Coaches Committee Quarterly - Summer, 1998

Welcome to the first issue of the Coaches Committee Quarterly, or CCQ! Currently, there are 450 Masters coaches on our national coaches' database, representing a tremendous resource of knowledge and experience in our field. A newsletter is one way for coaches to share ideas with one another, thus making us better coaches and our swimmers better swimmers. Thanks to our initial contributors who have made this publication possible: Priscilla Bettis, Steven Fair, Ed Gendreau, David Grilli, Emmett Hines, Ed Nessel, Dan Perz, Todd Samland, Brian Stack, Skip Thompson, Bethany Williston and Robert Zeitner.

Each issue is formulated by e-mailing three questions to all coaches on the database e-mail list. If you have not been receiving Coaches Committee e-mail and would like to offer your insights on these questions, please send your name and e-mail address to Also, feel free to submit a topic for discussion. In other words, what would you like to ask a large panel of Masters coaches? Also, we'd appreciate it if you would notify us via if you have a change of mailing or e-mail address and/or phone.

A secondary purpose of this newsletter is to keep you informed of Coaches Committee projects and activities. There are numerous ways for you to become involved in the committee's work, and you are encouraged to do so. Let's get busy...

Scott Rabalais
USMS Coaches Committee Chairman

Fall Clinics

The Coaches Committee oversees both the Mentor Coach and Swimmer Clinics and the Nike Champions Clinics. The "Mentor" clinics involve bringing in an experienced Masters coach to work with other Masters coaches in a particular area. The mentor coach also runs a minimum four-hour swimmers' clinic. Over the past three years, these clinics have been instrumental in coach and swimmer development and education, having reached nearly 700 swimmers and coaches across the country.

Two Mentor Clinics are scheduled for the fall: September 19-20 in Richmond, Virginia, and October 25 in New York at the Goodwill Games Pool. For more information on these clinics, contact Terry Sue Galt (Virginia) at (804) 379-9099 or, or Bob Kolonkowsi (New York) at (516) 766-1264 or

The Nike Clinics, in their first year, represent a joint effort between Nike and USMS to teach swimmers proper swimming techniques. An Olympian hosts each clinic, which is sure to bring attention to swimming in any area of the country. 

The first Nike clinic is set at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, NJ, on September 19 and will feature Jeff Rouse as the host Olympian. Kurt Grote will conduct the second clinic on September 27 in Long Beach, California. For more

information, contact Andrea Scholz (NJ) at (201) 794-9418 or and Lucy Johnson (Long Beach) at (562) 936-2964 or

Coaches are encouraged to apply for a 1999 Mentor or Nike Clinic by contacting Scott Rabalais at (504) 766-5937 or

Coaching Seminar

In the midst of these clinics will be a Coaches Committee Seminar, held at the USMS Convention in Cincinnati on Wednesday, September 30, from 1-5 p.m. If you are heading to the convention, hear some of the country's top coaches share their knowledge in four presentations. A question-and-answer session will conclude the afternoon, and there is no charge for attending. Thanks for spreading the word!

On-deck Coaching

Will you be attending the LC Nationals in Fort Lauderdale? If so, we need your help as an on-deck coach during warm-up. Contact Scott Rabalais (see above) if able to assist. Also, coaches are needed to run workouts at the convention.

Hospitality Issue

Over the years, several plans have been instituted to regulate the use of hospitality for coaches at meets. After considerable discussion among MACA and the Coaches and Championship Committees, the issue has been resolved (hopefully). Begin-ning in 1999 at Santa Clara, coaches who are members of MACA will be permitted to use the meet's hospitality. A list of MACA members will be provided to the meet host approximately one week before the meet. At Fort Lauderdale, any coach stating him or herself as a coach will be granted hospitality privileges.

Web Sites

Many clubs are now publishing web sites, all of which can be accessed through the USMS site at Here is a sampling; know any other quality sites?

1) Kansas City Blazers Masters, (special effects, swim chat, weekly features)
2) Crawfish Masters Swim Team, (member photo/bios, workouts, event photos and articles)
3) New England Masters, (general information, newsletter excerpts, results).

