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by Rick Walker

June 20, 2022

Your older swimmers might not be swimming as fast as they used to, but they can still achieve lofty goals

Coaching and swimming in Sarasota, Florida, has many benefits, including opportunities to swim outdoors year-round, swim in open water regularly, and compete against fast swimmers from the many great clubs in our state.

Sarasota is a retirement and tourist destination and that means many older swimmers train here and compete for my club, Sarasota Sharks Masters. We have plenty of great younger swimmers, but our primary clientele are swimmers over 60.

Without planning on it, I’ve coached many outstanding, let’s say, senior–seniors since starting a training group in 2002 and the Sharks Masters in 2006. As a Masters swimmer for 35-plus years and a coach for 20, I’ve learned a lot about coaching older swimmers.

As a rule, older swimmers don’t swim as fast as they did as 40-somethings, but their desire and effort remain just as strong as decades ago. Rather than having low expectations for your older swimmers, you should recognize their desire and effort, and push them to achieve their goals through hard training. You might be tempted to assign your older swimmers to a slow lane and give them an easy workout, but that’s a disservice to them. Every swimmer on your club deserves your full and serious attention.

Having gone through the aging process with my older swimmers as a swimmer myself, I’ve evolved as a coach. I don’t focus on volume but rather the quality of yardage done. Yes, we still do plenty of yards/meters, but I emphasize quality swims with adequate rest with some active rest sprinkled in.

The common denominator for my older swimmers is the effort they put forth. They all enjoy the structure and discipline, and always go hard when asked. They all want to improve, just like most swimmers in your pool.

Diann Uustal, 75, is a perfect example of this. She holds 22 individual U.S. Masters Swimming records and 10 individual FINA Masters world records. She swims our second-fastest workout with a mostly older group, four or five days a week, and typically does 3,000 to 3,500 yards/meters per workout. Sometimes I slow her group’s intervals from what the younger group that swims that workout earlier in the morning does, but she works hard throughout and changes speeds when asked to go fast. She has talent and exceptional technique but make no mistake: She’s worked hard for what she’s achieved.

I’m truly amazed at the effort all my swimmers put in, regardless of their age. When someone drops by the pool deck and asks how old my swimmers are, I proudly point out three men who are over 80 and a man and a woman in the middle of the pool who are over 75. This person is usually astounded by their accomplishments.

Don’t be shy about asking your older swimmers to work hard. Although they often incorporate more rest and recovery into their training and racing regimens than their younger counterparts, they work hard and thrive while doing challenging workouts. Give your older swimmers a good warm-up and then hard sets they can handle with adequate rest. You might be surprised at how they respond.


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