I want to thank ASCA first for inviting me to do this. I have been an ASCA member since 1972, and this is my first opportunity to speak to you here and I am happy to be doing that. I have always been partial to the kind of talk that is a nuts-and-bolts presentation – one in which the speaker throws out a lot of ideas that may or may not apply, but some of them usually will stick in your own mind and make things go. The title of my talk is “This Really Works: 20 Proven Ideas To Build Your Program.” The “this really works” concept was actually started at an ASCA convention in the mid-80s, where they had a room full of people and a one-hour, open-mike session. Every 2 1/2 minutes someone would come to the mike and talk about an idea in their program. Talk about nuts and bolts! So that was the concept I started with for this program.
I will try to give you 20 proven ideas. “Proven ideas” means that I use them. It means that they work for me, so I have to warn you that they might not work for you or you might have to adapt or modify them to your own personal philosophy or to the setting in which you work and the team that you work with. These will be fairly general ideas. I am not going to talk about specifics. I am going to give you some general ideas that I think can be put together to make a pretty good Masters program. I suspect that in this room, given 15 minutes, we could come up with 20 other things that work, too, but I am not going that far. I am only going for 20. My game plan is to talk for about two minutes on each of the topics that I’ve picked, then I’ll answer questions.
Point #1: Develop and use an annual plan for the whole team. I am not going to talk about specific annual plans. I think that those of you who are not using annual plans right now need to go to Remedial Coaching 101 because I believe everybody needs to use an annual plan. But my point is to use an annual plan for your whole team.
There are typically three types of people who come to Masters swimming. We have competitive swimmers. We have triathletes or other multi-sport athletes. And we have non-competitive swimmers. My point is that you need to have a general annual plan that includes the whole team. If you don’t believe that swimming is a team sport, particularly at the club level, you have missed the boat. Swimming is clearly a team sport. It can be done obviously as individuals, but swimming, to get the most out of it, is a team activity and what we try to do is put our swimmers on a team plan to make sure that everything is together. It saves my sanity, frankly. I can’t do 38 practices a week of different things to accommodate different people. Having a team plan doesn’t mean that we are moving in lock step. What it means is that we are working according to the same general plans throughout the season with the modifications necessary as we get into competitive season and as we get into triathlon season.
POINT #2: Modify your annual plan for your triathletes. I love triathletes. I know that some of you as Masters coaches think triathletes bring you as many threats as they do opportunities, but I think that pairing with triathletes is a great opportunity for the future of Masters swimming. Triathletes need to be able to swim in order to get on the bike. The path to the end of the race goes through the water, and typically for most triathletes, swimming is their worst event, so you have to accommodate the triathletes. Now, how much accommodation do you want to do, in order not to risk your program for the rest of the swimmers? That is a balance issue that you have to establish within your own philosophy. In my case it is pretty simple. Triathletes do what we do, knowing that on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays their main set we will be either 100% freestyle or at least 75% freestyle. That is the accommodation that I make to triathletes; otherwise, they do what we do and that includes the four strokes. We have a number of triathletes who think that short-axis is really the axis of evil, but that is what they do. That is the accommodation that I make for them. We also have paired with a triathlon club and that has been an enormous source of both revenue and satisfaction to me.
POINT #3: Ask every swimmer to set personals goals every year. In a typical Masters group you have three groups of people, and goals that people set are going to come in a lot of different forms. Obviously, competitive swimmers can get down and do the traditional goal-setting stuff that most of us as long-time swimmers would appreciate. Triathletes do something of the same thing, multiplied by 3 because they have three activities. For non-competitive swimmers the goals can be fairly general, but they need goals. After all, if you don’t have a target you are never going to hit it, and coaches who try to work with Masters teams without establishing goals or direction are not going to get where they want to go.
We use the school year, plus summer, as a training year. So this is the time of year – fall — when I ask our people to do goal setting and to put their goals in writing and that really helps me, as a coach, to accommodate swimmers in practice. Let’s say I have a typical practice session of maybe 30 swimmers. Knowing their goals helps me cope with the fundamentally most difficult thing that swimming coaches do and that is to deal with each person as an individual within a group session. If I don’t know their goals, I am not going to be able to accomplish that.
