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Create Your Dream Team Coaching Staff

Written By: Jonathan Kaplan


It’s awesome to have you joining me once again for this month’s installment of “The Office”. The journey we have enjoyed this year has been a special one as we’ve watched you create your dream swim team from scratch and build it into a community-changing program! As awesome as you and your plan have been, it is also incredibly important to recognize that the rest of your coaching and support staff are the real reason for your organization’s success. As the years go by and you continue to improve, your team will become even more reliant on the execution of your vision through the coaching staff. That means the time has come (if you haven’t already done so), to invest in the success of your coaches and build that Dream Team Coaching Staff you’ve always wanted!


While it may be relatively obvious that you need to hire qualified coaches, that is not always the simplest thing to do (particularly in recent years given the job market). There is so much more to building your exceptional coaching staff than just hiring coaches with good resumes. This month we will dive into ways to improve the coaching staff you already have, potentially uncover gems of coaches that you may have not realized were sitting right under your nose, all while creating an environment of learning for your staff that is fun and enlightening.


Have a Professional Development Plan That Compliments Your Staff’s Needs It is important to sit down with all of your coaches at least once or twice a year to go over their performance with relation to the expectations you have for them. This is a wonderful opportunity to not only help them improve their performance in a way that helps all staff members pass along the execution of the program’s vision, but it also gives you a chance to hear from them! Ask your coaches what their professional dreams are and come up with a game plan to help them achieve those goals. If a staff member wants to be a head coach, include them in the decision-making process for various projects or tasks. If another wants to branch out from Age Group Coaching, give them the opportunity to shadow Senior Level swimming workouts. If your staff sees that their goals are your goals, you can work together to achieve them!


Create Organic Learning Opportunities for Your Staff More often than not, the number one thing coaches think of when they want to help their staff develop professionally is to learn from clinics and online news articles or courses. While those have terrific merit and are incredibly helpful at times, they are not the only route towards helping your staff learn. Sometimes you have the knowledge and experience sitting right in front of you and you just have to find opportunities to share. Share the deck and invite coaches to groups they do not normally coach. Create staff meetings that are more informal while allowing the coaches to “nerd out” on swimming talk. Empower your staff members to teach and guide part-time or developing coaches. Consider teaming up with coaching friends from other teams to offer a deck-sharing opportunity with another staff for your coaches to learn from each other.


Give Your Coaches More Ownership and the Power to Create One of the most important gifts that was given to me early on in my coaching career was the ability to generate and create training programs for athletes. I remember learning SO MUCH from the coaches I swam for as well as those I coached under. However, I blossomed the most when I had the opportunity to follow my own instincts and create my own training cycles, sets, workouts, etc. When coaches have the opportunity to create, they become more emotionally invested in what they are doing because there is ownership and accountability in the coaching. It also helps them build a relationship with the training because they are now so much more invested in making sure it succeeds since it is more of a reflection on their coaching than it ever has been before.


Be Willing to Hire Parents or Coaches with a Limited Resume I know it seems “taboo” to hire parents from your team to become coaches. On paper, it doesn’t sound like a good idea and could be a conflict of interest. I get it. But in reality, there are so many uncovered gems out there who might already be a part of your program that believe in what you are trying to do philosophically and just want to be a part of it. I’ve hired several parents over the years to become coaches for my programs and they always did an amazing job! These coaches get a better glimpse into your coaching world and when they see just how invested you are in their swimmers and the success of the team, they have a new appreciation for your staff and want to become the most amazing coaches possible for you.


Be Willing to Change and Adapt It’s so easy to have success as a coach and feel as if you have the blueprint down pat. No need to change the recipe that has been serving your team for years, right? However, that is a quick way to have a coaching staff that never has the opportunity to expand and explore their abilities. For the health of your coaching staff, it is critical that you create an environment for your coaches to feel free to share ideas and be heard. Your team doesn’t have to implement every idea, especially not right away. But you should be willing to try new things and let your coaches run with ideas. Even if it doesn’t end up as successful as you hoped, your staff will learn from it and it will keep your team (and coaches) from getting stale!


Remember That You Can Learn from Anyone I’ve always said that if I ever get to the point where I feel like I know everything as a coach, I will retire the very next day. The truth is that we should NEVER stop learning, and we can (and should) be learning from every opportunity possible. If you are a head coach who makes each and every staff member in your program feel valued and respected because you are asking for their thoughts and advice on most situations, then you will find yourself with a healthy coaching staff that wants to stay with you for years to come. Then, as a result, you can potentially promote from within and help your coaches grow professionally without having to move to another team, city or state to do so.


