Maximizing Your Senior Swimmers by Kerry O’Brian (2005)


I am going to give you a little insight as to how I got started in Masters Swimming and then I will quickly go over four subjects.

I started in 1980. Walnut Creek Masters was already an established team, with about probably 40-45 swimmers. They were contemplating making a coaching change and when the coach went on vacation they decided it would be a good time to make a change. At the time I was coaching with the Walnut Creek Aqua Bears as an age group coach and I was swimming with the Masters program for about six months and they said, “would you run some workouts on an interim basis until we decide what we are going to do”. I was making $240. a month coaching with the age group team and I said, “work – coach for more money? Yes – I will do that”. And I started coaching Masters. During the interview process I was asked, “how long do you see yourself coaching Masters?” I thought about it for a minute and I said, “I can see myself doing this for 5 years” I said that because I thought that was what they wanted to hear – that they were looking for something that was long term and in my mind at age 23 – five years was a long term. So I said, “I could do this for five years”. They responded, “well lets give it a shot and we will see what we can do, okay?”

In the very beginning, when they hired me I really did not have a good appreciation of the effort and the value that the older swimmers brought to a Masters program. That probably came within the first year of coaching Masters full time. I had a kind of an epiphany of sorts in one of the mid-day workouts. A 70 year old gentleman was swimming away from me, going down towards the other end of the pool and he was swimming butterfly and I looked at him and I saw all the muscles in his shoulders and all the muscles in his back just react to him telling them to push his body forward towards the other end of the pool and it just hit me right then. This was very similar to the way that I was hit in the 5th grade when I was driving in the car with my dad and we went past a high school gym or a high school field and I could see the lights on and I could see the two high school teams playing in their bright colored uniforms and their helmets – I knew at that point that I wanted to play high school football. When I watched this gentleman swim away from me it was the same sort of thing – I got that immediate feeling that I knew that this was something special and this was something that I wanted to do.

Presently the Walnut Creek Masters – are a program of 410 swimmers – of those – 72 are over the age of 60 which makes up about 18% of our membership. These are people that are near and dear to my heart in so many different ways and we have gotten to know each other quite well. I believe that number is going to grow because many of these people who are over 60 now have been in the program as long as I have been in the program and my goal is to continue to see that happen so that our numbers will continue to grow.

When I started putting together this talk I made a 4-question survey that I distributed to members of my team who are over 60. I emailed the survey to some other coaches. I took some to our regional championships and interviewed swimmers. I took some to nationals and interviewed some swimmers there. The first question asked was – “why do they swim masters?” and I gave them three options – I asked them to rank them.

The number one answer was to stay in shape and for physical fitness. It is important to remember what a small percentage of the population are represented in Masters Swimming. The Senior Swimmer within Masters Swimming makes up an even smaller percentage of the population.

The answer that ranked second was the camaraderie of the group. We are social by nature and Senior Masters swimmers view being part of the team as being part of the group. My mom passed away before my children were born and this hit me hard. One of the older ladies on our team has a son I roomed with for three years before I got married. After my mom died she said, “from now on I am your Oma” – which is German for grandmother. Now whenever I see her about half the time I call her Oma and the other half the time I call her by name. This gives this lady a connection – an extended family – and a sense of belonging to the group.

Competition was the third reason they ranked. Of the three, the idea of getting up on the blocks, trying to swim fast, and setting national records was not as important as the other two.

The second question was really asking the same question in a different way. The question was “ as you swim Masters, what is the important reason that you joined a masters program?” The responses were pretty much the in the same vein: encouragement of a healthy lifestyle, the friendships established, coaching and preparation for competition, and structure for routine.
I am a creature of habit. Normally I work all the workouts on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. On the few instances when I do have to run a workout on Wednesday my entire week is screwed. I have no concept of what day it is. I loose track. I am just a creature of habit and I am convinced that our senior swimmers are wired that way too. They like to have a routine. They like to have certain things they can count on.

Lets take the example of Phyllis Crockett – I refer to her as the “the Crockett Rocket”. She is 79 years old. Phyllis swam competitively in high school. In her last high school meet she entered 6 events and won all 6 and then was told – your swimming is over, enough of this silliness, time to grow up, time to be a woman…. so she did not swim again for probably close to 60 years. After 60 years Phyllis came back to swimming and in her first meet she entered 6 events and won each one. Phyllis will be competing as an 80-year-old at the FINA World Games in 2006. She, her teammates and I are all very excited by this prospect.

