Keeping People in the Water: Swimming Beyond High School and College by Bill Brenner, United States Masters Swimming (2013)



[introduction by Scott Bay]

He is currently the Director of Club and Coach Services for United States Master Swimming.  But he is indeed the coach; he has been coaching in all levels from Age Group to Senior to college and Masters.  And he is also, ah, been one of those people instrumental in a lot of our committees for USMS.  And I am very, very excited to be working with him, not only with the certification program but with also helping to grow USMS.  So without me saying too much more, I would like to introduce Bill Brenner.


[Brenner begins]

Thanks Scott.  How many Masters coaches do we have in here today?  And anybody coach Age Group or high school as well?  Excellent.  Good; this will help you.  I am very fortunate in my position as the Club and Coach Service Director to be able to travel across the country and see programs much like yours, that have different kinds of programming.  The majority that I visit, obviously, have a Masters program; but on-occasion I will go visit a club that has an Age Group but no Masters program.  And I ask myself: Looked at all these children swimming in the pool, one day I wonder how many of them will end up being a Masters swimmer?  And right now, based on the history of where we have come from, that number is not very good.  It is actually quite small.


And what we need to do as an organization, and what I would like to get some help from you—as Masters coaches and Age Group coaches—is to kind of change that culture and try to figure out why we are having such difficulty in keeping people in the pool.  We all know the health benefits that swimming provides.  And it does not stop because they get to a certain age; and we will call it age 18.  Quite a few other things may enter into their life that make it difficult for them to want to stay in the pool.  And if you are a parent, you understand it; if you are a coach, you understand it; but it does not mean that we can just turn our heads and just ignore the fact that maybe we are not doing as much as we can to help them stay in the water.

So what we are going to talk a little bit about today is transitioning these young athletes into Masters swimmers.  And why some of the things that we want to encourage them to do, and what we are going to promote within our own programs, is going to help them make that transition.  And whether it is volunteering efforts, whether it is officiating, whether it is coach involvement.  Now see I had put that up because you are like how is any of that going to connect?  And maybe it will get your attention in the fact that maybe I should pay a little closer attention and figure out how this comes full-circle as we move further along here.


Okay, how many of us have known somebody that was an Age Group swimmer that really they had it all.  I mean, they were successful as a swimmer, they were successful as a teammate, they were the kind of person that you thought who was going to really turn-out to be a very successful adult.  It was the kind of person that you would want your own child to be friends with.  That kind of person.  But how many of you have seen somebody that when they became an adult later on, did not quite turn out the way you envisioned that they would when they were youngster?  Okay.  Well, what went wrong?  And we are going to try to pay a little bit of attention to that today, and figure out: is there anything that we could have done as coaches to effect a better outcome.


Now obviously we cannot take responsibility for every one of our athletes that comes through our program, that we mentor.  But what can we do to maybe even keep one from following into a despair situation?  Well as coaches, this is what we are trying to do.  We are trying to develop a partnership with our athletes.  We have certain talents as coaches; and our athletes have time, talents and hopefully some knowledge and ability.  But how do we develop and keep that partnership going beyond the time that they are in our program?


Well, we are also trying to develop a certain amount of trust that we have with one another.  You know, they are trusting us that we are going to, as coaches we are going to look out for their best interest.  And as athletes, we are going to trust that they are going to give us the effort that we are asking them to give us, whether it is in practice or in the meets.  But yet at the same time, why does that trust have to stop?  Why does it stop with the last race?  You know, so many times you see okay, well, the athletes just finished, they have done their last race—whether it is an Olympic Trials, whether it is, you know, a Sectional; whatever the case may be… or their last high school meet.  And maybe as a coach you are thinking: Well, the next coach will take responsibility.  Or if there is not going to be a next coach, Hey, they are old enough; they can take care of themselves now.  I have done my job as a coach.


I would like to challenge everyone—whether you are an Age Group coach, a Masters coach, a high school coach, a college coach—maintain that level of responsibility beyond your program.  And as Masters coaches especially—and I will touch on this later—welcome these people into your programs.  Do not wait and stay on the deck, wait for them to show up; go seek those young athletes out.  Whether it is seeking them out at their high schools and their coaches at high-school level, or their Age Group program.  Do not wait; be proactive.


And always accept the challenge to open-up doors to a positive pathway.  Sounds kind of altruistic, but it is really true.  You want to, like I said, go out and seek these people; do not just sit back and wait.  And really help that one athlete from falling into despair.  Because you may think, oh, what is the worst thing that can happen?  Well, there is a lot of bad things that can happen, especially when they get away from home, away from their support structure, that they are so used to being involved in.


You know, we as swimmers… and my wife will tell me all the time: you guys are crazy.  They are like: you depend on your routine, you depend on your support structure with your athletes, with the other people that are in the sport with you—whether you travel across the country—and you really are into this thing about goals.  Okay, it is real important that each day, it seems like you are waking up with something…  you have got a mission, you have got an agenda.  Well you know what, so do these athletes when they were in these Age Group programs and even the high school programs.  You can bet that they are working their butts off, and they are trying like crazy, to obtain their certain goals.


