This document has been prepared by the Coaching Development Committee of Masters Swimming Canada. It is being distributed with the hope that you will find it helpful and will be willing to critique it and make any suggestions for additions, deletions or modifications. It is certainly not intended to be a complete or polished Masters Coaches' Manual, but is an attempt to move towards the development of a module for coaches of Masters, supplementary to the existing NCCP material. Please suggest anything else that might be a useful inclusion.

Please send any comments to Nigel Kemp.


The Rewards Of Masters Coaching

Coaching a group of Masters Swimmers is a uniquely rewarding, albeit demanding, responsibility. Adults are generally very keen to learn how to improve and listen intently to advice and instruction. They will work diligently without constant supervision to put your suggestions into action. Most appreciative of any assistance you can provide, you will receive constant positive feedback on your efforts. Coaching adults also keeps you on your toes as they do not hesitate to question anything that doesn't make sense or seem to be applicable to their needs. They are hungry for information and appreciate understanding the reasons behind what they are being asked to do. At the same time, being adults, they don't expect you to know everything! What they do appreciate is sincerity and the willingness to seek out answers to the questions that stump you.

The diversity of the typical Masters group, in age, skill, experience and motivation, guarantees that the Coach's ingenuity will be stretched to the max. They have chosen to join you and if you are able to rise to the challenge of meeting their diverse needs, will reward you with a constant show of appreciation. Coaching Masters can be the most rewarding challenge you, as a coach, can undertake.

Training Etiquette

Be sure that all your swimmers are fully aware of the patterns and rules for group swimming. You will need to be constantly on the alert to ensure that no collisions occur and that each swimmer is able to obtain maximum benefit from their workout. Be aware that lack of experience, poor vision, and limited mobility in the water may create potential problems. A swimmer may be totally unaware that he/she is creating a problem and you will need to diplomatically intervene.

Scope Of Masters Swimming

The motto of Masters Swimming Canada is FUN, FITNESS, FRIENDSHIP AND PARTICIPATION and the Masters Coach needs to make sure that his/her program addresses all of these elements. Competition is an exciting option but, unlike most age-group programs, it is not the major focus in Masters. Masters arrive at the pool with a broad range of goals and backgrounds. Some are there purely for fitness and/or weight control, others for skill development, some primarily for the social aspects, some to get their first taste of competition, while some are highly competitive or performance oriented.

Competitive opportunities range from local meets to Provincial, National and International competitions. Except in some International meets, there are no time standards, and all levels compete together in timed finals seeded by time. Results are then sorted by five year age groups. In Canada, Masters Swimming begins officially at age 18 with no upper limit. There are World Records for the 100 to 104 Age Group! Triathlons and Open Water Events are becoming increasingly popular, and many Masters swimmers will have these as their main focus.

Their backgrounds can range from the adult who has just recently overcome the fear of water and learned to swim a few lengths, to the highly experienced ex-competitor who has been in a pool most of his or her life. Some may be parents of age group swimmers who decide that it shouldn't just be the kids who are having all the fun, while others, with specific medical limitations, may have been referred by their doctors for health reasons. Add to this mix a few triathletes who are incredibly fit yet may be in need of major stroke development, a few injured runners who are anxious to cross-train, and the usual wide range of ages in a typical Masters club from 20 years to 70, 80, or even 90, and the coach is faced with an incredible challenge to meet all of these diverse needs.

Organization

In Canada, Masters swimming operates under the umbrella organization of Masters Swimming Canada, an incorporated body parallel to Swim/Natatation Canada which currently provides the link to FINA, the body responsible for International Events. Registration is through the Provincial Masters Organization which is responsible for local and provincial competition and club development.