POINT #4: Talk with each swimmer at least three times during each practice. This is really basic and fundamental. All of you have been exposed to this concept before. Coaching is communication and if you are not talking to people during practice you are not making the communication steps. Masters swimmers crave attention. You all know this, right — that everybody in your program loves to get talked to and loves to get feedback? So you have to work hard at it. If you have 30 people in the pool in a one-hour session, that gives you two minutes with each person – actually it never works out that way because you are also playing traffic cop and doing all the other things you need to do as a coach, but you need to touch base with each person often during practice. Hopefully, that contact is going to be specific and usually technical. Sometimes that contact is just to say “good work” and give the person a thumbs-up or okay sign. Sometimes that contact is going to be “what a great new suit you have today,” but that is important too because they need that kind of stroke. The big thing is that you have to personalize your practice so that people will stay involved. If you just let them come in and let them swim and let them get out and go and you haven’t spoken to them at least three times during that practice you haven’t touched the person who is there. Some coaches try to get to practice early and talk to people as they come in. Some like to spend a little time after practice and talk to people as they go out. It’s all contact time that is invaluable, but make sure that when you are in the practice – 3 times – minimum.
POINT #5: Challenge every swimmer every day. In a Masters program, because of the range that you have in your athletes, sometimes this is difficult. We have all worked out ways in our own program to challenge the very best swimmers – you know – some of us have national-level swimmers, national Top 10-level swimmers, or better. Some of us have people who struggle. Typically, they are in different lanes, but sometimes that’s not possible. In our program we typically have four or five or maybe even six lanes, and I am able to separate abilities pretty well so I can challenge people physically. But we also have to remember that challenging people and making them work hard is only one level of challenge. We have to make sure that we are challenging them to be better in whatever way we can on a daily basis. Challenging may include having the very best possible stroke that you can do on that day. Challenging is to focus on one aspect of breaststroke on this one day. Challenging may be making sure you descend the set of four 50s. It can be a lot of different things, but you have to get there so people are challenged. People accept challenges and challenged people are going to be better swimmers and they are going to be happier swimmers, which is of course what we want to have in the end. Happier swimmers come back. Happier swimmers pay your dues – remember that.
POINT #6: Eliminate the slow lane. What on earth does that mean? Well, how many of you have had the experience of having a new swimmer come in and ask, “Which lane is the slow lane? I want to try.” In our program I explain right away that we don’t have a slow lane, and they look at me in horror. “You don’t have a slow lane? What am I going to do?” And I say, “You are going to go in the fast lane.” They look at me with larger eyes and then I explain. “We have five lanes in practice. We have the fast lane and we have faster, we have faster, we have faster, and we have fastest. You are in the fast lane.”
By actually being there – ready to go in the water for a Masters practice (and in our program I recommend being able to swim 500 as the starting point), they are already in the 90th percentile of adults in the United States. They are better than nine out of ten people if they can swim 500 yards continuously. WOW! That is a sad comment on the fitness level of American adults, but it is a realistic way of telling them, “You are already special because you are here and that is what our expectation is. You are fast. You are already able to swim 500 yards.” And then they look at the guys in the other lane and say – oh my – I don’t want to swim with those guys and I say, look, you have your own lane and you are going to do what you are going to need to do. We don’t have a slow lane anymore.
Now one of the nice things about my situation (I work as the swim fitness coordinator for the Bend Metro Park & Recreation District in Bend, Oregon) is that I have control of the other levels of adult instruction and we have an intermediate level that gets people to 500 yards, so I have control of that, but they typically do not swim in our Masters program until they can reach that level.
POINT #7: Keep group drills simple. This has always been a bug-a-boo of mine. I go to clinics like this and I go and look at the literature and I go on the Internet and I recognize that there are literally hundreds of drills to help correct swim technique. As a swimming coach I need to know a lot of them, but as a group teacher in a setting where I have very fast swimmers and some swimmers who are not very fast, my goal is to keep things simple enough so that everybody in a group training session stays on the same wavelength. So I pick four or five drills that I am going to use in a season to teach freestyle, and another four or five for each of the other strokes. I don’t want to make things crazy or complex during practice. I want things to be simple. I am going to pick the very simple drills – most of you know them. I am not going to sit here and talk about what drills I use. That is something you need to figure out for your program. You have to decide what skills you want to get across. But don’t complicate things in practice by trying stuff that is crazy and trying to apply this to a wide range of people of varying skill levels. Keep things simple. Now, that doesn’t mean you can’t work with a swimmer on a particular problem during warm-up or warm-down. You could say, hey, I know this other drill that I want you to try because it’s going to apply to you directly, but when you get to a group setting – keep it simple.
