Education Director Bill Brenner answers your questions
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.
Q: What's the difference between the USMS Adult-Learn-to-Swim Instructor Certification program and the "April is Adult Learn-to-Swim Month" initiative?
A: As part of the USMS vision to be the premier resource for adult aquatics, beginning in 2015, USMS will offer a one-day certification course to teach instructors how to teach an adult to swim, become water-safer, and meet the five water competencies established by the American Red Cross. The certification class will be taught by leaders in adult swim instruction and is open to any registered USMS member meeting the prerequisites. The class schedule and more information about the course are now available. Additional dates and locations will be added to the schedule throughout the year.
Once a member successfully completes the USMS ALTS certification class and becomes a USMS certified ALTS instructor, he or she may begin teaching swimming lessons and teach other adults how to teach an adult to swim. Only those members who take the USMS ALTS certification course can become certified.
In 2014, USMS began promoting the month of April as "Adult Learn-to-Swim Month." Each LMSC was asked to encourage their clubs and workout groups to invite adults to the pool and give swim lessons to nonswimming adults. USMS engaged a public relations firm to bring our message to the media. Multiple publications, including the New York Times and USA Today, printed our message. Radio and television stations also broadcasted interviews and special interest stories related to adults learning to swim. Governors from across the country proclaimed April as Adult Learn-to-Swim Month.
Going forward, our hope is that every aquatic facility will have a USMS-certified ALTS instructor on staff giving swim lessons to the millions of adults who do not know how to swim and are not water-safe. In addition, we will strive for every USMS club and workout group to have at least one individual who is a USMS-certified ALTS instructor teaching fellow USMS members how to give the gift of swimming as a meaningful volunteer experience in April and every other month.
Updated November 19th, 2014 at 03:47 PM by Editor
Q: How can I get the best deal on pool time for my Masters program?
A: Many USMS programs lease or rent pool space for their practices or events. The lease may be for the entire pool or per lane, and the rental charge may be per hour of pool use or a flat monthly fee. Often, rental fees are the single largest expenditure of a Masters program and play a significant factor is establishing program fees for the members.
A universal trait of a successful Masters program is that it is financially self-sustaining and proper budgeting for revenues and expenses is critical to the financial well being of the program. Negotiating the most favorable rental rate for pool space becomes paramount to keeping program fees reasonable, affordable and competitive within the surrounding market of other fitness options.
When entering into a rental negotiation, it's important to understand the pool facility's mission. Matching your program's mission to the facility's will increase the likelihood of a favorable rental agreement. Explain what benefits you can provide the facility. Yes, you're using their pool, but you're also providing a service for the facility and for the benefit of the facility's participants. Understanding what you bring to the negotiating table is important. You can use a combination of any of these strong points at any given aquatic facility:
Parks and recreation: Serving the community. Identify your club as an instructor- (coach-) led group activity program that is diverse in age and gender and is inclusive of all ability levels.YMCA and Jewish Community Center : Sport, health, and wellness programming. Promote your program as a group aquatic fitness activity for adults who chose to swim for a healthier lifestyle.College campuses: Student sport activities. Your program offers fitness and competitive options for students, faculty, staff, and alumni. Value is placed on the networking and social opportunities for students to interact with one another as well as the professionals within and surrounding the college.Private fitness and health clubs: Member benefits. Your program enhances the value of each membership by providing a professional coach who embraces all athletes, delivers expert workout and stroke technique instruction, and understands the goals and motivations of each member.Public and private schools: Community education. Stress the fact that your program is designed to meet the needs of all community members who swim for exercise, want to improve their swimming technique, or want to learn to swim and become safer around the water. Your program is an educational resource for the benefit of all community members.
In many cases, organizations give preferred status and rental rates to groups with nonprofit status issued by the Internal Revenue department of the U.S. Government. Applying for nonprofit status may be time consuming and expensive, but it might be a good option for your group. It's best to consult a tax attorney or an accountant to guide you through the process.
