board, make sure all the information is current. Keep the appearance looking fresh by replacing faded pictures and printed materials.
Take the time to keep the aquatic staff well versed in your program and the benefits it provides. Show the staff the USMS promotional videos. These videos provide an overview of what Masters swimming is and how important it can be to adults who’ve chosen aquatics as a form of exercise. Go out of your way to make the gatekeepers at your facility your program’s strongest advocates.
And lastly, the next time you see someone new walk onto your pool deck, make eye contact and give your best “come on over and say hello” smile. I know I’ll certainly appreciate it.
Updated July 15th, 2016 at 02:51 PM by Bill Brenner
Q: I coach a diverse group of adults in my Masters program. At most practices, I have swimmers of all ability levels with different reasons for swimming. Not everyone is motivated to compete or even get faster. What are some safe challenges I can give my swimmers?
A: Understanding your swimmer’s goals and the factors that motivate them to swim is the first step of incorporating safe, new, and exciting challenges to your program. If you haven’t asked each of your swimmers what those goals and motivations are, take the time to do so. Next, ask each swimmer, “What would you like to change about your swimming?” Some may say they want to get faster, feel more comfortable in the water, improve stroke technique, or even fit into smaller clothes or impress their physician with improved physical metrics during their next appointment. If your program is as diverse as you say it is, you will get a wide spectrum of responses. These responses will help you integrate new and exciting challenges because they match the needs of your swimmers.
Whether you’re a competitive swimmer or not, challenges help keep us engaged with the process of being in the pool. Let’s not confuse competition with challenge. To many, conquering the challenge builds confidence, is more important than measuring time and distance, and is more important than comparing results to others.
The list of safe challenges is endless, but I’ve collected some ideas below:
Set attendance goals. Some swimmers may want to be challenged to attend a certain number of swim practices during a week, month, or yearLearn a new stroke. This could include learning the new stroke, swimming the new stroke in practice, and swimming the stroke in a meet.Reduce stroke count. Counting the number of strokes to swim each length of the pool often results in more focus on better technique and less wasted energy.Improve streamlines. All swimmers benefit from a better streamline off the blocks and walls. Even open water swimmers can practice streamlining.Incorporate underwater dolphin kicks. Many swimmers with a strong small amplitude kick will benefit from adding this to their freestyle, backstroke, and butterfly starts and turns.Speed up the turns. The purpose of the turn is to change direction. An optimal turn accomplishes this faster while using less energy.Learn to dive. Many new and seasoned swimmers have difficulty diving. It’s something that should be taught and practiced in a supervised safe setting. Once they’ve mastered this skill, swimmers may be more willing to participate in a swim meet.Practice bilateral breathing. If your swimmers don’t naturally breathe to both sides, teach them the proper breathing technique and have them practice breathing bilaterally.Use ePostal challenges. A USMS ePostal event and the training leading up to the swim can benefit all swimmers in your program. Encourage your swimmers to pick the 1-hour swim or a long distance swim based on their ability and desire.Try a swim meet. Find a swim meet, or host one yourself, that is welcoming to the novice swimmer or swimmers returning to competition after a long time away.Go open water swimming. Introduce the freedom of open water (OW) swimming by organizing group swims—with proper supervision and safety—for swimmers new to the open water environment. Begin by teaching the skills necessary to swim open water in the pool.Use test sets. Regularly scheduled test sets can help you measure your swimmers’ improvement. And rather than just having them swim a 500 for time, get creative and mix up the distances.Encourage less reliance on equipment. Weaning swimmers off pull-buoys, paddles, kickboards, and fins might be more of a coaching challenge. Encourage the swimmers to use equipment only when the workout specifies its use.
USMS promotes the Check-off Challenge, an ePostal event designed to motivate swimmers to complete 18 pool events and an open water swim during the calendar year. The pool events may be swum in a meet or practice in any combination of SCY, SCM or LCM.
Some LMSCs promote challenges like the Florida LMSC Leather Lung Award. This award is given to swimmers who complete all 18 pool events in SCY or SCM, all 17 pool events in LCM, and/or all five USMS ePostal championships during a single season.
As a Masters coach, you should celebrate the accomplishments of your swimmers. This celebration can take place during practice, on a website, in a newsletter, or at a team gathering. There’s a good chance that once swimmers have mastered the demands of one challenge, they will gain the confidence to take on another, thereby staying engaged with your program and swimming for a lifetime.
Updated June 17th, 2016 at 01:07 PM by Editor
Q: I have a swimmer who has expressed interest in coming on board my Masters squad; she is 18 years old and still in high school. I am not sure how I feel about having a high school–aged swimmer on my squad. While she meets the age requirement, she is in high school. This is an adult team; we talk about adult themes and such that might not be appropriate for a high school student. In addition, I’m not sure how my crew would feel. Your thoughts?
A: First, as the leader of your program, ask yourself: “What is the mission of my program? What values do I want my program to represent?” Do you have these written and published on your website or program communications? Once you’ve established these objectives, it will be much easier to determine the direction of your program and make decisions regarding membership.
If you need to establish new objectives, ask the group for their thoughts. Getting buy-in and support from your members is important. Sharing ownership strengthens programs. However, at the conclusion of these discussions, I’m a firm believer that if you’re the definitive leader of the program, the final decision rests with you. If, after your final decision, some of your members have concerns, address the issues.
U.S. Masters Swimming strives to be an all-inclusive organization, encouraging adults of any age, gender, and ability level to swim. If you choose to add young swimmers to your program composed of mature swimmers, then ask them to act, well, mature. Find somewhere else, other than the pool, for the adult-themed conversations. Your task will be to make sure that everyone, including the new swimmer, is comfortable.
Mentoring young swimmers has always been a passion of mine because I feed off the energy and excitement a new and different (young) swimmer brings to the program. Diversity should be embraced and viewed as a positive attribute of every Masters program.
