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Coaching is About Relationships: A Young Coaches’ Observations

Written By: Andrew Kramer

I think every coach, deep down, knows this. However, we get so caught up in the day-to-day tasks and business (writing practices, season plans, mentoring other coaches, emails with parents and board) that we lose track of how important relationships are to our job. I’m a young coach, and I’m sure many experienced coaches have learned these lessons over the years. However, to me, there is something different about learning something, and experiencing something. I knew that a coaches’ relationship with an athlete was important, from my time as an athlete, and from other parts of life. What I hadn’t experienced, was that there are many more relationships beyond those with the swimmers. I want to talk about three different types of relationships, and how they can help or hurt coaches: coach and athlete, coach and other coaches, and the team and the community.

If you think about it, most of the best experiences coaches have come as a result of close relationships. A swimmer who worked hard with and got a cut. A swimmer comes back in town and thanks you for lessons learned. Getting invited to graduation parties and weddings, and seeing old colleagues on deck.

I think, however the flip side is also true – many of the low moments in coaching come as a result of a relationship that has deteriorated. There is, of course, the old adage that athletes don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. However, I think they also want to know that you are:

  1. Of high character

  2. Competent, or have skills that can help them reach their goals.

If you care, have character, and are competent, you are going to build a trust filled relationship with athletes. It takes all three, and time, to build trust. I once heard Bill Dorenkott from OSU say that our society has it backward: trust is earned, not given, and love is given, not earned. That trust is formed both ways – coach to swimmer and swimmer to coach.

The moment this became crystal clear was when I was the head coach of a high school team while still in college. Things were going okay, but just okay. At school, the swimmers had this presentation of a project they had been working for a couple months. I could tell that they wanted me to go but that they also didn’t expect me to. I went, and they were so excited! So were their parents, and the AD, and their grandparents! From that day on, doors opened for me. Parents volunteered more. Swimmers came to practice earlier, and swam harder. It isn’t revolutionary, but let swimmers know you care – sometimes, you may be the only one who does.

Of the three types of relationships I’ve mentioned, the biggest one I have come to value are relationships with other coaches. The Head Coach at Dayton Raiders, Kevin Weldon, has been inducted into the ISCA HOF and guided the club into Gold Medal recognition in seasons past with under 180 swimmers. He’s a legend, and seemingly everyone knows him. It has been an incredible blessing to be able to work through things with him – how many people can call a Hall of Famer at 8:00 at night and ask about breaststroke technique? I also teach at a high school with another coach on our staff, and being able to bounce things off her has lessened my learning curve quite a bit. Outside of just our staff, it seems that every coach knows something that could be helpful. People have said for a long time that the sharing of knowledge is one of the special parts of the swimming community, and I have been so blessed to be the beneficiary, both at Ritter and at the Raiders. Take advantage of your access and time with other coaches. I sometimes fall into the trap of comparing myself to, or envying other coaches – but I have to remind myself – although I want to be the best coach I can be, at the end of the day, it is about the swimmers – if other coaches can help, you’re in the wrong not to use them.

The last important relationship I’ve learned about is the relationship between the club and the community. Community might mean the swimming community – teams, officials, and meet workers that you often see, or it might mean the town or city you team is based in. But the community can be a wonderful asset when there is a relationship between your team and it. This is also the hardest relationship to build – it is hard to know where to start. But lots of little things can turn into big things – every time someone interacts with your team, it is an opportunity for connection. A chat with the lifeguard could be someone to sew your parachutes back together, an appearance in a holiday parade could grow membership, and free swim lessons could let people know that your pool even exists. I’ve even had our swimmers start thanking two people outside of our team before they leave a meet – it is important that we connect with the folks who make it all possible, and that the swimmers know that they are part of something . My goal is to be able to wear our team shirt to the grocery store and get stopped by people who had a good experience at our facility, or with a swimmer, or with a coach.

I think many coaches understand the important of connection with athletes, but we fail to carry that same thinking over to our relationships with other coaches, or when we think about our team as a whole. To expand our impact as coaches, recognize the relationships at play in every part of our coaching world.

Coach Andrew Kramer joined the Dayton Raider staff in 2020. He has previous experience coaching various high schools, clubs, and summer teams in the Dayton and Columbus Areas. He also spent a year as an intern for Ritter Sports Performance. He graduated from the University of Dayton with a degree in Exercise Physiology, and from Ohio State with his Master’s in Public Health. Coach Andrew has worked with swimmers from beginner to Junior National. In addition to swim coaching, Andrew is a teacher and has a passion to help students and swimmers succeed both in and out of the classroom setting.

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