This morning we are going to be talking about ways to bridge age groupers to Masters. For reference, in the Pensacola area we probably have less than 100,000 people. Currently we have about 60 Masters swimmers on the team and we are trying to increase this to about 120 within the next couple of months. My ultimate goal is to have over 200 swimmers in the program. We are planning to use pools from Pensacola, to Alabama’s Gulf Shores. The Gulf Shores facility was hit by Ivan, but the pool there did great. The Orange Beach facility is great and is getting the swimmers involved up and down the panhandle and the Gulf coast.
One of the things that is interesting is I am the chairman of the Southeastern Masters Local Masters Swim Committee (LMSC). This LMSC encompasses the entire state of Tennessee, all of Alabama and the Northwest Florida panhandle to Walton County, which is just west of Tallahassee. With such a large area it is difficult for us to have swim meets. In addition, trying to have a meet with more than 40 people at a swim meet is very difficult.
The LMSC has a lot of older swimmers who started back swimming when were about 40 years old. They had their mid-life crisis and they would go out and they buy their Porsche or their $3,000 racing bike so they could use it in triathlons – then they decide that they needed some coaching and they start swimming Masters. Well, there is a huge gap between the 18 year olds and the 40 year olds. I asked Traci Grilli the other day to send me the number of swimmers that USMS has in the 19-24 age group. As of August, we had 1,954 swimmers registered. Please note that after the Orlando convention the rule has now been changed to allow 18 year olds to compete in Masters. This brings up a great opportunity for swimmers who, like myself, were not very good in high school, were not going to try to swim Senior Nationals or were never going to try to go to the Olympic trials or anything like that. I liked swimming enough to still compete, to get out there and see what other swimmers were doing. With the rule change we now have the opportunity to bring all of the adults out there and not exclude swimmers as we have done pretty much for years.
When I first started coaching, the 19-24 age group did not really exist at nationals. I was coaching on deck at the long course nationals in the Woodlands that we were hosting and my swimmers were in the pool, but I had to stand there and watch them swim and it was frustrating – they are out there – they were taking off and were going. Wow, I would have liked to be in there and be part of the action and score points for the team. Well, it wasn’t until shortly thereafter that the 19-24 age group started getting included into Masters. Now we have the opportunity to definitely make sure that this sport is a life long opportunity for all swimmers.
The other day in other talks and listening to some of the speakers, they look at their swimmers in the pool and the coaches are saying to their swimmers that if you are not going to cut it in a particular program the swimmer should get out. But remember these people are future revenue for your program. They may be late bloomers. You never know. One of our team goals for the next ten years is to actually put a swimmer at Olympic trials. We think we can have a Masters swimmer go to trials from Pensacola and we want to do it before our age group program does. Pensacola has a tradition of having Olympic athletes, but when you hear age group coaches say, well the swimmers are not living up to expectations and some of these kids are 13 – 14 – 15 years old. A couple of years down the road may go from a scrawny little kid that you thought may not be a great swimmer to a 25 year old who is breaking records. It is one of these things that we look at, and we go okay, how are we going to get these swimmers motivated. Getting motivated is going to have to start with the age group coaches who need to understand what Masters is about. Masters coaches have to go to the age group coaches and say, hey look, we know that some of these swimmers are not going to make juniors, not going to make the international team, but we want them to continue swimming throughout their life. We are going to have those kids from when they turn 18 or return from college until they are 80, 90, 100 years old so we have a chance, an impact on their lives now at the early age. We need to get these kids interested and have the knowledge that swimming does not stop after college or after high school. There are still opportunities that they can still develop a healthy lifestyle, and they can continue having the exercise that they enjoy and they have the freedom to actually choose when they are going to go to workout. They don’t have mom and dad yelling at them to be at the pool, which sometimes when that is happening – the kid is probably just too tired to be there in the first place.