Physical Characteristics And Needs

There are definitely some age-related differences in the older athlete, but the over-riding factor is the level of conditioning. New participants will vary widely in the amount of activity in which they have been regularly engaging, which will have a far more significant impact than age per se on their starting level and rate of progress. Most masters train only two or three times per week which limits the rate of development and extent of conditioning which can be obtained. However, those who train more often than that are likely looking for a higher level of fitness and/or performance and will be able to tolerate a higher volume/intensity program because of their level of motivation and training adaptation. Current literature on exercise for the older adult tends to vastly underestimate the potential for performance excellence regardless of age. However, there are considerations of aging which should be taken into account. As we age, recovery does take longer, and it must be programmed in with even greater care in a high intensity program. Injuries to joints and muscles are more likely if flexibility (range of motion) and strength have not been maintained to an optimum level. Although large strength and flexibility decrements are not an inevitable consequence of aging, these factors should be an important consideration for the coach, since a majority of new masters swimmers will not have been consciously maintaining these physical qualities.

Injury Prevention must assume high priority. Nothing is more discouraging for a swimmer, who is participating for health and fitness benefits, than to be sidelined with a nagging injury. The coach needs to educate the swimmer about the importance of developing and maintaining optimum flexibility especially in the shoulder area. A short set of supplementary shoulder strengthening exercises designed to maintain balance, along with proper stretching guidelines can go a long way towards preventing this problem. Swimmers will need to be educated about the importance of "listening to their bodies", icing, resting, and correcting potentially detrimental stroke and training habits. Many adults are reluctant to complain or admit to a problem, not realizing that early intervention can prevent a minor problem from developing into a chronic one. They should also be made aware that the recovery process (from injury) tends to be longer for the older athlete. In addition, the coach should be made fully aware of any previous history of injury or medical conditions that may predispose the athlete to injury.

High intensity training of elite athletes is coming under increasing scrutiny, with responses being very carefully monitored to determine optimum quantities and avoid overtraining.The masters coach needs to be certain that athletes are physically ready for the introduction to high intensity work, and must ensure that those going beyond the average three workouts per week are aware of the need to maintain a proper balance of training and adequate recovery time. Because your swimmers will arrive with widely divergent backgrounds, fitness levels, and physical limitations, you will need to educate them to understand the importance of monitoring their own training responses and communicating this to you. If you explain the basic principles of training, the rationale behind your season plan, the symptoms of overtraining, and the warning signs of injury, they will be better able to do this.

Flexibility or range of motion limitations and buoyancy idiosyncrasies often require the coach to take a very individualized approach in stroke development. The coach who has a good understanding of the principles of propulsion will be able to tailor-make strokes to fit the individual, rather than trying to model text-book descriptions.

In summary, the Masters Coach need to be aware of and make adjustments for

  • Range of Motion Limitations
  • Strength Deficiencies
  • Previous injuries/weaknesses
  • Prolonged Training Recovery
  • Extended Rehabilitation time
  • Wide range of entry level fitness
  • Pre-existing medical conditions including pregnancy
  • Buoyancy limitations
  • Background/experience with athletics and training

Psychosocial Characteristics And Needs

Masters appreciate understanding why they are being asked to perform certain tasks, so the coach should provide more complete explanations of techniques and training methods than might be given to a younger group. Don't make the mistake of assuming that they understand the principles of training and preparation for competition. Providing them with the rationale for what you are asking them to do will make them feel personally involved in their development and much more receptive. Although adults are challenged by and enjoy the development of new skills, some may benefit from reassurance that they can indeed still learn. Recognition and reinforcement of progress is important at any age, but doubly essential for those that lack confidence in their ability to learn new skills because of their age. It is also helpful to make them aware of the outstanding accomplishments of many older athletes. Because of the diverse nature of your group, it is especially important to utilize a wide variety of learning approaches (verbal, written, visual). See later sections.

The stress reduction benefits and social outcomes associated with involvement in a Masters group often equal or outweigh the perceived physical gains, so the coach should be certain to maintain a low-key, yet dynamic and fun atmosphere. Development of strong team bonding through shared out-of-pool functions and social activities is an important part of most Masters clubs. The swimmers should have a sense of being an important member of the group regardless of swimming performance. Sharing their expertise in other areas is a wonderful way of achieving this.

