The #1 Mistake Swim Coaches Make

Courtesy: Dan Dingman, Commit Swimming

Preface: If you disagree with this article, please comment on it and explain why. If you agree with this article, please comment on it and explain why. We want to know what you think. And when you share your opinion, tell us what your role is in the swimming world… are you a coach, swimmer, ex-coach, ex-swimmer, parent, ex-parent, fan, etc.?

As a swim coach, do you spend more time as a manager or as a leader?

You probably raised your hand and said;

“A leader, Dan. I’m a leader”.

And, you are a leader. But…

Ok, before I get to the “but”, you need some context. I promise you will learn what the #1 mistake is and what comes after “But…”.

Don’t worry – we will get there. First, some context…

Here’s the thing, in business, a manager is involved in the operational details of the company.

If you are a manager, you focus on how to do things more efficiently and effectively. you manage processes. You put systems into place. You give feedback up and down the chain of command.

As a manager, you accomplish the task at hand and you are really good at “leading” others to do the same.

The tricky thing is, being a manager is not the same as being a leader.

“But Dan, you just used the word ‘leading’ to describe a manager!”

Yes. Yes, I did.

You can easily get confused between the managing and leading. Which is why I wanted to show you how leading people down a pre-defined path is not leading at all.

Leading people down a path is actually “managing” under the guise of leading.

“Ok, I’m getting bored, Dan. What the **** does this have to do with swimming?”

You’ll figure that out in a second. First, back to the difference between a manager and a leader.

In business, a leader determines the direction of the company or project.

If you are a leader, you focus on choosing the right goals for your team at work. You instill a vision for the future in yourself and your colleagues.

You are good at doing this because you can clearly see the potential end result.

You are an expert at beginning at the end. By beginning at the end, you can back into the direction of the company or project. You can determine if the team is working on the “right” things.

You know and understand that it doesn’t matter how fast or far you run if you are running in the wrong direction.

Here’s the thing, you need both managers and leaders in business. Just like you need both managers and leaders on the pool deck.

My question to you is – “Do you spend more time managing or do you spend more time leading?”

I’ll answer for you.

I am telling you that you almost definitely spend too much time managing. And you probably call it leading in your head. But, it’s not.

The fact is, that is the mistake you are making.

And, it’s a shame because you already are a great leader.

You should be getting better results as a coach.

Listen, by no means am I saying to “stop managing” your swimmers.

You need to manage your swimmers. You must manage them.

You should be correcting technique. You should be planning and tracking your training regiments. You should be focused on the efficiency and effectiveness of your team’s workouts.

What I am saying is that you are a natural leader as a coach. But, you are not leading enough.

You already know how to lead, and you still don’t do enough of it.

You should spend more time thinking through the vision for your team, thinking through the vision for each individual swimmer.

Start with the end in mind.

You will see that this end is different for each and every swimmer on your team.

You will find that the fact is, you don’t spend enough time re-evaluating the path that you are leading your swimmers down.

Simply leading them down the path is not leading. That is managing.

Leading is constantly evaluating the path, visualizing the end, and backing into a better path.

You are a leader. Now go lead more. Lead more than you manage.

-Dan from Commit

Shameless plug (or anti-plug?) for my product, Commit Swimming

Commit Swimming is a tool you should use to “manage” your team’s training.

But please don’t use any tools to help you manage anything until you get in the habit of spending more time leading.

Once you have that locked down, then start your free trial on Commit.

Commit Swimming is a SwimSwam partner. 

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2 years ago

The distinction between leader and manager in this sense is so minimal, I feel as if this is a waste of a post with Clickbait… thank you, next.

Dan from Commit
Reply to  Terror
2 years ago

Thanks for commenting, Terror. I agree that it’s a fine line and one that is tricky to identify. However, I believe becoming proficient in the self-awareness necessary to discern the difference can unlock massive potential for swim coaches.

A few examples:

1. You can manage a season plan, execute on every detail perfectly day in and day out and still your team can perform poorly. It might have been the wrong plan. Evaluating this plan and focusing on the right things not necessarily just doing things right is where the magic happens.

2. You can have a team goal in mind as a coach. Maybe it’s performance related… say placing in the top 3 of some championship meet. You might… Read more »

Sprinter Mentality
2 years ago

I completely agree with this statement. As a coach, you should be giving out goals as a team and goals for each swimmer. Once these goals are mentioned and reiterated occasionally, your job as a coach is to lead/guide them in the direction of those goals, not micro-manage every small little detail.

You can also equate what Dan said to that of parenting. Your goal as a parent is to guide/lead your child down the right path with morals, values, and goals. This does NOT mean that you should hover over your child every step of their life. They need to make mistakes and make decisions for themselves. In teaching there is a new term called “Lawnmower Parents”, which is… Read more »

Dan from Commit
Reply to  Sprinter Mentality
2 years ago

Thank you for this comment, Sprinter mentality. Great comparison to parenting! I wrote this out of inspiration from parenting. I have two little ones at home and am slowly beginning to feel many parallels in swimming, parenting, and business.

Your analysis adds a ton to this discussion and aligns with how I feel.

2 years ago

#1 mistake is to go into coaching

Reply to  googoodoll
2 years ago

try a different team googoo it’s not all bad

Ross MacPhee
2 years ago

Couldn’t agree more.

I gave a talk on a very similar subject from a business perspective to a highly committed group of coaches last year, i.e about a leader’s role:
1) is about developing self belief
2) creating an emotional connection with individuals and building trust
3) understanding the influence of emotions on an individual’s decision making
4) determing the culture
5) clearly defining the journey ahead.
6) Communicating with individuals based on their personal situation (motivation/competence)

Good luck – you are on the right path in my opinion

Dan from Commit
Reply to  Ross MacPhee
2 years ago

Amazing Ross! This is great stuff.

2 years ago

Completely understand that I’m being a jerk, but…… unless you are in the Army, you have nothing to do with training “regiments”. Regimen. Regimen. Regimen! You can’t write credibly about training and get this wrong.

2 years ago

I think this can be said for team captains as well. If you are bossy and are always yelling at people are you a leader? I say no. You can’t necessarily make yourself be a leader, but rather let it come naturally by being a positive teammate and constantly wanting what is best for the people around you!