I would like to talk a little about training older swimmers, and this is true of all swimmers – swimmers of all ages. “If you do what you’ve always done you’ll get what you’ve always got.” Simply, this means that if you do the same thing day after day it is hard to expect any type of radical change in the outcome. If you do not change the preparation you can not expect a change in the outcome. I should add that this is true of swimmers at all levels and ages. Another thing I have found is that everybody wants to be treated the same differently. What I mean by this is that as long as I am aware of and account for the swimmers physical limitations and items such as range of motion, they want to be held to the same standards as everyone else in the pool. If I tell my faster swimmers to go fast the “senior” swimmers want us to hold them to the same expectation – to go fast. It may not be as fast but it will still be going fast. If I tell my fast swimmers to streamline off the wall so they can bring more of that speed to the surface so that it has less slow down at the other end of the pool, the older swimmer wants to be held accountable to that also. They want to know that I have the same expectations of the as far as technique, again, within the physical limitations with what they can do relative to their age – and they want to be held to that.

At Walnut Creek Masters we have 36 swimmers over 60, 26 over 70 and 10 over 80.. This total makes up 18% of our Membership. I am excited about this number and I expect it to grow if I keep doing my job and our current membership remains in the program. At Mission Viejo Nationals I expected to field a 320 Relay, 4 guys over the age of 80. Unfortunately on of them got sick but it allowed me to swim on 2 280+ B relays. If you attended Mission Viejo Nationals you would have seen a team called “Coastmasters”. They fielded a team of four men over 90 – a 360 relay and of the men swam a 40 something ib the 50 free. This really is exciting stuff for a Masters coach. I looked up this team in the program (heat sheet) and Coastmasters only brought 7 swimmers to Nationals. The youngest was 78 – that was the young guy on the team – he was the one who stayed up – probably past 8:00 o’clock.

At this point I would like to go over some basic perceptions I have based on my observations as far as training 60 year olds, 70 year olds and 80 year olds. One thing you will find is that there will always be people who fall outside the “norms”. For example we have a 60 year old who will be 60 for Worlds, who at the prime of is season is able to repeat 100’s on the 1:15. These are the exception but there will always be some people who fall outside the norm. As far as “normal” 60 year olds are concerned my observation is that interval training motivates them. In this they are like most other swimmers. Almost everything we do is based on intervals. Send off times, 5 seconds apart, 10 seconds apart – depending on the set, 60 year old swimmers are totally in tune with that. They know what their send-off intervals are, they know when to go, and they know when to read the clock. We can use multiple intervals so there is bouncing around a lot and they can follow that as well. They are challenged by pace and descending strategies. In practice these swimmers know what their race paces are. They also know what their goal times are for events if the are swimming in meets – they know what they have to hit to achieve these types on broken swims and they are the ones who will come to me at meets and say, “I am swimming the 400 free. My goal is to hold 48 seconds per 50. What I want you to do is to do this (makes gesture) if I am holding 48 seconds and to do this (makes a different gesture) if my pace is too slow. They are in tune with pace, understand it and are motivated by it.

70 year olds are more pace and descending oriented. We use more basic intervals with them. We minimize the number of send-off numbers that they have to remember, so rather than doing hundreds on the 1:45 where they would have to remember where they were and remember 4 send off times we have them do hundreds on the two minutes. This way they only have to remember one send-off thus it is easier to keep track of their intervals and keep track of their pace and descending. Of the two, if they had to throw one out, they would throw out the interval training and focus more on pace and descend. They would not worry so much about the send off but the questions they would ask would be:
“What was my time?”
“Did I hold my pace?”
“Did I descend my swims down to the time that I wanted to do?”

With these people we will use more swim downs between timed swims. For example if one of our last sets near the end of practice is six 50’s and everybody else is descending 1 to 3 and 4 to 6 the 70+ group may descend #’s 1, 3, and 5 and use 2, 4, and six as warm-down. They have a greater recovery time and we are not as concerned with intervals.

80 year olds. Before I start I would like to share a short story about an event that took place a number of years ago with an 80 year old. One of my swimmers, in her 80’s, had just finished her event at a meet. I went up to her to speak with her and she stopped me dead when she said, ”You know what? It has been a long time since a young man put his arm around me and asked me how did that feel?” I was speechless and at the time I was still at the age where I could blush – and I did! 80 year-olds are more instructionally motivated. They are more concerned with doing it right than doing it fast. They also understand the premise that efficiency begets speed and not the other way around. They buy into the concept that if we can get them to swim more efficiently they will go faster, but is still more important for them to swim correctly than to swim fast. Our training is more conceptual. We do not use intervals as much. If everyone else is doing 4 X 150 trying to hold their 500 pace on an interval that is going to give the 10 to 15 seconds rest, what we call a +10 interval, we ask the 80 year olds to hold the same pace not by what they see on the clock but by what they feel. The same is true of descending sets and pace sets. The 80-year-olds are more focused on feel then what the clock says. For the most part their workouts are fin aided and as a coach I am fine with that. We prefer to see older swimmers use fins that are very light on their feet. Heavy fins are counter productive. Older swimmers, unless they have extremely strong kicks, will find that heavy fins tend to drag their feet low in the water. This, of course, will cause their body to be in a non-horizontal position and will cause all kinds of drag. The swimmer works harder than they would if they did not have fins on.