Keep in mind the MSC slogan of FUN, FITNESS, FRIENDSHIP and PARTICIPATION as you develop your team focus.

Motivation And Goal Setting

As mentioned above, the reasons for participation of the Masters swimmer vary greatly. In trying to meet these diverse needs, the coach must keep in mind that these athletes are adults with many other demands on their time and energy. However, they are there of their own volition, so the motivation is internal rather than external. A coaching style that is predominantly democratic as opposed to autocratic or laissez-faire will definitely be most effective. Constant feed-back and encouragement are essential.

Although they have their own goals and priorities, the coach can provide some much appreciated assistance with expressing their goals in ways that lend themselves to assessment. A questionnaire or goal setting form distributed at the beginning of the season can be invaluable in assisting the swimmers to develop a focus and maintain motivation. It will also enable the coach to develop a program responsive to the swimmers needs and desires along with useful and practical monitoring mechanisms.

If a swimmer suddenly misses several practices, the coach should attempt to ascertain why. The swimmer will appreciate the show of concern and, in some cases, there may be an opportunity to intervene. If illness or other commitments have interrupted training, the swimmer may need a little push to re-establish the routine. If the swimmer is dissatisfied with some aspect of your program or his/her progress, you will be able to talk it through and perhaps arrive at some new mutually-agreed upon expectations and approaches.

Although adults are generally better at visualizing a long-term, holistic view than children, the coach should not assume much prior knowledge of goal setting, but should be prepared to provide considerable guidance in the establishment of reasonable objectives with a good guarantee of measurable success. The coach can make the swimmers aware that goals can encompass many facets beyond timed performance goals, such as fitness, skill , social and psychological elements. The coach can then guide the expression of these diverse objectives in ways that lend themselves to the assessment of progress.

Expectations of the swimmer should be measured. The swimmer and coach should agree on the expectation and measurement tool.

Example:
Expectation: Ability to do a Freestyle turn.
Measurement: learn to do the turn; complete 5 turns/practice the first week; complete 10 turns/practice the second week, etc.

Aware of the tendency of the inexperienced master to underestimate their capabilities, the coach needs to ensure that the goals are challenging and at the same time remain realistic. Swimmers should be encouraged to state goals in a variety of ways, not just time based, especially since the underlying motivation of Masters is fitness and health.The coach should also ensure that there is a good mix of short-term, intermediate, and long-term goals with lots of opportunities for positive achievement along the way. There should also be plans for re-evaluation and adjustment as the season progresses and review at the end of the season. Keep records that document progress and encourage swimmers to keep a personal log.

The ex-competitive athlete may need some diplomatic counselling in the setting of realistic goals, in light of age-related decrements in performance, reduced tolerance for training loads, and the limited hours that may now be available for training.

The swimmers' goal-setting process will also prove invaluable to the coach in establishing his/her own program goals to correspond with the swimmers needs and desires. This will doubtless increase the likelihood of swimmers remaining in the program. The coach also has a responsibility to communicate his/her goals and expectations for the team and each individual.

Encouraging team members to share their outside areas of expertise benefits everyone and contributes to team building. Perhaps you can share some favourite nutritional recipes!

Masters will look to you as a source of guidance and inspiration, but the drive and motivation comes primarily from within. They will generally not need or want to be pushed, and encouragement and kidding them along is generally far more effective. However, the occasional swimmer will respond really well to a good strong shove! You really have to know the individual.

A positive, social, fun atmosphere at workouts seems to have a lot to do with the maintenance of motivation in individual swimmers.

Adults, just like children, like rewards that recognize their progress and contribution to the group. Most adults, having developed a mature sense of humour, enjoy a good mix of irreverent, silly prizes along with the more serious acknowledgements.

Adults enjoy challenges, even more so if they participate in their formation.

