Coaching Masters Swimming

"No Limits"


Tony is available for coaching sessions or one-off events

Below is a precis of his experience, and underneath that some examples of his coaching programs and ideologies


Tony has successfully coached at Junior Age Group, Open and Senior and master's Age Group. He taught swimming and water polo in London Schools: namely Battersea Park School (State) and St Paul's Boys School in Barnes (Private).


  He was educated at the University of Loughborough in P.E and Sports Science (Full-Time)


  Tony, also a world-class master's swimmer, was a Founder Member of the Spencer Swim Team, one of the clubs that pioneered master's Swimming in this country.


  He was Head Coach for the Centre for Excellence Swim Squad at the Crystal Palace National Sports Complex, producing swimmers to international level.


  Tony was then appointed as Director of Aquatics for St Paul's Boys School, now a leading school in London Schools Swimming and Water Polo.


  It was at this time, as part of the school's Community Links Programme that Tony began his masters swimming coaching career by being made the Head Senior and master's Coach for Wandsworth Swimming Club. The club achieved world class status.


  Later, he founded the very fashionable St Paul's Barnes Swimming Club, now Barnes Swimming Club, in Southwest London where he was the Head Coach to the club's senior and master's Squad where he produced swimmers to national and international level.

Pool clock
                                       A DEFINITION OF THE TERM

 Be the Best that you can be. 

Words exist because of their meaning. When you've got their meaning, you can forget the words. So, how does one really understand the language of the masters swimming coach? For instance, "anaerobic threshold training"? So, where is there a masters swimming coach that I can really have a word with? 

Well, according to a definition of the term "anaerobic threshold training" it is defined at the speed at which a swimmer can train without a significant build-up of lactic acid. This involves training at a heart rate of 20 to 30 beats below the swimmers’ maximum heart rate. 

 We are now well into the Competition Phase of our training, that is May to October. We have completed both our Off-Season, November to December and Pre-Season Training, January to April. Now, what I call from the deck should make you better, each swim practice must be a successful experience for you. Now is the time where you really learn what works and what doesn't. Now only through your own careful planning and monitoring will the swim practices really achieve what they should achieve. But nothing is learnt until it is taught. 

 Just do it. 

In my opinion anaerobic threshold is not a measurement. It is a philosophy. So, whatever I now call from the deck must work and I will do everything in my power to make it work - for you! The philosophy of Progressive Overload is the real key to improvement. Under Load, Pressed Load and Overload. 

 Now, pulse rate counts - Maximum HR = 220 minus Age - can be somewhat variable so read the pace clock. Yes, swim faster until you eventually swim in no time at all. Yes, that's it, no limits. 

 The main swim sets outlined below should really control the quality of your swims. Now let's have a try shall we:

 1. Distance Easy Endurance. Recovery from anaerobic threshold work i.e., main sets of distance or sprint work. 

 2. Distance Basic Endurance. Working at 60-70% of Maximum HR for between 15 minutes to 1 hour i.e., Swim 5 x 400 30 secs R.I.

 3. Distance Threshold Endurance. Working at 80% of Maximum HR for between 15 to 45 minutes. e.g., Swim 10 x 200 15 secs R.I. 

 4. Distance Overload Endurance. Working at 90% of Maximum HR for between 15 to 30 minutes. e.g., Swim 3 x 400 20 secs R.I. 

 5. Sprint Lactate Production. Maximum Pace. e.g., Swim 5 x 100 3 mins R.I Broken 50/50 10 secs R.I. 

 6. Sprint Lactate Tolerance. Maximum Pace. e.g., Swim 3 x 100 5 mins R.I. 

 7. Sprint Power. e.g., Tethered Swimming.



What I am now really seeing is those swimmers who are attempting to see what is really on the other side of them be realistic and to aim for that perceived impossible! 

 Tony Pearce. 

 Copyright September 2021




The stress of coaching and managing one’s own time


Programmes and periodisation for Masters swimming 



The stress of coaching and managing one’s own time


“Rarely do you ever have to tell a Masters swimmer to work harder. It’s harder to control their intensity because they’re so enthusiastic about what they’re doing!”