At the end of the day, you have to have a staff that enjoys spending time together. When all coaches enjoy what they are doing, have ownership over their coaching and feel supported from the top down, they will pass that positive feeling onto their athletes. If you want to create your “Dream Team” coaching staff, before you go out and seek those star coaches on the job market, you must first create the environment for them to be successful. As this journey in “The Office” continues next month, we will focus on helping that coaching staff have a better balance in their personal lives as you lead by example to improve the quality of life for all invested in your program. See you next month!


Jonathan and the Rapids are entering their 5th season together after an incredible freshman and sophomore campaign. During those two seasons, the Rapids have managed to change the landscape of swimming in the Greater Richmond area by providing accessibility and flexibility to families while also swimming at the highest levels. The relationships his coaches are building with the athletes are personal and life-changing. As a result, in just over two seasons, the Rapids have grown from 0 swimmers to over 500 athletes! In addition, the Rapids have grown from 3 to 16 coaches, helping us focus on developing character skills that have allowed us to become one of the Top 8 teams in the state (out of 45) and Top 185 teams in the nation (out of 3,000)! Prior to SwimRVA Jonathan got married and moved back to the Richmond area where he went on to enjoy a very successful two years as the head coach at the Dolphin Club in Richmond. In two years he grew the club from 63 to 183 athletes. Jonathan believes in each child's potential and growing relationships one swimmer, one family at a time. While at Dolphin Club, the team improved in USA Swimming's virtual club rankings from 31st to 23rd in the state and 1955th to 958th nationally. At Virginia Swimming's age group champs the team improved from 30th (27 points) to 15th (291 points) and his girls team finished 9th overall, while also having a Top 15 team finish (Top 10 Girls) at Senior Champs for the first time in team history. Prior to Dolphin Club,Jonathan served as the assistant director of competitive swimming at YMCA of Triangle Area. As head coach of the Gold group he tutored 50 YMCA National qualifiers, 5 YMCA national finalists, 12 NCSA Junior National qualifiers, 2 USA-Swimming Winter Junior National and 1 USA-Swimming Winter National qualifier. Jonathan helped YOTA grow to 600 members and earn Top 25 rankings in USA Swimming's Virtual Club Championship. While at YOTA, Jonathan worked with over 130 athletes with video instruction and stroke analyzation. Before heading to Raleigh, Kaplan coached in Richmond for NOVA of Virginia Aquatics as the head coach of the Senior Silver group and assistant coach of Senior Gold. Jonathan's Senior Silver group included 16 NCSA Junior National, 6 USA Swimming Winter Junior National and 1 USA Swimming Winter National Championship qualifier, 1 National Age Group Record participant, and 14 Virginia State Records. While at NOVA the team earned a 3rd place overall team finish at the 2014 Spring NCSA Championships, an overall Virginia State Championship and a 6th place overall team ranking in the USA Swimming Virtual Club Championships. Jonathan help in the organization and create of the first ever Henrico County high school swimming program. From 2006 to 2013 Jonathan was the head swim coach of the Panama City Swim Team. While head coach the year round membership grew from 65 to 250 members. PCST earned bronze medal club status for USA Swimming Club Excellence. In 2012, PCST had its first ever swimmer compete at the USA Swimming Olympic Team Trials. In addition, Kaplan tutored 3 swimmers who qualified for USA Swimming's Summer National Championship, 3 qualifiers to USA Swimming's Summer Junior National Championship, 11 NCSA qualifiers, 1 USA Swimming Junior National Runner Up, 1 US Open Finalist, 5 SES Champions, 2 LSC records, 3 HS All-Americans and 6 Florida High School State Champions. In 2011, PCST won Southeastern Swimming Medium Team Championship. 17 of Kaplan's swimmers went on to compete in the NCAA. One of Jonathan's greatest accomplishments includes the fortune of coaching a high school valedictorian in 6 consecutive years while at PCST. Jonathan is a graduate of Florida State University where he earned his Bachelor of Science in Sport Management and his Master of Science in Sport Administration. He resides in Richmond with his wife, Jessica, and their three sons Rowan, Finlay, and Crew. Needless to say, he and his family are excited for the Rise of the Rapids here with SwimRVA!


Learn More About SwimRVA Rapids and their programming HERE!



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