Time Management

The major concern of many Masters is how to get maximum benefit from the limited time that most swimmers have to devote to their training. You can provide a lot of assistance by helping them to develop a balance between their expectations and the time and energy that they can devote to training, given all the other demands upon them. Once they have decided on the degree of commitment that they can make, they should be made to feel that you understand their degree of involvement, and will assist them in every way possible to obtain maximum results from their time and effort investment.

Those swimmers who have never been involved in competitive sport may not realize the benefits of a structured week. The coach can point out the values and help them to maximize their available time.

Flexible training times are a real plus if they can be arranged, and some swimmers may need or want to do some of their training on their own. The coach can provide guidance in this, so that the solo workouts contribute to the overall training plan. Leaving workout plans in an accessible place will be much appreciated by those unable to attend a regular workout. The coach needs to be adaptable to changing circumstances, for example by providing a number of workouts for a swimmer who is to be away on an extended business trip.

Because the time that can be devoted to training is generally limited, swimmers will appreciate a very organized approach, with no time being perceived as wasted. They will appreciate maximum use of the available pool time and the coach who finds creative ways to incorporate other training aspects outside of this scheduled time. Since the coach is dealing with adults, there are many instances where the coach only needs to provide the basic information and structure, and the swimmers can choose when (and if) to carry it out.

Learning Characteristics

Skill development tends to develop most rapidly between the ages of 8 and 15, but no matter what the age, it is still possible to learn new skills although it may be difficult to reach a mastery level.

Regardless of age, swimmers do not all learn at the same rate or even in the same way. Coaches will find considerable variation in the degree to which the kinesthetic sense has been developed, depending on individual ability and prior motor experience. Sometimes it is helpful to relate new learning to experience in another activity. Established motor patterns, especially in the ex-competitor or long-time fitness swimmer, may interfere with new learning. Again, patience is the key. The eagerness and determination of adult learners often more than compensates for any of these factors. Keep in mind that we all learn in various ways and experiment with visual, verbal, and tactile or kinesthetic approaches.

Adults are often able to focus and visualize better than children and this can be used to advantage through vivid imagery. It may take various attempts by the coach, or an attempt by another swimmer, to fully understand the best learning approach for a particular swimmer.

The coach should take advantage of the expertise, experience and knowledge of the swimmers on the team. Many teams include professionals who are more than willing to share their knowledge for the benefit of the team. Should learning be a bit slower for the older swimmer, patience on the part of the coach is critical. Repetition and constructive skill shaping will pay off in the end. A willingness to try and a sense of humour more than compensate for the frustrations of slower-paced learning. The concepts of skill development are not age-dependent. However, older swimmers may have less flexibility in the shoulder and ankle so compromise must be part of the coaching plan. Text-book techniques often need to be modified to accommodate these anatomical limitations.

Teaching Methods/Coaching Styles

Fun, humour, and clear instruction are the keys. The sets should not be so simple as to bore the swimmers, but they do not need to be needlessly complex. The coach should get to know all the swimmers and should develop a rapport with them which allows all to relax and enjoy the time spent. Developing an atmosphere of mutual respect will greatly enhance your coaching effectiveness. Be careful not to over-coach, using intervention on stroke technique sparingly, and keep sets varied but not overly complicated. However, Masters generally appreciate being given some rationale behind any instructions that they are given. It is a good idea to plan at least monthly stroke-technique-only sessions so that there is guaranteed stroke correction built into the program. They will expect a very knowledgeable approach to their techniques and training and will respect a coach who is innovative and willing to adapt and learn from and with them.

Take full advantage of their willingness and ability to practice an introduced skill on their own. Adults are also much more capable than children of adapting a planned workout to their own needs. Encourage them to do so, making sure they understand the original purpose of each element and that the modification does not interfere with the practice plan for the rest of the swimmers.