Judy Wagner gave a talk in 2001 at the University of Texas entitled “Swimming: The Cradle to the Grave Sport” where she was basically challenging coaches, such as high school coaches, to get the high school kids involved in the sport of swimming and she puts it this way: I challenge you to do more as a coach than teach people how to swim fast, teach them a healthy lifestyle; teach them swimming is fun; teach them swimming fast is fun, and they should swim to be fast and they should swim to have fun. They should swim to stay healthy and to develop the whole person. Teach those kids to love the water. Training helps them to understand that competition is fun. Give them a burning desire to be physically fit and to stay fit for the rest of their lives. Make your goals to all your swimmers and to turn all your swimmers into Masters swimmers. Age group coaches have to understand that if they want to make more revenue in this sport and they want to have a Masters program attached to their team, they had better understand quickly that they need to educate their swimmers enough that they know what Masters swimming is all about.
Now, how many Masters-only coaches do we have in here? Okay, that is actually quite a bit. I guess ten years ago, there might have been three or four around the country that were only coaching masters. How many of you all are coaching Masters full time? So, we have around four people coaching Masters full time. That is one of the things that I see changing in our sport is Masters coaches that are passionate about the sport and that understand where the sport is going to go. We have great opportunities with these swimmers to coach them on a full-time basis because not everybody works 8-5. We have doctors and nurses who work swing shifts and they need to have a chance to have morning workouts, noon workouts and evening workouts. We figured out the other day that we can actually have approximately about four workouts a day, about an hour and a half each. When you add in the time to prepare, this works out to almost an 8 or 9 hour day right there, just getting ready for workouts and having workouts, so why aren’t we marketing to the younger folks more. Why are we waiting for people to have their mid-life crisis to come into our sport? Why are we looking at USA Triathlon and drawing those athletes into our sport, but we are not drawing the swimmers who used to swim? If you talk to Olympic Athletes who retired from swimming and some of them – I know I talked to Beth Barr years ago and she said it just hurts too much – the shoulders had so much pain that she also seemed to be hesitant about the fear about getting back in the pool and getting wet again. Fortunately I heard that she is actually back in the water again in California so that is a good thing. Of course, the coach said that she was with it and didn’t have any idea who she was. One of my swimmers just a couple of weeks ago put it to me this way, you don’t coach Olympic athletes, you coach their mothers. So wouldn’t it be great to have mom and daughter on the blocks in the same heat at a meet going head to head against each other or father-daughter at a meet. Imagine the daughter turned 18 and father 41 or 42 years old and they are in a swim meet together encouraging each other.
This is a family sport not just an individual sport. We look at Masters swimming to encompass everybody in the community. Everyone should have the opportunity to be able to swim. We can also look at this as a lifestyle versus just going to the gym and hanging out and meeting people and then go home like it was a singles bar. We have the social opportunity in Masters and what our team does is, we actually start inviting some of the high school kids during the summer who are not swimming club that if they want to swim they come and workout with us during the summer months to get the chance to see what Masters is like and also they understand what the social aspects of it are. I remember one time when I was an age group coach I looked down at a lane and I told this girl that I had, one who loved to talk, just sit at the wall and wanted to chit-chat with her friends the whole time and I looked at her and I said, you know what, she was about 14 at that time, you are going to make a great Masters swimmer and she goes, who is that? And I said well, it’s that team swimming next to you all in the lane. Oh, you mean the old people? That is the perception of what the age groupers have of Masters. We have to change that perspective to get these younger people involved.
Auburn University has a great college program. They have great athletes from all around the world and they are swimming with their team. Our Masters group gets a chance to compete against some of those athletes. They, of course, blow us away at meets, but what is interesting is those athletes on that college team are getting exposed to Masters swimming. Tom Healy who is the Master’s coach for Auburn has the ability to pull into his meet those kids involved in off season. It is great to watch them swim and then watch everybody’s face on the pool deck go – oh-oh – we are in trouble. We have a guy that is swimming 19 seconds 50 free, you don’t get to see that very often, but these people are under the 24 age group and they are trying to make a connection in their program that this is a lifelong sport.