POINT #8: Use regular test sets. It is part of challenging people, but it is also part of evaluating. I have a very difficult time understanding swim coaches who say I never use the same practice twice. I have a really hard time with that because, in the end, how do you evaluate how they are doing, except by meet results alone? I would like to have a much better evaluation of how things are going long before we go to any swimming meet and, of course, those people who do not compete at all – how can you evaluate them at all unless you are going something regularly that tests them and allows them to measure themselves?
We try to do test sets that apply to the group that we have. Now again, I am going to disappoint all of you and not tell you what test sets I use because I think they have to relate to the kind of program you are running and the kind of athletes you have. It depends on the kind of time that you have to do the sets, and how often you want to do them, but you have to give people benchmarks. Periodically, they have to have a way to evaluate their fitness level and speed. This is extremely motivating. Not using test sets was a mistake I made a long time ago in Masters swimming and after that we do test sets fairly frequently, just so people have a chance to check in on how they are doing.
POINT #9: Use video often. It doesn’t matter how technical you are. Use video. We live in the 21st century. Remember that if a picture is worth a thousand words, a moving video in slow motion or stop action is worth a thousand times more than that. People need to see what they are doing. Showing video is a much better way to communicate the kinds of skills that you as a swim teacher need to be getting across. Video is the way to go.
Most of you have video cameras or most of you have access to video cameras through your team. Most of you realize that shooting above-water video in practice is way better than not having that available at all. Obviously, if we go to the high end we are going to take underwater pictures. We are going to use a software program where you can clearly help people learn things better, but video use can be really simple. A camera, a monitor, a swimmer, and a coach – pretty much what you need and you need to go and use that frequently.
You may ask, “How am I going to do that in a group of 30 or 40 swimmers training at once?” That is difficult, but there are times when you have to say okay, on this day we are going to do video and we are going to shuffle things around. Scott Rabalais takes a modular approach. He shoots video lane by lane by lane at practice, so that everybody gets a snippet of video on themselves. This is valuable, valuable time. You might miss a little training time, but you get a lot more instruction as a result – and way better benefit. If you don’t use video – spend this next week getting it.
POINT #10: Hold clinics often. I think the clinic is a valuable adjunct to anything that you do with a regular practice schedule. At this time of year (fall) in my program, I spend a week per stroke – basically having people break it down. I introduce the drills, we refine what people are doing, and we spend a lot of time instructing – kind of fooling people into shape at the same time. I think it is important for a variety of reasons to hold clinics outside of that format. They don’t have to be long. Clinics can be an hour and a half or two hours, but they need to accommodate people who are not skilled at particular things and who want a little bit more instruction, who want a little bit more video.
The model that I use is a two-hour clinic, usually with 10 to 15 people. We shoot one width of video on every swimmer. Twenty yards. I run them through one at a time so that I have this big stream of video. Then everyone gets out and I talk a little bit about what I am looking for in the stroke. We play the video in slow motion. We don’t stop it at all — we just play it – and talk about what we see relative to what I just talked about. Then we jump right back in the pool and do the basic drills to help them correct what they see and actually with whole-stroke swimming so that they have a full picture of what they are doing.
I know that some of you do similar clinics. When someone joins your program in November and they don’t know how to do butterfly, how are you going to teach them except piecemeal in practice? Many of us do that, but it is really helpful to have a clinic on the side to get everyone up to speed. I haven’t had a clinic that hasn’t been full in about three years now because people are dying to get into those clinics. What it means is that I should offer more of them.
POINT #11: Create a program-interest list. What I try to do in my job as Swim Fitness Coordinator in Bend, Oregon, is to find everybody who is even remotely interested in swimming as a part of their fitness regimen. Now, of course, our Masters swim team is a major portion of that, but I am interested in finding anybody who uses swimming to stay in shape, and I am the scourge of our lap swimmers. I am out there all the time saying, “Hi, I’m Bob and how are you doing? Geez, if you swim like that I’m going to have to recruit you to my swim team.” I just talk to them in that way and build an interest list. If people express even a spark of interest, I get their name, address, and email and then they go onto my team newsletter list. I make sure to include items in the newsletter that are interesting, I hope, to the general swimming population. So what I try to do is establish relationships with people who aren’t quite convinced they should be a Masters swimmer and try and inch them my way.
