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by Bob Jennings

June 16, 2015

Bring out the inner 8-and-unders in your swimmers

Have you ever noticed how everyone gets excited when the 8-and-unders swim at age-group or summer league swim meets? Parents and coaches make a big deal about all the swimmers, regardless of their places or times. Just completing the length of the pool is considered a major accomplishment, and it’s lauded loudly.

We see this in Masters meets, particularly for swimmers over the age of 85, but I think we need to make all our swimmers feel this way, from the beginners in lane one to the national champions. Outstanding efforts, improvements in fitness, stroke mechanics, and times should be recognized in meets and in practices.

As a coach, recognizing your swimmers’ gains is part of your job.

For some Masters swimmers, competing is an opportunity to do something special—something they never thought they could do. For these swimmers, swimming an event for the first time is as big an accomplishment and milestone as a personal best time or a first place would be for a more experienced swimmer.

As coaches, we must recognize and celebrate these accomplishments. A few positive words go a long way. When a coach constantly points out only what swimmers do wrong, it can create a negative effect. Besides turning the swimmers off to listening to suggestions, it can cause some to just give up, and think, “Why should I try? I can never get it right anyway.”

That’s why I like the Oreo Method of coaching. Also known as a feedback sandwich, this approach pads constructive criticism with real compliments. In this method, you start off by pointing out something your swimmer did well. Then, point out a mistake or area for improvement with suggestions for how to make the change. Close the conversation with another positive comment. The conversation might go something like this:

“Hey, Jeff! Great job on that 200 free! I could see you really trying to stay strong during that third 50. Way to implement what we’ve been working on! You’re still overreaching a little on the right-hand side. Remember what we talked about with keeping the core engaged and keeping the shoulder down. We can work on it some more at practice next week, where we’ll also talk about how great your fly looked during the IM! You’re having a great meet!”

Simple, easy, and your swimmer walks away feeling like a star, not like he has a ton of homework to do next week.

In addition to talking about their swims, you should engage with your swimmers as people; this shows you care about them as individuals, not just for what they can accomplish in the water. When individuals feel good about themselves and develop confidence, they can do almost anything.

Masters swimmers come to practice and participate because they truly want to do so. Everyone has different goals and objectives. The coach’s responsibility is to help individuals achieve their goals. USMS promotes health, wellness, fitness, and competition through swimming for everyone. Sometimes coaches forget this, but we shouldn’t. Swimmers of all ages and abilities need to be treated like 8-and-unders sometimes, by having their accomplishments and value enthusiastically recognized.


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