Davis Aquatic Masters: A Mega Team in a Small Town, What Makes it Work by Rick Powers (2007)


Introduction: “Welcome to the Masters Coaching Track. I don’t know if many of you were here on Wednesday evening when Mark Schubert gave his keynote address, which was spectacular and very inspiring. I want to go back to one thing he talked about and that is how tired he is of hearing people talk about the 70’s as the “heyday” of American swimming. He said he thinks right now we are in a heyday of our own, and I kind of agree, especially when you look around at how well we are swimming at the world level. He talked about why swimming is so in its heyday and why it’s doing so great right now in the United States. He says it is because we have team effort and commitment at the country club level, at the club level, at the high school level, right through to the collegiate level. I kept waiting for the next part, which I think is really through the duration of swimmers’ lives, and that is Masters swimming level, which truly is in a heyday itself. Especially in a place like Davis, and Masters swimming is definitely happening in Davis. It is one of the biggest teams in the United States. Our first speaker is Rick Powers and he comes from Davis. Prior to that Rick coached 41 years in 30 different countries with different clubs and clinics. A unique part of his program that I think is very unique is the traveling he has done with his team. He has gone all over the world swimming so I am hoping to hear some of that and see some pictures so – here you are.

Rick Davis Introduction

Thank you, Mo. The other thing I need to thank Mo for is about a month ago she sends an email, and it went out to all the coaches on the Masters track, asking to see our PowerPoint presentations. So my response was ‘What the hell are you talking about? I don’t even own a cell phone!’ Anyway, since I work at UC Davis with all these professors, I even called a couple of people and they said, ‘glad to help you out’, and so here we are. I think we are going to have a pretty nice PowerPoint presentation so you won’t just have to listen to me all the time today.

You see this cap that I have on? It’s a Chicago Cubs cap. I went to my first ASCA Clinic in 1973 in Chicago and I grew up in Chicago. As all the coaches do when they go to their first clinic, they sit out there in the seats and look up at the person behind the podium and they wonder, ‘will I ever make it to the other side?’ Having been a Cub fan since 1953, I was very patient and here we are today, so now I can take the cap off. I only wear this thing when the Cubs are in first place and that is why it always looks so new.

Davis Aquatic Masters

I had sort of retired from what I used to call serious coaching. In the year 2000 I was at a little club in Quincy, Illinois and it is one of those places with a bad aura and just about everything bad that could happen did happen in Quincy, including a tornado destroying our pool on the third day that I was there. It was the only building that was hit by the tornado, by the way, and the first tornado in 60 years to hit the town. So, after about a year and a half struggling I decided I had had enough problems with parents and so on. I took off and went around the world and gave clinics for about 16 months.

During that period I would check the job service and see what was out there and some of those clinics that I gave were for Masters’ teams. I really had no background, you know, as far as coaching Masters. I would go to these places – Sao Paolo, Brazil; Bangkok, Thailand, and there were these really nice people and they were really happy for the attention. They always took you out for a cold beer after the practice and it was just a really nice atmosphere that they had created for themselves. So, when I saw the ad for Davis Aquatic Masters I thought, well, I will give it a try.

At the time, I was in Zimbabwe and I mentioned in my reply that this was probably the only response you are going to get from Zimbabwe, which I am sure it was. I sent my application in and about two months later I got the reply that I was one of the three people selected for the interview. Now at that time I was in Brazil. So I came back from Brazil, went to Davis and took the interview. That night we had a party at the President’s house and I was carrying a couple of bottles of this Brazilian liquor with me. At the party I made these cocktails, which are a very, very delicious Brazilian drink. Now, the other candidate I guess was a “quilter” so the choice for coach was between a bartender or a quilter, for the Masters team. It was pretty cut and dried. Fortunately, I was not applying for an age group job because I think the quilter would have gotten that one.

That is what started it out and up to that time I had spent 34 years coaching ‘serious’ teams. It was serious in the sense that you dedicated yourself to prepare a team, whether it was a National team or a college team, for a very big meet. You did your taper, and you got that physical high when everybody swam well or hopefully, swam well, and that was what it was all about. It was about competitive swimming.

It took me about a year to get my head into what Masters swimming was all about and Davis is kind of a funny team. We’ll talk about some of the reasons why Davis Aquatic Masters is such a big team, but you really need a different mindset when you are coaching Masters. I don’t know how many of you were at the first session this morning, but Steve had a session about ways to teach turns. Was anybody at that? He made a comment at the end about what he expects from swimmers, but you really can’t have the same expectations with Masters swimmers as you do with age group swimmers. You have a whole wide range of reasons why people are there and you can’t expect everybody to do perfect turns and to touch with two hands. You’re not going to have a lot of swimmers there for a long time so you have to be a little bit more flexible with Masters swimmers. Are any of you doing the Masters school tomorrow? We will get into that in more detail, but basically you can have a lot of fun with Masters, a whole lot of fun.

We are going to go into a little bit of the history of Davis Aquatic Masters, which was founded by “Mr. Ironman” Dave Scott. I am sure all of you guys, even if you are young probably have heard the name. I think he won the Ironman in Hawaii five or six times. He was at Davis for seven years and he got the team going. Another of the great coaches that was there was Mike Collins who is at Nova now and I think he was there for 8 or 9 years and did a tremendous job. I am actually just the 5th coach, so you can figure in the history of about 32 years they have been able to keep coaches for a long time, giving the program some real stability.

Last year I think we had about 670 members. Davis, being a college town has a huge turnover rate. Probably 65-70% of our members are connected with the University either as students, faculty or administrative people. You lose the students at the end of the year and a new batch comes in, so we have about 250 new people each year, which is probably larger than most Masters teams year-round. One of the big tests we have as coaches is learning everybody’s name because it is a continuous battle.

We average about 450 members per month. The population of Davis is about 80,000, and there are about 30,000 students at UC Davis. In addition, we are only 15 minutes away from Sacramento so we also draw quite a few people from Sacramento onto our team. Another advantage that I have personally, I think, is the fact that I have worked in many different countries and speak several languages. There are many grad students at UC Davis working on post-docs and so on and when the word gets out that the coach speaks Portuguese, all the Brazilians come and join the team. I also speak Spanish so the Spanish and the people from the other Latin American countries are able to come in and feel comfortable immediately with someone who can communicate with them even if their English isn’t too great.