Whereas an autocratic coaching style is often effective with age-groupers, it is most unlikely to work with an adult group. Adults seldom need to be pushed, but rather to be encouraged and cajoled. Freely encourage experimentation with different approaches. Both you and the swimmers will benefit and learn from this creative approach.

Adult swimmers appreciate receiving information that relates to their health and fitness beyond the confines of their pool workouts. Consider bringing in experts on Nutrition, Proper Stretching, Injury Prevention and Rehabilitation,, Sports Psychology, Strength Development, Cross-Training. Not only will most of your team really appreciate this extra input, but community awareness of your program will be enhanced.

Communication

Communication needs to be in a style appropriate to an adult group with the various considerations discussed elsewhere being taken into account. Make sure that they understand your terminology as many don't have a competitive background. Adults generally appreciate explanations of stroke and workout specifics, but be brief and to the point as they don't want to waste valuable workout time. A few don't want any rationale at all. They have come to relax and get away from thinking and are perfectly happy to simply follow instructions without elaboration. If possible, arrange for detailed technical discussions after the workout. Those really interested in the technicalities of training and technique usually greatly appreciate informative handouts.

Some swimmers may really challenge your coaching decisions, especially if they have a competitive background, which can be particularly difficult for the younger coach. Often their "knowledge" is outdated, requiring great diplomacy on the part of the coach. However, as you talk it out and they come to realize your knowledgeable background, they will usually come around. You may very well find these occasional challenges to your coaching causing you to reassess and modify your approach to the benefit of all. Adults will give you lots of feedback on what is being done if encouraged to do so. Be open to new ideas and approaches and show respect and appreciation for their input. Encourage experimentation as long as it is safe. Your major responsibility is to make sure that everyone feels he/she is being listened to and receiving individual attention. Swimmers need to know that you are there for them, that you care and that you want to assist them in every way possible to achieve their goals.

Flexibility Development

Flexibility tends to decline with age, but this is primarily a result of disuse rather than aging per se. Flexibility is a critical requirement for increased swimming efficiency and avoidance of injury, and most swimmers should be encouraged to work on its improvement and maintenance daily. The primary focus for the coach should be to ensure that swimmers understand the principles and importance of flexibility development and maintenance.

The coach should introduce a program of simple basic stretching and strengthening exercises, stressing the importance of correct technique, and leave the responsibility for following through to the swimmers. Repeat this process several times throughout the season and frequently remind them of the importance of stretching and strengthening.

Although most masters swimmers will benefit from improving their range of motion, especially in the shoulders and ankles, occasionally there will be a swimmer whose joints require increased stability rather than greater mobility. This once again emphasises the critical need for individualizing all coaching prescriptions as much as possible.

Strength Development

Strength is a quality that tends to decline quite noticeably with age, but it has been well documented that strength levels can be well maintained at any age with a properly designed resistance program. Research has demonstrated that dramatic improvements in strength can be achieved at any age with a properly designed resistance program.

A certain minimal amount of balanced strength is necessary to avoid injury and this is likely even more critical with adults than with children. At the very minimum, Masters coaches should acquaint their swimmers with simple preventative shoulder exercises to ensure that the outward rotators of the shoulder area are in balance with the internal rotators which are strengthened though swimming.

Additional strength training can assist in making the swimmer feel stronger in the water, more balanced in overall body tone, better able to handle the stresses of harder workouts, and quite possibly faster. In fact, in view of the recognized tendency for strength to decline with age and the limited pool workout time available to most masters, there are strong indications that supplementary resistance training might provide considerable performance benefits, especially in the older age groups.

A very general whole-body approach to strength training is recommended, especially at the beginning, with particular emphasis on mid-body (abdominal, obliques, lower back) and a balanced approach to muscle groups (biceps/triceps, hamstrings/quadriceps). For swimmers, there is an optimal level of strength, which, although not clearly defined, is well below the maximums often seen in the weight room.

