Connecting swimmers and coaches with shared fun
Though the term diversity has frequently described differences in gender, race, culture, or ability, the truth is that any group of two or more people automatically contains variance among individuals.
Some aspects of our uniqueness are visible—approximate age, height, skin color, goggle or swim cap preferences, etc.—while others aren’t as easily discoverable. From visual cues alone, you can’t be certain whether a person prefers freestyle to backstroke, sprints to distance, men to women, or Star Wars to Star Trek. But the fact that we have each chosen swimming means that we share a deeply important bond.
Here are a few ideas about how to celebrate individuality while building a team spirit that can lead to supportive relationships, lifelong friendships, and a shared love of swimming together.
First, introduce yourself to new swimmers and welcome them to the group. Help them acclimate by answering questions, explaining team terminology, and including them in the banter between swim sets. As teammates get to know and appreciate each other, they may earn nicknames such as “Metronome” for a distance swimmer who splits evenly or “Speedboat” for someone with a powerful kick.
Build team spirit by showing pride with team banners, branded suits, caps, and clothing, and by displaying logos everywhere (water bottles, towels, swim bags, or even on polished toenails!) Wear team apparel when you go out for food and drinks after workouts, and show up for meets wearing team colors head to toe.
Having team cohesion and shared identity does not mean that everyone fits into the same mold. Celebrate differences with sets tailored for specialists (sprinters, distance, open water swimmers, triathletes, etc.) Show your appreciation for the unique talents, skills, and efforts that each swimmer brings to the pool.
One great way to recognize individuals is to celebrate birthdays during workouts. One way to do this is to swim a set based on the birthday itself. For example, if the swimmer turns 45 on Oct. 5 (10/5), you could do 45 x 25s with 10 seconds rest, or do 10 x 500s, or 10 x 50s with only five breaths per repeat.
Another option would be to do a set based on the person’s name. For example, for Kathy’s birthday, the set could be five minutes of Kick, five minutes of Arms (pull), five minutes of Twenty-fives Hard, and five minutes of 25s Your choice.
Many Masters coaches hand out awards to recognize contributions to the team. These may include individual attributes that have nothing to do with ability, such as team spirit, sense of humor, service to the club or community, support of teammates, and always showing up on time. Successful teams often have individual swimmers nominate their peers for special recognition for such things as being inspirational, supportive, or just fun to be around. Let people know you appreciate what they bring to the team.
People feel closer to each other when they face the group challenge of getting through super tough workouts. But they also bond when they have fun together, so don’t forget to do some crazy things now and then. Noodle relays, synchro swimming, dogpaddle (with mandatory barking!), and deep-water games of “catch the medicine ball” will get people laughing together and feeling connected.
Enhance your team parties with fun activities such as trivia contests, pumpkin carving, tree decorating, and white-elephant gift exchanges. Use social opportunities to talk about individual interests and other hobbies; conversations don’t always have to be just about swimming. (And if you haven’t heard the line “I didn’t recognize you with your clothes on,” you haven’t been to enough swim team parties.)
USMS clubs are known for their contributions to their communities, and strong team bonds are formed when we share time helping others. Such activities might include participating in a food drive, picking up litter, fundraising for local charities, staffing an aid station during a marathon, or sponsoring a Little League team. Supporting swimming outreach programs such as the USA Swimming Foundation or helping with an adult learn-to-swim program are also great ways to build team pride while helping others.
- Coaches Only