Confessions of a Masters Swimming Coach

I started coaching a Masters group in November 2015. I wanted to share my thoughts on how it’s been going and the swim philosophy that I brought into the group. But, I feel that I need to share my background in swimming first. 

I swam competitively as a kid and was pretty decent at a younger age. I then swam for a YMCA club and then for my high school team. I didn’t end up going to college for swimming, but instead I turned to the US Navy and joined as Rescue Swimmer. In this role I got to jump out of helicopters and swim to save lives. I learned during this time that it’s not always about who is the fastest, but instead who is the strongest and able to get to the victim in the water. It was during my time in the Navy where I picked up triathlon and was in charge of the physical training and conditioning of 70 rescue swimmers in my command/unit. I started coaching triathletes in 2009 and haven’t looked back.

Starting in November 2015 I realized that a big first impression was key to coaching a Masters group. I knew where I wanted the coaching and group to go, but I couldn’t come in and immediately start implementing exactly what I knew this group needed without building trust first.

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My coaching philosophy is pretty simple and occasionally I will break these rules, but only when I have a good reason. A lot of this has been taken from previous coaches I have worked with, along with interacting with many professional triathletes and Olympic swimmers, and reading reputable articles online written by world class coaches.

Here are the three simple rules of my swimming philosophy:

  1. Don’t spend time working on skills and drills. We will work on skills closer to the race season (like sighting,buoy turns or dolphin dives, etc…), but the athletes coming to the Masters group are coming to get in shape, get fitter, and become faster swimmers and triathletes. This means getting rid of most, if not all, drills and focusing more on conditioning. I really believe that conditioning trumps drills any day. A coach I follow once said “Technique goes a long way in swimming, but it's nothing without fitness. Working on your fitness works on technique. The opposite is not true", and I have seen that to be the case in this group.
  2. Traditional drills don’t work, but the unconventional ones do. My favorite drill is the two-touch drill which is typically the only traditional drill I give to my swimmers. The unconventional drill work I prescribe includes Bands+Buoys+Paddles and the occasional use of fins and Non-Free/IM training.
  3. Focus on Long Main Sets. That means that I try to give at least 3,000 yards or so per main set. This may look like 30x100s,20x100s or 40x50s. You may think this sounds boring, but I try to make it as fun as I can. However, at the end of the day, we are there to work and so it means 30x100s at a threshold pace. 

I keep workouts as simple as possible and the Masters athletes results speak for themselves. I have heard recently, “My coach says I’ve been running like crazy because of the work in the pool” and “When I race I feel like I have an extra gear”. I will keep up my crazy philosophy until there is a mutiny.

So if you are ever in or around New York City, stop by the Hoboken Masters Swimming Group on Wednesday or Friday mornings and let me know what you think!