Updated: Aug 6, 2021
It is unrealistic to think you can achieve your team goals alone. After all, it is called a team for a reason. It takes everyone working together to achieve a team goal. Thinking as swimmer, we are usually competitive with ourselves and others. It's not bad to be competitive, don't get me wrong. Although, what should change is the way we include our staff by competitively going after our team goals together. That means sharing the spotlight and working collectively.
If you are reading this as an assistant coach, understand we hear you and know your frustrations. Especially those Age Group coaches out there. Without you, no team would be successful. Everything starts with you and unfortunately most of the head club coaches or college coaches get the credit for your time, energy, and effort with swimmers they inherited from many years with you.
We want to be the first to thank you for all of your hard work, if it weren't for you, our sport wouldn't be where it is today. You keep the sport fun, engaging, and innovative. You do this so well that swimmers fall madly in love with swimming enough to continue through the ranks. If it weren't for your dedication, senior and college coaches wouldn't have a foundation to build off of and grow from. What a swimmer does in their Age Group years definitely creates a ripple effect on how they swim after they move out of your group. The foundation you create is no less than critical.
It's hard to be an assistant coach. In some ways, you feel disconnected from the overall team goals. You might be part time and coach because you love it. Maybe you have less freedom to coach the way you would like. You might feel underpaid for the amount of work that you do but can't part with the sport because you are so inspired by swim culture. Maybe you are an assistant that consistently produces top Age Group swimmers in the country but they peak in the senior group or in college, as it should be for the swimmer. Whatever boat you find yourself in, know that there is always a place for you within your team and you can become more connected with your coworkers.
What do we mean by that? Depending on your circumstances, it could mean a variety of things. Maybe it starts with having a meeting with the group you move swimmers up into and develop a plan for success with that lead coach. Try asking your head coach if you can shadow them and learn more about the way they coach and what their vision is for the top group of the team. It could be helpful at a staff meeting to ask if your team could create a goal sheet for every group so you know what skills to prepare swimmers for at the Age Group level to help them be more successful at the higher levels. You might be a volunteer coach on a college staff and would like to learn from other training groups other than the one you normally focus on to expand your knowledge. These are just a few ideas, all of which start with you initiating the conversation. In doing so, it shows your investment in the team as well as your growth mindset, which is always positive.
Now to the head coaches reading this, understand that assistants need appreciation. They sometimes fly under the radar and usually don't ask for much. They are the "hook" of your program. If you don't have a good "hook", you will have an ever revolving door of Age Group swimmers and often times finding yourself looking for a new coach every few seasons. If you invest in your staff, make them feel valued, appreciated, and invite them to become a part of your overall team goals, you will find they are more willing to stay, learn, and invest in the vision of the team. Without them, you can't possibly be successful. This is a small but necessary step for you. Maybe a good place to start is checking in with them, sending them to the clinic this year in your place, giving them a few more hours a month to shadow you, or leaving a surprise Thank You note on their desk. You invest so much time and energy into producing great athletes, make sure you're giving equally to your staff.
Assistant coaches truly make things possible. They keep you sane and motivated. They bring the energy and excitement to a team. Make sure you thank them this week, give them a shout out at your staff meeting for that awesome thing they did recently, give credit where credit is due, and never forget they are the backbone of your team. Treat them as such.
By bridging the gaps within your own staff, you have the ability to create a powerful force for excellent swimming. Take a look at the Podium Club Programs in USA Swimming, how long have the assistant coaches and Head Age Group coaches been with those teams? Podium Clubs usually don't come from teams getting lucky with great athletes. They generally have a staff that has been together a long time and get athletes to buy into their team culture. You have the ability to create a culture that fits the mission and vision of your team. Investing in your staff, engaging them in the team goals, and getting them to buy into your culture for success is the first step in the right direction. You can do it, if you work together!