Five Non-Hazing Team-Building Exercises That Your Swimmers Will Enjoy

Every coach knows how much team-building exercises can increase camaraderie among swimmers and strengthen team dynamics. But when your team consists mostly of teenage swimmers, typical team-building exercises — like sharks and minnows — could fall flat.

Instead, some swimmers turn to more dangerous activities, like hazing. Colleges all over the country, from Brown to Lehigh to LSU have been accused of hazing incidents, which can include coerced drinking or other harmful activities. Not only can these activities be dangerous, but they’re often detrimental to team building too, in spite of being ostensibly done in the name of “team building.” In at least one case, Western Kentucky, hazing activities have given administrators an excuse to cut a program.

These problems aren’t likely to go away on their own, and young, elite athletes, by their nature, are often predisposed to push boundaries. This means that saying “no hazing” doesn’t always solve the program.

The other part of the picture is for coaches and captains come up with alternative team building activities that don’t require swimmers to participate in illegal, dangerous, or harmful activities, but that can still be considered fun, even by teenagers and young adults.

High school:

  1. Free Food Events
    One thing can be said of all teen swimmers, and of all teens everywhere: They love free food. And, to be honest, who doesn’t? One quick and easy way to ensure teens stay after practice and talk to each other is by bribing — er, gifting — them with food. Whether it’s a team breakfast after a Saturday practice, ice cream on a Friday evening or a trip to a restaurant together, free food events promise to set a good mood that encourages bonding outside of typical practice hours.
  2. GooseChase
    While wild goose chases aren’t usually a good thing, they can be for your swimmers. GooseChase is an app that allows you to enter in different tasks or objectives, and then allows your swimmers to compete to finish the elaborate scavenger hunt first. You can even choose from pre-entered challenges, and you have the freedom to make it as elaborate or simple as you want. Jason Pullano, coach of Granbury Swim Team, said his only requirement is that every member of the team has to be in the pictures used to mark a challenge completion. You can take this idea one step further by allowing the swimmers themselves, or at least the team captains, to help come up with the challenges.
  3. Water Polo
    Having a game for part of or the whole practice is the perfect way to take advantage of swimmers’ inherent competitiveness while still having fun. A game of water polo, for example, allows for a less individually focused practice while still getting plenty of exercise (especially if you’re serious about playing by the rules of traditional water polo — they’ll be sore the next day). It’s okay if your swimmers aren’t super good water polo players – there are lots of variations that require less technical skill but are still fun. If your team is inclined for other sports like basketball or ultimate frisbee, give that a try too.
  4. Seasonal Events
    If you’re looking to get away from the pool for a bonding activity, you can always take advantage of the seasonal activities offered by your community. Whether it’s going apple picking, exploring a waterpark, making s’mores, or having a hot chocolate movie night, you can find activities your swimmers can even do on taper. You can also encourage swimmers to plan an event themselves, so they are more involved in the process and working together from start to finish.
  5. House Cup
    Depending on the time you want to commit to team-building activities, you can take internal competition up a notch with a Harry Potter-style House Cup. By dividing your swimmers into smaller teams and having them compete to win an exciting prize, you can encourage bonding among members of the smaller teams. Your House Cup tournament can be pool-based, with elaborate relay races, land-based, with games like capture the flag or wheelbarrow, or some combination of the two. You can use this competition to encourage positive behaviors – like incorporating grades, attendance, or service hours into the scoring. You can even raise the stakes for the last event to end the activity on an especially enthusiastic note. Have the different “houses” come up with logos, banners, and even team gear.

College:

  1. The Amazing Race
    Send swimmers on an amazing race throughout the college campus. This bonding activity could work really well if new students arrive for training before their orientation and aren’t familiar with the campus. Team captains or upperclassmen can help develop the different challenges, which can vary in intensity and silliness depending on the personalities of the team. If you want to go all in, you can even put clues in envelopes and embrace the world traveler theme, putting different “destinations” on and around campus. Make some of the destinations food based, and you’ll get even more enthusiasm.
  2. Community Service
    This activity not only improves team relations, but it also helps the community. Coaches can charge their team to find and organize a community service event. University resources are typically available that outline volunteer opportunities in the area, or team members can embrace the task and develop their own event from scratch. Working together to solve problems will build teamwork and help them establish their natural leadership order and develop leadership skills – an important part of college athletics. Encourage the team to work through the challenges that will inevitably face them on their own, while remaining available for guidance in a pinch.
  3. Drink Pong Tournament
    Disclaimer: You should not drink alcohol before you are 21, or of legal age in your locality. Luckily, a “beer” pong tournament can be played with any beverage, so anyone can play without feeling pressured to drink alcohol if they don’t want to. This activity is also up to interpretation, but essentially team members can compete using a beer-pong-like setup individually or in teams, using a bracket system to narrow down a tournament champion. If someone really doesn’t want to play, they can watch in the audience or act as a referee or scorekeeper. Athletes love to compete. Getting them to compete in something that doesn’t really matter and that isn’t swimming can help build those boundaries – and adding a little college flavor to it doesn’t hurt either. The key to keeping it fun and safe is to let everyone participate on a level where they feel comfortable and safe when it comes to what’s in their cup.
  4. Go, team, go!
    With this activity, your team can bond not only with each other, but with another sport on campus. Teams coordinate to watch the game of another team (for example, swimmers watching a volleyball match), and then that team watches your competition in return. You can take this activity to many different levels, from having a competition for most school spirit to having a party afterward to celebrate newfound friendships. Coordinate with other teams and make this part of the athletics department culture.
  5. Game of Thrones
    In the first season of this award-winning television show, Tyrion Lannister plays a drinking game with Shae and Bronn. Luckily for us, this game can be played with alcohol for members over 21 and with other beverages for those under 21 or who don’t wish to drink. In this game, everyone sits in a circle and goes around making a guess about another person in the game. If the guess is correct, the subject of the guess drinks, while if the guess is wrong, the person making the guess drinks. While the guesses from the show are very GOT, this game can be a lot of fun with simpler guesses. For example: “Emma, I believe you started swimming when you were six.” You can round out the game by watching an episode from the show or maybe a more lighthearted movie. It feels cheesy, but this can bring the beginning of emotional vulnerability to your team, and that emotional vulnerability can help them bond more strongly.

The key to teen team-bonding is that it’s not a one-stop shop. Including a few activities throughout the season can consistently encourage your swimmers to hang out with people outside of their friend group. Plus, these exercises are just a lot of fun!

Ultimately, it becomes about establishing a positive team culture, where teammates support each other. A positive team culture means athletes want to participate in team activities and don’t have to be forced to participate in.

28
Leave a Reply

Subscribe
Notify of
28 Comments
oldest
newest most voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Coach Dave
1 month ago

You really put a team bonding event with alcohol consumption on here?
Why don’t you have them build a campfire on the west coast and see who can put it out the fastest?

Dumb

actualcoach
Reply to  Coach Dave
1 month ago

You sound like the type of coach who pretends like his athletes abide by “dry season” rules.

Your team is going to drink. Pretending like they aren’t drinking contributes to alcohol-related hazing issues. Sure, no coach should encourage team bonding activities that include alcohol, for liability reasons, but maybe a team captain will read this and figure out a better way to do it.

Coach Dave
Reply to  actualcoach
1 month ago

Knowing it happens and promoting it at a team bonding activity are two different things. The number of kids that become lifelong alcoholics because of your way of thinking probably causes more damage in the long run. You do you. I’m sure you are one of the great “actual coaches”.

Kachow
Reply to  actualcoach
1 month ago

It’s also a great way to get fired. No athletic director wants to hear a coach encouraging athletes to get drunk. Also so awkward? I don’t know why people are upvoting this, for sure never swam at a competitive school.

Ragnar
Reply to  Coach Dave
1 month ago

They’re being realistic, better to organize and monitor something that likely will happen anyway, than act like no young athletes want to act like literally every other college student from time to time. A couple drinks a week won’t kill your times anymore than a soda or staying up late eating bad

DJTrockstoYMCA
1 month ago

A wonderful article! Of course there are other excellent and fun activities teams can pursue: Campus clean-up, Hide and Go Seek games, Christmas caroling, Free car washes, Pet waste scooping off lawns, Star gazing and Team hula-hooping marathons to mention just a few. Come on kids have fun. It is not about being crazy, getting drunk, imposing one’s will on others or just plain being mean! You are the future leaders of the world, use your ingenuity and creativity to be better than previous generations. YOU CAN DO IT!!!