Updated May 13th, 2016 at 01:35 PM by Bill Brenner
Q: As a Masters coach, how can I improve my customer service skills?
A: In order to provide high-quality customer service, first determine what the customer wants. Your customers may be your athletes, coaches, facility staff, sponsors, community partners, or volunteers. When thinking about serving your athletes, remember that most Masters swimmers want:
Convenience and a respect of their timeAccess to coaching knowledge and wisdomLack of obstaclesImmediate fulfillment of needsMeaningful experienceConsistency
Learning to qualify your customers’ needs will be helpful before developing your customer service philosophy. Don’t be afraid to ask for feedback. Develop an evaluation form for your swimmers to complete annually to evaluate your performance and to make suggestions.
I recently attended a conference in Colorado Springs, Colo., sponsored by USA- Swimming. One of the speakers was John Cashion, the Corporate Director for the Ritz-Carlton Leadership Center. John has been with the Ritz-Carlton for 20 years, rising through the ranks from an entry-level position to general manager of a property, to his current role today in charge of customer service and cultural transformation training.
As a frequent traveler, I was especially interested in learning how the hospitality industry trains its employees to give exceptional customer service. All too often, I'm astonished at the poor customer service I receive or that I’m willing to accept mediocre service – service that only meets my expectations – and rate it as good customer service. With that in mind, what's missing from your customer service approach in a Masters coaching context?
Let's assume that there are three levels of customer service:
The expectedThe requestedThe memorable
When I check into my hotel, I expect my room to be clean and unoccupied. Recently, I checked into my hotel room, received my key card, and proceeded to my room. I noticed a large number of law enforcement officials occupying the hotel lobby. As I approached my assigned room I found a “Do Not Disturb” sign hanging from the door handle. Certainly, the maid must have forgotten to remove the sign after cleaning the room earlier in the day. As I began to insert my key into the door lock, I thought, "what if...?" I turned around, headed back to the front desk, and sure enough the room was occupied. Needless to say, my expectations were not met.
Now take that example and angle it towards swimming. What are your swimmers expecting from you? Knowing your swimmers and their expectations is the first step in giving quality customer service. Write these expectations down, review them regularly, and edit and update when necessary.
In addition to the expected, you may have certain additional requests that require a response. I’m a light sleeper and prefer a quiet room on the top floor—with no one above me—away from the elevators and ice machines. Too often, other guests treat the halls and areas around the elevator landing as common areas for social gatherings, creating an environment that is not conducive to me getting a good night’s sleep. If I make my requests known to the hotel staff and they do not meet the requests, I view this as poor customer service.
So, again, think about what your swimmers requests might be. Are they asking you to teach them a new skill, modify their stroke technique, or organize a social gathering?
Masters coaches wear many hats; educator, motivator, entertainer, social director, friend, family member, and in many cases a psychologist—and sometimes you’re called upon to be all of these people in a single workout! How you choose to react to your swimmers’ requests determines the level of customer service you’ll be able to provide. Maintaining a positive attitude, along with a smile, when fulfilling requests ensures the most success.
Can you create an experience that won’t be forgotten? Over time, most of us won’t remember anything about our expected and requested experiences, but we’ll always remember something that was a delightful experience. Some time ago, my wife and I checked into a resort hotel for a short vacation. May, the front desk attendant, greeted us by name and asked us what special occasion brought us to the hotel. Having just become grandparents for the first time, I told May we were celebrating grandparenthood! Now, I’m not sure if the resort had this type of celebration listed in an employee handbook or not, but what happened next surprised me. Upon returning to our room after an afternoon at the pool, we found a tray with a delicious dessert and heartfelt handwritten note from May waiting on the desk. Next to the tray was a wrapped gift—a baby blanket for our new grandson. Quite a delightful and memorable experience that I’m sure May and the management of the Aruba Marriott Resort had no expectation that I would be sharing with the 65,000 members of USMS and the thousands of visitors to our website.
As you can see, there’s clearly a spectrum of customer service experiences available out there, and it takes a little bit of thought and consideration of your swimmers’ needs to become great at customer service. But it’s definitely something you can achieve. Go create memorable experiences for your swimmers. Greet your swimmers by name, celebrate their daily accomplishments, and be sure to invite them back. And above all else, practice kindness, exercise empathy, and most importantly, share a smile.
Updated April 18th, 2016 at 02:36 PM by Bill Brenner
Part two of two-part series
Q: I need to increase my program fees to meet expenses, but I’m afraid I’ll lose members. Any suggestions?
A: In the first part of this series, I gave examples of cost-cutting measures. Now, let’s explore opportunities to create revenue from sources other than program fees.
Host an event. Before you decide what kind of event to host, determine what your membership is interested in supporting. Support comes in many forms; your swimmers can participate as an athlete, volunteer, or contributor. Determining what your members want and their willingness to participate—before planning an event—goes a long way toward ensuring a successful experience.
The majority of event-based revenue is derived from registration fees. Registration fees are charged to individuals or teams to participate in the event and are determined when creating a budget. A budget evaluates the revenues and expenses to host the event. The desired outcome is for your revenue to exceed expenses by a targeted or acceptable margin. Many expenses to host an event are fixed costs that are difficult to change. Registration fees are more fluid and can be adjusted to meet the desired outcome. Events include:
Swim meetsStroke development clinicsVideotaping sessionsOpen Water swimsFundraisers
Lesson program. Who teaches adults to swim in your community? Are they successful? Many communities need more resources for teaching the 37 percent of the adult population that can’t swim 25 yards and are at risk of being one of the 8 to 10 adults who drown, on average, everyday. In 2015, USMS began offering its Adult learn-to-swim (ALTS) certification course to train adults to teach other adults to swim and become safer in water. Many Masters coaches are offering ALTS lessons as a program to generate revenue and provide community outreach to create awareness of the benefits of swimming.
