Help newbies feel like valued teammates
Joining a Masters club can be daunting. Whether it’s shyness, feeling out of shape, intimidated by the studs in the fast lane, lack of familiarity with the facility, or confusion about swimming jargon and team rules, it’s understandable that newbies might be hesitant to get their feet wet. We each benefit from contributing a warm welcome and supportive environment to help convert strangers into teammates. Teammates provide the following:
- Friendly competition to encourage our best efforts each day
- More people to draft behind
- More points at championship meets
- Networking opportunities for careers and social life enhancement (i.e., parties!)
- Possibilities for enduring lifelong friendships (and other health benefits)
Here are some ways we can make newcomers glad they came to practice and eager to return.
Introduce yourself with a welcoming smile and do your best to remember the newcomer’s name. Introduce your lanemates if they don’t volunteer to do so themselves. You only have one new name to remember, but the other person is being inundated with data so be prepared to introduce yourself multiple times as he or she acclimates to the new group. Greeting someone by name helps that person recognize that you appreciate his or her attendance.
Try to meet everyone on the team, whether they swim in your lane or on the opposite side of the pool. Include newcomers in conversations out of the water. When pool deck or hot tub conversations turn to weekend plans and personal details, make sure your new friends have the opportunity to contribute. Invite them to participate in team social events and competitions. Upon departure, say something to encourage continued attendance, such as, “See you tomorrow!”
Sharing the Lane
Most coaches prefer shared lanes to swim circles rather than splitting. Circles enable additional swimmers to enter without disruption and encourage more communication. When a new swimmer joins your lane, help his or her understand and follow your team’s etiquette rules, considering the following:
- Educate—Help the newbie understand your team’s accepted start intervals between circle swimmers. Most teams use a five-second delay between sendoffs, while some use 10 seconds. Each swimmer has an opinion on drafting, which may influence start spacing. (I love having someone draft right on my feet because it forces me to focus and hold a good pace, but other people find it intensely annoying.)
- Inform—Use precise language to help everyone determine the best order for the lane on each set. “I’ll hold 1:30 on these” is more helpful than saying “I’m feeling good,” especially if lanemates don’t know each other well. Cut the newbies some slack; folks who haven’t worked out regularly may have trouble predicting (or holding) a pace, so be prepared to alter the lane order as needed.
- Set an Example—Set an example for good wall behavior. Listen quietly while the coach explains the set. Angle your turns to avoid collisions. Swim all the way to the wall on each repeat. Move aside after your touch so the following swimmer has room to finish. Hand out high fives and “Nice swim!” compliments when your lanemates crank it up for an outstanding effort.
- Encourage—Cheerfully answer new swimmer questions to the best of your ability without disrupting the practice. Share your enthusiasm and provide encouragement and inspiration in any way you can. It’s usually best, however, to avoid offering unsolicited stroke advice to your lanemates. That’s the coach’s job, so ask him or her to help as appropriate, and let the coach know of any additional instruction the new swimmer might need.
Think of the reasons you love Masters swimming, and demonstrate those qualities in your own behavior as an example for your new teammates. Relish the fact that new arrivals will push you, inspire you, and challenge you to be the best you can be.
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