Ask a Coach!: Training Within A Single-Gender Team

PHOENIX, Arizona, October 30. THE Ask A Coach! series is back with another gender in training question. Last week, Swimming World fielded a question regarding the differences in coaching men and women. That response led to a follow up question for Tennessee associate coach of men's and women's swimming and diving Tyler Fenwick regarding how to train in a single-gender team.

I am currently on an all-women's team for the first time in my life. I have grown up with swimming with both men and women and I prefer to have both on a team. I'm not sure why this would change a team dynamic from a swimmer's point of view though? Does it motivate girls to swim better when there are guys around or vice versa? – Katie Sartini

Hi Katie!

I've had the opportunity to coach teams and groups separated by gender at The University of Tennessee and Mission Viejo Nadadores. Currently we are in the first year of not only a combined swimming program at Tennessee, but a newly-combined athletic department. Where I'm sure that swimming on a women's only team must be an adjustment for you, you have a tremendous opportunity at your fingertips. Where you cannot control the gender composition of your team, you are in control of your outlook and perspective on the situation. Motivation can be derived from an infinite number of sources. Where you may have enjoyed training with males in the past, this is a great opportunity to find other avenues of motivation. You might find that by the end of the season you enjoy training on your current team just as much!

Regardless, I do agree that a group dynamic changes when you separate by genders. There is certainly a different buzz on our pool deck when the men's and women's teams train together. We break our practices up by stroke, distance and gender frequently. Having two separate teams at Tennessee since the 1970's allowed for each to establish strong identities. Both teams have a tremendous amount of respect for each other and because of this there is an immense energy on the deck when we train together. One of the things I've enjoyed the most about returning to Tennessee is being able to watch the relationship between our combined team in its first year. The mutual appreciation between the teams has created a new energy. It's been a pleasure to be part of the process.

Where combining the teams has been beneficial at Tennessee, I've also enjoyed working with separate programs. At Mission Viejo, our National Team found great success separating by gender the two years leading up to Olympic Trials. By creating smaller training groups we allowed for more team members to have a voice and become leaders. In a large group, it's easier to hide or for someone who is shy to remain quiet. A smaller training group allows for personalities to emerge that normally would not and leaders to develop in and out of the water. Separating the men and women with the Nadadores was one way to accomplish our goal of cultivating young leaders within the team.

Where it may have motivated you in the past to swim with men, you are in a fantastic situation. Don't let anything deter you from being a great teammate, leader and competitor. All of these elements are within your control and will help to motivate while having a positive impact on those around you. Good luck and have an awesome season!

Our resident expert coach currently is Tyler Fenwick, Tennessee's Associate Coach for the men's and women's swimming and diving program. Fenwick has coaching experience at both the collegiate and club swimming level. Before moving to Tennessee, he spent three years (2009-12) as the Head Men's National Team coach for the Mission Viejo Nadadores, a premier gold medal club in Mission Viejo, Calif.

In his time with the Nadadores, Fenwick's athletes posted 58 National Age Group top-10 swims, 24 top-three swims and seven #1 ranked swims. His swimmers broke 13 Nadadore club records, four Southern California records and one National Age Group record. This past year alone, two swimmers each made the U.S. National Team, Junior Pan Pacific Team and Junior World Championship Team. Two of his swimmers won gold and bronze medals at the Junior Pan Pacific Championships. To cap it all off, he coached the 5k National Champion, David Heron, at the Open Water National Championships. Heron has since committed to rejoining Fenwick as a Volunteer after his senior year of high school. Another distance freestyle recruit, Evan Pinion, has also decided to be a Volunteer in college.

If you would like to submit a question to Coach Fenwick, email us or leave a comment below! All swimming-related questions are welcome!