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The Power of Opposition

Written By: Steve Lazaraton

Opposition is one of the biggest challenges we face as coaches. We face opposition from our parents, other coaches, and sometimes even our swimmers.

However, as much as I feared it as a young coach, I realize now that growth can come from our experiences with opposition if we learn how to handle it properly.

We all have had an experience with a parent, coach or swimmer who has been adamantly opposed to what we do as coaches.

I’ll give an example. A few years ago I had a parent meeting where one individual became angry over the fact that we were not providing their young swimmer (age 8-9) long course practice time in the summer. Our team rents the city pool and has access to the pool from 7am-9am. My decision was based upon a swimmer who was new to the sport, still learning proper stroke technique, would not be best served having to wake up early every morning so they could attend the same practice time as their older sibling.

The meeting became quite contentious and ended when the parent began yelling. It is best to end a meeting when the emotions get out of hand and to offer another time to speak when we can work together to resolve an issue.

What did I do after the meeting?

I reflected.

  1. Was my decision the best for the swimmer?

  2. Was my decision the best for the team?

  3. How did the decision reflect the vision for our team?

  4. What value did I give to the parents' desire/want for their swimmer?

  5. Did I honor that parent in the discussion?

  6. Could I have handled myself differently?

2. I sought advice from my colleagues.

3. I emailed the parent and offered an opportunity to meet again.

4. I approached the parent the next time I saw them and offered another opportunity to meet and discuss their concerns. Coaches, if you are still “hot” I would encourage you to wait until you have your own emotions in check prior to a face to face meeting.

Truth. It’s taken me years of experience to confidently handle opposition. One of my first parent meetings as a coach ended with both of us yelling at each other and the head coach having to intervene. Not my finest moment.

Opposition is inevitable. How we handle it is what makes the difference.

Parents want the best for their children. I want the best for their children. When we have this as the common ground, we are a better opportunity to work through our opposition.

How can we allow the moments we face opposition to make us a better coach?

1. Listen. Give time for the other to speak. I have found it best for me to take notes during a conversation to be more engaged in what they are saying and less able to formulate thoughts in defense of my position.

2. Ask questions. Asking questions helps you to understand where the other(s) is coming from and it shows that you want to know more from them.

3. Honor. This is one of the most important skills we can develop in our professional (and personal) lives. Learn that we don’t always have the outcome we’d like to have but honoring those that oppose us creates a culture that we want for our swimmers.

4. Don’t share details of meetings with those not directly involved.

5. Don’t use your social media account (personal or otherwise) as a platform for your side. My standard for my own social media posts follow these three principles (Is it loving, encouraging, and/or supportive. If it’s not, I won’t post….And every fall I have to remind myself of the standard when SEC football begins).

6. Reflect. As I shared earlier, take time to ask yourself questions. Be willing to see things from a different perspective as well as being willing to admit that we may be wrong. If we are, be the first to admit and to make changes.

7. Set boundaries. A long time ago, I had a parent meeting where they brought up my own children. I explained that my children had no relevance to the discussion but they persisted. After they continued to press the topic, I stood up, extended my hand to shake the parent’s hand and said that I would be glad to meet another time when they could stay on topic. What are you willing to talk about, what are you not willing to talk about?

8. Learn that it is ok to disagree. The more meetings I attend, the more comfortable I am with disagreement. It’s part of our growth as coaches.

Steve Lazaraton was hired in January 2019 as the first head coach of swimming and diving at Simpson University. A former All-America swimmer at Allegheny College in Pennsylvania, Lazaraton has built an extensive coaching resume over the last two decades-plus at the high school and USA Swimming club levels in Florida, Alabama, and California. Lazaraton also competed on the University of Florida club swimming team while completing his undergraduate degree. He served as the senior assistant coach for The Bolles School in Jacksonville, Fla. for 16 seasons from 2001-16. At the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games, three former Bolles student-athletes, all who trained under Lazaraton in some capacity, earned six Gold medals. He served there under the mentoring of head coach Jon Sakovich, current Virginia Tech head coach Sergio Lopez-Miro, and current University of Florida head women's coach Jeff Poppell. At those same Rio Games, two of his former swimmers turned in record-setting performances. Ryan Murphy (USA) set a world record in the 100m backstroke, and Joseph Schooling (Singapore) set an Olympic record in the 100m butterfly.Over the last 22 years, swimmers under his coaching have earned 4 high school team national championships, 6 national high school individual event records, and 32 state high school team titles (boys and girls). Since relocating to California, Lazaraton has spent three seasons as head coach of the Shasta YMCA Sharks (formerly SOAR), a community-based program leading swimmers at the national and state championship levels. Lazaraton has also served as an adjunct instructor at Simpson teaching classes in Calculus and Algebra since 2017. He graduated from the University of Florida (1995) with a degree in geology. He also earned a Master's degree from the University of Florida (1996) in Science Education. Lazaraton and his wife, Lisa, are the parents of Sophia and Chloe, and reside in Redding.

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