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Rookie Mistakes

A summary of the responses submitted by H2O swimmers to a “Rookie Mistakes Survey” early in 2010. 

Following is a list, submitted by H2O swimmers, of common mistakes made by people new to the group workout situation, each followed with an explanation of how to avoid said mistake.

If you are new to the H2O group, or maybe just contemplating joining, read through the list so you’ll know what is expected and maybe spot a few items that otherwise would never have occurred to you until it was too late. And don’t worry, nobody expects you to get all, or even most, of this right on your first visit (or two, or few) – you won’t. Everyone in the group has been The Newbie at some point and understands this. They have all made some (or more likely, many) of these mistakes. They’ll forgive your newbie blunders and help you get tuned in just like others helped them – maybe last week, maybe half a lifetime ago.

Many of the items in the following pages are applicable more or less universally across Masters swim programs. Others are more specific to our H2O group and local customs would apply in other groups.

Although these are offered as “rookie mistakes,” it strikes me that nearly all of these behaviors are exhibited from time to time by our veteran members too. So, no matter how long you’ve been swimming, peruse this list and see where you stand on each item – then modify your behavior accordingly!

Here’s a jump list to the different sections (though I guarantee if you skip a section, you’ll be missing at least a couple things you’ll later regret missing):

Getting there and getting started
Swimming attire
Swimming equipment
Lane order, sendoffs and circling
Getting out
Passing and being passed
The pace clock (and watches)
Workout numbers
Coach’s instructions
Technique and knowledge

Note: all references to sides of the lane assume that everyone is swimming freestyle and that your lane is circle-swimming counter-clockwise (each person swimming on the right side of the lane in each direction). Make appropriate adjustments if you are swimming the backing-up stroke or the lane is circling clockwise (very rare).