And their coaches do a really good job of two things:

  • one, helping them establish goals, and
  • also helping them… what I want to call manage the expectations.

Every athlete has certain abilities, and they have certain talents; and as coaches, you need to not set the bars too high, where they are going to fail.  We, as coaches, need to understand: nobody wants to fail, they want to succeed.  And that is why we set goals that are attainable.  And as Masters coaches that is very important too.  You know, as adults we all want to set goals; we want to attain certain levels.  You know, can we become national champions on a Masters level?  Well maybe some can and maybe some cannot, but what other goals can we help them establish?


The point I am getting is when people get away from their routines, they tend to pick-up bad habits.  And these bad habits can lead to quite some astounding figures.  So, there was a study done back in 2009 by the Women’s Sports Foundation; and this is kind of common sense.  And I thought ‘well, I am just going to say this out loud,’ but I said, “You know what, I really need to find some facts.”  I think people just make all these assumptions: you know, swimming is good for you.  Okay, yeah, if you swim with a group, it is going to help, it is going to help your self-esteem.  Okay, great.  But had they really studied this?  And so I thought I would present some things to you today that maybe you can go back and do some research on to expand your knowledge level to: how can I apply this to my program, and is this that important.


So here is this study.  And they just really studied women; and I am sure that applies to men as well.  But the benefits of sports helps reduce all these or preventing risk to women: obesity, coronary heart disease, etc., etc., you know everything to eating disorders, okay.  But there is even one more that is really probably something that maybe has touched every one of you in some way, you know: the risk of not participating.  So here are the benefits of participating, and here is the risk of not participating.


Another study that was done, and it really studied the amount of depression that is out there with young people.  And this is both men and women.  And the risk of suicide, okay.  Studies conducted by Brown and Blanton show that young adults who participate in sports, a team activity—and that is very important—because that team activity, okay… well are less likely to attempt to suicide.  But that team activity provides about three different things that are very important: it provides a coach that is giving some support; it provides other athletes in the program or in that sport that are going to be a support structure, and in many cases there is parental involvement.  Okay.  Now not every athlete has parental involvement, I understand that; but it is just one more of those support structures that provide that sense of being, that sense of… not being alone.  So many times, the depression happens when people feel that they are alone and it helps to be involved in a team activity.


More risk, okay.  Well is suicide that big a deal with this age group?  And I am saying this is like the, you know, 16-24 age group—well, 15-24, excuse me.  Well the U.S. Center for Disease Control did a study in 2008, and determined that suicide is the third leading cause of death amongst this age group in America.  And it is only followed by, suicide is only followed by homicide and accidental death.  Okay?


So the number is really… if you hear about a death, there is a good chance that… 1 in 8 deaths is a suicide.  I have been touched by a suicide; I have seen the devastating effects that it can cause.  Not someone on my team, thank goodness, but my family friend’s daughter.  And it was just very devastating.  And everybody was asking: what could I have done?  You know, we were not… it was just very, very sad, and what could we have done.  And hopefully we as coaches can reduce that by including more and more people into our programs and keeping them swimming.


Well who are these people?  You know, we keep using them, those, this.  And Scott Bay, he always asks when I talk about them and they—not necessarily with this—but: who are they?  You know, he is like, can you define who those people are?  Well, I wanted to define who those people are, and try to understand them a little bit better.  Has anybody heard the word Millennials?  Okay, it is the Generation Y.  And it is these 18-34 year-olds that have been born between 1982 and 2001, okay.  Do you realize they account for 27% now of our U.S. population?  That is 86 million people.  That is a big number.


Now these Millennials, the Sporting Good Manufacturers Association of America conducted a study in 2011 and they found that 60% of those 86 million Millennials are engaged in a fitness pursuit, okay.  But what kind of fitness pursuit?  I mean, are they doing push-ups, sit-ups; what are they doing?  Are they swimming?  Well, those 60%, they want to gravitate towards a group fitness; it is very important to understand this group.  Now, this group fitness is different than a team sport, because a team sport basically has a winner and a loser.  This group does not necessarily want to participate in something that has a winner and a loser; they want to participate in an event or in a sport where they can motivate each other to do their personal bests.


Now can we think of any examples of some of these events that are going on in this day and age that we did not have 20 years ago?  Triathlon; that is great, good.  How about Tough Mudders?  Things like that.  I mean, even down I know my kids have been doing this color run, you know.  It is not about the winning and losing; it is about the participating.  And sometimes it is just about the accomplishment of finish.


Well as Masters coaches I want you to learn from some of this, because I want you to be able to go back to your programs and say, what can I do that is going to attract these people?  Well, you are going to have to make it fun; and you are going to have to try to figure out how to make it a group effort, not just an individual effort—like so much of our sport really is.  So they value that team effort for participants to achieve individual goals; just maybe the sense of accomplishment of completing the event.  Completing a 5K or 10K, you know, half a marathon or a marathon.  So that is real important to understand that as we bring this back to our programs.


