The Diversity and Inclusion Committee reached out to USMS clubs for their suggestions on how programs across the country can increase diversity and inclusion.

How Clubs Can Reach Diverse Swimmers

Here are some great ways clubs can reach diverse swimmers.

Adult Learn-to-Swim Graduation/Competition

At our Dixie Zone Championship in Greenville, S.C., the local team (Greenville Splash) had a recent ALTS graduate participate. He is a young Hispanic male who had never swum before. He took a few ALTS classes and with some encouragement and support from the instructors, he was signed up and swam the 50 freestyle.

The local team did an amazing job to make sure he was comfortable. He swam in a heat all by himself, in a lane closest to a wall, and went off the block. In an act of true Masters Swimming culture, ALL swimmers on deck (and fans) stood and lined the pool to clap and cheer him on.

What Worked/What Didn’t

What worked

The team was able to encourage him to participate. This is a HUGE hurdle. With the right confidence in the water, he wanted to try swimming in a meet. By having him swim in a heat by himself, it removed the fear of swimming against other swimmers.

What didn’t work

Nothing. The only thing to watch out for is to make sure the swimmers feel comfortable, whether swimming by themselves or alone. Many people might worry or feel too self-conscious swimming all alone with everyone watching. To address this, once we get ALTS graduates to sign up for a meet, we make sure they know exactly what is going to happen and talk through any concerns or potential fears on their end.

How Does This Strategy Promote Diversity and Inclusion?

Many of the participants in ALTS are ethnically and racially diverse. Providing them the tools to feel comfortable in the water with a goal to reach will keep them engaged and coming back for more lessons. Once they accomplish that goal, the sense of pride is priceless. All the while, their story will be shared amongst friends and family, potentially leading to more ALTS (and meet) participants from all backgrounds.

Local Contact

Leslie Scott, South Carolina LMSC

Diversity and Inclusion Mission Statement

A Diversity and Inclusion Committee member mentioned on one of our calls that he or she was at a swim meet at which a statement of diversity and inclusion was given after the National Anthem, prior to the start of the meet.

This could be a good practice to include at meets in order to reach swimmers, coaches, volunteers, and spectators because it makes swimming more approachable for adults as a whole.

This is also scalable. Maybe it’s not a statement at the meet but rather is included in the meet info. Additionally, this could also be scaled to the team level and shared on social media, team websites, newsletters, etc.

What Worked/What Didn’t

What worked

I think implementing this is fairly easy. Make the statement your own voice and hold true to morals that guide your team.

What didn’t work

It might be difficult to include as part of the meet entry form. Would people read it?

How Does This Strategy Promote Diversity and Inclusion?

It provides guardrails and a strategy for cultivating a culture of diversity and inclusion. When you implement a diversity and inclusion mission statement and place importance on it, having it help guide decision making and how people engage with each other, that’s when the magic happens. Diversity and inclusion suddenly won’t be something that needs to be called out but rather becomes ingrained in everyone without a second thought.

Local Contact

Janelle Munson-McGee, New England LMSC

Providing Hard Copies of Meet Material to Team Members

We have a broad membership across many generations. Our senior swimmers sometimes struggle with new technologies (e.g., Club Assistant, email, etc.), so a perfect solution is printing out hard copies of meet information and entries for the entire team. Not only can this be helpful to get people without proper technology signed up, but what a great takeaway/tangible reminder for those who can sign up electronically to do so.

What Worked/What Didn’t

What worked

Local Montana legend Molly Hayes, 80-plus years old, asked me to help her sign up for a swim meet in Bozeman, Mont., called the May Classic. Molly said she was no good with computers and asked me to print a hard copy of the meet information for her. Long story short, Molly swam in the meet and proved to be a strong source of inspiration for swimmers in the younger age groups and their parents alike. Her participation also helped other local lap swimmers and members of Bozeman Masters to feel empowered about participating in a swim meet. We had around 15 Masters swimmers throughout the state of Montana participate; that was a record high of participation for Montana Masters.

What didn’t work

Nothing. We were able to get participation numbers up by people who would otherwise be unable to sign up. A simple action like this has reaped serious benefits.

How Does This Strategy Promote Diversity and Inclusion?

Having hard copies of meet information and event registration promotes diversity and inclusion by eliminating the need to be technologically literate. Members of a club who are able to sign up online can still sign up online, but having a paper copy of event registration helps to include an older generation who may not be the most comfortable with computers.

Local Contact

Janelle Munson-McGee, New England LMSC

Recognition of New and Current Members

Many teams have a newsletter, whether weekly, monthly, bimonthly, etc. The goal here is to highlight new members, so current people can say hello and welcome them.

Additionally, the newsletter can highlight current members. This is a fantastic tool that lets new members match faces with names and allows existing members to be spotlighted for achievements in and out of the pool. This can help foster a greater sense of community and camaraderie.

What Worked/What Didn’t

What Worked

Publicly recognizing members for achievements helped empower others to lift each other up. Peer support is far more beneficial than a coach’s acknowledgement. This act allowed people to be more inclusive of multi-sport athletes who also have lofty goals that sometimes go unknown from lack of interaction.

This can also lead to mentorship in and out of the pool, especially when people learn they work in the same company, are in the same field of study, etc.

What Didn’t

Being the only one recognizing new members. It takes some time to get this type of verbalized recognition going without the coach leading it. Once in place, it becomes part of the culture.

How Does This Strategy Promote Diversity and Inclusion?

A few months of facilitating introductions via recognition in newsletters helps build a welcoming culture. People, no matter their background, begin to feel like valued members. This type of attention can lead people to get outside their comfort zone by trying something new with someone they would never have interacted with, without some sort of nugget of information to start conversations.

