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Team Building Through Communication

Tips for recruiting and retaining swimmers

Terry Heggy | January 15, 2016

All Masters coaches need great communication skills to effectively give swimmers quality workouts and useful stroke feedback. But the best coaches leverage their communication skills to create even more opportunities to help people improve their swimming—by building and sustaining club membership.

Here are some daily communication behaviors that bring swimmers to your club, and encourage them to stay.

Acknowledge Each Swimmer

Former USMS President and Ransom Arthur Award winner Mel Goldstein preaches that the most important thing to swimmers is their own name. When we individually acknowledge each workout attendee by name at practice, it reinforces that we care about them and value their participation. Other things we should know about and regularly discuss with swimmers include:

  • Goals, including desired performance at target events, as well as their overall motivators for joining Masters. Some members swim to improve meet performance while others swim for fitness, social connections, and general self-esteem. Embrace and support each of these goals.
  • Times, including what they repeat on standard workout sets as well as what they do in meets. When you know what sorts of times to expect, you can tell when swimmers might be having an off day, need extra encouragement, or need additional recovery. You’ll also know when to hand out praise for extra effort and improvement. Whenever someone sets a personal record (PR), announce it to the entire team!
  • Tendencies and preferences, including whether they are sprinters, stroke specialists, or distance fanatics. If you have pool space and time for it, you might even design special workouts to target those specialties.
  • Desire for feedback. Some swimmers appreciate frequent reminders while others prefer limited interaction with the coach.

You don’t have to be a PhD psychologist to be a good coach, but the effort you put into knowing and interacting individually with your swimmers will definitely improve your effectiveness.

Design Teambuilding Workouts

Masters clubs are much stronger and have dramatically better swimmer retention when the swimmers know and support each other. Therefore, it’s important to design some of your workout sets to give people a chance to interact with each other. Suggestions for interactive sets include:

  • Relays during practice. Build your relays in a way that puts people from different workout lanes on the same team. Encourage them to introduce themselves to each other if they haven’t yet met, and have them decide for themselves who swims which stroke for medley relays.
  • Kickboard duels. Have two swimmers hold a kickboard between them, and see who can push the other backward during a 30-second sprint kick effort. Switch the pairs around so that everyone has a chance to duel against someone they don’t usually share a lane with. Make sure they learn each other’s names.
  • Timed duration swims. Rather than starting each lane separately on each set, have everyone start and finish together. An example would be five swims on a 3-minute sendoff, with swimmers stopping at whichever wall gives them at least a few seconds rest before the next sendoff. Although these sets make swimmers interact with other lanes, they do give everyone the feel that we’re doing things as a team, rather than just as individual lanes.

The main thing is to promote the idea that each swimmer is part of a team, not just a member of a particular lane. Watch Streamlines for Coaches for future articles containing more suggestions for teambuilding workouts.

Support Team Events

This one’s self-explanatory. Attend swim meets, open water races, and team parties, etc. It’s obviously not possible to attend every single event your swimmers might do, but your presence at events speaks volumes about your commitment. Wear your team-logo (and USMS logo) apparel and demonstrate your pride in the organizations you represent.

Talk to Lap Swimmers, Triathletes, Gym Rats, etc.

Think of yourself as a Masters Swimming ambassador. Start conversations with people you see swimming laps, lifting weights, or running and biking. Memorize the phrase “Have you ever considered joining a Masters swim team?” and be prepared to use it frequently. Supplementary recruiting options include:

  • Business cards. A good coaching business card will include your coaching credentials and contact info, as well as facility location, workout hours, website, etc.
  • Free tryout cards. Giving away a free workout or two is a worthwhile investment in the future of your team. When a new potential member shows up to practice, introduce them by name and encourage the team to welcome them.
  • Follow up. Once a prospective member has expressed interest in Masters, make sure you follow up within a week. Call or email to ask if there’s any other information they might need. And once they attend, be sure to thank them and let them know you hope to see them again at the next practice.

Provide Online Resources

It might not be possible for every club, but a club website and social media presence can really help keep your members connected with your organization. A club website should at least include workout locations, schedules, and coaching bios. When resources allow, the website might also include full workout details, meet schedules and results, as well as swimmer photos and profiles.

Some of the other tools you might consider for promoting your program include:

Of course, you will have to decide how much time and effort you’ll put into your promotional work outside the pool. But your effectiveness in building a powerful Masters program begins with your attitude about your job. If you view yourself as not only a coach, but also a swimming evangelist, you’ll be well on your way to enduring success in this profession. Good luck, and have fun building your club!

USMS Wave Seperator

About the Author—Terry Heggy

Terry "Speed" Heggy has been swimming for more than 50 years. He won his age group in the 10K Open Water Championship in 2006, competed in the National Championship Olympic Distance Triathlon in 2014, and qualified again for USAT Nationals in 2015. He's the head coach of Team Sopris Masters in Glenwood Springs, Colo., and is a USMS-certified Level 3 Masters coach and an NASM Certified Personal Trainer.

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