We are now looking at a typical Walnut Creek workout. You have heard about “trickle down economics” – we are going to talk a little bit about trickle down training and how what we see in the fast lanes changes as we move down the pool to the not as fast lanes. This, by the way, is where a lot of the older swimmers are. Our typical workout includes a warm-up set, a main set, a secondary set, and a warm–down set. Our normal workouts are from 3,200 to 3,400 yards in an hour or so. Our workouts are structured. We do have some flexibility in that we do not have the pressure of one group ending at a specific time and another group immediately following them. This way an hour workout can go a bit longer. We do have some longer distance workouts. On Mondays we have what we call our “yard dog” workouts, where it is primarily our fastest swimmers and their goal is to complete 4,000 yards in an hour. The sets are structured to accomplish this and we still have the flextime for those who are not as fast so that they might complete the distance. On weekend we sometimes have what we call our “Mega Masters”. The time frame might be a bit longer and the distance might be something like 5,000 yards. The slide in front of us now is pretty much a typical workout. We are going to go through this piece by piece and look at and discuss how it relates to our senior swimmers.

Our warm-up has not changed in 25 years. It is 300 swim – 200 kick – 200 pull. We have not changed it because everybody who is in the program knows what they are expected to do when they get there. A real benefit is that this frees me up at the beginning of practice to speak with anyone who comes on deck with questions about the program. People who are interested I joining your program will show up at the start of practice and having a standardized warm up frees me up to speak to those people. I don’t have to worry about my swimmers – they know exactly what to do. This gets me free to say, “hi”, “how are you?”, and to respond to questions about joining our program. It allows time to introduce new people to our philosophy, our people, our workout method and style. Interacting with prospects in the first 5 minutes is crucial.

Everybody holds on the wall at 15 minutes. If the workout starts at 5:30 in the morning, at 5:45 I hold everybody up – regardless of where they are and we start together as a group. After the warm-up set we were going to do three round of 25 kick, 50 drill swim and 75 kick, drill swim. We set intervals by lane and in this case they are moderate. This set is designed so that the swimmer can use a kick board if they so choose as they will come back to it. If the main st will include any no-free swimming we suggest the swimmers warm up their no free strokes at this time. Our 70 and 80 year olds will only do the repeat two times instead of the 3 times for the rest of the group so they will finish about the same time as the remainder of the group. On this day I am allowing 12 minutes for this set which seems like a lot for 450 yards but really after I hold them up I use this time for announcements I need to make about anything that might be coming up, announcements of any nature. We also take this time to explain the main set.

The main set consists of 4 sets of 3 X 125 followed by a 75. The first time through, the 125s are on a fast interval with the 75 on an easy interval. The second time through the 125s are on a moderate interval, but they are going to try and hold the same pace on each of one of these 125s and then another easy 75. The third time through, the 125s are on an easy interval but he 125s are being done on a descending time. In this go through the strokes can be mixed in. We are using these 125s for what we call load setting. We do a lot of this. The 75s can be their choice of strokes so people who are non-freestylers, flyers, breaststrokers, backstrokers, and IM’ers can do their strokes – their primary strokes on the 75. We use the 125s to put some stress on the body by either holding their pace or as we are doing in this set descending those 1 – 3 and by changing what we do within those 125s which allows changing the load a little bit from set to set. On the fourth time through the 125s should be the fastest. The approximate time for the entire 1,800-yard set for our fastest swimmers should be 25-30 minutes.

Our seniors will be treated differently. The 60 and 70 year olds will have a couple of options. They can cut this from 4 times through to 3 times through (1,350 yards) or they can change the 125s to 100s and the 75s to 50s (1,500 yards) but using the same pattern and load factor. For the 80 year old group we might reduce this and change the focus by having the swimmers do 125 followed by 75 4 times. The instruction would be to give themselves a little bit more rest after each 125 before starting the 75 and for these people I might be as non specific as that. “Just allow yourself a little bit more rest”. I am not going to say we are going to do these on 2:30 and then 2:40 and then the 2:50. I am just going to say, “just give yourself a a little bit more rest before we start the 75 and each time you do the 75 I want you to make it a little bit faster.” Again they are probably doing this more by feel than by actual time on the clock. If we have the chance to have two coaches on deck and can keep the seniors on the clock they love it. In most cases they are swimming on their own they do this as much by feel as anything else.

