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Collaborative Learning

Updated: Oct 22, 2021

Written By: Billy Doughty

Covid Learning

Living in California, DART was shut down for a long time during Covid. When we finally started to open up we were restricted to only inter-squad swim meets. One of the things that I found myself missing the most was my personal relationships with other swim coaches. No travel meets or local meets to have the usual conversations with other coaches.

At some point, I decided that I needed to create my own learning platform and social network. I reached out to some of the best club coaches in the country and asked if they would be interested in creating a coach “Zoom” group. We met once a week for an hour to discuss Covid, team numbers, PPP loans, and just talk swimming. It was a great experience getting to discuss how other clubs across the US were adapting to the situation and adjusting on deck with their teams.

Now that we are back to regular coaching, this group is currently meeting less on Zoom but has carried on a text chain. Coaches reach out with sets, to get information on meets across the US, and even to vent about USA swimming and some of the current policies. It has become an amazing sounding board and created opportunities for DART and me personally to learn and grow.

My quick take is don’t be afraid to ask questions, create friendships, and ask advice of other coaches. Going to a clinic is fine, but personal interactions and direct questions really seem to render more useful information in my case.

DART – Collaborative Coaching 2021

Creating this Coaches group got me thinking about my own program and how we coach at DART. DART currently trains out multiple pools and is spread across multiple cities. We can go weeks without running into swimmers/coaches that are just two miles down the road, let alone the sites forty miles away.

I started considering certain questions: How can staff be more engaged and learn from each other daily? How can we provide more feedback and knowledge to swimmers in multiple groups? How can we create a seamless transition from one group to the next? My answer was to try collaborative coaching for the fall of 2021.

DART was in a great spot with incredible assistant coaches and swimmer success and happiness. Trying something new was based around getting better and not fixing something broken. Selfishly, I wanted to watch them coach and learn from my own coaches. I was listening to the things they were saying to their swimmers at meets and realizing how much I was learning from them; different ways to describe body position, different ways to talk about race strategy, different ways to approach a race mentally. After meets, I was exciting to start describing a concept in a new manner.

2021 Fall Season – DART trying something new

This year we have made some changes on our senior level structure. We made these changes to coach more collaboratively and maximize the knowledge of the senior staff. We have created 3 “competitive-track” groups for our senior swimmers. These groups are being coached collaboratively by our four-member senior coaching staff. How does this work?

  1. Set up the base for the season

    1. Seasonal Training Plan

    2. Weekly Training Cycles

    3. Daily workout goals (energy system, technical focus, stroke focus, and even breaking down into specific groups like distance, mid, sprint, stroke, or kicking)

  2. Specific coaches write daily workouts each week within the base parameters.

    1. Coach A – writes Monday AM workout (Aerobic Capacity)

    2. Coach B – writes Monday PM workout (Threshold & Heavy Kicking)

  3. Senior staff meet once a week to go over all the workouts for the next week

    1. Each staff present their workouts and describe the focus, details, and main set goals

    2. Coaches discuss each workout with suggestions or comments

    3. All staff looks at the week as “whole” deciding if we missed anything.

    4. All staff discuss the current week; What sets went well? How did we feel about any “testing” sets? What concepts do we need to get better at? Swim meet recaps – what went well and what were some weaknesses?

  4. Coaches work with different groups daily

    1. As the Head Coach, I end up working with our National group seven out of ten workouts a week. I also coach our National Development group on certain days and our Senior Speed group.

    2. The other senior coaches also work with all three senior level groups throughout the week.

    3. Some days as the Head Coach, I coach in a supporting role to the coach that designed the daily workout.

    4. We have all three senior groups at the same pool practicing several workouts at week. We make slight modifications for the different levels like yardages, intervals, and intensity.

  5. What is the goal for this new system?

    1. Coaches

      1. We learn from each other each week. I’m learning from my staff on how they approach, design, and implement different sets. I’m learning their terminology and how they explain adjustments on strokes.

      2. Same system – We are on the same page with-in the season.

    2. Athletes

      1. Getting touches, corrections, and positive feedback from multiple coaches

      2. Hearing the same stroke flaw adjustment being approached with slightly different feedback. An example is one of our coaches describes core tightness during a breakout as “Tone”. The swimmers responded well to different way to describe the same swim focal point.

      3. Better understanding of the coaching, sets, and terminology when moving groups

    3. Team

      1. Swimmers and coaches being on the same page and creating positive relationships with more individuals and staff.

      2. Athletes will have a seamless transition from one group to the next. Same terminology, same seasonal approach, and same comfort level with the staff.

Covid was a tough time for everyone, but I feel like it allowed us some time to think outside the box. I’m hopeful this adjustment/experiment will turn out with a positive result in the pool. It has already had a positive impact on my coaching, my relationship with my staff, and my relationship with the athletes. When the swim results follow this year, that will be a win/win for everyone!

Billy Doughty took over the DART (Davis) program in the fall of 2009.

Some of the latest coaching highlights include:

  • 2019 - Coached US National & US Open Champion (200 Fly)

  • 2019 - Head Mens Coach TEAM USA - National JR Team Budapest

  • 2018 - Three DART athletes on the USA National Team

  • 2018 - Three athletes that finished top 8 at Summer US Nationals

  • 2018 - An athlete selected to attend the USA National JR Pan Pac Team (4 Gold Medals & 1 Silver)

  • 2018 - USA National JR Team Coach (Mel Zajac - National JR Team Trip, Junior Pan Pac Champs in Fiji)

  • 2016 - 8 DART athletes qualified for USA Olympic Trials

  • 2011, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019 - Sierra Nevada LSC Senior Coach of the Year

  • 2015 - DART earned a Gold Medal USA Swimming award. All other years since 2014 the program has achieved Silver level.

Prior to Davis, Billy has served as the Head Coach for City of Mobile Swim Association and as Head Site Coach for Palo Alto Stanford Aquatics. Billy swam at Clemson University and for Huntsville Swim Association. He is married to Jen "Davis" with two boys (JT & Will).


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