Swimming – what makes a great coach

Coaching in sports is becoming increasingly difficult as we move into the 21st century. While this article focuses on the swim coach, the lessons learned can be applied to coaching in all sports. So what are the characteristics of a great coach?

A coach will play a very important role in the lives of young swimmers. Their actions and attitudes help shape their view of the world and of themselves. For some children, the coach enters their world at a time when they are striving to reduce their parent’s influence. Children can count on you for significant support, both physical and psychological. The potential impact on young lives should not be unpleasant.

A common mistake among young coaches is to assume that verbal communication is not only the best form of communication, but also the only way to communicate. Another problem is that some coaches often talk too much. Verbal communication is vital; but it can lose some of its effectiveness if used unnecessarily – especially during training.

Non-verbal communication such as facial expressions or gestures from the coach that show anger, frustration, acceptance, empathy, disapproval or pleasure can and do have an effect on swimmers during training and competition. Recent research concludes that young swimmers assume that non-verbal cues reveal a coach’s actual feelings and thoughts more than words.

The implications for coaching are clear – what you do is much more important than what you say.

In the first three years of our lives we learn to talk.

In the next three you will learn to read and write.

How much time is spent learning to listen?

Learn this skill and then teach it to your staff and swimmers.

The coach must be a good listener, that is, pay attention to what the athlete is saying. The individual needs of athletes must be taken into account.

The element of respect comes into play here, as the coach’s response determines how the athlete will approach you in the future. Each swimmer should receive feedback on technique and performance in each session.

A great coach has developed his own standards and philosophies regarding his chosen sport. They will have strong communication skills and be honest and approachable to athletes, parents and fellow coaches.

Knowledge and coaching experience, not necessarily sport specific, are generally very helpful. A good coach will have strong self-discipline and instill discipline in team members. If a situation arises with a swimmer, they go after the situation and not the individual. It is important that you discipline in private and reward in public. Make sure you never attack the dignity of the individual.

A coach should strive to reduce and minimize the need for discipline by ensuring that their program includes fun, activity and learning. They will be able to teach as well as coach. Coaching styles differ, so don’t try to copy someone else.

The respected swimming coach will instill in their swimmers the most desirable ideals and character traits. They have a responsibility to maintain discipline during the training session and to be confident, attentive, consistent, friendly, fair and competent. They must also be able to cope with the initial treatment of minor injuries.

A great swim coach will be very organized for each session, for the week, for the month, for the year and can account for why things are done when necessary.

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They will be able to create an environment where success is inevitable by teaching athletes discipline and standards to observe and commit to. A great coach will have a high level of dedication and discipline and should be at the heart of their swim club. The goals of the club should parallel the coaching program and vice versa and it is important that the coach provides what the club needs to be successful.

Open and regular communication with parents is essential. A good coach is approachable to parents and listens to them, but ultimately makes the decision himself. It is important for coaches to look at the type of relationship they have with parents as if they become friends and the coach has to make a tough decision then the coach will be in a compromised position.

Coaches also have a legal responsibility to provide a safe environment, ensuring that facilities and equipment are safe for both the users and others involved in competitions and training. Safety in all sports should be the message we should put into practice in our daily work as coaches. Swimming pools are a hazardous environment to work in and all necessary precautions should be taken to keep your pool safe.

Plan your training sessions carefully to ensure your athletes progress and reduce the risk of injury. Be confident in identifying exercises that are potentially dangerous (e.g. extended leg raises) and provide a safe substitution. Activities must be adequately planned. Impaired learning and injury can result from unplanned practice sessions.

Young athletes should not be mismatched. Young athletes need to be matched not only for age, but also for height, weight and maturity. Skill levels and experience should also be considered.
Safe and proper equipment must be provided and the equipment must be in good working order and safe to use at all times.

Athletes should be warned of inherent risks of the sport. The participants can legally accept the inherent risks of a sport only if they know, understand and appreciate those risks.

Ensure activities are closely supervised. Adequate supervision is necessary to make the practice environment as safe as possible.

Coaches must know first aid. Coaches must have knowledge of basic emergency procedures and keep them updated.

Develop clear written rules for training and general behavior. Many injuries are the result of fumbling around in changing rooms and training areas.

Coaches must keep adequate records.
Adequate records are useful planning aids and are essential in all injury cases.

Expect the unexpected. Always renew your insurance coverage well before it expires every year in case you need it.