The Diversity and Inclusion Committee reached out to USMS coaches for their suggestions on how coaches across the country can increase diversity and inclusion.
How Coaches Can Improve Diversity in Their Clubs
Here are some great ways coaches can reach increase diversity on their clubs.
Marty Hendrick’s Athletes Help Him Welcome New People at Swim Fort Lauderdale Practices
Marty Hendrick is the head coach of Florida’s Swim Fort Lauderdale, which is based in a dynamic urban community.
“I have every type of diversity on my club,” he says. “These days, I’m working on being inclusive to a diverse number of non-English speaking swimmers … from Russia and eastern Europe. I’m also working to provide services to swimmers with severe mental and physical challenges within the context of a swim team.
“My club is certainly less diverse than our city population, which has been named the most diverse city in Florida. Compared to some other USMS programs, we have substantial Hispanic and black swimmer participation. I’m an openly gay coach and make that fact known, so many members of the LGBTQ community participate with us because they know they are welcome.”
When new swimmers come to SFTL, Hendrick pairs them with another swimmer to support them. Frequently, language is a challenge, and he draws on his members to help translate “swimming terms.” He had to learn that a direct translation of Masters terminology doesn’t make sense. He’s had to figure out that “leaving on the top” and “descend” don’t easily translate! He relies on lanemates to help new swimmers get oriented and comfortable. He can also use Google translate with a Russian-speaking swimmer when he has no translator available.
Hendrick is fortunate to have the expansive International Swimming Hall of Fame pool, with 16 short course yards lanes and 10 long course lanes. Every practice he offers three basic groups with sub-groups. Initially, he had Groups 1, 2, and 3, but those groups/speeds didn’t meet everyone’s needs. Then he added group 0 and 1½ to reflect the speed/intensity differences. All groups practice at every workout.
Swimmer ability is a huge consideration in diversity, whether it is experience at swimming or the diversity that comes from working with an aging population. When running 16 lanes, SFTL has the ability to provide lane space for different abilities, including swimmers with mental disabilities, such as autism, where they can get individual attention.
SFTL’s facility opportunities enhance the program’s ability to serve a diverse group of swimmers. Hendrick’s philosophy is to design workouts based on ability, so he has time to send off each group so they all “come in” together. He also needs to allow time for lanemates to interpret as needed for non-English speaking members. It’s a choreographed workout, with the coach taking time to make sure lanes understand the purpose and instructions for each set. He uses the basic coaching building block for all workouts: pace per 100 freestyle. Every swimmer knows his/her sendoff and pace as the basis for training. He quizzes swimmers frequently and requires them to know their pace.
All his workouts are presented in writing (can be posted on a kickboard) and explained orally. This helps also with language challenges because often his non-English–speaking swimmers can read the workout better than hearing it.
SFTL is not allowed to offer adult swim lessons; these are the responsibility of the city’s parks department. Hendrick would like to see opportunities in this area as there is not a good bridge between lessons and his program. He would like to promote ALTS programs but can’t within the City of Ft. Lauderdale structure.
As for marketing, people come to his program through word of mouth. The more diverse his membership is, the more diverse population he can attract. People who are passionate about swimming bring their friends. His job and that of his coaches is to make sure everyone feels welcome and included. He offers tryout week and “Bring a Friend” promotions.
Hendrick has two mottos for his program and his years of head coaching experience: “Treat everyone with respect. That’s what Masters swimming is all about. And never panic. It’s just swimming. It’ll all work out.
—Diversity and Inclusion Committee member Sarah Welch
Kevin Majoros Offers Scholarships to Help Young Masters Swimmers
The DC Aquatic Club was formed in 1987 as a gay water polo and swim team. After eight years as a club, DCAC was the 1995 world champions in the International Gay and Lesbian Aquatics championships in Montreal.
The club’s mission was emphasized often when speaking with treasurer Kevin Majoros:
“DCAC is a high-energy swim team and social club whose mission is to promote swimming for fitness, health and wellness, and competition for the LGBT community and their allies in a team-oriented, coached setting. Whether you are looking to make friends, get in a great workout, or compete against top swimmers from throughout the region, the nation, or the world, DCAC is the team for you. All ages and ability levels welcome.”
At six 90-minute practices a week (four evening, two morning) in four different locations, everyone can be found: transgender, gay, straight, men, women, younger and older swimmers, Olympians, and newbies. LGBT-based but very diverse, DCAC attends both gay and straight meets.
To build youth into the team, DCAC actively recruits people under 30 years old by offering scholarships. For example, instead of paying $175 a quarter, a 22-year-old swimmer pays $125. When that swimmer applies for the pool scholarship, the cost drops to $50 a quarter. DCAC wants young swimmers and uses this to get them.