Now the Millennials, okay.  This day and age, it is a lot about socialization; I mean, look at the what we have got with this interactive community going on between Twitter and Facebook.  They are connected 24/7, unlike generations before them.  How do we use this as a media to attract people to our programs?  Well, if you have got a website, great; but you may still be ten years behind-the-time if you have not gone to some other social media to attract these people and make it fun for them to be active in your program.  So look at including some more things.


Now, I am not expecting… I do not know how to do all these things.  But I want to recruit somebody in my program that does, that may be much better at it than I am.  You know, it is always, in programs, looking for: who else can contribute, who else can take some ownership in the program, who else can help me be better at what I do, and who can attract some of these people that are going to come into the program and have more fun?


Now these Millennials, also based on this research that has been done, they have a greater participation in team sports than any generation before them.  Important.  Because while we are a sport of individual performances, we should still consider our sport and our programs as a team activity—very important.


So are youth swimmers staying in the pool?  Well how many youth swimmers are out there?  And when I thought about this, I was like: well are there really that many?  I mean, how many people, how many kids swim USA [Swimming] or high school?  Let us do high school first?  (That is this first slide.)  Here is 2012-2013 academic year; there were 302,000+ swimmers, boys and girls, that swam or dove.  And I cannot believe the majority of those were divers; I am thinking they were probably majority were swimmers.  We have got that many athlete participating as freshman, sophomores, juniors and seniors, okay?  Now USA Swimming, they have got 331,000+ total athletes.  And this is the age groups, here, that we are looking at.  This is these ages right here: there is that many 16 year-olds, that many 17 year-olds, 18 year-olds, 19+.  59,000, okay.  That is a lot of swimmers; not as many as high school, but that is quite a big number.  Okay, now NCAA.  This is the Division I, II, and III; 2011-12 season.  There were 21,000 total swimmers and divers.


Now what do we have for Masters swimmers in this age group?  Well, we have 55,000 total members.  This is the part that kind of got my attention.  In this age group, only 3,275 men and women participate in Masters swimming.  It is 6% of our membership, which is, I think, extremely low, based on the fact that there is this pool of swimmers.  It is not like we have to teach these people to swim, you know.  So here is the source of swimmers, here is the number, and that is kind of the ration of the ration of people participating; and it is just very low.  And I think when coaches, Masters coaches especially, are looking for hey, how am I going to grow my program; well let us look at the source and see if maybe we can tap-into all these people that already know how to swim that may want to participate and we just need to make it fun and give them what the benefits are of swimming.


So here is the problem: can you really burn-out of Swimming at age 18?  I can understand, maybe, burning-out of competing at a very high level.  But let us all face it: how many of us in here actually swim?  Do we have some swimmers?  I mean, we do not burn-out of that feeling of how we feel when we finish a swim practice?  That is a great sense of accomplishment, just doing a swim practice when you are an adult, or maybe even as a Millennial.  Why shouldn’t they want to continue-on with that feeling?  I can understand the competition; but I just do not understand why we cannot want them to have that feeling of accomplishment, even if it is just something as simple as a swim practice.


So let us look at these obstacles and objections.  And I call them excuses, because… well they are obstacles and objections, but I hear the excuses when I approach these young people.


I don’t want to wake-up and go to the pool at five a.m..  Hey, I do not either, you know.  I do not swim at five a.m.; I do not even like coaching at five a.m..  But guess what?  Masters, we have plenty of times available that are not five o’clock in the morning.  And if you do not have that as an option in your program, look to try to include maybe an 8:30, maybe a Noon practice, maybe an evening practice.  So that is not really my favorite one.


I am tired of competing.  I hear that a lot, and I understand.  Hey, guess what?  70% of our membership in United States Masters Swimming does not compete.  They do it for the fitness; they do it maybe to help with another sport, like to do a triathlon.  And most of these people I swim with, they do it for socialization.  They want to be around other like-minded individuals, they have something in common they share with.  You know, maybe their spouse does not swim and does not understand that, but when they get around other swimmers, hey, we are all won big happy family.  And you really would be surprised how you can open-up to people that are just not really friends, but that are swimmers because they are just have a common bond.


I want to try a different sport. I would want to try the sport she is doing right now, if she was going to help me learn how to do a better push up.  I understand that, you know.  They have done Swimming.  And Swimming is a year-round sport; it does not give them very many opportunities to participate in other sports—I understand that.  But when you get to this level in the Masters situation, it can complement other sports, even if they want to just swim a couple of times a week.  And it can also enhance maybe some of the other performances.  It does not have to be a triathlon; it can be running or cycling.


I don’t have time.  And I get that a lot too, because you know, life gets in the way.  There are a lot of people that go off to college and they have got to study and they have got to work, they have got to support themselves through school—a lot of things.  But you know what?  When you feel that sense of accomplishment of just getting through a practice and you are in a great positive environment; you are going to find enough time, even if it is just two or three times a week, to really get that feeling.  And really understand, hey, this is important, I should continue this, and I will find the right amount of time if you can help them.