Grants, gifts, and donations. Research what grant money is available locally and nationally from agencies that support the programs you offer. Many grant applications are very simple and easy to complete. Establish your program to be more than a competitive swim team and promote the value you provide to the community as a resource for health, wellbeing, and social good. Once you’ve defined or redefined your program as such, you’ll increase the chances for receiving grants. You can also consider establishing your program as a nonprofit entity. Applying for nonprofit status must be done with the Internal Revenue Service and depending on the status you apply for and receive can help when asking for gifts and donations. Additionally, obtaining nonprofit status may help you win grant requests, open up additional fundraising opportunities, and reduce expenses of lane rental and sales taxes on purchases.
Sponsorships. Partnering with local swim shops, nutrition stores, massage and physical therapists, cycling and running shops, and medical specialists can create value for your members and create a source of revenue for your program. Ask these local merchants and professionals to be part of your referral network. Ask them to provide discounts for your athletes. Go a step further and ask them to become an official program sponsor and pay a fee to be listed as such on your program’s website, social media, and other communication outlets. Create a banner with each of the official sponsors logos and hang it at the pool. More importantly, invite the sponsors to participate in your program’s activities at or away from the pool. Make them feel they are part of something special beyond the financial arrangement.
Volunteer service. Many local businesses and agencies will pay you to provide volunteers for their events. This could include: parking cars, ushering, working concessions, and postevent cleanup. If possible, have your volunteers wear team logo merchandise—hats, shirts, and pins. Remember, when asked, you have a program full of adults that can lend their services, time, and talents to generate revenue and community awareness.
Training trips. Have you always dreamed of having your swim practice in a sun-drenched Caribbean pool or ocean? Are your members thinking the same thing as they struggle to reach the pool during inclement weather? Do everyone a favor and explore the opportunity to travel as a team for a training trip. While at first glance it may seem expensive, often traveling as a group can provide discounts and revenue generating opportunities for the event organizer.
Incorporating some or all of these revenue-generating ideas will help reduce the need to increase program fees. However, your members need to buy into these ideas and take some ownership before they will be successful. If the members understand that their participation is required and they’re not willing to make a commitment to participate, they may instead elect to pay a higher program fee. It’s better for you to know this ahead of time and spare you the effort.
Q: I need to increase my program fees to meet expenses but I'm afraid I'll lose members. Any suggestions?
A: Most Masters swimmers participate in USMS clubs and workout groups for the coached workouts, access to pools at convenient locations and times, as well as the social benefits of a group activity. Knowing your swimmers and what they desire from your program will help you overcome a financial shortfall.
Before raising fees, evaluate if you can reduce or eliminate certain expenses that won't result in a diminishment of the benefits your swimmers value most.
Remember, you’re dealing with adults who choose to come to swim.
Look to reduce the following expenses if they apply to your program:
Lane rental. Can you renegotiate the cost of the rental fees? Would the rental rate be reduced if you were organized as a nonprofit entity? Can you barter for reduced lane rental fees by volunteering your time or the time of your program’s members for events held at your aquatic facility? Can you reduce the number of lanes you are currently renting?
Lifeguard fees. Can the Masters coach with current lifeguard and first response certification eliminate the expense of a lifeguard? Before implementing this change, know your local regulations. Determine if one individual can have duel responsibilities such as serving as the coach and lifeguard at the same time. Also, review your facility’s Emergency Action Plan for compliance issues.
Insurance. Take advantage of the USMS insurance policy for liability and excess accident coverage. When properly in force, the USMS insurance policy protects coaches, athletes, and facilities.
Coaches’ compensation. I’m a huge proponent for Masters coaches being paid handsomely for quality coaching. Unless you’re being paid a wage that’s outlandish, stand firm on this expense line item. The health and longevity of the program depends on your wellbeing.
Travel expenses. Many Masters coaches travel to swim meets with their program. Depending on the size of your group, many hotels will offer group discounts. If the meet host hasn’t arranged discounts with the local lodging establishments, call and ask hotels for a discounted room that’s cheaper than the normal room rate. In some cases, based on the size of your group, the hotel may be willing to offer one or more complimentary rooms. Look for hotels that offer free breakfast, free parking, and shuttle service.
If you’ve trimmed expenses and still have a financial shortfall, consider other sources of revenue before increasing program fees. Additional revenue sources are:
Lesson programFundraisersSponsorshipsEvents – hosting swim meets and clinicsMerchandise salesOrganized swim vacationsVolunteer servicesGrantsGifts
Part two of this series will expand on these and other sources of revenue you can develop.
Once the adults in your program know that you’ve been diligently trying to keep program fees from increasing while maintaining those benefits that are important to them, such as ample lane space, they may be more willing to pay a higher program fee.
Q: What incentives can I offer my swimmers to register or renew their membership with USMS?
A: Consider taking a two-step approach. Make sure your swimmers know the benefits of USMS membership. New benefits are added and enhanced frequently, and as the leader of your program, you should be able to convey those benefits. Knowing your swimmers and the reasons why they swim enables you to pinpoint specific benefits that may enhance their USMS membership experiences. USMS provides sanctioned events for our fitness swimmers, open water enthusiasts, and competitive swimmers. Know the events, when they’re scheduled, and add as many as possible to your program’s seasonal plan.
Ask yourself, “What benefit or motivation can I provide as a coach and team leader to encourage registration?” Again, knowing what motivates each swimmer as an individual—his or her goals and interests—along with the goals and identity of your program, you can begin to identify incentive opportunities for your program’s members that target USMS registration.
Coach Stuart McDougal of So Cal Tri Masters recently sent an email to his program’s members that encouraged USMS membership by stating, “Those who renew and have been with So Cal Tri Masters for 6 months or more get a swim month ‘on the house’ between the months of May and September 2016. Those who join as new members will get a video analysis of your stroke identifying the top three priorities for you to improve, scheduled during any one of the weeks when you’ll be swimming with So Cal Tri Masters.”
