Article image

by Matt Donovan

June 8, 2021

Like any good organization, Masters programs need to be in the people business to prosper

Masters programs need swimmers, especially with so many programs struggling to regain the members they lost during the coronavirus pandemic. If someone reaches out to your program, it’s your responsibility as a coach to engage with that swimmer and make that person’s experience and transition to your club as seamless as possible.

Be inviting, be open, and allow that swimmer to see your team’s camaraderie, but most important, listen. The biggest mistake anyone in the health and wellness profession can make is telling someone what that person’s goals are. Your number one job is to listen. Asking swimmers what their goals are makes it easier to help them on their path.

Here’s how listening effectively can help you turn a new swimmer into a consistent swimmer and vital part of your program.

Learning and Gathering Data

All Masters swimmers have their own goals. When developing a plan, be sure to ask new swimmers what their highest level of competition was, when was the last time they trained consistently, why they took a break, why did they decide to return, and why did they choose your program. Just below the surface of each of these answers is the key to helping that person find their success.

The reason they chose your program will be very enlightening. It’ll help you guide that swimmer as well as give insight into how you might entice more members. An outsider’s view of your program will certainly offer interesting insight.

How to Get Them Hooked

The next step is getting your new swimmers in the water. Pick a workout session with swimmers who’d best mesh with their skill set. Find an experienced team member to guide them through the first few sessions; good lanemates are worth their weight in gold. Each team has its own set of rules, customs, and vocabulary. Having a go-to person for help during those first few workouts is vital.

Don’t require new swimmers to buy a lot of things to be a part of your program. They shouldn’t need anything other than a suit, cap, and goggles. Offer to let them borrow fins and kickboards. Once they’ve been around for a while, they’ll see what everyone else uses and will purchase everything they need when the time is right.

Give new swimmers specific guidance on the number of times they should come each week. Keep in mind their ability level, experience, and time since they last trained consistently. Having someone come five times during that person’s first week doesn’t help anyone if that swimmer comes zero times the next week. Less is more at this early stage. The goal is to get new swimmers to the point where they’re almost begging to attend more sessions.

Your new swimmers’ first practice should be a buffet: They should take from it what they want and leave behind the rest. If your club is doing IM sets, new swimmers should be welcome to do it freestyle. If your club is doing a series of 200s, new swimmers should be allowed to do 150s as needed.

You should also start new swimmers on a slower interval. It’s much easier to move someone to a faster lane than a slower one. Have them leave a session knowing that they can do more.

When practice is over, ask your new swimmers if you can meet them in the lobby or on deck to see how they enjoyed the workout. If they’re happy and want to come back the next day, great. If they’re discouraged in any way, hear them out, and ask them what they might like to see changed for a future workout.

Perhaps the most important thing is making sure they’re aware of the social side of your program. Invite new swimmers to formal and informal team gatherings. Masters swimmers come for the workout but stay for the camaraderie.

Now That They’re Hooked

After a new swimmer’s first few workouts, you’ll have learned where that person swam and who that person swam for while growing up. Your new swimmers might have something in common with someone else in your program. Connect them.

Find out what your new swimmer’s hobbies are and what that person does for work. Knowing this could be a great addition to the dry side of your program. Is your new swimmer in finance and your program in need of a treasurer? Is your new swimmer in design and your program in need of a new team logo? Is your new swimmer in politics and your program in need of better access to a pool? Every individual invested in your program on a higher level than just swimming is one more fixture in making your program the best in the area.

Final Thoughts

Remember to listen to why a new swimmer came to your program in the first place. It’s your responsibility to guide every new swimmer as best you can. Done properly, with the right number of workouts, lanemates, intervals, and yardage, you’re building a more powerful program. That person you’re helping today will become the leader who helps your program grow tomorrow.


  • Coaches Only


  • Coaches
  • Coaching