Coaching in sport is becoming more and more difficult as we move into the 21st Century. While this article focuses on the swimming coach, the lessons learnt can be adapted to coaching in all sports. So what are the attributes of a great coach?
A coach will play a very important role in the lives of young swimmers. Their actions and attitudes help shape their view of the world and of themselves. For some children the coach will enter their world at a time when they may be striving to reduce their parents’ influence. Children may look to you for considerable support either physically or psychologically. The potential to impact on young lives should not be off-putting.
A common mistake in young coaches is to assume that verbal communication is not only the best form of communication, but it’s the only way to communicate. A further problem is that some coaches frequently talk too much. Verbal communication is vital; but it can lose some of its effectiveness when used unnecessarily – especially during training.
Non verbal communication like facial expressions or gestures by the coach showing anger, frustration, acceptance, empathy, disapproval or pleasure can and do have an effect on swimmers during training and competition. Recent research concludes that young swimmers assume that non-verbal cues are more revealing of a coaches actual feelings and thoughts than words.
The implications for coaching are clear – what you do is far more important than what you say.
In the first three years of our life we learn to talk.
In the next three you learn to read and write.
How much time is spent teaching people to listen?
Learn this skill, then teach your staff and swimmers.
The coach must be a good listener, that is, being attentive to what is being said by the athlete. Individual needs of athletes must be taken into consideration.
The element of respect comes into play here, as the response by the coach will govern the way the athlete will approach you in the future. Every swimmer must receive feedback on technique and performance in every session.
A great coach will have developed their own standards and philosophies in regards to their chosen sport. They will have strong communication skills and be honest and approachable to athletes, parents and fellow coaches.
Knowledge and coaching experience, not necessarily sport specific, are generally very helpful. A great coach will have strong self-discipline and will install a discipline into team members. If a situation arises with a swimmer, they will go after the situation and not the individual. It is important that you discipline in private and reward in public. Make sure that you never bruise the dignity of the individual.
A coach should endeavour to reduce and minimise the need to discipline, by ensuring their programme includes fun, activity and learning. They will have the ability to teach as well as coach. Coaching styles do differ, so don’t try to copy someone else.
The respected swimming coach will instill the highest desirable ideals and character traits into their swimmers. They have the responsibility for maintaining discipline throughout the training session and be self-confident, attentive, consistent, friendly, fair and competent. They should also be able to deal with initial treatment of minor injuries.
A great swimming coach will be very organised for each session, for the week, for the month, the year and be able to justify, if necessary why things are being done.
They will be able to create an environment were success is inevitable by instilling discipline & standards for athletes to observe and commit to. A great coach will have a high level of commitment and discipline and should be the nucleus of their swimming club. The Club’s goals should parallel the coaching program and vice versa and it is important that coach provides what is needed for the club to be successful.
Open and regular communication with parents is vital. A great coach will be approachable for parents and listen to them, but in the end make their own decision. It is important that coaches watch the type of relationship that they have with parents as if they become friends and the coach needs to make a hard decision, then the coach will be in a compromised position.
Coaches also have a legal responsibility to provide a safe environment, ensure facilities and equipment are safe for both the users and others involved in competition and training. Safety in all sport should be the message that we must put into practice in our daily work as coaches. Swimming pools are a dangerous environment to work in and all necessary precautions should be taken for your pool to be safe.
Plan your training sessions carefully to ensure progression of your athletes and limit the risk of injury. Be confident in identifying exercises that are potentially dangerous (eg. Straight leg raises) and provide a safe substitute. Activities must be adequately planned. Impaired learning ability and injury may be the result of unplanned practice sessions.
Young athletes should not be mismatched. Young athletes should be matched not only according to age, but also height, weight and maturity. Skill levels and experience should also be considered.
Safe and proper equipment should be provided and equipment should be in good order and safe to use at all times.
Athletes must be warned of inherent risks of the sport. The participants can only legally accept the inherent risks of a sport if they know, understand and appreciate those risks.
Ensure that activities are closely supervised. Adequate supervision is necessary to ensure the practice environment is as safe as possible.
Coaches should know first aid. Coaches should have knowledge of basic emergency procedures and keep up to date on them.
Develop clear written rules for training and general conduct. Many injuries are the result of fooling around in change rooms and training venues.
Coaches should keep adequate records.
Adequate records are useful aids to planning and are essential in all cases of injury.
Expect the unexpected. Always renew your insurance cover well before it expires each year just in case you need it.