And it cost too much money.  You know, they are on limited budgets, maybe; or maybe they are just starting-out with their family and there is just like… yeah, just more one bill I can afford to pay.  The good news is that the yearly registration fee for United States Masters Swimming—by the time the LMSC tacks on their fee—is an average of $40.  $40 for the year; I mean, we are talking one cup of coffee a month, you know.  And then some programs have a fee, but they will waive it for you, for even seasoned swimmers.  So that may be an obstacle, but maybe it is something that you can help them overcome.  Maybe you can set-up a scholarship fund, and maybe you can have some of the older athletes in your program develop, you know, some financial aid for these swimmers.


Here is one: most Masters swimmers are old and slow.  I am going to get in there and it is going to be a terrible workout; I would rather just swim on my own.  Well, you know what?  We are not all old and slow.  You know, membership begins at age 18.  We have got everything from beginner swimmers all the way up to Olympic athletes that swim in our program.  And I like to make sure they understand that competition is optional, having fun is mandatory, and the byproduct is really a fitness and a healthy lifestyle.


So the more that we as coaches know this and can really tell people about this, the better chance we are going to have of them participating.  Well, those are the obstacles, but let us listen to somebody that actually is a young swimmer.


…have access to really knowledgeable coaches that can help us, inspire us, learn about the techniques. and you know, push us to do better… people who have more knowledge and more experience… and then more knowledge about things outside of swimming as well.


Does it help you with the stress level as well?


Oh my gosh, yes. … To be able to get away, I look forward to that all day long.  Getting away, having an hour and 15 minutes to really just crank-in-out in the pool.  Forget about everything for a few minutes.  It is really nice.


Would you recommend Masters Swimming for other colleges and universities?


Of course.  I have been swimming since my freshman years, since I came to Butler.  Starting out my freshman year, I had a difficult time transitioning to college, and I think Masters is kind of what helped me to stick with, you know, staying away from home and being able to kind of create a community of really welcoming people that just really helped me get through school.


[Brenner]:  Well I hope you got kind of a feel for that, but there are actually quite a few people out there that do participate and find benefits in the programming.


Well when do you start thinking about: hey, you should think about swimming Masters?  I mean, is this too young?  I do not know.  Maybe they just need to aware of what Masters is, you know.  First of all, these people probably will become Master swimmers because they like the equipment; they like the snorkel, the fins.  And most Master swimmers that I coach, you know, when the going gets tough, they just start throwing that on equipment on to make practice a little bit more fun and a little easier.  So, these probably could become Master swimmers without too much effort.


A little story.  Cal Berkeley: anybody from California, in that area?  Yeah.  They have a nice program there; they have a rec center.  The sport and rec center of the university runs the facilities, the two pools that they have on campus. And they have a Masters program that is called Cal Aquatic Masters.  Well earlier this year, they invited me to come-up because they were having this real problem recruiting young people.  Here it is: they are the sport and rec department at Cal Berkeley and they cannot figure out ways to get more young people, the 18-24 year-olds, to participate on their Masters team.  They have opened the Masters team up to the community.  They have got 185 members; but of the 185, only 10 were age 18-24, on this campus of 30,000 students.


So they are coming to me saying… well they are inviting me to come-out and asking me: what can we do to promote swimming for this age group?  What does USMS have that we can use to increase the number of students that are participating?  We are the student activity center, we are the student rec center, our mission is to provide benefits and services to the students; it is their student fees that are running this pool.


And I am like, wow, okay, what do we have?  Well we have coaches and we educate our coaches in how to really welcome these people in, but we really do not have any specific programs.  And I said, “What have you tried?”  And they have tried quite a few things and nothing worked.  Well I said, “When do the students come back to school?”  They come back to school at the end of August.  And fortunately I knew that they had this thing called Caltopia, which is an expo where a lot of vendors, a lot of student clubs, a lot of sponsors of the university come and set-up booths for these students.  Basically a welcoming party that lasts two days.  So I said, “Well look, let me come out to Caltopia and let’s set up a booth.  Let’s find out a little bit more about what these people are looking for.”


Not only did we set-up a booth for two days—that we were in for seven hours and we did something interactive where they were tossing a ring around caps and they were winning prizes that USMS provided—but I also set up a stroke clinic.  Because it is one thing to talk about it, but let us get to the pool; let me encourage you to come and touch the water, listen to one of the coaches, and find out more about maybe some of the teammates that you will be participating with, swimming with.


Well, over two days—it was seven hours on a Sunday and a seven hours on a Monday—we had quite a few people come by the booth, and the biggest thing was they were just not aware of what United States Masters Swimming was.  They were not aware of what Masters Swimming was; they were not aware that there was a club that they could even swim on at the university.  Now, not all of these were freshman, because these were not only the… you know, all underclassmen, grad students, faculty, staff, alumni; they were all invited to this Caltopia.  And it really was like wow, there is just so many people that just do not even know what we are about.


Now, when you throw that word Masters out, then they are like, first thing they are thinking, well I am not good enough.  Okay, we have got to overcome that.  Or I do not know all four strokes, so I must not be able to participate.  Got to overcome that.  But when the day was done, or those two days were done, we had over 750 people sign-up to receive more information.  We did a good enough job in the short amount of time that we had with each of those people, to give them something that they would want to find out more about.


