10 Swim Coach Stereotypes – What Type Is Your Coach?

Olivier Poirier-Leroy is a former national level swimmer based out of Victoria, BC. In feeding his passion for swimming, he has developed YourSwimBook, a powerful log book and goal setting guide made specifically for swimmers. Sign up for the YourSwimBook newsletter (free) and get weekly motivational tips by clicking here.

Swim coaches are a different breed. They work long, thankless hours, often times having to balance their coaching duties with another job. They coach because they love the sport, and we love them right back.

Here are 10 different swim coaches that we see on our local pool decks:

1. Big Data. The math and data prodigy. Has numbers, stats, and splits for everything from your turn velocity, warm-up stroke rate, and even how much of a NW breeze there is in the facility. This coach is pretty much a certified space scientist and spreadsheet wizard.

2. The Coach/Athlete. Refuses to believe that his own career has peaked. Does all of the dry land with his athletes, privately believes he could probably out-swim most of his senior swimmers still if he didn’t have those two mortgages, another baby on the way, and at least two full seasons of Walking Dead to catch up on.

3. Destro. Quiet, analytical, and moderately unapproachable. Swimmers fear him because of his reserved nature, but his quiet stare does all the talking necessary. The following statement tends to destroy far more than any red-faced screaming ever could—“I’m not mad, I’m just disappointed.”

4. The Gipper. Pep speech before every workout. Before main sets. Before pre-main sets. Before warm-up. Before stretching. Sometimes you’ll get a motivational quote or 6 via text while you are in class. Can generally be found watching Rudy in his office before practice.

5. The Technical. This coach is a magician when it comes to technique. Can catch the small areas of your stroke that you are leaking torque, and often will throw 7-8 different corrections at you at once. This can sometimes result in a swimmer getting so caught up in trying to make all the changes that they forget how to swim.

6. Back in My Day. The water was hotter, the lane lines skinnier, there was no tapering, and yes, everyone had to walk 20 miles to practice…in the snow, uphill. Both ways. Is convinced that swimmers these days are so much softer than they were in the good ole days and will seize upon any gripe or complaint to remind you.

7. The Perfectionist. Workouts are to be done in a very detailed and specific manner. Any deviation results in the entire squad having to redo the set. “Guess what, guys? We are going to redo the 10×400 IM’s because Lil Johnny picked his head up gliding into the final wall.”

8. The Fourier Equation. The workouts that this well-meaning coach scribbles up on the whiteboard are so elaborate, so layered with brackets, parentheses, braces and angle brackets that swimmers find themselves stopping every 50m and 100m to solve, err, remember the set.

9. The Crossword Puzzle. Once all the swimmers are in the water this coach pulls out the newspaper and gets to work on the crosswords, only ever looking up in the event of a fire alarm. Some swimmers will take advantage of this by hiding in the far end of the pool, hide in the rafters, or getting out and taking a 25 minute shower.

10. Bobby Knight. Yelling, screaming, and a heaping spoonful of more yelling. Looking for your water bottle? He punted it into the dive tank after you missed an interval. You would be more inclined to follow his instructions if you weren’t also dodging the spittle coming at you from all corners of his mouth. You also know that when he falls silent to duck under the water, because someone is getting a kick board thrown at them.

Any other coaches you can think of that grace our pool decks? Let’s hear them in the comments below!

Originally published Feb, 2016

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  1. Morrow3 says:

    I don’t see exactly me up there. But I guess I’m a little of all of them. It just depends on the situation.

    • RL says:

      I know of a CROSSWORD PUZZLE who has produced Olympic Gold Medalists, achieving National and International coaching recognition. His secret? Great assistants for young age groupers. This coach would write a workout (admittedly a difficult one) on the board and go sit in his office for the entire practice. On the phone, I guess (this was before the days when everyone had computers). His most decorated swimmer was once a mediocre 12& under until a fantastic, brilliant assistant coach got a hold of him and turned him into a NAG record holder as a 14&under. This talented assistant must have had personal issues, because at one point he was living in his car. As far as I know, this assistant coach has never received recognition for producing this multiple Olympic gold medalist– CROSSWORD PUZZLE got all the credit, and his team started attracting more and more great swimmers from the region. He still has Olympic team contenders today. I don’t know if he ever leaves his office during practices at this point in time. I’ve googled the assistant’s name and can find no trace of him. I hope he’s alive, and that he knows that some of us know the truth!