As with flexibility training, it is probably most effective with a Masters group to make them aware of the principles of strength training, ensure that they have a proper orientation to the use of equipment, but let them be responsible for following through with a resistance program on their own. Be sure to stress the importance of balanced workouts, proper posture, and correct technique to achieve desired results and avoid injury, avoiding any assumption of prior knowledge.

Energy System Development

Just as with age-group training , attention should be paid to the balanced development of all the energy systems. The extremely difficult challenge is to try to fit all of the training types, with swimmers of various skills and expectations, into a typical three-times-a-week program and no doubt some compromises will have to be made.

Just as the volume of training will differ among the various sub-groups of the team, so will the intensity emphasis. Some variety in intensity is desirable for all groups if optimal development is to occur, but the proportions may differ.. We have all seen the typical adult length swimmer who swims mile after mile, year after year, at the same pace and the same stroke, with no noticeable improvement. The recognized health benefits of this one pace swimming notwithstanding, the typical masters swimmer is expecting to see some overt improvement in speed and efficiency, which is why he/she likes having a coach. Being adults, masters can be expected to monitor their workout intensity and adapt a basic workout plan to suit their own level of conditioning and goals, if they understand the objectives and importance of a varied and phased approach to intensity. See the appendices for more details on different training intensities for the ATP-CP, Aerobic and Anaerobic systems plus suggestions for Season Planning with Macro, Meso and Micro cycles.

Special attention must be paid to the need for the body and mind to recover, as recovery generally slows down with age. Anaerobic sets should be used, but the recovery following the set/practice must be carefully planned. Stressful anaerobic sets should not be used year-round. Speed is an element that should be kept in the program throughout most of the season, but in small amounts. As the competitive season approaches, specific speed work can be programmed into the training. Introduce lots of variety in the aerobic development from straight swims, to intervals with short rest, to 1:1 ratio high intensity swimming. It is the variance which will ultimately develop the whole aerobic system the best. Cross training, depending on the sport and season, can be a valuable supplement to pool workouts.

Seasonal Planning/Periodization

Generally the safest approach, as with a young age-group team, is to start off slowly, building on technique and aerobic development. Watch for individual and group responses to the training at each stage and increase loads according to observations rather than by formula or purely theoretical planning.

The masters coach can follow the same general principles for developing a seasonal plan as the age group coach, but it will probably be necessary to develop variations on the basic plan for sub-groups within the team, depending on their length of commitment within a season and when they wish to reach a competitive peak. The recovery phase of the swimmer who wishes to peak at the Nationals is bound to overlap the competitive phase of the summer triathlete, so even the seasonal plans must be individualized. Some elite swimmers may also be elite triathletes requiring a multi-periodization plan.

The best approach is to develop a general plan,and then design modifications with those athletes who require a more individualized approach.

Nutrition

Masters swimmers do not need any special diet other than following good, basic nutrition. However, the coach should not assume that the swimmers really know what this means and should take some responsibility for making information available. In particular, the coach will want to make the swimmers aware of pre-workout snacks, post-workout snacks and hydration. It might be helpful to invite a sports nutritionist to speak to the group, have swimmers do a diet analysis, or have a post-workout "nutrition" social. As weight control is an underlying motivation in the participation of many masters, the coach can play a very important role in ensuring that body composition and the principles of weight management are properly understood.

Technique

The Masters coach should place major emphasis on developing swimming efficiency. In many cases, a simple improvement in swimming technique will create speed gains far greater than any physical training program alone could hope to achieve. The Masters coach needs to be very aware of any existing physical limitations such as range of motion restrictions, buoyancy ideosyncracies, previous injuries or existing medical conditions which might make the "perfect" stroke unattainable.

Stroke efficiency should be approached from an individual standpoint, optimizing changes with basic principles in mind. Video taping is very productive, as masters love to see what their strokes look like and many lack a well-developed kinesthetic sense of what they are doing because of limited motor experiences in their background. Positive and reinforcing feedback from the coach is critical.

