This is not a difficult concept to see. Based on standard human growth and development patterns, and ruling out the exceptional cases at either end of the maturation line, we clearly see that a swimmer who turns 13 on 2. January is a full year ahead of a swimmer whose birthday is 30. December.
So why does Denmark have both swimmers in the same category?
Clearly someone in the middle of puberty, with all the rapid physical (not to mention emotional and social) changes occurring, has a strength and coordination advantage over someone not yet entering puberty. And puberty is the crux of age group training.
We all know this.
With the onset of puberty comes increases in strength, height, weight; the ability to train longer and/or more often increases; crucial windows for adding strength training start opening; the anaerobic energy system starts emerging. These are all critical factors in how fast a swimmer can move through the water.
We all know this.
So why does Denmark not recognize this for competition purposes?
Why does Denmark not recognize “age as of the first day of competition” to classify age group swimmers? It is not difficult to see that this would truly give a more accurate representation of ATK in competition and produce more accurate results all over the place.
It is far from difficult to make the software change in a database to be more accurate in correctly classifying swimmers by age. Certainly, there will still be cases where a swimmer changes ages the day before a competition and someone has a birthday the second day of competition, making them a full year apart in terms of growth and development, but it happens far less than using “year”. Using an exact birthday gives us, well… exact information, in a far higher degree, than otherwise. I could insert a colourful graph or pie chart to give a visual representation of this, but I don’t want to insult your intelligence.
If Denmark truly is serious about taking the final step to full ATK, I would strongly suggest this age-related competition standard be implemented ASAP. You don’t modernize one part of your training platform and leave another in the dark ages, or you are just wasting your time. And proving you are not really serious about results.
Change age classifications. Change age classifications because it is in the best interests of the swimmers, the reason we are in this business, to do so. Leaving it the way it is now is only good for administration and software developers, not the swimmers.
Signing off as,
Head Coach, Holbaek Swim Club
aka "Just a club coach"
With all the coaching positions being advertised this month and next, people are looking at their CV/ résumé, thinking about their career goals and making some moves. As one of the places receiving applications, here are some hints for making your application stand out above the rest.
READ THE JOB DESCRIPTION PART 1
This is so very important and I cannot believe how many people don’t bother reading properly.
Job descriptions/advertisements both say and do NOT say certain things. Sometimes what they do not say is pretty important. It raises questions. If you have questions about what is said, or not said, contact the person at the bottom of the advertisement and ask for more information.
That just might be the reason the advertisement is worded the way it is, you know: To see who is on the ball enough to actually ask IN ADVANCE of applying for further details.
So read first, think, ask questions if you need to, prior to actually applying.
READ THE JOB DESCRIPTION PART 2
Do you know how the job description would apply specifically to the club advertising? Have you gone to that club’s website and done your research (aka due diligence), looked up their swimmers in Octo, checked competition results etc?
Do you know why the job is being advertised? Is the position a replacement one, new position, what is it?
And further: how does YOUR specific skill set fit into the stated requirements for the advertised job? How do YOUR career goals fit the description and future of the club?
Once you have done these things, you are now ready to update your résumé/CV and write your covering letter.
FORMAT AND UPDATE YOUR RESUME
Forget about the “rule” that CVs should stick to one page. Swimming is a “show me” sport and its coaches must be “show me” sorts of people. Your resume is a chance to highlight your accomplishments and achievements in detail for the past five years and to lightly mention what happened within the preceding 6-10 years to that. If this means your résumé runs to two pages, two-and-a-half pages, then good. Show me why I should hire you. Please.
No, no one wants to know what school you attended prior to going to university. Or the grades you got there. No one wants to waste their time reading about how you spent years 7-10 at sports school. Are you applying for a job as coach or student? Keep your résumé specific to the job being applied for.
Gosh yes, that does mean a different résumé for different sorts of jobs, doesn’t it.
It’s quite fine to keep the same format if you are applying for the same types of jobs, f.eks: age group coach, elite sprint coach, etc. Just don’t send an age group assistant resume as an application for head coach senior jobs. At the same time, don’t send an elite senior coach resume to a job looking for an age group assistant. The first thing any smart hiring body will think if they get an application that is not matching their advertisement is: If this person cannot be bothered to show us on paper how they fit our job, why should we interview them?
Format your résumé into logical blocks of information:
Statement of personal goal as a coach, two lines maximum:
“To develop the skills to help athletes reach maximum individual potential in a team-centered environment”.
Statement of reason why your name should be top of the list for this SPECIFIC job, two lines maximum:
“Experienced provider of performance management solutions for swimmers bridging the change from junior to senior national levels”.
Don’t include “Flower Design 101: ten years ago” in a resume being sent for Senior National Strength Training Coach. Start with most recent and go reverse date order from there. Use courses, clinics, conferences. Keep it pertinent. If you have been a speaker at any educational offerings, put that in a separate section immediately below.
Jan 2012 World Aquatic Development Conference, Lund SE
Description of conference here.
July 2011 Graduated, Masters in Sports Science, University of Copenhagen
(be prepared to have scan of your transcript of graduation to email upon request)
Run it reverse chronologically, just like your education, most recent to least recent and do your best to show how what you did in that specific position would be relevant to the position for which you are applying.
F.eks: Instead of just saying:
2005-Current Head Age Group Coach for Club FillInTheBlank
2005-Current Head Age Group Coach, Club X, overseeing 3 assistant coaches and designing the annual training plan for 48 swimmers ages 12-15. Included ballet lessons Saturday mornings, flower designing on Tuesdays and baking with chocolate Wednesdays, or some such stuff. Bonus points to you if you can explain why ballet is good for swimmers, and that flower designing was a team activity and baking taught life skills.
SHOW THEM WHY THEY SHOULD HIRE YOU. Always always show the people you are writing to why they should hire you. Just like Jante Law has no place in finals, it also has no place in applying for a job. Get comfortable telling people why you are a great person to hire.
Memberships come after experience. Are you a member of any association? Do you sit on a board for any associations? Have you ever done so?
Awards. Have you won any awards for being a great coach? TELL THEM ABOUT IT.
Volunteer Experience. This is just as valid and important as paid career work. At times, it can be more important especially if it can display a “go to” personality, someone who is willing to accept additional responsibilities and duties if it makes life better for the organization. This can also highlight additional skills that can be used in your main career resume and that is good.
Hobbies/Non-coaching related. Parents like to know their coaches have a life outside the pool, even if we really don’t once we go full-time. However, this might not be the place where you should state you like rolling in blue mud, sticking a jewel in your navel and dancing down Main Street naked every Midsummer as part of your religion. Things like: reading, skiing, biking, community choir all look good on a resume.
And at the very bottom, in smaller italics, centered on the page, include:
So, this should have taken you about two pages to write, in 11 or 12 point NON-SERIPHED font and no, do NOT use MS Comic Sans. Use Arial. Keep the font the same for your whole resume, no changing fonts. Use BOLD for headings and your name. Use extra spaces. Make it easy to read. The eye and mind like spaces between blocks of text. A solid wall of text is not good.
Now onto your covering letter! You do use a covering letter, right?
We use email a lot. However, it is hard to print out an email and make it look the same as your résumé. This means your covering letter should be in a separate document, titled COVERING LETTER YOURNAME DATE.docx/pdf/ood. You can copy paste it into the body of the email although it is quite fine to merely mention that your résumé and covering letter are attached.
Never, EVER use the same covering letter for all jobs. If you cannot be bothered to highlight how your experience and knowledge fits the job you are applying for, then I cannot be bothered to read your application. Not all jobs are the same therefore not all your applications should be the same. That is just common sense. If you want the job, SHOW ME.
Covering letters should be one page, terribly formal business communications. Unless you are me, because I send out 3-5 page covering letters, complete with how I will change your club plans etc and directions on how to relate my résumé to my plans and your needs. If I am not serious about applying I send out one-page cover letters, but this is just me and I can back it up. If you can do that too, then great! SHOW ME WHY I SHOULD HIRE YOU! Please.
See, any hiring committee wants to know why they should hire you. TELL THEM. They will love you for it and it will probably land you a great job that will pay decent money (oh wait, we are coaches, forget that) and challenge you to grow and learn and all sorts of super stuff we need as human beings.
Show and tell, that’s what applying for a job is all about. Don’t be shy about telling why you deserve the job. Be specific, be clear and be confident. If it helps, pretend you are getting ready for a competition as you settle in to write your résumé and covering letter. It is, after all, the same skill set any competitor needs to be successful as to land a great coaching job.
So off you go! Go re-write your résumés and covering letters and good luck to everyone!
Signing off as,
Head Coach, Holbaek Swim Club
aka "Just a club coach"
“It takes 10,000 hours!”
If I hear one more person say this in public or try to use it to justify something, I might turn an interesting shade of purple.
MATH AND YOU, JUST HOW MUCH IS 10,000?
Has anyone done the math on this one? Let’s start there, shall we:
Normal work week is, for example and ease of multiplication, 40 hours per week. Normal vacation periods per year are three weeks, leaving 49 weeks.
40 x 49 = 1960
10,000 divided by 1960 = 5 years, 1 month, roughly.
Do we train swimmers like that? No. Okay, let’s see something else:
20 hours per week x 49 weeks in a “year” = 980 hours per year OR… 10 years, 2 months.
Do we train swimmers like this, either? Nope. Let’s try something normal shall we?
Third year competitive swimmer, age 10-11:
10 hours per week in the water x 46 weeks of training in a year = 460 hours per year of training.
This will take almost 22 years but at this point we can start some serious number crunching. Assume that the two years prior to this point the young swimmer had 368 hours and 184 hours, total of 552 hours at the start of year three in competition training. Assume five years of swim school, 30 minutes per week, 40 weeks in a year and you get to add 100 hours of swimming. We are up to 662 hours of “swimming” starting from age two, and folks, I am being really generous here. Two year olds do not “swim”.
Ten thousand minus 662 leaves us with an ungodly amount of time. Think about it.
Now find me a parent who will give you their five year old for 10 hours of training, in the water, per week.
Found one yet? Didn't think you would, or could.
WHERE DID THE “MAGICAL” 10,000 COME FROM?
Hands up who knows where this came from?
This “10,000 hours of practice” rule is based on research by psychologist Anders Ericsson, now at Florida State University.
I repeat again: a psychologist. Not a physiologist or sport scientist: A person who specializes in learning patterns from a perspective of how the brain functions. PSYCHOLOGIST. He’s a good one, too. And this 10,000 hours of practice was best presented by writer Malcolm Gladwell, in his book “Outliers”. This rule says that “only” 10,000 dedicated hours of doing something will develop a skill sufficient to equate to what we might consider mastery of that something.
Oh wait… I underlined a word there, didn’t I?
You see, Ericsson drew his conclusions, in part, from some pretty
major studies with violinists at Berlin’s Academy of Music and later, from
professional and amateur pianists. “The idea that excellence at performing a
complex task requires a critical minimum level of practice surfaces again and
again in studies of expertise,” writes Gladwell in Outliers. Being a concert musician can be physically exhausting, but in no way similar to the physical exhaustion of training to race 400, 800 or 1500 metres at a major international competition.
But yes, this reseach does apply to swimming, or any athletic activity, too, but really: Do you know what that means?
It means dedicating your life to a sport at age five or six, to the exclusion of almost anything else, JUST to get to the proper skill level when strength, coordination, agility and power can be added to the training so the athlete-to-be can then train long and hard enough to start REAL training towards elite performance in sport. And further, that 10,000 hours is an AVERAGE amount of time, not a finish line after which you are suddenly a star at your sport.
Who trains swimmers like that? Right, all those countries “over there” that we criticize for being mean to children, cruel to them in sports training, bad parents (How could a parent do that?!) for handing over their child to the state because even after 10,000 hours… there is no guarantee of success. None.
And there are limits to what a human body can endure. There are limits to what an immature human body can endure, an immature human psyche can endure and this tolerance level is far less than what adult determination can achieve.
10,000 = Lots and Lots
Ten thousand hours is another way of saying “lots and lots”. It must be focussed, specific, dedicated training to develop skills in swimming. Just putting in the time doesn’t work. It takes an average adult 5 years to put in 10,000 hours working 40 hours a week and only taking three weeks’ vacation every 52 weeks. No one trains children like that. No child can train like that.
So coaches, parents, please stop using this “It takes 10,000 hours” stuff as justification for something. All it takes is a bit of easy math, light research and logical thought to understand we don’t do it that way in Denmark.
And let me tell you: It sure felt good to use that last line above!
Signing off as,
Head Coach, Holbaek Swim Club
aka "Just a club coach"
There are some parts of swimming technique that get highly personal and individual. My favourite of these is the start.
Before I get into this, I must say that this is still an opinion piece and I will be providing very little pure technical research to back up my opinion. Part of the reason for this is because, for one, there is little research with enough test subjects to prove anything conclusive, so I am basing my opinion on personal observations over the years and a lot of thinking. And part of the reason is because of an even more simple reason: we all have different ways of achieving the same, or similar, results. So please do not expect this to be an intensive technical document filled with charts, numbers, graphs etc. I might link those but it is easy enough to run a search and you can read for yourself. And please remember: this is my opinion and you are fully entitled to have your own opinion and way of doing things.
By now, most of you know I have been around the swimming world for a few years. I have had the pleasure of watching some very big names when they were still medium names; got to watch some world-class facilities being built for world-class events, even attended a few myself. I saw and participated in the early years of the mega-distance training in North America, something that produced incredible results (just not from me!). I also got to watch the birth of some techniques that were refined over the years into what we have and use now. My favourite of these is the track start.
PHYSICS and Sir Isaac Newton
I love the three Laws of Motion. I really do. I love explaining them to my swimmers, applying them to technique and incorporating them into daily training. Let’s review them:
I. Every object in a state of uniform motion tends to remain in that state of motion unless an external force is applied to it.
This is Galileo’s declaration on interia and is often referred to as the Law of Inertia. We all know it, we all use it. We practice dead starts to help swimmers realize how must effort it takes to get moving and the need for proper kicking during underwater phases. We practice propulsive force generation in our dryland and strength training because it takes a LOT of energy to change a state of uniform motion (aka a body at rest). And we tinker with starts to attempt to find the most efficient method of generating force to get that resting swimmer body moving very fast at the beginning of a race so we can minimize the rate of decay during the intial phases of that race.
Now comes the second Law and does it ever affect swimmers. We can never, ever forget this one when coaching because we literally go nowhere if we do forget:
II. The relationship between an object's mass m, its acceleration a, and the applied force F is F = ma. Acceleration and force are vectors (as indicated by their symbols being displayed in slant bold font); in this law the direction of the force vector is the same as the direction of the acceleration vector.
According to Newton an object with a certain velocity maintains that velocity unless a force acts on it to cause an acceleration (that is, a change in the velocity). For swimming, one of the the forces that act on velocity is resistance from water, turns, and starts. There is a lot more that goes into this, of course, and what I present is incredibly simplified here. And of course, it is obvious that in swimming we do not work in a frictionless, resistance-less, straight-line world. The closest we can come to that is 50 metres freestyle long course, maybe a 50 back long course too but that is considerably more difficult to achieve. We really need to be thinking about all the forces that come into play in any given situation with this law.
