Written By: Kate Greenwood
A wise and gifted peer once told me to never be afraid to ask questions, the easy, the hard, and the stupid. Learning and growth come when you continually absorb all you can. I was also given some advice as a graduate student that said- be comfortable in what I know and to know what I don't know but not to dwell on it. It's impossible to know everything, and that's ok! Just don't ever stop exploring and learning. I think that fits perfectly when we think about coaching and leadership development. Don't limit where you draw your advice and education from. It can come from other coaches, your swimmers, training courses, clinics, lectures, etc.
Understanding What You Bring to the Table.
For a few weeks, about partway through my first year of coaching, my 12&U team switched practice pools, and I started coaching on deck at the same time as another coach from a different team. He is a coach with a big reputation, and being there alone on deck with him sometimes left me feeling extremely intimidated. We coached at the same end of the pool, and I would watch him during practices and often leave feeling like a failure. I'd question myself and what I was doing; my sets and technique instruction differed from his. My kids did not look like his, and my practices were a bit louder. After a few weeks or so of having a really awful mindset about going to practice, I gave myself a pep-talk.
I realized comparing myself to him wasn't doing me or my swimmers any good. This coach had been doing his thing for a while and would, of course, have more years of experience and differing coaching philosophies than me. How could I even compare myself to him?
I wasn't going to evolve as a coach by comparing myself to others, and my team wasn't going to grow either with this mindset. So, I switched things up. I started coaching from the opposite end of the pool and decreased my interaction with this other coach, which left me feeling more confident and gave me more space to do my thing. I had a planning and goal setting session with myself and made some long and short term goals. And, as luck would have it, our national development coach moved his group to my pool at the same time as my practice. Having someone on deck next to me who supported me and that I felt comfortable asking questions to made a big difference in my mentality and confidence.
I started asking questions and doing my own research and began to again realize my worth as a coach. I had the experience and the foundation for the beginning stages of swimming and stroke development. I knew what I was doing, but I also was very aware of what I didn't know.
I started asking, "so what's next?" Where do I go from here? How does what I know play into my evolution as a swim coach for 22 kids 12&U or my aspirations to one day coach at a higher level?
Ask the Questions. Become A Sponge.
Well, learning all the things, obviously. But all those things take time, and some things often just come with the experience. My advice is to become a sponge. It's all in the journey, not the race. Don't, however, let yourself become overwhelmed by what you don't know. Take it one step at a time.
During my first goal planning session, I listed specific things I wanted to learn or better understand as they pertained to my team and our goals, and my personal goals. My first step was structuring my practices. Most of the kids already knew each other, but I was new to them, and they were new to me. I worked on getting to know my kids on an independent non-swimming level, watching how they learned and interacted with me and their peers, and made notes during practice of specific things my team needed to focus on, and sometimes the notes weren’t swimming related.
As I’ve mentioned a million times over, I asked a lot of questions! Sometimes asking the same question more than once to different people. I spent a lot of time doing my own independent research, but I also sought answers from the two senior coaches on our staff. My second piece of advice- find someone you feel comfortable talking to and ask them questions! For me, that's our team's two senior-level coaches, and boy, do I ask them a lot of questions.
Through my research and asking questions, I was able to better understand and map out a practice structure that was designed around our meet schedule and season goals for the team. Using the season plan I created, I structured a weekly practice schedule and made personal and professional goals for each week. I made goals with my swimmers as a team and as individuals to track progress.
Where do I go next
I was encouraged to keep going, keep asking questions, and moving forward. I worked on finding a mentor outside my organization and have had the opportunity to network with many wonderful people. There are a few groups on Facebook for swim coaches that I joined, and having a group of experienced coaches from all over the world to network and talk with and pose questions to has been a beneficial tool to have in my coaching toolbox.
Our club team practices at three different pools, meaning there are three separate 12&U teams with three different coaches. One of my greatest assets has been working with the two other 12&U coaches and learning from them. Learning how they teach and the various methods they use to explain and train their kids has been extremely beneficial to me. Every other Friday, we have a combined practice with all three of our teams. We design this practice as a clinic and work on specific things that all our kids need targeted work on. This means that during the week, we are talking and communicating with each other about what our kids need more focus on and areas where we can strengthen before our next meet.
I joined the American Swimming Coaches Association (ASCA) and started taking their coaching courses, which I have loved. In the ASCA Coaching Level 2 Stroke School training, John Leonard talks about creating an "Elite File." He recommends compiling a file of all the things you have learned about and where they came from, keep track of and highlight things you have liked, and save techniques and tools that have worked with you and your team. I loved this idea, and it has really helped me at times when I'm feeling down about my skills and abilities and need a little reminder that I know what I'm doing.
My first year of coaching has had lots of trial and error, and there will probably be lots more, but that is what learning is all about. Not everything will work all the time, and I had to learn how to adjust and re-shift my focus when something wasn't working. These are a few of the resources where I have sought out and absorbed the knowledge that helped me have a successful first year of coaching.
American Swimming Coaches Association (ASCA)
Fitter and Faster
MySwimPro: Their Youtube channel has a lot of great material. They have a segment called #whiteboardwedneday that is really great! In some of their videos, they break down different stroke mechanics and techniques. It's always well-explained, and the other 12&U coaches and I have our kids watch segments of the instructional videos as part of our Friday clinics.
Fear, imposter syndrome, and lack of confidence are just a few of the things that can quickly kill growth and progression. Don't let the overwhelm caused by any of these factors keep you from moving forward and developing in your coaching career. Set small goals for yourself and move towards them. Everything doesn't have to be done at once. Don't be afraid to ask your questions. Remember your worth. You've got this!
Kate Greenwood lives in Southern Utah and is a first-year coach for the SUSA Stingrays 12&U group. She was a distance freestyler in college but her favorite stroke is Butterfly. She holds a BA from Utah State University and an MS from Missouri State University. When she's not coaching or swimming herself, Kate loves reading, quilting, cooking, traveling.