If you are establishing a new program at a pool, ask the facility to lower the rental rate while you build your membership. This gives the facility an incentive to help you grow by encouraging more facility members to join your Masters program. Developing a budget of expected revenue and expenses that your program will generate should help you establish what you can afford to pay for pool rental and what increases you will able to absorb as your club membership grows.
When possible, barter lower rental rates by having your Masters members volunteer at facility events. In many cases, aquatic facilities host events that require adult volunteers, and your program can be a great source of those volunteers, especially if they understand that participation keeps program fees lower.
If you need more help or would like to exchange ideas, please contact Education Services.
Q: What should I tell my swimmers who are preparing for an international meet?
A: Eliminating surprises when swimming in any event, especially international competition, can help alleviate stress and increase your chances of having a successful meet. Preparation should begin as soon as there is interest in a particular event, not after you arrive at the meet.
Don't assume everyone speaks English. Learn basic questions and answers in the language of the country you're visiting.Familiarize yourself with the venue and potential weather conditions prior to arrival. This will help you pack accordingly.Make a written list of everything you'll need to pack. Plan and pack for worst-case scenarios. You should have more than one swimsuit and pair of goggles. Replacements of these items may not be available at the meet. Clear and tinted goggles should be packed for varying conditions.Plan your transportation from your lodgings to the venue. If you're using your own vehicle, know your parking options, the cost, and the distance to the venue.If you're traveling to a different time zone, try to arrive at the event early enough to adapt to the change.Visit the venue before the meet starts and find the toilets, lockers, and showers.Locate a drinkable water source. If none is provided, know you'll need to bring your own. If you'll need to eat at the venue, know what your options are and, if necessary, bring your own food.Find a spot where you will be sitting during the meet. If no comfortable seating is provided, bring your own--portable chairs are inexpensive and easy to transport.If the event is being held outdoors, find shade and protection from the elements.Have a plan for your warm-up. If you'll be competing in more than one pool, schedule your warm-ups to familiarize yourself with all pools. Note the temperature of each pool, the walls, flags, turns, starting blocks, markings on the pool bottom, water clarity and variations of pool depth. Practice every aspect of the events you are swimming in each of the pools. Starts, both dives off the blocks and backstroke, should only be practiced in designated start lanes. If the blocks are different from what you are accustomed to, ask a USMS On-Deck Coach (if available) for help. In most cases, start lanes are only open during warm-up periods in the competition pools.Study the timeline for your events. If the meet organizers don't provide one, calculate your own with the heat sheet or psych sheet. This can be tricky, so allow yourself a comfortable margin to get to the pool and your events early. No one is going to wait for you. Know how much warm-up you need. Often the warm-up pools are crowded and you'll need more time than usual to swim or kick the same amount of yardage. Generally, swim gear such as snorkels, hand paddles, and pull buoys are not allowed during warm-up.Pay attention to the progress of the day's events leading up to your swim. Many international meets require you to report to a marshaling area several heats before you're scheduled to swim. If you were issued credentials at registration, bring them with you. Also, bring your goggles, a towel, and a drink. Use the toilet before you report, as there's no telling how long you'll be waiting. If you need to leave the marshaling area, ask the marshaling personnel. A smile goes a long way when asking for help.Well before you get to the block, listen to the starters' instructions and translate if necessary. Know the procedure for when and where to exit the pool after your event. Ask a coach or teammate to record your finish time, as it may be difficult for you to see the scoreboard from the water at the end of your swim.Event results may be online or posted in a designated area. Often, results are not available for an hour or longer after the event is completed. Each event has a limited period during which a protest may be filed. If you were disqualified from an event and want to file a protest, immediately seek out the meet referee, a meet official, or a USMS coach (if available), and ask what procedure to follow.
Swimming at international meets can be a very rewarding experience if you're prepared to accept that not every meet is run like a USMS National Championship. Maintain a positive outlook and make the best of every challenge you face. Remember, in most cases, the conditions are the same for all competitors—it's your preparation and attitude that may differentiate you from your competition.