Here is Law number three, an elegant, simple statement yet one with so very many effects:
III. For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.
Think of walking: your foot pushes against the ground at an angle that will propel you forward and as your body moves forward, your foot “moves” backwards. Yes yes I know that is not what really happens in terms of propulsion but it does provide a simple illustration of action-reaction. If it makes you feel better try thinking about what happens when you step from a boat to the dock: boat moves back, you move forward. Hopefully.
And now we need to add one other fairly common thing: The Law of Gravity.
EVERY OBJECT IN THE UNIVERSE ATTRACTS EVERY OTHER OBJECT WITH A FORCE DIRECTED ALONG THE LINE OF CENTRES FOR THE TWO OBJECTS THAT IS PROPORTIONAL TO THE PRODUCT OF THEIR MASSES AND INVERSELY PROPORTIONAL TO THE SQUARE OF THE SEPERATION BETWEEN THE TWO OBJECTS.
That is a lovely law too. Don’t you just love physics and the practical application of it in swimming? We get to play with overcoming the effect of gravity through the application of force and then we get to toss in some mathematics and calculate trajectories and angles of entry and the maintenance of velocity over time and distance. And even if you cannot add a string of numbers together in your head you can STILL play with the practical applications of the theory and that is the best part. It is SO much fun! Really, I am serious here!
However, the physics lesson stops here before we start getting into the application of the theory of relativity and even more esoteric concepts because, well… not everyone likes reading phone books or dictionaries and for many people what comes next will never affect their coaching (and maybe shouldn’t). The information is “out there” however, so if anyone wants a theoretical discussion of physics applied to swimming, we can take it to another discussion.
THERE’S THE WIND-UP!
Right now, however, we are going to find a tennis ball or similar small object with a bit of weight that you can throw without breaking anything around you. Bear with me here and play along because we are about to conduct an impromtu experiment.
1) Pick up the object in your throwing hand. Position your arm so that it is bent, elbow tucked into your ribs and hand beside your ear, palm facing out so that when you throw the object it shall travel in a forward direction.
2) Without moving your elbow away from your ribs or moving your hand backwards from your ear, propel the object forward. Nope, do it again, you moved your arm back. Try it a few times.
3) Note how far the object travels forward.
1) Now pick up that object in your throwing hand again. Position your arm so that your hand is behind you and above shoulder height, elbow bent and away from your body. This is a fairly normal throwing position.
2) Throw the object forward and do it like you mean it. Pretend it is a handball, a roundball ball, a baseball, a North American football (do you folks even use one of those here? Never seen it done.) Do it a few times so you get the feel of the wind-up and its effect on propulsion into your arm and brain.
3) Note how far the object ravels forward.
4) Compare it to how far the object travelled in Sample 1.
Which method provided the farthest
Here, let me tell you: Sample 2. Remember this. Now, did you motice one other thing, one other difference? It is what happens to the shape of your arm when you release the object. It is a “stretch”, an extension of the arm at the point of release. Do Sample 2 a couple more times and see if you can feel it. When you get the feeling, remember that too.
Now, please think about where your swimmers are positioned on the starting block and let’s have a look at a couple of starts on Youtube. As you watch them, think about the difference between Sample 1 and Sample 2:
Most of us will think of the application of a full sling-shot style track start at senior/elite levels with disdain. That means we will dismiss the notion as impractical. Most of us at least and I am assuming it is mostly coaches who will even bother to read this. With the changes to starting blocks, however, the application of a track start became really interesting. The force generated by that back leg started getting important and this specific style started incorporating some more advanced forms of body control. Well, it’s interesting if you like debating the differences between relativity and string theory at least.
I am not going to take this presentation
much further than this right now. I have more thoughts about this start and its
application, including flight trajectory, the hang point, arm involvement,
entry, reduction of rate of decay through these three specific points, the
effects of the angle of entry on depth and finding still water, and many other
bits and pieces. All that will be better served in a second part.
For now, think about what I have offered here, make comments, fool around with it in your practices, think, and remember that this is not being offered as a holy grail of absolutism, but rather as one person’s thoughts and experience on achieving a higher degree of something-or-other for their swimmers.
Signing off as,
Head Coach, Holbaek Swim Club
aka "Just a club coach"
Businesses succeed for a reason. They have goals, plans, oversight and subject matter experts. Swim clubs succeed for the same reasons. Businesses have a product or service they provide and based on the excellence of their product or service, develop a reputation in their business or service. So does swimming.
However, where business and swimming diverge is interesting from an organizational development perspective and therein we find a fatal flaw in many swimming cultures.
Let me set a business scenario for you and then we can draw comparisons to swimming:
Your office is part of a large, multi-national corporation with several layers of management and with many different departments. In your office there is the General Manager and several subject matter experts, Department Managers. Your company has worked hard to make sure each local office has great managers.
The General Manager knows enough about each department to know how to guide the overall business plan to success, to obtain head office goals. This person is probably an MBA, a simply super large picture person who knows how to delegate to subject matter experts, the Department Managers.
The Department Managers are completely focussed on the production results of their department. They are the geniuses at their line of work, be that finance, human resources, product development or sales. They know all the tricks of their trade and it shows.
Head Office says it is time for the annual review of production/service, and The Big Boss has sent out invitations to each branch office to represent and display their success, their ability to have met the goals of The Big Plan.
In the corporate world, at this point, the General Manager goes to their Department Managers and gets their results. In a properly run business, this is not a terribly difficult list to produce because The Big Plan was very clear in its expectations, benchmarks, roadblock removal, and Head Office support. There are check points all along the way, regular updates and process improvements/best practices shared around. After all, when The Head Office wins, all the branch offices win too.
Is that clear enough?
Here is what I have observed being done in swimming:
Your club is part of a large, multi-national sports group, FINA, with several layers of management and many different National Sport Governing Bodies. In your local head office, the national office, are many people. Not all are subject matter experts. Not all are business management experts. Local head office sets The Plan for all the branch offices, but only a few subject matter experts are consulted about what The Plan should be. Very few.
We now add another layer, the club layer. Each club has a General Manager, oh wait… it doesn’t. It usually has volunteers setting the agenda for goals and achievements. These volunteers contribute their effort part-time and again, let us stress the volunteer aspect here. They might be subject matter experts in something, but it is rarely swimming. It is more common to see day-job managers taking leadership roles in swim club management. However, they are almost never swimming subject matter experts.
So, no General Manager, but a lead Subject Matter expert instead, who has the experience, skills and expertise to provide a solid production plan, expectations, benchmarks, roadblo… oh wait. Nope, most swim clubs don’t have that, either. Hmm… we are developing a bit of a problem here, aren’t we.
It is even worse when you think about what a successful
business does NOT do, that swimming here in Denmark thinks is quite acceptable:
When it is time for the final stage of implementing The Big Plan, business absolutely do NOT take the product away from the subject matter experts and hand it off to a corporate appointee.
What does swimming tend to do?
Well, here, it tends to believe that taking the product (swimmers) away from the subject matter experts (the coaches who just spent years developing that swimmer) is the best way to achieve high end results.
I repeat: that fish don’t fly. It doesn’t work.
You need to trust your subject matter experts, support them, encourage them, reward them. You absolutely do not penalize them by taking their almost fully developed product away from them in the final stages of development.
You bring your subject matter experts into the final stages, fully into the process. You do not supplant them.
It doesn’t work in business (aka “Real Life”) and it sure as heck doesn’t work in swimming.
The only way it can work in swimming is if the subject matter experts developing the product really aren’t all that expert. I don’t believe that is the case in Denmark. It is a gross slap in the face to some very talented professionals to essentially inform them that they are not good enough to finish the job they started.
That is really bad for business.
The coach who has grown that swimmer is the one who can pretty much tell the swimmer’s pulse rate just from watching them do a set. The coach can tell you, without looking at the swimmer and just by listening to their stroke: what that swimmer is doing wrong; how fresh they are; how many strokes per length; did they breathe at the wrong time. That coach can tell you just by looking at the way their swimmer walks onto the pool deck at practice what their emotional state is and generally how either channel that state, or fix it.
These are things you cannot learn about a swimmer in three months. These are things that require an in depth knowledge of your product, your swimmer.
So I ask you, all you out there in Swimming Land:
Why are you supporting a method that does not support the swimmers and coaches?
What are you trying to achieve?
Think about it.
And with that I will sign off as,
Head Coach, Holbaek Swim Club
Aka “Just a club coach”
Swim associations, organizations, unions, governing bodies… all over the world have repeatedly written interesting, amusing, insightful and flat out honest and obvious lists for the coach-parent-swimmer triangle relationship. And it can be a horrifically frustrating relationship, or a merging of souls that elevates everyone. It can, and will, be everything inbetween. It is the horror stories and shining stars that we remember most, with the horror stories being uppermost in our memories, probably because they happen so very much more than the bright spots.
Any experienced coach, in any sport, has these sorts of tales, memories, and we are always aware that the memories will be refreshed over and over again, in the same way we correct strokes and technique with the same swimmer, the same age of swimmer, the same level of experience of swimmer, year after year. It is inevitable. We can count on it happening in the way we count on the sun rising in the east and setting in the west, despite the fact we are rarely outside at either time of day to witness such occurrences.
Any experienced coach will have had hundreds of swimmers come through their training over the course of thirty years. Even accounting for the normal of single-parent families common these days, we can take that as an average of 1.5 parents per swimmer just to be safely in the low numbers. Assume 70 swimmers per year times 30 years leaves you with 2100 youngsters of varying ages and a staggering 3150 adults as parents… 5250 people in 30 years. On average. At the low end. Experienced coaches get to see it all and we gain enough experience to see the problems coming.
1) The 12 and under little star in the latest high-tech swim suit, cap and goggles whose parent hangs out on the national rankings webpage and can tell you, from memory, who the swimmers are ranked higher than their child, the club, the time, and when that time was achieved;
2) The 12 and under who should be a little star, according to the parents, if only the coach recognized this and stopped putting their swimmer in events they have never competed before, and if the coach would only individualize their pre-pubescent child’s training because it is too hard to swim mornings or do strength training before practices;
3) The swimmer emerging through effort, hard work, remembering the stroke corrections, whose parent just smiles and nods when they share out the post-practice snack and who would never dream of sending a printed list to you with events for the next competition “signed” by the swimmer;
4) The young swimmer who shows up to practice spouting objections and resentment and resistance to what every other swimmer in their group is doing, using words a child would never think of using unless they had heard a parent talking that way (yes parents, it is obvious when you talk in front of or with your children about matters that should remain between adults, no matter what the subject might be);
5) The parent who takes the time to stop you outside the pool before you go in for warm-up at a competition to say thank you for giving their child a place to be, to have fun and learn and grow, a place where the child wants to be, despite it being hard work a lot of the time;
6) The parents who gossip amongst themselves, inflating what was probably a minor concern or misunderstanding into something that will generate true hurt and stress… instead of just asking the coach why something is the way it is;
7) The parents who compare their child to someone else’s child and assume everyone was created equal in all things, because one’s culture states it must be so. There is no room in competitive sport for Jante Law. It really is all about “the fastest swimmer wins”. Sorry.
We, as coaches, see almost everything inbetween too, from absent parents with swimmers looking in the stands before their race and hoping maybe someone is there just for them this time; overly involved parents who ruin their swimmer’s ability to fit into the team social structure because the parent keeps going on and on about how much faster than everyone else their child is (without realizing that will change, sooner rather than later usually); the parents who think the training part of swimming is a democracy (the administration side of a swim club might be, but what happens on that pool deck sure isn’t).
We, as coaches, see these things year after year after year. We can offer reading material to parents on all these social issues that disrupt swimming until we get accused of wantonly killing trees we put out so much paper. Strangely, the ones who need the information the most always assume that the information does not pertain to them and the ones who need it least take it to heart the most. We write blogs, we hold meetings, we have committee discussions, education meetings, clinics, team meetings, ad infinitum, year after year, and we always have to deal with the same issues… year after year.
Sometimes we are lucky and it is only one or two parents. Sometimes we are unlucky and we get one of each sort of “involved” parent. Personally, my least favourite flavour are the gossiping parents. I find them to be the most destructive to team harmony and progress, and invariably I have noted that the swimmers of this sort of parent almost always end up leaving the sport or going to another club and then leaving the sport, when they discover that someone else is not so likely to put up with the trash-talking.
had a mother talk to me about buying a horrendously expensive competition suit
for her (still rapidly growing) 12 year old daughter. I was over-joyed to tell
her to not waste the money on such a suit and merely buy a normal suit a size
smaller for competition. Why? Because if a swimmer is still capable of taking
13 seconds off in a 200FR, and let’s face it at that age this should be roughly
98% of all swimmers the world over, then there is absolutely no need for a suit
designed to help an elite senior athlete take off 2/100ths of a second.
Save the money. Buy your swimmer a new swim bag, or a few funky caps for practice or just put it in the bank. And thank you, Swim Mom, for asking, and furthermore, hearing the common sense and understanding it. Your daughter will be the better for it when she finally does pull on one of those fancy engineered suits for the first time, and is old enough to understand the special feeling she gets from it before her first really big competition. And no, age group regionals is not a major competition.
So what do we, as coaches, do about all this? Pretty much nothing except hope that this year we have few problem parents and more parents who actually trust that we, the coaches, know what we are doing, and are doing what we get paid to do: create fast swimmers.
See, our job as coaches is pretty easy, compared to a parent’s job. Parents have to teach their children: respect for others, how to make a commitment, how to develop a work ethic, how to plan to fit everything in, the value of team work and how to be a team player (thinking outside of the individual self), the law of cause and effect (yes, not doing your homework has bad results, just as not coming to practices or not doing dryland or not paying attention during practices has bad results), how to have good manners, how to treat other people like you want to be treated… an endless list of things a parent must teach their child! Why do parents feel the need to add “coach my own child” to that list of truly important parental duties, when they are paying someone else to do that job?
Coaches just have to do one thing: teach a swimmer how to go fast. Sure, there is a lot that goes into that, and sure a parent’s job can be simplified to “Teach your child how to grow up into a responsible adult”, but the thing is… we as coaches depend on parents to do their job and lay the foundation for what we must to do, to do our jobs.
It is not the coach’s fault if a swimmer comes to them with no desire to train and improve (I’m here because my parents make me come) or if the swimmer is genetically unsuited to performing above a certain level in the sport. We do have limits to what we, as coaches, can do with what we are given to work with.
A coach cannot instill the virtue of setting a goal and working towards it through effort, aches in muscles, sleepy eyes at morning practice and missing a school party if the foundation is not already in place through parental teaching. If the parental teaching is not there, there is no support for the swimmer and it is a truly rare young person who can do opposite to the example by word and/or deed their parents display.
