Prerequisite and Course Outlines

Level 1 - Prerequisite

(please scroll to the end of the course outlines for the complete prerequisite information, this must be read and studied before attending the classroom session of the USMS Level 1 coach certification).

Pre-1: Introduction to U.S. Masters Swimming
Pre-2: Basic Business Practices
Pre-3: Safety and Risk Management

Level 1 - Coaching Basics - Classroom session

Chapter 1: Characteristics of a Successful Masters Coach
Chapter 2: Understanding the Adult Learner
Chapter 3: Coaching Triathlon and Open Water Swimmers
Chapter 4: Writing Workouts

Level 2 - Stroke School - Classroom session

Chapter 1: Stroke Correction and Development
Chapter 2: Backstroke
Chapter 3: Butterfly
Chapter 4: Breaststroke
Chapter 5: Freestyle
Chapter 6: Starts, Turns and Transitions

Level 3 - Administration - Classroom session

Chapter 1:  Developing Coaching Leadership
Chapter 2:  Program Management
Chapter 3:  Building a Budget
Chapter 4:  Building a Program Support Structure
Chapter 5:  Event Planning and Administration
Chapter 6:  Safety and Risk Management
Chapter 7:  Special Populations and Considerations for Adult Athletes
Chapter 8:  Dryland Training
Chapter 9:  Nutrition
Chapter 10: Injury Prevention

Level 4 - Designation

Level 4 certification is based on the criteria set forth by the USMS Coaches Committee. Candidates for Level 4 must register and submit the Level 4 application, with supporting documentation, to a designated review panel. The body of work is scored on a point system in the areas of:

  • Leadership
  • Contributions
  • Education
  • Achievement
  • Growth and retention 

USMS Coach Certification Level 1 Prerequisite

The following information, parts 1, 2 and 3, including the links and attachments, must be read and studied before attending the classroom session of the USMS Level 1 coach certification. The Level 1 test, which is given during the classroom session, includes questions from this information.

Part 1: Introduction to U.S. Masters Swimming



To promote health, wellness, fitness, and competition for adults through swimming.


USMS will be the premier resource for adult aquatic fitness in the United States and will make fitness through swimming available for as many adults as possible.


The idea of Masters swimming was first developed in 1968 when Dr. Ransom Arthur, a Navy neuropsychiatrist, wrote a paper titled “Swimming and Cardiovascular Fitness in the Older Age Group.” Arthur’s basic belief was that adults should swim for fitness. He recognized that competition would be necessary to motivate some, but he was not a subscriber to the belief that Masters swimming should exist only for competitive purposes.

In 1972, the AAU accepted Masters swimming as an AAU committee, giving Masters swimming structure and credibility. When Congress passed laws in 1978 that changed the way the AAU operated, USMS was legally incorporated and became its own governing body.

Today, USMS is the only self-governed adult swimming organization in the world. In every other country, Masters swimming is a committee of the national federation or age group swimming organization. USMS has the distinction—like USA Swimming, USA Synchronized Swimming, USA Diving, and USA Water Polo—as being recognized by United States Aquatic Sports and FINA.

USMS is structured with a National Office in Sarasota, Fla., and 52 Local Masters Swimming Committees. USMS and its LMSCs partner together to provide a variety of services such as insurance; registration; sanctions; fitness programs; communication via SWIMMER magazine, the STREAMLINES e-Newsletters, and the website; and sponsor discounts to USMS-registered clubs, workout groups, and members.


  • We value HEALTH AND FITNESS, constantly challenging ourselves to achieve in competition and in accomplishing our own goals.
  • We value RESPECT for our teammates, competitors, coaches, employees, and volunteers.
  • We value FUN, enjoying camaraderie with our fellow swimmers and embracing swimming as a joyful and satisfying avocation.
  • We value LEARNING through coaching, programs, and communication.
  • We value EXCELLENCE in safety, education, innovation, performance, leadership, and the provision of services and programs.