Q: How do I encourage my novice Masters swimmers to participate in their first swim meet?
A: Swim meets can be very intimidating to both the novice and the experienced meet swimmer. While the majority of USMS members choose not to compete, those who do compete do so for a variety of reasons: the thrill of competition, the need to measure athletic prowess or fitness level, the catalyst that keeps them in the pool training, or the fun they have at swim meets with their teammates and friends.
Before encouraging a swimmer who has shown no interest in swimming in meets to try his first meet, a coach should teach the basics--starts, turns and finishes--and explain the rules. Make this part of your weekly routine. Get the swimmer comfortable performing everything he will need to do the day of the event. Once the swimmer has mastered these basic skills, then you can approach him with the idea of trying a swim meet.
A progression of low pressure preparation for swim meets may include:
Hosting a swim for time during a scheduled practice where the novice can start from a push from in the water, dive from the side of the pool, or dive off the blocks. (All backstroke starts are from in the water.) The coach should explain and follow swim meet protocol for starts by blowing three short whistles and one long whistle to ready the swimmer. Have teammates cheer for the novice at both ends and sides of the pool.Introducing relays during practice with each foursome consisting of a fast, less-than-fast, not-so-fast, and novice swimmer with as close a finish as you can organize. Cheering by teammates should be made mandatory.Inviting the novice to observe a swim meet. Not everyone that swims in meets swims fast.Hosting an intersquad meet. Include 25s in the order of events as well as 100s for relays.Hosting a duel meet with another local Masters program. Earlier this summer, the Richmond Plunge Masters challenged the Cal Aquatic Masters to a duel in the pool. The event created a welcoming atmosphere for both the novice and accomplished meet swimmer and a positive team building opportunity.Finding a local one-day meet that offers 25s and/or 50s. Arrange for a post swim meet gathering. Promoting the event as a social gathering with a little bit of swimming can help erase or reduce the anxiety many newbies fear.Locating a swim meet where your swimmers can carpool. If possible, rent a bus and travel to the meet as a group. I'm sure your swimmers will quickly realize how much fun the ride back home in a bus can be.
Your job as a Masters swim coach is to keep your athletes in the water swimming for a lifetime. Don't push so hard the swimmer abandons the sport. Making swimming the funnest sport should be your priority along with safety. The more fun your swimmers are having, the more fun you'll have coaching.
Updated September 18th, 2014 at 09:47 AM by Bill Brenner
Q: How can I make my program more welcoming to new swimmers?
A: Most experienced Masters coaches can size up a new swimmer with a high degree of accuracy the moment the swimmer walks on the deck. Most of us can tell quickly whether a new swimmer looks fit from various clues. Is the new swimmer wearing a bathing suit from the set of Magnum P.I.? Did he bring goggles bought from a discount department chain--if he has them at all? Did he bring a bag of swim gear purchased from a store that sells "dollar" items?
Regardless of your initial assessment, you need to acclimate new swimmers into your program beginning on day one. If they don't have a positive experience right off the block the first day, the likelihood they will return diminishes.