Swimming is hard work. There is no way around that. It is hard work. It is early mornings. It is (eventually) two practices a day. It is missing sleep-overs with school friends, missing parties and school dances because you have morning practices. It is a family scheduling their whole family life around the training schedule. It is not about “just swimming”. Training as a swimmer is a lifestyle commitment for a family, eventually. It has to be. It is the only way to get faster and trust me, there are no shortcuts. No swimsuits, no supplements, no caps, no goggles, nothing, replaces time spent in the water swimming until you cannot lift your arms anymore.
So when a coach sees parents wasting energy on surfing the rankings instead of getting their swimmer out of bed 15 minutes earlier in the morning so the swimmer has a bit more time to wake up and stretch out before morning practice, our hearts sink a bit. When we hear of a parent who is telling another parent that so-and-so doesn’t deserve to attend Competition X with those events, without asking the coach first why it is so… when we even hear a parent talking about someone else’s swimmer in comparision to their own swimmer… we feel sadness.
So what should a parent be doing to help their swimmer become the best swimmer that child can possibly be? The answer is so simple, yet so hard to do for most parents:
LET THE COACH, COACH.
You are the
parent, you are not the coach. You might make a fine coach, but not for your
own child. Your own child needs you to be their parent. That is all and as a
parent of five grown children, all of whom I am magnificently proud of for
their ability to function as capable adults now, I can tell you that is enough
of a job right there. In return for letting us do our job, we promise to not assume the role of primary parent for your child and to support a parent's traditional role as Main Teacher.
you to be the parent who let’s them make their own mistakes (we as humans learn
best through making mistakes, strangely enough), let them learn to follow
rules, let them learn respect for others, let them learn that making a
continuous effort equals improvement. And above all else: love them for being
They are not “your swimmer”. They are “your child who also swims” and rides a bike and goes to school and watches television and does the dishes. Do not define your precious child by what they do. Eventually, swimming as an active competitor ends for all young people. Being parent and child goes on forever. Don’t waste the time you have with your child as a young person by neglecting the things you have to teach that really matter by focussing on the wrong things.
For those parents who are reading this and shocked that someone would be specific in discussing detrimental behaviour patterns, please don’t be. Parents continually discuss coaching behaviours they consider detrimental so it should come as no surprise that coaches have similar opinions about parents. Most parents are wonderful people, trying hard to be everything their child needs them to be. Coaches appreciate that more than you will ever be told, just as most parents will appreciate the effort their child’s coach puts into providing a positive learning environment for that child and never say to the coach.
We know you appreciate it, you know we appreciate it and really, nothing needs to be said. We do thank you for it, every time we get to work with your child and never have to think about how what we say will get twisted when told to parents, or the plain lies that an under-performing swimmer with a pressure parent will tell those parents, or when we do not have to worry about you second-guessing us behind our backs when we are not even in town to discuss a situation, or over-ruling a coaching technical decision because it means your child can then do something they haven’t earned the right to do.
We need to support each other, coaches and parents. Like anything, we are stronger together for some very important people, our young athletes, than we are apart. And in the end, working together for some simply amazing kids is thoroughly worth the effort.
Signing off as,
Head Coach, Holbaek Swim Club
Aka “Just a club coach”
Sit and think a minute about the best swimmers you have ever worked with. Hmm, perhaps we should define “best” first.
The qualities of being best are not necessarily those of being fastest. I am certain we can all think of swimmers who were not so great to work with in daily training but who were always tops in competition. Personally, that would not qualify as “best” in my books. To me, the best swimmers are the ones who are in the zone, day in, day out, competition after competition, event after event. These are the ones who almost self-train, who soak up what is offered by their coaches, stir it around inside and then put out a finished product to the best of their ability. It is irrespective of age and ability. It is a character trait.
No excuses. No tears. No self-abuse with negative feedback. Sure, faith and belief can waver, and do at times, but it is almost always easily stabilized with a deep breath and an inner shake.
They can, at times, push themselves so hard that a coach cannot figure out where they are getting the strength to do so from. They give, and give some more and then wish they had more to give.
In my opinion, that qualifies as “best”. In the end, they are the ones who train and compete 11-15 years and still love what they are doing, even when they have to leave active competition to enter the realities of an adult life. Shoulder problem? They kick the sets. Knee problem? They pull paddles on and keep up with pull alone. Dryland work? Always there, always following the plan, not looking for shortcuts, or wanting the latest and greatest supplement to replace what plain old hard work and focussed effort gives (and which nothing else can, by the way).
Contrast this with the high maintenance swimmer now, the one who is rarely first into the water for warm-up; the one who has a pain here, a tummy ache there, a head ache another day. The swimmer who cuts the distance and figures you don’t notice, who doesn’t do all warm-up or cool-down because they are obviously different than everyone else and warm-up and cool-down obviously doesn’t apply to THEM (good grief, how could you think so?).
They generally have the best gear, too, the latest racing suits and bag, gadgets for training that really are just unnecessary luxuries, physiotherapists on call and a LOT of reasons why they cannot do things. Yet, strangely, they still believe they are deserving of all the perks and benefits. They have a lot of baggage attached to them. They might also put out some really decent times in competition, especially when younger and when an attitude of “special” is reinforced, mostly due to very few other swimmers in specific events, or early onset of coordination or physical maturity. They often wonder why they don’t really fit in all the way with the rest and usually blame it on everyone else being exclusionary and “not nice” to them.
And even though there is a pretty good chance this sort is the one who pulls in medals for your club, they are stressful to have around for a long time, both for coach and team.
So what’s the difference?
Well, I spent some time thinking about the differences between the two extremes in swimming the past couple of weeks and have pretty much decided it is a difference between being a giver and a taker.
GIVER or TAKER?
Basically, the swimmer who is a giver will go out to meet that wonderful world out there with an open spirit. A taker will expect the world to come to them and present its offerings, so they can pick and choose.
Now, most swimmers, indeed most people, have some of each inside them. We give, we take. But what I am trying to get across here is that without the openess of spirit that comes with giving of oneself to an activity, can you really be said to be getting anything in return?
You must give in order to receive. That really is how the world works you know. That’s why it is the basis of many world religions. It isn’t just cute little words that we spout with a holier-than-thou attitude every so often, then smirk sanctimoniously because obviously I give better/more/deeper/in brighter colours than you so therefore I am the better person. That’s not what it is.
Humans have this strange thing inside them: We value what costs us something. The more it costs, the greater its value to us. When we have to put our backs into earning something, that something becomes so very precious to us. So when a giver has given everything they have for an extended period, it is entirely logical to think their reward for having done so will have far more intrinsic value to them than to a person who only gave a portion of that effort.
The act of giving in training is what we go looking for in our talent, or at least we should be doing so. Ability without attitude is non-developable. But give a good coach a kid with attitude, with the need (not desire, but need!) to give themself to their training and the actual ability to do so, and you have a winner. Personally, I would rather have a pool full of swimmers who have an unshakable belief that if they can only give it a little bit more it will happen, than a handful of traditional “talent” identified swimmers with the belief the world owes them “stuff” just because they stand there and breathe.
So when you take a look at your swimmers, and try to figure out who amongst them is “the best”, I ask that you also try to remember that being the best sometimes includes more than just a number on a chart or what colour of metal gets hung around a neck.
Being “the best” is a state of being, something that is there each day, every day, throughout the career of a swimmer and beyond.
Now… go back and think about who the best swimmers you have ever worked with are and see if it isn’t so.
Warning: This one is full of self-indulgent musings!
Well, it’s the end of another year, a not uncommon situation right about now, I would think (that was a silly joke, by the way).
I often wonder what it would be like to live a life where a year does not run from 1 Sept to 31 August, or as now in Denmark: 1 August to 31 July. I try to imagine it, then usually just end up shaking my head and smiling. I don’t think “normal” in any manner fits the lifestyle of a head coach, but after so many years… well, I figure I am preaching to the choir here on that one.
I don’t think I would change it, mind you. For most of my life, I have lived with short course season governing 1 Sept to 31 March and long course ruling 1 April to 31 July. I remember looking forward to the end of short course season because then real distance racing would start and I once was a 200 flier/400IMer. Life was lived 50 metres at a time and it was a good way to live.
Then Swim Canada decided that short course season should start ending a bit earlier, and that was great. More long course competitions earlier in the year. These days, about the only distinction between the two seasons is on the international calendar and I sort of regret that swimmers now will never now the excitement of switching from short to long course competition seasons.
There have been many changes in swimming since I was young. I was part of the mega-distance programs in North America, started training in 1972. Canada was bringing over the first professional coaches after a disasterous Olympic showing: Talbot, Hogg, Kemp, Fraser et al. Some of them lasted, some of them moved on. Dr. John Hogg became a noted sports psychologist and professor. Nigel Kemp… it was my honour to be present at his last competition, as a coach. He and Dr. Hogg taught coaches in Canada an awful lot about what to coach, when to coach it, and how to coach it.
Talbot, well… we all know him. One of the true masters of the sport, he is. I would have given about anything for a chance to train with him, most young swimmers were like that.
I remember being almost 15 years old and reading a book, Swimming the Shane Gould Way. Shane Gould was my idol as a swimmer, my hero. I remember something in the book that had a huge impact on my swimming, something my coaches had never told me: "If you can get out of the water at the end of a race, you didn’t swim hard enough".
Wow… what a revelation that was! Years later, the revelation is more along the lines of why wasn’t I told that? Overnight, my times went from “C” time standards (equivalent to regional age group times) to “AA” (equivalent to Junior time standards). My coach had to pick his jaw up out of his lap.
“Where did that come from?!” he asked, shocked.
“I tried harder”, was the simple reply he got back.
I was sort
of disgusted with him for not having told me. He had also laughed at me during
a goal setting team session, where we shared our goals, and I had cautiously
revealed that I wanted to swim across Lake Ontario, because I didn’t think I
could handle the English Channel just yet, it being salt water and ocean tides
and such. I can still see him sitting there and laughing.
Mind you, by this time I was swimming 4 hours a day with another hour of weights thrown in for fun; going to indoor track club at school for 45 minutes after morning practices; and sneaking in an extra hour or so instead of going to art classes three days a week. And most of it was butterfly. Five thousand metre practices, all butterfly, just get in and go. And he laughed at me. I smile now, but man, did it burn then. I don’t think I told a coach one of my goals again, ever, not until I became a coach and had to work with a mentor in my apprenticeship year.
I learned a lot about coaching from my own coaches. All swimmers do. We need to remember that.
But anyway, I have digressed a bit. I had mentioned Shane Gould. There is more on that:
In January, I will be reverting to a starry-eyed swimmer girl when I bring my battered old paperback copy of The Shane Gould Way to Swim to the World Aquatic Development Conference and shyly (Yes, shyly. In some ways, I am still that swimmer who got laughed at by her coach when she shared a secret dream and made it a goal by saying it out loud) ask her to autograph that book. I will get to meet one of my childhood heroes and you know, that will feel really good. This unknown person from a land halfway around the world had more of a positive impact on me than the coach I spent 6 years with. And I finally get to meet her. Wow. What a way to start a year. I feel so lucky.
Old memories, old memories. They are good to sort through.
New memories are nice to have too. You bring them out of their little nests, hold them carefully, examine each one, remember what you learned, what you shared.. memories.
I’ve got a lot of new good memories. Memories that are so fresh they still have their edges.
My club is one continual source of good memories. Really, these folk are just amazing. I was so lucky to find a place like here, when I needed to change clubs. I still miss my first Danish club, the town, the pools, the people there. Still feel guilty that I had to leave them, because they are good people all round. But if you have to leave a good place, it is a comfort to find somewhere else filled with good people. I cannot thank my club enough for trusting a stranger, a foreigner, and letting me run with my planning, supporting it all the way. We have come a long way in a year and a half.
I think one
of the best memories from this past year was experiencing DM-H from the
Now, I have made it pretty clear in the past what I think of the current model for DM-H, so I won’t get into it again now. My club was stuck in Division 4 and hadn’t expected to get out again, ever, I don’t think. Sure, they wanted to, longed to, but expected to? I don’t think so. We aren’t and never shall be, part of a swim association, a start community, a merging of clubs from different areas. We also aren’t a club that will ever have many senior swimmers, due to our location. And by Danish standards, we are a small club. There are many clubs like us in the country.
I got to
watch my age groupers, most of whom only dreamed of being top ten, or even top
20 in their year put in heroic efforts to get themselves into Division 3. It
was quite amazing. This silly ranking system actually meant something to them
and they were willing to swim “the Shane Gould way” to prove something. I was
(Note: My definition of “age group” is not the Danish definition. To me, 15 and younger females and 17 and younger males are age group. As far as I am concerned, there is no age restriction for Juniors, either, as it is a dequalifying time from Seniors/Open. Discuss.)
My first and second Ruds Velby weekends are great memories, too. With these, I get to compare them, side by side and really enjoy it. It is a great way to start a training season, the best way I have seen in all my memories. A wonderful cozy weekend of fun competition, social time, sharing and just plain… having fun together. Total kudos to the organizers of this weekend, it is simply super and I hope to be able to keep adding to my store of memories there.
This past DM in Thisted is a good memory too, even if I did spend half of it sick as can be with a fever high enough to warm soup by. That Saturday night was the first time I felt truly at home at a competition in Denmark. By now I know enough people to greet, smile at, and give a hug to. There are enough familiar faces that I no longer constantly search the crowd, vainly trying to find someone I recognize. I spent many many months of competitions missing faces I had seen for years. It frustrates me that I can understand the Swedish coaches speaking Danish better than the Danish coaches speaking Danish, but in a good way.
I think it is good to sort through your memories as the year draws to a close. “The unexamined life is not worth living”. That was Socrates, in Plato, Dialogues, Apology. I think we have to bring both good and not so good memories out into the light of day regularly, examine ourselves, our lives, work through our regrets and rekindle the fires of our successes. It’s important to remember, to admit to ourselves that sure, though there might be things we would have done differently now, but THEN we did the best we could, and that it is okay.
And maybe, after all, a real calendar year is part of my life, despite the years of living September to August. Maybe, after all, “normal” fits into everything without more than a whisper and a smile, as one more memory gets carefully wrapped and stored away, to be taken out in future years and cherished.
Godt Nytår, alle. Kan du finde dine minder som varme for et år fra nu, som du gør i dag.
I am sitting here in my office at the pool. It is after morning practice, sparcely attended, because most of the swimmers who would be here this morning are sleeping in. And that’s okay, because tomorrow morning I take this young, rural team to Canada. We go to attend an international invitational that has been running for years, in one of the fastest short course pools in North America, a pool that has hosted the Pan-Am Games twice.
It is the pool I grew up in.
There is a long story here, so please bear with me while I tell you about it.
I remember watching this pool be built, so very long ago. We would drive in from way out in the country, where we lived, into “the big city”. We only got to take swimming lessons in the summer, through the town summer recreation program. My father was very active in such things. He and another fellow organized buses to take us farm kids in to learn to swim lessons. It was all very exciting. So when this huge building starting going up, my little eyes got stars in them and I so wanted to be able to swim at that pool. It was the Pan Am Pool, in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, a city roughly 25km from the geographical centre of North America.