Now on the Tuesday, I had made arrangements with one of the Cal assistant men’s coaches to help me run a clinic; because I thought it would be a little more star-power if I could get him to do it with me and also four of his athletes to show backstroke, breaststroke, butterfly and freestyle.  And so, fortunately, he cooperated, and we had a stroke clinic.  We had 55 people there, which was a pretty good number.  I mean, we did not have to pull teeth to get them there, we just had to raffle-off a backpack.  But they got in the water and they could swim.  There was nobody that got in the pool that could not swim, that we were going to start from scratch.  They were just, wow, this was so nice to be able to find out something, and be encouraged to come; not wait for me to find it.


So as coaches, I hope that you can maybe take a little bit something back of how important it is to be pro-active with this group.  You know, maybe they want to find it in the social media or maybe they need to find it on a website, or maybe they need to find it just by me putting a flier up in the right place at the right time.  But inviting them in.


And this awareness, it really is important to make sure you understand what these Millennials are about and what they are looking for.  They want to have fun and they want to participate as a group.  It is not about individual sports.  And maybe a few of them will, but most of them will not.


You know, hey look, our meet do not have qualifying times; if we do, they are very liberal.  So they need to understand: well am I going to be chasing that time again, am I going to be chasing that qualifying time that they had to chase all those years as our competitor swimmers, as kids.  Or are they going to be able to participate with us, where it is very liberal.  And also the beauty of this relay structure that we have, we add the ages, especially for meters; that is beautiful.  They love that, where they can swim with not just their age group, but they can swim with maybe their parents, maybe they can swim with… other members that are not just in that same very narrow age.  So that is a good thing to promote.


Also we are going to promote what these benefits are.  Now we know these, but do they know it?  Do they realize how important it is?  Probably not.  They usually do not realize it until it is too late.  So make sure that you are going through these benefits, and talk about this continuity of lifestyle.  Being able to establish goals, being able to maintain routines and key positive habits.  And here is one part that they really do not get yet because they are too young.  I mean, how many of us would have loved it if we had gotten into a situation where we knew or had a good chance that we were going to be able to find a job, get a job reference, get some sort of help financially, maybe some advice colleges… you know, a multitude of things that we as Masters swimmers can provide to our youth through networking.  You know, I wish I had that when I was growing up, but I did not even… I probably would not have accepted it even if somebody told me about it because I just did not realize the value of it.  Well I think now with our economy, with the way that job market is etc., I think you are going to find more young people accepting of the fact that hey, networking is a good thing and I really want to be around these people that are going to look out for me and help me.


This indoctrination of these kids, it really needs to come without forcing it down their throat.  And what we have seen in some of the programs is, you know, this is a two way street.  We like this volunteering, where the kids are volunteering at our Masters meets and our Masters swimmers are volunteering at the kids meets, because it shows that there is a common bond and it does not stop when you just stop swimming as an Age Group swimmer.  It sees that hey look, they can respect what we do when we were swimming; and not only can we respect what they do, but we are the advocates, we are the ambassadors, of our sport.


And we know how to speak swim-speak, and we should take the opportunity to do that when we are volunteering as timers or anytime that we are on the deck when we have young swimmers around, and praise what they do in swim-speak.  You know, they will respect that because you are talking something that they maybe do not hear other adults talk about.  You know, everything from hey, that was a great start, that was a good streamline, hey you had a good second-half split; whatever it is that really gets their attention that man, they were paying attention to what I was doing and they are talking this language that I understand.


The other thing I like to see is when Age Group programs, high school programs, even college programs, work to volunteer together for a common goal away from the deck.  Whether it is raising money for a common cause, through swim-a-thons, car washes—whacky-relay days I like to call them.  And also providing community service as a group for something that is coming into the pool, whether it is Special Olympics, or learn-to-swim clinics; something that gives-back to the community that makes you feel… builds that unity.


So how early on do you start?  You start as soon as you can, mingling the two groups.  It is just a life-long thing that you as coaches, as Age Group coaches especially, want to make sure that you are teaching these kids, that you are giving them, a skill that you expect them to learn and you expect them to use for the rest of their lives.  Not just until they are done with your program.  This is something I want to see you continue until you cannot swim anymore.  This is swimming for life, and very important.


Banquet participation—this is just one more little quick idea.  Where you are, maybe as Masters swimmers/coaches, are volunteering at their awards banquet.  And maybe at yours, you are recognizing some of their swimmers for being great volunteers at your events.  You know, nobody can get too much praise.  And if you look for opportunities to do something positive and to speak positive and to recognize people for the work that they do; take that opportunity to do it and give an award out.


Okay, this guy, I know you cannot really see the expression on his face, but it was like… he is a USA [Swimming] official, and somebody asked him to officiate a Masters meet.  As he is looking like, who me?  Well, yes, you.  We want to make sure that as many officials are helping each other in these events as possible.  You know, the successful events that we run as Masters or the successful events you run as Age Group, depend on volunteers.  I mean, we are not paying for people to be timers, we are not paying for people to be food runners, etc.  Or officials, in most cases.  Sometimes you will give them a gift, and maybe in some LMSCs or LSCs you do pay them.  But in Florida, we do not; we just depend on their generosity and where they are willing to donate their time and talent.  But we are encouraging it because it just creates more of that overlap: it is not them and us, it is we.


