Volunteer Assistant Coach

A few years ago, I had the privilege of doing a weekend clinic at Auburn University, with some of the greatest swimmers in the world. While there, and while having so much fun, an old friend of mine took me aside, and said, “You know, Glenn, you’d make a GREAT assistant coach.” At the time, I took her comment as a bit of an insult. How could she say that to someone with MY swimming credentials, MY coaching and teaching background, and MY leadership experience with clinics and workshops? Did she have NO idea who I used to be? When she saw the hurt look on my face, she said, “Hey, relax. I know you’re a good coach. What I’m saying is that, as an assistant, you’re free to coach without all the administrative stuff that a head coach has to deal with.”

WOW, I thought. She had a point there. What a concept! It was as if a LIGHTING bolt had hit me in the head. A new goal was born: SOMEDAY, I WILL BE AN ASSISTANT COACH!
Dave D. just after leaving the wall.
Well, last Saturday I took my first step, and let me tell you, it’s really cool. I’m now the volunteer assistant coach on my kids’ swim team.

It was all an accident. My twins had started swimming with a new team, and I was content (sort of) to sit back, and stay out of everyone’s way while I watched my kids from the bleachers. Then, a friend of mine, who was already playing the role of volunteer assistant, asked if I would help. I explained that it would be a tough role for me, simply because I didn’t want to get in the coach’s way. I’ve been invited to share the deck many times, and I know that my background has the potential to create a “power struggle” with coaches. But my friend persisted, and the head coach insisted that it would be OK, so I thought WHY NOT. It will allow me to be close to my kids in an environment that I love.

In fact, it was GREAT. And a great challenge. The range of talent, competency, and understanding of the sport on this team is VAST. We have kids who have a tough time getting from one end to the other and kids who are really talented. As with most programs, pool time is at a premium, so many different levels of swimmers are training at the same time. I was wondering what I could do to introduce myself to the kids while at the same time give them ALL something to improve their swimming.
Dave stays in a perfect position in EVERY part of his race.
The answer was easy, really. It’s the first thing I work on at EVERY workshop or clinic. It’s as basic as basic can get. STREAMLINE — how to leave the wall in the most effective way possible. To prepare for my assistant-coach debut, I created a 2-minute video showing a few really good swimmers each doing the same thing — pushing off the wall in STREAMLINE. I didn’t want to overwhelm the kids with too much info, or make the other coaches worry that I’d be getting too technical every time I came on deck. I just wanted to keep it simple and useful for everyone.

I chose about 10 kids to watch my 2-minute video. It wasn’t long before our little group had grown, and the pool session went really well. The coach seemed excited, and I think we all had a really good time working on the basics. At the end of practice, she asked, “What will we be working on next time?” “The same thing,” I replied. So at the next practice the coach rolled the TV out on deck so that the youngest team members could watch. I can only say…it is SO NICE to be working with such open-minded people.

Swimming is a repetitive sport. It requires that simple AND complex tasks be performed not ONCE, but over and over again. And the repetition begs for perfection. At last night’s practice, I stood in the middle of the lane. One by one, just before each swimmer pushed off, I would make the streamline sign, and then they’d leave. Some of the kids popped up almost immediately and said, “OHHHHHHHH… I MESSED UP! Let me do it again.” To which I’d say, “All right!” This is what I want! This is what every coach should want — for their swimmers to know the difference between good form and bad form.
Teaching this position even to little swimmers is very easy.
Can they all do a perfect streamline every time? No. Can they all do it? Yes. Whose responsibility is it that they’re reminded ALL THE TIME? Hey… I guess in a way… it’s mine now. Cool again!

Teaching this position even to little swimmers is very easy.

Because of my schedule, I’m not sure if I can be as consistent as the kids need. I’m simply a volunteer, which means I have other things that are very important to me, and I may not be able to be on deck as much as I’d like. But I do hope to instill in them the idea that certain basic skills HAVE to be learned and incorporated into every lap and every practice. I’d also like to help the other coaches make sure that the kids practice the fundamentals. I don’t want to take anything away from terrific job that they are already doing in directing the program and making it work for every member. It’s their call on making the final decisions about what’s being done in practice, and for how long. I only want to offer suggestions (and they may work…or not), and an extra set of eyes to help pay attention to the little things that mean so much in swimming.

I’m having a great time. I’m working not only with the team, but also (and perhaps most important) with my own children. I’ve matured enough to understand how fine a line you have to walk when you attempt to coach your own kids. But I just happen to have really great kids who listen well and who always try their hardest. My son’s backstroke looks GREAT (and I have NO idea where THAT came from) and my daughter has the most incredible push-offs and cork-screws.

Long story short. If you have an opportunity to help out with your team, do it. Stick to fine tuning the absolute basics, starting with STREAMLINE. Make sure everyone masters that one thing before you move on. Even if you don’t know anything about swimming, this is something anybody can figure out. Heck, you could be known as Mr. Pointy, or Ms. Pencil, and if that’s all you know about swimming at the time, if the kids are reminded about how to push off correctly, you’re really coaching!

The video clips here are mostly taken from the , Go Swim Breaststroke Turns & Pullouts DVDwhich can be ordered online right now!