Several years later, we had moved to the city to make it easier for schooling and work. And we moved an easy 15 minute bus ride west of this pool I had dreamed about visiting for years. Now, I was no swimming star. I got stuck at one level in learn to swim (it was called “Juniors” back then) because I couldn’t do breastroke kick. My father, bless his soul, decided enough was enough, after the 8th time through the same level, and put me into a summer swim school with the local swim club, the Cardinals Swim Club, CSC. It was one of the biggest clubs in Canada, with one of the very few professional/paid coaches at the time (1972) in the country. And thus began my life as a swimmer.
It was the start of the mega-distance progams era. Our Australian coach pounded the hell out of us and we took it. It was fun. It was tiring. I had a blown left shoulder by the time I was 14 and was seeing Doctor Scotty upstairs for ultrasound and bi-weekly cortisone injections. Man, those hurt. I still smile remembering it. I wasn’t alone visiting him either. And we kept on swimming, all through it. Sure it hurt, so what, we were swimmers, in one of the most successful clubs in Canada and we sucked it all up, princess, and kept right on going.
So when my current club formand came to me over a year ago and asked if there was a competition in Canada that would be good for us to attend, I of course thought of my home pool, and the annual competition at the start of December.
months later, with any interested swimmer having had to submit a written
application about WHY they would want to go on such a trip, and we find
ourselves here, now, the day before we leave. The trip has been generously
supported by DIF, as this is not just a competition tour, but a cultural tour.
There are time standards for the competition, yes, but swimmers old enough to go should be able to make at least three of them and then they can get up to three additional events “free”, over a 4-day competition. But the time standard was not the primary criteria for selection. The question was asked: Why do you want to go to a different country to compete? And it was because of this application that DIF gave us financial support.
The swimmers will be staying with a host family from the organizing club from Wednesday through Sunday, then training twice with that club the following week. We have visits to the city Mayor, a tour of city hall, the local parliament buildings, and a variety of cultural sites around the city. This is more than just a competition. It is also a view of life in a different country, how sport and swimming specifically fit into life in Canada.
I have watched the excitement build. We have planned, packed, re-packed, sent dozens of emails, had meetings, searched for host gifts and jittered back and forth. I am watching my swimmers as they are about to embark on something that will probably have a lifelong effect on them about to happen.
And it is magical.
Back when I was about their age, I too had a chance to take trip like this. We went to Europe. It was the first time I came to Denmark. We also went to the former Soviet Union, Finland and Sweden, before back to Denmark again and then home. I know exactly what sort of effect a trip of this nature, at this point in a young life, can have on a swimmer. It is what brought me back here. Being able to be part of it from the other side, now, makes my memories richer, makes me work harder to do my best for my swimmers, so they too can remember… 35 years later.
For me… in the end.. this is why I coach.
Medals, trophies, records, recognition, status and power do not give me motivation to “succeed”. Got them all, or have had them, more than I can remember, or even want to remember. They do not matter to me. They are things that happen as you progress through a career, as far as I am concerned.
But the look in my swimmers’ eyes, ah, yes… that does motivate me.
The excitement rolling off them like waves to the beach motivates me.
The squeaky little calls of “Mee-shell, Mee-shell, Mee-shell!” make me smile, makes all the years in this line of work worthwhile. Knowing that, when I take my swimmers “home”, I shall have former swimmers also waiting to greet me, makes it worthwhile.
THAT is motivation to do a good job.
I have often been asked why I am not with a big, performance club. Not so long ago, I was asked “How did they land someone like you?!” I think a more appropriate question would be: “How did you find such a perfect fit?!”
Big is nice, but really, it’s not my thing. Performance is nice, but thanks, I will grow my own. I am a country girl and I would prefer to avoid big city life, too. It is a vexation to the spirit. Being able to look out the window when I get up at kl.awful-hour and see the sun rise over a freshly plowed field suits me just fine.
And I would not for a minute exchange the joy, the excitement, the knowing that 35 years from now, the swimmers I work with today, that I take with me to a place that helped form who I am today, will be telling their own children, and maybe even their own swimmers, about this trip we take tomorrow.
At the end of it all, isn’t that the best reason to be a coach?
In case you are interested, we go here:
Click on the tab that says "News and PWI" for meet reports, livestreaming, and live timing.
First off, let me state that this commentary is no way a challenge to the current board of the DSTS, all of whom I congratulate for being willing to step up to represent swim coaching in Denmark. It is especially NOT directed again Morten. Morten is a solid coach, a really good person and totally committed to swimming. His love of the sport is obvious just by talking to him. Nor is it meant to be speaking out against any former chairman or board member of the DSTS. This commentary is also not a slam against the Danish way of doing things. Denmark is a great country. The spoken language drives me nuts, mind you, but that is my failing, not Denmark’s.
No, this commentary is certainly not a slam against anyone personally.
This commentary is a personal perspective from a former coaching “union activist” in a different country, one who has seen and helped, in some small manner, both an overall coaching association for mutli-sport coaches and a national coaching association. And I have coached several sports: softball, rhythmic sportif gymnastics, soccer (football to you Danes) and swimming. I have been certified to national level competition referree, capable of “overdommer” at national championships. I have taught officials courses to chief stroke and turn level, and certified coaching courses for developmental/age group coaches. For decades back home, I was a member of both provincial coaching associations and national coaching associations. Therefore, I fully expected to be joining the Danish equivalent when I moved to Denmark.
Now, my situation just might be a little bit different than other coaches’, due to the fact I am a foreigner and Danes tend to disregard foreigners in general. You are a clannish lot, you Danes, with good reason. In a country as small as Denmark, you have to be careful. That is understood. And I make no claims to being better, brighter, bigger, smarter, stronger etc etc than anyone else. Many people are better, brighter, bigger, smarter, stronger etc than me. I sort of doubt that many are more mouthy than me, but that is just “the way I are” (cue Timbaland, please). BUT…
I am not a member of the DSTS nor do I think I shall be in the foreseeable future. I was last year. I tried it and will not get my club to foot the bill for such again, not until some major changes are made and judging from the sounds of the recent interview that might be a while. I am instead a member of the BSCA, British Swim Coaches Association, and WSCA. Being part of a professional association is mandatory in this line of work.
CODE OF CONDUCT, STATEMENT OF ETHICS
Why Britain? Well, let’s start off with the fact that the BSCA at least has a code of conduct and statement of ethics that all members must both agree to when they sign up and actually adhere to during their term of membership. Does the DSTS? Nope. Why not? Professional associations have such things, especially education-based professional associations. Swim coaches mostly work with children. Children are a nation’s most precious resource and those who work with them must be guaranteed to have impeccable morals and ethics and be willing to be bound by legal agreements.
So why not?
There was discussion a few months ago on this very topic. It was felt that there was no way to enforce such a thing and furthermore, no desire to enforce it. Why not? The DSTS has no weight other than “peer pressure”: a stern gaze from a more senior coach in your general direction, perhaps a general shunning by your fellows and maybe being put in a figurative “bad boy” corner for an hour.
Why does it have no weight? Because DSTS is not recognized by the national sport governing body as a valid professional organization, apparently. It is recognized to exist, mind you, sort of like we know winter comes every year and we get ready to get through it, without letting it impact our daily lives very much. The lack of desire to enforce it really puzzles me, though, and disturbs me. If one is unwilling to have a code and statement in place, is one implicitly stating one has no desire to be bound by such agreements?
Part of “competency of the individual trainer” (did I translate that right? I think so) is being willing to have your actions held to an overall standard of expectations, not merely in education, but in ethics as well. DSTS is unwilling to push for this to occur, therefore in my opinion, it will never be a “real” professional association. However, the real professionals in coaching are quite willing to have such standards in place. In fact, they already adhere to the mostly unwritten coaching code of conduct that crosses international boundaries and have no issues with this very basic part of professionalism being part of their membership in an association.
Why not push it through, take a real position on conduct and ethics, and do it? Why not insist that, as in ANY profession, we as coaches must be bound to legally enforcable standards of our own free will? That is part of being a professional association. If a member of the public or one of our clients or customers has a complaint about our conduct, they take their complaint to our professional association for adjudication. Why not make it happen? Strangely though, I do not think it is the DSTS’s “fault” this does not exist. I think it is a general membership fault for not expecting these things.
So, strike one against being a member is:
Lack of a statement of professional conduct and ethics to which all members are legally bound to follow.
TRAINER CERTIFICATION AND EDUCATION
the things that make a really good coach, shall we, the qualities that boards
want to see in their staff and that head coaches should be trying to develop
with their assistants. This list, by the way, is a direct copy and paste from
Wayne Goldsmith, from this article:
Now let’s do what Goldsmith says and identify what coaching courses and coach training teaches us, as sports coaches. We come up with one single item on that list: Technical/tactical/strategic.
No coaching course available in Denmark, or in most countries, teaches coaches the important thing, either: how to actually coach. The courses teach WHAT to coach, based on sports science and I ask you:
Maybe teaching coaches HOW to coach would be more effective than a plethora of sports science-based principles that have no bearing on developing really good swimmers with a solid foundation in technique on which to grow? How many of those same coaches can explain a law of motion to a 10-year old and how it applies to freestyle? How many can explain that same law to an 18 year old?
Goldsmith on out-dated coaching education methods now:
Go read point three in his article. Read it again. And think while you read. It is about competency-based training for coaches.
Guess what? It doesn’t work.
Define competency-based, go ahead, I dare you. Are you a competent coach if you have 20 swimmers at national championships? How about only three, but all three take medals in every event they swim? Are you competent in your profession if your swimmers have a 2% absence rate annually, attend every competition and make a best time every time they hit the water to race, even if they never get to nationals or win a medal of any sort?
Define “competent”. And then try ensuring all coaches working with X-level of swimmer meet the same standards. It is impossible. The administration of such a system is monsterous and a country the size of Denmark is incapable of managing the HUGE amounts of administration involved in running a competency-based coaching education system. Yet we persist in running coaching education and certification processes that are “competency-based”.
mirrors by rubbing a brick against a stone wall lately? Didn’t think so.
But again, this is not the fault of the DSTS. They have very little input into what a swim coach actually needs to learn at different stages of their career. The DSTS is pretty much forced to support whatever is out there. That still doesn’t make it good.
Now let us
read part 2 of Goldsmith on coaching education and training:
Scroll right down to the bottom and read point 10. Read it several times. Now think about any coaching course you have taken in the past five years (if you have even been coaching that long). Tell me which course actually taught you HOW to coach, how to communicate, how to be passionate about this sport, how to create enthusiasm in your swimmers week to week, month to month, year to year. Which course taught you volunteer management, how to prepare an annual budget proposal, how to deal with the inherent politics of amateur sport that occur at every level of the sport?
None of them.
There is more to coaching than just slapping a work-out down in front of your swimmers, but there are very, very few educational opportunities in sport that teach a coach how to deal with the rest of coaching. And how many coaches leave the pool deck saying: “I just want to COACH!”
There is far more to coaching than being able to determine PHV, or cruise intervals, or all the other sports science content of each and every coaching course. Don’t get me wrong: biomechanics are a passion with me. Sports science is pure geek-speak as far as I am concerned and I love it. I pack around a very special heart rate monitor/pace machine that most of you have probably never seen, and never will. I use spreadsheets, calculators, simulations, subscribe to sports medicine journals, the whole nine yards. I love sports science.
But there is so very much more to being a competent coach than any course we currently have in Denmark will teach us. I, for one, refuse to attend (or send my staff to attend) any coaching education that tells me something cannot be done when I have darn well been doing it, and doing successfully, for twenty some-odd years (Do I teach butterfly and breastroke to little ones, despite what learn to swim instructors get taught in Denmark? Why yes, yes I do. No you can’t do that! It breaks them! Yes, if you teach it stupidly, it does, so learn how to do it right).
Is it DSTS’s fault this does not occur however? No. There are very few places in the world proper coach education is delivered and takes a brave, forward thinking organization to step off the known path. Denmark is not at that stage yet, but it will get there.
So, again in my opinion, the second reason for not having a DSTS membership is:
Lack of progressive leadership in developing
and implementing relevant coaching education programs. Lack of any plans to
move in that direction.
PROFESSIONAL ASSOCIATION STATUS
Any profession association has status as “official”. It becomes so because practitioners of that profession are required to be members prior to receiving a license to engage in that profession. This is not the Danish concept of “union”, something you join to primarily receive unemployment benefits at a cheap monthly fee. A professional association is VERY different from union membership.
Unions negotiate national pay standards, lobby the national government for changes to professional requirements, provide unemployment pay in the event a member in good standing suddenly becomes out of work, etc. They can be called upon to back a member in any employer dispute. They CAN include a similar mandate as a professional association, but usually do not.
Professional associations have standards they expect members to follow. They engage in discussions with employer groups, other national associations and represent outside national boundaries. They are publically recognized as the official voice of their professions. They too lobby the government, negotiate fees, provide health insurance policy membership, regular newsletters/conferences/seminars/learning opportunities. For many professions, you cannot practice unless you are member in good standing of your professional association. They are generally part of a global professional association, to ensure standards within the profession are coherent from country to country across the world. Being part of a union is a personal choice, but being part of the association is mandatory.
reasoning of a membership base not being large enough would be eliminated as an
excuse if every coach who worked with a licensed swimmer in Denmark were
REQUIRED BY THE NATIONAL SPORT GOVERNING BODY to be a member of the DSTS.
I would really like to know the reason why this is not the case in Denmark. And no, “We do not do it that way” will not suffice as a reason. Who is afraid of a power shift if the DSTS had an actual national voice, backed by a strong membership, with money in the bank?
Having a lawyer to advise on coaching contract development is not enough of a reason to join an association. And if I, as a foreigner, can come into a strange country where I do not speak the language and then write staff appraisals, ask for and expect to be appraised formally (360 degree feedback, buzzword time), learned the Salaried Employees Act, all without benefit of a newsletter and in under 18 months… how hard can it be for a local person who does not have to translate on the run and grew up with the system? We can find that information freely on the internet with a simple Google search. Give me more reasons. Real ones. Don’t expect people to pay for what they can find for free.
So point three for not being a member of DSTS would be, in my opinion (note how I stress that please):
Lack of desire to actually become a professional association.
So, Ms Mouthy Thinks She Knows It All Obnoxious How Dare You Speak Out Loud Female Foreigner Who Knows Nothing About Jante Law (with overtones of “Get back in the kitchen” and “If you don’t like it here GO HOME!” and “You are just a CLUB COACH and therefore have no right to express an opinion because you obviously are not competent enough to have one yet” tossed in there for good measure), what WOULD make you join the DSTS?
Glad you asked. Here we go:
And the final one, the hardest one to stomach that does not exist: Passion to promote the art of Coaching Excellence.
Swimming is an extremely competitive sport. There is no room for “cozy”. There is no room for “cute”. There is no room for wishy-washy, don’t rock the boat a little bit is good enough stuff. An association that is not prepared to be the best it can be, that is not willing to be an active voice, that is not prepared to be competitive to world standards to support coaches striving to be world-class AND coaches who love coaching grassroots level is simply not an association that I will permit my club to spend its hard-won money on.