Coach McDougal has identified two benefits within his control that are of value to his swimmers. He has kept it simple and easy to administer. He can track his program’s USMS membership on the usms.org website. And as the USMS club contact, he receives alerts when new swimmers register and affiliate with his club. Note who he rewarded with the incentive and when during the year he offers the month “on the house.” Would this or something similar work for you? Do you have long standing members who would be grateful to receive this incentive? Is your cash flow higher in the summer months, enabling you to better manage a small reduction in funds? These are questions you must answer individually—no two programs are the same.
USMS membership is an important element of the Masters swimming experience. Supporting USMS membership strengthens our organization’s ability to provide our coaches, members and volunteers the resources, education, programs, and services necessary to teach an adult to swim, encourage an adult to swim, and provide the structure for adults who want to enjoy the healthy lifestyle our sport Masters Swimming provides.
Updated January 15th, 2016 at 09:33 AM by Bill Brenner
Q: Does a swimmer need to register for USMS in the LMSC where they live?
A: No. A member may choose to register in any of the 52 LMSCs regardless of where they live. A member may register with a USMS club, workout group, or as unattached. Dual membership is not permitted.
Members should inquire if registration with the specific club or workout group is mandatory for participation. Some USMS programs will not allow swimmers affiliated with other clubs to swim in their practices, even if the swimmer is willing to pay facility and program fees.
Updated December 21st, 2015 at 03:06 PM by Bill Brenner
Q: If I register a USMS club or workout group, do I need to let any USMS registered member swim at my facility and in my program?
A: Registering a USMS club or workout group does not mandate access to your facility or require you to allow participation in your Masters swimming program. For example, many private clubs, YMCAs, and Jewish Community Centers hosting USMS programs have strict membership requirements and restrict access to their facilities to members only. Guest memberships and drop-in day memberships are at the discretion of the club. Other examples of facilities hosting USMS programs that may have restricted or limited access are military installations and college campuses.
If you have access restrictions, please note them on your Places to Swim listing to eliminate confusion. If your facility allows for potential new members to visit the facility on a trial basis, note this on your listing as well.
Even if your facility has restricted access, you can't keep nonmembers of your facility from affiliating their individual USMS membership with your USMS club or workout group. Once again, you are not obligated to grant access to these USMS members.
Updated December 21st, 2015 at 02:57 PM by Bill Brenner
Q: I attended this year's USMS convention in Kansas City, Mo. During the coaches committee meeting, you asked the Masters coaches to encourage their LMSCs to sponsor an official stroke development clinic. How can I help bring a clinic to my LMSC?
A: Stroke development clinics are a very popular resource for Masters swimmers and coaches. USMS Education Services conducts the 2- to 3-hour clinic in conjunction with the Masters Coach Certification courses. Exit surveys from the Coach Certification courses have indicated a large demand from coaches for more on-deck educational opportunities. Masters swimmers, particularly those who swim without an experienced coach, attend the stroke clinic looking for help improving technique, learning a new stroke, increasing stroke efficiency, and speed.
The USMS Masters Coach Certification Course is typically held on a Saturday. At the request of the LMSC, USMS Education Services will provide instructors to conduct the stroke clinic the following day. Any designated USMS certified Masters coach who would like to be on deck for the clinic may do so free of charge. If the coach would rather participate from in the water, he is required to pay the same nominal fee the swimmers in the clinic are charged.
The LMSC must fulfill two requirements:
The LMSC must be willing to offer some level of scholarship assistance for the coaches registered within the LMSC to attend the USMS Masters Coach Certification Course offered that weekend.The LMSC is responsible for securing the pool for the stroke clinic and pay for the pool rental, if necessary. Pool time is sometimes donated by a local club or workout group in many LMSCs.
Benefits of the stroke development clinic include:
Continuing education for Masters coachesTeaching Masters coaches how to conduct a stroke clinicNetworking opportunity for coaches to meet other local Masters coachesRecruiting and retaining membersAdding value to USMS/LMSC membershipIntroducing Masters coaches and swimmers to new training techniquesInviting lap swimmers to experience the social benefits of Masters swimming and the benefit of having a coach on deckImproving swimmers' technique and efficiencyLearning new drillsLearning how to use swim equipment properly and creativelyHearing a different voice explain the "how" and the "why" of stroke correction and changes
Please contact your LMSC leadership and ask them to consider sponsoring a USMS stroke development clinic. Make your request as soon as possible so the LMSC may consider your request and budget accordingly. The Masters Coach Certification Course schedule is posted online. Any questions or concerns from your LMSC may be addressed to my office.
Working together, we can continue to improve the Masters swimming coaching profession and create enhanced benefits for our coaches and athletes.
Q: Is the ASCA World Clinic a good educational opportunity for a Masters coach?
A: Yes. The American Swimming Coaches Association hosts an annual conference providing educational opportunities for swim coaches. The six-day format includes certification courses--the USMS Masters Coach Certification Levels 1 and 2 course being one of them--keynote speeches, and presentations from the leading authorities of swimming from around the world.
The 2016 U.S. Olympic swim team coaches David Marsh and Bob Bowman, along with U.S. National Team Coach Frank Busch, highlighted a group of 25-plus exceptional presenters at the 2015 World Clinic. Many, if not most, of the presentations were of universal value to any swimming coach working within the age-group, high school, college, or Masters ranks. The registration cost for the 2015 clinic was $450.
