A master at coaching Masters – Long

Some people don’t get beyond the name “Masters Swim Team.” It sounds intimidating. They imagine they must be an expert swimmer to take part in the Northern Neck YMCA program. To everyone’s relief that is not the case. The term ‘Masters’ originally referred to track and field participants and was later adopted for use in swimming. It simply means 18 years of age, or older.

Craig Bauer - Coach of the Masters Swim TeamCraig Bauer, coach of the team, the Stripers, says, “The program’s goal is to help team members build and maintain a healthy lifestyle through swimming. That is what the Masters team is all about; adults swimming to feel good and stay fit.”

Bauer notes that each team member has the ability to swim competitively. Some relish the challenge of participating in events while others chose not to. But, whether they are swimmers or spectators, the Stripers are a team. They support one another and their camaraderie is conspicuous. Whether in the swimming pool or in life, everyone enthusiastically cheers on their teammates.

Not all of them chose to do so but this does not hinder them those who participate in events. and that These skills, however, are usually kept in check not are not competitive among themselves. On the contrary, they are supportive of one another and there is real team camaraderie.

The competitive drive is apparent in each swimmer. They individually measure their improvement by the number of laps completed, their interval times, or how good, or exhausted, they feel at the end of a session. Each has a personal benchmark.

Bauer starts each practice watching the team warm-up. Then, if necessary, he will adjust the set or workout to fit how they are doing that day. Bauer says, “I don’t know what is going on in their personal lives but I can tell where they are mentally and physically in that moment and adjust the practice accordingly.”

To help the Stripers balance their goals and expectations Bauer emails practice logs detailing the week’s workouts to each team members on a weekly basis. These printouts offer feedback, encouragement, and shows their progress over time.

“Sometimes,’ says Bauer, ‘a team member gets discouraged because they cannot tell they are improving. This is because everyone around them is getting better. This team progress makes it hard for the individual to see their advances. That is something that I can see from the pool deck and share with them.”

Having retired to the Northern Neck in 2015, Bauer became the Stripers coach in 2017. He was a high school swimmer and went on to swim for one year on the Harding University team. It was, however, a summer job as the aquatics director at a community pool that fostered his love of coaching. He hopes his affection for the sport and his work with the Stripers translates into “a positive influence on their day.”

Frank Miller, a member of the Stripers Masters Swim Team talks with coach Craig Bauer.

According to Bauer, the program is unique because all swimmers do the same workout. The distances change according to swimmer’s ability but everyone begins the set together. He says, “It’s amazing. Some of the newcomers can only swim one length of the pool at the start. But over time they improve. That is what I love, to see them make progress.”

The team strives to support each other regardless of a member’s personal goal. Whether the motivation is to maintain fitness, complete a triathlon, or enter their first swim meet, each workout is designed to help the team member reach their target fitness level and improve their performance. But, most of all, it is to have fun.

Bauer notes that every coach has a different yardstick for measuring their effectiveness. He measures himself, not on the progress of the most talented, but on the progress of the least talented.

When Bauer instructs a swimmer he “teaches in reverse.” The swimming stroke is usually taught from the beginning of the stroke, Bauer teaches it from the recovery point. He explains, “I’ve found this helps the swimmers learn the proper technique and have a better feel for the movement.”

Offering a music analogy, Bauer says, “When someone is learning to play a scale on an instrument they take it slow. They learn notes and practice them, allowing muscle memory to help put everything in the proper place. Soon, the musician, or the swimmer will discover they are ‘playing’ at full speed.”

Because many Stripers are also runners and triathletes, the team works with the personal trainers at the YMCA fitness center to learn “Dryland Training’ workouts. This program teaches them training techniques that translate from the weight room into the pool.

Kathy Kaufman demonstrates a swimming form exercise.

Bauer holds certifications as a Level 3 USMS Masters coach and Stroke Development coach, a Level 2 ASCA Swimming Age Group coach, and an Adult learn to swim instructor.

On a personal level, Bauer swims 3-4 times a week. The team’s fellowship is his first motivation, his competitive nature is his second. He was a member of 16 top 10 National United States Masters Swim Relays teams and a member of the 2002 National record breaking 200-yard Medley relay team. In 2017, Bauer was nationally ranked 8th in the 100-meter breaststroke (Long Course and Short Course), 9th in 100-meter freestyle (SC) and 10th in 50-meter breaststroke (SC). At the 2018 YMCA Masters Swimming Nationals, Bauer won the 50-yard* freestyle.

In recognition of his advocacy, Bauer received the 2015 Irv Merrit Award for dedication and promotion of Masters Swimming in Indiana. He also received the 2016 volunteer of the year award for his work with the Northumberland YMCA.

Bauer beams when he talks about the new YMCA aquatics center. He says, “The new pool will allow us to have a more active adult swimming program and hopefully attract more swimmers to the team.”

The aquatic center will also allow the Stripers to sponsor officially sanctioned swim meets. The team looks forward to the new pool opening in late 2019. Several team members have expressed their desire to dedicate the new structure by breaking a national record there.

The Stripers currently compete in regional and national competitions. In 2018, they came in 17th among the 47 teams that competed in the YMCA Nationals. In February, the team will compete in a Virginia Masters competition in Richmond. And they hope to send a large team to Orlando for the YMCA Nationals in April.

When asked what the Masters Swim team meant to them, the team members remarks shared a universal theme: their admiration for their coach, their camaraderie with their teammates, and their love for swimming.

Molly Broderson, explained why she swims, “Because of a very knowledgable coach who understands how to teach adult swimmers; a tribe of swimmers who are compassionate, enthusiastic, caring, and sharing; and a chance to learn how to swim more effectively, and in turn, faster!

A track and field athlete for over 50 years, Ray Funkhouser never focused on swimming. When he moved to the Northern Neck and wanted to cross training, he discovered the Masters program. It allowed him to get “some good coaching and I saw my swimming technique improve tremendously.” He now competes at the YMCA Nationals and has resumed participating in triathlons after a 25-year hiatus. But, he says, “The most rewarding part of the program has been the friendships and camaraderie with the other members . There is a lot of fun shared not only in the pool but when we are out of it as well.”

To Martha Little, the Stripers started out as a way to get and stay in shape but has “become so much more than that.” She says of the experience, “I look forward to seeing the smiling faces of my incredible team mates. We are a diverse group of all ages, skills, backgrounds, and interests. And even though practice can be extremely challenging at times, everyone is supportive, helpful and fun.” She says, “Swim team has become a very important part of my life here in the Northern Neck.”

Kathy Kauffman has been a member of the team since 2014. She notes that swimming can be a solitary exercise but “Swimming with a team makes it really fun and much more challenging than swimming alone.” She says, “Coach Craig is such an asset to the Northern Neck YMCA and the local Masters swim program. He brings a lifetime of swim experience and a consuming passion for coaching to the Y. We are amazingly fortunate to have him and are much better swimmers because of his attention to each workout and each swimmer.”

According to Janice Thomas, she was last on a swim team at the age of ten years old. Although she doubted her abilities, with the encouragement of her neighbors, she joined the Masters swim team. She found that she could, although exhausted, complete workouts. She says, ”Each day I’ve gained more endurance and more confidence. It has been very gratifying and I’m glad I tried.”

The Stripers Team practices on Tuesday and Thursday at 7:00 a.m., Wednesday at 6:45 a.m., and Saturday at 8:00 a.m. For information, please contact the Northern Neck YMCA at 435-0223.

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