Give me passion. Give me drive. Let me see the need to develop into something one can hold up as a leadership example in sport and yeah… I will join again, and give whatever I have to that association to help it reach sporting excellence.
Show me exactly what we expect of our swimmers in terms of desire and attitude and then, maybe then, I will believe DSTS is serious in its plans. Then, maybe then, I can with a clear conscience, pay the membership fee, sit back at conferences and seminars, and learn from the experts around me.
Until such a time, however, I will join a foreign coaching association that meets my criteria for what a professional organization is, spend my time searching the net for chances to learn, speak with coaches in Denmark I respect (and some of them I respect highly, just maybe not the ones that would first come to mind), get my professional development outside the country and deliver relevant coaching education (what to coach, when to coach it and how to coach it) to my own staff. It is with regret I say that, too. I would really prefer to not have to do all those things.
would prefer to be a member of a strong, active, defined Danish professional
association. There is so much good here in Danish swimming. Give the coaches a strong association to help them make it even better. Please.
Holbæk Svømme Klub
I am a
Moreover, I am a female coach in a male dominated segment of the profession.
And you know what really bothers me about this profession? I, as a coach who is not-male, have to choose between showing solidarity with other female coaches (raise the Fist of Empowerment here please) or getting hard-core, heavy duty scientific and technical information overload when I attend many conferences.
Do I go for tea and crumpets and cozy togetherness sharing sessions with women coaches from other sports and clubs to discuss how women coach differently than men and how to integrate more women into the upper levels of coaching? Or do I pick the option where all the excitement is going on in the conference room across the hall and the discussion is focussing on the latest trends in biomechanical analysis?
Do I go to the session on mental preparation for women coaches, led by some dude who starts out by insulting attendees with sexist statements about how most of us are incapable of understanding what he is going to be saying (yes, actually went to something like this once, got up and walked out within the first ten minutes too. My tolerance level for condenscending jerks was pretty low that day, I think)? Or do I dive into the glorious mathematics of strokes?
let me think. What to pick?! Anyone who has ever spoken with me for longer than
15 minutes could probably predict my selections. I am not much into tea and cannot tell a crumpet from a niblick.
But my question is this: why do women coaches have to face such choices in the first place? Men sure don’t. I have yet to see a coaching stream with a male option for strictly male issues in coaching. Coaching is simpler for the guys. I bet a male coach never even considers gender differences in coaching. Women have to consider it though.
“Whatever women must do they must do twice as well as men to
be thought half as good. Luckily, this is not difficult.”
Charlotte Whitton said this. She was a bit of a (very) vocal early feminist in Canada and actually pretty controversial. I cannot say that I approve of many of her statements and positions, and I certainly disagree with the last part of her memorable quote there: it can be pretty difficult to be twice as good as some fellows. But the first part there? Yeah, I can agree with that.
I really need to point out that I did not start out cognizant life thinking I was going to be held back because my round squishies were going to be placed a little higher on my body than a guy would find his. It took a few years of coaching to discover that the boys were getting promotions while the girls were kept with the babies because “guys don’t deal well with the little ones and you girls do”.
Really. Soooo, because us
“girls” were actually doing the job we were being paid to do, successfully, and
the guys were having a hard time getting the same results, the GUYS get
promoted? Wait a second, something wrong here! But no, not at all. When I went
to the head coach and said “Hey Coach! I applied for that, we had a good
interview and I really wanted that job. When can I move up?” I still remember
the look on his face.
He was shocked.
There were no women coaches for the competitive teams in this club, one of the largest in Canada in at the time. None. How dare I think I was good enough to coach with the men? Well, I am still coaching and he had to flee the country ahead of an angry father (anyone care to guess what this coach did?) and vanished into a new identity before the cops got on his tail. The swimmer moved down to where the coach surfaced a few years later and as far as I know they are still down there.
But anyway, back on topic…
Women in Coaching. Why do we have to choose?
There is this song, a really old one, and done by various performers but probably most famously by Frank Sinatra. It is a bit depressing when you consider that it is supposed to be a retrospective song, but once you get past the first end-of-life maudlin bits, it is a pretty inspiring song:
“I did it my way”… in a previous blog, I touched upon a bit of obviousness that said “if everyone around you is something something one way, and you are doing it another, it is probably not them who are doing it wrong”. Then again, it just might be. But how many people have the courage to stand up and “do it their way” when everyone around them is doing something different? How many people have sort of courage in their convictions?
There are times in a person’s life when they can clearly see the road ahead, see what it will go if they continue along it, and see the paths that branch off into unknown territory. Many times we lack the courage to investigate those other approaches because we cannot find enough concrete examples of people having gone before us to use as examples. At times it gets frustrating, because we know, we know in our bones that there is another way, a better way, but we have no one who was willing to buck popular trends and venture out there and show others a way. We need a hero (cue another lovely song here, what the heck here’s the link for it too).
But at times you just HAVE to take those side roads, get away from the mainstream routes of “this is the way we do it here” and run on your own a while. As sports adminstrators, managers, head coaches we cannot rely on an approach that worked 20 years ago in order to get and keep people in our programs. Sure, we might be the only show in town, but that is no excuse for doing it the same way for two long decades. Times have changed, folks, lifestyles have changed, the school system has changed, the options and opportunities for children and families have changed and you know… we need to change along with the rest of society.
NO, DON'T SAY IT!
Change. Oh, that is a dirty word, isn’t it. We don’t like to change how we do things. That means moving outside our comfort zone even when we can clearly see a more efficient method of doing something. “It works the way it is so just leave it alone” is a common excuse (not reason) for not moving forward to embrace contemporary realities of family life. In case it is not obvious, the major of our swimmers live with their families and are under the age of 18. Isn’t it sort of, well, dumb, not to make programming more readily fit into increasingly busy family lives?
Changing programming means changing how the coach delivers information. Oh wait… if our coaching education courses haven’t changed how can we change how we deliver information? Guess what? More work. Work work work, hello boys! (Ten points to anyone who can tell me what movie, and who said it, that line comes from.)
So, for example and I will use the situation out here as that example and no, I am not saying it is the best way, or only way, but it is A WAY (and it is my way, as change can be, must be, a very personal matter to initiate), to show what we are doing out here to update our service delivery and move into a more client-focussed environment:
And here is the big one:
It’s a lot of work. It has to be, because we are going off the main road and into the bush with this. It isn’t off-road for me, as I am doing no more than bringing best practices to my club, that have been garnered from other countries and through 26 years experience as a professional coach. It is off-road for my club and I am honestly humbled by their faith in my ability to do this, their support and encouragement and their honest feedback along the way.
The changes we are implementing are working. In
pure registrations alone on the competitive side of the club, we have added
over 25% to our age group programs and our triathlon program has just exploded
at all ages. For number crunchers: the total number of starts 2009-2010: 1575. The total number of starts
2010-2011: 2765. Annual PR %: 83%, or
2295 starts were personal records last season. To put it in just numbers: 2295 starts
out of 2765 were personal records.
There were 500 more personal records set
during the first year of our change management process than the previous year,
where things done the same as the year before and the year before that.
Change works. It brings results.
Sure, we don’t have Sigma’s age group program (or their numbers) or ESE’s seniors (or their numbers). We never will. We are a single pool, rural club, community based. We are not VAT, KVIK, or any of the big names. We cannot, and will not, do it their way. It doesn’t work like that. “But you don’t have big names at DMs! No iTUP, no junior national team” etc etc, blah blah. Yeah, we do. And will have. Watch it happen. And for the record, that is not ego-speak there. I cannot remember the last time I said that and it did not come true.
However, we can, will and are, doing it our way. We have to. We have to change to do it like this and we are having a whole lot of fun changing. Our clubhouse is almost always noisy. Homework club has been running for about a year now. Breakfast club, too. Hot chocolate after winter morning practices is our newest “tradition”. Everyone crowding around the kitchen counter after practice to share fruit and post-practice munchies is great fun too. Swimmers and their parents are just hanging out in the clubhouse because it has become a cozy, warm place to spend time. It is home and we are family.
Changes, eh? Not all of them are so hard to swallow.
You are welcome to come to the next set of changes, during week 42, if you are in town. I will be running a series of stroke clinics that will include physiology, biomechanics, sports psychology (for strokes?! Oh yes!) and practice in the pool. One of the clinics is on planning and periodization for age group swimming. You do not need a degree in science to understand the physics and math behind the strokes. If my 12 year olds can understand it, so can coaches. You do need to be comfortable in English however. The first clinic will be freestyle and backstroke, the second will be breastroke and butterfly, and the third is planning. Each are two to 2.5 hours in length, swim suit required, and offer hands on work with experienced age group swimmers. They will run from kl. 16.30 to 19.00 on 18 and 20 oktober, and kl. 10.30 – 12.30 for the planning and periodization clinic (no swimming) on 22 oktober.
If anyone wants to come, just drop me an email at michelegreb (at) gmail dot com by 10 oktober please. There is no cost aside from getting out here plus you get refreshments and printed materials during the clinics.
OKAY, SO TELL US WHY?
Why all these changes?
Because I was hired to do a job. I am the Head Coach. Winning is good, absolutely, but there is only ever one winner and I have many swimmers in my club. Not everyone will be first, but everyone CAN perform to their maximum individual potential. It is my job to help them discover the path to being their own best, to teach their coaches how to do this, and to create and sustain the culture that enables it. For those few who can reach the top, it is my job to provide the absolute best high performance environment to support and help develop their individual talents and goals. And I can never forget that I have chosen to coach swimmers under the age of 20, who have education, friends, a social life to learn about and develop, and an adult personality to grow into. I do not coach swimmers; I coach people who must become adults one day. I was hired to do whatever it takes to ensure a high performance management system is in place to support and develop the needs of my club, my staff, my teams and the individuals who are part of those.
And all that means managing the process of change. It’s my job.
I had an
interesting practice with my age groupers tonight. They didn’t swim much
distance, but I think they learned a couple of very important things tonight in
a way that finally made sense to them. I thought I would share practice tonight with you because I saw it as important thing out here, in my little club. I wouldn't mind if others were to share some "light bulb" moments of their own, either.
The Bank of Swimming
Last season, I kept on telling my swimmers: You get out of it what you put into it.
We know about Danske Bank, Sydbank, Nordea, and many others. Well, there is the Bank of Swimming, too. And, just like any other bank, deposits made regularly to it accrue interest that you can withdraw at a later date. You get out of it what you put into it, plus a bit more.
finally made sense to these youngsters.
Training was what they deposited into their bank account. If they deposited 50dkk, they would maybe have 2dkk of interest when it came time to withdraw and race. But if they deposited 200dkk, there would be a lot more, especially if every time they went to make a deposit they could put in that amount. We spent about ten minutes talking about that and then I made them do a fairly tough, but short distance, set to some pretty tough stroke standards, while thinking about how much they were depositing to their bank account.
And darn it all if that set was not one of the best I had seen them do since I started coaching this club. Now, I have been coaching a while, and I am not all that easy to impress any more, but I have to say: they impressed me. Some of them put a pretty hefty amount into their account tonight from that set. And it tied into the main topic of the night…
Inspiration vs. Motivation
I started practice by informing my swimmers that I was not here to motivate them. They looked at me in shock. Nope, I am not. Motivation is intrinsic, personal, a me-myself-and-I thing. If a person does not have motivation, no one else can give it to them.
Lies, I hear you shout! Nope. Listen up:
is what makes do something.
Inspiration is what makes us do it better.
As a coach, I can inspire my athletes to dig deeper into their motivation and try harder. But it is motivation that gets a swimmer out to the pool at 5 in the morning when the wind is howling, the snow is up to their knees and it is pitch black outside. Once they are at that pool, it is my job to provide enough inspiration to my swimmers to support their motivation to keep dragging their tired butts out for the rest of the week.
Motivation leans on inspiration when it gets tired or worn down. Inspiration provides a breeze that fans the flames of motivation.
But what about all those job postings that are always looking for a great motivator? Well, they will never get it, but they might land a great inspirator (is that even a real word?), someone who can create visions that fan the flames of motivation into a raging inferno. There is a huge difference between motivation and inspiration.
Deposits to the Bank of Swimming are Inspiring
What I saw
happening with my swimmers tonight was a bunch of tiny lightbulbs going off
when they started making the connection between working harder to make a bigger
deposit and the inspiration that happens when they discover that hey! I really
COULD do that tough set! Wow!
And motivation soars.
I want to try it again!
And you succeed.
Inspiration fills you and feeds the motivation to keep trying harder, keep making those larger deposits because suddenly, it made sense.
It is not easy getting through to athletes when the base languages are different, especially when they are young athletes. You can try and try to find something that makes sense in words they can understand, ideas they can understand, and that can be difficult enough with just one language in use.
So as far as I am concerned, a major deposit to my own account in the Bank of Swimming happened tonight and I am so terribly relieved! Inspiration supported motivation, even for a coach. The interest on my own deposit showed up immediately and you know, it was worth it to give them a couple of sets that were still about two months too hard for them, and watch them prove their motivation to themselves.
It was a great practice tonight? How was your’s?
Politics and Sport
It’s a fact of life. The politics of sport, be it amateur or professional, exists and it is a multi-headed beast of ferocious proportions. You cannot escape it, you cannot avoid it, you can try to ignore it, but it will still affect your daily coaching life no matter what. The best thing you can do is grit your teeth and learn how to put it to work FOR you, instead of letting it run you.
Let’s start by looking at exactly where you will find politics in sport. Actually, it is hard to find where you will NOT find it, but anyway… let’s give it a go:
The thing is: Politics in sport is not some nasty, backroom, underhanded activity where people slink around and make secret deals then laugh at the misfortune of others. It is all a perfectly normal part of daily interaction in sports and as soon as you start thinking of it that way, it becomes easier to manage the politics of others.
IT'S JUST WORDS
Politics is not some super-secret knowledge. It is a form of communication. Those who are gifted at communicating with others make great politicians, whether they know it or not. Think about listening to a presentation somewhere. There is a person up there speaking their heart out, providing charts, examples, studies, the whole nine yards, trying to convince you, the audience, that their position is correct and that you should support and follow their plan of action.
You are more likely to support and follow them if they have provided convincing reasons to do so. They will have found those reasons by knowing who their target audience members are and being able to present material that will be logically and emotionally appealing to that audience. They will get their way because they have researched the situation and customized their approach to a specific demographic. The approach would change if they were talking across the table to financial backers, or lawmakers.
Is the presenter thinking about being political? Probably not. Most folk are not aware of the politics surrounding their actions and words and that is a shame. If you KNOW how to play the game of politics you can put it to work FOR you, incorporate specific tactics to achieve your goals in an efficient and benevolent manner. Benevolent, yes, that means in a way that will result in a situation that is as close to win-win as possible. Win-win results, over time, smooth your path and make getting the bigger ticket items so very much easier.
Yes, politics can get down and dirty. So can competition on the playing fields. But if you, as a sports person, have the experience at being an active participant in the politics of your specific sport, then it is unlikely you will ever find yourself a target of negatively applied politics.