During the 2015 ASCA World Clinic, USMS coaches Chad Durieux (Rose Bowl Masters), Jillian Wilkins (Central Florida Y Masters), and Rich Axtell (Minuteman Masters) delivered Masters-specific presentations on the following topics:
Learning the differences in training MastersGrowing with triathletesGetting a team of adults to travelGenerating revenue from Masters meetsCreating one diverse poolHosting a clinic for Masters swimmers
What I enjoy most about attending the clinic is the ability to network with other coaches. Any coach, regardless of status, can engage in conversation with any of the other coaches at the clinic. Every coach, including the Olympic coaches, are easily approachable and willing to talk and listen. It's a wonderful opportunity to share ideas and fellowship with others and recharge the coaching battery. I leave the clinic anxious to try new workouts, drills, and the latest swim gear with my swimmers and other coaches I meet.
The ASCA World Clinic includes an exhibit hall with swimming-specific vendors. Many offer hands-on demonstrations, and most have samples of the products they sell. Several bulletin boards are displayed throughout the venue with job postings, creative workouts, and ideas to help you become a better coach and program leader.
The 2016 clinic will be in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., the week after Labor Day. Consider adding it to your calendar.
Q: I'm an avid Masters swimmer who has an interest in coaching. Is the Masters coach certification class something I should consider or is it only for professional coaches?
A: The USMS Masters coach certification program was developed by Masters coaches to provide an educational product for enhancing the Masters coaching experience. Over time, the program has grown to meet the needs of not only professional Masters coaches, but also volunteer and part-time Masters coaches, age-group swim coaches, aquatic instructors, triathlon coaches, club leaders, and individual swimmers.
The objective of the certification program is to provide education centered on seven pillars:
Technical competence. The construction and correction of the four competitive strokes, starts, and turns.Experience. Making the most of what you experience.Performance. Metrics for effectiveness and efficiency.Community involvement. Program partnerships and volunteerism.Business management. The business of adult aquatics.Risk management. Safety and insurance.Leadership. Mentoring and contributing.
There are four levels of the USMS Masters Coach Certification Program.
Level 1 instruction includes:
History and institutional organization of U.S. Masters SwimmingBenefits and resources of USMS membershipDeveloping a coaching philosophyUnderstanding the adult learnerWorking with the open water and multisport athleteWriting workoutsMarketing your Masters program
Level 2 instruction includes:
Understanding the universal truths of swimmingThe development of all four competitive strokes, turns, and startsAnalysis of all four competitive strokes, turns, and starts
Level 3 instruction is for the individual who is a full-time coach or someone interested in exploring the opportunity for a career in adult aquatic sports. Instruction includes:
Leadership skills developmentClub developmentSeasonal planning and workout deliveryMarketingBudgetingClub administration and event planningSafety and risk managementNutritionInjury prevention
Level 4 is a certification awarded to Masters coaches who have:
Demonstrated excellence in contributing Masters Swimming in the following categories:ContributionAchievementGrowth & RetentionLeadershipEducationSuccessfully completed Levels 1, 2, and 3 of the USMS Masters Coach Certification programApplied for Level 4 statusSubmitted the necessary documentation to satisfy the requirements of Level 4 certification
Levels 1 through 3 are taught in a classroom setting, maximizing the opportunity for students to interact and network with the instructors and the other students in the class. Questions and the sharing of ideas are encouraged during the classes. Level 4 requires no classroom participation; rather, candidates submit documentation supporting their application for Level 4 certification.
So what kinds of coaches and athletes take USMS coach certification classes?
Experienced coaches. One of the strengths of the certification program is the diversity of students in each class. Seasoned Masters coaches share valuable insight, institutional knowledge, and years of experience with less-experienced coaches. Although many seasoned coaches enter class thinking they won't learn anything new from the course, they're often surprised at the varied and creative way adults are being coached and recruited to Masters programs, namely from open water and triathlon. Many of the more experienced coaches say they leave class with a renewed enthusiasm for coaching Masters.
New coaches. Many part-time and volunteer Masters coaches have no coaching background other than how a Masters coach has coached them or how they were coached as an age-group swimmer. The certification course gives each participant the skills and confidence needed to become a better coach, thereby providing an enhanced experience for themselves and the athletes they train.
Age-group coaches. More and more age-group swimming programs are adding a Masters component to their programming for a variety of reasons, incudling additional revenue, increased on-deck hours and pay for coaches, retention of age-group swimmers, and an increased volunteer base. Age-group coaches with no previous knowledge or experience working with adults find the Masters coach certification course helpful in understanding the differences in teaching and coaching an adult verses a child.
Triathletes and triathlon coaches. It's not uncommon to have professional triathlete coaches account for 25 to 35 percent of the students in a Level 1 and 2 class. Most triathlete coaches come from a triathlon background, meaning they participate or have participated in triathlons. Very few are experienced track or cross-country coaches. Very few are experienced track or road cycling coaches. Even fewer are experienced swim coaches. Although swimming might be the shortest distance in a triathlon, it might be the most difficult discipline to learn, perfect technique, train, and compete in. Triathlon coaches who take USMS certification courses continue to offer positive feedback as to the overall value the course provides to their professional development.
Club leaders. Does your Masters program have a good coach? Many club leaders attend the certification course to learn what the traits are of a successful coach and program. In Level 1, club leaders gain knowledge of how they can evaluate and provide support to their coaches for the betterment of the program and its members. Although many Masters coaches manage all facets of their program, many rely on others to provide leadership and support in areas of administration, marketing, volunteerism, and social functions. The sharing of responsibilities provides a sense of ownership to more members and strengthens the club.
Swimmers. Many Masters swimmers are self-coached and don't swim with a club or workout group. For these swimmers, attending the Masters coach certification gives them the tools and resources to become better swimmers and feel connected to the Masters Swimming community. Many seasoned athletes attend the class to learn modern stroke technique, drills, workouts, rule changes, and the use of training devices such as the snorkel.
Attending the Masters coach certification class might help you decide if you want to consider coaching Masters swimming. As an avid swimmer, the class will enhance your swimming knowledge and help make you a better athlete.