Question form the floor: What happens if you have a much younger swimmer in the lane with your older swimmers?
Answer: That is a great question. I want you to get a visual of this guy. Glen was a skateboarder/surfer when he was growing up. At the time I am discussing he is about 38 years old, is probably 50-60 pounds overweight and has come back to swimming. He jumps in with these ladies. He loves these ladies and they love him. They “mother” him, he is willing to do what they do and I am willing to keep him in their lane, at least for now, as he keeps coming back every day. There will be a point when he will move into a little faster lane, but for now he is perfectly happy dealing with these “elderly ladies”. I wanted you to get a picture of big old Glen and these three little old ladies sitting around him. We had another man on our team named Bosco – Harold Boscowitz – he is our team manager. When we first met he was not a swimmer at all. He got into swimming because his wife was on our team. He thought, if I am going to all these meets I might as well and swim too. We had a few lessons and he started swimming with the group. When he was getting ready to compete we started match racing him against older swimmers. His 1st race was a 50 free against a 78 year-old woman. He cleaned her clock. He felt good about it. Then we moved him up to a 65. You might say we “used” these people but they are a great resource in this sense. They are warm and endearing to new people coming into our program, people who may otherwise feel a bit edgy about being there and the new experience of masters. Swimming with our older swimmers is a great place to start the newer swimmer. The older swimmer is accepting, loving and the warmth is enough alone to get the new swimmer back the next time.

Question form the floor: What does your team manager do?
Answer: The team manger is basically in charge of helping set our budget. He does all our money stuff. He is also kind of our treasurer. He books all our hotels and flights, takes care of the coaches per diem – all that type of stuff. He takes care of all those pieces that were it left to me would probably not get done or wouldn’t be done as well. It is a great resource to be able to say “this is what I want” and know it is going to get done.

Getting back to the set we were discussing. The last set or warm down set is a is a kick/swim 300 or pulling a negative split 300 with a 200 warm down. Many of our senior swimmers will not get to this point. Most of the senior swimmers will have done 400-500 during the warm-up. During the main set they will have been able to get in somewhere between 800 and 1,500 yards for a total of 1,800 – 2,500 yards for the complete workout. If I can get that out of a 60, 70, or 80 year old I feel like I have had a good day and they have had a good day. With a lot of our senior swimmers, especially those 80 + the limiting factor is their internal clock. The clock in their head is every bit as good as the clock in mine. Some of them swim for 50 minutes and will say, “Kerry, what time is it?” and I go – dam – they are right, it is time to get out so I go and put the ladder in and they get out and I take the ladder back out. This is a good workout. If I can get this done with my senior swimmers we have both had a good day.

Cross training for seniors: There is a huge range of things that they are willing to do and cal cross training: dry land and weights, yoga and Pilates, hiking, golf, cribbage, rummage sales – in their minds these are all cross training. I am going to spend a little time on resistance training for seniors.
Can senior athletes improve and gain strength? Yes they can! It has been proven.
Can resistance training for seniors change body composition? Yes it can and does!
Can resistance training enhance bone density in seniors? Yes to a certain extent it does.
Can resistance training reduce depression in seniors? Absolutely! Just like everybody else.

One of our swimmers did a Masters Thesis on swimming and depression. She took a survey of a hundred of our members. It was about a 25-question survey and I had her pull the results from all the people who were 60 and above. The results were conclusive that the more they swam the more release they had from depression and the more release they had from stress. Stress was the big thing. You know, I am not 60 – I am not 70 – I am not 80 – I do not know what kind of stresses they have but I assume they have them. Based on this survey they do and swimming helps reduce the stresses in their lives.

I would like to talk a little bit about senior swimmers in competition. Contrary to some of the rumors you may have heard I have never been served with a restraining order to stay away from pools at senior citizens homes. It has never been established nor substantiated that I do this, but people say I do. The percentage of seniors who compete compared to the percentage of masters who compete is huge. The general population of masters swimmers who compete is relatively small in relation to the larger picture of health, fitness and wellbeing. I am competitive by nature. My wife thinks that the things I can turn into competition is absurd. I can turn trivial things into competition. I am competitive in my coaching. I like to take my swimmers to meets. It makes it more fun for me and I think it is part of the big circle. Fitness: if you are going stay fitter you are going to stay more in tune. If you stay more in tune you will stay with the program longer, you will also stay with the program longer if you set goals. I think whether it be triathlons, open water swims, pool meets, postal events – whatever it is – whatever it is; if you set and use the goals as bench marks then you are coming full circle. The swimmer will do these events and then you will change your goals, and the swimmer will come out and we will train and we will do it again. I am very big on having swimmers go to meets because it is being part of the team, it is being connected. We have swimmers who may go to a meet, a national championship meet, who do not place in an individual event but they may get 7th, 8th, or 9th on a B or C relay and suddenly they are aware that they have contributed to that final score. They are part of the team and their being there mattered and it helped our goal as a team so I am very big on trying to get people to come to meets.