Now coaches here is the tricky part: what do you do as a coach to really be as effective as you possibly can be in recruiting new members, as Masters coaches, that are in this age group?  And also as Age Group and high school and college coaches, to make that awareness.


You know, one of the obstacles that we did not talk about and I want to talk about here is, you know, a lot of people do not want to continue to swim because they did not like their coach.  They did not like the way they were treated, they did not like it getting yelled at; and I will be damned, they are not going to do it as an adult.  They are not going to put themselves in that situation.


Now Masters coaches, you have to realize, they may not have had the same experience that maybe you did as an Age Group swimmer with your coach.  So what kind of coach are you going to be for these Master swimmers?  Are you going to take the time to really understand what they are looking for?  Are you going to reach-out to them and explain the fact that hey, you are here to help them and help them reach their goals, but you are not going to do it, maybe, as they were treated before.  Maybe that is what they are looking for; maybe it is not.  But so many times I am coming across that: I just did not like my coach and I am not going to be put in that situation again.  So I challenge you as Masters coaches to be the best coach that you can, set goals, for your way as a coach.


You know, a lot of coaches say: well am I good coach?  Well, how do I evaluate myself as a coach?  Here is how I look at it: you can have all the national qualifiers, you can have national champions, and you can have award-winning teams; but at the end of the day, if as a Masters coach, you do not retain your members, then there is something wrong.  You know, if those swimmers that are in your program do not want to come back to your program, year-after-year, then you should evaluate, maybe, some of the mistakes that you are making and, maybe, figure-out ways that you can retain that membership.


We as an organization, our national average is 63%.  So that means that 37% of the people do not renew their membership the next year.  Why?  Well, we have not done real studies on that yet, but a lot of it is got to do with the coaching leadership.  Because what we have done is we have looked at our Masters coach certification program, and when we empowered coaches to become better coaches and we have identified those coaches that want to continue their education, we have gone back after a year now and studied their retention rate.  National average, 63%; coaches that are looking to expand their education, 88%.  There is a big difference; I mean, that is huge.  It is just not 1% or 2%; we are talking 27%.  So that is a good sign.


So I encourage you as coaches: be looking to innovate.  Change your style if you feel like that is going to help you retain members and be a better coach.  (And we are just totally off this slide now, because I just… I really like talking about how to judge what a good coach would be like.)


Dual programming is very important.  You know, Masters, and they really have to understand they have a couple of things going for them, Masters swimmers especially.  Why more Age Group programs do not have Masters programs in them, I do not know.  But I know the ones that do, have a better… have a more-stable pool situation.  Because Masters swimmers have two things: they have pockets, with money in them in most cases, and they have some political clout, they vote.  Okay.


And that is very important, when you are facing pool closure; when you are facing maybe even in a facility, limited pool time, reduced lane space etc. We are providing a great service to the community.  We are a community program; we are not a swim team, we are a program.  And it is for adults, age 18 and up, that choose Swimming as their form of exercise.


(Oh, maybe there is another slide.  Oh, I think there is not another slide.)  At this point, do you have any specific questions of the things that we have talked about?  We will do those first, and then maybe we will talk about some things that were just not even presented today that you may want to share with the rest of the people in the pool… (in the pool?) in the audience or with me.


Any questions?  Yes sir.


[audience member]:  Is that age group the lowest percent of USMS? I mean, I know you are talking about that it is roughly 15% of all people that were in the 15-19 age group that swim. How do the numbers of that age group compare to all the other age groups?


[Brenner]:  Well, we have got this bell curve going on.  The biggest age group for United States  Masters Swimming, is the 45-49 range for men and 40-44 range for women.


[audience]:  Now, is the push from U.S. Masters to grow the younger side, or… is that why this talk is important to you?  Or is that-


[Brenner]:  It is important to our organization; it is important to the growth of the organization.  We can continue to try to grow at the top end and we can try to continue to grow at the tail end.  But if we do not retain members, from one thing, we are not going to grow, because that is where growth starts, is with retention.  But it also starts with: why do not we take this pool of people that can swim and get them involved early, and there is a good chance they will stay involved and even grow the numbers even more.


So it is for growth, and it is for coaches too, because there are so many coaches out there that would love to make this as a profession, even Masters coaches.  And you can do it with the right number of people, okay.  With the right plan, with the right business plan.  But when you are only in a situation where there is: oh, how am I going to do this with 50 people? I am going to have to charge them $500 a month to be able to support me and my family.  Well, what we are trying to do is increase the numbers: we are trying to increase the numbers of facilities that offer Masters Swimming, and we are also trying to increase the number of people that want to participate in Masters Swimming.  So coaches then have a bigger pool of people—so to speak, pool—that will be able to generate revenue, whether it is through program fees, whether it is through events that they host, clinics that they hold, or even private swim lessons.  So that is kind of the push, and it is trying to really find the benefits that those Millennials are looking for.