Updated August 20th, 2015 at 09:49 AM by Editor
Q: I help organize a swim practice for a group of adult swimmers during lap swim at our pool. I recently registered our group as a club with USMS so we could swim on relays together in a local swim meet. As we grow and become more organized, I foresee the need to begin charging a monthly program fee. How do I transition our group to paying a fee when lap swimming is free?
A: Many Masters programs have evolved over the years from a small group of lap swimmers enjoying each other's company to an officially registered USMS program. Often, the most skilled or dynamic swimmer gets elected the quasi-coach and leader. As more swimmers join the group, more lane space is needed. For the aquatic or facility director, this can be both a positive and challenging metamorphosis. Those swimmers who are participating with the group are happy--which means increased membership and retention rates at the facility--but more often than not, the remaining lap swimmers who may not feel included in the structured workouts can become disgruntled about diminished lane space at critical and convenient workout times.
At this point, establishing a defined USMS registered Masters program gives validity and direction for your adult swim program and the aquatic facility. The key to success will be how open and welcoming your program is to swimmers of all abilities who come to the pool with a variety of goals and motivations. The aquatic facility management likely will not view exclusion practices kindly.
Program fees are a usual and customary expense of participating in an organized Masters practice. The fee you charge should be determined by the expenses the program incurs and the benefits the program provides to its members. While lap swimming is a benefit provided by your facility, is it really free? Countless times I've visited aquatic facilities when lap swimmers are in the pool while many are waiting on the pool deck for a lane to clear. Rarely, if at all, do lap swimmers share a lane with more than one other swimmer. Clearly this waiting for a lane is a waste of time. More importantly, if this wasted time happens too often, it becomes a deterrent for the swimmer returning to the pool.
Sharing a lane with another lap swimmer can have its costs as well. It may not be a monetary cost, but a mental or even physical cost. Sharing a lane with a lap "swimmer" who has no concept of lane etiquette can be extremely frustrating and even dangerous. I generously use the term "swimmer" when referring to the lap lane occupants. On several occasions, I've witnessed more people positioned vertically than horizontally while inhabiting space in the lap lanes. Although many lap swimmers welcome the opportunity to make the lane they share safer and more enjoyable, some may not be willing to take the suggestions offered to practice basic lane etiquette. Swimmers participating in an organized Masters practice with a coach on deck are less likely to incur these lap-swimming costs.
If your adult swimmers have been swimming as a group during lap swim and are now being asked to pay a program fee, make sure they understand the benefits of your program. You may need to increase the benefits the swimmers currently enjoy to justify the program fee. Most adults are willing to pay a fee equal to the benefits they receive. Knowing what's important to your customer/swimmer will help you determine which benefits to provide. These benefits may include:
Paid professional Masters coach on deckPreferential workout times at the aquatic facilityIncreased lane spaceLane space in the competition pool (80 degrees F) verses the recreation pool (much hotter!)Additional practice times and facilitiesAccess to open water venuesAdditional or upgraded pool and workout equipmentDigital pace clockDryland training programYoga instructionSeminars with professional nutritionists, physical therapists, and sports medicine physiciansSwim clinicsVideotaped stroke analysisOrganized team travel to swim meets, open water events, and other team identified outingsTeam websiteTeam e-newsletterTeam logo and merchandiseSponsor discountsOrganized cross training opportunities with local triathlon, cycling, and running clubsVolunteer opportunitiesRecognition and awards
Once you've established your fee, give your current swimmers a reasonable amount of time before the fee goes into effect. I recommend at least 30 days. You may choose to offer new swimmers a free trial period. After the 30 days or trial period is over and a swimmer decides against paying the program fee, politely point them in the direction of the lap swimmers.
Q: Do you supply the Spark?
A: I always look forward to the fireworks display on the Fourth of July. The brilliant explosion of colors and the sounds that follow ignite my memories of displays I've enjoyed with family and friends in the past. While the public displays with their lengthy and large bursts of colorful lights are fascinating, it's the fireworks my friends and family detonated ourselves that make me smile the most. Maybe it's because you strike the match, you light the fuse, and you anticipate the outcome of your actions.
Sometimes I get the same feeling when I light a spark in one of the Masters swimmers I coach. The shouts and smiles of success and accomplishment renew my passion for our profession.
Ask yourself: Do you deliver a spark to each of your swimmers every day? Do you teach them a new skill, create a new challenge, or help them establish a new goal? Do you display a passion for coaching by not just writing a good workout, but by delivering it with a smile and burst of energy?
Disney and hundreds of other theme parks conclude each day with a magnificent fireworks display as they send us out their gates smiling happily, albeit tired, looking forward to our next visit. Well, I think we all know a few Masters swimmers who are really just grown-up kids loving the energy and excitement of the fireworks a Masters coach brings to every practice and leave yearning for more.
I challenge you to be the spark!
Updated July 6th, 2015 at 10:43 AM by Bill Brenner
Q: What should I be doing to successfully "coach beyond the workout" for a Masters program?
A: In many cases, developing a successful Masters program is more than writing good pool workouts. Good coaches take the time to familiarize themselves with their athletes, learning their names, abilities, goals, motivations, outside interests, and a little about their families. Each piece of information can be used to create the most positive environment and outcome possible for your athletes every day on or off the pool deck.
Your workouts will be more impactful if you can customize the delivery of the workout to each individual. Are you going to write 30 different workouts for 30 different swimmers? Probably not. However, you can make it a point to speak to athletes individually during practice and ask them to work on something specific to their needs. This could be technique, pace, speed, or effort. Acknowledge success and commitment. Provide feedback. Point out something done well before addressing something that needs to change.
Take the time to further your coaching knowledge. Read, research and write.