The silver bullet: this is something that we started – probably 12-15 years ago that we wanted to make sure that we recognize the older swimmers on our team and that they knew from our standpoint – from my standpoint as a coach – from our standpoint from the board of our team that they were important to us. Every workout that we added to our program was a result of seniors getting squeezed in the workout they were in. When I first started coaching there was a 6 o’clock in the morning workout and there was a noon workout. Noon workouts started getting really crowded – the seniors started getting crunched down so we said – let’s do this – let’s start a 10:30 workout because all those senior swimmers can come at 10:30 so we started a 10:30 workout. There was primarily seniors in the beginning, but then it started filling in with young moms, people who own their own business, retired swimmers – this type of stuff. The same thing happened with our 5:30 in the morning workout. That started getting large to where we were having 50 people at the 5:30 workout and we had 13 lanes and people were starting to get crunched so we said, lets start a 6:45 workout so our seniors can come at that time and the same thing happened. It started filling in with other people who could swim. We started grabbing lap swimmers who could come in at that time, but every time we have added a workout it is to make sure that we meet the needs of our senior swimmers and then it winds up filling up and getting swimmers of all ages.

We provide transportation to and from meets – whether that is just making sure that we carpool with them or we provide van service to them to the meets and stuff so that they do not have to worry about driving and we are very fortunate in Northern California that if we drive 45 minutes to a meet – that is a haul. I mean, we are so fortunate that we have so many teams in our area that we do not have to go very far for a meet, but we don’t want – if these people are going to go to a meet and they are there all day, we don’t want them driving – especially if they don’t have to. We will take care of that for them and what I found – when I was young I didn’t do this much, but I have learned as I have gotten older and closer to these people’s age – that when I drive to a meet I try to take some seniors with me.

You talk about quality time with your kids – well this is quality time with your elderly swimmers and the things that you learn! These people have enhanced my life so much just by their stories that they tell me. One lady who was 78 years old – she had been married three times – the one that lasted the longest was the one that she married after three days. She lived with that guy for 35 years. One guy – and this was late 1980’s – 1987 – he says, I got a joke for you. Out on the coast – a ship is coming in – hits a rock – breaks open and it was filled with wine. It was carrying this huge cargo of wine – breaks open – the cases break open – the water – the wine with the water washes ashore and it left no tern unstoned. A tern – that is a type of bird, okay? Instead of no stone unturned – no tern unstoned. Kind of a little flunky, dorky joke, but he told me this almost 20 years ago and I still remember it, you know? These people are great. I love listening to their stories. I love the way that they enrich my life, just by the things that they have done and so whenever we go to a meet I try to take these people with me.

We make sure that they are represented on our board so that they know the senior swimmers on our team know that they have a voice. Whenever a decision has to be made it is not being made without having members on our board who are looking out for the needs of the senior citizens.

Pacific Masters Championships: now I am going to start to look at how these people have affected some of the results that we have in our meets. Pacific Masters Championships – short course championships in 2005 – probably 850 swimmers at this meet – a three day meet. My guess is that this is probably the largest meet in the country, other than a national championship – as far as the number of swimmers who might go to a meet – it is fairly large – 850 swimmers. The top five teams this year – Walnut Creek was first – 3732, University of San Francisco was 3185 and then these three other teams. You can see there is quite a drop-off between second and third and then it is pretty tight again. That is the number of points for the meet. We had 148 swimmers – USF 167 swimmers and then it dropped off. Now, USF has won this meet – 12 or 13 years in a row. It is their big meet for their team – everybody comes – everybody has dinner together – it is a big thing for them.

Q.) just looking at this and kind of gleaning – 15% participation based on your …

A.) yeah we are getting to that. Drum roll please. But, we decided – we were co-hosting this meet with another team at their pool because they had a better facility suited for this so we said let’s go ahead and do it so I threw out to my team – like I said, I am very ambitious about having people come to meets. I set out a goal, we had a banner made of team 200. I wanted 200 swimmers at the meet at either – in some sort of capacity of either swimming and competing or volunteering to run the meet because it was going to be a huge undertaking and so the number of points scored by 60+ Walnut Creek was 26% – University of San Francisco was 21%. This, in my mind, made the difference and our total number – we had 147 swimmers, probably another 30-35 swimmers that were there that didn’t swim in the meet, but volunteered so I think we got pretty close to our 200 goal. So, that had a direct outcome on how we did as a team. The 2005 long course championships this year – a much smaller meet – it is always a much less attended meet – maybe 400-450 swimmers is good size for this meet. We took 49 swimmers of which 17 of them were over the age of 60. Individual events – these 17 people won 43 events, 26 seconds and 8 thirds. 63% of our points were scored by 34% of our swimmers. We had five age group high point winners over the age of 65 and we had two runner-ups so I know where my bread is buttered, believe me. Long course nationals at Mission Viejo: 496 of our 1178 points were scored by swimmers 60 and over. 27% of our swimmers scored 40% of our points. We had 49 individual swims in individual events in the age group 60 and above: 14 first places, 8 seconds, 7 thirds so 59% of our swims for that age group were in the top 3 – again, this is where we are. This is the strength of our team.

