HomeSwimDo Triathletes Need a Swim Coach?

Do Triathletes Need a Swim Coach?

First let me just say one important fact….A good swimming instructor standing on the pool deck working with a group of adult swimmers is by far the best possible scenario for improving your overall swimming performance. Unfortunately there is a very real shortage of instructors out there and many of us are forced to fend for ourselves on a daily basis. But do not fear, for you can still become a better swimmer and ultimately a better triathlete without a swim coach!

It is no secret that swimming is the most difficult of the three triathlon sports to improve upon. And without actually having conducted a poll to find out, it would seem that a majority of the triathletes out there consider themselves non-swimmers. However, most folks who consider themselves non-swimmers are potentially very good swimmers who simply need some minor adjustments.

Let us put things into perspective. Remember, you are not simply trying to become a better or faster swimmer, you are trying to become a smarter swimmer as well as a better and faster triathlete. And in order to become a better triathlete you must find a harmonious balance in your training and racing between all three sports – swimming, cycling and running – regardless of your strengths and weaknesses.

And with any of the three sports, spending too much time focusing on one particular sport will upset this delicate balance and usually negatively affect the other two sports. 

Yes, it is very frustrating to watch someone glide by you during a swim workout while you seemingly waste all of your energy fighting the water just to keep up. But the fact is folks, there are very few triathletes who train enough to become the swimmers we see leading the swim portion of a triathlon. Most of these individuals are true “swimmers” usually “ex-swimmers” that have been competing in swimming since they could walk. Swimming has been their life. And many have been doing so for a good many years. And this includes an average of two workouts a day Monday through Friday and a long morning workout on Saturday averaging about 50,000 yards a week or about 30 miles…

…in the Pool! 

So simply swimming 2 or 3 swim workouts per week will not accomplish what that speedster is doing in the lane next to you.

So why get so frustrated and beat yourself up mentally and physically over this fact? Yes, improving any and all three venues of the triathlon is essential to improve your overall performance, but in the case of swimming, spending time learning the “perfect” freestyle stroke, the perfect body position or learning how to swim butterfly or breastroke is ridiculous!

You certainly don’t waste your time learning how to ride a unicycle during your bicycle training and I doubt you head out to the football field during your run training and perform crab drills (running up and down the football field on all fours!).

So why should swimming be any different?

Swimming can be as difficult or as easy as you want to make it. And the simpler you make it the better. And, believe it or not, there really are a few simple drills and techniques one can learn that can improve your swimming performance dramatically.

So again, the question is…

Is a swim coach necessary?

Most will agree that having a swim coach on the pool deck monitoring your strokes and stroke technique is by far the best way to improve your overall swimming performance. Unfortunately, not all of us have access to a swim coach. So we are forced to read triathlon books, watch video’s, ask questions, and hope that improvement will follow. Yes, having a coach on deck regardless, is better then not having anyone at all. But once you begin to understand a few of the basic stroke techniques, is a coach really a necessity. Most will argue yes. I tend to disagree for two reasons:

1. If you learn the basic drills, and they are simple, and incorporate those into your swim training, you will improve.
2. As I mentioned earlier, the fact is, there are very few good masters swim coaches out there relative to the number of triathletes. 

But I can attest to the fact that a many coaches considered “good” or at least consider themselves “good,” will stand on the pool deck, arms folded, staring into space like some iconic figure. And occasionally will spit out a few helpful hints to appease the swimmers. And in some cases this works fine, for any piece of advice will help. That is until you come in contact with a really excellent coach who actively takes part in the practices.

What makes a good swim coach?

Good question…let’s take a look:

  • A good swim coach should have a good understanding of swimming and the strokes involved. This also includes the knowledge of effective stroke drills to help improve a swimmers stroke technique and overall speed.
  • A good swim coach should be aware of all his/her swimmers, their level or performance and their needs. 
  • A good swim coach is always moving up and down the pool deck, correcting the swimmer’s strokes.
  • A good swim coach is vocal, perhaps even loud!
  • A good swim coach will be seen actively demonstrating drills, perhaps even getting in the water to do so. 

But remember, we are not just looking for a good swim coach. We need a swim coach who understands the sport of triathlon and thus understands our needs. 

Most of your masters swim coaches are ex-swimmers who know a heck of a lot about swimming yet have very little knowledge about triathlon training. And although many masters swim teams include triathletes, most of the workouts designed for the team are designed for the swimmer not the triathlete. So, a good swim coach may not be a good triathlon coach, and the workouts could prove detrimental to your aerobic training and ultimately your triathlon training program. 

So really, a long-term swim coach is not essential for a successful swim program designed for triathlon. 

And understand another fact. Not even the best triathlon coaches are good swim coaches. I am sure there are many triathlon coach’s out there who know very little about coaching swimming. I do suggest that you try to attend one or some of the various triathlon/swimming workshops or camps that are provided throughout the country. Yes, they may cost a little more money, but they will help. You can get more out of one info – packed weekend than you could spending weeks with a masters swim program. 

If there is a masters swim program in your area, than I encourage you to join! And get together with the coach to discuss your needs. Most masters swim coaches are very flexible and will be glad just to have you join the team. The more you need help, the better a coach will do you. Don’t worry so much about your aerobic training at this point. You will improve, your times will come down and you will really begin to be happy with your swimming. The learning curve dictates that more good will come to you than harm by sticking with a masters swim coach, even if he or she tends to favor the “swimmers.”

Masters programs also provide a wonderful team/friendship atmosphere. The camaraderie is excellent. Yes, you will run into some arrogant swimmers who love to beat up on triathletes in the pool. But in general, most swimmers in a masters swim program will be friendly and happy to have you join the team. 

And watch out. They will probably talk you into swimming in a few swim meets. And if the opportunity arises, you should. So, don’t give up on your swimming and don’t think you have to be a Mark Spitz or Janet Evans to be a good swimmer and more importantly a good triathlete. 

You are a good swimmer!

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Hazen Kent
Hazen Kent
As a former All-American swimmer, Hazen has spent many years as a competitive triathlete and coach of both triathletes and swimmers.


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