Getting there and getting started
  • Showing up for your first time when the pool is closed, heater is down, they just shocked the pool, etc. Best way to avoid this is to email or call Coach a day or so before your first visit and check to make sure it is a good day for your first visit. (Hint: if you email, Coach will likely include you on any subsequent notification of change in facility status if that were to occur.) 
  • Not brushing your teeth and using mouthwash right before workout. Huffing and puffing in close proximity to fellow swimmers will expose any weak points in your oral hygiene program. This is a common complaint in crowded lanes, so make sure you  aren’t the culprit.
  • Not trimming your toenails and fingernails. In the flurry of workouts swimmers inescapably come in contact with other swimmers hands and feet from time to time. If you are sporting claws instead of closely trimmed nails you’ll be a danger to others.
  • Bringing fragrances to your lane. A small percentage of people are adversely sensitive to the fragrances in perfume, cologne and hair and skin products. Deep breathing during exercise and nasal irritation from chlorine in the water tend to make a much larger percentage of swimmers sensitive or ultrasensitive during workouts. Fragrant products (even the ones you applied yesterday) rinse off in the pool and become concentrated at the surface, right under people’s noses. Please, take a shower before you hit the water.
  • Not replying to a "good morning," whether from coaches or other swimmers. We all know it's early. But, let's make the most of our time together. Not by nature a cheerful person in the morning? Then just pretend.
  • Leaving your stuff in the locker-room. The locker-rooms are open to the public and stuff can disappear. Bring your stuff out to the pool deck during workout. If you are using one of the faculty lockerrooms, understand that they are subject to being left locked at any point by any user who has a key – that will lock you out with no prospect of getting back in until after 9am.
  • Choosing a lane based on how many people are in it rather than choosing a lane with people going about your speed. Entering a lane where you are much slower or much faster than the others just messes up the whole lane. Plus, if everyone is in the correct speed lanes it is far easier to redistribute people for more even lane usage.
  • Diving in when not explicitly permitted. Some lawyers and insurance people got together and decided you are a danger to yourself and others when you dive. Hence Masters insurance requires feet-first entries except when and where the coach explicitly permits otherwise. Do NOT enter a workout lane by diving – even if the lane is empty.
  • Splashing others not yet fully soaked. Just not cool at all. Those people still coming to terms with that first entry into a chilly pool do not want your help getting wet. If the possibility exists of you making a big splash when you enter the pool, look for an un-occupied area for your feet-first entry.
  • Entering a lane without first ascertaining whether it is circling or swimming sides (and if sides, waiting till the repeat is completed and asking to circle). This is a primary cause of head-on collisions.
  • Not circle-swimming during warm-up. We always, always circle swim during warm-up, even if you are the only person in the lane. This way a new person entering the lane does not need to interrupt you to get you to start circle swimming.
  • Not making adequate use of the warm-up period that precedes (but does not overlap) our daily set of Hops, Whirlpools, Shoulder Thangs and Stretches. We start HWST&S right at 15 minutes into the scheduled practice period. You are expected to participate in that activity. Continuing your swimming warm-up into that activity annoys Coach and everyone in your lane and demonstrates a lack of understanding of, and responsibility for, the proper care and feeding of your rotator cuffs. Get your warm-up done during warm-up and then get with the HWST&S program. Showed up too late for warm-up? Do the HWST&S with the group and then use the first set as your warm-up, swimming at the tail end of the lane order and warm-up slowly. Once you are up to speed and the interval allows, adjust your position within the lane to one most appropriate for your speed.
  • Not reading the Hops, Whirlpools, Shoulder Thangs and Stretches article (which includes video clips of each exercise in the set).
  • Remaining a stranger. When you find yourself in a lane with one or more people you don’t know, introduce yourself around. If you wear a cap, consider using a light colored one and write your first name on it prominently. This will help people remember your name (and increases the likelihood of it getting back to you if misplaced). And remember that you look totally different in suit, cap and goggles than you do in real life, so don’t be surprised if the person you just met in lane 2 doesn’t recognize you in the parking lot.
  • If arriving late, not integrating into the practice properly. Late arrivers can potentially disrupt the flow of a lane. Talk with Coach to find out what set the lane is doing and how far through the set they are. Do not expect the swimmers to stop and explain it to you. Wait until the swimmers are resting at the wall to announce your arrival. Do not surprise them by just hopping in and swimming behind them. This often leads to collisions. Again, warm up at the tail end of the lane order, then adjust your position within the lane as appropriate.
Swimming attire
  • Wearing a bikini or other “fashion” suit or suit with a skirt or, for guys, wearing a pair of beach baggies or other loose fitting suit. Such suits will either result in “wardrobe malfunction”, huge unnecessary resistance and/or make you stick out like a sore thumb. Get a proper training suit and you’ll be much happier. If they don't make proper pool attire for your size, keep coming to workout and you will be able to fit into proper attire eventually. Guys, if you do come to workout with beach baggies, make sure they have a liner. Pre-dawn is just too early to be exposing your junk.