Code of Conduct

The opportunity to participate in Masters swimming is made possible by USMS. Members accept that this opportunity to participate is a privilege and as such shall conduct themselves with integrity and in a sporting manner. In matters relating to Masters swimming, members shall respect and protect the privileges of others who share this mission; therefore, the privileges of membership and participation may be withdrawn or denied if the conduct of a member or prospective members is inconsistent with the mission of the organization or the best interest of the sport and those who participate in it. (For more, see rule 402.1 in the USMS Rule Book.)

Importance of U.S. Masters Swimming Annual Membership

Membership provides approximately 70 percent of USMS revenue and nearly 100 percent of LMSC revenue. Annual membership dues allow USMS to provide insurance, SWIMMER magazine, sanctioning of events, valuable information via, and programs such as Adult-Learn-to-Swim certification and this Masters Coach certification.

Role of a U.S. Masters Swimming Coach

All USMS Masters coaches should include and engage active USMS members by creating an environment wherein individuals maintain a sense of belonging. Actively involved and supported athletes are more likely to accept new challenges and experience great benefit from participation. USMS swimmers are continually encouraged to set goals and use their coach as an active resource. As a USMS Masters coach, an important role is to help members set achievable goals and monitor their progress. Once a goal is shared, it has a much higher chance of accomplishment.

What is an LMSC?

When you become a member of USMS, in addition to registering with a club, workout group, or as unattached, you also become a member of your Local Masters Swimming Committee (LMSC). Your LMSC is a regional governing body that provides certain benefits to USMS members, including printed registration cards, event sanctions, newsletters about activities within the LMSC, websites, awards and recognition, and social activities. Your LMSC officers are local volunteers who attend the USMS annual meeting, sit on USMS national committees, and vote on policies that set the overall direction for USMS.

What is the difference between a club, a workout group and a regional club?

Workout groups started as a way to provide swimmers from smaller teams a better opportunity to compete on relays at large meets. Per USMS rules, swimmers represent their clubs when they swim at a meet outside of their LMSCs. Workout groups allow swimmers to band together at a big meet to swim on relays for their parent club. For example, if your program is registered as a workout group under a parent club, and two swimmers of the workout group go to our Nationals, they would be able to swim on relays with other members of the parent club. (Otherwise, if your program was registered as its own club and only two people went to Nationals, they wouldn't be able to swim on relays.) The disadvantage of workout groups is that the structure can be confusing to members and some members inadvertently select the wrong club (or no club) when they join USMS because they don't understand that they must first select the parent club before they will see a list of workout groups.

  • What is a Masters Swim Club? Swim clubs are groups of Masters swimmers organized for the purpose of training, fitness, and enjoyment of swimming. Members may work out in one or more pool facilities, usually under the direction of a coach.
  • What is a workout group? A workout group is a subset of a regional club. More than likely, a regional club has individual programs swimming in several pool locations. Workout groups help define who swims where within the LMSC. Some LMSCs host pool championships where the workout groups all compete against each other.
  • What is a regional club? An example of a regional club is New England Masters (NEM). The New England LMSC region encompasses the states of New Hampshire, Vermont, Rhode Island, and Maine and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. There are many local Masters workout groups located throughout New England in the various states and then there is the regional club NEM. NEM has members from all over this region registered either directly as a member of NEM or registered as a member of one of the many workout groups under New England Masters.

Part-2: Basic Business Practices

One of the administrative objectives of a USMS adult aquatic fitness program is to generate and support its own operating budget, which includes pool rentals, coaches’ salaries, and all other associated expenses. The program can defray some expenses by fundraising efforts and hosting local, regional, and national swimming events.

There are common traits of successful USMS clubs. They include a stable pool situation, good coaching leadership, a supportive volunteer base, a well-thought-out financial base, a program that attracts swimmers with a variety of aspirations, and a program that maintains a standard of excellence. What aspects of your program need more emphasis? Who can help turn around the lacking traits? Identifying the areas in a program needing improvement will help transition weaknesses into strengths.

