Huntsville Aquatics Center Building

Matt Webber is the head coach and program director of Huntsville Swim Association, which is based at the state-of-the-art Huntsville Aquatics Center, the first center in the South with two 50-meter competition pools under the same roof. Webber has been coaching swimming for nearly 25 years, but none of those years has brought the unique challenge he’s facing now, as he shares here:

In any sport in general, we’re all trying to figure how to stay engaged with the kids, and different teams are doing it different ways. A lot of it has been through the discovery of Zoom, the online conferencing app, and that’s pretty much every industry.

Whether you’re doing dry-land training, supervising through Zoom calls with all the kids in a workout and the coach is calling out what they're doing and monitoring the progress or having a meeting, we’re using video conferencing to knock a lot of that out. From a coaching perspective, we’ve found avenues to educate ourselves and have meetings with coaches in other towns, and that’s been really beneficial. Through an organizational perspective, it’s opened a lot of possibilities down the road.

HSA Zoom Call
Photo Credit: Lori Chandler Daniel

Getting Creative with Workouts and Zoom Calls

The kids can’t get in the pool, but dry-land training has always been an integral part of swimming. In different sports, it has different names, but it’s your basic core work --running, weight training, and other forms conditioning. Since we can’t be in the pool, we’ve challenged kids to be more flexible. We’ve pushed a lot of online yoga classes. And to be more explosive off the starting blocks, we’ve worked on jumping. They’re running, biking, walking and hiking more than ever, and we’re monitoring the athletes to avoid injury.

Some of the swimmers have personal gyms, and we’ve had some get pretty creative. I even saw a YouTube video of some kids who created a gym with logs, with eye-hooks drilled into them to help lift.

In youth sports, you have to be aware of insurance issues. USA Swimming cautions about prescribing a lot of workouts that aren’t supervised, so we’ve been conservative there.

We have close to 500 kids on our roster, but coming down the tracks soon is the Rocket City Swim League summer program, and that’s about 3,000 kids who swim at various recreation centers and neighborhood pools. I know they’re having discussions about when and if they can get started.

Getting everybody back in the pool is based on availability and creativity. Being in a chlorinated pool helps. But we’ll be limited on the number of people we can bring in. We can scale practice to an individual basis if that makes sense. We don’t have to have all 500 kids here at the same time, or even the groups of 40 or 50 that are broken up by age. We can get kids back in the water in a safe way more than some of the other sports can get going again.

Learn From an Olympic Hopeful 

Webber and Harting HSA Swim
Photo Credit: Lori Chandler Daniel

 On one of our Zoom calls, we had Zach Harting, who swam at Bob Jones High and who was all set to compete in the Olympic Trials this summer. He talked to our older swimmers about where he is training-wise, and having the rug ripped out from under him as far as Olympic preparation. He talked about what he’s doing to maintain, but also talking about what is almost a grieving process. We were getting ready to go to our championship meet with our top kids and they didn’t get to go, so they could relate.

Then he talked with the youngest kids and he was more focused on his progression as a swimmer from where he was at their age, and all the pitfalls and the lessons he learned. The message to them was, if you’re willing to do the work, you can do what he’s doing.

Pro Tips:

  • Walk, hike, cycle.
  • Yoga for stretching
  • Work on jumping to increase explosiveness
  • Weight training
  • Running, but careful to avoid stress injury