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Safe challenges for all ability levels of Masters swimmers

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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.

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Updated June 17th, 2016 at 01:07 PM by Editor

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