We can go out there and we can talk to our age group coaches and we can say – how about we do this – how about we take your team versus my team and we will have a dual meet, Masters versus age group. That is one great way to find out if the age group kids view Masters as an old people’s sport which it is definitely not. We have opportunities to market through some of our older swimmers in our sport. We recently had an 80 year old swimmer who in the last year, since she turned 80, has done a marathon. The first one she did was in Dublin, Ireland last October and I challenged her one day to do a triathlon so the following April for the Navarre Beach Beat a Man Series triathlon we let the press know that she was going to compete in her first triathlon. They came out to the pool. They took pictures. They interviewed all the athletes on the team that swim with her and they turned around in the Lifestyle section of the paper – did a two page spread on her. They went to the triathlon and then they interviewed her again at the triathlon – they took pictures and in the sports section and got another two pages of articles on just her and they asked some of the younger athletes at the triathlon what they thought and they said that was the greatest inspiration for them as an athlete to know that at that age you can start competing and you can still be competing as you get older and she did this triathlon on a $20 bicycle that she bought at a garage sale, but she beat the 35 age group out of the water. She beat a lot of younger guys. We have a picture of her that we like to show to the young men in our program to show this is what can happen if you don’t show up to practice. The picture shows her coming out of the water and you can see the younger guys in the background just sitting there struggling to get out of the water that day. She looks like she is fresh as a daisy. They may have passed her on the bike and she may have been one of the last people on the run, but she actually said, “the worst part of the entire triathlon was her butt hurt from the bicycle seat”. She said she will get a softer seat next time. The next thing she did is, she also got her grand-daughter involved. Her grand-daughter is about 16 years old and she made sure that her grand-daughter came out and saw that it is not just older people out at triathlons and that you have every single age group out there that are competing. With Masters Swimming you have every single age group out there competing. You go to Masters nationals and you see the older age group swimming first and I will tell you what, you will not scratch your event after watching those guys swim a 200 fly. They motivate you and the younger athletes look up to see what these swimmers are going and seeing that these people have been in this sport for 50, 60, 70 years and are still enjoying it like it was their first day in the pool. They still get as nervous as their first swim meet that they went to when they were age groupers. They are also just as excited too, to see their friends coming in from different parts of the country that they swam age group with. And yet we still have age group coaches that are saying, “if they are not going to cut it in age group then the age group swimmers they are out of here”. We, as Master’s coaches, are going – no, no, no – stop that – stop that.
We need to get these swimmers involved. One of the things that we do is we use our website to advertise our team and it is amazing the under 24 age group. I get about 50 emails a month from former age groupers that moved into the area who are in the Navy and want a place to workout. Sometimes we don’t get those kids coming into the program because they find out they are getting stationed elsewhere. Somehow they all want to go to the beach so when they sign up in the Navy and indicate where they wish to go, they put Pensacola down. Well they want to have a place to swim and we try to communicate. The best way to draw the audience in is by using the website. We use email. We get the word out by advertising in the paper. There is a Community section in our paper and we don’t just put down Masters swimmers wanted, we put in there and we also put down Masters/lap swimming that are coached from 18+. That way they are looking at the age part of it and they are saying oh, okay that means I am eligible to be able to swim in the program.
I am a competitive runner. I run 5K’s on Saturday morning. Usually there are a lot of my swimmers who also run. These swimmers introduce me to some of the younger runners that are just starting out and who are interested into getting into swimming or have been swimmers in the past and; they did not know anything about Masters and we encourage them to come out and start swimming either with our program or with our age group program. We have had one or two that we actually sent back to the age group programs because we felt that it might be a better fit for them since they were already at a higher level in swimming at that point. They may want to go back and start swimming really hard and serious and un-retire as some of these athletes do now days. You know, Michael Jordan goes out and plays basketball and wants to retire, un-retire, retire and un-retire so, we have swimmers who do the same thing.
One of the objections I get from swimmers is they have to swim butterfly or they have to do an IM set. Well, we call what we do Masters IM, that is where we go free, back, breast, free. Too bad we can’t have that as a competitive event, but it gives them the opportunity to be able to still swim with everybody without having to know how to do the stroke or put their shoulders in danger of injury and still be able to get in and swim. It also overcomes that objection of selling them on Masters.