Question #1: How do you plan your workouts?

First, I get a concept for a set. This idea comes to me during practice, in class, or while I'm swimming. I then jot down some ideas of how to achieve the concept. Once the main set is decided, I back up and design the warm-up and any warm-up sets to get the swimmers prepared for the main set. I then total the yardage, and focus on either kicking or pulling for a second, minor set. Finally, I add something else to balance off the whole workout. (If the main set is IM, then a long free pull set, then I'll give some choice, underwaters or no breath 25's at the end.) I write my sets down by hand so that I can better edit them. I don't share the practice with my swimmers prior to practice. I often change the number of reps midstream but rarely do I alter the content.
Bethany Williston

I've made a spreadsheet in MS Excel to write my workouts. The spreadsheet automatically calculates the time and distance of each set, and calculates the cumulative time and distance of the workout. This way I know before we start that the swimmers can do the whole workout in the allotted time. I try to base practices on our next focus competition and a variety between freestyle, IM, strokes, sprint and distance work. I rarely change the workouts midstream.
Ed Gendreau

I plan my workouts one week in advance, and I use "microcycles." This means that I cycle needed stress in different areas. One week I will stress 200's and pacing for the swimmer's main racing stroke in this distance. Another week I will use push 100's and fast swimming to allow repetitive exposure to pain buildup (with and without fins). Another week we emphasize the legs and work the streamline and breath control. I use 4x6 index cards (which I keep in order for reference) on which the workout is printed. Those interested are allowed to view the workout at the beginning so they know how to marshall their energies for what lies ahead. All my workouts have mixed elements in them...
Ed Nessel

Workouts are not planned out too much in advance, sometimes not until the previous set is complete. However, a seasonal plan is made out, which includes the length of time for warm up, the drill sets, main sets, sprint sets, etc. In the past, practices had a theme for the week. This is done to allow for the hit-and-miss of swimmers during the week.
Todd Samland

I usually have a basic workout in mind, based upon the prior workout and whom I expect to show up to swim. I then modify it at the pool when I see who actually shows up. It is not unusual for me to have nine swimmers and up to six variants of the basic workout being swum.
Robert Zeitner

The workouts are planned before practice. As the season progresses they can change. Depending on what meets are coming up, different training schedules can be made for different swimmers. All of the workouts are computerized and logged. In fact I have calendars since 1987 of every workout that has been completed by day, month and year. The workout books that we have on file can be viewed and shared by the team.

Sometimes I have to change the workout in midstream. I can see if swimmers are overly tired or have more energy and need more challenging sets.
Skip Thompson

While I have a written seasonal plan with respect to what kind of work to do when, I don't always write out specific workouts ahead of time. For a couple months I write the workouts ahead of time (seldom more than 2 or 3 days).

But, almost always, I'll deviate, often dramatically, from what I wrote down depending on who's there, water temperature, energy level of the group, etc. Sometimes I'll start over and rewrite the workout from scratch on deck - especially in some teaching situations where I'll improvise entirely throughout the workout. Then there will be stretches where I don't write anything down ahead of time other than a general outline of what I want to accomplish in, say, the next week - then I'll "wing it" on deck each day. Then after a few weeks or a month of winging it I'll go back to writing entire workouts ahead of time. I find that even though I still usually end up improvising once I get on deck, having written out something cohesive ahead of time makes the final improvised workout better.
Emmett Hines

I plan workouts in advance, writing them down in a workout journal. I keep the journal so I can review what my swimmers have done--have they done enough IM's lately? Have they done sprint or hypoxic work lately? I also keep the journal to remind me which swimmers can hold what intervals. I don't share the workouts beforehand because I don't know what they're doing until the night before.
Priscilla Bettis

The main factors in writing a workout are day of the week (and corresponding theme, such as distance or IM), seasonal phase of training (as in early-season or taper) and type of training in days immediately before and after the current day. All daily workouts are written in advance on a yellow sheet of paper and posted in advance for the swimmers to review. Usually, the actual construction of a workout begins with a main set and works its way out into technique work, secondary sets and warmup. I rely heavily on intuition as well as a sense of reasoning in developing workouts. Often, I just run with an idea that pops into my head when its time to create a workout. With two workouts a day, I rarely plan one workout until the previous one is a done deal.
Scott Rabalais

 Question #2: Explain your coaching methods during a swim meet.

