On Tuesday and Thursday nights, I work as an assistant coach for a USS team based in Lebanon, New Hampshire. I love working with the kids, but what I REALLY LOVE is working with the kids who WANT to be on swim team, but aren’t quite ready. We call them The Rookies, and Rookies Rule. We give them their own special time in the pool (45 minutes on Tuesday and Thursday before swim practice starts) and they get a higher coach-to-swimmer ratio than the regular team (I have help from another assistant coach and one of the older swimmers on the team). These kids don’t even realize it yet, but they are the true future of our Swordfish Swim Team, and they are every bit as strong a team as The Team.
The Rookies shown here are our most recent graduates, and most will be joining summer swim team next week. This has been one of the best groups of kids that I have ever worked with. I enjoy spending time with them, I love getting in the water with them, and I find myself trying VERY HARD to impart knowledge to them and to make it FUN. I have learned a lot about swimming from them, and a lot about myself as a Coach. What makes them so special? Why have I found myself trying harder than usual to teach them?
#1. They pay attention! OK. They don’t ALWAYS pay attention. There aren’t very many 6- to 9-year olds that ALWAYS pay attention. But this group has done an exceptional job. They don’t spend (too much) time under water. I don’t have to shout (too often) to get their attention. I don’t have to ask them (more than once) to look me in the eyes when I’m talking. And they (almost always) know what they are supposed to do when they push off the wall. If they don’t, I’ve learned that it’s usually my fault for not making things clear enough. In short, they are a joy to work with, and the fact that they listen so intently allows me to deliver more information and allows them to cover more ground in a short period of time. As a result, they have made terrific progress in just 11 sessions. What can older swimmers learn from the Rookies? If you are part of a team, you will get more information and feedback from your coach if you and your teammates are quiet and pay attention when Coach is trying to talk. You may have the most brilliant coach in the world, but if Coach has to constantly fight for your attention, or has to SHOUT to be heard, Coach won’t feel much like imparting that knowledge and feedback on a regular basis.
#2. They show up on time and come to every session. This should be a given, but I can’t tell you how many Rookie groups I’ve had (or how many swim-team groups) where the members don’t show up on time or where they miss lots of sessions. In a teaching situation, showing up on time and for every class is essential. It’s at the beginning of class that the swimmers get divided into the right groups. It’s at the beginning of class that you can get your goggles adjusted by Coach. It’s at the beginning of class that we do on-deck teaching and demonstrations. It’s at the beginning of class that we cover basic instructions for the skills that we will be working on for the rest of the session. If you miss ANY of this by arriving late or by missing class, you disrupt the focus of the teacher and the class and you miss out on many of the basics of what you need to learn.
#3. They are game to try anything, especially if it involves wearing fins or using a noodle. What can we learn from the Rookies? The kids had so much fun with noodles that I tried using them with my Masters team and they LOVED it.
#4. They are willing to do things over and over again till they get it right. We teach the same basic skills over and over again at each lesson and for the entire season. Streamlining. Pushing off with TWO feet. Looking down. Keeping the knees down and ankles out on breaststroke kick. Pointing the toes. Finishing the kick. Two-handed touches on breast and body-dolphin fly. Starting and finishing every length at the wall. Staying on your side of the lane. Doing things over if we mess up. Of course, we don’t do the EXACT same thing at every session, because when you get better at all of the above things, you just go deeper into each one. We also have them change stations every 15 minutes to keep things hopping and we try our best to make everything fun and kind of a game. But we hit the same principles over and over again, and this particular group of Rookies has thrived on it. What can we learn from the Rookies? If you get tired of Coach telling you to do the same old thing every day, try DOING it! Not just once, but all the time. And try to do it so well that one day Coach will say, "Wow, you finally got it, now let’s take it a step further." No matter what the skill, you can always go deeper and deeper into whatever it is that you’re trying to learn. If you feel like you’ve got the basics, ask your coach to take you to the next level.
#5. They know how to make swimming fun. This group of Rookies LOVES to be in the water. I have to round them up out of Free Swim before class starts, and I have to practically chase them out of the water when we’re done. They wiggle and squirm and dive and twirl their bodies with a freedom and abandon that most competitive swimmers have lost by the time they are 11 or 12 and are swimming lap after lap at practice. These Rookies know how to have FUN in the water, and they renew that sense of fun in me every time I work with them. They have fun, but they also know how and when to pay attention. As a result I find myself working very hard to come up with FUN ways to teach them. What can we learn from the Rookies? Your behavior as an individual and as a team can have a HUGE impact on the behavior of your coach. If you show respect, interest, and a willingness to work hard(and still have fun), you will be amazed at what kind of a coach you can create and the level of coaching you will receive. Take a lesson from the Rookies!