From Empty to Full

Written By: Jeff Allen

As a young coach, we are full of vigor and energy and feel we can conquer the world. At times we may be brash and think we have all the answers. In most cases, this is so very far from the truth.

I as a young coach had those very thoughts and feelings. I swam in college, swam for a world-famous coach, (Charles “Red” Silvia) and thought I had all the answers. Very quickly I learned that what I did not know was far greater than the little I did know.

My first 4 years as a Y professional coaching swimming was only part of my job, along with adult fitness, day camp director, youth programs and becoming a new husband. It was in 1985 when I took a new job in Darien Connecticut as the Director of Competitive Aquatics, I realized that I was a no body in the world of swimming and needed to listen, ask questions, and watch. Listen to the successful coaches on the deck talk to their athletes, both after good swim and not so good swims. In Darien I was very fortunate to be about 20 minutes from the Wilton Family YMCA home of the Wilton Y Wahoos. A nationally recognized program with a new head coach, Tim Murphy. I quickly learned to watch and listen on how Tim operated, communicated with his athletes, parents and administration of the Y. Little did I know back in the mid 80’s that I would end of working with Tim for two years and then replacing him as he moved onto college swimming at Harvard.

In all I was in Darien for 7 years, I consider this time my formative years, developing my coaching philosophy, confidence, and leadership roles. I was able to become involved with Connecticut Swimming LSC and the YMCA Swim League. Most importantly, I was able to attend the ASCA World Clinic. There I saw my future, a future of learning, leading, and teaching. I made it a goal to attend at least one coach’s clinic per year. To learn, and also to network with other coaches from around the world. While learning what other coaches are doing and how they are being successful, more importantly I learned that most other coaches were also facing the same challenges that I face. I was not alone in this wet world of coaching swimming.

In 1992 I accepted the Director of Competitive Aquatics for the Naperville YMCA. An exceptionally good team just outside of Chicago. It was here where I wrote an article for the YMCA Professional Magazine called Perspective. The focus of the article was that each Y should support and build a competitive swimming program. That article got the attention of several members of the National YMCA Competitive Swimming and Diving Committee. I had arrived. I was asked to me the Mid-West Cluster Rep to the committee. This allowed me to become trained as a Faculty Member for the YMCA of the USA in all Competitive Swimming Classes and Certifications.

In 1996 I was hired by Tim Murphy as his senior coach and in 1998 took over as the Director of Competitive Aquatics of the Wilton Family YMCA. Around the same time, I became the President of the National YMCA Swim Coaches Association and help that position for 6 years. During that time, we were able top get the YMCA to adopt USA Swimming rules, modernize their meet entry format, and make the entire experience more coach friendly. My time with the Y I would guess to say I may have taught about 1000 coaches various courses within the Y. Something that I love to do and hope to continue with.

Fast forward, in 2017 I was fortunate enough to join USA Swimming as their Eastern Zone Program Manager. This allowed me to continue teaching and my consulting and work with 700 teams and 12 LSC’s. During this time, I developed the Facebook Group “Swim Coaches Idea Exchange Group”, which as of today has over 20,000 members worldwide. I created the group because I felt there was a void on social media for coaches to share, express and learn what is going on in the world. I never thought it would become what it is today. I also created “Eastern Zone Swimming,” “Swim Parents Forum”, Swim Coach Mentoring Exchange Group”. Through my coaching career there were always coaches willing to share what they were doing and why. Also lending an ear to a young coach with a question. I believe it is my time to give back, as with most coaches, they can almost immediately give your several names of coaches who have guided them throughout their career.

I have been fortunate to have many great friends and mentors as my time coaching, and not that continues as I too mentor and help coaches and teams anyway I can to navigate this turbulent world of Competitive Swimming.

All this is important because, as coaches we need to learn but also share and lead. We are all fighting the same battles, yet at times we forget was are on the same team in the same sport. Our goal should be to provide an environment of learning, and development. What we do is about the ATHLETES. If you are coaching to stroke your ego, then I would suggest you do something else. It is not about you as a coach, but you as a leader that has compassion, patience, and a thirst to help others achieve. The great coaches have all these attributes. Find one and model yourself after he or she. Don’t try to be a clone, but take what you can apply to your situation and mold to your own ways.

Best of luck, stay strong, and remember the WHY of what you do.

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