    • Narwhall Mister says:

      My coach is 4, 5 and 6. You also left out those coaches who scares the crp out of everybody at the pool because he yells “GO!” So loudly.

  2. Gator says:

    Just replace Bobby Knight with Gregg Troy

  3. ChestRockwell says:

    Also could be titled “A list of stereo-types you should avoid becoming.”

    • beachair says:

      Aren’t there any positive stereotypes? Author seems to be a little bitter about or jealous of good coaches.

  4. bobo gigi says:

    Too bad most of you don’t understand French. 😆

  5. lelo says:

    My coach is the combination of Destro and The technical.

  6. Andrew Nelson says:

    There’s none that fit Coach Sam Freas

  7. garbageyardage says:

    11. “Set It and Forget It”: This coach has a plan. Unfortunately for the swimmers, it’s the same plan from last year, down to the same day of the set. “Warm up today? What day is it… Tuesday? 7x200s SKSPSDrS. You already knew that.” This coach is also known to write the set on the board, explain it, then sit back and text and/or leave the pool deck entirely until the main set is over. Bulk of the set = garbage yardage.

  8. liquidassets says:

    I had a Bobby Knight coach. Along with dodging kickboards, we also had to elude the bamboo lifeguard pole he wielded,and the lifeguard ring preservers, pull buoys, and paddles. These days he would probably be sued or on trial for assault charges. But his voice and angry face were far scarier than any of the objects. There were acts of rebellion; one of my teammates once grabbed the bamboo pole before it hit him and pulled Coach into the water with it, ha! Another guy who he hit with a kick board took it and flung it up to the top of the high ceiling and shattered one of the lights and they ended up having to drain the pool. We were state champions one year, but in retrospect we were living in a war zone.

    • Swammerjammer says:

      Psychological bully, abusive behavior, and Bobby Knight equals McKeever at Cal war zone. Great role model to normalize this coaching style.

      • Steve Schaffer says:

        There seems to be no shortage of anonymous posts tearing down Teri McKeever. One has to wonder what is behind them and why. It is so easy to make unfounded accusations in settings like this without ever referencing anything specific. All coaches should condemn these cowardly attacks. Teri has accomplished great things with her swimmers in and out of the pool and has opened doors previously closed to women in our profession.

  9. Walp says:

    Trying to place Ed Reese on this. I can’t think of a good one.

    He’s just an enigma.

    • Josh Davis says:

      That’s true. Eddie, and Kris too, do not fall into any of these extreme stereotypes. Maybe that’s why I had such a long career. 14 years with them and we never did the same workout twice, was treated with care and respect, knew they wanted the best for me physically, academically and spiritually. They had such wonderful integrity, wisdom and creativity I wanted to train all out for them. Like I always say at my clinics, it’s amazing what can happen when you get a great coach.

      As a first time coach I want to say hat’s off to all those who commit to guiding young swimmers. It’s all lot of hard work and I hope I’m not the only #2 out there:)

    • Nateandbensmom says:

      Mr. George Haines

  10. Shoham says:

    Definitely the Crossword

  11. Lielie says:

    The Wave&Whistler : waves and whistles at swimmer during practice and races to signal or encourage them to go faster

  12. TOJO says:

    Ha! Great article. I swam for a #10…also a Hoosier like Bobby Knight…see if anyone can guess who. He painted himself green on St. Patty’s Day, head to toe. BUT, he also cared deeply about us as people, and when he decided to turn on the #4 Gipper persona, you wanted to run through a brick wall for the guy. He is simply an amazing man, and the scary stuff was not that bad in retrospect. I wish I had begun swimming with him at a younger age, but I was a little too timid. I think some of his bravado was contrived for morale…it helped us to get through the grind to have a common “enemy!” The key was that he did not over use the Gipper stuff…Not many coaches can pull-off the stuff that he used to do. He had a certain presence, and unassailable background in many areas, not just swimming. Many of his swimmers are still very close to him. One of a kind man, and the stories we all (former swimmers) share now, are priceless…they have also grown with decades of embellishment and mild fabrication!

  13. TOJO says:

    …also swam for a #9 Crossword…what a crash. My college coach was a wannabe #1 Big Data, and had the knowledge, but he was such a dork that nobody bought in.

