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Coaching Your On-Deck Facial Expressions

Updated: Jan 21, 2023

Written By: Ronnie Vaughan

Have you ever thought about how many times your facial expression changes? Have you ever thought about how an Age Group Swimmer is impacted by your expressions?

When you see your swimmers try a new skill and they get it right, what does your facial expression say? Proud and pleasantly surprised?

When swimmers are having side conversions when you’re teaching, what does it say then? Disappointment, impatience?

When a swimmer achieves a new championship cut versus when a silly DQ occurs, what then? Excitement & Joy vs Annoyed & Frustration?

As a very animated coach, I’ve found my facial expression displaying a range of emotion. Good & bad. How has this positively and or negatively affected swimmers? This goes for the parents and other swimmers observing you. I have learned that finding the middle ground might be a lot easier than you think.

We all have seen or heard of the positive sandwich approach: you put two good things on the outside and something not so good in the middle when giving feedback to swimmers. So for this, that would be happy - frustrated - happy since no one I know is using two different types of bread for their sandwich. I believe the answer of how to find the perfect middle of expression is similar to a Ramen. There’s a component that connects all the pieces, the broth. Any spoonful could contain a very different ingredient, but is there a bad part to that dish? And if there was, why would you want to go back to that? No, for sure not. Tough to hide frustration between 2 versions of happy.

There should always be one constant with your facial expression when it comes to coaching and I believe it’s neutral. You should absolutely show excitement for a swimmer, and then sometimes you have to have a tough conversation with a swimmer. But that doesn’t mean you need to show anger or frustration, it’ll ruin the Ramen!

From a neutral expression you’re able to stay grounded and provide small bits of expression one spoonful at a time; the happy side of a kid achieving a best time, the proud side of trying a new race, and the shocked side when your swimmer’s butterfly is magically fixed. The negative needs to be saved for more personal situations. Perhaps off deck or at a different time, not to be shown to the world.

Have we all made that mistake? Of course. Has a chef made a mistake with a Ramen? Of course. But just like the chef, you take the criticism and work on ensuring you don’t make that same mistake twice.

To answer the question of, how should one react to the swimmers having their own conversation over your teaching during practice or the dq occurring? Think back to the Ramen approach, you’re going to want to react a certain way but don’t ruin the Ramen. Save the yelling, the scowling, the look of frustration and anger. Take a deep breath, ensure your swimmer enjoys the pho/ramen and have the conversation with them “after dinner”.

So when you’re on a pool deck I want you to try this. Take note of how many times your facial expression changes during a practice or meet. Then reflect and see where something could be taken out of context, positively or negatively. Use that information to build the best version of your “coaching expression” and how it helps make a better you.

Ronnie Vaughan is in his third season with Ridgefield Aquatic Club as the Head Junior & Age Group Coach. He’s in his 3rd year as the Assistant Coach of the Ridgefield High School Girls Team and 3rd year as Head Coach of the RHS Boys Team. In 2022 he was selected as the Connecticut Zones Team Head Coach, 21-22 Bill Krum Ct Swimming Age Group Coach of the Year, 2022 CIAC Girls High School Assistant Coach of the year, 21-22 Boys FCIAC Coach of the Year and currently is the Age Group Committee Chair of Connecticut Swimming.

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