Courtesy of Gary Hall Sr., 10-time World Record Holder, 3-time Olympian, 1976 Olympic Games US Flagbearer and The Race Club co-founder.
To be a great coach, be inquisitive.
Historically, some of the greatest coaches in the sport of swimming were also the most inquisitive. They never stopped questioning. Understanding that they were far from having all of the answers to making swimmers faster, they constantly challenged the hierarchy, the establishment. Often they would try out new ideas, whether on technique or training, experimenting, or trying to find a better way. Usually, they turned to be right, but not always. It was their willingness to change, to push the envelope, whether right or wrong, that moved our sport ahead.
I have been blessed to have known or swum under some of these pioneer coaches. Some were very science-based, like Doc Counsilman. Others, like Mike Bottom, were more artistic and creative. Doc never stopped thinking or questioning or reading or learning. I never knew a man who knew so much about so many different subjects. While his doctorate was in physiology, he knew a great deal about physics, kinesiology, psychology, art, opera, music, and just about any other subject you could bring up. Yet he never spoke with a ‘know it all’ attitude. He could speak to anyone on a level that she or he could readily understand and relate to; a rare gift.
Mike is more of a creative, artistic coach. Every day at workout time, he will shoot from the hip, changing up a planned workout, experimenting with a new set or drill that might make his swimmers faster. Part of his strategy was to prevent boredom, keeping his workouts unpredictable, and part was to figure out a better way to swim faster. He always welcomed new ideas coming from his swimmers or staff and implemented them well.
Nort Thornton, the great coach from Cal, was another inquisitive coach. He never stopped reading and learning, trying out new ideas every season. Nort was a deep thinker, very intelligent, always questioning the establishment.
Flip Darr, coach of myself, Shirley Babashoff, the Furniss brothers, and many other Olympians, was an unconventional, out-of-the box coach. It seemed like every season, Flip would show up to practice with a new toy he had developed for training; homemade hand paddles, surgical tubing for resistance training or whatever he could think of to torture us in a different way.
Don Gambril (Pasadena, Long Beach, Harvard, Alabama), Peter Daland (USC), Eddie Reese (Texas), Dick Jochums (Long Beach, Arizona, Santa Clara), Skip Kenney (Stanford), and David Marsh (Auburn, Swim Mac, UCSD) were/are also very deep thinking coaches. All have or had inquisitive minds that never stopped questioning how we do things.
We are fortunate to be in a sport where coaches share information willingly. There are no secrets, just undiscovered information. It is acceptable and advisable to copy the best coaches, but never assume that they have all of the answers. They don’t. They never will.
To be a great coach, learn from the best and copy others, but keep questioning.
Yours in swimming,
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THE RACE CLUB
Because Life is Worth Swimming, our mission is to promote swimming through sport, lifelong enjoyment, and good health benefits. Our objective is for each member of and each participant in The Race Club to improve his or her swimming performances, health, and self-esteem through our educational programs, services and creativity. We strive to help each member of The Race Club overcome challenges and reach his or her individual life goals.
The Race Club provides facilities, coaching, training, technical instruction, video, fitness and health programs for swimmers of all ages and abilities. Race Club swim camps are designed and tailored to satisfy each swimmer’s needs, whether one is trying to reach the Olympic Games or simply improve one’s fitness. Our programs are suitable for beginner swimmers, pleasure swimmers, fitness swimmers, USA swimming or YMCA swimmers, or triathletes; anyone who wants to improve swimming skills. All of our Race Club members share an enjoyment of being in the water and use swimming to stimulate a more active mind and body.
Courtesy of The Race Club, a SwimSwam partner.