Written By: Meredith Griffin
I recently hit a milestone birthday and while I prefer to look out the front windshield of life, the occasion did make me realize that there is a lot of scenery in my rear view mirror. I don’t wish to go back in time but there is one thing I wish my 20-something self had learned early on – Ask questions. Talk to different people.
As a young female YMCA head coach in a very competitive swimming town with multiple club programs, I felt like I had to fight for credibility with everyone, especially with other coaches in the LSC. While I was eager to lead the program, I was reticent around coaches from other teams. I didn’t ask questions or engage them in conversations. I thought I would appear ignorant rather than inquisitive, a lightweight rather than a learner. Experience has taught me how stupid that was. I was showing ignorance by NOT asking questions and initiating conversations. Oh, the things I could have learned!
Thankfully, I was absorbed into the YMCA swimming community and those conversations came to me. There is something very collegial about YMCA swimming. Perhaps it is the common goals to which Y programs aspire – in and out of the pool. Maybe it is the frequency of seeing the same coaches or sharing the uniqueness of Y meets. There is a palpable sense of family, with plenty of siblings to learn from, and with. Veteran coaches asked about my experiences, asked my opinion and invited me to be active in committees.
In April 2020, some colleagues and I began weekly “Y Coaches Forums” to share ideas, ask questions and learn from different people. Y coaches from around the country joined in on Zoom, often just to help each other navigate a new reality. For a while, our theme was No GPS for This Journey but in actuality, we were a collective compass. The view out the front windshield was foggy, to be sure, but we helped each other move forward as best we could. Those forums gave us space to ask a lot of questions and talk with a lot of different people. They have been so valuable that we will continue them on a monthly basis with different coaches sharing the roles of presenter and facilitator.
Today I am (happily) an assistant coach on a staff with several young coaches who were not born when I first became a head coach. I appreciate their creativity, perspective, energy and commitment. I enjoy learning from them and sharing ideas. I am confident they will build successful coaching careers. They ask questions. They talk to different people.
If you are an experienced coach, I encourage you to engage those who are newer to the profession. Ask about their experience, ideas and invite them to join you on committees. There is power in invitation.
If you are a newer, or even a shy coach, have 2-3 “go-to” open ended questions that you would be comfortable asking someone you don’t know well. “Tell me about…” is a great lead-in. So is, “What do you think about…?” and “How do you like to…?” If you are more comfortable, ask a veteran coach, “What is something that you have changed over the course of your career?”
Meredith currently coaches with the YMCA of the Triangle Area in North Carolina. She has been coaching for over 30 years with YMCA, USA Swimming, USMS and local club teams across four states. She has coached swimmers from the summer league to Olympic Trials levels. She also serves as the Technical Advisor for Competitive Aquatics with the YMCA of the USA. Meredith swam for the University of Iowa and continues to swim and compete in Masters meets.