Here’s a picture of our main facility. We run eight practices a day out of this facility. The little building in back was built through a contribution from the city and the local age group team. It cost about $280,000. There are a couple of offices in it and there is storage space and a room for doing dry-land training or holding Board Meetings. For $280,000 you can build a beautiful house somewhere, but this is what we got, the best we could do.

The pool is an 8-lane, 25-yard pool. We use one other pool for another morning practice that is also 8 lanes, 25 yards and there we also do eight workouts a day. We run two workouts on Saturday morning. We have lap swim for our members from 10:00am to 1:00pm on Saturday and Sunday, so basically, we run 364 days a year. We have practice on every National Holiday, Saturday and Sunday and we have the lap swims. The only day of the year that we actually do not swim is the first Saturday of June when we run the _____________ Open Water Swim. We have many swimmers participate and about 100+ volunteers who go out there so that is the only day we actually close down.

When you leave Davis and you go somewhere else to swim Masters, you really miss having these options that we give people. We receive emails all the time saying, you know, I moved to wherever and they have two workouts a week, one at 5:30 in the morning and one at 9 o’clock at night, etc. So it is really a good deal and you never appreciate things until you leave and see what you lost, but it is a pretty great program.

Okay, we do a maximum of 40 swimmers per workout. In other words, we have five people maximum to a lane. Of course like everybody else does, we designated fastest to slowest on the lanes and we have what is called a priority system whereby depending on your longevity with the club, you are allowed to sign up for a certain workout of your preference. Since only 40 people can sign up for each workout, if there is a crowded workout you have priority for that workout. You get in first and then if there is any space left anyone else can get in. However, it is very rare that we have to turn anybody away. There are a couple of workouts that are always going to be crowded, like the 6:15pm one, with people coming in after work. Occasionally the 6:00am is also crowded. We are very close to the University, about a block and a half away, so you can just walk over to the pool. Sometimes that 12 o’clock noon workout will be very crowded and basically, at 40 people we close it down and ask people to come back at another time. However it is probably only five or six times a year that I have to turn anybody away because with all of these different options and choices that you have, after a while the swimmers figure out which are the light workouts. If they know they are coming to a crowded one they will know for the next time to come to another workout that is easier to get into.


We have a head coach, a head assistant coach who works 18-20 hours per week, two other part-time assistants who cover about 2-3 hours a week and then we have several substitute coaches who will come in when we need them, such as when I am traveling or when one of my assistant coaches is on vacation. We then have several lifeguards who will come in and cover the lap swims on weekends. We also have a half-time treasurer who covers all of the financial aspects of the club.


This year our operating budget is $225,000. That covers mostly the rental of the swimming pools, which runs about $70,000 per year. It used to be that the city would pretty much jerk us around as far as the cost of the pool and just raise the cost any time they felt like it, without giving us any explanation. We finally formed our own little committee and met with the city and came up with a system that averages the cost over three years and then you take that average and as the cost for the following year. That has worked pretty well now for about five years and we just got the word from the city that they plan to change that. We don’t know what the change is going to be yet, but it is going to just mean another hassle for us, we are obviously the largest supporter of the city financially. Nobody comes close to what we pay the city for the rental of the pools so they have to kind of be a little bit leery of how they can jack up the price. We have about 450 people each month, many of them very influential in the town, so there would be a big stink if they try to do something that is above the board.

Included in the budget are salaries, and miscellaneous, including all of the equipment that we have to buy. One of the things that you find out with a team of this size is that when you buy a pair of fins that were made for somebody to use one hour a day and then all of a sudden they are using them eight hours a day is those fins do not last too long, so we buy a lot of fins. We also buy a lot of elastic for the swim paddles. We do not use a lot of equipment and some people will bring their own. They have the little equipment bag that they are always used to, but that is another cost for the club. We have available for the swimmers things like swim caps and goggles for sale to make a little bit of a profit for ourselves.

Coaching Masters

Like I said before, when I first started out coaching Masters it was really a big shock because when you coach kids or you coach college, when you bark, everybody jumps. But in Masters, when you bark everybody just kind of looks at you like, ‘Yeah, right, sure I am going to touch with two hands.’ We have all the different types of Masters swimmers you have seen. We have the people that only swim with fins; we have the people that only swim with pull buoys; and we have the people that pull on the lane line all the time. We have all these things.

I was talking to a coach last night after the dinner and he said, ‘You know, I tried coaching Masters a little bit and I just couldn’t do it because nobody listened, nobody paid attention.’ You basically have to understand that it is just the way it is and to not get upset about it. You get a little bit of a thick skin and after awhile you just have fun with it. You joke around with those people. You know, occasionally we will give them an award for the “lane line puller of the year” and this kind of stuff and it is all good.

The thing with Masters is hey, you come in late, you leave early, so what? That person just got a half an hour of exercise and that is what Masters is all about. Of course you do have your competitive people, but for our club 90-95% of team is a fitness team and that means these people do not go to meets. So it is a different mind-set really, that you have to have when you work with a team of that size and with so many varied reasons why the swimmers are there at the pool.

Another positive is you do not have to deal with parents any more. I tell you, that is something that after a while you just can’t believe that you do not have to go into the pool thinking about who is going to come and hassle you after practice because their little Johnny or little Mary didn’t swim well at the last meet and so on. It makes a huge difference.

You also do not have the stress to produce results at swim meets anymore. When you go to a swim meet with your Masters swimmers you have a tailgate party after each day. Most of these people didn’t swim more than two or three times a week anyway so they aren’t going to blame you if they swim slow. If they swim fast everybody is happy and if they swim slow we still give them a pat on the back. It is a whole different mindset even there. It is not like you are taking a group of 20 people to Nationals and you’re stressed out wondering if they going to swim fast. You know how it is with the swimmers. If they swim fast they did great. If they don’t swim fast it is the coach’s fault, which is the way it is in all other sports. So you see, it is a huge change as far as a coach is concerned when you are doing the Masters thing. You do not have that stress level and it is great.

Friendships with the Swimmers

Because Davis is a university town with so many interesting people from all over the world, I have the best social life I have ever had. There are people inviting me over for dinner a couple of times a week. We go out to movies together, we go out to a concert, it is just really a wonderful bunch of people and we have a great time with it. It’s like the fine print on the contract in that you don’t realize the benefits until you get into that kind of situation. You cannot really do that with parents of age group swimmers. If the parent of an age group swimmer invites you over and then says ahh, are you gonna give little Johnny a little more attention now that you had dinner at my house? You know that kind of a thing.

