Courtesy: Stephen Henderson
The June slump, all of us coaches know it well. The days are warm, the temptation to take a day off is real, and the swimmers referring to school as prison is the norm. It’s the period just before the actual summer training schedule begins, where our student-athletes briefly suspend the ‘student’ part of their identity. In a few short weeks, they trade early morning walks to the bus stop for early mornings pulling lane lines across the pool. They begin swimming twice a day workouts, doing specialized dryland training, and coaching for their neighborhood summer teams for some easy cash. Yet, before they get into the summer clear, some of the most important training for August focus meets is happening right around final exams week.
How do we coaches keep our swimmers enthusiastic at the end of a long school year?
Shake Things Up. Take your typical workout style and rearrange it. If you typically lead practice with a kick set, put something fast off the blocks right after warm up instead. If you’re tired of looking at the same type of aerobic freestyle set on your phone, they’re hating it even more when they have to do it. Switch up variables to keep things interesting. Swim aerobic for half of the main set, then throw in some best average 50’s of stroke at the end. Keep your swimmers thinking a bit more than usual, and look for ways to make adjustments that still call for quality and effort.
2. Teach New Skills. We all got into coaching at one point or another because we loved swimming and we enjoyed teaching. Take a third of each practice to work on a designated skill. You will be surprised to see how much your athletes enjoy learning about a new concept, like a bucket turn, while competing with each other to decide who does it best. After all, nobody is more competitive than a year- round swimmer. It doesn’t even need to be an introduction to something new. Honestly, is anyone’s relay start perfect?
3. Team Bonding. For many teams and practice groups, this is the end of the season where you may be losing swimmers who move up to the next group or graduate from the program entirely. Take time to have some fun, and to make lasting memories in your current group. You can spend the last few minutes doing relays, or take a day entirely out of the water and do some type of retreat. It’s never too early or too late in the season to improve on team and group culture. If you can get everybody eager to work hard together before the summer grind starts, imagine what you can do when you get to practice number 9 of the week later in July.
4. Reward Them. Remind your athletes you appreciate them and their commitment to swimming and the team. Rewards don’t need to be expensive or outrageous full day activities. Have a group parent or team volunteer show up during the last few minutes of workout with ice cream sandwiches. If you have a slide or fun water park feature at your practice site, take ten minutes and use it. At the end of the day, we want all of our swimmers to stick with the sport and advance. The biggest thing that’s going to keep them going is having fun.
About Stephen Henderson
Stephen Henderson is the Assistant Head Coach for the Columbia Aquatics Association in Howard County, Maryland. Stephen enjoys coaching both the age group and senior level athletes on his team. Stephen is a former college swimmer, and current Masters swimmer, where he competes in various meets and open water races.