Senior swimmers as resources: We have talked a little bit about why they swim. We have talked about how we train these swimmers – what they bring to me as a coach and they do a lot of this – they say – because I want them to. They do it – they say, “we wouldn’t be going if it wasn’t for you”. I don’t believe that, but it is there – we will go with that, but “most people rust out due to lack of use. Few people rust out due to overuse”. Use these people. Our board of directors for Walnut Creek Masters is set up with an executive board made up of myself, a men’s and a women’s team captain who are voted in by the membership on an alternating two year basis – we make up the Executive Board and then the rest of the board is made up by another six members, of which three of those are over 60. One of them is our team manager, one of them is our secretary and one of them is our newsletter editor so they are a viable part of this. They feel connected to the team. They know that what they do is important. At our Pacific Masters swimming committee – Walnut Creek Masters volunteers – we have six members serve on committees – four of those members are either committee chairs or officers and three of those people are over 70. I mean – this just people being involved you know, wanting something to do with life that is important and when you start getting to this level, it is important. Thank God these people are here to do this because it is not something that I want to do and some of the stuff that they do and they are very meticulous about rules – one of the guys is on the rules committee and he will riffle through all of this stuff that I would never do – it is just great that these people are here and they are providing this service to us – not only Walnut Creek – not only Pacific Masters, but at the National Convention also.

I want to talk a little bit about the way our dues structure is set up with Walnut Creek Masters. Our swimmers pay the same fee to come through the door as the regular lap swimmers. Every time – except for on our Saturday workouts – every time we have a workout going on, there are lanes available for adult lap swimming at the same time so our swimmers pay the same fee to come through the door so we do not have to collect that money every month, turn around and give it back to the city in the way of pool fees or water fees – and they pay the same thing coming through the door. They will get a break – the Masters team will get a break if they want to do a lump sum at the beginning of the year – they will give them a break so they pay and they can do daily fee, monthly fee, punch card fee – whatever works out best for them. That is entirely up to them. We don’t take that money and we do not see that money and we don’t have to worry about it and then they pay $180. to be on the team per year – $30 of that or $35 of that – whatever it is right now goes to their USMS card – the balance of that comes into the team for our budget.

Now, myself, I am a fulltime employee for the City of Walnut Creek and I have my assistant coaches – are ¾ part or half and quarter time so most of our salary and stuff is paid through the city, but out of this $180, the team also supplements our salary through that. One of the lines we have on there is voluntary donation to coach’s salaries. They pay $180. but there is one line at the bottom that they can add to that before they write their check – it is called voluntary contribution to coach’s salaries and whenever I give a talk like this I stand by this – there are people on your program that just need the opportunity to show you as a coach, their gratitude in monetary ways. Year to date – 2005 – that amount has been $10,000. that has come back into our budget that goes towards our coaches salaries through our membership. $2,900. of that has come from swimmers 60 and over and these are people on fixed – many of them are on fixed incomes. So, 29% of our contributions are coming from 18% of our membership of people over 60. Give to them and they give back.

The last thing that I wanted to add with this is that – I don’t know if that one has happened yet, but when the time comes, but when we look at being a city employee – what I had to do in the very beginning is I had to go to the meetings and I had to go to the workshops and I had to go to the buddy-buddy stuff of Mission Vision and this type of stuff and I didn’t pay that much attention to it until I realized and it took a little while really, much longer than it probably should have. What we do with our programs is a business and the same stuff that works for businesses out there in the corporate world will also apply to us as our teams and our programs -– that we have to have a mission and a vision statement. We have to have plans. We have to have goals and this type of stuff and so we sat down and we decided to write our mission and vision statement of who we were going to be with our team and what we came up with was this: “Walnut Creek Masters, in an atmosphere that promotes physical fitness, personal challenge, teamwork and camaraderie and strives to have every member exit the pool with a heightened sense of accomplishment and self-worth.”

That is who we decided we wanted to be. No mention in there of competition and my goal is and I always say this too is that if I can adhere to that mission and vision statement on a daily basis that all the other stuff – the success that we have as a program at a competitive level – all that is going to fall into place. If I can do that and if my assistant coaches can do that and we can do that as a program – people are going to stay involved and our program is going to grow.

