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by Terry Heggy

December 16, 2019

There are subtle ways you can motivate your swimmers

Pop quiz question: What is a coach’s primary purpose?

[Jeopardy theme playing]

If you answered, “To look good walking along the pool deck,” I reluctantly disagree. While it’s undeniable that Masters coaches are among the world’s most attractive people, it is merely a happy coincidence, not our purpose.

I also disagree if you said, “To write good workouts.” Although the quality of our workouts does impact what our athletes can achieve, I believe that workouts are just one element that contributes to our overall purpose, which is: to elicit excellence.

A Masters coach should take pride in being someone who swimmers look up to. We should not only set an example with impeccable character and ethics; we should also strive to extract the best from every swimmer we encounter.

Here are some suggestions for quietly inspiring athletes through subtle suggestions.

Team Suggestions

A positive team environment provides a continual suggestion that success is available to everyone who participates. Find your own style, showing your enthusiasm through humor and vocal modulation.

  • Welcome each swimmer with the same enthusiasm and attention, regardless of experience or ability.
  • Publicly recognize inspirational performances, such as personal bests and fearlessness (first Brute Squad, first 10K, etc.). Showcase excellence in stroke execution by having swimmers demonstrate techniques. Acknowledge acts of encouragement and support among teammates.
  • Build team identity through slogans, gear, and social events.
  • Demonstrate that you value swimmer contributions. Ask for feedback, listen to suggestions, and provide opportunities for swimmers to serve as mentors for others.

Individual Suggestions

As we strive to elicit excellence, we:

  • Explain and illustrate our definition of excellence (fitness concepts, rules of the sport, stroke technique, etc.)
  • Give feedback (stroke correction, strategic advice)
  • Provide concrete tools for success (seasonal plan with well-designed workouts)
  • Provide psychological tools for success (acceptance, inclusion, confidence)

Use positive language when explaining, correcting, or encouraging. State the result you expect rather than the flaw to be corrected.

  • Say “two-hand touch” instead of “no one-handed touches.”
  • Say “straighten your entry” rather than “you’re crossing over.”
  • Say “Let’s pick it up on this next one,” rather than “you’re not trying hard enough.”

Provide individual feedback directly and privately. Walk to their lane and lean over to make eye contact while talking. Use your knowledge of individual goals and motivation to inspire higher effort.

  • “I think you can hit a PR on this one. Go for it!”
  • “Hold your streamline on the turns and you’ll beat Joe on the next one.”
  • “You can get more speed by keeping your head lower when you breathe.”
  • “You’re on fire today! Just two more in this set; keep it up!”
  • “C’mon, you can hold 1:20s on these. I know you’ve got this!”
  • “You’re getting plenty of rest; let’s shorten your interval for the next five.”
  • “Let’s swim this 200 all butterfly. Show me your legendary toughness.”

Talk to swimmers outside the workout, as well. Suggest additional events to try in competition. Encourage more workout attendance by making it clear how much you value the individual’s participation. If you believe in your swimmers and continually inspire them through a progression of individual suggestions, both you and your swimmer will enjoy long-term success.


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  • Motivation