At meets, I try to watch all the swimmers, record their times, and compare their times to their last meet's times. I comment heavily on stroke technique, but not so much on splits and race strategies -- my swimmers are mostly, er, not ex-college swimmers. Do I warm them up at meets? Heck, no. It's usually chaos with 15 swimmers per lane during warmup. I tell them to swim until they feel loosened up and are used to the walls.
Priscilla Bettis

I basically leave it to my swimmers to ask my advice on meet questions. Many of the swimmers in my group have enough meet experience that they are comfortable handling these things on their own. I am normally swimming in the meet myself and admit that I don't see my swimmers race as much as I would like to.

I have two things I try to do with new meet swimmers: 1) help them to relax and prepare them for the meet with race situations in practice, and 2) advise them to hit the halfway point of the race with plenty of energy to come home. I don't think new meet swimmers should die in their first races, since that is an unpleasant experience.
Ed Gendreau

At meets I am usually also swimming so my time is limited. I spend my time observing how the swimmers actually swim in competition, trying to remember how and if it differs from how the swimmers swim in practice. I am there to answer their questions and to advise them in any matters if they want it. I make sure they warm up and warm down. Otherwise I just let them swim.
Robert Zeitner

My coaching methods can vary during a swim meet depending on the type of meet... I make a point to watch all the swimmers as much as I can. I take splits and if I miss them I usually get final results of the meet with splits. I videotape in some instances at meets, but most of the time the taping is done at practice sessions. I discuss some races with some people but most of the swimmers have their strategy down, and I don't bother with them unless they want me to. A post-race analysis is very vital, and I do discuss my thoughts and get the swimmers' insights as to what they think happened. I like discussing strategy, race conditions, reacting to the competition, hitting splits, etc.

I do spend time writing the relay cards and depending on the size, caliber of the meet, and number of swimmers from my team, this can be easy or very time consuming.
Skip Thompson

I try to discuss the meet ahead of time, what to expect, how, and how much, to warmup. I also talk about pacing an event and racing ONLY in your lane, not the other guy's! I give everyone a printed format of my formula for active recovery from a race and make sure they understand its significance for multiple-race days. I do take the time for relays and try to be as fair as possible (not always easy). But if I am racing at the meet, my participation is important to me, and my team understands this. There have been meets where I have swum like a stone because I was too caught up in everyone else's efforts. We do post-race analysis after the day's events, but only if they request it. Most of the time I try to find a strong positive "hook"; then I might throw in a corrective suggestion or two.
Ed Nessel

At home meets, I'm always the meet director, so I try to catch as many races as possible from my command post. I suppose I could train a crew to put on the meet, but I thoroughly enjoy meet directing. At away meets, I am able to see many of the swims and give the swimmers a few comments. I do not "overcoach" at meets and prefer to take care of business in workouts. I believe in performing with a clear mind, with the focus being on a single idea or two during the race. At Nationals, I can be very individual in the coaching and discuss virtually every race with a swimmer, provided we have a small group. I find this very satisfying as a coach.
Scott Rabalais

I start out with a team warm up and answer any questions the swimmers have at that time. During the meet, I watch and take splits and check for improvements. I like to give positive feedback, then what needs to be corrected (like show up to practice more than once a month) and finally add another positive. I find that with Masters swimmers, their real personalities show up at meets and you have to adjust for that.
Steven Fair

Most of them want their own space, so I leave them alone. I encourage them after their race. I only tell them what they did right. I also swim myself, so this gives me less time to work with swimmers.
Dan Perz