With Masters it is just totally different, it is just above board good people having some fun and that is what it is all about. Swimmers get out of the water and they say, ‘Thank-you, coach.’ The first time that happened to me I looked around to see who they were talking to. When was the last time one of your age groupers got out of the water and said, ‘Thank-you, coach for the workout,’ you know? That is wonderful and you feel good about it, they feel good about it. I am sold on it. I could never go back to coaching kids again. This is the best.

Increased Revenue For The Coach

If you are a part-time coach, like an age group coach and you want to make a little more revenue – add an hour or two hours a day with a Masters group. You are going to have a low stress situation for coaching and you are going to possibly double your salary working with the Masters. You just have to realize it is a different kind of situation, different mentality, and you can have a great time with it and you can increase your salary.

Satisfaction Of Seeing The Swimmers Improve

This is something you experience on a daily basis. When the swimmers first join, instead of spending your time with the fast swimmers, spend your time with the slow swimmers. Those slow swimmers are going to improve every single day. You are going to see a smile on their faces. They are going to be so happy with you. When you have somebody walk in that door, give them special attention, set that hook in their mouth and they are going to be with you for a long time. What I recommend is always spend more time with the slower swimmers. Capture them into the program and don’t worry so much about the faster swimmers. They know why they are there, they have been swimming for years and you just basically wind them up and watch them go. It is a lot easier to work with the faster swimmers because it is more taxing on your time with the slower swimmers, but you get a HUGE satisfaction out of seeing the slower swimmers progress.

There is another side of coaching Masters which I could have called the negative side, but it is really just a different mindset that you encounter and it is not so negative once they understand what you are doing. You do have some swimmers who think they know more about coaching than you do. You have those people who were hotshot college swimmers or high school swimmers, or whatever, and they tell you, ‘Thirty years ago I did it this way.’ Well, things have changed in thirty years and you know that they don’t know it, but fortunately, there are some people that do listen to you.

We have had a couple of relays that broke National records, and these are swimmers anywhere from 4 to 10 years out of college who swam as fast or faster on these relays than they ever did in college, working out one hour a day, rather than the four or five hours a day that they used to do. So even though you have a large program, you don’t see these people every single day like you did with the group of senior swimmers that you might have coached for a couple of years.

The people who are there at Masters who want to swim fast and put everything into that one hour can still continue to improve. You can improve their technique if you have a good relationship with them. They believe in you and they can swim really fast. Some of them will and some of them won’t believe in you and that is okay too. You know, you can’t make the change in everybody that you wished you could. There are just too many people out there and again – you are not seeing everyone every day.

You send the workout out on email to your assistant coaches, nine workouts a day. I cover four workouts each day and then I cover the Saturday morning, so everyone is doing basically a standard workout. Hopefully the swimmers are going to get something good out of it by putting into the workout whatever they can. Basically they have to trust themselves and they have to make an effort and they can swim very fast with a one hour workout a day. It does happen. Swimmers arrive late, leave early, again, who cares. Don’t get upset about it, just the fact that they are there, welcome them with open arms. If they came in late, they are probably stressed out, rushing in 20 minutes late, saying, ‘Coach, I am sorry.’ Tell them you don’t have to be sorry, you are here. Tell them to swim a little more into the next workout, get their hour in, and they get a good workout and that is what it is all about. It is, you know, your head changing into the Masters situation.

Large Team

You may see some swimmers infrequently. Some swimmers you never see at all. If I am coaching the mornings of Monday, Wednesday and Friday, there are swimmers that only ever come on Tuesday and Thursday. I may see them at a party some time, and the conversation may go, ‘Oh, you are the head coach. I’m so and so and I have been swimming for years.’ And you say, ‘Oh, okay, nice to see you.’ And this is just part of it. You know they are there and they are having fun, a good time. You are having a good time. If you don’t see the person, I mean some of our best members are the people who come once a month. They are the ones who pay their dues and then every once in a while I will get an email, ‘Ahh, I think I will show up this month. You know, great, love ya, yeah. Again, this is a Masters mindset, not an age group mindset. It makes a HUGE, HUGE difference. You are going to have a lot of fun. You are not going to stress out if you can just change a little bit the way you think about it.

Do you have a question? Q: What is the contribution? A: $44.00 a month.

Philosophy Of Coaching Kids

This is a (picture of a) team that I coached back in Greece about twenty years ago and it is the team actually that we visited on our trip to Greece this summer. We had our swim meet against many of these kids who are now into their 30’s and they organized the meet for us and everything. So, create an atmosphere where young people enjoy swimming for reasons as varied as health, friendship, winning scholarships, attaining local and national recognition, make the experience fun while instilling the concepts of discipline and sacrifice necessary to swim fast. In a nutshell that would be the philosophy I have used in the years that I was coaching kids.

I have grown into a different philosophy for coaching Masters. Create an environment for adults to swim for fitness by offering variety in workouts, flexibility in scheduling, stroke correction to improve efficiency in the water, and promote competitive activities for those inclined to compete. That way you cover everybody here. If you want to compete we have meets to go to. If you don’t want to compete, that is just perfectly fine and you need to make people know that so they do not feel stressed out.

I would love to have the whole team compete. It would be incredible if we could go to a meet and kick everybody’s butt, but I have learned to accept that that is not going to happen in Davis and you know, if by some miracle it did, I would feel like a regular coach again, but it is a different mentality. You can have just as much fun with it – even if they don’t compete and that is the important thing.

Promoting Masters Program

Word of mouth is probably the most important thing in Davis. If you have somebody out there who is enjoying your program, they are going to talk to their neighbors. The college kids are going to talk to the other college kids that come in each year. There are so many college kids who swam in high school maybe, just summer league or just high school season, and others that swam pretty seriously in high school who do not have the time to go out for a college swimming team or they just are not quite good enough to go out for a college team and they find that Masters is a great alternative. They can put in the time they need to study and they can do a little bit of swimming and some of them go to meets and some don’t.