  • Leaving a drawstring hanging out of your suit. Over the decades this has, at various times, been a common devil-may-care fashion affectation of teenage boys. However, for men it is like wearing a baseball cap with the bill pointed way out to one side or wearing what my kids call “half-ass pants” – it just makes people wonder if you have a problem dressing yourself. (And it’s even worse if the string is hanging out a leg hole.)
  • Calling it a “hat.” It’s not. It’s a swimming “cap.”
  • Not having a cap if your hair is more than a couple inches long. Hair long enough to get into your eyes, nose or mouth will simply get in the way during workout while it adds extra drag. Plus if you get cold easily, a cap helps hold in heat.
  • Cap worn with the logo across the forehead. It works just fine but you’ll look kinda clueless.
  • Getting hair trapped under the seal of your goggles. Even a single strand of hair (head or eyebrow) can act like a wick to draw water under the seal and into the eyecup.
  • Buying expensive goggles the first time out. Extra $$ do not make goggles fit better. Yet it is common for a newbie swimmer to doggedly apply the "whatever it takes" attitude to fussing with an expensive pair of goggles, trying in vain to coax proper fit from them. After spending $30+ on a pair of the latest high-tech goggles, some people are loath to abandon their investment for a pair of $4 goggles that they know fit better. While it is possible that the best goggles for you are expensive, it is far from probable. (See Mo’ Bettah Goggles in the articles section of this site.)
Swimming equipment
  • Buying a full load of equipment before ever showing up. Though swim shop owners cringe when I say it, loading up with suit, goggles, cap, pull-buoy, hand-paddles, finger paddles, kickboard, Zoomers, training snorkel, tempo beeper, shammy, drag suit, pull tube, swim parka, heart rate monitor, lap counter, stroke-counter, sports watch and an expedition bag big enough to carry it all will cost you plenty and we don’t use most of that stuff. Start with suit, inexpensive goggles and maybe a cap. Then see what additional stuff makes sense for you after a few workouts. You will eventually want to own your own fins and snorkel but you don’t need them right away – we have some loaner equipment.
  • Not acquiring your own fins and training snorkel (eventually). The loaner fins and snorkels are intended for newbies. But once you’ve gotten through your first couple weeks – enough to know you are going to do this thing, you need to own your own stuff. Yes, even you.
  • Bringing a pull buoy to workout. It is our goal to get you off of pull-buoy addiction. We start with an intervention followed by cold-turkey withdrawal from the plastic pontoon, while teaching you how to find your built-in buoy and encourage you to get addicted to using it  instead.
  • Bringing a kickboard to workout. Kickboards simply teach you to kick uphill and we want you kicking in a straight line. We use’em to prop doors open.
  • Bringing your huge SCUBA Jetfins or the like. We use lightweight, very flexible training fins for some activities. We have a few loaner pairs so you don’t need to worry about having your own for your first couple workouts.
  • Bringing your towel (or anything else you don’t want soaked) to the edge of the pool. Swimmers splash lots of water up onto the deck and the starting platforms during the course of a workout. Everything there is going to get wet.
  • Letting stuff you bring to the pool’s edge hog more than its fair share of real estate. Keep your stuff neatly together so it is not a hazard to people getting into and out of the pool. And stuff kept under or on top of the starting block is less likely to get trampled.
  • Not making your mark on your equipment. Just like at airport baggage claims, your stuff looks just like some other people’s stuff. Mark your’s (including your water bottle) prominently with your name (and for snorkels, a couple wraps of colored tape, which you can get from Coach) to avoid mix-ups. Plus that way, when you leave it behind, we won’t mark it with a big “H2O” and toss it in the loaner bin/bag. (Where did you think the loaner equipment came from?)
  • Assuming Coach operates a “lost and found.” He doesn’t. Sometimes he operates a “lost and sold it on ebay” though.
  • Failing to return loaner equipment to the correct location. Unless your mama attends workout too, you need to return any borrowed equipment to the appropriate location – fins get stacked neatly in the correct bin, snorkels go back in the snorkel bag – before you leave the pool deck. If someone loans you a piece of equipment it is your responsibility to get it back to them.
  • Absconding with somebody else’s stuff. Please take a moment to double-check any personal equipment you pick up to make sure it is, in fact, yours. A common complaint centers around those who inadvertently grab someone else's equipment in their dash for the lockerroom.
Lane order, sendoffs and circling
  • Not placing yourself properly in speed order in the lane. Once you’ve chosen the correct lane you still need let those a bit faster than you go in front of you and you should go in front of those a bit slower than you. This avoids blocking others who are a bit faster and keeps you from swimming onto the feet of people a bit slower than you.
  • Not leaving 5 seconds between swimmers on set sendoffs and repeats. Unless otherwise instructed, at the beginning of a set or repeat each swimmer leaves precisely 5 seconds behind the previous swimmer (each person going on the next 5-second mark). Otherwise you throw off all the others in your lane who are expecting you to go at a specific time. If everyone in the lane agrees, going 10 seconds apart is OK too.
  • Failing to pay attention to the clock so you’ll be ready to start the set or repeat at the appointed time. Those around you, and Coach, are counting on you to be punctual throughout workout (even if you weren’t punctual about getting to the workout).
