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Questions from Coaches

Education Director Bill Brenner answers your questions

  1. How can I encourage my swimmers to join USMS?

    by , November 11th, 2016 at 04:31 PM (Questions from Coaches)
    Q: What suggestions can you give me to convince the non-competitive members in my program to join or renew their membership with USMS?
    A: Are you a believer? Seriously. Take a moment to reflect and ask yourself if you believe in U.S. Masters Swimming’s mission to promote health, wellness, fitness, and competition for adults through swimming? The answer may come from your beliefs, love of what you do as a Masters coach, passion for swimming, and commitment to being an advocate who encourages adults to swim. This same answer may help you formulate your own response to your original question regarding membership in USMS.
    Masters coaches have the unique ability to provide more than an on-deck “transaction.” We have the opportunity to create a “transformation”—motivating each of our swimmers to set goals, feel positive, and have a meaningful swimming experience. In many cases, this transformation is a life-altering event; your swimmers may finally become who they always wanted to be or who they never thought they could be. We’re helping them transform their lives to a healthier, happier lifestyle.
    The enthusiasm we as Masters coaches display on the pool deck, day in and out, transfers to the swimmers in the water. Many swimmers carry this positive and enthusiastic attitude with them beyond the pool to their daily lives and are genuinely grateful for their improved self-esteem. Knowing this, use your enthusiasm, and the gratefulness your swimmers feel towards you, to promote membership in USMS.
    Swimming Masters is a journey, not a destination, and membership is a valuable component to enrich the journey. USMS membership gives swimmers valuable tangible benefits and, more importantly, gives swimmers the feeling of being part of something bigger than just a swimmer on a swim team. It gives them the chance to contribute their time, talent and resources to an organization that gives the gift of swimming to adults across America.
    Pledge—and ask your swimmers to pledge—to support our organization, which is working to:

    • Provide more opportunities for adults to learn to swim and swim for a lifetime
    • Educate Masters coaches and instructors, creating a better swimming experience for those they coach and teach
    • Expand the number of aquatics facilities with programs for adults to swim and exercise

    The success of USMS depends on everyone who contributes to the organization’s wellbeing. Each of us—members, coaches, swimmers, volunteers and staff—has a role to play as ambassadors for USMS. Together, we control our destiny. Together, we pave the path for our journey.
    Be a believer in USMS and those you lead will follow.
  2. How to deal with “Coach’s Fatigue”

    by , October 10th, 2016 at 04:45 PM (Questions from Coaches)
    Q: How do I overcome or deal with “Coach’s Fatigue?”
    A: The first step to finding a successful solution to any problem is to identify the cause. For example, when you’re trying to make a correction to a swimmer’s stroke, you may need to look at the root cause before affecting a solution. If a swimmer has a wicked scissors kick, do you concentrate on her leg movement or do you look at body rotation, head movement during the breath, and the arm path of the stroke? Correcting these movements may eliminate the improper kick.
    Root causes of coaching fatigue may be:

    • Lack of sleep
    • Boredom
    • Feeling unappreciated
    • Feeling overwhelmed
    • Needing more time for self, family, or friends

    Most, if not all, of these causes can be overcome. Remember, as a swimmer and a Masters coach, you have great power. Summon up your competitive juices, your will to win, and your ambitious drive for success to take on these challenges. Lou Holtz, an accomplished football coach, stated, “Life is 10 percent what happens to you and 90 percent how you respond to it.”
    Coaching Masters swimming should be a challenging, rewarding, and fun endeavor. Make coaching fun. Like Masters swimming, coaching Masters shouldn’t feel like your parents are forcing you to the pool. It’s your choice and you should react accordingly.
    Try some of these solutions:

    • Change your sleeping routine or practice times
    • Set a new goal for yourself and your program
    • Understand your swimmers’ goals, and become an active partner in their achieving those goals
    • Be more engaged during practices—if you want to feel more appreciated, make sure your swimmers know how much you appreciate them
    • Take splits during practice and share the information with the swimmers
    • Video your swimmers and give them feedback
    • Take your program in a different direction
    • Add a new component to your practice routine such as open water, USRPT, or dryland training
    • Find a cause and rally the troops—host a fundraiser for a local charity or the Swimming Saves Lives Foundation
    • Continue your education—this can include reading, attending a class, or taking an online course
    • Visit other clubs
    • Find a mentor coach, someone with whom to share ideas and solutions
    • If you’re not swimming or exercising, get back in the water or find another form of physical activity you enjoy doing
    • Identify and mentor a volunteer assistant coach—this may allow you to take a break or take a sabbatical
    • Challenge yourself and the members of your program to recruit new members—coaching new athletes can be invigorating
    • Travel to away meets
    • Find a new challenge either inside or outside of swimming
    • Add a different dimension to your coaching—perhaps adult swim lessons
    • Host a social event
    • Eliminate or reduce the club administrative functions you dislike the most—hire a third-party company, such as Club Assistant, to help manage the day-to-day operations of your program.


    My advice to every Masters coach, no matter the size of your program, is don’t do it all yourself. Find people in your program or their family and friends who will share responsibilities and ownership. Shared ownership creates a stronger organization and the likelihood of a successful program. Will they do it as well as you? Maybe yes, maybe no. However, getting help from others could be the solution to coach’s fatigue.
  3. Safe challenges for all ability levels of Masters swimmers

    by , June 9th, 2016 at 05:57 PM (Questions from Coaches)
    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 year
    • Learn 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 02:07 PM by Editor

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  4. Do you supply the spark?

    by , June 15th, 2015 at 01:00 PM (Questions from Coaches)
    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 11:43 AM by Bill Brenner

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