You will hear a lot of things such as, I cannot afford Masters. One of the things that we do if we have a young person that comes to us and they tell us this, is we get one of the other swimmers on the team to sponsor that swimmer for them to be able to swim. We are not very expensive; we cost about $160 a year. Some swimmers can actually receive college credit for swimming with us. By doing this they are able to come out and not have that excuse. For swim meets, if we want them to go to Zones or Auburn or Nationals, we just came up with a program that we will help their expenses, except for the entry fees to go to the meet. We worked out a program that we don’t let our Masters swimmers really drive to go to out-of-town meets. We charter a bus so that way we can all relax. The younger swimmers get to meet the older swimmers. Everybody gets to socialize and I get to pull my hair out when we go to Cracker Barrel and they have a spit ball fight, as the older swimmers have started it. This gives them the opportunity to say, wait a minute, we are actually doing team trips like we used to do in age group and yet it makes it a lot more fun because they actually are being at the meet without their parents, getting to do something on their own. This is kind of fun. They are not pressured to have to sign up to do the 400 IM. Since they get to sign up for any events that they want, it gives them the opportunity to actually swim something at a meet that they are interested in. That was one of the things I had one young lady who just graduated from college and came into the program and thought that I was going to put her in events that she was swimming in college. I said no, we don’t work it that way. You get to pick your events and she turned around and said, Really? And I said Yeah, I don’t sign you up for your events at meets, I may make a suggestion at the meet if we need to score in certain areas, but we look at it that you want to swim something that you have never done before or never really had the opportunity that you want to go out and have fun because that is the biggest part of Masters is we get to have fun.
We have to make this a time to really enjoy swimming and get the swimmers who swam age group. I have one young lady who told me one day that she swam age group until she was 15. Her team made her go to the meets and she really did not like swimming at swim meets. She asked, are you going to make me go to a swim meet, and I said no that is all up to you. If you want to swim in a meet you can. If you don’t want to or you never want to do it again, you don’t have to.
The majority of Masters swimmers are just regular swimmers, lap swimmers, who never compete a day in their life. A lot do it for stress relief, they do it for the social aspects, they do it because they enjoy swimming and the health, the lifestyle, and that actually brings me to my next point: Childhood obesity. That is one of the things that we talk about to our Masters swimmers and is a grave concern and they have started going out and talking to their friends who they see that their children are not doing anything. They are on the computer all day playing video games. You never see them ride their bikes and you never see them get out. They are encouraging them to try and get into swimming where the older kids try to encourage them. Well, you are not going out and play football, you are getting in the pool and you are getting a chance to swim laps and you get a chance to get your heart rate up and you get a chance to lose weight or maintain weight without gaining weight. You have the opportunity to learn what a healthy lifestyle is and that is definitely a great point about Masters. It is definitely a healthy lifestyle. We get to see people who smoked for twenty years every day, three or four packs of cigarettes a day and then they quit and one of the things they see as a substitute to the smoking habit? Is they start a swimming habit because they swam as kids and they say well, I need to get back into the pool. I remember when I first started coaching, this gentleman who did smoke for twenty years, said it took him about 3-4 years for his lungs to stop hurting while he swam, and he said the day that that happened was one of the greatest days in his life. He was able to go out and swim a 1650 and not have his chest hurt one bit during that 1650 during workout. So, he got the chance to turn his lifestyle around from one that was unhealthy to a healthier life-style. We also have seen people who need to swim to control diabetes. I have a swimmer who is a cancer survivor. She swam to help to prevent the spread of the disease because that is one of the things that she was worried about. She was one of these people who ate organic food 90% of her life until when she became an adult. She said that swimming was the main thing that kept her going and helped go through chemo to go through all the treatments that she went through. She knew that she could still get in the pool. She could put a swim cap on and everybody looks the same with a swim cap on. She was able to get out there and enjoy being with her friends while she was fighting cancer and most of the team did not know that she had cancer at the time because she would wear a baseball cap coming into the pool. She would go into the locker room and get there early before the other ladies got there and then she would stay after practice and swim until most of the ladies were out of the locker room and go and change and most of the people did not know what she was dealing with. It gave her a chance to fight the depression which is another aspect of Masters swimming that we are able to do as exercise helps defeat depression.
We also know that Masters swimming is just plain fun. We can get out there. We can do things on a daily basis. Our swimmers, it is amazing, they challenge the coach sometimes to either make the workout harder or they start whining like they are 8 year olds and say Coach, that is too hard or we can’t handle that, but they have the opportunity to make adjustments and as coaches we are flexible. We are not the Hitlers, as one of my swimmers calls me sometimes, that push them so hard that they get burned out. We look at it as Masters coaches. We want to keep these people in the water for a long, long time. How many people here as Masters coaches have found that they have seen swimmers start swimming because their doctors told them too – most of you. How many coaches in here have noticed that swimmers started to continue swimming because their age group coach told them to? One person, two people actually – thank you. That is a big difference.