So, that is essentially it. They are a viable part of the team. The other thing I was going to add to – with that survey I sent out – the other two questions that were on there – one was: Do you give back to your program in terms of volunteerism? And the other one was – do you feel like your program is using you as am adequate resource? On those surveys, as they come back, 50% of those – on both of those was no. No, I do not give back to my program and no, I do not feel like I am being used as a resource. Light bulb goes off – there are people out there that want to be used, that can be used and an important part of their being in the program is to feel needed. That light bulb went off in that 70 year old who swam away from me during that butterfly and I saw that muscular work in his back – I want to be that guy – that is what the light bulb went off at and I said, when I am 70 and I am getting closer – I want to be that guy. I want to be in a program and I want to do what he is doing, okay? The football thing lasted three years. This is going to last forever if everything goes right.

Q.) You were talking about people leaving money in their wills?

A.) Thanks for bringing that up – two of our members are working on it as a part of this monetary contribution, as we are working on a plan giving program where certain members on our team will actually sit down and talk with old swimmers and some of that stuff that if they want – if this is an important part of their life – if what we do is an important part of their life and they want to see that continue so that it can be important to other peoples lives – we want to give them that opportunity to do that through their wills, through this type of leaving money back to the program and that piece is still in progress and we are trying to figure out how to do that in the right way – in a positive way so that it doesn’t look like they are coming after their money. Once you set something like that up and you take the time to make sure you do it properly – there are people out there that want to give. What you do is very important to these peoples lives and our programs are that way too and I think they can see beyond their own life as to how it is going to be important for others too so we are working on a planned giving program. We don’t know what is going to happen – we get very, very good support from the city of Walnut Creek, but in ten years – you do not know where the economy is going to go – we don’t want to raise our dues too high to where these people on fixed incomes all of a sudden can’t afford to be in the program so one of the things that we want to do with this plan giving is create a slush fund so as the rates go up we can kind of tether their rates so we can kind of keep them in balance and offer discounts to our older swimmers.

Q.) The questions about – do you feel like you are giving back – do you feel like you are being used as a resource – isn’t that our responsibility to ask?

A.) Exactly. If we are not asking folks to you know, to do something – and that is where the light bulb went off with me. And we have had former Olympians on our team – other people have them too. What a great resource those people are – the experiences that they have gone through and stuff – use those people to motivate – we have used those people as motivational speakers to our groups and stuff and have them talk to a lot of our rookies and stuff – this is where I was – this is where I am now – totally different picture and men have a harder time with that than women. Women are much better about looking at – this is my theory – women are much better at separating who they used to be with who they are now and I think that has to do with childbearing. That once they have had children it is very easy for them to cut off to this is what I was before – now I have had children and now I have raised children – this is where I am at now and because men do not have that – we have a hard time accepting the fact that we are getting slower and we are not as fast as we used to be, you know? I think we struggle with that more than the women do.

Q.) How do you recruit the seniors – I don’t think of anyone out there as being over 45?

A.) One thing that we did that I really liked was, our pool is in the center of town, towards a more downtown area – is where our senior center is – Civic Park and that is where most of the seniors who have absolutely nothing to do with swimming gather and do whatever they are doing – whether it is bingo, pool – they have all kinds of activities set up for them and what we did is we said – let’s bring them to the pool because we have water aerobics, we have masters swimming, we have lap swimming and so we set up this program and we did a presentation to them – we showed them the pool. Then we picked a day where we had senior busses there waiting to bring them to the pool. We brought them into the pool at the time where they got to see the end of a water aerobics class getting done and they could talk with some of those people and that time they got to see the beginning of a masters workout starting and we had someone talk to them a little bit about that and then we had one of the people who just comes and does laps. There are people – a lot of older swimmers will come down to the shallow end and they will hold onto the wall and they will do their own exercise and they will walk in the water, but we just want to make them available to this environment that is here that many of them did not even know was there or would never think about it.

Q.) If you have got a public university with a lifelong learning center – that is a great place to go and talk about Masters swimming – that is where they are, I mean – they are there.

A.) When you look at human interest stories in the newspaper, you can have a 40 – 50 year old swimmer set some world records and that is tough, but you get a picture of a 75 year old man or woman up on the blocks and all of a sudden, that is human interest. Our papers are more apt to write stories – human interest stories about our elderly swimmers than they are to talk about how we did at a meet. If I send them results and we won this meet and we had 18 high point winners and we set this many records, we might get a little write up in, but if I send a picture of a senior swimmer in the water swimming, talking about swimming itself as a lifelong healthy activity they can do – we are getting a lot more spread. Again, it is just using them again as a resource. Well, you also get out of the sport section and into the section of the paper that mine are looking at – that they are most likely to read – but the women are looking at it as well.

