I was asked to come and help coach this weekend at YMCA Districts. I have spent the past 8 months pouring into the lives of these swimmers. I was VERY excited when the Head Coach asked if I would be able to attend the “big” meet. I spent last night and all day today on deck, with two more sessions to go tomorrow. While it’s been very long and exhausting, I am absolutely loving being able to finish the work I started when I stepped onto the coaching staff this year. I want to share with you 4 things I learned from being a swim coach.
1) The Importance of Establishing Expectations
Without establishing expectations with the swimmers, parents, and other coaches mayhem arrived. About 3 weeks into the season the coaching staff had to step back and readjust. It proves the saying, “if you give someone an inch, they will take a mile.” Once we were able to set some clear expectations on attitude, behavior, and effort the season became relatively smooth sailing. To me, it was about the importance of developing consistency from the entire coaching staff.
2) How To Actually Communicate Effectively
I feel like a lot of people want to believe that they communicate effectively. Real talk: I was one of those people. I felt that I was able to achieve good communication within a lot of dynamics. That was until I started working with swim parents. Near the beginning of the season, it became clear that a few of the parents would be harder to work with than the others. I was dreading the times I had to interact with them knowing that it could be considered a form of torture. I felt like whatever I said was somehow lost in the wind with no chances of ever being found again. Learning how to use tone, body language, and word choice more carefully I was able to start bridging this gap between parents and coaches. Despite some of the frustrations some of the other coaching staff feels, I know that when I apply myself to a conversation the end outcome will likely be in the direction I was hoping for.
3) What Team Unity Should Look Like
I was stepping into coaching a broken a team. They had lost their sense of belonging to the team. In the past few years, it had become a very individualistic culture. Despite my best efforts talking about being a team wasn’t changing a thing. It wasn’t until I became an active model of what it means to have team unity that real change began to shine through. I want to tell you guys a story about a day when I realized that they finally understood what it meant to be on a team. I was primarily working with a group of 9-12-year-old boys. At the beginning of the season, we established a few standing rules for every practice. One of those rules was largely based around their Open Turns. (For those of you who only know swimming from watching the Olympics, those are the turns they use for Butterfly and Breaststroke.) Our rule was that your hands shouldn’t ever be on the top of the wall, they should stay under the water. I gave one of my boys a warning, reminding him that if I saw it again he would be out doing planks. Without missing a beat one of the other boys said: “if he has to do planks, I’ll do them with him!” Quickly my entire group of boys had bonded around not wanting him to be the only one doing planks. My heart exploded from the care and concern that each of these boys had shown towards their teammate.
4) Hard Work Can Also Be Really Fun
Lastly, coming into practice and regularly working hard can be tough. We fall into rhythms of not pushing ourselves hard enough or not staying disciplined enough to kill the little goals day in and day out. Becoming a beneficial member of the coaching staff took me time to win a lot of people over to my leadership. In the process, I learned how to make the hard things fun; how to bring joy, hope, and confidence to the situation no matter what obstacles are in the path. A lot of this comes from how I am personally allowing myself to act. Am I staying calm or showing frustration, am I holding to the expectations I’ve set or am I changing it up? Without assessing the situation with a clear head my attempts at helping can bring more chaos. Learning how to be in the middle of the scenario while also being the calmest person around is a very valuable trait.
Overall, being a swim coach has not only been a good way to make some extra cash, but also a great way to develop interpersonal skills. As we begin to finish out the season I am thankful for the opportunity to be such a functional part of a great community.