  • Excessive drafting. Nobody will begrudge you the occasional lap where you ride on their heels, letting them do all the work while you laze along in their draft. But if you are going to do that, you gotta take your turn out front pulling the sled too.  Drafting too much is considered bad form and leads to ugly locker room gossip. (See also: Bubble Leech Extinction in the articles section of this web site.)
  • Not offering to let a faster swimmer go ahead of you. Some people think passing, or even asking to pass, is a bit presumptuous so, if you find you always have someone on your tail, offer to let that person go in front of you in the lane order.
  • Stopping mid-pool to adjust goggles (or what have you). Wait until you get to a wall and scoot into the right corner to take your equipment time-out. Stopping anywhere but the wall makes you a hazard to others not expecting a big bump in their lane. Fair warning to incorrigible drafters: some people have been known to come to an abrupt stop in mid-pool to adjust goggles (or what have you), with the inadvertent consequence of a bubble leech to running smack into their back. And those pesky goggles (or what have you) may act up again, mebbe several times in the workout. I’m not condoning the practice, just noting that, regrettably, it occurs.
  • Not making lane order adjustments for different strokes, different drills, different speeds, different distances etc. You might be a faster sprinter in your lane but a slower distance swimmer. Place yourself accordingly.
  • Unilaterally deciding to “split the lane.” Once warm-up is over, if there are only two swimmers in a lane they may make an agreement to split the lane, each swimming on his own side. No agreement? – then circle swim!
  • Not leaving half the lane open to let other swimmers swim all the way into the wall. When stopping at the wall at the end of a set, immediately scoot over to your left as far as possible – this allows swimmers finishing behind you to swim all the way into the wall, same as you did, or a person turning to have plenty of vertical real estate to carom off of. No swimmer coming into the wall should have to hunt for a spot to finish or turn – or have to dodge past anyone to get to it.
  • Taking your half in the middle. If, while swimming, you see any part of the line on the bottom underneath your head or shoulders you need to cozy up to the lane rope a bit more. (Exception: when passing.)
  • Not swimming all the way into the wall at the end of sets and repeats. Hint: that’s why all the other swimmers in your lane move quickly to the left when they finish – they are leaving room for your triumphant finish as well.
  • Not entering and leaving the wall in the right way. As you approach a wall, angle toward the middle of the lane, touch the wall at, or slightly to the left of, the middle of the wall and push off fully into the side of the lane opposite the one you just vacated. This way you are not pushing off into the face of the person coming in right behind you. (See the Passing and being passed section for an exception to this convention.)
  • Starting the first couple repeats of a set way too fast, then having to weenie out (or drop out) of the set half-way through. If you don’t know how to pace yourself when fresh then let someone else lead the lane and you pace yourself according to their example.
  • Insisting on leading the lane simply because your first 50 or so will be faster than the others in your lane. If you can’t hold that pace through the whole swim or set then let someone with better pacing skills lead the lane.
  • Instead of turning at the wall, to stop, stand up, sidle over, turn around, pick up your feet and start over again. This takes forever and plays havoc with lane order. During a swim, your feet never touch the bottom, even at the walls. If they do, then you aren’t doing a seamless “turn” at the wall, you are doing a “stopandstartagain”. Rudimentary open turns are very easy to learn, generally just by watching a few others do them, or maybe with a little help from a lane mate or Coach. Think of this as something to try to get used to by the end of your first practice. For now, don’t worry about flip turns at all.
  • After stopping, restarting in the wrong order. If you need to stop at the wall before the appointed distance has been completed, whether for goggles, water, a rest, etc., you should wait to resume swimming in the same order as previously decided by lane.
Getting out
  • If leaving early, not communicating this to your teammates. Before the set begins, let your lanies and those in neighboring lanes know that you will be leaving early. This will help with juggling lane order and lane selection. It is even more important if you are leading the lane. Those behind you will want to make sure they understand the set, the intervals and the send-off times. If you are planning to use some portion of the set as your warmdown, let your lanies know, then swim at the end of the lane order and stay out of people’s way so as not to impede those still in the thick of battle.
  • If getting out temporarily, not communicating this to your teammates. Let your lanies know your intentions before the set starts. This way they’ll know to expect you back shortly. When you return, it is your job to rejoin the lane order without disrupting the current activity – usually by waiting until the current repeat is finished, where possible.
  • Crossing lanes without looking. If you are a “ladder person” and need to cross lanes to get to one, it is 100% your job to avoid collisions. Look both ways at each lane and be particularly careful about people who may be about to push off – they have the right of way, they won’t see you coming and they will run into you hard if you cross as they push off.