I try to assess the needs of the individual and provide the kind of support most useful. Our championship meet tends to be very large (900-1000 swimmers), so lot's of individual attention is tough to realize. I try to position myself so I can see both courses and get as many splits as I can. I don't do video at meets; there are too many opportunities to screw up, and I'm not that organized. Prior to meet season I meet with all of our competitors over coffee, and we talk for a couple of hours about general strategy and such. I make myself available after practice to discuss individual strategies.
Brian Stack

I'm a terrible coach at meets, I usually end up swimming more than my swimmers, so I watch and get splits as best I can. But, I often miss a race here and there.
Bethany Williston

 Question #3: Do you advocate using pulling equipment in practice, and, if so, what kind(s) and for what purpose(s)?

I don't do any pulling with pull buoys, but we do use paddles and fist gloves. We swim lots of whole stroke and we emphasize balance and postural efficiency in all strokes. I view pull buoys as devices that prohibit better body position. A swimmer can get the effect of the buoy by learning some simple balancing techniques. I use paddles and fist gloves to teach good technique, not strength. Shoulder problems are caused by overuse of poor mechanics; we work on good pull mechanics with the paddles and gloves, and have a minimum of shoulder problems.
Brian Stack

Our program uses a pull buoy as its only piece of equipment and is basically used in warm-up. The main purpose is to add some variety. On some occasion, the pull buoy is used in a main set, again just for variety. Some swimmers will use a pull buoy during a set but are not encouraged to do so. I prefer swimming to pulling to encourage the athlete to use the whole body to maintain a good body position in the water. The only time I absolutely taboo pull buoys from practice is during taper to force swimmers to focus on how the body is moving through the water. (This was a great suggestion from Dr. Jim Miller from Virginia Masters.)
Todd Samland

What we've started using a lot is FistGloves - those silly looking yellow (or black) rubber gloves that keep your hand in a fist - for swimming and drilling. Despite their appearance, they are really a nifty tool. They help the swimmer figure out how to use the entire forearm as part of their built-in "paddle". Though we haven't been using them very long, I can see that lots of swimmers are learning this better and faster than with anything I've ever tried to teach them with words and images. And when they take off the FistGloves and swim, their hands feel the size of dinner plates. I'd prefer to use this kind of tool that makes the swimmer feel more powerful with a much

better grip on the water when he takes it off - as opposed to feeling wimpy and pathetic like you do right after taking off that pair of Super Monster Manta Paddles With Teeth.
Emmett Hines

I believe that pulling is good for building up the shoulders, chest and back. Thus, I give 3-4 pull sets for every week (5 days) of practice. To avoid injuries, I always have plenty of warm-up prior to any pull set and while everyone pulls with a pull buoy, I don't encourage paddles for weaker swimmers. My sets are usually all freestyle, although occasionally I mix in some stroke. If I have my swimmers do other strokes not in conjunction with freestyle, then I don't have them use a pull buoy or paddles. In an attempt to keep the peace between the lanes, anyone who swings wide on the recovery portion of freestyle is not allowed to use paddles. Anyone with active shoulder pain kicks the set instead of pulling it. Those swimmers with chronic pain are encouraged to swim the set instead of pulling.
Bethany Williston

I include pulling sets in at least 50 percent of my workouts, and usually not more than one set in a workout. Virtually all the swimmers in my group pull with a buoy only. I do not pressure them to use paddles, though I think paddles are a great training aid and use them frequently myself.

I like pulling distances that are at least 300 to 500 yds, and involve a breathing pattern. I usually give freestyle pulling, occasionally breaststroke, and never fly or back.
Ed Gendreau

I am a big advocate of pulling equipment provided it does not hurt your shoulders. Paddles slightly bigger than your hand are good because they will not alter your hand position. Larger paddles force you to place your hand in the water differently than you normally would. Why practice swimming differently? Of course, pull buoys go hand in hand (pardon the pun) with paddles. Don't do as I do. Do as I say and do not kick while using a pull buoy. I can't help myself, but you can.
David Grilli


Send any suggestions and topic ideas to Scott Rabalais at

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