[audience]:  What is the highest returning rate?  I am just curious if it is that 25-29 age group?  What is the biggest group of new members?  What group—do you guys know that—where the most new people join?  Do you know what ages?


[Brenner]:  Well most people come back into the sport at 40.  And I do not know the number, but that is kind of that is that point where more new people are coming-in at that age than any other age.  So give and take a few years, in that range.




[audience member]:  I just… from my personal experience.  When I was 34 years-old—and I am now 52—a neighbor of mine said oh, what do you do for fun.  And I had a two-year-old at the time.  And I said, “Well, I simply kind of take care of the two-year-old,” or whatever.  And she goes, Well did you used to swim?  And knowing that I originally come from California, said like, “Yeah, I did.”  She goes: oh, well you should come do Masters.  And the first thing I thought was ‘Oh, I am not that good.’  You know, whatever.  I had not been in the pool for 13 years and certainly was competent, but I was like you know Masters to me it…  the name implied, you know, champion. That you are a master, whatever.


[Brenner]:  Yes.  That word Masters.  Yes.  Proficiency, competition.


[audience]:  So I went to practice, and I have been going ever since.  And it got me back into… I coached in college, I coached in high school; it got me all back into it.  And it was a real eye-opener, and it has been a load of fun.  And, I mean, our oldest swimmer was is in his 90s when he passed away, and our youngest swimmer, we did get some 18-24 year-olds.


But I think kind of the same thing is going on, where the name sometimes is misleading.  And if you can get those kids to join, they have a ball and they bring such energy to your club.  And we brought a couple to Y Nationals, and they had a ball.  You know, realizing that hey, this is not just a bunch of old fogies.  And even if we are old fogies, we still are fit and having fun.  And we are not… you know, our team has been around for a long time.


[Brenner]:  If they can see that early enough on, even as those young kids, as volunteers at the meets, you have got a good chance that they at least have some awareness; because that is what is lacking.  When I am standing in line at Caltopia talking to high school swimmers that yeah, I swam in high school.  Well have you heard about Masters?  Never heard about it.  Well, did that coach not really even mention it?  And that is what I am thinking to myself, like are we as national organization doing that poor of a job of encouraging high school coaches, college coaches, Age Group coaches, to even bring-up the subject of: there is some continuity if you want to continue on.  We are just not doing it.


[audience]:  I actually coach high school now—I am on the East Coast, and have coached high school for eight years.  And always at my banquets, with the parents and with the kids at the end of the season when people are moving on, I say, “Hey, I do not want any of you to forget,” including the parents, because they might not have even thought about it, “Hey, there is something after high school, if you are not going on to swim in college.”  You know, that here is an option for you to keep in it, and you can compete or not compete.  And some kids have come back to me and say hey, coach, I am swimming or whatever.  I am like: that is awesome.


[Brenner]:  It is just trying to connect the two.  It is not assuming that they are going to make that connection, because they are going to get off and get busy.  You know, it is hey, let me introduce you to the Masters coach in the city where you are moving to.  Or let me, you know, as a Masters coach go search those people out who are coming into the college, you know.  Is there anybody here that I should look for?  Are you looking into the lap lanes?  Are you offering some sort of orientation to your program?  Are you offering a swim clinic with maybe some of the… you know, some participation for United States Masters Swimming or somebody on the college team there.




[audience member]:  I am 27 and I know exactly… I mean I can completely relate.  There are so many of my peers who have no clue what I do, you know.  And when they find out about it, they are like really?  Yes, that thing exists.  Because you know, I was a competitive swimmer, and my coaches never mentioned Masters.  I mean, in the morning we knew Master would be swimming in the pool and started practice at like four a.m.;  but they never really introduced to us, it was never really brought-up.  So I think it is very important, especially for people who are working to recruit younger ages, because they are looking for it.


[Brenner]:  Good.  I agree with you and that is why we are trying to just create awareness not only for the athletes, but with the coaches.  And why would not you want to make that as an option for your people; because, you know, if they do not have that structure, so many of them just fall into this sphere.  And it is really happening out there.




[audience member]:  How do you… when you talk to former swimmers or maybe those who really are not swimmers in the past, and they get really hung-up on that term “Masters”, how did you inform them about what that term really means and not in terms of economical raising money for the swimmer?


[Brenner]:  Well I just basically I do not go into even an appointment where there is not a Masters program or talk to somebody about Masters Swimming.  You know I am from United States Masters Swimming, but I am here to promote an adult aquatic-fitness program.  And even some of our stickers that we provide through United States Masters Swimming may say USMS on it, but it will say adult aquatic fitness program.  So the sooner as that we can get-away from two things, one is the word Masters when we are talking about Masters Masters Masters, and get away from team, team, team, it is a team.  It is a program, you know.  It is a program for adults who have chosen swimming as their form of exercise.


And one more quick fact, while we are on it.  That same Sporting Good Manufacturers Association report in 2011, it stated that swimming is the most popular form of exercise for adults in the United States.  Okay.  Swimming is the most popular.  If you could choose one sport to do for one hour, what sport would you choose?  The most popular one is swimming.