  • Leaving the pool deck without drying off first. The hallways in the rest of the building are not designed to deal with water dripped off swimmers. They get slippery, people fall, we get kicked out of the facility. (See also the last several bullet points in the Swimming Equipment section.)
  • Not taking all your stuff with you when you head to the lockerroom after practice. Otherwise, you may very well return to find the pool area closed and locked.
Passing and being passed
  • Not responding properly to a tap on the toes/foot. When a swimmer hits your feet from behind, this is a signal that he wants to pass. While it is not necessary to slow down for a passing swimmer, it is not cool to speed up and make passing harder. Also, give the passer as much room as possible to execute the pass by scooching over against the lane rope is de rigueur. If you happen to be close to the end wall you should stay against the lane rope and swim into the far right corner at the wall, wait briefly for the swimmer to turn (and the next swimmer if he is very close), then you may resume swimming as soon as it is clear that your pushoff is not going to send you right into the passer’s feet.
  • Pass between someone and the closest lane rope. All mid-length passing is done down the center line.
  • Not picking the right time to pass. The person doing the passing must be aware of oncoming swimmers on the other side of the lane and avoid collisions – they are not watching and are not expected to get out of the way. If it looks like it’ll be a tight squeeze, don’t do it – wait until you get to the wall.
  • Moving so far into/past the middle of the lane when passing that you become a hazard to oncoming swimmers. Again, it is not their job to watch out for you – you must watch out for them. If in doubt, wait and pass at the next wall.
  • Passing too slowly. If you decide to pass in mid-length, speed up to get past the other swimmer as quickly as possible. If you are not willing to sprint, wait and pass at the wall.
  • Passing someone, then slowing down to a slower speed such that they run up on your feet. Passing is fine, expected even. But also expected is that you maintain your original speed, or faster, once you get out in front. To do otherwise is just rude.
  • Hitting the feet of the swimmer in front, but not passing. Once you hit someone’s feet they will be expecting you to pass either during that length or, at the latest, at the next wall – and they will (or should) act accordingly. But if you don’t pass, you have, in effect, interrupted their swim for no reason. So if you inadvertently hit someone’s feet, suck it up, pass and then hold that faster speed till the end of the repeat – it’s good training and it builds character.
  • Cutting a short-cut pass too close. Sometimes the best way to effect a pass is to, instead of turning at the wall,  move to the other side of the lane and switch directions before you get to the wall – generally done more than 5 yards out from the wall (i.e. before you get to the backstroke flags). If you are slow in making this maneuver, or the swimmer you are trying to get around has very good pushoffs, you may need to do this further from the wall in order to avoid getting rear-ended (remember, as the passer you have 100% of the responsibility to avoid collisions).
  • Passing, or being passed, too often. If you are frequently passing people or frequently being passed, consider the possibility you belong in another lane.
The pace clock (and watches)
  • Not knowing how to read the pace clock - at least the basics. The hand you see moving (sometimes seeming to move way to fast) is the second hand. The other hand (which often seems to move way too slow, or not at all) is the minute hand. The numbers and mark around the clock (5, 10, 15,…60 and tick marks in between) are in seconds (or minutes), not hours. The “top” is the 60, the “bottom” is the 30. That’s enough to get you through your first couple workouts, but you’ll get a lot more cozy with the clock over time. (See Coach’s book, Fitness Swimming, 2nd Edition, Chapter 10, for more about reading pace clocks. See also:, and  )
  • Stopping even briefly at the wall to take your splits during longer swims. This can cause traffic problems if someone is close behind you. To take an intermediate split you should glance at the clock just before you do a flip turn (and then mentally add a second or so, cuz it’ll take that long to get to the wall) or, if doing an open turn, as you grab a bite of air during the turn.
  • Making up your own sendoffs or simply being delayed because you are relying on a watch instead of a pace clock. This gets you out of sync with the rest of the group and the rest of your lane. Using a watch is OK but you need to keep it synced with the pace clocks.
  • Using a button on your watch instead of the pace clock to get your splits during training swims. This is simply a crutch that keeps you from developing knowledge of the clock and real-time feedback on your pacing. 
Workout numbers
  • Not counting your strokes or knowing your distances, times or splits when the set instructions call for them. These are important both as feedback tools and because subsequent swims and/or sets may be based on one or more of these data tidbits.
  • Not being able to lie quickly about your stroke count, times or splits when asked by the coach. Our rule is that if you don’t know your actual times and numbers you gotta make up times and numbers that sound plausible. That way you have to spend at least a few brain cycles focused on what you should be capable of. Of course, if Coach had his counter or stopwatch aimed at you during that last negative split 200, your life will be easier if your whole-cloth lies come within a couple seconds (or strokes) of reality.
  • Relying on somebody else to keep accurate track of the distance swum. There is a little known anomaly in the fabric of spacetime that severely de-tunes normally accurate lap counters whenever a nearby body abdicates personal responsibility for their own count. This generates random and therefore useless results for everyone involved.