So I guess the big thing is what we need to do is we need to start talking to the age group coaches to the high school coaches to get our Masters swimmers involved in helping with their meets, going to the meets. I had an idea the other day, I was going to put a website address on the back of our team shirt and that way when you are walking around Wal-Mart or something like that and the little kids that are swimmers can see the back of your shirt. They go look at your website and see what your team is about. And also Y-teams – Pensacola does not have a YMCA team or program for swimming; but there are big parts of the rest of the country I know, such as in Indianapolis, YMCA Swimming is big. We can get out there and of course Lion’s Day is into lifelong swimming participation. Get out and start getting involved with those kids. This last summer, our Masters team took on a project to fund free learn-to-swim programs for kids who are participating in the school free-lunch program. We were able to raise over $10,000 and we had over 1200 swimmers or kids go through the program over the summer. We had the Masters swimmers go out and help teach some of those classes and the parents of those kids were so grateful that we did something like that to get those kids involved in the swimming to teach them how to swim.
As you know, Pensacola is right on the water. We have a lot of water around us. We have been in the news. Last year, the amount of drowning that we have had in the area and of course what is interesting, not one single one of those drowning was a resident of Pensacola, Florida. They were all tourists. So, that means to us, and one of the things our Masters team wanted to understand and were frustrated by, is why don’t the tourists know how to swim? Why don’t they know how to read? Because they go onto the beach and they are given the pamphlet saying this is what our flag warning system is. This is how you get out of a rip current, yet they just throw it off to the side of their car and keep on driving and hit the beach when the waves are about 8 feet tall. It is worse since there is a lot of beach re-nourishment underway. This makes it even worse. The rip tides are 8-10 feet out. Once we went to have an open water practice, the swimmers were going to go body surf. Two minutes later we decided that no, we are not. Because everyone knew it was too dangerous.
Masters programs in other parts of the country can sponsor programs for learn-to-swim. Get involved in the community. Let them know that we care about swimming for a lifetime. We are not there just to go to swim meets all the time. We want to make sure that the younger kids have the same opportunities that we do as adults to be able to swim. We did a strategic planning meeting with our team a couple of weeks ago, about a week before the storm and one of our goals in that meeting was to be more community involved. We wanted to be recognized as the team leader in the Pensacola area for community involvement. We wanted to be right up there with Red Cross, YMCA, and United Way. We wanted to be recognized as one of the top community programs involved in our area to help younger people stay in swimming. We have the Pensacola Sports Association, and we are seeking sponsorship for our team from them and we try to get them to write grants to help us fund some of our learn-to-swim programs that we want to do with the swimmers. We also want to start a program where we are going to sponsor under-privileged children to swim age group swimming. We want them to have the same opportunity as any other kid in the community to be able to go and swim and be able to participate. A number of years ago some one started a community based age group swim team in Philadelphia, I cannot remember the gentlemen’s name. This was started for under-privileged kids. It made a big difference with some of those kids, all Philadelphians. Some of them actually showed up on the National scene as juniors and seniors. They had some really fast kids. If he had not started that program, those kids would never have had the opportunity to get out and be able to swim or know that they could swim that fast.
Look, swimming is a lifelong sport. We get the age group kids involved now and they will stay with swimming for the rest of their lives. As coaches we have to be involved in our community. We have to be involved with the age groupers to get them to understand that masters swimmers are not just the old folks who are swimming in the lane next to us or taking up lane space or the ones wearing fins all the time when we can’t or the ones who, what was it, one kid told me that she complained that they were taking up all the shower space. She was going to go. We had finished practice one day at the same time with the age group kids and all the Masters swimmers took up all the showers and the kids got left out in the cold, but I had to tell our swimmers to let the kids in the showers also later.
I want to go ahead and take questions from anybody about transitioning kids from age group to Masters.