  14. seen-it-all says:

    I swam for a Bobby Knight in HS (once broke his clipboard hitting the block I was hiding behind). Not a fun experience. I’d like to add another style: “the Belle of the Ball” — the coach who saunters in (often on the phone) late to practice (expecting his assistant to get things running) and then socializes with hand-picked parents or swimmers (or on his cell phone) during most of the practice, holding court, in a chair, telling stories and pontificating. They’re usually so impressed with themselves they don’t realize they’re not doing any actual coaching.

  15. bo says:

    The Eastern European coach. Tells it like it is, if you can decipher their accent.

    You look like sheet today… get it together.

  16. sadswimmer says:

    #11 The Shafter: gives practices that are more evil than Satan and meanwhile you get no rest or recovery in between all these practices.

  17. Kris says:

    #11 The Psychological Bully – He will threaten swimmers to take away their scholarship if they don’t perform better in practice or swim faster in meets. He will make all swimmers in his group believe that they’re not good enough to swim in given conference. He will continuously take away all the fun from swimming.

    #12 The Second Father – The beast coach you can ask for. He will be hard on you, but knows when to let go. He will inspire you to be a better person long after the swim career is over. He will apologize to you after bad season and will blame himself for your poor results. You will stay in touch with him for as long as you’re both alive.

  18. Smells like chlorine says:

    I’ve been lucky and had great mixes in my coaches over the years.

    I guess we had some kick board throwing with our coaches in college… Kick board throwing contests, that is!! We ALL practiced whenever we could. Like while guarding and no one was in the pool, after practice (so we could have the rookies pick all of them up when we were done). All for the annual kickboard throwing contest.

  19. Bob says:

    Have you thanked your coach today? Regardless of how or what they were, coaches are trying to help you “be the best you can be”. As a retiree I receive emails from swimmers I coached in the 50’s and 60’s who talk about lessons learned, caring and commitment, regardless of how fast they swam. “Attention and Level of Expectation Determines Swimmer Success and the Coach’s”. Find your coach and tell him “thanks” for helping you become whom you are today. Swimming helps develop over 75 traits, values and skills for lifetime use.

  20. Steve Nolan says:

    So we just gonna keep recycling these? Thought it was a end-of-year, everyone’s off so let’s just run some old stuff kinda thing at first.

  21. Cut to the chase says:

    Lets be honest here, the biggest swim coach stereotype is being a pedophile as seen on espn’s outside the lines and the countless articles posted here about coaches being banned for life from usaswimming.

  22. Swming-Lottens says:

    This is so my coach!

    Mr. Predictable: this coach gives you the same warm-up, kick set, and drill set every day, in the same order. His workouts are so predictable you already know what the main-set will be for that day.

  23. caro says:

    Mine’s a mix of Destro, Bobby Knight, Technical, and Perfectionist… and he expects us to be Big Data’s and remember every 50m split, 25m breath and stroke count from our 10×100, as well as our best times in every race, what they were 4 years ago, the conditions of the specific races that we did well in, etc etc etc… He also pulls his GoPro out to film us from every angle when he’s not sitting on the diving platforms and watching our every stroke. The slightest error merits a one-on-one 2-hour yelling-to while the entire group redoes the set that you screwed up.
    Don’t get me wrong, he’s a genius. He can turn a kid floundering around in the wading pool into a conditioned athlete in a few months’ time, however, I often find myself getting smacked in the head by a GoPro duck taped to a ski pole, pulled out of the water to get yelled at, or being given the nutrition speech because I ate at A&W’s 3 days ago and he (somehow) found out. Oh well, small price to pay…

  24. Nateandbensmom says:

    Funny! As an age grouper in Northern California, our coach made us swim when the boiler was broken (that’s the water heater). Later on, in winter, we had to get to morning practice 15 minutes early to crank the pool cover off that was encrusted in ice (no indoor pools except the nasty one in Pacifica).

    Still later on in high school, when I was warming down after a final at Santa Clara Swim Center, I was nailed by a kick board. And the college coach who threw it (female) was trying to recruit me!! Go figure

  25. Fly girl mom says:

    My daughters coach is none of these. He’s young, energetic and is doing a great job at passing his love of swimming on to the team. He stacks his points when he can but doesn’t lose sleep over it if he can’t and never takes his coaching frustrations out on the kids.

  26. Swammer says:

    For those of you who had #9 as a coach, I’m so sorry. I can’t even imagine what it’s like to have a coach who is not willing to fully invest in his swimmers.