Coach’s instructions

The primary reason people seek out a coached group is, ostensibly, the coaching – which includes, of course, description of the next activity. And nobody wants to stand around while parts of the set get repeated unnecessarily. So the goal is Coach says it once, everybody hears it and understands it the first time, then we start the set. But some people’s behavior can get in the way…

  • Talking to your lane mates while Coach is giving instructions. The rule is: “When Coach is talking, you are not.” Talking while instructions are being given distracts you, the person you are talking to, plus at least 3 or 4 other people around you. Then you end up looking foolish because you delay the set by asking a question that Coach just answered. And then so do a couple of the others you distracted, further delaying the next set. And, of course, Coach may call you out on it, and lecture you and the group with, well, all of the above. (Ironically, the absolute worst people about talking when Coach is talking are the one’s you’d think would know better - coaches and teachers. Go figure.)
  • Failing to “shush” the person who insists on talking while Coach is talking. You are just as guilty of wasting everyone’s time as the person doing the talking. Your first-grade teacher already went over this with you. We shouldn’t need to cover it again while everyone stands there shivering.
  • Not paying attention to the set instructions. Each time Coach issues instructions for the next set, his hope is that everyone listens to the entire set description and “gets it” the first time. Alas, this is often not the case. Then we either get questions that require repetition of instructions or we have swimmers confused about what they are to do, or both. Most questions seem to come from people who didn’t listen intently through the entire explanation. Ditto on confusion. For instance:
    •  If you hear the first part and assume you know the rest, you will be wrong. Then you’ll be mystified when your lane partners do something different than you do.
    • If you miss some part of the instruction and start quizzing your neighbor while Coach is still talking, you’ll be messing them up as well as missing the rest of the instruction.
    • If you ask a question that has already been answered (either during the set instructions or in response to another swimmer’s question), you’ll be delaying the start for everyone.
  • Not asking questions (at the right time). Sometimes, a clarification to the instructions or additional bit of information may be required. This is why Coach generally finishes the instructions with “Any questions?”. This is the appropriate time to ask for clarifications or additional information. If Coach does not think the whole group needs to hear the answer he may ask you to wait while he sends the group off on the set. This is often the case with newbies as the answer to the question may require some elaboration that the group has already heard many times.
  • Asking questions (at the wrong time). If your question is the result of not paying attention, then asking the question at a point that will delay the start of the set for everyone else is the wrong time. Instead, once Coach indicates when the set will start, get his attention and he’ll answer your question while everyone else is starting the set. Be patient, you may not be the only one in that situation. Once your question is answered, you’ll then need to slip into your proper place in the lane order as an opening presents itself and adjust your swim and distance to get in sync with the rest of your lanies.
  • Arguing with the coach. Coach, thinks of this as heckling and has, like veteran stand-up comedians, developed counter-measures for such behaviors. Two things each newbie needs to know are: 1) During workout Coach is always right and 2) If you feel Coach is in error, either refer back to #1 or swim continuous butterfly until you get your mind right. If you have a difference of opinion with Coach regarding some aspect of training, technique or workout format, the appropriate time to discuss it is before or after workout, not during instructions.
  • Trying to convince coach why you shouldn't do a T-20. This never goes well – Coach has been known to switch the set to a T-30 for everyone in order to accommodate such requests.
  • Not doing “easy” swims when offered. Between sets and/or between swims within a set, Coach sometimes gives the opportunity for some “easy” swimming. This is also referred to as “active rest”. Your body recovers from strenuous activity more rapidly when going through easy motions than when just standing still. This is because blood flow, oxygen distribution and CO2 clearing are all assisted by low intensity muscle contractions – particularly in the muscles that are most fatigued. So failing to “do your easy” means getting less recovery than those around you.
  • Not starting right away on “easy” swims offered after stressful sets. When Coach says something like “Easy 50” after a hard set, he means for you to start right away. If you don’t start right away (or within 5 seconds), then just stay where you are and wait for everyone to return to the wall (rather than everyone having to wait for you to return). And during that time, bobbing, cavorting or otherwise continuing to move about is still way better than standing still.
  • Not helping your lanies and those in adjacent lanes know when the set is over. In most H2O sets there is either a prescribed duration for the set or a prescribed number of repeats in the set. Some people do not have as good a grasp on the clock or on counting repeats as others. Left unchecked, these people might simply continue swimming until we drain the pool. Instead, once Coach indicates that the time period for the set has expired, it is the duty of everyone already stopped to help propogate that message to others in their lanes and adjacent lanes. That way the whole group does not have to try to stay warm by twiddling their thumbs while one straggler does one more lap.
  • Not returning right away when Coach says “C’mon back!” At the end of some drill sets, swimmers may be at the other end of the pool and Coach will holler “C’mon back” or some other indication that the set is over. This means to swim back rather than continuing the set drill. The group and Coach are waiting on you in order to get the next set started.
  • Not donning/doffing indicated equip quickly. When Coach calls for a change of equipment (fins, snorkels, beepers, etc) for the next set, you should immediately grab yours and start putting it on (or taking it off, as the case may be). Coach will likely continue with the set instructions while you are making the change so stay tuned in! If you wait until the set starts to begin fussing with your equipment will either delay your lane or mess up the lane order - tsk, tsk, tsk.
Technique and knowledge