Lauren
1 month ago

Gonna go out on a limb and guess you never swam on a college team if your suggestion for getting rid of hazing is ‘keep drinking, but make sure the coach is there while you guess eachother’s deepest insecurities GOT style’

Turkishbaths
Reply to  Lauren
1 month ago

Who said the coach was going to be there?

Lauren
Reply to  Turkishbaths
1 month ago

‘The other part of this picture is for coaches and captains to come together with ideas’

Last edited 1 month ago by Lauren
AllanJurovich
1 month ago

Can’t freshman initiation activities be made optional? Then it can’t be hazing because everyone has consented to it happening.

College freshmen, here’s a piece of advice FWIW. Unless it is something terribly heinous, suck it up. Guess what? You’re not special. People have been doing your freshman initiation activities for years before you got there and they have all survived to be semi-functional adults. I’m sure the top names of the sport have gone through highly questionable things that their parents would be mortified to hear. Yes, you can choose to not participate. That your choice. The upper classmen can choose to ostracize you as a weirdo for whatever reason they want to. Looking back, if you’d given me an… Read more »

swimapologist
Reply to  AllanJurovich
1 month ago

Oof. This comment aligns with your attitude about Jeremy Kipp assaulting athletes. Makes me wonder what your definition of “terribly heinous” is.

AllanJurovich
Reply to  swimapologist
1 month ago

I beg to differ. It’s pretty obvious when you see it… A naked lap around a building? Not heinous. Rectally penetrating someone? Heinous. Slapping the bag or taking a knee? Generally not heinous. Throwing objects at people? Heinous. I fully support making freshman initiation activities optional and they can opt out at any time for any reason.

ThirteenthWind
Reply to  AllanJurovich
1 month ago

There’s a power dynamic that makes even “optional” activities still qualify as hazing and be extraordinarily hard to say no to.

The feeling of belonging is really important; if the result of opting out of initiation activities is being ostracized by the rest of the team, who the hell do you think would choose that? Therefore, even if it’s optional, it’s really not. Voluntold, if you will.

Bruh
Reply to  AllanJurovich
1 month ago

Two things: just because all parties involved consented doesn’t mean it is okay to do. Secondly, you say “they have all survived to be semi-functional adults.” But statistics indicate at least 1 person has died from hazing from 1970 through 2019 and 19 died 2018-2021 so…

AllanJurovich
Reply to  Bruh
1 month ago

His name is Robert Paulson. In all seriousness though, that is incredibly tragic.

When I say semi-functional, I’m talking about programs like Florida, Texas or programs of that prestige. Do high profile schools like that have some freshman initiation activities that would be deemed hazing by some concerned Karen moms who don’t want it happening to their baby? Probably. Yet, year-over-year the schools turn out well-adjusted adults that go into the world and contribute to society despite being “hazed”.

Bruh
Reply to  AllanJurovich
1 month ago

You missed my point, just because people might (which I emphasize heavily) be well-adjusted, people die unnecessarily which is unacceptable especially considering these are kids who die.

AllanJurovich
Reply to  Bruh
1 month ago

No. I got you point. I even made a “too soon” joke referencing a pop culture movie. Again, it is tragic that people died from hazing.

sscommentor
Reply to  AllanJurovich
1 month ago

hardooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo

You Already Know
1 month ago

Would you be willing to send this list to our sports medicine program along with our coaches and AD? – College Swimmer

Actual actual coach
1 month ago

Guys. Relax. Clearly this article was supposed to be titled WAYS TO GET SO FIRED YOUVE NEVER BEEN SO FIRED and someone just messed up. It’s a typo. Relax.

DJTrockstoYMCA
1 month ago

Sad that people put others at risk with radical initiations. Why not play cards, monopoly, hop scotch, go to operas or volunteer at soup kitchens??? Come on man!!!

Big Kicker
Reply to  DJTrockstoYMCA
1 month ago

I can’t tell if this is sarcasm or not

M d e
1 month ago

I feel like as a college coach the best thing you could do would be to stay as far away from it as possible right?

The only difference between “team building” and “hazing” is the perspective of the participants, and everyone knows that if you associate with enough people eventually someone will take something in a way that was unintended.