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by Terry Heggy

November 18, 2019

Help your swimmers achieve their individual goals as you advance your club’s goals

Athletes come to you for different reasons. Some want to win medals and set records, others seek general fitness enhancement, and many simply relish the social benefits of hanging out with fellow swimmers. Though they may share one or more of these goals, it’s a mistake to treat any two swimmers exactly the same. Not only will the specifics of their goals differ, the path to achieving those goals will depend on individual characteristics, including:

  • Swimming experience and previous coaching
  • Kinesthetic talent and genetic traits
  • Athletic history, age, flexibility, and current fitness
  • Competitiveness (or lack thereof)
  • Time and resources available and commitment to other goals (family, work, etc.)

It’s a logistical nightmare to craft an individual training plan for each person who leaves wet footprints on your pool’s deck. Fortunately, you can create general training plans and modestly tweak them to meet individual needs.

Step 1—Identify Goals

Before you work to support the individual goals of your athletes, it’s important to define your own coaching goals. These could include:

  • Increasing membership and event participation
  • Improving your coaching skills through study or certification training
  • Earning higher team standings in state or national competition
  • Technique goals (getting more members to do flip turns, learn butterfly, etc.)
  • Enhancing team cohesion and social engagement.

When you share your team goal vision with frequency and enthusiasm, it inspires swimmers to take their own goal-setting more seriously. Lead them through the goal-setting process, and encourage them to write down specific goals with dates for their achievement.

  • Performance (2:45 in the 200 fly, under 30 minutes for a 1650, etc.)
  • Accomplishment (complete an open water 5K, compete in a championship meet, etc.)
  • Growth (become a lane leader or LMSC volunteer, learn to calculate intervals, etc.)

Keep a log of the goals they share with you. If they choose goals you think are unrealistic, stay positive rather than discouraging their attempt. Help them identify the challenges you see and craft a plan to overcome them. They may reassess the goal, or they may become even more committed to its achievement. If they choose goals you feel are too modest, encourage them to reach beyond their current expectations.

Step 2—Plan the Season

Analyze how your coaching goals synergize with collective team goals as you design your plans for the season. Include drills and technique sets to help swimmers improve fundamentals and include test sets to assess individual progress throughout the season. Remind the group of the large goals you have for the team and remind your athletes privately to stay focused on what matters to them.

Help swimmers maintain engagement by explaining the purpose of each workout set and how it contributes to the performance they seek. Remind them how positive results a direct consequence of workout attendance, technique excellence, and effort exerted. Remember that while you’re managing an entire workout and thinking of it as a group effort, each swimmer sees the practice only from their individual perspective. Include personalized feedback along with your general tips and group instructions.

Include sets that allow flexibility. For example, rather than specifying 200s free, you could create a set of stroke/distance choice swims on a 3-minute sendoff. Sprinters could do an all-out 25 butterfly with 2:40 rest, while distance swimmers might do a 200 freestyle with 5 seconds rest. Such sets maintain a team perspective (everyone starts each repeat together) while allowing individual training specificity.

Develop a broad repertoire of workout designs through online resources and discussions with other coaches. When you discover sets that get great results, share those ideas with your USMS peers.

Step 3—Make Adjustments

Be willing to modify your planned workout based on what you see during warmup. If everyone is fatigued, you could adjust the effort you ask for, or perhaps the sendoff times. If all five of your sprint butterfliers show up for the same practice, pull them into a separate lane to do 25s while everyone else does a distance freestyle set. If your breaststrokers outnumber everyone else, throw in an extra breaststroke set.

Your knowledge of individual goals helps you tailor sets for specific swimmers. You may have sprinters do 50s while everyone else is doing 100s, or have your backstroke specialist stay face-up during a long-distance set. If only one person is attending a weekend meet, have her start each set off the blocks while others start in the water. Make sure that everyone in the lane understands the tailoring and that all follow established etiquette rules. When swimmers know that you have each person’s goals in mind, they’ll trust you enough to embrace and support the occasional rogue participant.

Step 4—Follow Up

Check in with swimmers periodically to verify that they’re on track for achieving their goals. Life happens, so be prepared to help athletes adjust their plans as deviations occur. Encourage them to consult with other professionals (physicians, nutritionists, personal trainers, sports psychologists, etc.) to identify goal-supporting steps to take outside the pool.

Reward each achievement you see, whether it’s a high-five after a good workout set or a special team award after a high-point win at the big meet. Let teammates know when their friends achieve milestones, making sure to note the positive behaviors that led to the success. Your leadership in supporting individual goals encourages the entire team to grow together toward the habit of high achievement and personal satisfaction.


  • Coaches Only


  • Goal Setting