Scott Bay, USMS Daytona Beach Masters - Florida


1. The stress of coaching


The intensity of enthusiasm


Yes, the stress of coaching in Masters swimming is dealing with the intensity of enthusiasm. You need the ability to deal with any emotional situation that might come about during challenges faced in training and competition. Coaching in Masters swimming involves taking on many roles, including that of counsellor and arbitrator. It is dealing with the what, when and how of adult education. You have a group of swimmers who you don’t have to motivate. It’s not about being a technical swimming coach as such. It’s not about calling sets - it’s more like making suggestions. In Masters swimming the coaching process is truly a partnership where an appreciation of method acting overrides the educationalist or sports scientist.


However, believe it or not, there are occasions when you are dealing with upsets. Here, coaching the ‘self’ is all important. Stressful situations need to be dealt with effectively at training and competitions.


Now you are about to walk onto the poolside and begin your Masters coaching career.


The vision thing


Visualisation (imagery) has long been a tool that swimmers have used to help them see and feel the competition environment prior to the actual competition. This helps them deal with the stress and anxiety which often undermines successful performance. However, visualisation (imagery) is just as effective with coaches who, with a little patience and a little practice, can use visualisation techniques and their imaginations to learn, grow and win.


Yes, it is here that invaluable experience is a determining factor of success in coaching Masters swimming. Here, for many coaches, you learn what is needed is a way to live the experience, to feel the experience, to ‘see’ the experience without actually  doing it, so that you are prepared to manage the emotion of the moment when it comes for real. And that’s where visualisation comes in. You can see it before you have to be it. Here are some examples that you might consider:

  • Imagine what you would do if your swimmers were about to swim their critical race. How would you plan the week? How would you prepare for each training session? How would you address your swimmers before their big race? Spend time visualising how you would coach at your best during this period of time.
  • If you have a big event coming up and you need to be calm, composed, clear and confident for your swimmers, try some visualisation. Imagine yourself on the poolside. See yourself as being calm and composed. Feel your body language as being positive and powerful. See your swimmers performing and imagine how you will respond i.e. with clarity and confidence.

2. Managing one’s own time


More often than not, being a swimming coach is an additional job. Invariably one cannot help but try to squeeze in too much in one day. You therefore need to manage your stress by learning time management skills. In other words:

  • Learn how to begin to prioritise, plan and take action.
  • Use some type of planning aid and list the tasks based on a priority that you would like to, or have to, accomplish for each day of the week.
  • Estimate how much time it will take you to finish each one. This will help you see just how much you can realistically do each day, week and so on.
  • When setting goals make sure they are achievable.
  • Remain organized in your home and work life.


“Being married coaches, we get to talk about swimming all the time. The drawback about being married coaches is we talk about swimming all the time!”

Commentary by Masters Coach Stu Kahn (with wife/Masters coach Mary Kahn), USMS Davis Aquatic Masters California


Before you move on, remember:

  • The intensity of enthusiasm can sometimes need containing.
  • Utilise visualisation tools to help you as a coach.
  • For optimum time management, follow the mantra ‘organisation, organisation, organisation’.

Programmes and periodisation for Masters swimming 


“We have slow lanes. We have fast lanes. It’s Masters. You come and go as you please. I just say ‘Get in the pool’...”

Chad Durieux, Head Coach, USMS Rose Bowl Masters Swimming


1. The programme


At present, programmes for Masters swimming comprise two main categories of swimmers - non-competitive and competitive. Within these two groups there are four main categories of Masters swimming:


Fitness swimmers - want a coach who will help them meet their fitness objectives. Interested in competing and with encouragement invariably do.


Competitive pool swimmers - are in your programme for purely competitive purposes.


Open water swimmers - may have backgrounds as fitness swimmers, pool swimmers or triathletes, but prefer to compete in open water events.


Triathletes - priority is triathlons and therefore they only seek freestyle technique in order to improve the swimming portion of a triathlon.


2. Periodisation in Masters swimming


Periodisation is a systematic planning of athletic training where the aim is to reach the best possible performance in the most important competition of the year. The roots of periodisation come from the stages of general adaption to stress (Hans Selye)[1] which are:


1. The alarm stage

2. The resistance stage

3. The exhaustion stage


The foundation of such periodic training is keeping the body in the resistance stage without ever going into the exhaustion stage. By adhering to this system of cyclic training - preparation; competition/performance; recovery - the body is given adequate time to recover from significant stress before additional training is undertaken.




