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by Craig Keller

March 18, 2011

As Masters coaches, we train athletes with various backgrounds, ability levels and aspirations on a regular basis. The challenge to help our competitive swimmers be successful at meets while still addressing the needs of our athletes who choose not to compete in meets is a delicate juggling act. Therefore, I’ve created a step-by-step process that will guarantee best times for your competitive swimmers at Nationals.

Step 1

Identify the diverse needs and goals of your competitive swimmers, and then create workouts that train them effectively and efficiently. Once you’ve figured that out, rinse and repeat 365 times for “x” number of athletes.

Is this possible? Of course, successful Masters coaches throughout the country do this on a daily basis. Take, for example, Davis Aquatic Masters, (DAM) which has up to nine workouts per day and only closes ONE day a year—and it’s not a religious or national holiday. I’m sure we can all agree—trying to simultaneously meet the needs of 600+ swimmers is a major challenge.

Step 2

After you’ve mastered the task of writing comprehensive and cohesive workouts, the next step is to develop a systematic and balanced periodization chart or season plan, which correlates with the predetermined meet schedule. I refer to these events as Focus Meets, which are the integral building blocks toward the distant goal of success at Nationals. If Step 1 seems difficult (which it is), be prepared because Step 2 is even more demanding—especially given the constraints of lane space, goals, attendance, life, etc.

Step 3

Forget steps 1 and 2!


This “guide” is trying to address the mechanical processes of fast swimming or best times at Nationals, yet for many swimmers, even the most competitive ones, the realization that it was not the time you swam, but the time you had, can be a watershed moment.

Ask yourself how many times a swimmer in your program started a conversation with: “Back when I swam in college I went … in the 200 back.” Or, “10 years ago when I was 30, I did the 500 free in …” Maybe you’ve heard, “I’m SO slow now it’s ridiculous.” I would quickly trade my salary for a dollar each time a swimmer began a conversation like this—after which, I’d purchase a beach home in East Hampton and sail around the Cape in my new boat.

In the constant effort of rebounding the self-defeating speak from competitive swimmers, it IS possible to have fun at meets—no matter how fast/slow one swims. So let’s try this again. Here is my definition and step-by-step process to guaranteeing a “best time” at Nationals:

Step 1

Bolster your team with supportive and collegial athletes.

Step 2

Have your athletes define three goals that are completely unrelated to the clock or individual ranking.

Step 3

Be available at all times during the meet to support and encourage your swimmers, regardless of what is printed on the result sheets.