For us, the University is an incredible factor with the success of the size of the club. One of our t-shirts reads, “DAM Swimmers Kick Butt” and we promote it thru t-shirts sales, and with mugs. We have different programs where if you would get a new member to come in and that member would stick with you for two months, then you get a free t-shirt or a free mug or the new member would get a free mug. We change the programs every year.

When you come into DAM you get three free tries. A lot of people, when they walk in that door are intimidated by the fact that it is a swim team and you have to put an arm around them, make them feel comfortable and make them understand that this is not a competitive team. This is a fitness program for adults. We tell them that if eventually you would like to compete we are offering all of these things, but right now, come in here and when you start the workout when you feel tired you sit out a 50. Rest extra whenever you have to, we want these people to feel comfortable. They can come in and get a workout that is geared to the level of each swimmer, and not feel intimidated by the people over there on the faster side of the pool and not worry about keeping up with the people in the next lane and so on. That is the bottom like. If you can capture those people, and most of the people that come in are people that do not have a competitive swimming background, you need to make them feel comfortable. The bottom line is to have a huge team you have to have those people who maybe are not competitive swimmers.

As you probably know some of the teams in our area have a competitive requirement to stay on the team. In other words you have to compete for the team twice a year or three times a year, whatever it is, but we would lose half of our members if we had that. So the way I look at swimming for adults is this is a great exercise. This is for your health. So many swimmers come in because of various health reasons like they can’t run anymore and so we accommodate them. If a swimmer can’t kick, he can pull; if he can’t pull he kick, you know, you always look for a way to keep them in the water and that is what it is all about. That is how you grow your team by making that experience available to everyone regardless of the different physical problems that they have.

Flyers On Campus

When school starts again in September or October, we give flyers to the kids and to the professors. They put them up all over campus so that has helped bring some people in. On campus they have a day on the quad, which allows all of the organizations in town to set up a booth on the quad on campus and you can give out flyers and information to the students. We get a few people that way. We have a Farmer’s Market on Saturdays and Wednesday evening and that Farmer’s Market is right across the street from our main pool, so every once in a while we will get some of the Board Members and other volunteers to set up a little booth and pass out flyers and talk to people at the Farmer’s Market.

We also have a joint membership with two health clubs in town. Peak Performance is the one that most of our members have joined. There are about 70 people that have this dual membership now. They were very interested because they didn’t have a swimming pool and they wanted to say that they did have access for their members so we have a joint membership now with these two health clubs where we give them about a 25% discount if you join both and they give the same discount so it has worked out really well. Winter in Northern California can be a little bit nasty. It can be cold, rainy, and/or foggy. There are days when the swimmer gets out of bed and doesn’t want to go to the pool. Instead, he goes over to Peak Performance and he works out over there so we are keeping people in the water andwe are keeping them healthy. It is also retaining the members for us through the dark days of the winter and it is also giving our members an option to do something else on those days so it is one of the best things that we have done in the last few years. When we joined with Peak Performance, they actually had a movie ad that showed the pool and the coach and the swimmers in the water and that ran for about three weeks in all of the movie houses. That pulled some people in as well.

Discounted Membership

The dark months, January, February and March, when the weather is cold and rainy and so on, several people will drop their memberships. We probably lose about 30 or 40 members in those months so we have a special for those months. If you join in January you pay $29.00 a month for January, February and March, rather than the $44.00 normal fee. We usually pull in about 30 members through that and probably half of them stay with the club after it does warm up so it fills the coffers again a little bit and it brings in some members because the price is very attractive.

We have DAM caps over here, we have car stickers, license plate holders, different ways to promote our program. Just use your imagination. DAM tattoos okay? When we go to meets, our swimmers wear tattoos and at open water swims we wear tattoos to promote the club. Our website is: www.damfast.org. You will find all sorts of information on that website. We put up our email of the week, which is an email sent out to all the members with whatever is going to be happening thru the next week or the coming weeks, so that information is out there. Nowadays a lot of the younger people that we get to join the club does find out about us through the website because everybody is on the web nowadays. Before it used to be 90% word of mouth, but the website has been a big factor recently.

Membership Fees And Rules:
Our Initiation fee is $5.00 to join, $44,00 a month. If you are over 65 you get a $5.00 discount. If you are over the age of 80 (and we now have probably six or seven people over 80) you do not have to pay dues any more. Only one of those people over 80 doesn’t pay dues and all the others feel that what they are getting out of DAM is so important for them that they are still willing to make that contribution.

We began auto-billing in 2005; it was an absolute nightmare before that. We had a woman who had been our treasurer for many, many years and she would take every check, over 450 checks a month, and write down the number of the check. She got a pretty good salary doing that because she was paid by the hour. I tried to promote this for a couple of years until finally the club agreed and we stated this and what would happen? The students would leave in June and they would never pay that last month so all these people would vanish and now with auto-billing it is just the opposite. You are paying automatic billing so if you forget to cancel it we get the extra money. It works a lot better for us. The PMS fee, which is the health insurance coverage through USMS, is $35.00 and this may be going up next year, we do not know that yet.

We already explained the priority numbers to you. Everybody who joins either gets a priority for a certain workout or they can get what is called “an assigned”. An assigned just means that you can pop in at any workout. You do not have to worry about the priority number, which works just as fine. Once a year we have re-enrollment, where you can maybe change your priority number when you re-enroll. There are a lot of the older members who love to look at that list of priority numbers and see who died during the year, and if their priority number improved. Am I a single digit? Am I double digit? It is a big thing. It is kind of a social thing for the people.

Innovative Programs

We do stroke clinics twice a year where I, my assistant coaches, and some of the top swimmers will help out and it kind of looks like this: We take the lane lines out. All the swimmers will be on one side of the pool. I have my assistant coach on the other side and a couple of swimmers working with them in the water. We will count off by 3’s or 4’s and run groups across to the other side, working on drills.

First we start out with a little video clip showing them some of the top swimmers and things that we are going to be looking for and explain some of the drills that will be done. We get them in the water and have the faster swimmers or the assistant coaches demonstrate the drills and then run the swimmers across the pool for about an hour and a half to an hour and 45 minutes. We cover all the basic techniques and the turn and that has worked really well. Not only do we get a lot of swimmers from our own team, but we publish the event on the PMS website, which is a specific Masters website, for the last couple of years and pick up quite a few swimmers from other teams in the Bay Area. They pay a little bit higher. It used to be that I just had a sign up sheet and everybody would sign up, but about half of them wouldn’t show up so we started charging $3.00. Now everybody that signs up and pays the $3.00 in advance shows up and then we charge $10.00 for non-DAM members and we pull in quite a few people. Some are just kind of interested in checking out the team and maybe improving their stroke a little bit. We catch a few of them and they join the team as well, so, it has worked out really well. We average about 30 people per clinic and there are four clinics. They are on Saturday and Sunday afternoons from 1:00 to 2:30 or 2:45 and we do that twice a year.

