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Get To Know Your Athletes

Brian Keane - Boston College



Coaches love quotes. We thrive on them, especially movie quotes. We have countless sports movies with quotes or speeches that can provide motivation to our athletes, from the infamous pre-game speech in Miracle to the importance of inches on the football field in Any Given Sunday. However, one movie quote that has always stuck with me throughout my eight years of coaching comes from The Blind Side. It’s not geared toward the athlete. Nor is it the quote that

defines the movie. It’s not motivational. It’s more so teachable.

After a series of mistakes and missed plays at practice, the Wingate Football Head Coach attempts to explain a proper blocking technique to Michael Oher in a very generic and unenthusiastic manner. Oher’s foster mother, Leigh Anne Tuohy, portrayed by Sandra Bullock, notices the exchange from the bleachers. She marches herself onto the field, approaches Oher, and explains to him the same exact blocking technique in a much more relatable manner. After the next series of plays are run to perfection, the coach dumbfounded, walks over to her and questions what she said.

She responds to him by saying, “You should get to know your players, Bert.”


Get to know your players. The more we understand them, the more they can achieve as individuals. And in turn, the more the program can achieve as a whole. I wrote out four major

points that I’ve found help me to better understand each of the student-athletes.


1. Understand your athletes’ past from their own point of view.

As collegiate coaches, we work with athletes from all over the country or the world. Each comes

from a different club team, coaching style, and training style. Understand that past. What club

team were they part of? Which coach did they swim under? What was their weekly volume?

What type of set are they used to at practice? Talk to your athletes - understand this from their

point of view.

2. Allow them to ask questions.

In understanding an athlete’s past, we can move forward to teach and help them understand our

coaching techniques, however similar or different from their previous experiences. The biggest

thing I’ve learned in coaching - allow your athletes to ask questions. That’s the only way they

will begin to understand why we’re doing specific things in practice. And in turn, it allows us, as

coaches, to understand our athletes even more. It gives us the opportunity to break down their

questions and have conversations that we wouldn’t have had with them if they had never asked.


3. Break down practices for them.

Personally, in hearing their questions, I’ve learned that this age of student-athletes collectively

wants to understand everything. They want to see everything broken down and understand

exactly what they’re supposed to be doing throughout the practice. Understanding that, I’ve tried

to do that for all of them.

For instance, last week, our 200 FL and 200 BK group tackled the mainset below. We give each lane the entire practice on paper, and this is exactly how it read last week.



It seems so basic. And truthfully, it is that basic. But, breaking down the number of underwater

kicks, writing out what they should be focusing on within the set (i.e., “count strokes”), and

breaking down goal times allows them to constantly focus and understand each part of the

practice/set.


4. Understand they value something more outside of the pool.

Only 2% of ALL NCAA student-athletes will play professionally in their respective sport. And

truthfully, in swimming, that number is significantly lower. We never know how long an athlete

will continue to compete at that “professional” level in our sport. We can do everything possible

to help them achieve their swimming goals, yet pro swimming may still not be attainable. We

have to understand that each of them has an identity outside of the pool. Something that they

value and will carry them through the rest of their lives. As coaches, we should know that identity in each of them. Do they want to be a nurse, are they obsessed with photography, or do

they love strumming a guitar?


Simply put, find out what they value in life.

And understand that it doesn’t need to coincide with their academic major or sport. Small passions drive us, as unique individuals, to succeed in other parts of our life. Find that in your athletes - it will help them go further in the pool and life. In my opinion, this is the most important thing you can do for your athletes.


These are just four points that have helped me establish better relationships with my athletes and

it creates mutual trust and respect between us. Get to know your athletes. It’ll help you, them,

and your program.



Brian Keane entered his first season as the assistant coach for the men’s and women’s swimming & diving programs at Boston College in September 2022.

Keane joins the Boston College staff after spending two seasons as an assistant coach at Bryant University from 2019 to 2021. During his time with the Bulldogs, Keane helped guide the women’s team to two Northeast Conference Championship titles. In 2020, the Bryant coaching staff was named the “NEC Coaching Staff of the Year.” The men’s team, which moved to the NEC during the 2020-2021 season, won their first-ever conference championship title in their inaugural year. Bryant’s program broke 10 school records and had multiple individual conference champions throughout Keane’s time in Smithfield.

Before Bryant, Keane served as an assistant coach at Babson College for two seasons. There, he played a significant role in the development and success of the Division III program, which had 21 school records broken during his tenure and recorded the largest point total in program history at the 2019 NEWMAC Championships.

In addition to collegiate coaching, Brian began his career with Kingfish Swimming in 2015. He coached the 2017 New England 15-18 Age Group Champions and several swimmers who have gone on to swim at various Division I schools across the country.


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