    • meb says:

      It sucks… You can show up to practice every day and work as hard as you can, and later they comment that you were barely ever at practice.

  27. Ace says:

    Dont forget the “all day every day” coach. No matter how bad the weather gets, or if theres a meet or not, this coach will make sure that you and your teammates are the only living souls on the roads during a blizzard

  28. Bubbles says:

    My coach is a bit like another dad, bit he is also a lil bit of everything else as well!!!

  29. Swimmer Mom says:

    My daughter is very fortunate — her age-group coach is fantastic. He gets mad at them and yells when they deserve it (and they pay with a brutal practice), but he makes sure to high-five them when they’ve earned that, too. He cares about the entire person, not just the swimmer. He contacted me last week to ask how she was doing in school; said he had spoken to two other swimmers the day before who were falling behind in school. He offered to speak to my daughter and remind her about the importance of doing homework, etc. I said great, please do, it can’t hurt. She was totally energized after their conversation. He motivates in a positive rather than negative way, sending me videos or articles to share with her that he thinks she would find relevant. He pushes hard and expects results but doesn’t belittle the swimmers when they fall short. He’s a jewel, and I wish there were more like him throughout the sport of swimming.

    • Swim Giggles LLC says:

      I wish I had your daughter’s coach back in the day! Unfortunately, I had a form of #3. It didn’t matter how hard I worked, he had his favorites. I got scratched right before a relay for a “star,” although I had been a practice all week and said star had not, by the way this was summer league! I see this now, I wish I had seen it then and asked my parent to join a different program. Fortunately, I had a form of #4 in high school. He did so much for my confidence, thanks and miss you Buzzy!

  30. Dontgiveup says:

    Responding to the other Northern California swimmer, it can be brutal around here. Definitely gone home in soaking wet clothes with welts from racing in the hail.

    Especially if you have what I like to think of as the Be Tougher Coach. The one who starts by telling preteen age group kids they have to be at every practice. If you can’t do the yardage, it’s because you aren’t tough enough. If you’re sick, too bad. You’re cold, because the heaters been broken and it was 28 out last night? Once you’re hypothermic to the point where you stop shivering, you can get out. If you’re injured, you’d better get an MRI, because even after 4 years of the same pain, in the same place, during the same stroke, every single day, it’s still YOUR fault you aren’t strong enough get through practice, and it’s all in your own head, and if you can’t push through you might as well quit the sport. This type of coach is terrible. He told me at 15 I’d never be good enough to compete in college.

    Fortunately, the next coach I had was incredibly supportive. Someone who had been through hard times in their life, but those times had left them committed to their athletes well being, and to their growth both in and out of the pool. That’s the coach who turned my career around. The one who understood that some times athletes need an extra day or two off for their mental and physical well being, but also knew how to encourage progress and praise hard work, as well as being a better stroke coach.

    The last time I ran into the Be Tougher coach, it was as a nationals finalist who was still struggling with the injury his poor coaching made permanent. 5 years after my career ended, I still have to do physical therapy and strength training just to retain functionality in my right arm. He quit coaching about 2 months after I finally confronted him about it. And good riddance.

  31. Coachandy says:


  32. Benny says:

    While number 6, 4, 7, and 10 sometimes comes out, this coach is The Number One, he doesn’t fit perfectly into one. I have been blessed with a coach that makes an effort to know him swimmers. He helps you set goals, knows what’s best for you, and goes out of his way to help. If I’m having a bad day I’m close enough to talk to him. He also isn’t afraid to yell at me in practice though and call me out when I need it.
    I couldn’t imagine having another coach. He’s like a second dad to me. I’ve been with him for only two years but he’s helped me come so far. He has sets that I know and his training is great, especially for a sprinter. He brings some of us to the weight room for an extra 3 hours a week even though he isn’t paid. He doesn’t turn his back on any swimmer, no matter what. I’m so proud to be coached by him.

  33. SwimNerd says:

    #11-Mr. or Mrs.Authority.Is a good coach and nice person,but if you ask them a question about the lane your kid is in, or why they’re not on the relay,she will shoot daggers at you with her eyes.

    #12-Enthusiasm Enthusiest. Will get super excited and yell with joy when you qualify for that big meet,or fix whatever was up with your turns.They’re usually fun people too.