Start Clinics

The Saturday previous to certain meets where we expect a few more than the average swimmers to attend I will do about 45 minutes to an hour of working with swimmers on their starts in our diving well. We do not have starting blocks in either of the two pools that we use for training but the diving well has four blocks on it. Those interested swimmers will come in and we will go through the technique for the new swimmers and just practice some starts for the faster swimmers who already know what they are doing but do not have the opportunity to practice starts on a regular basis.

Timed Trials

About four or five times a year on a Saturday morning in place of the 8:30-10:00 workout we will have time trials, which will be different push-off-the-wall events each time. We will run five events. Swimmers will sign up during the previous two weeks and then on Friday night I will take the sign up sheet home and I will put them in the heats. We will put stop watches out and the swimmers not swimming in that heat will time the swimmers who are. Everybody gets a sheet to take home with their results on it so they can write down their results event by event. They can then bring that back each time there is another time trials and see their progress. This is a way to get swimmers involved since we do not have many swimmers who go to competitions and don’t want to take the time commitment for a three-day meet or even a one-day meet. This takes an hour and a half and they can have a little bit of a flavor of competition and maybe catch a few people to go to a meet in the future.

Brute Squad

Brute squad is something that I think Mike Collins probably started and it is an event that we have in November which involves the 200 butterfly, a 400 IM and a 1650 freestyle. The events run back to back. Yes, it did start with Ross. Okay, thank you. Ross is an old DAM swimmer from way back. So basically, what we do is we came up with a nice design for a sweatshirt that you can buy as a commemorative shirt of the event. We run the swimmers through these three events and we probably get about 20 swimmers to participate each year. I try to make it clear that if you have shoulder problems it is probably not a good thing to do. Each year we will have some of the same swimmers and there will always be one or two new ones who want to challenge themselves, and it is fun. It gives them something to strive for and there are swimmers who, you know, kind of like the Cubs, think ‘Well, next year I will do the Brute Squad.’ Eventually they may do it and feel pretty good about it and they wear the sweatshirt around town so it is kind of cool.

Overseas Trips

This is one of the things that I am most proud of doing with DAM. As you know I coached overseas for almost 25 years in 10 different countries. So what I do is I twist some arms from all those people that I knew over the years in these different countries. I say, “Look, I have a group of Masters swimmers. Some are pretty good and some are just starting out and they want to travel so I need you to justify a trip by having a meet.”

For example for the trip to Greece this year we planned the trip a year ahead of time. I made up the program for the meet and I sent it to them a year ahead of time. The Greek organizers only published the event three weeks before we went, so we had more DAM Swimmers participate in that meet than we had Greek swimmers. Most of the Greek swimmers were putting their cigarettes out on the blocks before they got up to swim. Anyway, the point of it being that we have a great time on these trips and we swim this little meet or we have an open water swim and people come back.

There are people who have been on every single trip that we have taken. We have been to Brazil twice, Greece twice, Portugal, and we are going to the Galapagos Islands next year. We have 47 people signed up already for the trip to the Galapagos. They are taking their kids. We do it very, very cheaply. I use my contacts in those countries, rather than the travel agencies here, and for example, we spent under $2,500/person for 17 days in Greece, all inclusive, airfare, hotels, food, you name it. It is going to cost just $2,000 to go to the Galapagos next year for 17 days and that is all inclusive as well.

It is something really neat for the swimmers. There are a lot of the swimmers who never traveled overseas. Now here they are going with their coach who is their friend, translator, and tour guide. It is kind of a package thing. It is almost like going with family. This year we had six swimmers from different teams in the Bay Area that went with us and within 24 hours they were part of the family. DAM Swimmers are all-embracing and we really have a good time with this and again, like I say, we have swimmers that come back year after year. It is a very nice way to travel. We do all the cultural stuff. We go to the museums. We have beach time. We have the competitive part. We have training and we train open water so we get a little taste of everything. If any of you are interested get in touch with me we can talk about it. I will give you some tips on how to set these things up, because it is really something special.

Okay, I am just going to show you a few of the photographs. This is outside of Rio de Janeiro, an old fortress that we were in looking out to the sea. This is a beautiful, beautiful place in Northern Brazil, called the _______ of _______. It is a very special place. It has about 50 kilometers of pure white sand dunes and rainwater lagoons. We actually trained in some of those lagoons. You take an old pick-up truck out to this place and then you just kind of hike across these dunes and it is absolutely an incredible spot.

This was one of the swim meets, and this is one of our swimmers, in _______, Brazil. It is a beautiful, beautiful pool. Brazil is a great place to go. Their Masters swimming is very well organized. There were 800 swimmers at the competition so you can get a good event with good training time and you can see a wonderful, wonderful country with incredible people. When they would start the events as soon as the swimmers jumped in the water they put on samba music and everybody was dancing around on the deck. You can’t beat that.

This is Portugal in 2005. These are just some shots of the different towns that we went to. We went to Southern Portugal, the Algarve, and spent a couple of days on the beach there, absolutely gorgeous huge beaches. These are our swimmers and some of the Spanish swimmers that came over for the meet. The competition was sponsored by three wineries and the result of that was that the awards instead of being medals were bottles of champagne and wine so we had so much to carry home we ended up having to have a happy hour for the next week before we got back on the plane. That was pretty nice as well, one of the perks you know.

Okay, this is Greece, 2007, our trip this year. These are the Minoan ruins of Kenosis, an absolutely fabulous spot on the Island of Crete. This is the entrance to the little island of Edra where we just did a day trip and walked up the mountain to the monastery on top. This is the town where I spent four years coaching in _______ on the Northwest corner of Crete, a beautiful little town where we had our swim competition. This is the pool where I used to coach and we had the meet, and this is the award ceremony after. Here are a bunch of the swimmers waiting for the sunset on the island of Melos up on the top where the little chapel is. Here is one of the beaches in Melos. A lot of these islands are off the beaten path and people hardly know about them and these are the places to go. Again, if you are interested you just let me know and I will set you up a good trip.

