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Questions from Coaches

Education Director Bill Brenner answers your questions

  1. Making your program more welcoming to new swimmers

    by , July 15th, 2014 at 12:00 AM (Questions from Coaches)
    Q: How can I make my program more welcoming to new swimmers?

    A: Most experienced Masters coaches can size up new swimmers with a high degree of accuracy the moment they walk on the deck. We can often tell quickly whether they're fit or have previous swimming experience. The type of suit and equipment they bring, their level of nervousness, and how they talk about swimming can all be good indicators of someone's swimming experience.

    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.

    Updated September 15th, 2016 at 12:33 PM by Editor

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  2. Q: What do successful coaches do beyond writing a workout?

    by , May 15th, 2014 at 12:00 AM (Questions from Coaches)
    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

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  3. Q: What to charge members to swim in a Masters program?

    by , March 15th, 2014 at 12:00 AM (Questions from Coaches)
    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.
  4. Q: How do I attract more fitness swimmers to my program?

    by , February 15th, 2014 at 12:00 AM (Questions from Coaches)
    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
  5. How to introduce an aquatics director to Masters Swimming

    by , December 15th, 2013 at 12:00 AM (Questions from Coaches)
    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!
  6. How do I find a coach for our Masters program?

    by , September 15th, 2013 at 12:00 AM (Questions from Coaches)
    Q: How do I find a coach for our Masters program?

    A: Finding a qualified Masters coach takes time and patience. Before you begin your search, it's important to define the job description. More importantly, you should determine the goals of your program.

    Once you have your program identity and goals defined, you can search for a coach with the same values. It's critical to hire a coach who understands that swimming needs to be fun while helping swimmers and the program meet stated goals and objectives.

    Programs can advertise for a Masters coach in the USMS Discussion Forums, in the local print media, or any number of online employment services. Contact local age group, high school, and college swim teams; they often have swim coaches interested in additional coaching opportunities. The more irons you put in the fire, the greater the chance the most qualified coach will apply for the position.

    Applicants should be required to send a résumé and cover letter. I recommend having applicants write a one-paragraph statement of why they want to coach Masters swimming--give applicants an opportunity to do some homework on Masters.

    After reviewing the applications, determine which applicants are worthy of further review. Schedule phone interviews with out-of-town applicants and in-person interviews with local candidates. Make your final selection and negotiate the compensation and benefits. Both parties should sign a letter of agreement outlining each other's responsibilities.
  7. Coaches who are swimmers can do both

    by , July 15th, 2013 at 12:00 AM (Questions from Coaches)
    Q: I'm a Masters swimmer who has been asked to coach a group of Masters swimmers at my pool. Can I coach them while I swim? I don't have time to coach and swim at separate practices.

    A: Yes, you can coach and swim at the same time. Many of the coaches in our organization share the same time constraints as you. In order for the USMS liability and excess accident insurance to remain in effect during your practice, someone with USMS membership must be on deck with "line-of-sight" on all the athletes. This "line-of-sight" requirement is true of pool, dryland, and open water practices.

    If you have lifeguards on duty during the practices that you would like to coach from the water, and your local statutes permit it, register the lifeguards as USMS members. The registration fee is well worth the investment so you can swim while coaching.
  8. Community partnership can grow your club

    by , June 15th, 2013 at 12:00 AM (Questions from Coaches)
    Q: What community partnerships should my program be pursuing?

    A: There are three important categories of partnerships your program should actively pursue: community service, program growth, and financial benefit.

    Community Service
    Identify local agencies that share the same values as you, your program, and USMS. Reach out to the leadership of these programs to explore opportunities for involvement. Once you have a plan for working with these other organization, use your leadership skills by building a support team within your organization. Assign a member of the support team to be responsible for community services. Work together to encourage your members to commit their time, talents, and resources to a common cause.
    Collaboration with diversity programs such as Diversity in Aquatics and Urban Swim Program; local non-profit agencies and charities such as the American Red Cross and the Salvation Army Kroc Centers; and adult learn-to-swim programs, such as those offered by municipal parks and recreation departments and the YMCA of the USA will strengthen your program as a valuable asset to the community, promote growth and retention of your membership, and increase your program’s financial security. Added benefits include offering your swimmers meaningful community service opportunities, program growth, and financial growth.

    Program Growth
    Encouraging adults to swim for a healthier lifestyle is a common mantra that builds strong bridges with other swimming, health and well being, and fitness organizations. Don't assume everyone knows what Masters swimming represents. Make a personal visit to each of these groups and explore ways you can work together to bring more participation to your program. Collaborating with the following groups can raise your program’s profile within the community, while potentially attracting new members.

    • Approach local triathlon, cycling, and running clubs and offer to:
      • Host a swim clinic for their members
      • Offer a trial membership to your program
      • Volunteer at their events. If it goes well, they may in turn volunteer at your events!