A well-crafted financial base must take into consideration the pool rental, lifeguarding fees, coaches’ wages, and other expenses the program might have. Try to identify all aspects of the program that require revenue and then build the program fees from that foundation. When possible, barter for pool rentals and/or lifeguard coverage. This may give the program more visibility in the community and result in long-term expense savings for the team. Furthermore, based on the pool configuration, coaches should consider partnering with other aquatic groups—adult swim lessons, water polo, synchronized swimming, or diving—to lower pool rental costs.

Because there are different types of clubs, the exact manner of doing business will vary. Most of the USMS swim programs fall under one of the following categories:

  • YMCA, JCC, or other membership-based centers
  • Private health clubs
  • Park and recreation facilities
  • University campuses including college club teams
  • School district facilities
  • Age group club partnerships
  • Retirement communities
  • Wellness centers

The coach should make the program fun! As people “buy in” to what you have to offer, they may begin to integrate the swim program into their lifestyle. Offer them ownership. The coach should delegate aspects of the program to others who would like to contribute according to their talents and resources. Social events such as annual team banquets, barbeques, breakfasts, pizza nights, and birthday brunches create bonding opportunities for your swimmers and their families

Consider promoting team-building activities by participating in events such as swim meets, open water swims, the USMS Fitness Series, and the USMS ePostal National Championships. Depending on the size, shape, and length of your pool, you may be able to host these events locally. The Fitness Series and ePostals may be held during normal practice time.


Marketing your program is more than putting together a brochure or establishing a logo. Marketing your program is about communicating the benefits of the positive program atmosphere to current and new members plus developing community supporters.

The primary goal of marketing is to let potential swimmers know why they would benefit from being in the program and to clearly describe the positive attributes of the program.

Remember, you may have competition from other sports or activities in the community. Therefore, the program should be promoted as unique and valuable. One way of determining this element is through contemplating how the current members feel about the program.

It is also important to identify the typical Masters participant. Arguably, the majority consists of non-competitive fitness swimmers, followed by competitive Masters swimmers and triathletes.

Once the program administrators have defined the team’s identity, what makes it unique, and who is most interested in the product, it’s time to begin creating marketing materials. No matter what communication media are used to market the program, the message should be based on the answers to the questions above.

Forms of Communication

Marketing does not happen once or twice a year; it happens throughout the year. What do the other coaches and members say about the program? This is important to marketing the attributes of your program.

Club Website and Newsletter

A club website is a useful tool to provide information about your program. Key components include the following:

  • A brief description of what your program offers. An example might be, “We offer an aquatic fitness program for adults who choose to swim as a form of exercise to live a healthier lifestyle. We welcome adult swimmers with all ability levels to participate in our positive and uplifting environment helping you meet the needs of your swimming goals. We make swimming FUN!” Consider including the USMS promotional videos on your website to attract more swimmers and triathletes.
  • Practice times and location.
  • Program fees and registration instructions.
  • Coach(es) biography.
  • Calendar of events: fitness events, swim meets, clinics, and social and volunteer activities.
  • News articles, pictures, and videos.
  • Links to and your LMSC website.

The newsletter disseminates club information. Newsletters may be produced and distributed electronically through email or a social media platform. It can be a tool for public relations and reaching potential new members. Content can include all aspects of your club, from pure news to personal interest articles, written by the coach, club officers, or swimmers. The varieties of ideas are endless: meet information and results, clinics, social announcements, club reports (meeting minutes and financial information), sample workouts, stroke drills and tips, favorite workouts, training techniques, and tips for beginning Masters swimmers. In addition, the newsletter should serve as a communication tool to celebrate the accomplishments of your program and the individuals in the program no matter how big or small the accomplishment may be. Individuals like being recognized verbally as well as in writing.

Social Media

Today, more individuals are using social media to send and receive news and information than in the past. These user-generated interactive internet-based applications help facilitate the connection between individuals and/or groups. Social media platforms include Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, SnapChat, YouTube, and a multitude of others.

If you are well versed in the functionality of one or more of these platforms, add it as a communication and marketing vehicle for your program. If you don’t have the skill set to manage your program’s social media campaign, look to others in your program for help. It is likely someone would be interested in developing and maintaining, with your guidance and oversight, your program’s social media efforts.

Integrate your program’s social media with the USMS social media campaign on Facebook and Twitter.