This is Samaria Gorge. We took a 10-mile walk down this narrow gorge, starting from about 7,000 feet at the top of the White Mountains and it comes out on the south side of Crete. There’s a beautiful little beach – everybody just strips down and jumps in the water and it is the most refreshing thing.

Designated Meets And Open Water Swims

On the competitive side, we try to promote the three Pacific Masters Swimming Championships: short course yards, long course meters, and short course meters in the fall. We get anywhere from 30 to 60 people to go to the short course meet, which is probably the biggest attendance of any of the meets that we have nowadays. Summer championships are anywhere from a dozen to 20 people attending the long course and then probably about a dozen in the fall.

There is a Valentines Affair that is the first meet of the season. It is at the University of San Francisco at a beautiful 50-meter indoor pool. We will get about 20 to 25 swimmers who go to that. Now one of the things when you go on our summer trips is that you are required to do is go to one other meet during the year. Many of the swimmers that go are not competitive swimmers and I at least want them to have a taste of competing so this helps us get a few people to go to another meet who might not often do so otherwise.

In June we will have probably 50 to 60 of the DAM swimmers participating in the actual swims at Lake Berryessa. Tomorrow we have about 30 swimmers going to Whiskey Town and they will camp overnight, have a good experience with that and then there is the Saturday timed trials. There are other meets on the PMS schedule that occasionally one or two swimmers might go to.

We have very few people participating in the National Championships. I think we had seven swimmers at short course and one or two at long course this year. If it is close by we will have more swimmers going, but mostly they won’t put in the financial obligation to go to a meet of that length and that size, unfortunately.

Social Aspects

We have four major organized parties each year. We have the Hat Party, which is kind of a kick-off to the social season in March. Any crazy hat will get you in the door and we do some dancing and potluck and the club pays for the booze, which is also pretty nice for a lot of the swimmers. In the summertime we have an outdoor barbecue and we have our annual meeting in November when we have our elections for the new Board of Directors. The President gives kind of a State of the Union Address before the new President takes over.

We have what used to be called the Christmas Party but it is now called the Holiday Party because someone complained, but we have fun with that and we give awards. We have a Swimmer of the Year Award, which will be presented at the holiday party and that is given to the person who competitively did the best swimming over the year in a number of events. Each month we have a performance of the month award that goes in the newsletter and the performance of the month is somebody who did well the previous month in a competitive event or somebody who trained really well. We also have a swimmer of the month award that goes to a volunteer who made some kind of excellent contribution to the club over that previous month or throughout the year.

After the Berryessa swim we take all the area race directors and each of those are given a swimmer of the month award for one month, starting with the directors themselves. The nice thing about these parties is the average attendance is anywhere from 50 to 80 depending on the time of the year and depending on the type of party. It gets people together from different groups who may never see each other so it gets people to socialize a little bit, a little more community kind of thing.

We have card parties. I get people together at my house probably every other month and I just choose people from different groups who don’t know each other and we play a real fun game and we have a few drinks and some snacks and whatever. It’s just another way to get swimmers introduced into the social scene of the club and then again, there is the annual meeting. Here is (a picture of) our hat party. There is your bread and there is your cheese and I don’t know what the other woman has on, but they all seem to be having a good time. These are two of our former presidents acting a little crazy, but that is what Davis Aquatic Masters is all about. Okay, there I am mixing some drinks. Again, that is the drink that got me the job and so at the barbeque each summer, I am out there. I buy a bunch of lemons and limes and bring in this Brazilian booze and make some really delicious drinks.

We have another award called the Lillian Rowen Award, which goes to a senior swimmer who over a long period of time has made contributions to the club. That person will receive a little plaque, which is made by one of our local artists. We have a fift exchange at the Christmas party, usually gag gifts, fun gifts and that is always a lot of fun for the swimmers. This is a picture of the Lake Berryessa Swim on the first Saturday in June and we have had up to 1,200 swimmers participate.

This year we made over $19,000, which is almost double what we have been making on a regular basis. Like all corporations, we were able to cut some of the fluff from the expenses and bring down a lot of expenses by getting more things donated. For example, Rally’s supermarkets donated $1,000 for food. We get one of the swim shops in town to donate most of the cost of the swim caps and so on and so forth. We have a tremendous number of donations now on things that we used to have to buy and so it is very helpful in being able to control your dues if you have this extra cash flow coming in.

We have approximately 100 volunteers helping out in the various areas. The race director gets a $1,500 stipend and then 10% over anything that we make over $5,000 so this is also an advantage for the race director to be a little more conscientious about how much money is spent and this has helped us increase the profit on the event. This is a couple of shots of Berryessa. We have youth swims as well and the youth swims have been getting way more popular than we ever expected. Every year there are more and more people coming to the youth swims. Here are the people who are running out of the water at the finish line and we have a theme every year and the theme was Pirates this year and so here are some of our volunteers all dressed up as pirates.

Workout design

Your mission is to try to please 400+ swimmers. How can you do it? It is impossible to please everybody and that is one of the things that coaches have to understand with Masters. One day I was chatting after a party with my first president, the president who hired me, and I mentioned a couple of people who all they do is bitch and moan about the workouts. He said, ‘Look, you just made 400 people happy. If you have a couple of people that bitch and moan, don’t worry about it!’ And that is the way it is. You have to remember, you have to make a workout that is going to satisfy the majority of your swimmers. There is always going to be somebody unhappy with the workout and you just have to live with it and when you can, explain to them if they did this workout the way it was meant to be done they would get something out of it. There is always somebody who is going to be complaining and just don’t worry about that too much.

So as far as workout design, this is something that I think is very important for you guys to remember. If you have a swim team that doesn’t have the focus, as in competition, you don’t need to do the things that you did with your age group team and your high school team or college team in terms of a season plan. You don’t need a season plan if you don’t have a season. I mean, think about it, why spend all of your time, pre-season, mid-season, taper, if nobody is going to meets? Instead, give them a variety. Cover all of the energy systems each week and give the great majority of the swimmers a workout where they are going to have fun. They are going to do anaerobic sets and aerobic sets where they are going to cover all of the strokes each week. It is going to break up the monotony for them.