Masters swimmers benefit greatly from drill work, sculling and kicking. Swimmers need to be made aware that the benefits are long-term and may not be immediately obvious. Encourage them to persevere and be patient. Masters swimmers who do not have a background in competitive swimming likely need greater emphasis on properly coached sculling and drills than experienced swimmers, as they will not have the relaxed sense of rhythm and efficiency developed through years of swimming. Former competitive swimmers may be way out of shape, but they never seem to lose that "feel" for the water and relaxed rhythm. Neophytes have to be very patient, as this "feel" and relaxed rhythm take most people a long time to develop.

It is generally desirable to encourage swimmers to work on all four strokes, as it contributes to desirable balanced muscle and fitness development, but some swimmers will have physical limitations precluding certain strokes or may simply not wish to do one or more of them. Their wishes should be respected. In these cases, the coach will need to adjust the workout and/or sets, or allow the swimmer to do so, as long as it does not interfere with the other swimmers.

Evaluating And Monitoring Training

Obviously, the more information you can get about the swimmers' training response, the better you can use your experience to make coaching decisions. Select a small number of test sets (aerobic power, anaerobic power and anaerobic capacity) and use them to monitor training responses. These tests should really only be used to test and retest an individual, not for comparison between swimmers. There are good tests for aerobic power allowing you to establish basic aerobic training speeds in a wide variety of settings. The coach has to teach the swimmer to read the pace clock and take responsibility for remembering times for various sets. Familiar measurement or test sets can help swimmers to recognize their progress. Evaluation of progress in light of the swimmers' expectations should be an on-going process.

Adults tend to be very adept at setting their own limits on intensity and volume, but some will need a degree of pushing while others will need to be held back. Again, knowing your individual swimmers is the key. The NCCP program gets into specific performance analysis in considerable detail. This area perhaps applies primarily to those swimmers who are training for maximum performance and meets are a good place to obtain this information. However, many non-competing adult swimmers are very interested in understanding the elements of good performance and will appreciate data analysis such as stroke rates, distance per stroke, etc. obtained in practice.

Stress Management

The Masters coach needs to see the Masters swimmer as a responsible adult who lives a daily life with varying amount of stress, fluctuating levels of motivation, and the right to choose stress levels in the swimming pool. The best stress management tool for Masters coaches has to be humour. Don't take this whole thing too seriously. If they don't want to think too hard, let it go. At its most basic level Masters swimming is fitness for life, not a life and death struggle to beat out so-and-so from Vancouver.

The coach must learn to sense and adapt to high stress levels in their swimmers. Talking to them about non-swimming stuff (family, work, music, whatever) will give plenty of signals. Do not push, facilitate a relaxing and enjoyable practice, and be flexible in your program design. Maintain a positive focus on the successful achievement of manageable, short-term goals.

Competitors, no matter what their age, will benefit from being taught techniques for relaxation and arousal to optimal performance states. Stress management techniques are beneficial not only for day-to-day workouts but also for those who compete. Those that have competed or are even thinking of doing so can relate to those experiences of pre-performance jitters and what that entails. The first-time competitor needs to be reassured that such feelings are normal and be given some assistance with coping techniques. Fear of failure or looking foolish can be even more intense for an adult than a youngster. Making sure that the swimmer understands how things work at a meet can alleviate a lot of unnecessary stress. Don't assume any previous knowledge and provide a clear and simple explanation of a routine for the day. Providing an experienced "buddy" for the neophyte works wonders.

Every swimmer reacts differently to competitive stress. The coach's role is to recognize this and assist the swimmer in developing individualized techniques for self-management.

Prevention And Care Of Injuries

The potential for injury increases with age. This is mostly due to lack of proper preparation in areas such as flexibility and strength. The coach should make the swimmers aware of the importance of these elements and give guidance in their proper development. Make available time-efficient stretch and strength plans.