In my position as Swim Fitness Coordinator, this kind of recruitment is my job, but I am also doing the job of saying we can help you take the next step. I have a Masters program that will accommodate you and let’s see if we can get that done. I live in a town of 60,000 people. I know 95% of the regular fitness swimmers. We also have ability for people to sign up at the front desk of our pool to say if they want information on clinics and special programs for fitness swimmers. I snag a few more people that way and I now have a newsletter distribution list of about 600 people. My Masters team is about 240. My interest list is the difference between 240 and about 600.
POINT #12: Establish a scholarship fund. Let me say this about money. Money is the 6th sense without which the other five can barely be appreciated. If people are out there struggling for funds, they are not going to get much enjoyment out of Masters swimming – if they can join at all.
I live in Oregon. In the last three years Oregon has had the highest unemployment rate in the United States. I am not proud to say that. I live in central Oregon. Central Oregon has had the highest unemployment rate in Oregon. That is what happens when the timber industry goes down, so what does that mean for a Masters swimmer? When you have 10% unemployment or more, that means 10% or more people probably are going to be turned away from your program for financial reasons.
A couple of years ago I got together with some people on my team. I have four or five people who are quite well off – you know, Masters demographics tell us that the income rate for Masters swimmers is quite high and I have a couple of people who are generous benefactors. I said I want each of you guys to kick in a little money and we are going to start a fund and they did and what we did was we…I…dole it out. I am in full control of the fund and I dole it out in portions to the people who need it. I also know that in my recreation district we have a scholarship fund established so that people can participate in recreation activities. So when we need pool fees, for example, I go to the Rec. Department and have them go through that and do the application process and get involved. What it has meant over the last 5 years is that about 25 swimmers have participated in my program who might have had to take time off or quit completely if it hadn’t been for the scholarship fund. We are doing what, in my heart, I recognize as meeting the inclusive needs of our whole community by allowing these people to participate.
Scholarship funds are real important and they do not have to be very big. Our typical scholarship is between $25 and $50, but it allows people to keep going and keep going and keep going. At this point, our scholarship fund is part of our team budget and we have a lot of people who have used that fund in the past who are now paying extra into our team program voluntarily because they got so much benefit out of it. You have to have some means to keep people going when times are tough.
POINT #13: Recruit and develop relationships with local sponsors. This goes to the core of what my team concept is. Sure, money is important. You heard me say that a minute ago and what we try to do is develop a community team and the way to do it is to go and get local sponsorships – either for the team itself or for particular events that the team does. The key word is local. I am not going after Power Bar. I am not going after Coca-Cola, although I may go after their local bottling company. I am not going after Speedo. I am not going after the people who have big national presence. I am looking for the people in our community who are willing to give to activities that operate primarily within our community. It is a part of community building and what we try to do is get local people involved. The idea is that your sponsor gives…and your sponsor gets. So we have a variety of ways in which we promote the people who sponsor us so that they feel they are getting good payback for what they give us and that it is a fine thing to do. We have about 25 local businesses who do sponsorship of one kind or another, and I am going to tell you right now that sponsorship makes our events possible and makes our budget possible.
POINT #14: Take your local sports editor to lunch. How many of you feel that your Masters program gets enough publicity? How many of you think that you get too much publicity? The best thing we did several years ago was to take the local sports editor to lunch and say here is what we are trying to do. I know you publish things in the community section of our newspaper. How can we make this easier for you? What do we have to do? What timelines do we have to meet? What formats do we have to use? What do you want in terms of special-interest stories and so on, and we got a relationship going with the guy and he has done a very nice job of publishing stuff for us.
I have a goal to have our team name appear in our newspaper in a positive way once a week. We have never met that goal, but that is my goal – to be out there to make sure people understand that we are running something in this town.