We have a lot of swimmers who swim faster than they swam in college without having a seasonal plan, which they were used to having before, so it is what you put into it as a swimmer that is going to determine what you get out of it. You can swim really fast with this kind of a philosophy and not get upset because someone is saying, ‘Hey, where is the season plan?’ I say, ‘What season? Tell me what season and then I will give you a season plan.’ That is really what you have to think about. We are improving fitness. We are improving efficiency in the water by working on drills and by working with the swimmers individually on their strokes and they are going to improve to a certain point just with that.

In the former system there were designated days for types of workouts. We had a little calendar posted and Monday would be sprint day, Tuesday would be aerobic day, Wednesday would be IM, and so on. What would happen is swimmers who didn’t like to do IM never showed up on Wednesday, the swimmers who didn’t like to sprint never showed up on Monday, etc. So that is one of the first things that I changed. It is potluck in the sense that you will come to the pools and you will get a good workout and it may not be exactly what you want to do, but if you put your heart into it and do that workout correctly, you are going to get something good out of it. I have had numerous swimmers tell me, ‘You know, I always used to avoid the backstroke day and now I am swimming a good backstroke. It’s amazing. I never thought I could do it.’ You can open up a lot of doors for swimmers and the more varied the workout the more fun it is going to be, so don’t let them shut the doors on themselves. This is why I like to vary it. The first five minutes we a do-it-yourself warm-up. I’ve got one hour to coach these people. I am going to give them a one-hour workout. You know, I walk in there and in five minutes people would be mostly just standing around chatting so we get in on the hour and some people do get in late and again, so what? But the people who want to get in and get a 60 minute workout will get a 60 minute workout.

My workouts do not follow a predictable pattern. We will go 3,500 yards in a one-hour workout for the fast lanes. We do have a group on Tuesday mornings at the other pool in which the early morning workout has a 4,000 freestyle set. They will warm-up on their own for about ten minutes and do a 4,000 kick-butt freestyle set that is something that has become part of the tradition now.

We do kick and drill sets 4 to 5 times a week – no more than 200 to 300 yards doing the kicks and the drills. We use fins every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, anywhere from 500 to 1,000 yards of fin work, and we do that for kicking and for drilling. A lot of our butterfly swimming is done with fins and we also use the fins for sprinting. When we have an IM set there is usually a choice of IM or backstroke which accommodates those swimmers who have shoulder problems or maybe can’t swim the butterfly. There are the swimmers that have leg problems and can’t do the breaststroke so they have that option also and since IM and backstroke is going on about the same sendoff that accommodates everybody.

When we do the stroke clinics in the spring and in the fall, for the week following each clinic we are going to work more on the drills of that stroke. The majority of the swimmers do not go to the clinics, so again, it gives them a chance to work a little more on drills for that stroke. Mid-week, either Wednesday or Thursday, we usually have a timed anaerobic set. It could be something like five 100’s, with each one followed by an easy 300 recovery on 8:00 minutes, something like that. Everybody leaves together, the fastest lane to the slowest lane. I give the times on the fast one. The recovery swim is different depending on the lane so the fastest lanes have time to do a 300 recovery and then maybe the next lane over will just do a 250. Another lane is a 200 and the slowest lanes might just do a 100 recovery after each swim. It gives a little more feel for a team kind of thing. It allows people to swim pretty fast. It gets them psyched up. It is something they can compare from time to time. The same set may be repeated every couple of weeks or every month, so it gives them a little taste of a competitive side of the training and people get generally pretty fast on these things.

Terms that we use most often:

LPS: Lowest possible sendoff. It is kind of like a cruise interval so if you were to time swimmers on eight 100’s on the lowest possible sendoff and then add 5 seconds to that like cruise interval plus 5, that would be the basic sendoff that the swimmers would use for all of the aerobic sets that they are doing. So if I tell the swimmers we are going to go seven 200’s on LPS + 5 – everybody pretty much knows, at least on the faster lanes, but by this time I know everybody’s sendoff. So in general, I will say LPS + 5, but I will tell them, okay, you guys are going on 2:30, you guys are going on 2:40, you guys are going on 2:50 and so on.

Best Possible Average: When we try to get a little more stressful in the practice, I ask the swimmers to do the best average they can and over five 100’s or over six 200’s so best possible average would be a little bit more stressful in terms of the effort.

Negative Split: I like to see everything from a 200 on up done with a negative split in practice and that is just something that we stress so that swimmers basically can finish strong on their races or in practice itself.

I give more attention to the slower lanes. I think it is very, very important that you take more time to work with the slower lanes. So what do we have here? Okay, warm-up is a 400 to 600, often a descending set on an easy sendoff. We also do some pulse work. We occasionally do some stroke counting. We do a few more long freestyle swims in the spring before the open water season starts, and I like to have the swimmers practice a little more breathing to either side, maybe doing it by 50’s or 100’s so that the open water swimmers do feel comfortable if they get in a situation in open water where the wind is blowing in the wrong direction and they don’t know how to breathe on that side. It is very important that they have the ability to switch sides.

Simple Drills

We have two or three drills for each stroke and we stick with those drills. It is not an age group team or a college team where you are seeing the same swimmer day after day or month after month where you can have the luxury of maybe doing 5, 10, 15 different drills. When you have 450 different swimmers coming in I recommend that you choose a couple of drills that you repeat throughout the year. Choose drills that are meaningful for the swimmers that are easily learned. Stick with those drills instead of having a whole wide range that you are going to have to teach day after day to the swimmers.


We use very little equipment. In the first place, we have so many swimmers. I probably haven’t used kickboards for ten years at any level. We do our kicking on your side – either with a bottom hand forward or sometimes with both hands down. We do that to work on vertical hips so that you are working on good hip rotation rather than flat hips – both for the freestyle and the backstroke so I recommend that to everybody. Most of the swimmers do it now. There are still a few that will do their kicking totally on their back and you know, you can only suggest it. You can’t force people in Masters swimming to do it exactly the way you want to. There is also obviously less socializing if you don’t use the kickboard. I like to use an alternating fast kick, easy swim on some of our swims like a 400, 25 fast kick, 25 easy swim.

We do not use pull buoys. I like to do the swimming part using the kick so you have kind of a base to work from on the hip rotation. We use paddles about once a week and we mostly use them in drills for technique. Again, we use fins every Monday, Wednesday and Friday and DAM does provide the fins and the paddles so there are some bins with the fins and paddles. The swimmers know what days they are going to be used and they just come in and take them and put them by their lanes when they walk in.

