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A Master’s Degree in Volunteer Coaching

Written By: Jamie Lew

My professional and life mentor Kyle Schack once told me there are two ways to be a great swim coach: 1) learn how to be a head age group coach and 2) learn how to be a volunteer coach. If you can succeed there, you can coach anyone. I have spent the last nine months as a full-time volunteer assistant coach at Indiana University and I am writing this article to share this experience. I try my hardest to maintain a growth-mindset and that has given me the opportunity to learn hundreds of things in a short amount of time. I have boiled this knowledge down to six values. If you are considering being a volunteer, having a sense of these values and wanting to develop these values will help you maximize your takeaways in this role.


Anyone reading this article will know that swimming is a sport of discipline. Waking up on time; pushing off the wall on the interval; maintaining good technique; balancing your emotions to complete practice and races; these are all things our athletes learn to master over the course of their career if they want to get better. As a coach it is no different. We have to get to practice early enough that you can get your set prepared and greet your athletes. You have to know what equipment each day is being used and who will need help with it. You have to keep an eye out for what is going on in the lives of your athletes so that you can support them. You must be disciplined in your temper and your consistency. Being a volunteer is an excellent challenge in strengthening my discipline. Not only am I given responsibilities that I have to take care of; I have to be prepared at any moment to assist one of the other coaches with their responsibilities.


To quote one of my favorite fictional teachers, “True humility is the only antidote to shame.” This is a lesson that all coaches should learn over and over again because you share the failures of your athletes. The coach-athlete relationship creates a bond where each coach will know just how hard an athlete is working. By feeling that effort day in and day out, you unintentionally live through your athletes’ successes and failures. We all feel ashamed as coaches when our athletes underperform because it means we didn’t do our job. The only way to remedy this is to remind ourselves that if we are ever to be great coaches we need to keep growing. We didn’t not do our jobs, we have room for improvement.


Coaching would be much easier if we all had the observational powers of Sherlock Holmes. Perhaps some of you have trained yourself to that level! I unfortunately have not but I hope to develop this skill. When I am on deck I do my best to watch our swimmers in the water as well as the coaches at my side. My role as a volunteer is twofold; I am to be a full time coach but I am also to learn how our staff coaches so that I might add their skill set to my professional tool-box. In watching my co-workers, the skill I notice most is how quickly they can assess technical issues. They can see inefficiencies, backtrack to the root of the problem, and give feedback to an athlete in a matter of seconds. Coaching at this speed is necessary when you are working with a group as large as our team.


Perspective is the route of all answers. The more angles you can look at a problem, the easier it will be to find a solution. As a volunteer I am fortunate to learn from our 5 coaches and our director of operations here at Indiana. That almost 80 years combined experience solving problems and sharing views on the world around us. It allows for a range of questions to be asked leading to a view from many points. When I eventually am working with a new team, I am going to have that much more practice looking at situations from different angles.


Being a volunteer will teach you gratitude. Between all my coaching responsibilities I am volunteering 50+ hours a week. In addition to my duties for the Hoosiers I have worked 2 part time jobs to help make ends meet. And all the while I have been very happy. I am grateful for this opportunity and I know this is sending me in the right direction for my future. If you are interested in being a volunteer, know that you need to come away with your time in that role feeling grateful. If you can’t be happy under that kind of strain, then being a coach will be a challenging future.

At the end of the day there are hundreds of stories I could share from my time here in Bloomington, more than could fit well in an article. I want to thank Ray Looze, Sarah Stockwell-Gregson, John Long, Cory Chitwood, Emily Eaton, and Luke Ryan for making this experience so exceptional. I highly recommend for anyone out there to take advantage of this kind of opportunity.

Jamie joined the Indiana staff in May of 2021 where he has assisted in coaching the (currently) #4/#11 Hoosiers, as well as several Olympic/professional athletes. Jamie came to the mid-west after spending two years in Williamsburg, VA as the lead distance coach and men’s recruiting coordinator at William & Mary. He contributed to the success of the Tribe, helping their men place 1st at CAA’s in 2020, and their women place 2nd at CAA’s in 2020 and 2021. Jamie began his coaching career at Crimson Aquatics in Boston. He rose from Age Group Assistant Coach to Head Age Group Coach in 4 years. While in Boston Jamie also volunteered part time with MIT and Harvard. Jamie helped coach the Harvard men in2018-2019 place 8th and NCAA’s where Dean Farris broke the American Record in the 200 Yard Free (1:29.15). Over the years Jamie has also worked at Longhorn Swim Camp in Austin, TX and Wolfpack Swim Cam in Raleigh, NC.

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