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by Chad Durieux

April 19, 2011

The Southern Pacific Masters Association (SPMA) had nearly five thousand swimmers registered in the 2009-2010 season, the second largest LMSC in the country. Membership in individual clubs ranges from one to over 460 swimmers. When I began as the fulltime coach of the Rose Bowl Masters (Pasadena, Calif.) in 2006, the team had 35 registered swimmers. The first year, less than 10 swimmers attended the Zone Championships for short course meters and short course yards. The long course meters championships had even less participation.

Five years later … Rose Bowl Masters boasts over 230 registered swimmers—a nearly 700% increase! At our most recent zone championships the team brought 45 swimmers. During the 2010 season, the Rose Bowl Masters placed 4th in SCY and SCM zone championships and 3rd at the LCM zones. This article will outline how we were able to dramatically increase our membership and increase our participation in swimming competition.

Mission Statement

What are the overall goals or purposes of your Masters team? The answer to this question is, in effect, your mission statement. That declaration, in turn, drives the yearly, seasonal, monthly and daily decisions that you as a coach will have to make for your swimmers and their swimming.

Is your team mostly lap swimmers, and is your goal to have each participant increase their yardage? Do you have many triathletes who need extensive technique and skill development? Do the competitors on your team understand stroke count, distance per stroke, streamline dolphin kick (SDK) or race strategy?

The Masters coach must first answer these questions. The process of doing so, will aid in filling in the yearly plan as well as the seasonal and monthly workout plans. In turn, the context of daily workouts will be derived from the goals and needs of your swimmers.

Rose Bowl Masters is a coach-run program. That means there is no board or boosters club. The Master’s coach reports directly to the age group head coach and the executive director of the Rose Bowl Aquatics Center.

While this has its pros and cons, it is important to only let those positive aspects affect your team’s development. The following is written in the context of a coach-driven program but these ideas will be useful to all types of teams.

Our philosophy and mission statement are posted on the opening page of our website. This is one of the first and most important principles to be established for your team. Next, be sure to know your coaching style for Masters. Being an age group coach for six years prior I had to a pretty good coaching philosophy and coaching style for successful age group swimming. The cutthroat-do-or-die-trying that went with age group coaching (and lots of boisterous encouragement) quickly became constructive criticism and gentle prodding. With a coaching philosophy, comes coaching goals. Every year it is important to establish the annual goals for growth, development and success of your team. From these goals the coach can then discuss with the team what they would like to accomplish. As teams we should sit down at the beginning of every SCY, SCM, and LCM season and discuss yearly goals, meet calendar and our specific seasonal training. Our goals are measurable and specific. An example team of a team goal could be 100% USMS registration as of a specific date.

Tools for Growth

Another goal could be to have a team website designed and implemented. You might hire a professional or have someone on your team with experience on creating websites help you post your website. A professional website is an invaluable asset for all Masters swim teams. This will be your biggest and best way to help recruit new members. Your website needs to have the mission statement on the first page so everyone that browses your page will know about your team. You also need your schedule, costs, team updates and a FAQ page. Lastly, you will need to have links to U.S. Masters Swimming, your LMSC and a link to the registration page with Club Assistant.

With the huge shift to the digital these days, your best advertising tool is the Internet and ease of accessibility to your website. Other great forms of advertising include: flyers around your pool and community, word of mouth, and triathlon and open water clubs. Get your swimmers to talk and communicate with potential team members. You as the coach need to get out in the community and have informational sessions with triathlon clubs, running clubs, biking clubs, and weight lifting clubs. These informational meetings can help you to discuss the purpose of your program and the benefits to joining. When these clubs know what your program is offering, they are more likely to send referrals to join your ranks.

Team Bonding

During our first year we started a noontime training practice. At first a couple of mothers and two retirees joined us in the pool. It rapidly gained momentum as local people heard about a mid-day Masters program. The noon sun warmed the deck of our outside pool during the winter, and helped give a sunny break to our morning and night swimmers. In five years the noon workout has become one of the most well-attended workouts we offer. (The fact that so many get off work for that long is still a mystery to me, but hey it works).