You’ve heard of “teaching hospitals” where the veterans are constantly teaching those with less experience in the field? We think of H2O as a “teaching swim team” where the veterans are constantly teaching those with less experience (sometimes only a week or two).

  • Not having, and reading, Coach’s book, Fitness Swimming, 2nd Edition. This is the “H2Ouston Swims Owner’s Manual”. It explains loads about the training and technique that forms the core of what Coach teaches. It’ll answer questions and give you information that would take you months or years to absorb at workouts. (See also:
  • Not fully utilizing the articles and discussion forum on the web site. While we don’t expect you to read all that stuff in one sitting, it should be your goal to, over time, read it all – and to keep up with new stuff as it is added. There is a wealth of information that you need, available 24/7. You either use it or squander it – there is no middle ground.
  • Being quick to discount the knowledge and ability of other swimmers. You will find yourself surprised by some, perhaps many, of those you might at first dismiss as inferior swimmers. You will also likely find yourself being ably assisted and instructed by some of them. Just because somebody isn’t as fast as you doesn’t mean they can’t teach you something. Group swimming can be, in fact should be, a humbling experience.
  • Not making the most of Partner Coaching opportunities. We often break up in little groups where swimmers coach each other. Even though you are new to our way of swimming, you are expected to take an active role. As a newbie the way you can help other swimmers is to observe others, describe what you see, and ask questions. The more you verbalize in this vein, the better. You will also, of course, be able to benefit from the input you’ll get from the others.
  • Not spending some time watching others. You’ll find that there is a great deal you can learn about our swimming paradigm by watching those who’ve been working at it a while. Coach often has people demonstrate specific skills and drills for the group, but your inspection of other’s technique should be a regular and ongoing part of your swimming education.
  • Being intimidated and/or disheartened by your first video episode. On TV and in the movies, the stars look a lot better on screen than they do in real life. In underwater video however, nearly everybody looks worse than they thought they did in real life (especially in slo-mo). You have to keep this in perspective – what you will really be seeing on video are lots of opportunities for improvement.