Now here is the other fact: 37% of the population in the United States cannot swim the length of the pool, 50% cannot tread water.  But yet they would aspire to swim as their form of exercise.  Not only do you Masters coaches have this great pool of swimmers—that 16 to 18-whatever age group that is coming and then 18 to 24 that know how to swim—but you have got this other great pool of people that would love to learn how to swim, given the right situation.


Now, the other thing I would like to point out is (we are getting a little bit off topic, but this is important), you know, name one other sport that you can learn that can save your life?  That is Swimming.  And as we move forward as an organization, not only are we going to try to keep attracting people that can swim in this age group, but we are going to start teaching people how to swim.


We are encouraging adults to swim, but if we are not teaching them, who is?  We are depending-on the American Red Cross?  No, they are teaching youth.  SwimAmerica; youth.  Who is the organization that is leading the cause of teaching adults to swim?  And I think we should be that organization, and I am going to do what I can, in my position as an educator, to try to develop programs that teach people how to instruct adults to swim.  There is just not enough of it out there; and I am hoping that you guys as Masters coaches can support that whether it is at your local level or your LMSC level, or if you are on a national committee and promote the fact.  That is what we should be doing.




[audience member]:  On the adults-swim end, because I am also instructor year-round, as well.  I work with 4-year-olds, and my two oldest were 75-year-olds, who had that on their bucket list: learn to swim.  They both learned how to swim, and that was a big deal.  But what I found during my summer-league coaching, is a lot of parents… you know I would run a program, at six o’clock in the morning for parents who wanted a swim class or get some pointers, you know, very informal: just show-up and swim as much as you want.  And then I had people saying that they could not come early and they had work, but they really wanted to swim but they did not want anybody to see them doing it.  And that really is a problem: finding those hours where you could actually have a privacy at the pool, and work.


You know, it is hard to work one-on-one because, you know, that is a lot of energy to put into one person and financially it is very hard to make a living doing it that way.  But that seems to be a very common thread, is to allow these older… and by older I mean anybody 20+ who has not learned how to swim does not want to be seen being taught either in the water, or just flailing and embarrassing themselves.  It came up all summer long, you know.  It was like okay, I am going to make it work for you, but you have to work your day around here and maybe find a couple of friends and do it.


[Brenner]:  That is part of it, absolutely.  Very good.




[audience member]:  Our LMSC has already approved: we are going to, this year, at our state high school meet in November, to have an ad.  We are going to put an ad in for Masters Swimming so it will be for the whole state.  And ended up listening to you, and we host all the high school meets in our LMSC.  And I do not know if anybody else has this opportunity, but we will have packets and we will know who is a senior.  And we could put in that packet for each senior, three months free membership to come-in after they finish their high school.  Because most of those are going to be coming out of high school, they are not going to be in college.


[Brenner]:  Great idea.  You just have to be proactive, and that is a great idea.  And you know, we can help you with promotion materials from the national office too, all free of charge, that can go in that goody bag kind of thing as well so.


[audience member]:  I work at a gym and the gym will not let us… we talked last year about joining U.S. Masters, and the gym refuses to let go of that grasp because they think as soon as you join U.S. Masters that those people are going to give you all of their money.  And so I have made a lot of the trainers mad because I have just dropped term Masters and done Swimming.  And even the high schools, I have kind of ticked-off the coaches because I have recruited their 17+18 year-olds to come swim with me at five o’clock in the morning.  Because I am here, our workouts are between 2,000-5,000 yards; we just like to be social and have fun and have a good time.  And high school coaches are high school coaches in Houston; they are ornery.


[second audience member]:  Just as long as it is not a USA Swimming club, it should not be a conflict for the high school kids to swim.


[audience 1]:  Well not yet.  They have put me in charge of making it a USA club now.


[audience 2]:  Yeah, a USA club.  And as a club, you will see there is a track for club swimming and high school swimming.


[Brenner]:  The challenges that we have.  That is okay, and it keeps us young.  Any other questions back there?  All right.


Well, I am just going to leave you with one other thing, one little quick fact.  When it comes to adults and Swimming—because we mentioned it so much here today—USA Swimming has put something out too that it is so important that we look as an organization to teach adults to swim as well.  Because if a parent of a child does not know how to swim, there is only a 13% chance—I said 13% chance—that their child will know how to swim or ever learn how to swim.  And it has been going on for generation after generation; we have tried to teach the kids to swim, but until we get adults not afraid of the water and not afraid to get their kids around water, we are never going to solve it.


So we as United States Masters Swimming coaches should attack it from the adults side; and let like USA Swimming and organizations like ASCA attack it from the youth side; and let us see what we can do to solve the problem of drowning.  There were 3,600 drownings last year in the United States: 20% were children, 80% adults.  And in many cases those adults drowned trying to save their child.  And it is just sad, and I think we, as adults and as an organization, should do more.  Just take what you can do at your local level, and if you can encourage adults to swim or learn how to swim, do it: it is going to save somebody one day.  So that is what you can do.


Well I appreciate it.  Thank you so much for coming.  If you have any other questions, please contact me.  I have enjoyed it.  Thank you.



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