Here are some important ways you can make your workouts more inviting to new members:
Introduce yourself and shake hands. Repeat the new swimmer's name when he introduces himself. Call him by name frequently during practice.Don't overwhelm the new swimmer with too many questions. If he has a positive experience, there will be plenty of time to understand his goals and motivations for swimming later. Simply ask him, "What brings you to the pool today?" In most cases your answer can be "You've come to the right place." If possible, let the new swimmer know others swim in your program for the same reason.Ask how the new swimmer found out about your program. Knowing if there is a friend or family connection is important. Also, knowing how swimmers find out about your program is a valuable marketing metric.Ask if he has swum before and when. This will help you gauge a new swimmer's fitness level, and whether he understands "swim talk" and swim etiquette. Make him aware that you are on deck as a resource for questions and concerns.Before the swimmer enters the water, ask if he is a current USMS member. If he is, you can verify that membership on the USMS.org website. If he is not a current USMS member, and you offer a trial or guest membership, have the swimmer complete a Guest Membership application. Guest membership to USMS may be used for up to 30 consecutive days and only once in a member's lifetime. Direct each nonUSMS member to the USMS.org website for membership benefits and registration.Make sure the new swimmer knows he can stop whenever necessary. If the new swimmer is sharing a lane, show him where it's best to stop. This will help reduce anxiety and increase safety for all in the lane. If the new swimmer doesn't swim all four strokes, let him know he can use whichever stroke is most comfortable.Assign the new swimmer to a lane where he will experience the most immediate success. Attempt to reduce the frustration and fear of failing to perform the workout or the assigned tasks.Introduce him to each of his lanemates. Most coaches know who is more welcoming to new swimmers than others. Connect the new swimmer with this "welcoming committee" as soon as possible. Often, new swimmers are less intimidated to ask a teammate a question than the coach.Praise the new swimmer often. Tell the athlete what you see that he is doing well, even if that might be difficult to identify. Ask the swimmer how he feels and if there is anything specific he would like you to look at concerning his stroke.Don't let the new swimmer exceed his workout capability. A good coach manages the athlete's expectations and ability levels. Keep the swimmer safe and comfortable. There will be plenty of time to challenge the athlete's will to succeed and improve later.At the end of practice, congratulate him for finishing his first workout. Tell him you hope he had fun and invite him to return. If he does return, give him a welcome package complete with your program's information and team logo marketing materials (most often a cap). Better yet, include USMS marketing materials--bag tags, caps, stickers and brochures, which can be ordered from USMS (for free, with only a small shipping fee).Lastly, never underestimate the power of a smile. Remember, you're a Masters coach. The first rule in making a practice fun for swimmers both new and old is to look like you're having fun and enjoying your time on-deck.
Q: I coach Masters at a community pool. The facility doesn't require USMS membership for swimmers participating in my program. What can I do to encourage swimmers to register?
A: Many aquatic facilities across the country don't require USMS membership, but many of those facilities would if they were aware of the benefits USMS provides to the facility, coach, and athlete when each is properly registered. The liability and excess accident insurance provided with membership is one of the most comprehensive policies in the country. With rising litigation nationwide, most facilities would welcome the opportunity to protect themselves and the athletes that use these facilities as well as you, the coach, by adding USMS insurance coverage as an addition to any insurance they currently maintain.
However, just because the facility doesn't require USMS membership doesn't necessarily mean you, as the coach or a member of the club in a leadership role, can't. There are inherent benefits for you, including protecting yourself in the event of a liability lawsuit.
Achieving 100% USMS membership participation in your program can be accomplished in several ways:
Programs can mandate USMS membership and require each swimmer to renew yearly.Programs can mandate participation in a USMS-sanctioned event (pool, open water, clinic or ePostal), which requires USMS membership.Programs can offer an introductory fee to participate in the program and proactively register each new member with USMS.Program fees collected by clubs and workout groups can be adjusted upward and prorated to accumulate funds to collectively pay to register and renew all participants' USMS membership.Programs can ask athletes to participate in fundraisers to raise money to cover the expense of registering and renewing USMS membership.Programs can find sponsors within the community that support health and wellness; these sponsors can, in turn, donate funds or provide grants for USMS registration.Many health insurance companies refund membership fees for wellness related activities; encourage your athletes to contact their insurance representatives for more information.Encourage your athletes ask their employers to sponsor USMS membership; healthier employees are more productive and help reduce insurance costs. Some employers might cover your program fees as well.
Working towards 100% participation helps strengthen USMS as a world leader in adult aquatic fitness.
Updated July 14th, 2014 at 05:06 PM by Bill Brenner
Q: What do successful coaches do beyond writing a good workout?
A: Often, the Masters coach is the leader of the program and has sole responsibility of managing the day-to-day affairs both on and off the pool deck. If there are other people helping to manage the off-deck responsibilities of the program, list and define the roles and responsibilities of each position in a written document. Meetings with all coaches, club leaders, and program support staff should be scheduled often to insure the duties of each role are being carried out to the satisfaction of the entire group.