Use your program’s social media activity to uplift and celebrate, never to grieve differences, complaints, or negative sentiments.

Partnering With Local Swim Clubs, Triathlon Clubs, Cycling Shops, and Running Stores

Many local swim and triathlon clubs and fitness retailers are trying to attract the same demographic as the members in your Masters program. Partnering with these multi-sport shops will not only be beneficial for you, but for the retailer. Start simple. Ask that your brochures, flyers, or stickers be placed near the shop’s register to be given as a gift to customers. In return, you will provide your members with the shop’s brochure, flyer, or other promotional material. To build a stronger relationship, brainstorm with the shop’s management about various promotions that would be mutually beneficial for his or her shop and your program such as a discount on purchases and event participation.

Of course, the best advertisers are those who are happily swimming in your workouts. Word of mouth and one-to-one marketing are still the best ways to promote your program. As your swimmers leave your pool deck each day with a heighted sense of accomplishment and a smile on their face, they are walking billboards for your program, advertising and promoting the benefits of your program throughout the community.

Other Marketing Tools and Forms of Advertising

Adult learn-to-swim programs and initiatives By becoming a resource by saving lives and reducing the risk of adult drownings, you elevate your status and worth within your community. Community members will be more likely to become involved with your program as a swimmer, volunteer, or activist if they know your program provides more than an opportunity to win gold medals and championships. Saving a life and giving someone the opportunity to have a meaningful volunteer experience contributing to this worthy cause is a very powerful marketing campaign to recruit and retain members. Organizing volunteer opportunities for your members is an often overlooked benefit you can create for everyone.

Fundraising. Consider raising donations by sponsoring a fundraising activity with the members in your program. Support a local charity or the Swimming Saves Lives Foundation (SSLF), the charitable arm of USMS. SSLF awards grants to programs offering adult swim lessons.

Stroke Clinics can be used to show potential swimmers the value and benefit of having a coach on deck. USMS has developed a “How To” Clinic Course on delivering a USMS stroke development clinic. This course is available for USMS-certified Masters coaches and Adult Learn-to-Swim instructors. This course instructs the coach or instructor how to conceptualize, organize, and deliver a USMS stroke development clinic.

Additional Marketing and Advertising Methods

  • Flyers and brochures at your pool, surrounding pools, and local retail merchants.
  • Have a presence at local age group swim meets, triathlons, and community health fairs.
  • Contact the health editor of your local newspaper or magazine. They may have an interest in publishing a personal interest story related to your program.
  • Consider speaking about the health benefits of swimming and the value your Masters program brings to the community at local service organizations’ meetings or events. These local service organizations may include the Kiwanis Club, Rotary Club, Lions Club, The American Legion, Masonic Temple, and Veterans of Foreign Wars. Another speaking opportunity may be at the faith-based organizations in your community.

USMS Marketing Resources

As a USMS-registered club, there are various promotional resources provided by the National Office and its staff to aid in the advertising effort. Access and ordering information for these items can be found on the USMS website and are very useful steppingstones for new and experienced clubs looking to promote their brand.

List your club or workout group in the Places to Swim searchable database on the USMS website. If you have a listing, make sure the information posted is current and accurate. Both new listings and existing listings are the responsibility of the clubs and workout groups to manage.

Order USMS-branded logo merchandise such as swim caps, bag tags, stickers, and brochures. Every registered club and workout group may receive a free USMS banner for display at your facility or at events. A free co-branded banner with your program’s logo may also be ordered.

Part 3: Safety and Risk Management  

Being a USMS-certified Masters coach implies a certain level of responsibility you have for the welfare of the members in your program. A good coach will try to minimize or eliminate as many risks as possible that members may encounter each day during practice. Understanding your role in your facility’s emergency action plan (EAP) is critical. Knowing what your responsibilities are during an emergency will help you execute your assigned duties and give the best possible care and desired outcome to those involved. Know the physical address of the facility where you practice. Getting emergency personnel to respond quickly may depend on how fast they can find your location. If you are practicing in an open water environment, have an emergency action plan that includes a method of communication between your swimmers, safety personnel on the water, and emergency responders on land.

