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Obervations from Masters Practice

A few days each week, I get to coach people my own age at masters practice.  The dynamics are very different from coaching kids, and it keeps my job very interesting.  

I coach the masters at noon, so people are showing up for many different reasons, just like at all masters practices.  Some come during their mid-day break, to clear their heads and then head back to work.  Some just want to get out of their apartment.  Others use this as their daily workout to stay healthy.  The common thread is that they’ve all made their way to the pool, on their own, to spend time with a group of people who share their same passion.

With masters, we’re not quite so stringent about the "showing up on time" rule we adhere to for the younger swimmers – Because people are coming for various reasons, and some from work, it’s tough to yell at someone who’s just rushed from their office, or waited for the babysitter, or whatever else they had to take care of.  People come in when they can to our hour-long practice, and even if they swim for 20 minutes, that’s often JUST what they need to help them through their day.    As a coach, my job is to make sure there’s something for everyone to do, and I serve their needs, whatever they are.

There is a massive variety in skill level – In our five lanes, our intervals for 100s will range from 1:10 to 2:15.  We’ve developed a set up where people know what lane they can get in to, and even the faster swimmers can step down to one of the other lanes and do stroke work, rather than freestyle.  The sets are all basically the same, but with varied repetitions, intervals, and focus points.  Coaching masters is about adapting a workout or set to 5 different levels… all at the same time.  It’s about people management, and making sure that everyone who shows up is having fun, learning something, and staying active for as much of the hour as possible.

Masters tend to smile a lot, or is that a smirk? – When giving sets, for some of the swimmers there is a smirk and a rememberance of "what used to be."   Oh to be young again.  What is now an entire workout, used to be warm-up.  This is the cool thing about people who swam competitively coming back to the sport.  There’s a resetting of goals and expectations, and the realization that many simply don’t have the 4-6 hours per day to train like they used to.  We love to remember our youth, but we all can’t expect to reach those levels again, so there’s the effort, with the understanding, and the good feeling that we’re getting slower slower, rather than just stopping.

There’s tremendous willingness to learn – Because masters swimmers choose to be at practice, rather than having Mom or Dad wake them up, pack their bag and drag them to the pool, there is generally a better acceptance of technique work than when I work with kids.  Masters will attempt anything I ask without question whereas, with the kids, it’s a constant, consistent repetition of message.  This is one of those, if I only knew then what I know now sorta things.  We’re older, wiser, and more atuned to the fact that we simply don’t know everything, and we work with people who hopefully know a better path toward improvement.  While I absolutely love working with young swimmers who are striving to be better, the message and approach is completely different with masters.  Even though 90% of my masters swimmers won’t be competiting at meets, they’re still always interested in what they can do better.

If their kids swim on the kids’ team, I can use reverse psychology to get them to improve – What kids coach hasn’t threatened, or at least thought about saying… "If you do that again, I’m going to tell your parents!"  The great thing about having parents of our swimmers join the masters team, is that I can turn that entire table around.  They know the nights I work with their kids, and I HAVE said, "If you do that again, I’m going to tell your daughter!"   We have a great laugh about it, but there’s something to it.  Parents still want to seem special to their kids, and the thought that I did what you did, brings a great bond between the two.  More important, the parents that have joined and taken part in the actual process of putting themselves through things they didn’t necessarily want to do, has brought a new level of understanding when they watch their own children swim.  Many parents sit in the stands of our workouts, eyes glued on their kids, listening to us remind and remind and remind the kids about somthing simple like STREAMLINE.  It’s hard to understand WHY someone wouldn’t just do something that’s obviously better for them, and some even take that home.  Those parents who swim at noon inevitably hear me saying the same thing to THEM that I say their kids.  They develop tremendous empathy for what their children are going through, and the tone of the conversation changes from judging to understanding.  There’s a new level of partnership being built between them, which I can only hope (in my larger-than-life expectations of everything we as coaches do), that this could bring them closer together as a family.  Sharing that common bond, and experiencing so many things at the same time.  It’s just very cool.

All masters swimmers come to the sport for different reasons and, as coaches, we have to make the sport avaiable to all.

We have a few sayings at our noon masters that I’ll share here:
 – The goal of masters swimming is to swim as little as possible! – This speaks to learning better streamlines, turns, walls, and simply better technique.
 – The sets I give are merely suggestions.  Manipulate as you see fit, just don’t get in other people’s way. – This speaks to my triathletes during a breaststroke or kick set, or to swimmers having a rough day at work.  Do what you can, and thanks for coming.
 – I’m here for you.  What do you need? – Seriously, I’ll do whatever I can to make someone’s experience better.  Wanna use fins during a set? Cool.  Wanna pull rather than just swim?  OK.  Don’t like using a board during a kick set?  Then don’t.

You’re old enough to make most of these decisions on your own, so lets figure something out and have some fun.