Now I have said, take your local sports editor to lunch. But you should also take your local Features Editor and Living Editor to lunch. They have all those sections in the newspaper besides sports and we have been very, very successful in getting press in them because fitness is always a hot topic — probably second only to diet. We do not do diet specifically, but we do do fitness and we have had quite a response in the Living Section in our paper as well about examples of people who have done certain things. You know, people who have overcome major illness or overcome being vastly overweight. People who are regular at it and have been regular in fitness swimming for a long time and we have had great publicity in that area itself. That publicity only helps you. What you become aware of is that there are people who are doing great things in the community for other people and that is how you want to position yourself. But nobody is going to blow your horn without you working hard to get their attention. So go out and get the people in your local newspapers. We have tried other campaigns with radio and things like that, but it seems to be the newspapers that are really helpful and where we can establish the best relationships. We have had a good relationship with our sports editor and that was solidified when we invited him to the State Championship meet that we hosted in April this year. All of a sudden he realized – not only were there 250 athletes at this meet, but also 75 of them were subscribers to his newspaper. That really helped, and all of a sudden we began to get better results.
POINT #15: Support other aquatics groups. Hey…we’re all in it together. Let’s say you have a couple of age-group teams. What do you do? What we do is support them in the ways that we can support them. We support them financially. We support their advertising. We support them in running their events. In turn, they do some of the same for us, and we have built a relationship. If we had a diving team and a water polo team, we would help them, too. We also have two age-group teams in my area and we try to give a balanced approach to both of those teams. We help support our Special Olympics team. What we need to do is present a united front as people who are interested in swimming, and then work hard to develop the relationships because, after all, we share a lot of the same thoughts and values.
POINT #16: Support charities. What does this have to do with swimming? A lot. It has a lot to do with building community. We are in a position to be able to give modest help to a variety of different charitable concerns. What do we get out of that? A huge amount of publicity and good will. I would like to see the good will as more important than the publicity. The good will is that we are out there helping people do things. What do we do? Well, for example, when we do a postal swim, we charge our swimmers a little bit more than the actual entry fee, and then contribute it to something worthwhile. Last year we did an event similar to that and contributed to the school district whose bond blew down and now the schools are hurting. What we have done is contribute something. That gave us a lot of legs in the newspaper. This was an event where we actually were giving — a non-profit organization was giving to our school system. Wow…that went a long way.
I said before that we sponsor our Special Olympic team. We run their meet. We pay for their trip on the road. It is just the right kind of thing that gives you a lot of legs in the community. One of the things you can do that costs no money is to give blood. That is one of the things we do – as a group – six times a year. Every 56 days you can give blood so we get a big group together and go over to the Red Cross and take over the place for a day. It’s easy to do and yet, as a community, it is something that you need to make happen. Just remember not to pound them real hard the next day after they have done that because their aerobic capacity is way down, but other than that, it is one of those ways in which your team weaves itself into the fabric of your community. And that is exactly what we try to do is get a community-based team.
POINT #17: Ask permission from swimmers’ families. This is one of my favorite ones. There are a lot of people out there who might join your team if only they felt their other family members wouldn’t object to the time that they would spend in your program. Swim practice is time that you get them where the family doesn’t, and there is a kind of tension sometimes, particularly in a family where the swimmer who wants to swim a lot or compete a lot and be on the road a lot. So my job is to make sure that that path is as smooth as it can be. My job is to know the spouses and significant others. I need to know the kids and make sure that I get permission to have mom or dad or son or daughter be able to participate in my program in a way that is not disruptive to family life.
Now, this was a huge step for me when I took it into Masters coaching. I recognized as an age-group coach that you had to deal with mom and dad, but this is a totally different kind of thing because now I am dealing with adults and, guess what? Adults have lives and lives often get in the way of what is important – swimming, right? I have to go out and actually get permission from people and how do you do that? Well, first of all, you ask them. Can Johnny come out and play tonight. Can Mary come out to practice tonight? It is not quite so simple as that, but the idea is that the families have to be alert to the fact that you understand that while swimming may be good for mom or dad, it also takes a little bit of time.
To sweeten the pot, we make sure to include families in our social events. If we have a Halloween party, it’s for kids and parents. We actually hire babysitters or two or three of them – you know, game leaders in some cases, to take the kids off for a while so the parents can get crazy, too, on Halloween. We have a pool party. People get in the water and do not have to swim on the line. They can go off the high dive. They can go on the rope swings. They can have a great time doing all the things they would never do when I am there. We have a pizza and bowling party. That has always been a favorite of ours and we have a fun center in town that helps support that. We get a great rate and it allows kids to do all kinds of activities in a family setting. In the summertime we have probably our best hook of all. Open-water swimming in Oregon is done in Lakes. It is done in about a two-month period of time because of water temperatures, but it is totally an excuse to go family camping. We do not emphasize the swimming part. We emphasize the total family experience part. I am fortunate to be able to do that because not only do I coach this team, but also I am the long-distance chair for Oregon swimming. So I get a chance to mold this a little bit and I put myself in that job precisely so I could and guess what? My team is crazy about open-water swimming because they get to take their families out there, too. Do the families buy into that? You bet they do. Our camping events represent probably more time than mom or dad spends with the kids normally and they get a new adventure and they get a lot of time together and that really works. So get permission from the families. You have to work at it, but get permission.
