Written By: Rich Szczepinski
I suck at a lot of stuff. I mean it, I am terrible. I am so bad at being on time, my own family lies to me about the time of events. Phone calls are the bane of my existence. If I have to return a call it hangs over my head like a guillotine until I am forced to return it. My voicemail greeting is a plea to send me an email or text me instead. Send me a text or email and you’ll likely get a reply back in minutes. When Streamline Teams first called and asked me to write this article, I kid you not, I responded to the call with an email. I am sure that we can all relate to aspects of our daily life or job that we struggle to complete.
The point is that I know what I can and cannot do and I avoid the latter like a crowded indoor space in 2020. When I tell people that I have a multi-city law practice, own a 130 swimmer USA Swim Club, coach high school, manage a couple of pools, and find time to volunteer for the state association and local swim committee, people look at me like I must have a twin. When I recently coached at the Zone Championships with a buddy I knew since high school, he was convinced I didn’t sleep. I was not always this way, here is a little outline of how I managed to get to this point and some tips on how you can maximize your time and not feel overwhelmed by the demands of being a swim coach.
1. Know your true strengths and weaknesses.
The first step is knowing what you can do best and areas where you would be better off finding somebody to help. In law school I discovered a businessman and writer by the name of Marcus Buckingham who reframed a dynamic I had misunderstood my entire life. I was always taught that the things I was good at were my strengths and items I struggled with were my weaknesses. Writing was a strength, math was a weakness. Buckingham flipped this idea for me when I read his book “First, Break all the Rules.” The core of his argument is that a true strength is not just something you are good at, but it is something that you enjoy doing and makes you feel strong. You may even be bad at the task itself, but love doing it. While a weakness is not something you are bad at, you might actually be quite good at the task itself, but when you are doing it you feel exhausted, drained, and would literally rather be doing anything else. When you know what you are good at and are lucky enough to enjoy it, that is a true strength in which you will grow the most and find the most success.
So I did what any eager young swim coach would do, I kept track of my next month and made a list of activities that made me feel strong and those that made me feel weak. I won’t put the whole list here but, here are a few:
1. Organization: Organizing, planning, and writing workouts.
2. Motivated athletes: working with the athletes that “want to be there” versus those that aren’t sure swimming is their thing.
3. Learning: I loved gaining insight about coaching in and out of the pool from more experienced coaches.
1. Names: Trying to remember all the swimmer and parent names.
2. Socializing: I really, really do not like small talk, happy hours, mixers, networking, you name it.
3. Motivation: I cannot relate to lazy athletes or those that clearly don’t want to be there.
I played around with this idea for roughly a decade, updating and adding to my lists, before the second piece clicked into place for me. I was listening to a podcast and the guest that day was an entrepreneur by the name of Gary Vaynerchuk. If you’ve never heard of Gary, the core of his argument is that you can build a business around doing what you love... if you’re good enough. You need to have enough self-awareness however, to know if you are good enough, and to know what you need help with to succeed.
When I decided to start my own swim club in 2013, I had no concerns over how I would check off all the boxes needed by USA Swimming for a new club, how I would form a new business, how to run payroll, or any of the core “dry” side tasks as I had advised small businesses for years. My largest concerns were how I would “sell” this new concept to parents, how would I find coaches that complimented my coaching style, and how would I find the time to run a club with a law practice now spanning two cities and states. I wrote down a list of what I would need help with which led to the second part of being productive not busy:
2. Find trusted partners to do what you can’t.
In the process of getting my team started, I reviewed my list and focused it down to key areas. I was still pretty solid at the same activities and pretty much the same activities drained me beyond belief. If I was going to run a swim club on top of a law practice, I definitely needed to find like minded individuals who complimented my strengths and filled in some of the weaknesses. I therefore only sought out coaches that were great with people, fantastic at coaching age groupers, and were always early to meets and practices. This freed me up to play to my strengths. This would allow me to coach the senior and national level athletes. It would free me up to build a social media presence on twitter, facebook, instagram, and Snapchat to passively communicate with parents and athletes while my assistants took care of the small talk and outings. And the best part of all is that I didn’t have to worry about a coach being there when the athletes arrived because they were always early!
