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Making your program more welcoming to new swimmers

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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.

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

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