So stop thinking about sports politics like it is a dirty little secret and start noticing all the ways it is in your daily coaching life. Then go out and use it as a tool to assist you, help you reach your goals, and further the development of your club, your sport and ultimately sport in general.
~ Swimmer centred. Coach directed. Volunteer supported. ~
New Season! Ready… Set… Go!
It is the start of a new season once again. Time to review the annual plans (you do have more than one, right?), go over your professional development selections (hmm… Lund, the USA or Australia?), review the notes you made during last season, and set up meetings with swimmers and board members for this season.
Oh wait… you are recycling what worked last year because if it worked why change it? I suppose your swimmers have not grown over their season break. Or that you have exactly the same budget as last year? And that you will be attending exactly the same competitions on exactly the same weekends as last season. Man, are you ever lucky. Copy-paste planning, how lovely.
So… what about what did NOT work last season? Did you get to do any mental strength training every practice? How about stroke development and correction? Going to do the same thing as last year or will you go over where you left off and continue onwards? What did you NOT do that you really wanted to do but somehow just never got around to doing?
Nothing? Okay, stop reading here and go do something else. For those who are sitting there and trying to figure out the last final bits of what to incorporate into the new season to actually make it new and exciting, so exciting that your athletes young and old will come to each practice filled with energy and a desire to improve… let’s talk.
STOPPING IS NOT AN OPTION
How many times have we told our swimmers that they have to try their best every day in order to improve? How many times have we told ourselves, as coaches that same thing? Not as often, I would wager. “Everything” for a coach means continuous improvement, being as demanding on own selves as we are on our swimmers. Sure, we can do it with a smile and a gentle word, and that is the best way to get a higher level level of performance out of someone than threats, intimidation, yelling and other general unpleasantness. The little quote of "Winners are those who do what everyone else does and then do what everyone else is unwilling to do" holds true for coaches as well as athletes. So how do we go about setting new standards for ourselves, so we can raise the level of performance in our pools?
Let’s start with EDUCATION. Learning is a lifelong process. It can never stop. There is ALWAYS something else out there to learn, always someone else with a bit of information to share that can help us improve ourselves. How about:
Next, let’s think about COMMUNICATION. How can you communicate with your swimmers, their parents, you co-workers and staff, your board, more clearly? There are many options these days: social media networking, email, website posts and the good old-fashioned paper stuffed into a swimmer or parent’s hand at the end of practice.
Do you start each practice with a talk, so swimmers know what to expect out of practice and reinforce their involvement with the process of improvement? How will they know what to expect if you do not communicate with them? Are you banging your head already at the thought of saying the same thing over and over again and getting no results? Well, maybe you are using the same words over and over again and therefore… are blocking your own communication. This year, let’s try to:
Now, how about we move onto GOALS. We have to have personal goals as coaches in order to accomplish several things of vital importance to our athletes. If we do not have our own goals for performance management, our practices and plans will lack energy, focus and drive. Our swimmers will not excel because we are not excelling, as a coach. It is easy to set a goal, too, but all too often we let ourselves get blocked by pretty useless excuses. So this season, why don’t we:
START WITH A BANG, NOT A WHIMPER
If we can manage to start our new season with the same life and energy that we want from our swimmers and by continuing to renew ourselves, to show the vitality and passion for success that all winners show, then it is assured our new seasons will be something to which everyone looks forward.
Bring something new to your pool. Surprise your swimmers with a new skill, drill, set, theory. Talk to them about it and create excitement and energy and involve them. Then follow through and stick to the process of achieving your goals. The year will go by so fast and with so much enjoyment you will regret the advent of next July!
~ Swimmer centred. Coach directed. Volunteer supported. ~
So, I am torn by indecision about what to write next. There are a couple of things I want to discuss (HA! I know you read this, so why not take the next step and actually reply with something? Write in Danish, we can all read that, I promise.) that are stirring around in my brain these days and I just cannot decide. I will probably jump back and forth between them until then end up being one symbiotic entity by the end of this blog. Or maybe not, we’ll see.
Let’s start with planning and periodization. I love it, don’t you? I love writing out the Big Plan, then breaking it down meso by macro by micro to days, times, minutes. I love going back through my decades of records, my lists of my lists, converted once to big floppies, then little ones, ported around from computer to computer, made into CDs, then DvDs and finally, maybe, archived in keeping with the Dewey Decimal System for libraries. It all goes along with the hundreds of scanned and emailed communications I have had with oh… many people… for many reasons, for many years. God bless the master coach from my apprentice year who pounded the need to document everything into me. Playing CYA (cover your ah-hem, so sue me, I am Canadian, we don’t swear in public!) with a paper trail is such a fun game. But I digress! Onwards!
Long-range, short-term, annual, quadrenniel, technical, social, psychological, process, you name it, you can plan for it. Great way to spend your time. Because just like a goal is a dream with a deadline, so too is a written plan. Without having actually put your plans down on paper, or its electronic version, it’s just all air. If you know where you to go, then you need the plan, the map, to make sure you actually get there, right?
Of course right! We all know that by now!
But wait! Wasn’t there that really really great coach at a really big conference the other side of the ocean, last year, that was asked about his planning? He has to have it all planned out to get such incredible results, has to! No other way to get those results! And people wanted him to share his super-special secrets for get the results he does. So, when asked what sort of plans he has, what are they like, he replied something to the effect of “Yeah, I don’t do that”. And of course none of the other almost equally impressive coaches in the room believed him, except for a few rare souls who just leaned back and smiled. A lot of the coaches in attendance couldn’t believe it, they thought he was just unwilling to share his secrets. He was telling the truth, though, and it wasn’t the first time he had said it out loud.
But what if the secret to the incredible successes he has had stem directly from the fact that yeah, he doesn’t do that? What is that was the reason this coach was invited to be a presented at a prestigious international conference? Wouldn’t that be amazing?
See, I am willing to bet there are a lot more coaches out there than are comfortable saying aloud that they do similar. Sure, gotta have a plan, must have a plan, but if your plan says XYZ and you get on the pool deck and your swimmers are in state JKL from something that happened at school, what are you going to do? You going to stick to The Plan? Or are you going to take into consideration something that can have a really negative impact on training that session and work around it?
Hardliners will emphatically state the former. You MUST follow The Plan. That is the only way results D, E and F will be achieved by day Q. Only way, yep, my way. Ignore everything else. Swimmers have to learn to do that to be effective competitors. Yep, they surely do. Never improvise, never deviate.
But the trouble with that is life. How do you plan for a swimmer slipping on the ice and breaking their collar bone at, say, the end of February? Or having a parent that passes away suddenly and unexpectedly? Or any other similar, major, negative life factor? How do you plan for it? You can’t.
If you have a 13 year old obvious talent putting out incredible times, how do you make a quadrenniel plan that takes into account the thousands of changes that occur between age 13 and age 17? Between age 14 and 16? You can’t. If you try, you end up training a nice little robot.
Do you still follow your microcycle plan to the letter when yours swimmers are obviously responding poorly to training due to that virus that is going through their schools, the one that resembles pneumonia? Planning on pushing them into inhibatory overtraining are you? That’s always a fun one to recover from. Did you plan for that, as well?
The reality of coaching is that while you need a plan for how you are going to get from point A to point B, when it comes to working with humans, and not numbers or statistics, a coach has to be pretty flexible and really aware. You have to be able to walk onto your pool deck, take a look around at who is there, assess both physical and mental states, extrapolate and take into account what your plan (your road map) says is optimal, and then go from there. That work-out you spent a couple of hours lovingly crafting right down to the second just might not work today.
The reality of coaching is that we coach people: not machines, not times, not results, but people. If we are coaching for results we are doing it wrong. We are coaching people in the art of competition performance in swimming. The number of really big coaches in our sport who yeah, don’t do it that way, is surprising and man, do I admire them for both having all that knowledge crammed into their heads, to be able to walk into a practice and just know by hundreds of body signals what the swimmers need today most AND for their courage in saying out loud… “Yeah, I don’t do it that way”.
Maybe that is the secret to their success.
Wouldn’t that be amazing?
Now… go read Wayne Goldsmith. He says this so much better than me, and uses less words, too.
will admit, the following is a rant. It is one of the things that, when I
encounter it, make me roll my eyes and wonder about life in general. It is
something fostered by knowledgable educators of swimming, tons of research and
solid age related biomechanical analysis and I still say “No no nonono!” to it
Now, I realize that not all coaches will think my rant is a revelation and that some will read it and go "Wtf is she on about now? She is not saying anything new!" But there will be many more who will read it, gasp in shock and horrow and have their belief that I am a radical, riot-inciting, knowledgeless and uneducated foreigner reinforced. The second sort are the ones who made me scrap the two other blogs I was writing and post this on instead.
Ready? Here we go…
I get so tired of people saying they cannot teach butterfly to little kids because it is “too hard”, that 5-7 year olds cannot learn butterfly.
What is “too hard”? The stroke is too hard or figuring out how to teach the stroke in simple enough terms for a little one to understand? I am pretty certain it is the latter.
Most young coaches are taught that butterfly is hard! It is hard to swim a 200 fly! Well, yes, it surely is, especially when you do not know how to do the stroke properly. So having been told, repeatedly, as young swimmers themselves and then later on in their coaching education, that butterfly is hard (and this can be through direct words and by implication and extrapolation i.e. we only practice fly once a week so it HAS to be hard or we would do it more) this lovely notion of “butterfly is hard” continues from coach to swimmer to coach in an annoying cycle.
And all this nonsense is reinforced by our nifty instant knowledge tool, the internet. Link after link tells us just how hard butterfly is, all the complicated things that go on during it that a swimmer must master in order to do the stroke. Reputable sources for coaching information have DVDs that say “butterfly is hard”. It is therefore perfectly logical for someone to assume that yeah, butterfly is really hard for a little kid to learn.
Well… no, it isn’t, sorry to shock you there. Butterfly is not hard to teach and it is not hard to learn. It is only hard to teach and learn if a coach starts tossing every single bit of stroke technique at a little one and no one learning a new skill, or refining a skill, needs that sort of information. We don’t do it when we teach little ones freestyle, or backstroke. So why on earth would you do it for butterfly?
Here’s a fast hint: three perfect strokes.
Three perfect strokes.
That’s all. You can get 5-7 year olds swimming butterfly, arms recovering over the surface of the water, with the undulation and a lovely, naturally occurring keyhole pull, if all you think about is three perfect strokes.
Sure, swimming a 200 fly is hard work when you are young. It is mostly hard because the foundation of the stroke is laid too late in a swimmer’s training for their muscles to adapt to the difference in motion from freestyle and backstroke. When I see swimmers aged 11-12 just learning how to butterfly I die a little inside. Poor kids. It is so easy to teach fly when the swimmer is itty bitty! Why? Because butterfly can be taught through that wonderful, wonderful method of learning: pictures.
Tell a 5
year old to go swim like a mermaid. What do you get? You get the little mermaid
wiggling through the water then popping their chin up to take a breath and
doing it again. So what if they have very little propulsion? They don’t have
much of that in anything at this age. Get the little one to be a mermaid on
their back, their side, their front, on the pool deck, go wild with it! Tell
them to be a wiggly worm in the water and just watch that body roll happen. It
takes oh, about ten minutes of experimenting and feedback for an itty bitty
swimmer to get that picture in their head of swimming like a mermaid. After two
weeks of this, toss a pair of size-appropriate fins on the little one and then
keep going. Spend two months being a mermaid, three months! Be outrageous and
spend six months!
Gosh, that was hard, yes? Sorry, my sarcasm got away with me there. It isn’t hard at all. That is step one.
Step two is the arms. Gotta have a whole lot of upper body strength to do the arms, yes oh yes. Bulging muscles, reflexes like a cobra etc etc yawn. Let me take you back to your own youth, that carefree time when mom has bundled you up in your snowsuit, big boots, hat, mittens and a scarf wrapped around your face so only your eyes show, then merrily leads you outside to go play in the fresh snow. What do children do in fresh snow?
They sprawl on their back and make snow angels.
Think about that arm action. Got the picture in your head? Now turn yourself onto your stomach and make snow angel arms. There’s your arm recovery right there. Synchronized and simultaneous. For butterfly arms to be legal, one tiny patch of skin on both arms must break the surface of the water during the recovery. Practice snow angel arms with that 5 year old and see what happens. Practice it with joy and enthusiasm and the memory of what it was like to throw yourself into a pile of snow, feel your nose get tickled by the cold and make the best snow angel of your life that winter. From this point on, it is all about joyful practice and letting the body fit things together.
No, do NOT teach that annoying keyhole pull. Ever. Scrub it out of your teaching methodologies! Get rid of it. The keyhole pull is an effect of a properly done stroke and is an advanced skill development for years later. No, do not worry about teaching breathing for at least another year. After all, everyone can hold their breath for three arm cycles, right? Why insist on making this hard to learn? Because butterfly is HARD TO SWIM! No it’s not. Break that habit! Right now! Wiggle wiggle pull, wiggle wiggle pull, wiggle wiggle pull, stop touch bottom and breath and cheer!
See, little ones are really not into bilateral motion so much. That is a learned bit of gross motor skills. When they jump, they jump with two feet, like a kangaroo. When they reach forward, it is with two hands. That “pick me up!” gesture is done with both arms reaching upwards, not one. Little ones start off predisposed to synchronized and simultaneous motions, so why not capitalize on that and start teaching the two strokes that meet that criteria earlier?
But what do we do? We teach crawl (ugh, I hate that word, nowhere in any meet program have I ever seen a 100 crawl listed) and backstroke, both of which require bilateral motions of arms and legs and this is confusing to little ones. Of course it is.
Teach them butterfly first. Teach them breastroke second. Teach them to do three perfect strokes, not a 200 under race conditions. Three perfect strokes. When you are only one metre tall, three strokes is a long way, isn’t it. Once you have three perfect strokes, go to four, then five. Once you hit six strokes, start teaching freestyle and backstroke.
Let’s make a goal to get an entire pool of 5-7 year olds who can do 10m of lovely butterfly without a moment of stress, who have learned that mermaid angel swimming is so much fun, and who come into age group competition with sufficient years of practice in the absolute basics of a stroke to ensure their success. It isn’t hard to swim butterfly when you are little, but it IS hard to teach butterfly properly to little ones. Stop including a bunch of information they will not need to know for years and start focussing on simplfying the stroke to its essential components suitable for a variety of growth and development stages and for gosh sakes start teaching it early.
Butterfly is fun. Stop trying to make the stroke into something it is not.
Butterfly is fun. Period. Do your swimmers a favour and teach it like it is fun.
~ Swimmer centred. Coach directed. Volunteer supported. ~
Wayne Goldsmith is one of my favourite sporting people. I have read him for years and years. Years. He has a blog that is one of my current regular sites and I doubt he will run out of material any time soon. It’s great to read an Important Person saying things in public that WE ALL KNOW TO BE TRUE.
See, that is the thing: he says things we recognize as true and we wonder how he can make it all sound so easy. Take change management (for example):
Read through it, open it in a new window and then ask yourself how many of those 10 reasons have you heard. I have heard all except #6 and #8 since my arrival onto a Danish pool deck. Now, no one can ever accuse me of not knowing the sport (excuse #6) and no one has said #8 within my hearing. I assume someone has said it somewhere in Denmark about someone though. It is a super common excuse for not doing something.