The pool or open water venue should be a safe environment for your swimmers. The following factors should be taken into consideration.

  • Water Quality and Temperature—Are the chemical levels or the water quality safe for swimming?
  • Weather—Who is responsible for clearing the pool or canceling an open water practice if weather conditions are unsafe?
  • Crowded Lanes—Safe lane etiquette should be practiced to reduce contact and collisions. This includes the restricted use of equipment, such as hand paddles, when deemed a contact hazard.
  • Backstroke Flags—Are they set correctly?
  • Taking Care With Diving—No diving in shallow water or when lanes are occupied.
  • Open Water Conditions—Currents, waves, wind, water quality, and presence of marine life must be evaluated for safety.

The best accident is the one that never happens. Do not ask your swimmers to take dangerous risks.

Most workouts are written to improve the aerobic and anaerobic conditioning of the athlete. Do not ask swimmers to perform excessive breath holding activities. Underwater swims, with or without the practice of hyperventilation prior to the swim, will put the athlete at risk of Shallow Water Blackout, an extremely dangerous and life-threating condition.

Evaluate and restrict risky events. Don't let your athletes dive off the block before you've seen them dive off the side. Is the water too shallow to dive? All diving should be restricted to coach-led activities like one-way sprints or relay exchanges.

Encourage proper hydration before, during, and after practice. Thirst is not the leading indicator of the need to hydrate. Take time during the workout to have the athletes hydrate and take a biological break. Please remind your pool swimmers to exit the pool and use the proper facilities for biological breaks.

Do not practice medicine without a license

Masters coaches should strive to be a resource of knowledge and expertise for their athletes. However, don’t let your ego get in the way by providing care and advice for your athletes beyond your technical abilities. Unless you’re properly certified or licensed to treat patients, do not recommend medications, supplements, treatments, or physical therapy. A good Masters coach should help athletes avoid injury by encouraging proper stroke technique. However, once the injury occurs, you should not suggest or provide treatment. You should refer the athlete to a trained and properly certified and licensed practitioner.

If an athlete has had a medical condition or treatment, document that you recommend the athlete get medical clearance to begin or resume activity with your program. Understand the athlete’s limitations from treatments or medications and help them accordingly.

For each athlete, do you know who to contact in case of emergency? Have this information at your disposal by recording it in a document you carry with you during practice or planned activities. In addition, you may want each athlete to have the contact information attached to his or her swim bag. While it’s not necessary to know each of your athletes’ complete medical history, it’s a good practice to know who does.

Document accidents

If an accident occurs, you must complete an Incident Report Form and send a copy to the USMS National Office as instructed on the form. While many accidents may seem trivial, some may manifest themselves over time and become more severe. Completing the Incident Report Form will help insure the proper documentation including the circumstances surrounding the accident, those involved, and those who witnessed the event. Getting this information to our insurance carrier early may help navigate the outcome more effectively.

U.S. Masters Swimming Insurance Coverage

The USMS insurance program is afforded to all registered clubs, workout groups, and members.

Registered clubs, workout groups, and sanctioned events are provided general liability coverage under the USMS insurance program provided all participants in the activity are USMS-registered members and are under the direct supervision of a USMS member. Direct supervision is when line-of-sight is maintained on all participants in the planned activity, including pool swimming, open water swimming, and dryland activities located on the pool deck.

Registered USMS members are provided $25,000 of excess personal accident insurance under the USMS insurance program provided all participants in the activity are USMS registered and are under the direct supervision of a USMS member.

Allowing non-registered USMS members into your planned activities may void insurance coverage for you as the coach, your facility, and all other registered swimmers who are participating in the planned activity. However, trial participation for new members is highly encouraged. USMS offers a 30-day guest membership for adults who have not previously been a USMS-registered member or used the guest membership option. Once the athlete properly executes the guest membership application, including the signed waiver, insurance will remain in force for you and your program as well as for the guest member. The guest membership is valid for up to 30 consecutive days and may only be used once per lifetime.

More information about insurance coverage can be found on USMS’s website.

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