Whether you’re starting your coaching career or are a veteran, here’s what you need to be a great Masters coach
Being a Masters swimming coach can be difficult. You work with athletes who vary in age (18 to 100-plus) and who have a wide range of skill levels (beginner to elite). Some of your swimmers want to work out for fitness, some for a triathlon, and some for a meet that might be different from all of their lanemates, who also might swim different races.
Being a Masters swimming coach can be one of the most rewarding jobs or activities that you can have or do. You get to work with a wide range of athletes whose desires for training make for a fun challenge, and you’ll have the ability to make a positive impact on all of them.
If you’re looking to become a Masters coach, or you’re a veteran Masters coach who wants to improve, there are a few things you’ve got to do to provide a great experience for your swimmers.
The Basic Ingredients
Anyone who has swum, read a book about coaching, or taken a course in coaching can say, “I’m ready to coach.” But there is much more to it.
Coaches must love the sport of swimming. Their enthusiasm should be obvious in everything they do and be contagious to all club members.
Coaches should have, or work to develop, a vast knowledge of swimming. Our sport continually evolves, so coaches must be willing to educate themselves or continue their education by attending clinics, exchanging ideas with other coaches, reading books, and watching elite swimmers in action.
Coaches must understand the needs of their swimmers and the variety of reasons people swim. A club may include fitness swimmers, those swimming for their health, beginners, and competitive swimmers; others just want to belong to a group.
One practice does NOT fit all. A swimmer returning to the sport after a long hiatus is completely different than one of the same age who has been swimming for years. All athletes—rookies and national champions alike—need to know that they’re an important and valued part of the team. All individuals must be respected equally and know that it is OK to ask questions.
Coaches must write workouts that address the needs of all swimmers while challenging all their athletes to improve their technique and fitness. An oral description of the workout is all that’s needed for some groups, but others may work best from written instructions on a whiteboard. For some of my athletes, I write the workouts in large print and place them in a Ziplock bag at the end of each lane. I include three variations of each workout for the lane to choose from.
In addition to working with individuals on stroke technique, coaches must keep an eye on swimmers who might have health difficulties or are returning from an injury. Coaches need to convey that it’s OK for a swimmer not to complete the workout, and they should be sure they’re talking with their swimmers to ensure that their needs are being met and that any health concerns are discussed.
Coaches must show empathy. Sometimes just listening to a swimmer is the most important thing a coach can do. As Theodore Roosevelt once said: No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care.
As in any successful business, coaches must be dependable, prompt, flexible, and fair. Masters swimmers’ schedules can be extremely tight as they juggle work and family needs, so if the pool doesn’t open on time, the coach is late, or there is no workout, it can be a dealbreaker and they might quit. Outstanding coaches must also be able to work with other coaches and share ideas. Sometimes another coach can say the same thing you’re saying but in a way that helps a swimmer understand a concept. It’s not about your ego; the bottom line is that the swimmer understands.
Coaches must keep communication channels open, so that swimmers can be comfortable in asking questions and so that learning continues in both directions. All coaches need to remember that we are all working toward the same goal: the swimmer’s improvement.
Finally, we all must understand that challenges will occasionally arise. When times are difficult, coaches just need to remember, as in the movie “Frozen,” to just let it go.
- Coaches Only