—Diversity and Inclusion Committee member Carol Nip
Sebastopol Masters Coach Finds New Swimmers at Community Events
Donita Flecker worked at a local pool as a lifeguard, swim lesson instructor, and age-group coach. After her boss asked her to coach a Masters group twice a week, Flecker built the group up by recruiting lap swimmers she encountered during her lifeguarding. The club registered with U.S. Masters Swimming as the Sebastopol Masters Aquatic Club in 2012 when swimmers wanted to form their own program.
Flecker no longer works as a lifeguard, but she recruits swimmers through the involvement of their Masters program in free community programs such as Vamos a Nadar (Let’s Go Swimming). This group involves teaching the predominantly Hispanic community how to swim, a solution to the problem of frequent drownings in the nearby Russian River. Swim lessons for kids and water safety training for parents are offered year-round, rotating through facilities in the area.
—Diversity and Inclusion Committee member Carol Nip
‘Daykeepers’ Help New Members Feel Comfortable at Team New York Aquatics
Tom Luchsinger has been the team manager for Team New York Aquatics for the past year. TNYA consists of more than 900 members in New York City and has practices at six locations throughout Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens. Luchsinger says the team consists of hundreds of New Yorkers and is a very inclusive aquatic community that consists of Masters swimmers, water polo players, divers, and synchronized swimmers. The team does have quite an ethnic background. The special thing about the team is that it’s founded and led by the LGBTQ+ community and allies. Luchsinger says, “There’s lots of personality on our team, which adds flavor.”
TNYA has morning and evening practices ranging from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. with one head swim coach on deck. The team offers a one-week free trial to interested potential members. Upon joining TNYA, there is a membership fee plus a monthly subscription fee, depending on how many practices you want to do.
One of the biggest competitions Team New York Aquatics hosted in 2019 was the International Gay and Lesbian Aquatic Championships, which is one of the largest aquatics competition events in the area. The event coincided with the celebration of New York City’s first WorldPride and commemorated the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots. The team also hosts special social gatherings like “Happy Hour” at Hell’s Kitchen and events like the “Pink Flamingo Palooza.” Luchsinger says that “having a social outlet is the most amazing thing when it comes to swimming.”
Luchsinger explains the team has a specific group of people at each facility to welcome the new swimmers, which he affectionately calls the “daykeepers.” The greeters’ job is to reach out to these new swimmers at practices and make them feel comfortable and included. “Anybody can walk into practice and feel comfortable and welcome,” Luchsinger says, “but it’s the friendly and loving environment (that) matters.” On its website, TNYA also has a “Member Highlight” section to showcase some of its new members.
—Interviewed by Diversity & Inclusion Committee member Donita Flecker
YNS Masters Uses Special Sunday Workouts to Welcome New Swimmers
New England Masters Swim Club’s Caitlin Clark has coached Masters for three years, including experience as a head coach over the past year.
Her program is diverse: The team’s ethnic makeup is half minority (5 percent African-American, 35 percent Asian, and 10 percent Hispanic), and one of her fellow coaches is African-American and another is East Indian.
Her workout group, YMCA of the North Shore Masters, develops diversity and inclusion at its Sunday workout, which is open to all Masters swimmers, in an eight-lane, 25-yard pool. Typically, there are 25 participants.
To build inclusion, YNS hosted a small Masters meet in 2019 with 35 participants. It was run as a “recognized” meet, not USMS registered. Parents of kids on the USA Swimming program that trains at the same pool and lap swimmers participated. The meet was the first of its kind in several years.
Diversity and inclusion is also encouraged by one of Clark’s Masters staff members, Jennifer Brehob, who is the club’s strongest recruiter. She reaches out to everyone with energy and passion and has 20 years of experience with Masters swimming. Clark says she does a great job to adapt workouts for all swimmers, ranging from top swimmers to triathletes to new members.
—Diversity and Inclusion Committee member Carol Nip
Cesar Valera Strives for Diversity in New Triathletes
Cesar Valera coaches a Masters program and has his own triathlon coaching business. He’s also a trainer and fitness coach who primarily supports triathletes of all levels, from novice to professionals.
He has some diversity in his Masters program and does not advertise but relies on word of mouth and people bringing friends and having a great time at practice. His swimmers roughly are 60 percent Masters swimmers who’ve been swimming since they were young, and 40 percent who come because they’re attempting or training for a triathlon. The Bay Area has growing diversity, and many second-generation Asian swimmers participated in their USA Swimming team and are migrating to Masters.
Valera likes working with triathletes and has a lot to offer as a former professional at a high level. His multi-sport coaching business and background is a real plus with these athletes when they come to the Masters program.
Valera finds that it’s the experience of doing a first triathlon that brings diverse athletes to his group rather than the idea of becoming a Masters swimmer. The program is a means to meet their goal of the triathlon. He finds people who haven’t been exposed to any sport growing up thinking about doing a beginner triathlon. Then they join his Masters group to try to get a handle on the swimming part.
He admits it’s harder to teach older folks to master swimming. These newcomers may be proficient on the bike or in running but do not have the swimming skill to even compete in an event. They come to him quite intimidated by the thought of swimming. His club has adult lessons in a series of three levels, so depending on their ability and confidence, he will refer newcomers to the lesson program. After a while, they can transition into Masters swimming.
