Swim with the DolphinsЙ

Building a swim team can be a very rewarding experience. Not only is it a great way for people of all ages to learn and grow in the sport, it is a great way to teach something that you enjoy.

Matthew Luebbers, coach and founder of the Okinawa Dolphins Swim Team in Okinawa, Japan has mastered the process of building a swim team among a very diverse population.

"You first need to find out what you or your employer wants out of the swim team, and then you determine what the population wants," says Luebbers.

Dolphin Polls & Practice

Gather information from those who are interested in a swim team and see what it is that they want to gain from the experience. In the case of the Okinawa Dolphins, there are different goals amongst the swimmers.

For this reason, Luebbers has determined that the best approach for the swim team is to offer three different speeds of four different categories of swimming. This way, the swimmers will know which days they will need or want to come, and will be able to work at a pace that is manageable to them.

In addition to this, Luebbers offers his expertise individually for the first part of the session, and then a group class for the second part of the session.

After more than 25 years in coaching, he has determined that this is the best method for a diverse team. Below is an example of weekly practice sessions:

Mondays and Tuesdays: Fitness Swimming

Wednesdays: Technique

Thursdays: Triathlon Training

Fridays: Recreational Swimming

Follow a pattern so they know what to expect, but change the exercises so they are challenged each time.

Luebbers instructs not only a diverse group of needs, but also ages. For this reason, he has divided the team into two teams; a youth and masters swim team.

The youth team begins at the age of 7, which he believes is the best age to start at because of the physical demands of swimming for an hour.

The masters team is for anyone over the age of 18, and is offered during convenient times for adults, 5 a.m. and 5 p.m. Flexibility with the team is crucial in maintaining a strong group.

This is their recreation time; therefore, offering convenient class times and allowing children the opportunity to train with adults when the youth season is over creates a more challenging atmosphere, offers children a great recreation alternative, and is more of a convenience for adults.

Of utmost importance is keeping the team motivated so they will continue to be a part of your team. Competition is a great motivational tool. Luebbers does this by offering a swim camp for children ages nine and ten, as well as a youth triathlon for children of all ages. Both have been extremely successful with the children and are offered annually.

For adults, there are Open Ocean swim competitions where there are buoys set out for 750- and 1,000-meter swims, triathlons, competitions against other teams in Okinawa, and a yearly National competition in Tokyo.

In order to hold competitions, funding will be necessary. To fund these types of events, team dues may not cover all competitions you wish to enter.

Luebbers recommends visiting local gift shops, wives' clubs, or other non-profit organizations that support recreational events, especially for children. With this type of support, he is able to fund the plane tickets to Tokyo for the annual competition, which builds team unity and motivates the members.

Commercial sponsorship is also a great way to advertise your team, and gain funds for events. Sporting goods companies may be willing to fund your team warm-ups if you put their logo on them. Seeing a bunch of your swim team warm-ups around town can generate public interest and help you gain members.

For more information on beginning a swim team, contact Matthew Luebbers, Supervisory Sports Specialist for Semper Fit Aquatics Okinawa, Japan at luebbersm@okinawa.usmc-mccs.org. Luebbers also recommends utilizing the information from USA Swimming available at www.usaswimming.com for help organizing your own team.

Kati Trammel is advertising and public relations account executive for MCCS Marketing, Semper Fit, Retail, Food and Beverage, based in Okinawa, Japan.