POINT #18: Hold social events often. Masters swimmers are often noted to go to the party first and the practice second. We have a terrific social chair – I picked him out myself. He is a great guy – a very friendly person. He knows people on the team nearly as well as I do, and we have a social event at least once a month. They don’t have to be big formal things and they don’t have to cost a lot of money. It is just the idea of getting people together to have some fun outside of practice. You know, from your own swimming experience, that the people you hang out with in swimming often become very, very good friends. Ultimately this is one of the reasons people participate — so they can be with friendly people, right? So what we try to do is provide platforms for people to get together, and it’s not a hard thing to do. It is limited entirely by your own creativity. I personally am not the kind of person who puts social events together easily, but I am good at finding the people who do that and are good at that because it is really important to the fabric of the team. In a typical Masters group you have people who participate in these events and people who don’t. They have the choice, and you are never going to get a social event that involves everybody. Don’t worry about that. Just hold the social events anyway. Let people who want to get together get together and provide avenues to do that.
POINT #19: Make every event a party. What? Practice is a party? Well there is a certain amount of zaniness to this, but essentially make special events that you do a party. My favorite example is what we do on New Years Day. How many of you on New Years Day have some sort of special practice? Usually it is really hard – really challenging, right? We go a step beyond that. There’s a rule in international competition that says your age on the last day of December is your age for the entire year. Consequently, the first of January is everybody’s birthday, so we have a metric birthday party. What that means is we come in and I just kill them on New Years Day. I give them a set that is really hard, really long, and very challenging. Lots of coaches do that. We have challenges at different levels, so that lots of people can participate. We have it staggered so that everybody finishes just about the same time and then we roll out the cake and we have a party. The first time I did this it was a sheet cake from Safeway and I went to the bakery and ordered this cake saying “Happy Metric Birthday” and the lady looked at me like, what is a metric birthday? But, eventually we got this problem solved and we go and do that. Now that is an example of taking an event and turning it into something different and fun, and we have added on to that so that it is not only some goodies at the end of practice, but also our membership drawing at the beginning of the year. In other words, if you have upped your membership by noon on January 1, you get raffle tickets and we have a big raffle. It’s just a way of getting people to the event – getting people excited about it – another little chance to socialize and a chance to win some little token of something. A raffle prize can be something small like goggles or it can be something huge like a pool membership for the year. People are ready to go for that so people get their memberships in on time – there is another value.
POINT #20: Keep it fun. I have a hard time defining fun for all of you. I feel kind of like the Supreme Court Justice who was talking about pornography and said, “I can’t define it, but I know it when I see it.” So what is fun in Masters swimming? Well, we have a couple of things that might give you a clue: Fun is improving. Fun is learning new skills. Fun is hanging out with people you like. Fun is staying fit, healthy, and slim. All those things are fun. Fun is being zany. Fun is having great parties. Fun is all of these different things so you have got to figure out – on any given day – what are you going to do today to make it fun? But it has to stay that way because, after all, isn’t it easier to hook flies with honey rather than vinegar? So you have to keep that in mind. Adults are there voluntarily. So what do you have to do? You have to bait the hook and you have to sink it in there and fun is the answer.
I have run through 20 ideas. I hope you can use some of them in your program. I will entertain questions.
Test-set question. I computerize the results, but I do not have an automated way of doing that. I collect results like crazy on deck. My assistants help, and occasionally I pull somebody up when we are doing a test set and ask them to help me out, but it is basically a coach responsibility. What I like are test sets where they have to collect their data themselves. That means longer swims. When they do shorter swims, data collection is more of my function. To track results, I put data into a formatted sheet and have that available the next time we do the set.
