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by Frank Marcinkowski

October 30, 2009

Curl-Burke is a big Masters program that has seen a lot of growth. With multiple sites and nearly 500 swimmers, Curl-Burke and head coach Frank Marcinkowski know the importance of a good coaching staff. Below Frank provides some insight into growth, coordinating an appropriate coaching staff and finding new coaches to be a part of the team.

USMS: When did you realize that Curl-Burke was growing and that the program was too big for just one coach?

Marcinkowski: A bigger driver than the number of swimmers in the pool is the average ability of the swimmers and the differences in ability between them. For an eight-lane workout, we generally have at least six different levels, in terms of intervals or distances, present. To observe stroke and individual performance and to provide meaningful feedback to swimmers during workout, we have found that a good coach to swimmer ration is 25 to 1. I believe two coaches can comfortably handle 40-50 swimmers of different abilities in one workout. When teaching stroke technique vs. a purely hard training workout, we have found that a swimmer to coach ratio of seven to one is ideal and 12 to one is a max.

Curl-Burke Masters has five locations each with a designated site head coach. Each location also enlists two assistant coaches.

USMS: What is the first step in finding an assistant coach? Where do you look? How do you advertise the position?

Marcinkowski: Our first step in finding assistant coaches is to recruit from within. Most of our assistant coaches have come up through our own swimming ranks. 100 percent of our coaches also have other jobs, none are full time coaches. Be careful about hiring coaches who may be burnt out, tired or lifeless because of their other jobs, coaching or otherwise. We are lucky to have a close relationship with American University, a local college, and its coach and swimmers. This relationship has provided us with several great coaches over the years.

USMS: What makes a qualified assistant coach?

Marcinkowski: Interest, dedication and reliability; a good working knowledge of all four strokes; and a comprehensive understanding of streamlining, balance, starts and turns, as well as the ability to communicate and organize.

USMS: What makes a GREAT assistant coach?

Marcinkowski: Leadership, unfailing dedication, reliability, commitment, and the ability to coach swimmers at every level. And passion for swimming.

Often Masters programs have little or no money to offer an assistant coach (some may not even have a budget for a head coach). This problem often prevents programs from recruiting new coaches.

USMS: What if a program doesn’t have a lot of money to pay an assistant?

Marcinkowski: Money should not be the primary motivator for a Masters coach. In fact, the volunteer coaches or those whose salaries, at best, pay gas, are often the best Masters coaches. If a team does not have much or any money to pay a coach or assistant coaches, it needs to find the passionate, dedicated and knowledgeable individuals willing to coach for free (or cheap) for the period of time it will take to build a team and create some revenue. Provide a half decent facility and a great coach and the Masters swimmers will come … and pay to come.

Teaching and mentoring a new or assistant coach can seem like a daunting task. Ensuring a good coach becomes a great coach, it is vital to mentor him or her.

USMS: How can a head coach mentor an assistant or new coach? Do you write the workouts for him or her to implement?

Marcinkowski: I prefer to show new assistant coaches my workouts, let them draft their own, and then review their workouts. There are more tools available now online to help us write workouts than ever before. The most important factor is that all coaches understand the energy level at which the team is training and the goals of the program, then design a workout appropriately.

USMS: Why is a good coaching staff the difference between a good Masters program and a GREAT Masters program?

Marcinkowski: Ultimately, a good coaching staff will be the difference between a team and not a team. Our team is a good example. We have no charter, no by-laws, and no management committee, per se. Our swimmers are our customers; they communicate to us where they want to go individually and as a team, and then the coaches help them and the team achieve these goals. Passion, dedication, commitment and foresight!

U.S. Masters Swimming comprises over 2,000 Masters coaches. Each program and coach is different and requires different structures and organization. Curl-Burke, a program that has experienced a lot of growth, has offered its experience through the eyes of Head Coach Frank Marcinkowski, who hopes that Curl-Burke’s experience with growth can help other teams grow.