Q.) Your older swimmers – some of them are dying obviously – they have been in the program for a long time – what kind of effect does that have on your team?

A.) We have lost some swimmers. We actually lost one in a meet one time. She was a great swimmer with lots of records. What a cutie – 4 foot nothing you know? But swam her events and stuff and when she finally passed away – she went fairly quickly – all of a sudden they realized she had cancer and it was within a month and a half – two months that she was gone. The family wanted us to hold the service at the pool. There was no church service. It wasn’t a supplemental service – this was the service they wanted held and it was great. It was really great and if you have been at masters competitions over the last ten or fifteen years you had an opportunity to see swimmers go down – both young and old and it is a shocking thing, but all of a sudden you realize – you know, they are doing something they love – not a bad way to go. You know, we are all shocked – we are all saddened. We lost a swimmer in May at the short course championships – a 35 year old gentleman. He finished all his events, had the greatest meet of his life. A good 200 fly time for him was 2:09 – that was his best event. He went 2:03 – just – he is a big guy – very good in shape – swam all his life, but he was just a big thick guy and he got in the water and he just moved like a seal – great streamlines off the wall. He had more distance off his turns than guys half his size – twice as tall and half his size – it was beautiful to watch him swim and he finished up all of his events. His last event was the 1,000 – at the end of Sunday. He finished it – he was fine – a great thousand – joked – talked around with people for 15 minutes – got in the water – stood there talking another five minutes – went to drop underneath the water – pushed off the wall and he was gone. And it affects us, yeah, we were – man – it was tough. It was a congenital heart problem. You know, he had high blood pressure. He wouldn’t take medicines for it because it was going to affect his swimming and he went and there was nothing that could have been done. It was tough on all of us, but again, and his family did the same thing – they requested that the service be at the pool because that was such a big part of his life and it brought such great closure.

I mean, we just found different ways to deal with this and with our older swimmers too. You knew that they had a beautiful life because we got to meet their family over the years and stuff – their daughters – their grandchildren would come to the meets – they had a beautiful life – they had a long life and what a great advantage and honor to be a part of that. It is tragic when it happens young, but yeah – it happens and I think because I have been in this as long as I have and I have seen it that I appreciate what I see out there. I see these people show up on a day in and day out basis and I love them.

Selected PowerPoint Slides from Coach O’Brian’s Presentation:
The WCM Program
Total Membership: 410
Members 60+: 72
Percentage 60+: 18%


* Motivated by Interval Training

* More Pace and Descending Oriented

* Instructionally Motivated

WCM Typical Workout
WARM UP: S-300 K-200 P-200
4 X ( 3 X 125 + 1 X 75)
TOTAL: 3,250 OR 3,350

WARM UP: S-300 K-200 P-200
– Everybody holds up at the 15:00
SWIM 4 X ( 3 X 125 + 1 X 75)

Swim 4 X (3 X 125 + 1 X 75)
60+ and 70+ repeat 3x
Or 100’s instead of 125’s
50’s instead of 75’s
80+ 4 x (125 + 75)
Lengthen interval after 125
Descend 75’s 1-4


WARM UP: 400-500
SET I: 300
SET II: (MAIN SET)800-1500
TOTAL 18,00-2,500 YARDS


Can senior athletes improve gains in strength? YES
Can resistance training for seniors change body composition? YES
Cans resistance training enhance bone density in seniors? YES
Can resitance training improve depression in seniors? YES


2005 Pacific Masters
Short Course Championships
Total # of Swimmers: 800+
Total # of Teams Participating: 58

1.) Walnut Creek Masters 3,732
(148 Swimmers)
2.) Univ. of San Francisco 3,158
(167 Swimmers)
3.) Davis 1,110.5
4.) Manatee Masters 1,023.5
5.) Tri-Valley Masters 754

% of Points Scored by 60+
Walnut Creek 26%
Univ. Of San Francisco 21%

2005 Pacific Masters
Long Course Championships
– 17 of 49 Swimmers 60+
– Individual Events: 43 1st Places
26 2nd Places
8 3rd Places
63% of points scored by 34% of swimmers
Five Age-Group high Point Winners over 65

Senior Swimmers as Resources
“ Most people rust out do to lack of use. Few people rust out due to overuse.”

WCM Board of Directors
– Executive Board: Head Coach
Women’s Captain
Men’s Captain
Board of Directors: 6 Members
( 3 over 60+)
– Team Manager
– Secretary
– Newsletter Editor

Pacific Masters Swim Committee
WCM Volunteers
– 6 members serve on committees
– 4 members committee chairs or officers
– 3 are over the age of 70

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