Question about getting sponsors. I won’t say that we have struggled with getting sponsors lately, but it has been more difficult. Back in 1999 when the economy was very good, we had no trouble at all getting sponsorship when we asked for it. Now, we have to work at it. I approach sponsors with the idea that this is something that helps build their community. I mean, it is the milieu in which they live. It is the milieu in which they do business and what I do is go in there and say – you have an opportunity to help other people in a very tangible way and as a result we are going to give you more business. That’s the basic pitch. Business people are very sharp about that and will usually respond. We have not been turned down very often. Sometimes people give less than we ask them for, but they do tend to respond in some way to our pitch. We phrase it in terms of what it is doing to build community.
Question about team building. I started on November 11, 1996, with 12 people. I have 240 now, so that is growth in my area. I live in a town of 60,000. I have another maybe 25,000 within about a 30-mile radius, so it is growth. I am dreaming of doubling that in the next couple of years and we are presumably going to be building a 50-meter pool in another year – presumably. The Park Director would not like me to be saying it quite that way, but we are on it.
Okay — here is Idea 21: Devote a portion of your team website to team members who are sponsors. What that does is to encourage those team members who are entrepreneurs and small business owners to become sponsors. We don’t hit them up for a lot, but we do hit them. Members’ network is a great idea and that is a great way to phrase that and again, it’s a way of tying your team together. Whom would you rather give money to – some group to whom you have no connection…or one of the guys who swims in the next lane?
Question about how the recent Olympics has affected enrollment. Swimming in general has a much higher profile during Olympic years – that is true. I am not sure that we got the same kind of bounce that age-group teams have, but I am certainly aware that there are more people out there who know that swimming is there as an activity. Our job as Masters coaches is to jump on that and say – you know, we are providing that activity for you as an adult, too, and that is a jump that is not made by the media. It’s up to us to advertise the fact that there is something in that fun-looking sport for everybody, not just age-groupers. Yes, we have added 18 members in the last three weeks. Some, but not as many as we would like. I mean, there is not a real big connection.
Question about retention of swimmers. The people who have kids at the age-group swimming level – let’s say from 8 until about 16 – are the most tied-down people in the world and Masters swimming is often something that slips. That is the problem that I have, and I am not sure I will ever overcome that as a problem, but I am working on it. It is the people who have young kids – particularly pre-schoolers – who are pretty active in Masters because they can create their own schedules. We have the people whose kids are out of the house. It’s the parents of kids in about grade 1 through about driving age who are tied down and who are the hardest to keep all the time. Our age-group team has about 110 swimmers. We do not practice at the same time. Our facilities prohibit that; we just don’t have a big pool. We have practices in the morning, at mid-day, and in the evening, and our pool time is dictated by the time that adults are available to come and dictated by what kind of pool we can get. The club team practices after school in the afternoon. At 6:15 in the evening the pool becomes ours.
Question about USMS participation. I work for a public park district, so I can’t take people into practice without having the USMS insurance as an override. The question that always comes up when I mention that is: How many of your swimmers are joining USMS and I would say a little more than half. A lot more of them are affiliated with USA Triathlon and a number of them, particularly the non-competitive swimmers whom I have not yet been able to convert, are not members of USMS at all; however, we do have the largest registered team in the state of Oregon. I am going to be blunt about this. I coached age group, I coached high school, I coached in college at the Division I level, and I have coached Masters. Of them all…chuck the age group, high school, and college…go to Masters. It is the most fun I have ever had in my whole life. It is more complex and more challenging in many ways, but way more fun. And I do not have to think twice about the answer to that one.
Question about how he supports other aquatics groups. When they run a meet, we help provide timers. We put an ad in their program. We do little things that help them make the event easier for them. In return, they have been pretty helpful to us. They own all the timing equipment, for example, so we get it at a rental fee that is very reasonable. They have helped time our meets. They put ads in our meet programs. It is almost like swapping funds, but by doing that you are reaching out to a wider audience and you are creating the kind of community support that communities need. Our Special Olympics team it totally funded by us. Funding for Special Olympics in Oregon is minute, so we just pitch in and it is worth doing.