Please note that I am saying “excuse” not a reason. A reason is a valid, logical, quantifiable state which prohibits something else from occurring. An excuse is just a slacker way of avoiding work. A parent would never say to a child “Stop making up reasons!” but rather will say “Stop making excuses!” We all know the difference.
So sit and think about the excuses for not starting a change process when it is perfectly recognizable that change is required somewhere. No? Too uncomfortable to do? Why would that be? I mean, many many people involved in very respected activities in Denmark absolutely recognize that changes are required. Some have spoken out for change; some quietly sit in their own private little empires and keep their mouth shut. Same all over the world, nothing unique here at all.
The thing is that when change is required and there
are those who are not willing to take the risks needed to make changes for the
betterment of a performance environment then you get a stagnant sporting
culture that eventually stops performing. Nice job that, stopping change
because you do not want to upset the apple cart, or because you want to protect
Change makes humans uncomfortable. We like routine. We like stability. We like things JUST THE WAY THEY ARE, thanks kindly. We like it even when we know we could be doing something better, if only we would change.
Take a risk. Dare you. Take a deep breath and step outside your box, re-align that paradigm, float that balloon, I don’t care which buzzword you use (and look at how many words we use to disguise the process of change!) as long as you just do it. Come on… what have you got to lose? Start small! Change the flavour of yogurt you eat in the morning. There you go! Keep doing that for a while and soon you will be ready to handle some of the tougher change situations, like… no, won’t go there right now! I will be off and running if I start in on THAT again right now.
Righto, deep breath, and onto another one of Wayne Goldsmith’s blogs, this one about high performance sport. And really, folk should go read what he considers to be a high performance environment. You would be surprised, I am thinking. Anyway, go read the following please:
Please note that nowhere in that article does he mention tangible results in terms of medals, record times, etc.
Just a second… would that mean the Fill-In-The-Blank Swim Club the next town over could actually be creating a high performance environment WITHOUT any national team members? (Collective gasp here, please.)
Yep, it surely could mean that. But take a look at the number one non-negotiable statement. Guess what? Yeah, I know, don’t you love it? Here, let me quote it here:
High performance sport is about change.
Wait what? But we don’t LIKE change! We don’t do it that way here! You don’t understand, it is obvious, tsk.
Oh, I think I understand. And furthermore, I think every person in Denmark who has ever spoken up and encouraged change understands too, and probably a lot better than those who (and I don’t even know who those people might be, so please don’t think I am singling anyone out here, because I am not) refuse to support change and the management thereof.
Don’t you think it is sort of minorly interesting, at least, that ensuring a high performance environment means accepting, embracing and actively seeking to change? What is change anyway, after all, but growing and learning? How can a person, an organization, a culture, refuse to grow and learn and thus become smarter, more capable? What sort of utter arrogance is it that would conclude that there is no need for learning, growing, and changing? Is there an assumption that things are perfect already and thus there is no need for further growing and learning? That would be a scary thing to contemplate.
Change is growth. It is life. It is a state of transformation from one stage to the next. If you are never willing to change, then you will never reach the next level of performance. That is just bloody obvious. If you only ever swim 3000 meters at END-1 level, then you will never get better will you? So why the heck should anyone assume that it is any different when you are out of the water?
Change is growth. It is life. Without growth there is no life. Look around you and see it in every facet of life.
So why should swimming be any different from the rest of life?
~ Swimmer centred. Coach directed. Volunteer supported. ~
From a purely personal perspective, I decided I needed a wish list, hence the title of this "episode" because I will probably get some of these wishes when pigs can fly. I am tired of a list of Must Have, Should Have, Would Be Nice to Have, and wanted a list of flat out dreamy, lazy summer weather sitting in the sun with a cool drink wish list. So, here we go!
… that everything that needs to be organized gets organized with enough
time to plan around matters properly. Now granted, not everything needs to be
planned months in advance, but I wish that the Quadrennial Events be planned well,
obviously on a quad cycle; Annual Things would be planned a year in advance;
the Seasonal Regularities be planned a season in advance; and then the rest can
sort themselves out from there. This let’s organize major stuff two weeks, or,
heaven forbid, less time, in advance just bugs me and makes not a smiley
person. I like being a smiley person. It keeps my blood pressure down. Organize
stuff, then publish it and stick to it. That way everyone knows where they are
going, when they are going and plans can actually be made that do not require
last minute, potentially expensive, changing. Lack of organization just annoys the hell out of me, especially when I am depending on things being organized in a timely manner so I can do my job properly. Smile, Michele, smile, remember that blood pressure!
… that there was clarity, ease of access and logic in being able to access what should be public domain documents. Those are things that tax dollars pay for, so annual budgets for national sport governing bodies would be a major part of this wish. Then I could read, learn, figure out how things worked based on where the money goes. That is pretty important to know, because then you know where priorities lay and can either adjust your own perspective accordingly or fly off the handle (English term for having a hissy fit) and demand that administrative costs drop so that athlete development can go up.
… that we had a hot tub at this pool that parents with little kids and little kids in general, were not allowed to use. That would prevent it from becoming a hot pee pool. Those are bad. But a nice deep 12-person cedar hot tub fed from a geothermal hot spring would be quite lovely, don’t you think?
… and while we are talking about pool facilities, an 8 lane 50m plus those crucial few centimeters for the touchpads by 25m wide and 2.5m deep training and competition pool out the back door here would be just as lovely. One with all the bells and whistles like change rooms that fit 400 swimmers each with lockers; enough toilets to meet the needs of hosting a major competition; showers with a bit of privacy; a full set of touchpads with all the electronics and scoreboards needed for that major competition; an electronic timing booth that was sound insulated and air-conditioned; and… wait a minute, I am talking about the pool I grew up in! Yes, just copy that exactly out the back room of what I currently have, thanks kindly! Include the weight room please.
… that I was as fluent writing and speaking Danish as I am in English. The second part of this wish is that Danish had the same amount of words as English so I would not experience such frustration in my lame attempts to expressing myself in Danish. Again, not good for my blood pressure, this searching around for a word that cannot be translated to Danish without using five or six smaller words that still do not get the thought and/or feeling I am attempting to convey across to a reader/listener.
… that I could find appropriate clothing that did not make me look like some lost, wannabe Swiss farm girl. Really. Business casual, please, suitable for wearing onto a pool deck because while you gentlemen coaches and younger ladies might be able to pull off the tanned, fit, perky physical requirements for working in a tee-shirt, shorts and flip flops, I surely cannot and never have been able to do such! Ruffles, frills, no button down shirts, no pockets and belt loops on trousers are just so not me. Maybe I should get myself a slide rule while I am at it.
… that I understood a lot more about a lot more than I do at present. I want to know “why”. I want to know “how come”. I want to know so I can understand How Things Work better, so I can organize better, plan better, coach better (get my own way better, because if you know How Things Work, then you also know How To Fix Things That Should Be Working Better But Really Aren’t).
I think that is about all on my Wish List, due totally to the lovely Easter weather we have been able to enjoy, I assure you. I’m certain that if the weather had been miserable my list would have had an entirely different tone.
Nice weather is good for my blood pressure.
~ Swimmer centred. Coach directed. Volunteer supported. ~
There are times in a coach’s life when the spark grows dim and the fires low, when the constant struggle to improve one’s profession seems impossible and futile. We work crazy hours and are almost always underpaid for the time, effort, personal sacrifices and experience we willing give to our swimmers, our clubs, and our countries.
In many nations where coaching is actually considered a “real job” (go figure, 60 hour work weeks are not real work) the divorce rate in the primarily male-dominated profession of swim coaching is astronomical. The toll it takes on one’s personal life is extreme. There are few professions with the demands of coaching, so let’s just run through a few of them now to remind ourselves of the perils of the job:
1) Lack of sleep: You get home from the pool at 21:00 and it is 22:00 before you have relaxed enough to get to bed. Whups! There is the alarm, for most coaches by at least 05:00. That is four to five days a week. Saturday you might get to sleep in an extra hour, if you do not have an away competition that means travelling. You finish mornings by 09:00 and then can start the rest of your day. Afternoon practices mean you are back in the office by 15:00. The human body can function fine on six to seven hours sleep, sure, but with split shifts and six-day work weeks?
2) Working weekends: The longest stretch I have gone without a real day off was 17 weeks. That included two major travel competitions and no, resting on the plane is not “time off”. I know coaches who do that regularly. Coaches, during a main competitive phase, have no life other than the pool. No family dinners, no family social gatherings. It’s your child’s birthday? That’s nice, kiss the little one as they start to wake up that morning and hope the competition is done in time for you to get home to tuck them into bed. You want to go to Lalandia? Maybe you can squeeze it in between competitions and regular training.
3) Skillset: Coaches have to know a lot of things about well, a lot of things. We need accounting for budget management; psychology for mental strength training and convincing swimmers to do what we want them to do; volunteer management to work with our boards, committees, officials; crisis management (I once had a swimmer come tell me that me that my top swimmer was being beaten near senseless regularly at home. The allegedly abused swimmer’s parent was my assistant. How many issues can you count in THAT?).
We need to be politically adept to deal with the press, the star-syndrome parents, and the board. We need organizational development skills to set long-term plans for building a healthy culture and club to ensure we have a job five years in the future. This is all before we set foot onto the pool deck to actually coach, by the way, and what I mention here is in no way a complete list. Biomechanics, physics, psychology, physiology, business management, human resource management, the list of skills a good head coach needs is not possible to find in one university degree. Find me a profession out there with similar requirements. You can easily spend 100,000dkk on professional development for swim coaching education. The job is NOT about just walking out onto a pool deck and slapping a program down in front of your swimmers, then strolling home again 2 hours later.
Yet how many coaches in Denmark can prepare a budget submission for the annual planning cycle? How many coaches have any skill at all in giving annual performance reviews (which should be neither annual nor a review and if you have HRM you know that, but how many actually do)? How do you prepare your report for the swim club’s annual general meeting? What do you do when a swimmer tells you they are leaving home, getting a job and can they still keep swimming… and they are 17?
4) Pay and benefits: Denmark is pretty good at ensuring there are safety nets for sick leave, parental leave and unemployment. It’s a small country and this system works well here. Most other countries cannot manage the same system. Hands up though, coaches, and show who has a pension plan, or additional health insurance plan. Travel insurance? Personal liability insurance?
Coaches are pretty lucky in this regard in Denmark. In other countries, coaches are NOT employees. They are contractors: they have personal service contracts with an organization and run their life as a business. In many situations, the head coach bids on the entirety of the coaching, including wages and benefits for assistants, education, competitions etc and is awarded a contract for the management of a club. I cannot see that happening here, except in a very few clubs. Coaches in Denmark have it pretty cushy, in my opinion. Then again, given that most coaches in Denmark are under the age of 30 and doing the job part-time while they attend university, I suppose not much more can be expected. Coaches here are really not taken all that seriously in terms of what they can actually provide, and should be able to provide. More on that in a later blog, though.
Still, most coaches are not paid what they are worth to a club in terms of sheer hours, for a start. No sane coach calculates their annual salary based on an hourly rate. Some clubs still do this “bonus” thingie too, a lump sum payment based on productivity or some other silly notion. Imagine an accountant being given a bonus at the end of the year based on how many annual statements they successfully finished, or how many audits they completed in a year. How about store cashiers, given a bonus for how many customers are dealt with in a day? Not going to happen is it. (Ah, but I can hear you out there! “I like my year end performance bonus!” For what, actually doing the job YOU ARE PAID TO DO and produce results? Amazing… ) Even so, clubs will have a tendency to go with a cheap solution, especially with regard to part or full time head coaches. People forget that, eventually, you get what you pay for and that we, as a human culture, do not have much respect for what we can get free or cheap. You take care of expensive things better, you value them more. Except coaches: then man oh man, we can get THAT one for half the price! And ignore the fact you have to pay for education, experience, skills, talent and the fit to your club culture. You get what you pay for, always remember that. Smart coaches only give what they are paid to do, as well.
There are so very many things that we, as coaches, do that simply must be done. Sometimes we are lucky and have a parent volunteer who really enjoys part of swimming management and is good at it (meet management team) or we have an actual office manager to handle daily business in a timely manner, or a swim school manager (and either/both are paid staff, not volunteers). I also cannot count the number of times I have seen young coaches leave their jobs for something else because “All I wanted to do was coach!”. Oh really... so you thought that all a coach did was just hit that pool deck same as the swimmers and everything else happened by, what, magic?
But because there are so very many things professional coaches MUST do, we can burn out. We are often so near that toasty zone by the end of the swim season that we can smell the ends of our hair starting to crisp. And still we insist on piling more into our already overloaded schedules. Really, if you want something done, give it to a busy person to get done and then walk away. It will show up on the due date at 08:00 and will probably include more than you expected. And then we add in the boards (volunteer parents almost exclusively) who might actually think they know how to coach swimming better than the coach they hired (in some cases, if they have hired for the wrong reasons, they probably can, which is just sad) and micro-manage their head coaches to the point of undermining the training delivered and consequently the results. If a coach is lucky, their board is not like this, but far too many are and this contributes to the high coach-turnover rate in any country.
Even so, these people with incredibly busy lives still reach out to their profession in terms of volunteering for additional, usually thankless, work, in the form of being members of their professional association, a more global association for sport, or by giving clinics and running courses, etc. They can contribute endlessly for years, only to be ignored at almost every level where they are attempting change management that benefits the sporting culture in oh so many ways that one would have to be blind not to see. They will bang their heads, and fists, against walls of bureaucracy, complacency, education or the lack thereof and that totally frustrating attitude of “because we have always done it that way”. These people will hear other coaches complaining non-stop of this or that and yet when valid solutions are proposed the reactions from the complainers are to turn their backs on the solution providers. Burn baby, burn, just one more stick on that fire waiting there for an over-worked coach to step into.
How do we keep coaches from burning out? How do we keep the talent on the pool deck, in the club office? Who coaches the coach, when the spark grows dim and the fire burns low?
We do. We do it for ourselves, we have to. Don’t ignore the ones who are offering solutions to your complaints. You might not feel comfortable stepping forward, but it is certainly possible to show your support privately and then, when push comes to shove, vote FOR the change you privately supported. Don’t abandon those who are willing to give up their limited personal time to help build an organizational environment with professional coaching and the beautiful results that come from having educated, trained, in-it-for-the-long-haul people working with the future of swimming in the country.
Don’t do that to your fellow coaches. Stand by each other, support each other, build with each other. Do this for the betterment of the profession and the effect that has on the standard of training and competition. Don’t let someone do it all by themselves. Support the profession of swim coaching as it seeks to grow and develop in the country because what is good for one person is usually good for many and it is as many that we, as coaches, are strongest. We, as coaching professionals, have enough stress in our lives already. Do not add to a fellow coach’s stress by ignoring them when they step forward with solutions to the complaints you have been voicing all year, and last year, and the year before.
