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by Scott Bay

February 24, 2016

Why the rest of the herd (school) matters to you

Swimming on your own has its advantages and disadvantages. Some Masters swimmers have had great success by swimming on their own or with one other person from time to time. On the pro side, when swimming alone you can come and go as you please, do the sets you want to do, and not be annoyed with small talk between sets. This works for some swimmers, but ask yourself (and be honest!): how many times have you bailed on a set or interval because it was challenging? And did you bail because it was really too hard or were you just not being pushed?

The Positives of Peer Pressure

Most of us have an internal drive. We’re going to the pool or gym for a reason, whether that’s for health and wellness or to achieve goals we’ve set for ourselves. Sure, you can get this done on your own, but consider the positives of letting group dynamics work for you:

  • Accountability. Studies have shown that we perform better in a group environment. Swimmers are smart—we can rationalize hitting the snooze button one more time and skipping the morning workout a thousand different ways. But if you made a commitment to even one other person to be at a workout, chances are you’re getting up. And that’s a good thing.
  • Camaraderie. They say misery loves company, but in the world of Masters Swimming, endorphins love company way more than misery. High fives and fist bumps go a long way after a challenging set and energize you for the rest of the day.
  • Support. This has meaning on so many levels, from support in setting and achieving goals, to helping us get through life challenges such as a job change, the arrival of a baby, or the loss of a loved one. No matter what you’re facing or trying to achieve, your swim buddies are always there for you.
  • Group therapy. Let’s face it: swimmers are unique. Getting in and moving through the water with people who understand the sport helps clear your mind and puts you in a better mood. It’s like Drano for the head. 
  • Culture. We are our own culture. Although swimming doesn’t enjoy the spotlight as much as other sports most of the time, during an Olympic year you can bet that when you’re out with a group of fellow swimmers, wearing your swimming logo gear, you’ll get asked if you know Michael Phelps or Missy Franklin, or any other current or veteran Olympians. I’ll leave it to you to confirm or deny whether you do know any of the elites—it’s possible you actually do, because some of them swim in Masters meets as well. Top-of-the-heap swimmers are smart and they know that, in addition to offering a midseason race tune-up, Masters meets and practices are a ton of fun.
  • Coaching. USMS has a wealth of coaching talent and has been developing and providing educational programs and services to coaches for many years, to make sure you get the most out of your group experience. Our aim is to make sure every Masters group out there has a knowledgeable coach to help the club grow as a program and the members as individuals.

For those of you who have the ability to swim on your own day in and day out, kudos to you! For the rest of us who need that extra little bit of motivation, schooling with our fellow fish is how we get the most from our experience and stay in the sport long term.

If you’re looking for a group in your area, check out the Places to Swim tool. If you don’t find one there, you can always start your own program. Either way—you’ll enjoy the benefits of swimming with a group.


  • Technique and Training
  • Coaches Only