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by Terry Heggy

February 19, 2019

Creative solutions for making workouts appealing in tough times

Your Masters program thrives when swimmers regularly attend practices, competitions, and social events. But even the most committed athletes occasionally suffer a condition known as burnout, which makes them reluctant to participate.


Burnout can result from a multitude of conditions, which can include the following:

  • Stress (competitive pressure, work/family/financial issues, etc.)
  • Physical impairment (injury, overtraining, poor nutrition, etc.)
  • Dissatisfaction (boredom, conflict with teammates, disappointment with results, etc.)

Some burnout is beyond your control. Although you can encourage swimmers to participate for swimming’s well-documented benefits to mental well-being, stress relief, and physical health, you must counsel your athletes to contact medical professionals for issues such as injury, clinical depression, substance abuse, or anything else that you aren’t qualified or licensed to deal with.

Swimmers rarely walk up and say “Gee, Coach, I’m feeling burned out.” They’re more likely to stop coming to practice or to appear less enthusiastic during workouts. Review attendance logs to detect unexpected absences and watch workouts to identify swimmers who are swimming slower or who appear unhappy.


When you do suspect potential burnout, the first step is to encourage communication. Ask the athlete how it’s going and see if your swimmer will share his or her concerns. It may be that the swimmer hasn’t yet recognized the burnout and is simply feeling off. Many times, attention from the coach or lanemates may be enough to break the pattern and restore excitement. But, if not, see if you can identify the root of the problem.

Mental burnout

Problems caused by boredom, interpersonal conflicts, or feelings of alienation from the club can be cured by the same techniques used to prevent these issues, which are discussed below. Issues of personal stress can be trickier.

One frustrating thing about stress is that it can encourage people to make counterproductive decisions. Feeling overwhelmed about time pressures can provoke people to drop their workouts, which might be the only thing keeping their blood pressure under control. Fitness activities not only help with circulation, weight control, and cardiovascular health, but they also provide a way to burn off frustrations and maintain a stabilizing routine. Remind swimmers that the time they spend in practice provides a valuable benefit that helps them sleep better, feel happier, and work more efficiently.

If swimmers lose focus on a goal or become frustrated with a stale routine (such as swimming the same event in every swim meet), encourage them to try something different. If there are events they’ve never swum, remind them that completing the event will constitute a personal record. It’s always fun to set a PR!

Other ways to change the routine include switching lanes, joining other workout groups, or even having the swimmer serve as guest coach by making up a few creative workouts.

Physical Burnout

When a swimmer is overtrained or fatigued from activities outside the pool, offer alternative workout options. For example, if you have athletes who compete in marathons or triathlons, encourage them to use pull buoys for the entire workout when they come back from a big race, or have them sit out every other repeat. They can also assist you with new swimmers or serve as technique demonstrators instead of cranking out the workout set. The idea is to keep your swimmers engaged in practice, but in a way that provides the rest needed to repair their muscles.


The best way to banish burnout is to make participation so appealing and interesting that swimmers are constantly curious and eternally excited. Start with a personal touch, ensuring that you interact with each swimmer at each workout. Learn their names, goals, times, and capabilities, and let them know that you appreciate their contributions to the club. Encourage friendships among teammates, and build team spirit through relays, participation in U.S. Masters Swimming events, and club-sponsored community service.

Mix up your workouts with fun sets, recognize birthdays and personal milestones, and bring your sense of humor to each practice. Publish a regular club newsletter that includes personal interest stories about your team in addition to stroke and technique tips. Remind your swimmers that you are there for them and that your door is always open if they need to talk.


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  • Coaches
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