Encouraging More Adults to Swim
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Coaches Only / Triathlon

Training Triathletes

Enhance your Masters club by embracing multisport athletes

Terry Heggy | June 9, 2017

As coaches we’re driven by our passion for swimming, teaching, and helping athletes achieve their goals. Recruiting and retaining more participants enables us to better satisfy that passion, while at the same time generating more revenue for our businesses. Triathletes and fitness swimmers represent a large potential market for swim coaching services, so it’s in our best interest to have them join and remain with our workout group. Benefits include:

  • People without formal swimming backgrounds tend to have more room for improvement, which means you can help them improve quickly and dramatically.
  • Triathletes generally have high motivation and a strong thirst for information, which makes them eager and enthusiastic participants.
  • Triathlon is a very social community; if triathletes benefit from swimming with you, they’ll give you great word-of-mouth advertising.
  • Locker-room conversations about racing might inspire your other swimmers to give competition a try.

Establish and publicize a welcoming team philosophy

Your website, team flyers, and business cards should emphasize that your team embraces diversity and accommodates swimmers of all backgrounds and goals. If you have minimum ability requirements (e.g., swim 500 yards without stopping), publish those as well. When swimmers aren’t quite ready for Masters, refer them to your pool’s adult learn-to-swim program. Or better yet, consider becoming an ALTS instructor so that you can be prepared for these customers and potential future Masters swimmers.

Make sure the entire team welcomes all new swimmers, and create workouts that encourage camaraderie. A strong social connection among team members is a powerful contributor to motivation and commitment.

Keep ‘em happy!

Because triathletes and fitness swimmers tend to prefer long, continuous freestyle swims, we need to include some sets that focus on distance, open water efficiency, and sighting, etc. In addition to tri-oriented sets, we can also add adaptations for triathletes to other sets:

  • Have triathletes take one quick sighting on each length of the pool.
  • Gather all the triathletes into a single (or double) lane so they can practice drafting and dealing with crowds.
  • If you have a shallow end, have the triathletes run in the shallow water for the first and last 5 yards of each swim.

But tri-friendly sets are only part of the answer. Our biggest challenge is to persuade all swimmers to invest their time and energy into a training program that includes ALL the elements that contribute to faster swimming (technique, intervals, pacing, sprinting, race strategy, etc.)

Hammer it Home

It’s easy for a coach to assume that all swimmers understand the basic concepts of aquatic training and performance, but a surprising number need to be taught those fundamentals. Team members are far more likely to buy into your total workout program (and stick with it forever) if they understand how swimming is different from other sports. Get them thinking with a swimming focus by referring to them as “swimmers who do triathlons” so that they know you consider everyone in your group to be a true aquatic athlete. Put on your preacher hat and repeat these truths at every opportunity:

  • Water is a thick and resistive medium, so reducing drag is FAR more important than increasing power. Learning proper technique is critical, and should constitute a significant portion of your swim training.
  • Feel for the water is the secret ingredient to speed, and learning to swim each of the competitive strokes provides a huge advantage. Performing nonfreestyle strokes and sculling drills dramatically enhances your understanding of how your body moves through the water, and how your arms and legs engage the water for propulsion.
  • Swimming strokes other than freestyle also:
  1. Prevents injuries by building opposing (supportive) muscles and core stability
  2. Provides the ability to keep moving forward in triathlons, even during stress periods (panic, swallowed water, crowd contact, etc.)
  3. Enables options for recovery swimming
  4. Makes workouts more interesting through variety.
  • Although there are no walls in open water, learning to turn well in a pool teaches important streamlining skills, and provides a mental edge over your competition. If you have great flip turns, you’ll also have great swimming confidence overall.
  • Just as in running and cycling, interval training and recovery are important in swimming. Swimming nothing but long slow distance only trains you to go far slowly.
  • Because swimming relies so heavily on technique, and because swimming motions are not found in normal daily activity, the only way to retain swimming skills is to keep swimming. Taking an off-season break makes it difficult to re-capture your skills quickly when you resume. If you want to be good, you must commit to swimming as a year-round sport.

Communicate these points effectively and often, then back it up with workouts that emphasize these elements. Swimmers get faster, your team grows, and everybody is happy!

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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