  34. Len T says:

    11. The Human – Coaches are human. They are not perfect and one piece of the puzzle to success. It seems like more and more that swimmers and parents forget this and place the coach’s performance under constant scrutiny. There is a lack of personal responsibility from many younger swimmers and parents in this generation and I think it deters many young coaches from sticking with the profession.

  35. Young Coach says:

    Great article, definitely brought a smile to my face(especially the comments). As a young coach I can attest to the fact that it is hard to find your own leadership style that works for your team. I wish there were more resources and mentoring opportunitys out there for coaches to learn from and grow. I see so many with the desire to coach but little direction in how to best communicate with Athletes. I know in the past few years organizations like USA Swimming and ASCA have recognized this and are developing advanced certifications and associated training programs to help develop young coaches. This will hopefully work to improve the level of coaching around the country and maybe limit some of these less desirable stereotypes.

  36. Waterbaby says:

    I had a Bobby Knight. Even now (30 yrs on) I still hear him screaming at me about my screw kick every time I swim breaststroke. My son currently has a coach, not quite a Destro, but who gives 0 feedback whatsoever. He feels like he’s swimming blind.

  37. City4nil says:

    There should be #13 Switch – a coach able to adapt style to the athlete, group, their ability,age and the situation. That’s how I approach it anyways

  38. Swimmerboy says:

    My coach is “The Gripper” and the “Coach/Athlete.” He even swims with us during morning practice but only does 25’s…

  39. FSBS says:

    Numbers 2 and 4 are a lot like my coach. Only he doesn’t think he could beat any one of us, he most definitely could beat any one of us.

  40. Swimmom says:

    My kids coach is none of these but a great coach. He is the “Mr. Coolness with the creative workouts coach” . Always switching it up adding new skills and new approaches to swimming drylands openwater groupwork nutrition teambuilding..Never yelling ,All the swim parents have been speculating that he might not own any clothing that is not black….My own coach (Masters) is “Mr.Bionic the Holy cow you will never match this guys stamina(Who’s up for a 10 mile run following up that 3 mile swim?) yet still a spot on teambuilder spirit raiser and a thoughtful coach “coach..Guess we are lucky!

  41. Finding Nemo says:

    I am totally the Coach-athlete…but could never out-swim my seniors! I was a P.E. teacher as well and have found that many coaches look like they’re going to have a full on heart-attack from all the fast food they eat, so I’ve always told my athletes that if I make THEM do it, I need to be willing to do it as well. I certainly can’t keep up with them anymore, and I usually jump out when they need critique, but I think my swimmers have always appreciated that yes, I wrote the work out and yes, I know how hard it is, because I’ve done most of it with them. I did have to work with a Big Data coach one year and I wanted to strangle her! She was so concerned with numbers, she never learned any of the swimmers’ names, and insisted on quantity over quality! Splits and times are important but not to the detriment of the program! I’ve also worked with Wolfgang D…and he could totally fit the Eastern European coach profile…one favorite quote of mine is, “one of your school colors is purple! And you will swim until you are PURPLE!”

  42. Ollie says:

    The “Up Coach”

    The one that always shouts “Up” really loudly, making everybody around them stop cheering because they sound inferior.

  43. Cameron Grace says:

    I shivered when I heard I’m not mad, I’m just disappointed. MY COACH SAID THAT YESTERDAY

  44. Anonymous says:

    MY coach is probably 1,4,5, and 8. He’s an amazing coach, the best I’ve ever had (out of 12, so that’s pretty good).

  45. plainwildcatswimmer says:

    I had three different coaches in the three years I did university swimming.

    1st season coach was The Gipper, possibly also the Crossword Puzzle (I swear he was like this, but I can’t prove it)

    2nd season coach was The Coach-Athlete.

    3rd season coach was a Big Data and Destro coach.

    The main assistant coach in my 2nd and 3rd season was The Technical.

  46. FREEBEE says:

    I’m crying–this is just a fun post

  47. Swimmer? says:

    My coach is definitely 4,6, and 7

  48. Ashley says:

    Why is this article only masculine? Plenty of female coaches as well.

  49. Rose says:

    Sooo, are all coaches men?

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About Olivier Poirier-Leroy

Olivier Poirier-Leroy has been involved in competitive swimming for most of his life. Starting off at the age of 6 he was thrown in the water at the local pool for swim lessons and since then has never wanted to get out. A nationally top ranked age grouper as both a …

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