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Recognition for Masters Swimmers

By Scott Rabalais

Masters swimmers don’t swim for money. It is doubtful that even the top Masters swimmers in the country will earn even a fraction of the millions of dollars made by premier athletes in professional sports. However, Masters swimmers can be paid with a form of non-currency that can be fulfilling for both the individual and the team. They can be paid with RECOGNITION.

Like in any company, the recognition “payments” are distributed by the managers, and in a Masters team’s case, that would usually be the coach. Employees are usually paid based on their value to the company, and the same should hold true in regards to a swim team. So the first question a coach must answer is “What are the goals, values and preferred actions of my team members?” All, or at least most, recognition should be designed to support your team’s goals.

For example, the Crawfish Masters, whom I coach, have three team goals:
  1. Primary Goal – Total participation and peak performance at championship meets
  2. Secondary Goal – Total participation and development of racing skills at non-championship meets and events
  3. Tertiary Goal – Effective training through consistency and diligence.
Our recognition system, built over the last 14 years, is one that supports these goals and their inherent values. This system can be categorized into several time categories, including daily, monthly, annually and “other” awards.


Don’t get the idea that truckloads of trophies are carted into workout each day. However, a simple pat on the back or an encouraging word or two can go a long way towards motivating a swimmer. One must be careful not to overpraise, which lessens the value of the recognition, but one should use it when warranted. Each coach must find his or her level of comfort and effectiveness when dolling out the compliments.

For example, a swimmer may have had trouble pacing descending sets in the past, and, for the first time, swam a set in perfect descending fashion. This may be a good time to step up to the swimmer and mention their accomplishment. Or, the entire group may have arrived to practice on time and stayed the duration of practice, another rare feat that may be cause for an announcement. Recognition may be directed to both individuals and to the team.


Many programs present monthly awards for outstanding performance or training. Usually, these awards do have monetary value and are often announced through newsletters and/or at practice before the group.

At Crawfish Masters, two awards are presented on a monthly basis. The first award is called “Swimmer of the Month,” which is based on the following criteria (in random order):
  • improvement
  • quality of practices
  • quantity of practices
  • participation in meets and events
  • contribution to the team
The coach selects the award winner, and the winner is announced both at practice and through the monthly newsletter. Keep in mind that the award is based on a subjective decision, so be as fair as possible in determining the winner. Occasionally, there will be some disagreements, but in this award’s 10 years, I have had only one or two mumblings from swimmers who thought they should have won. All in all, the positives have far outweighed the negatives. The winner receives a gift certificate for a one-hour massage from a licensed massage therapist, who is a team sponsor.

The second award is “Swimmer of the Meet,” which is based on the performances of swimmers in meets and/or events during a monthly period. The criteria is as follows:
  • effectiveness of preparation
  • quality of effort in race swims
  • improvement of times
  • level of support for team members
  • elevation of swimmer’s ability or “boost” from the meet
The winner receives a gift certificate to a local sporting goods store that supplies swimming goods. If there is no meet during a month, an intra-team event or even a time trial may be used to determine a winner.

Other forms of recognition appear in the monthly newsletter. Swimmers who achieve a top 10 ranking in attendance for the team are listed in the “Top Ten.” Interestingly if a swimmer makes four workouts a week, he or she will make the Top Ten in just about any month. This is an example of recognition based on the team’s goals, which in this case would be rewarding consistency in training. Also, any swimmers who participated in a meet or special event are listed in the newsletter.


A team banquet or party is not only a chance to honor annual award winners but to give an overview of accomplishments for the team over the previous year and look ahead to the future.

Our team’s annual banquet is held in September, which we consider the first month of the short course meters season and just after the conclusion of the long course season. The banquet is held at a local country club, where dinner is served and swimmers dress up a bit.

Among the major awards presented are male and female Outstanding Swimmer and Most Improved, along with a Service Award. Perhaps the most valued award is the “Dig Deep Award,” which is given to the male and female swimmers who, as voted on by the team, most embody the values and spirit of Masters swimming.

At the annual function, an award is given to every swimmer. This “participation” award, if finances permit, is of high quality. Last year, each swimmer was given a large red beach-size towel with their embroidered personal name and team name. Our fund-raising efforts allowed us the opportunity to give out such an award. Each swimmer was also given a “Meet Handbook” written by the coach.


At meets, swimmers can receive even more recognition. While many meets give out the traditional medals and ribbons, our meets usually offer a “participation” award, which usually costs about five dollars apiece. Among the most popular have been personalized notepads, pens with names engraved, drinking glasses with a sketched meet logo, and meet T-shirts.

However, the all-time most popular award involved some photography and quick action. When swimmers entered the pool on Saturday, their picture was taken on the starting block next to registration. After the meet, the film was developed at a one-hour studio. Attractive cardboard frames had been ordered in advance of the meet, complete with the name of the meet, location and date. On Saturday evening, the photos were inserted into the frame and were ready for distribution on Sunday. Swimmers who arrived at the meet for the first time on Sunday were mailed their framed photo. The entire production resulted in a booming cost of only $2.75 per swimmer, but the personal touch went a long way.

Beyond the team, many LMSCs give awards on an annual basis. If your LMSC does not have a recognition program, perhaps you can get involved and start one. If they do have one, make sure your deserving swimmers, coaches and volunteers are nominated.

On a national level, there are several awards in areas of swimming performance, coaching and service to Masters swimming. New awards, such as the Outstanding Fitness Program Award, are added to the national recognition honors occasionally.

Let your swimmers know that their practices and performances matter to you and your team. Use recognition to say “Thanks for the effort!” and your swimmers will stick around longer and show greater commitment to your program. And, that’s a reward for any coach!

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