And the stronger we, as a coaching profession are in this country, the stronger and faster our swimmers will become.
In the end, that is the only reason we are here anyway, isn’t it? For the benefit of our swimmers.
Do it for them. Cut bait or fish, folks. Stand up and support people who are willing to raise the flag for the benefit of YOUR job, and YOUR swimmers… and our swimmers, all over the country. Support your fellows, don’t let them give so much they burn out. Support your fellow swim coach.
~ Swimmer centred. Coach directed. Volunteer supported. ~
So… what would you do if DM-L in June were all of two events for your top swimmers? Think about it.
You have worked with your swimmers, written their plans with care, researched the latest trends all year long, kept on top of progress outside the country, put in countless hours dealing with strokes, tactics, training principles, social issues, competitions… and then you get offered two (that is 2, one then another one to make 2) events at DM-L. That’s it, nothing more. There is your Danish Championships!
What would you do?
Guess what? That happened last weekend. And most people didn’t care, which just makes me want to spit. Why didn’t they care? Because it was HANDICAPPED swimmers who were affected, not REAL swimmers, don’t you know.
First off, let’s get into the 21st century shall we and get rid of that disgraceful word “handicapped”. You have a handicap in golf. Maybe. I didn’t, when I played, but I sure have one now. I should probably get some of you out on the links, come to think of it. Anyway, handicapped, that word is just loaded with discriminatory connotations and all sorts of bad stuff. Handicapped means you are ugly, socially unacceptable and should be put off into some special place with rounded corners so you don’t hurt yourself because obviously you are incapable of managing to live a normal life. You are HANDICAPPED, get real.
What rot. Time to get rid of this “blacks to the back of the bus” attitude, folks.
If anyone who was good enough to compete at Danish Open-Trials was offered only two events coaches would be screaming blue murder. It would make headlines in newspapers and television reporters would drool at the chance to get The Big Coaches live on camera to capture their outrage.
First off, let’s bring the actual words up to date, shall we, and join the rest of the top countries in the way we refer to this segment of swimming. After all, we have iTUP, Age Group, Junior, Senior, HANDICAPPED… no wait, that is not even part of DSU, how stupid of me to think it should be.
Para. It is Para. If that is too much of a mouthful, how about IPC, short and sweet. But it is para-swimming, with DSU registered and licensed athletes who usually compete in exactly the same competitions everyone else attends. Except they don’t have the same rights as the rest of the DSU registered and licensed athletes. Why not?
Well, part of it is political, and yes, politics is and always shall be a part of sport. Accept it, learn to deal with it, and get on with it. Sport in Denmark is divided up based on whether or not the participant is disabled (grrrr, that word!). This can be an excellent thing, however. DHIF, the governing body, does a simply great job at getting out there, getting people involved and active and participating. Simply wonderful! Everyone can, and everyone should, be active in something, anything, just get out of the house and get moving. DHIF is amazing in the amount of opportunities it offers to PARTICIPATE in sport. Participation is important.
Competition on the other hand… well, just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should be doing something. Not everyone needs, or should, compete. And this is where the system starts to break down, as I see it.
Once an athlete gets to a certain level, they are no longer merely participating in a sport. Once you start to compete outside your country’s borders and start wearing your country’s name on your clothing, you are no longer merely “participating”. And at that point, an athlete deserves the same rights as any other athlete who represents a country to the rest of the world.
But it doesn’t happen that way here. From start to finish: there are none or too few stroke and turn officials certified to judge to IPC officiating standards; some of the powers that be consider IPC licensed athletes with total disdain and use them as reference when talking about how bad something is; even the software we use does not accept IPC classes as an entry or sort field without adding custom events when setting it up (they are working on it, have been for years now). DHIF-Swimming is its own organization and handles all swimming related matters, not DSU (duplication of funding, administration, etc). And the most telling reason it doesn’t happen that way here:
Apparently, no one really cares. The swimmers are HANDICAPPED. Not real swimmers, don’t you know.
Got news for you, folks… when a swimmer is putting in 20-24 hours of training per week, when they are fast enough to make qualifying times for DMs, when they are European and World ranked, they are very real athletes.
National Team is National Team, be it Junior, Senior, or Para. It is still National Team. It all deserves the same access, the same funding, the same attention, and the same rights, no matter what Team it is. They are DSU licensed swimmers; they train fully integrated with DSU registered clubs. They deserve fully integrated competitions and national team status in DSU. They are… Danish swimmers.
It does not matter what your personal opinion is, the one you tell your wife, husband or partner at home. Discriminating based on physical or mental disability, as well as several other things, is so very bad. Equal rights. Equal access. Equal treatment. Danish swimmers.
The system does very well as it now stands to get people participating in swimming. Truly, I am so thoroughly impressed with the extent of swimming through all facets of Danish society that I cannot say enough good things about that.
But the system breaks down when it comes to elite athletes who require an adaptive training system to enable them to effectively compete nationally and internationally. That has to change. DSU and DHIF-Swimming have to get together and blend the upper end of competitive swimming, for the benefit of the swimmers involved and to ensure all facets of elite Danish swimming receive the same rights, with the same responsibilities accompanying those rights, as everyone else getting on a starting block in this country.
The only way to get this changed is through politics. Team Danmark, DHIF, DSU, DHIF-Swimming have to be convinced it is in the sport and swimmers best interests to have the top level of swimming in one place, in one home. The athletes, all of them, train under the same circumstances. They go to the same competitions during the season. They wear the same name on the back of their national team uniforms. They go out to represent the country for the same reasons, with the same goals: to bring home the medals for their sport and their country.
And they all deserve the same respect, the same opportunities and the same treatment.
They are NOT handicapped.
They are Danish swimmers.
EDIT: I just downloaded the RE file for results of the competition run on the weekend of 29 mar - 3 apr. I cannot see results for para-events in there. I cannot find the RE file on the same site for them. Why oh why are not all Danish swimmer times from the same weekend in the same place? Why does such blantant discrimination get condoned in such a country as Denmark, with its social welfare state and belief that everyone deserves the same treatment... except if you are labelled disabled or handicapped, I guess. The swimmers affected here are DANISH NATIONAL TEAM athletes. Why oh why are they treated like this?
A truism is that if the world around you goes one way and you go the other, it is probably not the world around you that is wrong. In this case, I absolutely believe that there is something wrong with a system that divides its top level athletes into sections whereby one side deserves respect and attention and the other side is expected to be grateful for the few scraps it does get. Surely I am not the only one who thinks this. Surely it is not just me who is out of step with the world around me.
~ Swimmer centred. Coach directed. Volunteer supported. ~
So, Michele, what did you think of Danish Open/Trials? Glad you asked!
For the record, I was the one who said there could have been a bit more time between some events. And while I agree with the reply I received, indeed prioritize events, it is not entirely illogical to assume that a swimmer who can do a 50 can also do a 100, so maybe putting those event distances back to back might have been a less-good format.
On the whole, I loved the competition format. It was an excellently run competition, fast and tight, the best kind. Tougher time standards are delicious, as long as coaches know long enough in advance what the time standards are, mind you. It was great to be able to watch some of the top swimmers in the country doing their thing, seeing their strokes and how their coaches worked with them during warm-ups. Great bit of learning there. With some of the swimmers, you just knew how much time and effort had gone into building that stroke the swimmer took gold with and could not help but respect that degree of commitment to excellence.
In fact, it would have been a stellar opportunity for a coaches’ meeting, what is called a fireside chat back home (mainly because we tend to have a hotel close that of course has a fireplace of some sort or other, and if it doesn’t, we designate a candle as alternate). We need to get used to doing that, coaches. Informal, on-deck talk is lovely, but a group sitting down and touching base, doing the old what’s going on out in your part of the country bit, is missing still. That, by the way, is on my “To Do” list: ensure a Coach Conclave happens regularly, so we can get organized and get moving. Well, someone has to organize it! And I bake well so it would be your loss not to come when invited, trust me.
Anyway, back on topic: the officials were great. Efficient, effective, willing to answer questions, just great. Back office meet management was on the ball too. I have run a few of these things in my time and I know what it takes to make it seem effortless. Major congratulations to the organizing committee for making it all appear effortless.
Now let’s get back to the number of participants, shall we? Tight time standards for getting to a competition are lovely. It keeps a swim meet of that level to the duration it should be. It was a teensy bit distressing to note coaches deciding to keep swimmers at home who could have been there. I mean, really… DM-H more important than Trials for Worlds? I hardly think so, folks. What is DM-H these days anyway? Is it more than bragging rights? Nope. Same as for Age Group Regionals, it is far easier, faster and cheaper to look at national rankings and just add up the points to figure out who the biggest and fastest (note I do not say best, because that is a subjective evaluation, not objective) clubs are in the country.
So where were the seniors who should have been at Trials but were not? The learning experience a swimmer receives competing at Trials for Event “X” is far greater than what is received when competing at a meet with: no qualifying times, no heats-semis-finals format (and it is HARD to keep your brain attached to your body through those three things, teaches a swimmer a LOT about focus and if you do not practice it, you cannot compete with it), and no greater goal than bragging rights and selling the result to your corporate sponsors. If DM-H still meant anything, if the various divisions still had their own competitions during the season, there might be a reason, might. Maybe.
The time standards for making the Worlds team? Hmm hmm… my own personal
preference would be to see them a touch lighter so that the team was maybe two
people larger, maybe three people, but I could argue both ways on this point. Yes,
time standards have to reflect the level of competition for which selection is
being done, but in a developing environment, which Denmark is, it really is better for
the long term development of athletes to get exposure to international
competition. Reading results is all well and good, but it is completely
different to being there and having the whole impact of such a competition hit
one. And swimmers can do the most wonderful things, if they are outside shots,
and properly prepared. At the same time, taking a
not-quite-ready-for-prime-time swimmer somewhere they have not earned the right
to attend diminishes the effort of those swimmers who have earned it. That is
point one. Points two, three and four are equally obvious. Like I said, I could
argue both ways on this. Would I change it if I ruled the world? Sure I would. But I don't so I will just be an armchair quarterback about it all.
There is something else I want to discuss about Danish Open/Trials,
which was the inclusion of para-swim events, but you know… that one deserves a
topic entirely to itself. Yeah, don't get me started right now on that topic.
One the whole, Danish Open/Trials was superb. Keep the format, keep the time standards tight, keep the event smooth. Total win. Well done to all involved in making it happen and thank you very much for your work!
~ Swimmer centred. Coach directed. Volunteer supported. ~
Wow… my own blog. How delightful! Thank you, Simma, I will try not to be too reactionary in my posts. No, scratch that. The title of the blog is “Making Waves” and that title has a history to it with me. So, let me tell you a bit about myself and you might understand why.
First of all, as many people know, I am Canadian. And not-male. And not
a kid any longer, heck, not even young! I have officially marked my formal
mid-life crisis with a pair of “Hello Kitty” headphones for my iPad. I figured
it was cheaper than a candy apple red Ferrari or a trip to Monte Carlo. I am short, round, squishy,
soft, opinionated and I have also celebrated my 25th anniversary of
being a professional coach of swimming in September 2010.
After 11 years as a competitive swimmer, my career ended with a bronze medal in 200 backstroke at Short Course Nationals. I was almost 5 months pregnant (I don’t think the field was too deep in 200 BK that year, frankly. I was a butterflier, not a backstroker. Try doing a 200FLY preggers, dare you). I have poked holes in a lot of “rules” in my time. If the reason for doing something is “just because” or “that is the way we do it” I have started replying “Well, I eat my soup with a fork”. People get the point faster that way.
I have hosted my own television series, called (what a surprise) “Making Waves”, for a year back home. It was great fun. It focused on swimming, coaching, the development of coaching and similar. I was the first Canadian coach to receive an NCCP Level 3 coaching accreditation without having any senior national finalists, due to my work with age group swimming. Just a couple weeks ago, my first swimmer to set age group records saw the last of his breastroke records fall… after 14 years. I still feel incredibly privileged to have been able to work with a swimmer of that caliber at that stage of my career.
One of the things I love the most is being told, in public and in front of witnesses, that I cannot achieve a thing after I have said it is one of my goals. (The flipside of this, however, is one the little ”Things to Remember Before You Open Your Mouth” rules: Say what you mean and mean what you say). Love it. What a challenge! When I was starting up the first new club in 20 years back home, I was told it couldn’t be done. No one had done it in recent memory, therefore I would fail. I went out and found the biggest corporate sponsor a swim club could possibly have (the Canadian military), sent out my proposal and advertisements, pissed off the biggest club in the city by getting them kicked out of a pool I wouldn’t be ready to use for 7 months, forced an acceptance vote at section, turned down an offer to hand my brand new club over to that biggest club in exchange for a job with them… making waves, oh yeah. Good thing I know how to swim.
At 18 months of age this club, that I was told in public I would fail at creating, that could not succeed, was the number one small club (we had 1 x 12 yr old girls’ relay and one 12 yr old boy and one senior female sprinter coming back off a blown shoulder from, guess who.. that “other” club at the competition) in an inter-provincial club championship, short course. Yes, there were qualifying times to get to this championship. No other small club could beat us for points, none came close. We never did a workout over 3,500m and had trained for half that time in a 25 YARD pool. No, long course pools are not required to training properly. At the start of year three, we were the second largest club in the province, running two pools full-time. Sometimes, you shouldn’t tell people they cannot do something, in public. Sometimes… you should.
Life has gone on from there. Now, I often cringe in horror when I remember the young radical I once was, about how I would just charge in and start laying waste to the politics around me without thinking there might be a smoother, easier way to achieve my goals. I have learned a lot since my early days. I was stupid pretty often then. I try not to be stupid these days. Some days I am better than others at that. What can I say? I am human. Very human.
That is a bit about my background. I don’t like tooting my own horn and I really don’t think what I have done in my life (including the coaching awards, the swimmers that have been sent out of my age group programs and within 2 years been medaling internationally, the many many records still on the books from my swimmers) to be extraordinary. I think anyone could do it, if they wanted to do it enough. Others have. Others will in the future. There are many coaches I have been delighted to meet who are brilliant, gifted, talented, extremely well-educated, vastly more experienced… I am in awe of them all and I will happily soak up the tiniest bits of learning from them and consider myself lucky. I do not consider myself either gifted or brilliant. I am just too stubborn to quit. I am not special or better than anyone else. There are many many better coaches than me. But I have been in this sport since 1971. That is forty years. Things add up over that long a period.
And I still love it, the art and sport of swimming.
With this blog, I hope we can share some of the love, the passion, the frustration, the brilliance and the laughter we find in our incredible sport. I hope that, when I write out a flaming opinion, you will remember that I am not new to swimming, that I just might have an idea about things. Feel free to disagree with my words, please do! I support the right of everyone to be able to freely express a considered adult opinion without fear of being called bad names. Agree or disagree with the WORDS, not the person. The person is always safe. The words however… agree or disagree with those.
So, in the spirit of competition, I welcome you to this blog, titled very appropriately: Making Waves. Thanks again, Simma!
~ Swimmer centred. Coach directed. Volunteer supported. ~