His group doesn’t compete in meets; they do some open water swimming to prepare for an event. His primary goal with his Masters group is to have fun and build their skills. He uses a variety of techniques, such as drills and technology, to help with training. He finds videos particularly helpful for small group training and feedback.
—Diversity and Inclusion Committee chair Sarah Welch
Ohio Splash Branching Out Beyond Initial Founding as LGBT Club
Robert Eblin has five years’ experience with Ohio Splash, serving as the club contact and board treasurer and a meet director. Ohio Splash was founded as an LGBT team in 1996 on the foundation of the International Gay & Lesbian Aquatics Association. These days, there are a “ton of non-gay members,” Eblin says, as the club has diversified and included the straight community, as well as more women on the team. There was a period of time when there were no women on the team, but it helps to have a female coach who is part of the board.
The club’s 50 registered swimmers range in age from the 20s to the 60s. Three evening practices each week are held at three different locations, depending on the time of the year. Racial diversity is minimal. The team is mostly white, with two black swimmers and some Asians and Hispanics.
Swimmers mostly find out about the team through the USMS website. They also encourage friends to bring friends. Board members open their homes to team socials, drawing 20 to 30 people. Recently, Eblin received 15 emails for the Try Masters Swimming Week promotion, but no new swimmers came to the pool. They do not advertise that they are a gay team, though it was started as such a team.
For the first time in 10 years, Ohio Splash hosted an LMSC championship meet. It was fun and well-received with 85 swimmers. In 2018, the team was represented at the Paris IGLA Games, and it sends a swimmer every four years to the Gay Games. The team also participated in the 2019 IGLA championships in New York City.
—Diversity and Inclusion Committee member Carol Nip
Chris Campbell Enjoys ‘Melting Pot’ Environment in Northern California
Chris Campbell is the head coach of Mountain View Masters, nestled in the heart of Silicon Valley in California. He’s been the coach there for nearly 20 years, making the move from a largely white population in rural Illinois.
“I remember coming from an age-group club that was all white,” Campbell says. “One of the big things one year was having an exchange student from Brazil.”
The team is one of the largest in the country, with more than 240 registered members who have 16 workout times available seven days a week. Their sole training location, Eagle Park Pool, is an eight-lane, 25-yard pool.
As one might expect for a Silicon Valley–area swim team, Mountain View Masters has one of the widest ranges of swimmers from various ethnic backgrounds. According to a diversity survey of the club, only half of the club identifies as Caucasian. The largest ethnic group on the team, according to Campbell’s responses on the survey, is Asian (20 percent of membership).
“It’s a remarkable melting pot here in Silicon Valley,” Campbell says. “It’s about as diverse as you can get in terms of ethnicities.”
Mountain View Masters isn’t the only Masters club in the city of 80,000 residents, but Campbell says he does next to nothing to promote the team. Most members find their way on deck through word of mouth or Internet searches. That also means there’s very little work that needs to be done to bring in swimmers of diverse backgrounds onto the team.
“We take it for granted that we don’t have to recruit [different ethnic groups],” he says. “That’s just the population that comes to see us.”
Though it’s not difficult bringing prospective athletes to the pool deck, Campbell says he promotes an environment of inclusion to make sure the new swimmers stay. No one is made to feel uncomfortable because of the color of their skin or social background. Once in the pool, they are immediately welcomed and made a part of the group. Everyone is there to swim, Campbell says.
“When I look in the pool, I don’t see ethnic groups anymore,” Campbell says. “I see swimmers. All we want to do is manage the different goals and motivations of a pool full of people. That’s where we have to work really hard. Other than that, we don’t care who people are. We just put them in a lane and go from there.”
—Diversity and Inclusion Committee member Jeff Commings
Fort Bend Masters Swimming Building Its Program Back Up
1. What is the ethnic makeup of your swim team?
Zing Allsopp: Three Filipinos, two African-Americans, two Indians, and three Hispanics, with the rest being Caucasian.
2. How has the number of racial minorities on your swim team changed in the past five years? Ten years?
ZA: Jane Harper created this team many years ago, and under her coaching, it was a pretty sizable team of about 50 members at each practice. Then the community pool, which is an Olympic-size pool, where they practice had to close down and the program was suspended. Finally, the pool was re-done and when it opened back up, Jane had moved, and the program had to re-establish from scratch. They started back in December 2017 with only four swimmers for a while. During the time the pool was closed, swimmers made connections with other pools in the area and other masters programs were created, so now there are three different Masters teams in a 15-mile radius.
3. What have you done to get the number of minorities on your team to grow?
ZA: Nothing. [She says her being Asian plays a huge role in attracting minority swimmers and also the fact that her team is mainly triathletes and she believes the tri community is extremely mixed and they tend to congregate and to be more communal.]
—Diversity and Inclusion Committee member Diana Triana