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How to encourage participation in swim meets

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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.

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Updated September 18th, 2014 at 09:47 AM by Bill Brenner

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