Don't Stroke Alone: The Benefits of Swimming With a Group

In September, I started coaching a Masters swimming group at the National Training Center in Clermont, Florida.

When I moved to town, the facility had a high-quality youth swim team but did not have an organized session for the grown-ups. Some of the parents were jumping in with their kids during afternoon practice. The local triathlon community was using the pool but was scattered throughout the day.

I jumped at the chance to offer the more mature crowd an opportunity to train in a group setting. How could anyone resist?

It's all about accountability, about having someone who expects you to be there, someone you do not want to let down.

The immediate response was overwhelming. More than 30 athletes, covering a wide range of abilities, showed up for the first week of practice (though, admittedly, these were free sessions).

After the smoke cleared and the dust settled (and I started charging coaching fees), I was left with a solid and committed group of about 20 athletes.

These folks continue to show up at 6 a.m. every Monday, Wednesday and Friday to hop in the pool, swim some laps, work on their technique and socialize with their teammates.

Variety Is the Spice of My Swimmers

The different levels of ability are amazing. My A group can complete more than 4,000 yards in 75 minutes while my D group is training to be able to swim 100 yards nonstop. I work with people ranging from seasoned triathletes and swimming record holders to a church pastor and his teenage son.

There are even some couples that share a single membership and alternate mornings between the pool and their kids. The one characteristic all of my swimmers share is the knowledge that they are not going to be swimming alone.

Even on the coldest morning this winter (it was in the low 30s and we swim outside.) I was at the pool coaching five dedicated athletes. As the steam was rising off the water, I was shouting sets, encouragement and split times.

They were plenty warm, and they responded with enthusiasm when I asked for strong efforts. As they ran, now freezing, back to the locker rooms, they felt a sense of accomplishment and pride for having done the workout.

Finding Motivation

Even more important are the average days. The ordinary Monday, Wednesday or Friday when everyone knows that other swimmers will be in the pool and I will be coaching from the deck. It's all about accountability, about having someone who expects you to be there, someone you do not want to let down. It's not a guilt trip or coercion, just a little subconscious push of motivation.

Personally, I lack all forms of self-motivation. I either never had any or I've completely run out of it after years of being a competitive athlete. This actually makes it very easy for me to train; I just have to do it with other people. I can train with anyone, anywhere, at any time as long as there is at least one individual counting on me to be at the pool, on my bike or in my running shoes. If that is the case, I will never miss a beat.

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