Keys for Aspiring Age Group Coaches

Written By: Tyler Kerns

  • Find a mentor(s) - Be humble enough to admit you don’t know it all and seek people with experience and integrity who can add value to your coaching career. Mentors have been critical in my development throughout my career and I utilize this “network” of coaches often. I’ve been intentional about developing relationships with coaches who I respect and value their opinion. I’ll reach out to them on a variety of topics with questions or seeking their input on an idea. They are experts in creating a team culture, developing successful age groupers, training high-performance athletes, building an organization, and other elements critical for successful club teams. New coaches, don’t be afraid to ask questions to someone you notice doing a good job. I realize this can be hard for many coaches, because of the fear of someone judging your coaching ability based on your question. Most of the time you’ll find that coaches are great at sharing information. Some of them will be more than willing to tell you how good of a job they’re doing!

  • Be authentic in your style - You’ll notice many different coaching styles on display at meets. One coach may provide calm, anecdotal instruction while another may be blunter and direct in their instruction to an athlete. Both styles can be effective, and you should observe and learn from the successful coaches on deck, but don’t try to be a clone of them when you interact with your team. Along the same lines, there’s a lot of training and technique information available to coaches. While most of it comes from widely recognized coaches, many of whom are fantastic, don’t carelessly insert a workout or technique into your practice without discernment. I’ve seen a lot of young coaches struggle with identifying and confidently representing their coaching style; I believe it causes their coaching to fall short of what they truly represent and what value they have to offer. It is imperative to be reflective of your style and to do so often. Once you identify your style, work towards building trust with your athletes by being authentic. For me, I’m all about energy and a positive outlook on the opportunity ahead. Most coaches who know me will probably tell you I could use an “off” button sometime and they’re probably right.

  • Provide consistency - You can’t lead if you don’t stick around! When I think of the successful age group programs across the country I think of the age group coaches that brought stability to that club for years or decades. The most successful programs are built on the law of consistency. They have routinely implemented a system of decision making with focus and passion towards a team goal. Consistency isn’t the flashiest, most attention-grabbing quality but it’s the one that takes motivation and turns it into growth. Consistency in your program is built daily and your athletes will imitate your efforts in being consistent. If you are late to practice, or unprepared, or uncommitted they will likely be the same.

  • Have a growth mindset - We ask our swimmers to challenge themselves and grow as athletes daily, so we need to hold ourselves to the same standards. Set aside sometime every day to learn something new. While many coaches will gravitate towards learning more about training and technique, and that’s ok, your value as a coach is not limited to your impact on your team’s performance in the water. This statement may sound ridiculous to some coaches, but I credit much of my development in the “soft skills” of coaching to early experience as a head coach of a big summer league team. As a very young coach, I was forced to be a leader, to be self-motivated to get the administrative work done, to communicate with parents, manage other coaches, problem solve, be flexible, be decisive, work under stress and time constraints, and resolve conflicts. Regardless of the level of swimmers you coach, those skills will always make you more valuable to your team and, potentially, the job that will become your career. If you are young and want a career in coaching, remember the job you have now is your best audition for the job you may want one day.

  • Everyone > Anyone - Everyone is greater than anyone means you promote a team-first approach to your program.

  • Everyone must be accountable for the things they can control — attitude, effort, behavior, and actions as a good teammate.

  • Everyone must invest in the success of their teammates and the process to achieve team goals.

  • Everyone must understand that their value to the program is not defined by a place or a time, but rather by their efforts toward the team goals.

  • Everyone in your program is important, not just the LSC champ or NAG record holder.

An age group coaches impact on the personal and athletic development of their swimmers is important and it's up to us to take it seriously and professionally.

Coach ‘em up!

Tyler Kerns serves as the Head Age Group Coach for the City of Mobile Swim Association in Mobile, AL and has coached swimmers from novice to Senior National qualifiers. Tyler is also involved in the administrative and legislative side of the sport. He has served on the Southeastern Swimming Board of Directors as the Age Group Chair, Finance Chair, and Treasurer. Tyler has also represented the LSC at the USA Swimming National Convention and has served on the Southern Zone Age Group committee. He currently co-hosts “Holding Water,” a webcast designed as an educational source and information sharing platform for coaches. You can view the show on YouTube or on the Facebook pages for Florida Swim Network or Swimming World.

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