To join the team: We do not teach swimming, though occasionally we will have someone come in who would like lessons and sometimes some of our faster swimmers who are in college like to make a little extra money and might spend some time with a swimmer on a Saturday or a Sunday, teaching them so that they could later join. If you can swim two lengths of the pool, you can join DAM. We put beginners and we put those people in the slow lane. We (the coaches) will work with them to get them up to snuff as soon as possible. We recommend that they do the stroke clinics and if the person wants to learn, they will learn.

Another thing that just popped into my head that is very important for you guys is something that I always used to tell the age group coaches when I gave clinics for age groupers. Don’t feel responsible for those people who are bricks. There are people who were not born to swim and you give them what you can and you work with them up to a certain point and maybe they are not going to ever be a lot faster, but they can still get the benefit of a fitness workout. It is not about speed. It is about getting people in the water to stay healthy and to stay fit and if you can make a contribution in that sense to a swimmer, don’t feel bad if that swimmer has not become a fast swimmer or hasn’t become a champion swimmer. We have swimmers that swim in the same lane year after year and they are happy. They are getting a fitness workout. There are swimmers that come in on Labor Day, the 7:00 group. They have breakfast at the pool every Labor Day. It is a tradition and they are probably the slowest bunch of swimmers you will ever see and they are the happiest bunch of swimmers you will ever see. So as a coach you have to give these people what they need and that is not the same for everybody.

You have your fast people, your committed people, you have your slow people, and you have your people that show up once a week and everybody is good. I mean, everything that they do is a good thing. It is fun for you. It is fun for them so you have to look at Masters swimming with a different mind-set. Every once in a while a swimmer will contribute to writing a set. I will ask who would like to contribute a set. They will email me a workout and we will all do that set. Occasionally, there is a birthday set where somebody is say, having a 43rd birthday so they do 43 100’s. All the people in the lane will join that swimmer and they have a lot of fun with it.

We have a 10:00am session Monday through Friday. Half of the pool is reserved for the seniors at this time and the seniors might just do their own thing. They might ask you for some help or they might just sit there half the time chatting. They are 70 to 80 years old and whatever they want to get out of it is fine with us and so four lanes are reserved for them every day. Workouts are posted on the white board and they are explained, set by set to the swimmers as we go along. In closing here is a picture of a sunset in Greece on our trip and sunset on this talk.

Does anybody have any questions? Yes?
A: Not as much as you might think. There were probably, I don’t know, maybe 10-20 people out of maybe that had a problem with that in the beginning and you know what I fount out? I found out that most people do not even pay attention. So we made the change (routine workouts to random workouts) and there were a couple that had bought into that and just liked to know what was going to go on each day, but most of them really didn’t care.

Q: (Do you share pool time with other programs?)
A: We do not share it. The hours that we have, that pool is totally ours.

Q: What other programs?
A: In our pool, the Aqueduct swim team, which is a local age group team, are in there from 3:00 to 6:15pm, so they have 3 ½ hours and then the city runs one hour of lap swim per day and that is it. So, we have that pool 8 hours a day and then one hour in another pool.

Q: Is the pool covered?
A: Yes, I get there early and with whatever swimmers who get their early we take them off. It used to be that the coach was responsible but I am getting too old for that and so the swimmers always help out.

Q: Yes, please?

A: Oh yeah, absolutely, it depends. There is, for example a group of three guys that always come in at a certain time. When the three of them are there if there is no one else in the lane they can do what they want to do, unless it is a timed set. When it is a timed set everyone must do that set or they can leave.

Q: Yes?
A: There is a group of triathletes that train at another club, the Davis Athletic Club. We have had feelers from them a couple of times and we have offered to give them several lanes at certain workouts and we would give them a workout. But they have never jumped at the chance so we have mostly lower end triathletes that swim with us, people who want to become triathletes. They will come in and they will improve their swimming tremendously, by doing what we are doing. I think tri-athletes would get something out of it, but we don’t cater to them. Our program is a fitness program for adults, it is not a program for tri-athletes specifically. The tri-athlete who wants to join must do the workout, basically.

Q. Why do you not use pull buoys?
A: I don’t use them just because I think they impede the hip rotation somewhat and having a kick gives you a little more stable base for the hip rotation and that is the reason. We have swimmers that use them and when we have swimmers with leg problems, with cramps or whatever, I will give them a pull buoy, but they are not a part of our program. One other reason might be for the extra stress. We have a lot of swimmers that have shoulder problems and so that is one reason that we do not use the pull buoys a lot.

Q: How to you work with the beginner swimmers?
A: We teach them during the weeks and during the months, whenever there is a little bit lighter workout or there are less people in their lane or we will take someone aside and over a period of several weeks and we will try to get them up to snuff on at least teach them the basics in all of the strokes.

A: Never. One coach.

Q: You do so much promoting of DAM outside of workouts and I remember that when I swam there also. I am reminded by your list and I have always wondered if you did most of that as the head coach or if that was sort of a team effort with your Boards. I mean, if you are doing all that, how much time are you spending off the deck promoting DAM?
A. Most of the stuff, for example the flyers, I bring them a hundred flyers out on deck and at each workout I will choose a few swimmers, a few professors, who are happy to do to do it for us. When we have a day on the quad I will ask the younger swimmers, because you have got the college students there so you want the college students to relate to somebody, not to have a bunch of old farts out there trying to convince 20 year olds.
Q: ________________?
A: Yeah, that’s me. I will go out there and I will talk to the owner of the establishment and Peak was just bought by two of our swimmers, so it’s perfect.

Q. What is your insurance?
A. Our insurance is the PMS insurance. You know – it is covered – when you join the club you have to pay the USMS insurance and that is it basically.

Q. And that covers the coaches too?
A. Yeah sure – absolutely. Well, I have health insurance from the club. The head coach and the assistant coach can have health insurance if they so desire.

Q. Are you a for-profit or non-profit organization?
A. We are a non-profit.

Anybody else, please? Alright, time is up. Thank you so much. I appreciate it.

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Sponsorship & Partnerships

Official Sponsors and Partners of the American Swimming Coaches Association

Join Our Mailing List

Subscribe and get the latest Swimming Coach news