I found multiple coaches that were school teachers. Not only were they amazing working with the athletes, they were used to being punctual, structured, and working with a lesson plan. I found younger coaches that understood social media, could help me “fill in the blanks” in my knowledge, and had the energy to make swimming fun for the kids that were not sure it was their thing. And I found coaches that loved working with younger swimmers. Finally, with the help of my coaches, we gathered a group of dedicated, supportive parents, that could help organize all the social events for the club: banquets, holiday parties, parent socials, you name it. All the things I had identified as my weaknesses were now covered by people that would do it better and it freed me up to play to my strengths.
3. Utilize Technology
As the club grew from roughly 40 swimmers our first year to over 150 at two sites, I learned another important lesson: technology is your friend. In addition to communicating and telling our story on social media, we have a fully built out website (thanks to another amazing assistant coach). We utilize fully online registration for the club and for meets. We send out weekly update emails to parents, swimmers, and coaches with important news and updates. And we utilize Slack to organize and share workouts among coaches and practice sites. Without these technological shortcuts, I would probably need to work another 10-15 hours every week making and answering calls, meeting with coaches and parents, or other in-person tasks that fall under my weaknesses.
Finding technology that allowed for us to share our story, communicate with parents and athletes, and organize our business was key to our growth. Here are a few that I have found vital:
Social Media: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and YouTube
Team Management and Registration: Active SwimManager and Team Unify
Communication: The team website, email and text managers (ours is built into Active SwimManager), and Slack Organization: I would suggest picking a platform and sticking with it. I use all Apple products so that my calendars and to-do lists sync across my computers, phones, and iPad so that I won’t miss anything. I also write everything down and put all appointments in my calendar, even daily practices that don’t change.
4. Find ways to give back to the sport.
Even though this falls under a weakness of mine, I make it a point of reaching out to a network of coaches each week to stay in touch and ask if there is anything I can do to help. This network keeps me in touch with what is going on, allows me to give back behind the scenes, and gives me a solid group to bounce ideas off of when needed. This is how I have wound up serving as the Vice Chair of Finance for our local swim committee and as Treasurer for our state coaches association. Trusted colleagues of mine asked if I would help and since it played perfectly to one of my strengths (organizing and writing reports) I was happy to help!
Many young coaches fall into the trap of thinking they don’t need help. While you may feel you have a good handle on all that you need to get done on a daily basis, having a good network of like-minded individuals to bounce ideas off of and a support network is key for when you are struggling. Just remember it’s a two way street and you should use your skills to help others.
In conclusion, there is no secret to doing it all, it’s more about doing what you’re good at and finding people to help along the way with what you’re not. In the end, there are tools and individuals that can help you along the way, but they are no substitute for doing the work and knowing your own strengths and weaknesses. If I can help you in any way, please feel free to reach out.Via email of course... CoachRich@SLawOffice.com or you can follow us on all forms of social media at CLE Swimming.
A native of Greater Cleveland, Rich is the Owner and Head Coach of CLE Swimming, which he established in 2013. He is also the director of a law practice with offices in suburban Toledo and suburban Cleveland. A 2001 graduate of Hiram College and a 2004 graduate of the University of Toledo School of Law, he has a background in Economics, Finance, and Real Estate which he uses to advise small businesses and clients across the US. In 2019 he was named the Head Coach for Olmsted Falls High School and currently serves as the Treasurer for the Ohio High School Swim Coaches Association and the Western Clubs Swim League. Prior to moving back to the Cleveland area in 2012 to form CLE Swimming, Rich coached with the Greater Toledo Aquatic Club under USA National Team coaches Keith Kennedy and Lars Jorgensen. Since its' founding in 2013, CLE Swimming has produced multiple Sectional, Futures, Juniors, US Open, and Senior National Qualifiers. Athletes from CLE Swimming currently compete in every NCAA Division.