top of page

Peer Coaching & Creating An Environment of Learning

Written By: Mike Joyce

I’ve been coaching now for ten years and here’s what I know: I know that I don’t know everything and that being on deck is different than being in the water. I’m open to learning from my athletes and I allow them to explore and teach. They teach me skills and drills that they have found beneficial in their attempt of finding the path of least resistance. Once that skill is mastered I allow for, but also hope for “peer-coaching” to take place. From there I observe, listen, and give my feedback in order to create an environment of open learning. Delegating this autonomy to each athlete has brought me better listening and coaching skills. All the while the athletes themselves gain experience taking ownership of their swimming and bettering their team. It’s been a win-win and something I have found doable at nearly all levels of swimming.

My first real coaching job was as the Head Age Group Coach of the Raleigh Swimming Association (RSA). As a young first time Coach, I only knew what I had done as an athlete and that it worked, at least for me. Thus, that’s what we did. A few months later, I hastily learned that there are many ways from point A to point B and how I communicate can be interpreted differently for each athlete. It was then that I began allowing my athletes to be visual demonstrators of what it was I was expressing and how I would like for things to be done. Realizing this was an important key in my development as a coach and was the introduction of peer coaching within my groups.

As the years went on I’d watch the most elite athletes in my group (State Champions, Conference Champions, All-Americans, etc.) teach the newcomers skills that made them elite. In turn the team got better and the athletes learned things quicker than before. Now don’t get me wrong, this is not an every minute of every practice thing. I aim to use this method in early season technical work and during peak performance cycles throughout warmup and again during warm down. As the training cycles build and the seasons pass, be rest assured you’ll see a blossom of culture that emphasizes TEAM when they know they have the power to “coach”.

One of the skills I’ve always taught (at all levels), but it’s a skill better taught by their teammates is the back to breast cross over turn. Yes, as a former All-American IM’er, I rely on my athletes to teach this turn effectively to all newcomers. It just works better when they can visually see their teammate demonstrate this skill. The communication from deck to water doesn’t get lost in translation and get the athletes tangled both figuratively and literally. The video attached is how I would incorporate this teachable moment into a workout during a huge “Holiday Training” block of work.

Mike Joyce will be entering his first season with Minnesota Swimming & Diving in 2021-22. He was named Associate Head Coach of the men’s and women’s programs in May 2021. Joyce is joining the Maroon and Gold after spending three seasons as an assistant coach at Auburn University. In his time there, Joyce helped coach the Tigers to a 12th place team finish at the women’s 2019 NCAA Championships, as well as helping 12 student-athletes to 36 total All-American honors. Among those 12 were three who claimed at least six AA honors each, as Erin Falconer and Claire Fisch nabbed six apiece and Aly Tetzloff garnered an outstanding seven at the 2019 national championships.

At the conference level, Joyce and the Tigers were able to tally a pair of top-six finishes at the women’s SEC Conference Championships over his three years with the program, with three individual SEC titles coming as a result. Before his time at Auburn, Joyce spent the 2017-18 season with the Arizona State University Sun Devils, helping coach them to 20th and 23rd place finishes at the 2018 men’s and women’s NCAA Championships, respectively. Prior to his one year stint at ASU, Joyce spent time coaching in the Ivy League with the Princeton Tigers. With the Tigers, Joyce served as the lead Sprint & Middle-Distance Coach, helping them claim the 2016 Ivy League conference championship and dual-meet titles as well as assisting 2016 Ivy League Men’s Coach of the Year Rob Orr. He also helped coach four individual Ivy League conference champions, three conference relay champions, seven Scholar All-Americans and seven Olympic Trials qualifiers. Joyce has also spent time as a volunteer assistant coach at NC State, as well as having experience with the Raleigh Swimming Association, Gator Swim Club Elite and the University of Florida. Over his career, he has also coached a number of World University Games, European Championship and Olympic Trials qualifiers. An All-American and two-time Olympic Trials qualifier, Joyce graduated from the University of Florida with his B.S. in Event and Recreation Management in 2011 before obtaining his Master of Education in Educational Leadership and Administration in 2015. In his time as a student-athlete with the Gators, Joyce earned a perfect four consecutive NCAA Scholar All-America and SEC Academic First Team honors. Joyce currently resides in Eden Prairie, Minn. His wife Kirsten, who was also an All-American swimmer at Florida, is a neonatal nurse. They have three boys together, Hayes, Graham and William, the younger two of which are identical twins.

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page