Question – Not noted. One of the things that we found is that some of our Masters swimmers are also some of the high school coaches and we did that to get so they are coaching the high school kids. Florida is kind of weird. High School coaches do not have to be teachers. The high schools contract out to other coaches in the community and pay them like $500 to come in, and they have a teacher sponsor that is on deck with them who is basically grading homework while the coach is actually on deck coaching the kids. This gives us a great opportunity to get out there and have some of our Masters’ swimmers coaching the high schools because they have kids involved in some of those programs and they let those kids know.
Question – Not noted. Wait a minute – you could have done this and that at a Masters meet sometimes with some of their relays or actually we had one relay that was faster than one of the relays at a high school district meet and the coaches let the kids know that they should have swam a lot faster than older people and that they could have the opportunity later on to and also like I said, we invite the high school swimmers to swim with us during the summer months. There are several colleges in the area, the University of West Florida, The Pensacola Christian College, and the Pensacola Junior College.
The University of West Florida – this school does not have a swim team program, but they do have a beautiful 50 meter pool and plans to build another 50 meter pool. They do not have plans to create a college swim team.
Pensacola Christian College – has a beautiful screened in 8 lane, 25 yard pool, with no swim team because they do not mix-bathe. The boys and the girls swim at separate times and they do not even see each other.
Pensacola Junior College – we are in the process actually of trying to get the college to recognize that we need to have a Junior College swim program.
For the last 3-4 years we have been working with the student newspapers of these colleges so that students know that there is swimming available at the colleges. These newspapers do an article once a year on our program. They come out and interview us and take pictures of the swimmers and they encourage the students to come out and swim with us and like I said, there is even the opportunity there they can get college credit for coming out and swimming with us. Our fees are basically – it is by the semester – it is $40, if they swim 3 times a week. It is $30 if they swim twice a week and that is for the entire semester or they pay $70 if they want to swim 5 days a week and on top of that, I don’t tell them which days that they have to show up to practice. Because we want to make sure that they can afford to swim and on top of it – life gets in the way sometimes. Actually the pool space – we get funding for our pool space through the state so that is one of the ways that we are able to make it work. Now, we have another pool that we are about to go into that we are going to have to rent out, but it is proportional – they are going to get a percentage of what the swimmers are paying versus we are paying a set hourly price. Yes, because some places in the country it is $30 an hour to rent the pool – oh, per lane there? When we first started our program we did and the college came back to us and said – told us that we can’t because their insurance was covering all of the swimmers in the pool because when they register with us and we found out – even if we go to another site – they register through us – if they would register through us through the college and pay that way, the college insurance covers them so – right – but what we are trying to do is – because we want to get our Masters membership numbers up – we are looking at making a lap fee that is the Masters membership that they have to pay each year and then the college can write the big check to USMS for that so – we are looking at doing that and trying to make sure that everybody gets the opportunity to have swim magazines and some of the other benefits. And that shows that it definitely does work. Our LMSC by the way – we are working on a project that we are going to fund – we are going to help sponsor age group/Masters type meets. If they have a sanctioned Masters meet – that is part of an age group meet we are going to give them $300 to do that. We already fund Masters meets – we give them a $500 bonus just to host a Masters meet – that sanction and they get the word out to all the teams – that is one of the requirements – all of the teams have to know about the meet and everybody has to have the opportunity to be able to participate so they got the $500 bonus money, but with the age group/Masters situation and said – well they are going to get money from the age group kids at the meet, but let’s give them the incentive to like get $300 extra dollars to help pay the meet expenses so it is definitely worthwhile to show that those kids – let them know that there are Masters programs out there. You were going to ask a question? Were the Masters swimmers actually – see? Opportunities abound – Anybody else have any other questions? So, I will just go ahead and conclude that Yes, Masters swimmering is not just – well – swimming is not just for age groupers – we are here for a life time. We are here to swim from the time that we are born and some people have births in bathtubs now days – from the time that they are born until we die – you have the opportunity to swim for your entire life and we need to get the message out there to promote swimming as a lifetime sport – not just an age group summer league type thing. We are there – you are around and we want to help age group coaches understand that we need to move past the element of kids swimming and stopping at the time that they are 18 or before. We want to make sure that every single one of those kids has the same opportunity that we do to continue swimming. Thank you very much, and I am glad that I had the opportunity to talk to you all today.