Once you have established what your role and responsibilities are as the coach, begin to list how you will fulfill those duties. Most successful Masters coaches across the country are responsible for the following:
Knowing your athletes. Do you know your athletes' names, goals, motivations, and outside interests? More importantly, talk to each swimmer during every practice.Being supportive. Adults want to be treated with respect, and they want to have a positive experience during their time with you and your program. If they have a negative experience, they might not come back. Celebrate their accomplishments without pointing out their failures.Embracing all swimmers. Adults choose to swim for a plethora of reasons and will show up with varying degrees of proficiency. Welcome swimmers of all ability levels and backgrounds.Creating a seasonal plan. Keep a chart of all the events your athletes will be participating in during the year, including USMS ePostal events, pool competitions, open water swims, and triathlons. Write your workouts with the purpose of preparing your athletes for their scheduled events.Planning events. Hosting events such as stroke and turn clinics, swim meets, virtual events, open water swims, and fundraisers provides opportunities to challenge and educate. Encourage 100 percent participation in each club-hosted activity, whether it's a meet or an off-site social.Making swimming fun. As a Masters coach, you have the ability to make a positive impact on each swimmer you coach. Showing enthusiasm with words or gestures on deck is the first step in making swimming fun for your athletes. Smile, and you'll probably get one in return.
Updated June 25th, 2014 at 12:32 PM by Bill Brenner
Q: Does USMS have a Level 4 Masters coach certification class?
A: The USMS Coaches Committee has developed criteria for awarding Masters coaches a "USMS Level 4 Certified Masters Coach" designation. This designation will not be earned by taking a class, but by fulfilling a list of requirements that reflect the values of U. S. Masters Swimming in the areas of:
ContributionAchievementGrowth & RetentionLeadershipEducation
The prerequisites for applying for Level 4 certification are:
Must be a USMS Level 3 Certified Masters CoachMust have at least five years of Masters coaching experienceMust hold current certification for: CPR, First Aid, AED, and Water Safety for Swim Coaches (or a Lifeguard Certificate)Must earn a minimum of 650 total points from the categories listed in the application for certification
Coaches interested in applying for the Level 4 certification must register online and submit their completed application between July 1 and July 15, 2014. The registration fee is $50 ($40 for USMS recognized coaches). Online registration and application submission will only be open during this time period. Registration links will be posted on the usms.org website and in future editions of STREAMLINES for Coaches.
A review panel selected by the USMS Coaches Committee will review each application and notify applicants of the status of their application by August 1, 2014. If deficiencies exist, applicants may correct these deficiencies by August 15, 2014. Coaches receiving the USMS Level 4 certified Masters coach designation will be recognized at the U.S. Aquatic Sports convention this September in Jacksonville, Fla.
If the applicant cannot correct the deficiencies by the deadline, the applicant can resubmit his or her application (at no additional fee) during the next submission period scheduled in the spring of 2015.
Updated June 25th, 2014 at 12:27 PM by Bill Brenner
Q: How much should I charge my members to swim in my Masters program?
A: Most USMS programs are self-sustaining or generate a profit. To be self-sustaining, or to break even, monthly program dues or fees should be calculated by subtracting the program's monthly expenses from the monthly revenue generated from hosting events, fundraising, grants, sponsorships, and dues paid by the swimmers.
Monthly dues must be competitive with the local Masters market, the availability of pool lane space, and be considerate of regional economic factors such as wages, employment, and cost-of-living figures. You don't want to have excessive fees, nor do you want your fees to be insufficient and not generate the revenue needed to pay your bills.
Adopt a philosophy that "everyone swims who wants to swim" regardless of their ability to pay. You can do this by offering incentives and alternate fee schedules for different groups. For example, consider offering discounts to young adults aged 18 to 24. Encouraging these adults to swim and reducing the barrier of cost will pay dividends over the long run. Remember, these adults may swim with you for a lifetime and will appreciate your generosity.