Local Contact

Janelle Munson-McGee, New England LMSC

Open Water Swimming Coordinator Position

For a coach who doesn’t know a lot about open water swimming and coaches swimmers who do, empower them to create something and get out of their way. They can provide more offerings to your program and help you reach a wider range of swimmers.

What Worked/What Didn’t

What Worked

Have knowledgeable and experienced open water swimmers on your club make a weekly or biweekly club event out of open water swims. Propose open water swims specific to ideas such as sighting, drafting, swimming in packs, or even transition sessions.

What Didn’t

Telling members that we should organize an open water swimming event and trying to set one up myself. Tina Fey said it well, “Being a good boss means hiring talented people and then getting out of their way.”

How Does This Strategy Promote Diversity and Inclusion?

Regular scheduling of open water swims helps adults interested in open water swimming feel more included. It also helps to break the stereotype that Masters swim coaches only care about record-breaking pool swimmers. A regular occurrence of open water swim occasions also lends itself to potlucks and team gatherings to attract the social butterfly of the team as well as triathletes who are looking to “cheat to the test.”

Local Contact

Janelle Munson-McGee, New England LMSC

Para-Athletes Can Help the Whole Team

Para-athlete participation can help your team grow in new ways. The physical abilities of para-athletes can allow coaches to think differently when teaching stroke technique to the club at large in a more abstract, concept-based approach. Work with the athletes to help them learn all four competitive strokes through various adaptable drills.

What Worked/What Didn’t

What Worked

Thinking about swimming technique in relation to over-arching fundamentals helps immensely when working with para-athletes. Mass in the water is still mass; thinking about a para-athlete’s body as mass can be a game changer. The concept of balance and the anatomical structure of joints is very much the same as an able-bodied athlete. The connection of what is the same amongst all athletes will make those para-athletes feel more included and inspired.

What Didn’t

Continued thinking of body part movement being similar to able-bodied athletes. Para-athletes move their muscles through the water differently based on how they’re able to do so. Coaches should work closely with all of their athletes to figure out what’s working and what isn’t working and what else can be tried.

How Does This Strategy Promote Diversity and Inclusion?

By working with para-athletes in creating and teaching adaptive drills and techniques will help those with physical limitations to be empowered and included.

Local Contact

Janelle Munson-McGee, New England LMSC

Personal Invitation to Try Masters Swimming Week

Create and send a personal invitation flyer to your club for distribution with a focus on diversity and inclusion. We don’t want to single any group out, so challenge your club to personally invite someone who might benefit from Masters swimming and the programs offered.

What Worked/What Didn’t

What Worked

The team included wording at the end of the invitation stating, “All adults and abilities welcome.” This was the sentence that most guests named as the reason for trying Masters swimming.

What Didn’t

Verbally inviting someone. It didn’t get remembered, and there were fewer new participants.

How Does This Strategy Promote Diversity and Inclusion?

A digital flyer was the perfect way to invite people. In this format, people could email, post on social media, or print and give to a potential new swimmer. They had all the information they needed, plus contact information should they have any questions, and it lent some perceived credibility rather than just someone telling them it was Try Masters Swimming Week. This alone gave them the idea that there would be other new people along with them, making it seem less intimidating.

Local Contact

Janelle Munson-McGee, New England LMSC

Representation Matters

Take advantage of social media’s and technology’s ability to connect people. Post photos of swimmers of all identities in various activities—swimming, social, etc.

What Worked/What Didn’t

What Worked

Posting photos of wide ranges of participants helped swim lessons seem approachable and less embarrassing for older adults who never learned to swim as a youth. Sharing a photo of a para-athlete helps break stereotypes and turns the para-athlete into a source of inspiration. (Don’t forget to ask for permission to take photos of someone and share them on social media or other outlets such as a newsletter or website.)

What Didn’t

Getting in the way of ourselves. We have many coaches of diverse backgrounds and while we all hate admitting how much representation matters, because we want to think it doesn’t matter, the fact is representation does matter.

How Does This Strategy Promote Diversity and Inclusion?

Because representation matters, we want to promote that Masters swimming isn’t just for people who are “swimmers” or “triathletes.” Masters Swimming has a connotation of being an organization for a “master” swimmer, when in reality it is for anyone 18 and above with an interest in swimming. Nothing to do with skill level but everything to do with inclusion. This is precisely why we are here.

Local Contact

Janelle Munson-McGee, New England LMSC

Club Ambassador Program

At Palmetto Masters, we have volunteers at each of our pools/locations who is our “ambassador.”  In this role, this person is alerted any time we have visitors express interest in joining us while in town visiting, a new member joins, an athlete wants to try us out, etc.  While the entire team is typically welcoming and says hello, this ambassador takes some extra time to introduce the new athlete to the coach, explain how we are set up in lanes (fastest to slowest), shows them where the locker rooms are, where they can get some communal swim equipment, etc. The ambassador basically gives new swimmers the lay of the land and also someone they can feel comfortable asking questions. 

What Worked/What Didn’t

What Worked

It’s a great program with tons of return on investment.

What Didn’t

The only problem can be when the ambassador isn’t there on the day or days when the new person will be there.  When this happens, one of our board members (if present) usually steps in.  If not a board member, then we usually have no shortage of people on the team who bring the new swimmers into the fray.

How Does This Strategy Promote Diversity and Inclusion?

It genuinely makes the person feel welcome, which is a huge first step in making sure someone has a fantastic experience and wants to come back.  If you have ever traveled and swam with a different team, you know there are nuances and cultures within each team. 

Local Contact

Mike Malik, South Carolina LMSC