The periodic cyclic training system applies to all the categories of Masters swimming and their time is typically divided up into three types of cycles:

  • Micro cycle - for the non-competitive Masters swimmer. Lasts for around a week.
  • Meso cycle - for the competitive Masters swimmer. Lasts for typically a month.
  • Macro cycle - refers to the overall career training plan of the improver Masters swimmer. Usually lasts for a year.

3. The annual plan


It is here that an overall annual plan is important in that it directs and guides training over a year. With the training principles of progression, overload and specificity the objective of peak performance in major competition is reached. Here is an example of such an annual plan which is divided into three different phases:


Pre-season phase (January until April)


Training emphasis: this phase is meant to build a general endurance base increasing the ability to swim at a steady rate for extended periods of time. Swimming alternative swim practices of freestyle and individual medley. Competitions e.g. SER Long Course and Bracknell Short Course Meets.


In-season phase (May until October)


Training emphasis: this phase is for swimmers who are training for specific competitions. Progressively increases the amount of time that can be swum at a race speed. Competitions e.g. GB Long Course, World or European Masters Swimming Championships, Open Water Swims and Triathlons, SE Region followed by ASA Short Course Championships.


Off-season phase (November and December)


While still maintaining an adequate level of fitness, this phase is used to allow the body to fully regenerate so that it is prepared for the following year. Psychologically, this is a time to set and reassess goals. It may also be an ideal time to introduce or refine (under qualified direction) a stretching and core land conditioning programme that may complement the work in the pool as well as cross-training. Stroke technique work including the relative starts, turns and finishes, must have focus throughout the year.

Competitions e.g. Barnet Copthall 1500 Freestyle and Half-Hour Postal Swim.



Before you move on, remember:

  • To have an understanding of the categories of Masters swimmers.
  • To help with the systematic planning of athletic training, refer to Selye’s stages of general adaption to stress.
  • An annual training plan will help to guide training throughout the year.




1. By individual needs


“Our team ranges from fitness, fun, very serious

and everything in-between.”

Jim Sites, Coach, USMS Ford Aquatic Masters


A Masters swimming programme should not only consider the swimmer’s potential in training or competition but should also be flexible so that its content can be modified to meet the swimmer’s rate of progress, commitment and, above all, enjoyment. All ability groups, from the adult learning to swim to the most accomplished competitive swimmer and triathlete, are included.


2. By process


Differentiation by process refers to how a Masters swimming coach groups the swimmers into ‘ability’ groups based on their readiness via special drill progressions. Bearing in mind that the swimmers are at different levels and learn in different ways, it is essential that reinforcement through the opportunity for individual stroke technique is utilised. Here, the use of video by suitably skilled and authorised club personnel could be put in place.


Stopping the swim practice for stroke work can become non-productive, although soundbites during the swim training itself act as the reinforcement of feedback for the final acquisition of the whole skill. It is important that individual stroke work is set up as part of the training programme and not as an extra. Keeping the group together in terms of social cohesion is an important aspect of learning.


3. By keeping your distance


The process of placing people in swimming training lanes in order to enable them to attain sufficient overload, together with the methods of measurement and evaluation of training intensity during training, requires discussion.


Although the standard T30 swim and the 2000m swim are indicators, there are two main methods of measuring training intensity.

  • Heart rate monitoring. Digital measurement equipment has made identifying the target training heart rate, expressed as a percentage of the maximum heart rate, significantly simpler. In addition, tracking resting heart rates can indicate a recovery swim practice or a complete day of rest.
  • Threshold pace. When exercising, lactate accumulates in the muscles and bloodstream and perceived effort is indicated as lactate threshold.

4. By just doing it…


It’s not another swim team – it’s an aquatic fitness programme for adults who choose to swim as their form of exercise for living a healthier lifestyle. Adults with disabilities and physical challenges are also encouraged to participate in such a programme.


Before you move on, remember:

  • Be inclusive: consider all ability groups when creating training programmes.
  • Individual stroke work should be a central part of any training programme.

Text and illustration copyright Tony Pearce 2015




I have been coaching for over 30 years, so please call me for advice or to book my expertise 

1. Initial Chat & Development

Happy to provide a free consultation

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2. Design Brief

Coaching Masters swimmers encompasses a lot more than age-groups, so I will design a programme to suit all ages and abilities

3. Functional Sessions with deck side options

These could be a one-off, or as part of a program

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4. Bepoke and Tailoured to your needs

Whether it is just for fitness, technique or for a specific goal 

5. Something & something

etc etc

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6. Implementation

etc etc

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