Another group that may benefit from a reduced rate is senior citizens living on a fixed income. They will appreciate the accommodation. You can also consider offering family discounts to encourage all adult members in the family to swim together.
One group that seems especially deserving of a discounted rate is veterans. You can thank the women and men who have served our country in the armed forces with a veteran's discount.
You may also want to provide discounted dues for coaches, assistant coaches, support team members, and key volunteers. Discounting fees for these key individuals can create value for your program and the members your program serves.
Lastly, create a scholarship fund from fundraising efforts or excess program revenue to enable those who can't pay a monthly fee a place to swim for free. In exchange for this benefit, scholarship recipients may serve as volunteers at local events to promote your program as a community sponsor and supporter.
Whatever your program decides to charge, make sure your members are getting a quality product. Very few members will complain about a fee for a product or service that exceeds their expectations.
Q: How do I attract more fitness swimmers to my program?
A: Many adults are afraid they don't belong in a "Masters" swimming program. Their fears and concerns must be overcome before they will consider participating. The list of fears and concerns are daunting but can be minimized or eliminated by a genuinely caring coach. Once a coach demonstrates how much they care--rather than how much they know--a partnership between the athlete and coach can begin to form. Ideally, this partnership will develop into one of mutual trust.
I recommend hosting a clinic for the first time Masters swimmer or novice. Many Masters programs around the country host an introductory clinic for new swimmers to meet the coach, explore the pool, and get a feel for the program's dynamics. Advertise the introductory clinic at your facility, the local sports shops, and nutrition stores. Ask your current athletes to refer a friend or family member.
Organizing the clinic by ability level and making each swimmer feel successful during the time they spend with you greatly enhances the chances each swimmer will return. Improvement during this initial clinic should be viewed as a byproduct, not the primary goal; overcoming fears and concerns should be your primary objective of the clinic
Q: What can I do to encourage 100% of the swimmers in my program to become USMS members?
A: Many programs across the country require all swimmers in their programs to be registered with U.S. Masters Swimming. Most programs allow swimmers a trial period of up to 30 consecutive days. During the trial period, coaches should explain the benefits of being a registered member of USMS and explain how a swimmer can join online.
Another option is to provide an introductory monthly fee equal to or greater than the registration fee for USMS membership and-with their permission-register the new members yourself. Make membership in USMS a benefit for your swimmers. This could be a useful tool in attracting new members and retaining existing ones. Once new members begins to see and receive the benefits of being part of a national organization, they'll be more engaged and likely to continue their participation with your program and the sport of swimming.
Updated July 9th, 2014 at 04:36 PM by Bill Brenner
Q: A new aquatics director was recently hired at the YMCA where I coach Masters. She has no knowledge of Masters Swimming or USMS. What should I tell her when she asks about our club?
A: I recommend asking for a scheduled meeting when you can privately introduce yourself and talk about Masters Swimming. Although within USMS you have a club or workout group, it's important to refer to Masters as a program when talking with aquatics directors or other facility administrators who may be unfamiliar with Masters Swimming.
Aquatics directors often have the perception that swim teams overrun the pool and squeeze out members who use the pool for lap swimming. Aquatics directors must manage these concerns and program the pool accordingly. Get in front of this by explaining that Masters is a program, much like water aerobics or swim lessons, but for adults aged 18+ who choose to swim as their form of exercise to live a healthier lifestyle.
During your meeting, describe how Masters Swimming is diverse in age, gender, and ability. It generates revenue and fulfills a community service-and will often provide expanded opportunities for the facility's existing lap swimmers, not take away their lanes. Give her a copy of the facility booklet that USMS produces to explain why facilities benefit from Masters Swimming programs. This comprehensive guide is very helpful in describing USMS. Copies arrive in club welcome kits each year and can also be ordered online through the USMS Program Resources page.
Invite the new aquatics director to one of your practices and introduce her to the members of your program. Encourage your members to welcome her at every opportunity. Make her feel part of the program by inviting her to social events. Maybe she's a Masters swimmer and just hasn't realized it yet!