Week #15: Shrink or Coach?

Dec 12, 2003
Week #15: Shrink or Coach?

Warning: This week� article comes with a disclaimer. I am going to talk about the different communication styles of men and women. I am not making a judgment on either style. All I am doing is describing actual situations that happened last weekend. It� important for a coach to recognize the difference in styles and learn how to respond appropriately (or at least not like a total idiot). My reactions last weekend might seem a bit harsh, but they were not based on emotion. They were based on the relationship I�ve developed with each athlete.

This past weekend was our final meet of the semester. We felt that an invitational trials-and-finals meet would help prepare us for championships at the end of the year. In this format the athletes are forced to swim fast in the morning to qualify for a second swim at night.

The women. I have noticed that the women on our team have an emotional attachment to their performances. The way that I see it, women CARE and have a large investment in their swimming. I know that I have to talk with them in a way that will not deter that passion. When I help them critique a race, I always start with what went well. I try to keep my outlook on the race as positive as possible. The women on our team put enough pressure and negativity on themselves; they don�t need me to add to that.

Ms. Orange� weekend can be summed up in a word: frustration. Her frustration was caused by factors that were out of her control. She suffers from asthma, and had a particularly bad weekend just trying to breathe. After every race she had to stand with her hands over her head for a minute just to get air. Nothing I could say or do would help her. When I asked her about her swims she said, �I feel like I am out of control.� To further her disappointment, she was focused on the how fast everyone else was going. Her time was not a top 50 in the nation. The swim was still a meet record and half a second faster than everyone else in the pool. After the meet I tried to get her to focus on the things that have made her a champion. I am not the slightest bit worried about her achieving her goals, because of the way she prepares in practice. I just have to hope that when she swims rested, her asthma will subside.

Ms. Grey had a disappointing weekend for similar reasons. After a race that was not as fast as she would have liked, she said, �I hate my life and I want to quit.� I had to take a different approach with her. Before her races she gets so worked up and puts so much pressure on herself that she makes it impossible to perform to the best of her ability. After I let her stew for a while, I talked to her again. I told her that at the end of the day no one really cares about how you swim. I know this is not true but she needed to hear that a race, regardless of outcome, is not the measure of her as a person. I explained that her parents aren�t going to stop loving her, that I�m not going to stop respecting her as a swimmer, and that her friends and teammates won�t hate her. Her races were off because her practice habits have been lackadaisical. During her races she is not finishing strong, which has been a common theme in her practices. She came into this season as the top butterflier on our team, and one of the top in the league. She has had a tendency to relax in practice because she is the fastest on our team. After this weekend she doesn�t have that going for her anymore. I hope she will see this as an opportunity to do the things in practice that have made her successful in the past.

Ms. Red had the best meet of her college career. After swimming personal bests in three events, she has vaulted from middle of the pack on our team, to the top. This was a huge breakthrough for her, and she was not rested or shaved. She is now the top 100 butterflier on the team and one of the top in the league. Her success came as a result of great preparation during practice. She has taken every opportunity to refine her stroke to make it the best possible. The thing that helped her achieve personal bests was her head position during breathing strokes. She had always picked her head up to breathe in fly. As a result she would lose her rhythm and her momentum off the walls. This weekend for the first time she was breathing forward with her head. Her fourth 25 was the best I have seen her finish a race. By making a fairly minor adjustment she was able to carry more rhythm in her swimming. Being more efficient in the first three lengths gave her the energy to bring home her race. She was ecstatic with her results. Nothing could wipe the smile off her face. Her hard work in practice is paying off for the first time. The best part is that she is just starting to realize her potential.

The men. I have noticed that the men on our team have a personal detachment to their swimming. At times it seems like they don�t care and that they are oblivious to their performance. The assignment for me as a coach is to motivate them. I try to get them fired up about what they are going to do. When I critique their races, I tell them exactly what they did wrong without worrying about hurting their feelings. I can say things like, �You didn�t get the job done because you short-armed your third turn and you broke out too early.� I can follow this with, �On you r next race you need to time your walls so you hit them at full speed.� In a joking manner I will tell them that the head on their shoulders is not for decoration so they better start using it.

Mr. Blue had a good end to a first semester that was marked by injury. He broke his hand in the first month of the season and is just now starting to get back to his old form and has caught up with the rest of the group in practice. This weekend he swam in-season bests in two out of three events. After his races I told him that he is finishing short. Rather than keep his cycle rate constant, he ends by flattening and spinning his wheels. His response was, �Yep.� I think he is starting to rise at the right part of the season. It is important that he keep the momentum going so that he can finish where he wants to be.

Mr. Green had an untimely respiratory flu. Prior to Thanksgiving break he was out of commission with a 100+ fever. Even with a week out of the pool he was still able to hit an in-season best in one of his events. He shook off the results of this weekend and told me, �I just need to work harder.� His attitude and preparation in practice have paid dividends. He will be doing some amazing things once he is rested.

Mr. Yellow continued to perform well. He has already had close to personal bests this season and has been swimming faster than his previous in-season best times all season. As a freshman, his biggest problem was lack of confidence. In his first season he looked like a deer in the headlights before every race. In his sophomore season he had a breakthrough at the end of the year, and has carried that confidence into his junior season. After he won the 50, all I said was, � I told you that you could do it.�

Sometimes I don�t know which is more important for a coach � the ability to deal with people or knowledge of the sport. It� meets like these that make me realize you need to have the entire package -- and make me realize how hard it is to be an effective coach for every member of the team. I could be the world� greatest expert on swimming technique, but it means nothing if I don�t know how to communicate that knowledge to each athlete in the way he or she needs to hear it. I�m still working on being the world� greatest swim technician, and I�m still working on being the great communicator. What I�ve found is that it REALLY helps to have a sense of humor. If I can make someone laugh, I can make them hear what I want them to hear. Laughter makes anyone more relaxed and open to listening.

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