Courtesy: Donna Hale
Throughout the career of a swimmer, few things matter more than the coaches that help them along the journey. At a young age, great coaches inspire a love for the sport that can last a lifetime.
Coaches who inspire are important all the way through a swimming career – and are especially critical in college at every level. My daughter has been lucky. She has had mostly incredible coaches who care about their swimmers and know how to create a culture that celebrates every swimmers’ unique contributions. She has also spent time in toxic situations with coaches who probably need to retire from the sport. Believe me, coaches can impact performance, mental health and even academics.
We all know the qualities of undesirable coaches. They are negative in their feedback and, in some cases, even what many would consider mentally abusive in their treatment of athletes. They talk about their swimmers to other swimmers which leads to unhealthy team dynamics. I have even witnessed cruel behavior that is harmful and unacceptable throughout my time as a swim mom. They blame instead of inspire. This can lead to depression which sabotages the performance of swimmers. This damaging cycle can result in athletes quitting or transferring to other teams. These coaches generally lack the courage and confidence to look into the mirror and accept responsibility for any of the team issues. These are the coaches you want to avoid. And you can find them at all levels.
Here are the qualities of the great coaches:
1. They create a culture of kindness, support and sportsmanship. Team culture is everything in the sport of swimming. And it starts with the coaches. These coaches create a team that you want to belong too. And they expect the same from their athletes. Drama is minimized!
2. They celebrate the special qualities of every athlete under their charge. And they let each athlete know that they believe in them. They have a can do attitude. Of course they want to win. That is a given. But they also strive for a deeper purpose. They truly care about the welfare of every swimmer and understand that their influence is far reaching.
3. They have spirit that is transformative. These coaches realize that the bonding that can happen over a training or travel trip, during the hard practices and at the fun events – all of these creates something special. You can spot these teams and coaches at meets. Swimmers are encouraging one another. They are unselfish in their attitudes. As a parent it is heartwarming to watch.
4. They realize that they have a higher purpose than coaching a team. Great coaches know that they are the architects of amazing life lessons that will translate into adulthood in both the workplace and the community. Balancing swimming, especially at the collegiate level, with academics and other commitments teaches time management, honoring your promises, and getting along with others – to name just a few.
5. Great coaches help create lifelong memories. Most athletes, even those who compete in college, will never go to the Olympics. They swim because they love the sport. It enriches their lives in countless ways. So many swim friends are friends for life. Amazing coaches realize that these moments are fleeting. They should be savored.
Swimmers should look for coaches and teams with life-changing cultures that celebrate every athlete. You should be able to see the team spirit at meets and the teams should have leaders that realize this is a journey and not the final destination. Swimmers should seek out the teams and coaches that will fill their heart and soul with wonderful memories. This is what all athletes deserve. A shoutout to all these great coaches. Thank you.
Donna Hale has been a swim mom for 16 years. Her daughter swims at the University of Lynchburg.