U.S. Masters Swimming publishes SWIMMER magazine bi-monthly, delivers monthly electronic newsletters, and maintains a website - usms.org - that's constantly updated with articles that provide the reader with valuable information.Attend the USMS National Coaches Conference and learn from several of our organization's most successful coaches. Several LMSCs host regional coaches' clinics for the benefit of their coaches and members. If you're a coach, make sure you're included on email correspondence for information on all LMSC coaching activities.Become a USMS-certified Masters coach. The USMS certification course was developed by Masters coaches specifically for coaches who work with adult athletes. The course is presented in a classroom setting and student participation is encouraged.Consider becoming a member of the American Swimming Coaches Association, the leading advocacy group for all echelons of swimming coaches. Member benefits include a monthly magazine and newsletter. ASCA hosts a yearly World Clinic that brings the leading authorities of swimming to one location. Presentations are given throughout the clinic including several by Masters coaches. ASCA also hosts regional clinics several times a year.Research other successful Masters coaches, make contact and ask if you can visit during a practice. Observe how they manage the deck and look for ideas you can bring back to your program.Write an article and submit it to the USMS Coaches Committee for review and possible publication. Nothing cements an idea more solidly than having to explain it in writing. Share something you're doing successfully so that others can duplicate. The Masters community grows stronger from sharing ideas and stimulating creativity.Read online articles published by services such as SwimSwam and Swimming World magazine.
Other suggestions for activities outside the standard pool workout:
Host a clinic. I recommend a series of clinics each lasting no more than 2 hours. Stroke technique, starts, turns, and open water are all good topics you can cover. Consider a videotaping session for your swimmers. Many swimmers haven't seen themselves on film.Take members of your program to a swim meet. Swim meets can be fun and a great way to measure the progress of each athlete. Make sure you market the meet as a social event with a team sitting area, relays, and a social event for athletes, friends, and family at the conclusion of the meet. Encourage 100% participation.Host a swim meet. If you've never hosted a meet before, start with a 1-day meet with limited events. As you become savvier at hosting meets, you can expand the number of days and events. Developing a support team and group of dedicated volunteers is imperative to running a successful meet. Be in charge but delegate certain responsibilities to others you can trust.Hold open water practices. If you don't have access to open water, take the lane lines out, put makeshift buoys in for turns, and hold an open water practice in the pool.Celebrate accomplishments. Take time during practice to recognize the accomplishments of your athletes. Everyone is a winner even if they don't win a race. Maybe someone did well at a triathlon, swam butterfly for the first time, or competed in a first swim meet. It's up to you to know your athletes and their goals and when they achieve those goals. Having a year-end banquet is another social activity that includes everyone and their families. Don't underestimate the power of celebration and fun. If you don't have the time to organize social activities, appoint a social director. Depending on your program's practice schedule, celebrate birthdays and anniversaries after practice by going out to breakfast, lunch, or dinner.Develop and maintain a website and use social media to attract and retain members. Your program should either have its own website or a page on a group website. Develop a Facebook page, use Twitter, and send pictures through Instagram. Contact the USMS marketing department for more information on how to maximize the benefits of social media.
Don't limit yourself to this list only but use it as a springboard to becoming a better coach on and off the pool deck. Use your ingenuity and creativity to enhance your program for the benefit of your members. The key is to have fun in a positive environment. Once you know your athletes and meet their needs on and off the pool deck, you'll have more fun coaching than ever before.
Updated June 19th, 2015 at 11:35 AM by Bill Brenner
Q: Can I list my Adult Learn-to-Swim (ALTS) program on the USMS website?
A: Yes. USMS strongly encourages you to list your ALTS program as a community resource for adults researching swimming lesson options. Individuals will be able to search your listing by geography and proximity to your program's zip code.
To add your program, visit the USMS.org website's Places to Swim page and click on the region on the map where your program is located. This will direct you to a listing of pools your Local Masters Swimming Committee. Make a note of the LMSC you'll be affiliated with, as the LMSC is the local organizing subsidiary of USMS.
Click the Add a Place to Swim link on the lefthand side; this will take you to a page where you can enter the information about your ALTS program.
Your name and email address must be entered in the first two fields, but this information will not be published. The USMS database administrator needs your contact information if there are questions about your listing. Only the contact information you enter in the Contact Information or Miscellaneous fields will be published with your listing.Use the drop-down feature to find and select your LMSC.In the optional fields for USMS Club Name and USMS Club Abbreviation, enter your club's information as it appears in your official USMS club registration.If you have a registered USMS program listed on the Places to Swim page, you may add a separate listing for your ALTS program. Separate listings may be entered for multiple locations offering your ALTS program.In the LapSwim/Workout Times or Miscellaneous fields, enter the times when you'll be offering swim lessons.If you have a website, enter the link in the Website field.In the Map URL field, enter a link for your facility's location. Use an online map service such as Google Maps or Yahoo Maps to generate this URL.In the Miscellaneous field, you can add up to 255 characters worth of specific information about your ALTS program, such as:
Instructors and their credentials. If the instructors are USMS-certified ALTS instructors or hold other certifications, list this information. If instructors have special talents, such as working with fearful swimmers, add it to the instructor's bio.Lesson schedule.Cost.Invitation. Invite the new student to call and speak with you or a representative of your program. Many adults need to know they will be learning from somebody who exhibits empathy, trustworthiness, and friendliness. You may want to also consider offering the option for potential students to meet with the instructor prior to scheduling their first lesson; this may help fearful students feel more comfortable.
Once all the fields are filled in, click the "submit new listing" button. Your information will be sent to the USMS database administrator for review. After the review process, which normally takes less than 24 hours, your listing will appear on the Places to Swim page. If you need to change or update any of your information, click on the "Modify" link located below your listing.
Updated June 12th, 2015 at 02:24 PM by Editor
Q: I want to start a USMS program at my local Y. What are the three most important selling points I can share with my program director?