The main key to avoiding injury in workouts is a gradual introduction to higher levels of stress in training. Many adults are much less patient that they let on. Many just cannot wait to start pounding and this is when the aging body gets injured. The Masters coach needs to teach the concept of learning to "listen to the body". Remind them that they have the rest of their life to get fit and the next three weeks will not really be a critical factor in the long run, so slow it down, enjoy the build up, and learn to relax and be patient. This is fitness for life, with some very exciting competitions thrown in just to keep things interesting. Learning about flexibility and strength training along with proper periodization of training stresses will help the coach in this area. It is a good idea to develop communication with a Sports Medicine Physician, Physiotherapist and Chiropractor for referral when the inevitable injury does occur.

The Aging Process/Relationship To Activity

There is no longer any debate over the benefits of maintaining an active lifestyle throughout our lifetime. The physical and mental benefits are thoroughly documented. Society is beginning to recognize that activity levels are much more related to mental attitudes (and vice versa) than to age per se. We have only to look at the energy and vitality exhibited at any Masters meet by participants of all ages. We have all seen the 60 year old who can crank it out with the youngsters week after week with no signs of flagging, demonstrating powerful motivation and pure enjoyment of the activity. We have all seen non-active 40 year olds who creak around, whine, complain and generally do not feel healthy or good about themselves.

Positive motivation, self image, and enjoyment of life are not age-related characteristics. The job of the coach is as much to foster the development of these positive mental attitudes as it is to improve physiological and skill capacities.

The major training adaptations to keep in mind for the older athlete are the possible need for a longer warm-up, longer recovery times, and a reduced proportion of high intensity, stressful training. However, always remember that the close observation of individual responses is the key to correct training adjustments rather than broad generalizations.

Swimming With Medical Problems

This is definitely an area in which the Masters coach should be thoroughly knowledgeable. Many swimmers come to a Masters program specifically because of a medical problem. Communication from the swimmers about their limitations is essential, and the coach needs to be fully aware of how to provide training options, how to deal safely with the limitations imposed by these medical problems, as well as being fully cognizant of the positive benefits of exercise on these conditions. Medical clearance and definition of limits is essential.

There is a great deal to be learned about the so-called diseases of aging, the degree to which they are really diseases of inactivity and, therefore, the beneficial role that a properly-designed activity program can play. The common referral to Osteoarthritis as "Wear and Tear" Arthritis is enough to scare away some would-be participants, yet properly graded activity is the answer to many of its problems.

Although certainly not a medical "problem", pregnancy is a condition frequently encountered by the Masters coach. Although exercise is encouraged in a normal, healthy pregnancy, adjustments are necessary both in technique and training emphasis. The swimmer needs to understand how and why training needs to be adapted and, as with any any special medical condition, participation should be conditional on Medical clearance, advice, and specification of limits.

Legal Aspects Of Masters Coaching

Participants who have not been physically active, or who have a medical problem, should be required to receive a thorough medical examination before beginning any training program, from a doctor who has been made aware of the demands of the program and who can suggest specific limitations if necessary. The coach would be wise to have some first aid training, especially in CPR. The Masters coach, statistically, is going to encounter more critical health crises than the Youth coach. There should be specific emergency procedures in place for all practices.

Summary

  • Masters Swimming is all about Fun, Fitness, Friendship and Participation.
  • Masters expect knowledgeable guidance along with the fun
  • Masters Coaching is one of the most challenging but rewarding coaching jobs going
  • Masters respond to challenges
  • Masters appreciate knowing why they are being asked to do something
  • Masters are eager to learn anything to do with their health and fitness
  • Masters show their appreciation for efforts on their behalf
  • Masters need recognition of their efforts and accomplishments
  • Masters will challenge you
  • Masters can make incredible performance gains through improved techniques
  • Masters recognize no age limits
  • Masters see communication as a two-way street

Many thanks to Neil Harvey, Tony Wood, Philippe Gelinas, Marilynn Georgas, Kevin Ross, Bill Westcott and Beth Whittall for their invaluable input.