Question about whether his Masters swimmers compete. I come out of a competitive swimming background and have struggled mightily with the role of competition in Masters swimming. I have trouble sometimes understanding people who come to swim and do not want to compete. I have trouble with that because I am a competitive swimmer and I am highly competitive. To me, Masters swimming without competition is like having cake without frosting. But that doesn’t mean it is not valid. That is just my problem and not theirs. It is your problem – not theirs. What you have got to do is go back to point #3, which is ask swimmers to set personal goals every year. If you meet their goals, it doesn’t mean a thing if they are not competing. You are helping them achieve their goal and they are paying you to do that, which is great. I am lucky because about a third of the people on my team are competitive oriented. So when I want to go together to go in for a meet that scores points, we put the call out and we try to do that. And I get a pretty good turnout. We hosted and won our State Championships this year. I will tell you something that might diminish our achievement a little bit. I live in Central Oregon, which is on the east side of the Cascade Mountains. We are 140 miles from the nearest Masters team. So I am running the show myself. We host the state championships. We had about a third of the swimmers at the meet from my team. We do the open-water swim. We have a long streak of success in winning. I think that we have won five out of the seven open-water championship meets that we have so we have a competitive base there, but what do you do to get people involved? Go back to evaluations. We talked about test sets, but go back to evaluation in a bigger sense. We do all-comers meets, which are non-threatening and non-challenging. The idea is to attract someone who has never competed before and give him or her a lot of support from our team. Postal events or the fitness events – I am really lucky in my program (actually, we sort of planned it this way) because Pam Himstreet, the chair of the USMS Fitness Committee, is on my team and she is probably the most active fitness chairman we have ever had in US Masters swimming. They have a lot of events up there for people who are non-competitive — timed swims that are not like the postal swims. The whole idea of the virtual swim series is to accumulate yardage – just motivational things for non-competitive swimmers. I have, using my charm and will, converted a few people to try competing, but it is not a big item in our program. The big item is to get people to fulfill their goals and then when you throw a meet they will come.
Again, what are we trying to accomplish? We are trying to help people fulfill their personal goals in the context of their overall life fitness. That is what Masters swimming is all about and you can’t push people into boxes that they do not want to go into. You can challenge them to do that, but you can’t push them to do it. You can pull them, but you can’t push them and that is the kind of approach I take. I am usually competitive. I sometimes have trouble with that. You heard me say that, but you know what – I love those people anyway. That is okay. They are cool. They are just misinformed. And you know – there is another side to this, too. I think that we are the poor step-children in ASCA as a result of this because the goals of coaches in every other place are much more focused than our goals are and, consequently, we get a little bit overlooked in this whole process. On the other hand, we represent one of ASCA’s great untapped resources. We have access to swimmers with enormous personal and financial resources, which ASCA hasn’t even dreamed of tapping into.
Question about where the next generation will come from. Do you know where I am going to get the next generation? From those aquatics groups. It is much easier to recruit people who have a background and who know we are there and have the skills already than it is to go out in the general population and use the shotgun approach. The idea is that we have one great big swimming family and Masters swimming is pretty much the old guys or the old girls – that is pretty much it. Well, that is the place to start. The goals of people who are under 30 tend to be more closely aligned with the competitive side – tend to be. I know because in my job I also work as coordinator and teacher for Central Oregon Community College. So I have 18- to 24-year olds in abundance, and I have most of them in a level that is a little bit lower than Masters. It is very fertile ground to bring people through, but their focus tends to be competitive. They think swimming – they think Olympics. If you are going to recruit those kinds of people, then you have to think that you are going to see a greater proportion of people with competitive interests or triathlon interest there than you do in your typical overall Masters population and you have to accommodate that in the program. You will find more of those people in the fastest lane and not so many of them in the fast lane.
You are speaking to you though. You are speaking to your background and the way that you approach swimming. You are a swimming coach. You were a competitor yourself. You are going to go back to that track. It is easier to go there. But please understand that all people are not that way. All people are not wired that way. I always kind of dangle that little hook out there and provide avenues for people to try it. We run a little all-comers meet about three or four times a year and they are really simple. They are easy, they are free, and you get to come and try it and every year we have a couple of people try it and for most of them it sticks.
Question about Masters coaches who also swim. If you are a Masters coach and you also swim, your credibility amongst your swimmers doubles. Understand that. You have a much better idea of what is going on. You have a much easier time talking with your swimmers. You have a much easier time of them looking at you and saying, you know, you are down in the trenches with us. I spent my first year as a Masters coach in Bend – not swimming at all and it was because I had a job that made it impossible to swim with the team. When I changed the job around a little bit and started swimming, it was like a floodgate opened in terms of the possibilities of communication and contact with my team. I had amazingly better credibility for having done that and I like to do that too because I like to race. Once people see how much fun people are having racing, they start to say yeah, I could do that. I want to do that, too.