My original intent with this article was not to address swimming technique mistakes but, rather, rookie mistakes made in the process of getting used to swimming with a group. However, so many respondents cited swimming technique issues that I felt I’d at least mention a few. So the next item includes some of the most common swimming technique mistakes we see in newbies – some you may recognize in yourself, others…not so much. And on some you may not even know what I’m referring to. That’s OK – a large focus of our program is to help you get away from doing all these things (at least) and on to doing much more productive things. So….common newbie swim technique mistakes…

  • Doing any of the following: (in no particular order) One-side breathing, rear-quadrant swimming, poor aquatic posture, windmill swimming, dropped-elbow stroke, cupping hands to take strokes, kicking from the knees instead of from the hip, kicking with toes pointed towards bottom of the pool, “monorail” swimming, snake swimming, holding your breath while your face is in the water instead of exhaling underwater, over kicking, lifting your head to breathe, swimming flat on your stomach, swimming uphill, looking forward as you swim, being too quick to take the first stroke of each length, pushing off from the wall on the surface of the water. There are tons more I could list but I’m about out of keystrokes.
  • Not being prepared to read poolside charts. Coach sometimes lays out charts between the lanes that contain info you need in order to complete some sets properly. If you can't read the charts you could bring your reading glasses or print out a Personal Cruise Chart with large print so you can read your numbers. There are also corrective-lens goggles available – both in prescription and over-the-counter varieties (like reading glasses). It is not OK to simply always rely on someone else to read your chart info to you.
  • Failing to read and heed emails from Coach. Email is the communication tool Coach uses between practices. Do not expect announcements at practices to keep you up to date. When Coach sends info out by email, he then operates under the assumption you have read and understood his email. If you don’t keep up with your email (at least once a day) then I guarantee you’ll be lonesome at 5:30 in the parking lot on the day the pool is closed for some reason.
  • Apologizing repeatedly for your presence and your actions. It is common (and understandable) for newbies to feel like they are making every mistake on this list and that they simply must be in everyone’s way. But this is not something to apologize for. Better to use that breath for asking questions. If you are new, everyone understands it’ll take a few visits before you figure out how to fit in completely and comfortably. Coach and your lane mates will be happy to answer questions and help you do that – it serves their best interests, as well as yours.
  • Thinking that standing still is the best way to recover. Instead, easy motion, in the form of easy swimming, easy drills, bobbing, cavorting, etc. (if time permits) will allow you to recover more rapidly than just standing still.
  • Bringing coffee to the pool. A crowded lane usually has a number of beverage bottles at the end on the deck. But coffee is never an appropriate pool-edge beverage, even with a tight lid. It has a strong odor, that easily wafts across several lanes, and which many find unpleasant (or downright nauseating) when breathing deeply. (As for coffee breath, see the second bullet point way back up at the top of the article.)
Thanks to the following people who responded to the email survey (in no particular order) - Rod Myers, Lucy Shaw, Mario Chiodetti, Judy Levison, Jenny Holzaepfel, DeEtte Sauer, Suzy Reierson, Brent Dudley, Kristen Brauchle Hawkins, Anne Bike, Cyd Thomas, Renee Miles and Dwight Campbell.  v

© H2Ouston Swims, Inc. 1999-2010

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Emmett Hines is Director and Head Coach of H2Ouston Swims. He has coached competitive Masters swimming in Houston since 1981, was a Senior Coach for Total Immersion Swim Camps for many years, holds an American Swim Coaches Association Level 5 Certification, was selected as United States Masters Swimming’s Coach of the Year in 1993 and received the Masters Aquatic Coaches Association Lifetime Achievement Award in 2002. He recently overhauled his popular book, Fitness Swimming (Human Kinetics, publishers) and the second edition was released mid-2008. Fitness Swimming has been published in French (entitled Natation, pub. by Vigot), Spanish (entitled Natacion, pub. by Hispano Europea), Chinese (entitled Jianshenyouyong), Portuguese (Natacao Para Condicionamento Fisico, pub. by Manole)  and, soon, in Turkish and Italian. Currently Coach Hines coaches the H2Ouston Swims Masters group in Houston, TX and works privately with many clients. He can be reached for questions or comments at 713-748-SWIM or via email.

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