Encouraging More Adults to Swim
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Coaches Only

Safety Tips for All Coaches

Three keys to help protect your swimmers in the pool

Terry Heggy | January 14, 2018

A coach’s passion is helping athletes get stronger and faster. But we can’t do that if they’re unable to train due to accidents, injuries, or health issues. Let’s examine three things we can do to help keep swimmers safe.


You can’t prevent all accidents, but the best safety strategy is to minimize the chance of anything going wrong. Lifeguards and other pool staff are already tasked with pool maintenance and monitoring, but we coaches should also use our experience and observation skills to eliminate possible hazards. Check the pool before the swimmers arrive, and then constantly monitor the entire area during practice.

  • Facility—Verify that the deck and pool bottom are free of toe-stubbing and tripping or slipping hazards. Make sure equipment and chemicals are properly secured, and be aware of other dangers at your venue (loose blocks or ladders, bees, snakes, etc.)
  • Lines and flags—Untightened lane lines or missing backstroke flags result in jammed fingers and bonked noggins, so ensure that they’re in place and secure.
  • Behavior—Enforce rules and common-sense protocols such as no diving into shallow water or when other swimmers are in the lane. Make sure everyone understands your pool’s lane etiquette. Watch for hypoxia, daydreaming, or conflicts. Encourage swimmers to have fun, but keep boisterousness on the calm side of calamity.
  • Signals—Watch swimmers for signs of distress (above and beyond “I’m tired!” or “This coach is torturing us!”) Facial expressions and body language may signal problems (stroke, heart issues) before they’ll say anything. Coughing could indicate a problem with pool chemicals, etc.

Practice these prevention procedures at swim meets and open water events as well. Consider safety during set design, especially when you add more hazardous elements such as weights, starting blocks, etc.


Even with proper preventive programs, there may still be emergencies. Make sure you and your associates are ready to respond.

  • Know the lifeguards—Lifeguards and pool staff may be well trained, but many are young and inexperienced. Early morning staff may be sleepy. We want these folks to be completely invested in the well-being of our swimmers, so it pays to create good relationships with the pool staff. Get to know them by name, greet them upon arrival, and learn something about them. Talk with them about your swimmers so they feel connected to the group. Include them in social functions. An engaged lifeguard is a more effective lifeguard.
  • Know the swimmers—U.S. Masters Swimming Coaches Committee Chair Bob Jennings suggests offering swimmers the option of completing an emergency info card that contains information on existing medical conditions, allergies, and emergency contacts. To make it easy to find, this card should be on bright paper, laminated, and carried out to the pool deck with the swimmer’s gear or kept in an accessible notebook. (It doesn’t do anyone any good secured in a locker.)
  • Know the plan—Your facility should have an emergency action plan that lists specific steps to follow for each type of potential emergency. Know its location, as well as the location of the pool’s automated external defibrillator and the script for making 911 calls, which should include the address of the facility.


Create an environment where safety is always a priority.

  • Enforce safety and etiquette rules consistently.
  • Ask swimmers for safety suggestions.
  • Encourage your athletes to watch out for each other and to take care of themselves.

Maintaining fitness through Masters Swimming is a fantastic start, but remind swimmers that dryland core and balance workouts help prevent falls and other injuries, too. Encourage good nutrition, stimulating mental activity, and a great group of friends to round out the equation for a long and happy life.

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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