An army is only as good as its captain just as your team will be as good as the coach. You as coaches need to be educated, not just from a scholastic standpoint but from a “in the trenches” perspective. Talk with other coaches, attend the ASCA and USMS sponsored events that will help you not only network but be up to date on current rules and techniques. Read books and watch videos. There is an impressive amount of information out there to help you become an effective coach. One of my goals this last year was to be better educated. Luckily ASCA and USMS developed the Masters Level 1 & 2 certification programs available to all Masters coaches. Personal growth means team growth on so many different levels!

We have developed some really great team building techniques over the past few years that have not only helped build the team but also helped with team bonding. Monthly team socials are a HUGE promoter for growth and stability. Our socials are very loud and grow in numbers monthly; our swimmers love them. Go for breakfast, lunch or dinner at a local restaurant and make sure to have holiday parties and BBQs.

Do challenge swims! We offer a 10K workout four times a year at Easter, Labor Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas. If you swim the 10K and are a member in good standing you get a free T-Shirt that says “10,000 Club.” Every year I change the color of the shirts so it’s not always the same and people know what year you completed the swim. The 10K swim is not a straight swim—it is swum as a double workout to help with any boredom or monotony.

We do the USMS One-Hour Postal swim every January. This, as well as all of the events, is published in the weekly email that all the swimmers on our team get.

January is also the time for the Polar Bear Club. Our facility is outdoors so even the Southern Californian early winter mornings on the pool deck can be cold. In order to become a member of the Polar Bear Club, a swimmer must complete a minimum of 19 one-hour workouts of the 24 offered during the month. Swimmers have been known to do doubles and triples in order to reach the requisite number of swims … and this is merely for a t-shirt.

A new challenge this year is a week of Olympic workouts. RBAC has several Olympians that were asked to submit workout. A one-page bio was written about each Olympian and included in the weekly email. After the warm-up and before the first set, one of the coaches read the brief bio of the Olympian for that day. In the future we plan to ask Olympians not associated with our club to submit workouts.

Having an intersquad meet on weekends or during a workout is an event that your swimmers will remember for years. Break your normal weekly routine to do a week of stroke correction and instruction. Focus on a different stroke each day; the fifth and sixth days can be IM or SDK work. There are so many ideas out there you can simply talk to other coaches and you’ll be inundated with interesting things to do.

How Do I Get My Team to Compete?

The first year I attended our SCM zone champs there were eight people from our team there. We ranked with the bottom 10 teams. At our last SCM Zone Champs we had 45 people compete and we placed 4th as a team. It took four years of growth and lots of encouragement.

The biggest thing that people can really relate to is relays. Get your swimmers to a meet and do a relay; everyone loves relays. Have your swimmers invite their friends for relays and carpool. Once they commit to relays usually they’ll pick up another event or two. That event of two usually translates to another meet and another until they are hooked. Make sure you help them swim their strengths and also help them understand that this is lower focused competition (if they grew up age group swimming) and the most important thing is setting the bar at their new age group. If swimmers are 35 years old then they just focus on the 35-39 age group and anything they did before that doesn’t matter.

As a coach, set the example and get in the water at the meet! Swimmers love to see their coach racing. Hold mock meets and intersquad meets—this really helps the stress of what to do at the meets for those new swimmers.

Bring your triathletes and open water swimmers in during their off-season! They need to keep in shape and what better way to measure their progress than a 1500 or 1650 at a meet every month or so.

Have your swimmers time and officiate at your meets and other local meets. After a few times they’ll either get the swimming bug or hate timing enough to get in the pool.

Design team gear! T-shirts, polos, swimsuits, caps and equipment with your logo is an excellent form of advertising and promoting. These practices and ideas have really helped to get many more swimmers out to the meets and participating.  

Conclusion and Results

The increase of participation in your program increases your credibility with your facility, allowing you to negotiate more favorable workout times. Show them your numbers, income and profitability, and how the facility is benefiting from your team. Expand, be bold in representing your team’s presence or you will stagnant and shrink. You are the coach, so be the coach! Patience and persistence are two vital principles that you need as a coach and as a team. Keep doing things daily and weekly that will help to promote your team. Be loud and be proactive about your team. Focusing on your team members and their personal goals and growth, as well as the team’s goals and growth will not only help you as a coach but as a team to become financially stable, locally and nationally recognized and successful.