Courtesy of Donna Hale
When I was thinking about what to write about, many topics came to mind as we approach winter champs season. Then something happened in my community that made me forget all about performance, times and medals. The community where I live lost a much-loved coach way too soon. He did not coach swimming but his kids all swam. As I watch the reaction of his former players, I started to think about what it takes to be a really awesome coach — no matter the sport. It’s not defined by winning a golden goggle, taking kids to the Olympics, or winning some league championship. These are accomplishments. The real question for every swim coach should be: How will I be remembered? So coaches, when you are done with this journey, I’d like to suggest that you will be defined in the same way this dad is being applauded.
Great coaches are teachers. Sure they teach technique and pacing. But the best ones also teach values, character and sportsmanship. They don’t sugar coat mistakes. But they also don’t go crazy when their athlete has a poor swim. They seek out and use teachable moments to help an athlete grow and learn.
Great coaches are cheerleaders and advocates through the worst and best of times. It is easy to measure your success by the number of kids who make Nationals. And it is obvious that part of your job is to bring out the best athletic talent in swimmers. It is also your role to bring out the best in their humanity and how they cope with both victory and defeat. They watch you and mirror your actions and approach. I have seen these moments of pure elation from coaches when a swimmer reaches their potential, pushes past the obstacles and soars. In a world that has gone a bit crazy in how we must behave due to poor actions by a few, as a parent it moves me to tears to see the heartfelt embrace of swimmer and coach knowing that the mentor is as happy as the student.
Great coaches communicate and preach balance. Life as a swimmer is hard. Swimmers need to know that their coaches will stand by them. Obviously practice attendance, working hard, giving it 100 percent are expectations of every coach. But the really great ones know when to step back, even for a short time, and let their athletes live in their reality. This is essential. No one is on every single swim. How our kids deal with failure is just as important as celebrating success.
Awesome coaches set a shining example in how they live. I can promise you that it is not the first place finish or the awe-inspiring swims they will remember. It is the example you set in the pool. It’s the camaraderie you build. The silly moments that only swimmers understand. One of the reasons swimming is such an amazing sport, is the combination of physical strength and mental toughness it requires. But most of all it is the sense of community.
So coaches, just some food for thought. Whether you coach for another 20 years or just a few more meets, how will you be remembered?
Donna Hale has been a swim mom for 12 years as well as executive of several nonprofit organizations. She volunteers regularly for her daughter Hannah’s USA Team The Potomac Marlins, summer team Burke Station Destroyers, and Lake Braddock Swim and Dive Bruins.