    • Ask to make presentations about the benefits of swimming to health clubs and retirement communities
    • Hold an open house during one of your practices, followed by a social event
    • Connect with your local rehabilitation centers and VA hospital and offer to start a free wellness program
    • Invite the director and staff of the nonprofit you’d like to collaborate with to join you for a swim practice

    Financial Benefits
    In addition to doing good in your community, focusing your efforts can also help the local economy by leveraging your members’ purchasing power. If you reach out to local merchants, some may be willing to provide discounts, promotions, giveaways, and donations to your group to spur spending in the community.

    • Sponsorships. Recruit local businesses to become sponsors of your program. My favorite form of sponsorship is a cash donation in exchange for recognition. List your sponsors on your website, along with their logos and a links to their websites. Put their logos on the backs of event T-shirts, or ask them to set up an informational table at a meet where they can demo their products or tell attendees about their services. Advertise your sponsors with a banner, at their cost, to be hung at your facility.
    • Room discounts. When hosting an event, negotiate a block rate of rooms at a local hotel with a percentage of the room charges returned to your program as a cash incentive. Marriott, a corporate sponsor of USMS, is an excellent resource for event hosting.
    • Local merchant contributions or discounts. Smaller, more localized chains and businesses might also be able to help with everything from providing concessions for a meet to printing T-shirts for your open water swim. Local athletic stores might be very interested in setting up a booth at your event to sell swimwear and gear at a discount to participants (and a percentage to your program). Pool supply companies might want to reach out to your members by offering discounted pool installation or chemicals. Vitamin, health, or nutritional supplement stores might also be interested in attending and providing coupons in race goody bags. By working together, both your program and these local entities can benefit.
    • Referral incentive programs. Provide an incentive for the merchants who refer an athlete to your program.

    Updated July 11th, 2014 at 02:34 PM by Bill Brenner

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  9. Keeping your swimmers engaged

    by , May 15th, 2013 at 12:00 AM (Questions from Coaches)
    Q: What are some effective ways to keep my swimmers enrolled in my program?

    A: Membership retention is an important component of a successful organization. Although organic growth is often viewed as the most important measurement of success, retention is the key to evaluating the performance of the organization and those who serve it.

    Coaches, in particular, should evaluate their performance based on their athletes' willingness to renew their membership. Keeping the swimmers engaged has proven to be the most important aspect of membership retention.

    So how can you keep your swimmers engaged and enrolled for the long term? Here are a few ideas:

    • Know your swimmers. What are your swimmers' names, their goals, and their interests away from the pool? The coach should know.
    • Don't get caught in a rut. Challenge your swimmers with new and creative workouts, drills, and events. Encourage them to participate in the Nike Go the Distance challenge, postal events, pool competitions, open water events, clinics, and other activities in which your program participates. For those members who don't want to swim at a particular event, ask them to volunteer. After seeing the event up close, they might feel more comfortable and swim in the next event.
    • Communicate with your club. Write a weekly or monthly e-newsletter. Include a calendar with focus events for your program as well as birthdays and other special occasions.
    • Share the load. Identify individual members' skills and talents and build a support team with those members willing to devote their time and talents for the benefit of the program. Creating a support team can help balance the dynamics of the program and keep the members engaged.
  10. Building relationships

    by , March 15th, 2013 at 12:00 AM (Questions from Coaches)
    Q: How does my program build a relationship with elected and appointed political leaders in my community?

    A: Establishing political clout within your community can serve your program well-especially in the events of reduced pool availability, pool renovation, and new pool projects.

    Masters swimmers, unlike age group swimmers, have a political voice though their votes. In addition, adults contribute time, talents, and dollars to political campaigns. Although elected officials should fairly represent their constituency, often, the group with the loudest voice and deepest pockets gets the most attention.

    Most programs don't have loud voices and deep pockets. If you do, that's great. If you don't, however, that shouldn't stop you from building relationships with your political leaders. Here are a few ideas on how to do that:

    • Invite an elected official to present a "Swimmer of the Month" award to one of your athletes. That adds up to 12 officials in 12 months.
    • Have an elected official be present at any grand opening or dedication events. This includes a new scoreboard, starting blocks, a pool renovation, anything. Get creative.
    • Recruit an elected official to be the announcer when your program hosts a community fundraiser event such as a wacky relay meet to raise money for a local charity or cause. Invite the local media to cover the event.
    • Recruit an elected official to hand out awards at your swim meet, open water event, and at your program's year-end awards banquet.
    • The more your elected officials know about your program-the diversity, the health and wellness benefits it provides adults, and how vital an asset it is to the community-the more political clout you'll build. Politicians champion great causes. Masters swimming is GREAT!