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The Many Hats of a Masters Coach

Embracing duties outside your formal job description

Terry Heggy | December 13, 2016

To anyone who isn’t a coach, our jobs seem fairly straightforward: Plan the season, write workouts, give stroke feedback, shout out repeat times, and dispense colorful drill-sergeant rants about the necessity of hard work and discipline. While these tasks DO represent the meat and potatoes of our daily coaching activities, there are a host of hidden jobs we perform behind the scenes.

What We Are Not

It’s obvious that Masters coaches are among the most talented and versatile members of our society. But there are a couple of occupations we should leave to other professionals:

  • Doctor—Unless you have appropriate medical credentials, refer all diagnoses and treatment of injuries or diseases to licensed physicians and therapists, etc. It’s OK to give advice about resting sore muscles or fixing technique that contributes to temporary discomfort, but anything more serious (including significant mental or emotional conditions) should not be handled by a swim coach.
  • Nutritionist—Again, it’s OK to offer general guidelines regarding healthy fueling and hydration, but it’s not our place to prescribe any specific dietary regimen.

Our Other Jobs

Orator

When you’re on deck announcing sets, you need to be heard. If you don’t have a microphone system, you need to project your voice effectively. Breathe deeply, speak loudly in a pitch that carries, and enunciate carefully. Repeat as necessary. Ask for feedback to ensure you’re heard across all lanes in a noisy pool.

You may also want to study effective motivational speakers. Gestures, changes in voice volume, and good eye contact can help swimmers keep their attention focused on what you say. Choose your words carefully to maximize your motivational impact.

Evangelist

Promote your program at every opportunity. In addition to your personal interactions, take advantage of social media and local outlets including newspapers, radio, and displays at your pool or local gyms. (Recruit media-savvy swimmers to help you if you don’t have the time or skills to do it all yourself.) Remember that each of your personal contacts represents an opportunity to talk about your team. Bring it up in conversations, hand out business cards, and maybe even offer free trial passes for a workout or two. Always show your passion and enthusiasm for swimming with a welcoming smile!

Scientist

Swimming science is constantly changing. The strokes we learned as kids have evolved, so it’s important to keep up to date on the latest research and techniques. But we also need to possess a scientist’s skill for keen observation:

  • Watch for technique flaws so you can work on corrections.
  • Watch swimmer performance to see if your workout plans need adjustment. Indicators include repeat times, facial expressions, lane chatter, post-workout comments, etc.
  • Analyze your season to understand what works and what doesn’t. Continue the things that were effective and discard the things that didn’t work. Swimmer feedback can help identify where adjustments are needed, but actual race data is usually more reliable.

Keep a database of swimmer goals and performances. As you learn your athletes, you should be able to predict with reasonable accuracy how fast they should swim on any given workout set. Then you’ll know whether you should hand out kudos and high fives—or unholster the floggin’ whip.

Schoolmarm

As for any teacher, we need to clearly explain technique, as well as the purpose for each drill and work set. Don’t begin a set until you’re confident that all the swimmers understand what you’re asking them to do.

Schoolmarm duties also include:

  • Cat wrangling—Manage workout lanes, enforce etiquette, help folks sign up for meets and get to the blocks when their event is called, etc.
  • Calendar management—In addition to setting workout schedules, you should publicize swim meets, postal events, and social activities.
  • Guidance counseling—Give feedback and race breakdown analysis, then discuss what changes will help the swimmer achieve her goals.
  • Giving out gold stars—Publicly recognize personal records, extraordinary performances, and contributions to team spirit. Recruit committees to obtain and distribute team merchandise (logo caps, t-shirts, etc.) and to ensure that there are plenty of team parties and celebrations throughout the year.

Ambassador

You are the public avatar for your team; inhabit that role with pride. Wear your team colors, show up on time, and behave with unimpeachable integrity. Even when you don’t feel great, show the swimmers your best smile and highest energy level.

You are also the team’s interface with your facility’s management, so try to develop a positive relationship with them. When there are conflicts with other programs (fighting for pool space) or disagreements over policies (fees, water temperature, membership requirements, etc.), remember that they also have a business to run, and that it is to your advantage to collaborate with them. Try to see their side of each issue and work to find mutually beneficial solutions.

Finally, remember that you also represent USMS, and that you have a unique opportunity to communicate the benefits of membership to your swimmers and to the public in general.

Entertainer

You may have other skills you bring to your team (stand-up comic, ace demonstrator, on-deck dancer, etc.), and those will also help you develop a unique brand, which contributes to a successful program. Have fun wearing all your different hats. Your versatility combined with your workout expertise ensures that your swimmers will continue to improve without ever getting bored!

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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