Open Letter From a Reader to USA Swimming Coaches: Be Healthy, Be a Professional

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This letter is courtesy of Dave Gibson, Head Coach Swim Fort Lauderdale. Coach Gibson is an ASCA Level 5 coach with 40 years of coaching experience. Accolades: ASCA Gold Award of Excellence (2008), coach of 3 Olympians.


Following a conversation I had recently with some colleagues…

I am (we are) worried about you. Why?

I know the most obvious answer would be because of the amount of terrible actions (and subsequent media attention) involving abuse with/of athletes. Unacceptable. Gotta Stop. As important as that is, that topic is for later.

I’m talking about coaches’ health (physical & mental) and the professionalism of our profession and sport. We are, you are, the best coaches in the world. I want to see you coaching for a long time. We need you. I know there are coaches who do take very good care of themselves and they exercise regularly, eat right, and are emotionally in a good place, but…

Statistics show that 1/3 of children are overweight and that 2/3 of adults are also overweight. Children sit at a computer or in front of the TV too much instead of being outside playing. Adults sit at their desk and in front of the TV too much.

I realize, I know, that for your swimmers, for your team, and for you to be successful, you have to put a lot of hours & hard work in…BUT everyone and everything will be better if you are healthy & at your best.

I’m not going to pull any punches…I am concerned…Coaches, please start taking better care of yourselves. What does this mean?

  1. Start exercising: 2-5 x per week for 20-40 minutes would be good. Walk, jog, run, bike, kayak, skate, swim, play tennis, racquetball, golf, hike, zoomba, orange theory, elliptical, stationary bike,  etc. Take some time out of your busy day and get physical, please. Maybe it’s after morning practice or at noon or in the evening. Maybe do it as a staff. Maybe do it with your spouse or significant other. Even at meets try to get some exrecise in.
  2. Watch your diet: You tell your athletes this all the time, follow your own advice. Eat more fruits & veggies. Cut back on the junk. Don’t over eat. Cut out or cut back on soft drinks/sodas. Try to cut back on coffee. Drink more water. Snack healthier. Consider a multivitamin.
  3. Don’t smoke. Don’t chew. Be careful about drinking too much alcohol.
  4. Get a physical (any age is good)…it will tell you a lot. If 50 or older get a colonoscopy…get other screens/tests. Ladies get a mammogram.
  5. Be smart about sun exposure. Use sunscreen. Wear a hat maybe. Get checked by a dermatologist.
  6. Take a day or weekend off occasionally…even better, regularly. Enjoy your life away from the pool, your job and the sport. Knowing you, knowing coaches, this probably needs to be planned, just like your training schedule. But do it. Your mental health is critical/crucial. You need it. Maybe it’s alone. Maybe with your spouse. Maybe with friends.
  7. Dress for success. Dress to impress. Dress as a professional. If we want to be taken serious…if we want to be respected, by our athletes, by parents, by officials, by the public…we need to look professional.

Take the pledge to be at your best. Take the pledge to be a good role model. Take the pledge to set the bar high for our profession. Let’s lead the charge. Do it for your athletes. Do it for your sport. Do it for yourself – you will feel better and be better.

No one is perfect, including myself, but please take care of yourself. Like I said above, we need you around for a long time. Thanks and see you on deck.

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9 years ago

I’ve always been lucky enough to have healthy coaches. I’ve even had some assistant coaches who got in and swam the work out before giving it to his athletes. I could not imagine taking advice from someone who did not themselves live their live to the fullest.

Terry Lawson
9 years ago

Our club implemented cross-fit training into our program 6 months ago. I didn’t feel like I could expected my kids to do it and not participate myself. After 6 months of doing crossfit I’ve lost 40 pounds and am now within 3 pounds of my weight when I was a collegiate all-American 25 years ago. It has not only made an impact on deck from a coaching standpoint, but also a respect standpoint as well.

9 years ago

Seriously – I mean who doesn’t love a good hospitality room gourmet cupcake with 3 lbs of icing and 1600 calories. But when this is your only option, it’s not easy to make good choices in that room. Looking at many of the physiques of the coaches and officials at club meets, it’s obvious that many have taken a liking to too many hospitality rooms.

I try to eat healthy, I don’t drink coffee or pop, I don’t care for processed and packaged foods. I wish the meet staff in charge of hospitality would spend money a bit more wisely. Less on the gourmet cupcakes and more on fresh fruits, veggies, and healthy fats. Bring on the guacamole and… Read more »

david berkoff
9 years ago

Great thoughts. I agree that coaches are not always the physical reflection of their athletes and that sends a bad message. I also agree that if we want to be paid more and get the respect we deserve we need to act and dress the part. Sending a message of professionalism sells parents kids and the community.

9 years ago

Very good letter, Coach Gibson, and spot on.

Next up, I’d like to see a similar push by USA Swimming to get this message across to and provide support to officials. If our coaches are not taking care of themselves, far too many officials are also in the same boat (or worse). They are highly visible role models on deck and, while some of them look like they take care of themselves, far too many look like they spend more time at the sweet end of training table than in training. We need some sort of ‘Fit to Officiate’ campaign that challenges our officials to improve their own health. It would be of benefit to the officials themselves, set… Read more »

9 years ago

Swimming from age 8 to age 18 was like a 10 year trip to an all you can eat buffet. As a senior in high school I was practicing probably 12 hours per week in the pool…I basically couldn’t keep the calories in. 6 foot and 165 pounds.

I am 30 now and typically walk around at 185…though 190 has been tipped at times. It’s hard to stop eating like you are that 18 year old athlete needing 3500 calories or more per day.

Reply to  James
9 years ago

Use the excuse as a means to find the answer: change what you eat. You can eat as much as you want, just need to make the conscious decision as to what you buy for all the eating you still want to do. Remember, its a choice.

Paul Murphy
9 years ago

I spoke of the same thoughts yesterday after with a fellow coach! I would also add know your family or someone close to you.
This is awesome Dave.

9 years ago

Great stuff, Coach!

I have just gotten back into swimming again (was worried about the tricycle tire around my waist becoming a tractor tire) and am competing to make sure I actually stay with it. Too often I see coaches who are inactive and preachy with total disregard for practicing their message in anyway. I even witnessed a coach slamming a stimulant drink (that’s what energy drinks are after all) while his age groupers warmed up! What kind of message is that?!

How about an open letter to all meet hosts, meet sanctioning committees and LSC Boards around the nation?

I wrote to our LSC and the nutrition writers at USA Swimming with regards to hospitality rooms. For as much… Read more »

Reply to  coacherik
9 years ago

I couldn’t agree more. I don’t even go into hospitality rooms as it is nothing but processed junk food and packaged sandwiches and chesse platters. There are rarely if ever vegetarian options and never anything healthy (Caesar salad covered with meat and eggs doesn’t count as healthy)These foods do not provide good energy and do nothing but make you more tired. I have resorted to bringing my own food and don’t waste my time. We pay good money for swim meets and a portion of the meet fees is supposed to go to hospitality and many times little if any goes there. It is shameful to see what is put out at these meets and these are all day and… Read more »