A: The three most important selling points are diversity, revenue, and community service:
Diversity. A U.S. Masters Swimming program provides a platform for a Y to expand its adult aquatic programming. It's a program that celebrates and encourages diversity in age, gender, and ability levels. The single most important component of a successful program is having a coach on deck who understands stroke development, technique, and how to motivate each individual athlete to meet or exceed his goals. The Masters coach makes swimming fun. The more fun swimmers have, the more likely the swimmer will stay in the pool and enjoy swimming as a lifelong activity. For many, this leads to adopting a healthier lifestyle outside of the pool. Masters swimming is a social group activity in and away from the pool.Revenue. A Masters program may be financially self-sustaining and generate revenue from program fees, retention of Y members, and the recruitment of new members. Other revenue can be generated from hosting Masters events including swim meets, stroke clinics, and fund-raising activities. USMS registered clubs are eligible to apply for a grant from the Swimming Saves Lives Foundation to develop and expand opportunities for adults to swim and learn to swim. Adult learn-to-swim lessons can enhance adult programming at the Y, while also teaching a lifesaving skill and generating revenue. The USMS Adult Learn-to-Swim Instructor Certification class is a one-day course teaching adults how to teach an adult to swim and become water-safer.
Community service. USMS and Ys share similar values of providing resources for the continued health and wellbeing of the members of the communities they serve. Both organizations promote learning, respect, excellence, and fun for the benefit of all. Often, members of Masters programs pledge their time, talents, and financial resources by becoming advocates and benefactors of their local Ys.
Q: I'm hiring a new head Masters coach at our aquatic facility. Do you have any suggestions for writing a job description?
A: The successful hiring of a Masters coach requires first understanding the needs of your program. You also must attract the best pool of candidates who fit those needs. You could hire a coach with a pedigree of outstanding accomplishments and a successful coaching background, but if he or she doesn't see eye-to-eye with your program's mission, vision, and willingness to meet the needs of your swimmers, problems could arise.
I've put together a template to help you create a job description you can use to advertise for a coach. Once your job description is complete, post it to online job listing sites. USMS members can place the information on the usms.org forums on the Coaching Positions Available thread.
Updated March 18th, 2015 at 10:55 AM by Bill Brenner
Q: Do you have any tips on integrating a slower swimmer into the swim practice?
A: Integrating a slower swimmer has its challenges, especially when practices have fewer lanes and more swimmers per lane. Adding a slower swimmer to a lane of teammates who are substantially faster can create frustration and safety concerns for everyone involved. Many swimmers may improve with enhanced stroke technique and a commitment to training; however, this takes time and is not an immediate remedy.
As a Masters coach, it's important for you to manage slower swimmers' expectations and help them understand the lane dynamics of swimming with faster swimmers. If you educate every swimmer--both fast and slow--where and when to pass each other and where a slower swimmer should stop on the wall, you will give all the swimmers the best chance for a safe and enjoyable practice.
Slower swimmers and swimmers who lack endurance can be managed by:
Increasing their speed. Adding training aids such as fins, a snorkel, or a pull buoy will, in many cases, add speed and correct stroke and kicking deficiencies. While these aids may help with the initial problem, I hesitate to recommend the continued use of these aids for the entire practice. Being able to swim without these aids should remain a goal.Decreasing the distance. Trimming the amount of yardage for repeats allows the slower swimmer to train the same amount of time as their lane mates. Depending on the speed of everyone in the lane and the number of swimmers in the lane, most repeats of 75 yards or less reduce the problem of slowing the faster swimmers down. Remember, what's important is not the amount of yards any swimmer swims, it's the quality of the yards that are swum. Reducing the number of repeats for the slower swimmer may also be beneficial.Improving stroke technique. Have the slower swimmer work on stroke mechanics 25 yards at a time while staying clear of the other swimmers in the lane. Many novice swimmers welcome the opportunity to work on technique as a form of active recovery.
An important trait of a good Masters coach is to be flexible and create a positive environment for all swimmers in a practice. Celebrate each swimmer's accomplishment every day, no matter how small. Be creative in managing the deck, have fun, and smile often.
Updated March 18th, 2015 at 10:56 AM by Bill Brenner
Q: Will my program automatically be added to Places to Swim on the usms.org website when I register a new club?
A: No. The Places to Swim database is organized by facility and a request for each facility must be made by a club or facility contact. If your program uses multiple facilities, you'll want multiple entries.
To submit or modify a listing:
Go to the Places to Swim web pageEnter the city and state or zip code of your locationAdd a new listing by clicking on the link under the mapModify your listing by clicking on the link under your current information
Places to Swim is one of the most visited pages at usms.org. Viewers looking for pools with Masters programs include:
New swimmersSwimmers relocating to a new areaSwimmers looking for pool or club optionsTraveling swimmersTriathletes and open water enthusiastsAdults interested in taking swimming lessons
Places to Swim should serve as a marketing tool for attracting new members to your pool and Masters program. Highlight your strengths and include the following information in your listing:
Location. Add the specific street address that viewers can input into their GPS devices.Club name. List the club name registered with USMS.Workout times. If times vary, refer to your program's website listed below.Contact. Coach's name, credentials, phone number, and email address. Or, the pool contact information.Website. If your program has a website, list it here for more information.Miscellaneous info. This can include fee information, though I recommend referring to the website for your current fee structure. If you offer an adult learn-to-swim program, mention it here. Also, list the types of athletes your program welcomes.
New swimmers (if you offer free trial memberships, list the information)Swimmers of all abilitiesFitness swimmersCompetitive swimmersTriathletesOpen water swimmersSocial group swimmers (list typical social activities)Visitors (include drop-in fee information and required USMS membership notice)
Below each listing is the date the information was added or last modified. I recommend updating the listing as soon as new information is available or every six months if the information is the same. Why update if there are no changes? You want the modification date to be relatively current so the viewer knows that the listing is more likely to be accurate.
In the future, USMS will be adding more features to the Places to Swim webpage to provide enhanced information for our clubs, coaches, instructors, and new and current members.