What Coaches, Swimmers and Parents Do and Want?

By Chuck Slaght

NAPLES, Florida, November 24. SWIM coaches are a different breed: a tough breed. Of course there are some bad coaches, many good coaches, and less than 10 percent of great coaches. Swimmers have a job description and an expectation to live up to. Parents as a whole are called upon to support their children and the coach more so in swimming than any other sport. Look at the craziness involved in this sport called swimming.

What do coaches do? They are up daily at 4 or 5 a. m., for morning workouts and are there everyday even when sick. Some may have other jobs because coaches are underpaid like most teachers, so they have to hold down another job (parents and athletes could raise more funds for the coach, why not?). Then comes evening workouts back somewhere between 4 and 6 p.m. with workouts running more than two hours. So, at 8:30 p.m., coaches are just leaving or getting home: not exactly dinner by candlelight.

Where does administration time come in with weekends for meets or some family-time? Ask some devoted coaches' spouses what they think about swimming in general or especially problem swimmers and parents (my wife and surely Sherrill Nelson contribute to their husband's coaching job: helping no less). Coaches also have to gain knowledge by reading, researching and corresponding, which also takes time. Coaches have to politic for pool time or even to build a facility and then have to help run it. But, coaches want great facilities with all the latest equipment.

Coaches have to plan workouts, a season, meets, communicate with swimmers/parents, go to meetings, take certification courses and a slough of other things too numerous to mention (just ask your coach for more duties that they have). They are also husbands/wives, mothers/fathers, friends and individuals. They have to do all the normal things in life that just eat up more time (vacuum, wash, shop, cook, drive). Figure this out, it takes 20 minutes to drive to the pool, a coach must be early to open up and then close or talk to people, hold a two-hour workout and then drive home once/twice or three times a day (twice a day equals more than 6 hours of no administration time).

Coaches are counselors to swimmers, parents, families and other coaches. They also have to know what it takes for each individual swimmer come meet time. They have to know how to get swimmers there on the blocks and how to pick them up from a dismal swim which happens. Coaches have to run an organization with many different personalities (good and bad), maintain records, run Hy-Tek, enter swimmers in meets, do the billing each month having taken attendance all month (hopefully), collect/post monies and deposit them and raise funds for the organization to survive.

Coaches are travel agents booking hotels, flights/bus transportation, planning meal sites and time frames (never enough time in the day to eat). Coaches have to work with other coaches, instructors/lifeguards and parents working for the organization (officers, workers, officials, etc), hopefully mentoring them and this too takes time and a lot of communication. When done for the day at 10 p.m., it's time to go to bed. How does one sleep with all this stuff on one's agenda and the speed at which coaches must travel even if just in their own minds?

Coaches expect swimmers to come to workouts: on time with a great attitude, ready to train to the best of their ability, ready to learn how to swim better further faster than anyone else, ready nutritionally to maintain and support the workout requirements for energy utilization, with outside interference such as school and home life factors all at a minimum, under control and not affecting their ability to concentrate and swim efficiently, and ready mentally to be challenged.

Coaches also expect parents to support their children mentally, physically and emotionally for the long haul of training and at all meets good, great, and bad. Swimmers have expectations directed by coaches and external expectations placed on them by parents and others lead to undue pressure and ultimately to failure and schisms between the swimmer, coaches, parents, and others. Coaches should not communicate with parents during swim practices: parents should call and schedule a conference for before or after workouts, but by all means talk with coaches on a regular basis.

What do swimmers do or need to do? Attend workouts daily sacrificing social time with friends and parents. Keep up good grades and maintain a clean room at home and help (reasonably) around the house (this should be the case anyway). Swim their hearts out at every practice and perform perfectly each set: no stroke flaws great splits (right). Communicate with parent(s) in a civil manner even though hormones are flooding their minds with crazy thoughts about adults in leadership roles (parents, teachers, etc). Eat properly and hydrate so they can train at a higher level than any other sport (no candy, Cokes, fast foods especially greasy ones, what happened to good foods anyway?).

Get into the water having limited hearing, sight, and temperature issues, and swim your heart out only to hear that your stroke is wrong and to fix it (even if you have a good coach with all the right drills it isn't easy to change: right?). Be expected to swim more than 400 workouts a year, doing more than 6,000 meters per workout (2,400,000 meters plus a year), at various intensities 80 percent, 90 percent, 95 percent and all-out effort, hypoxic training, kick sets, pull sets, IM sets, stroke sets, and on and on and on. Swimmers are expected to give up vacations, train really hard during school breaks, never be late, do crazy dry land sets, run bleachers/stairs or just run, ice shoulders/legs/injuries, stay away from sick people, never get sick, two times a day (what would football/baseball/soccer players be like if they kept this schedule?).

Swimmers expect challenging workouts and critiquing of strokes on a frequent basis. They also expect educated and experienced coaches as they progress. Swimmers expect freedom to train, to compete, and to progress when they train properly. Swimmers demand privacy in their communication with coaches (listen not lecture) and good counsel and compassion when they have problems, as well as occasional parental counseling when familial problems arise. Swimmers expect a safe and cordial training environment including intra-team relationships. Swimmers also expect discipline that is fair but just and appropriate. Swimmers do not want to be compared to others they are individuals and want to be treated as such.

What do parents do? Hopefully they are positive reinforcers as anything else will implode a swimmer's career. Parents have to unconditionally love their swimmer-athlete and understand they are participating in a worthy activity (not wasting their lives at the mall, running the streets, dazed in front of TV, on the Internet, or gaming their lives away). They are the main support for the athlete considering they are paying the bills and burning up tremendous time blocks and energy driving all over God's creation for practices and meets. Parents spend enormous amounts of kitchen time preparing to feed their kids/athletes the right foods in vast quantities and frequently, too frequently, and insure their kids are properly hydrated.

Parents have to go to meets (long hours to watch maybe less than 20 minutes of actual swimming) in miserable conditions with other parents, some unwilling participants. Parents have to pick their kids up off the deck after having trained for months only to swim times that they swam five years ago again and again (success does come but at a price sometimes too costly for parents). Parents have to raise money through crazy schemes and fundraisers, stand on a deck timing/officiating/concessioning only to miss their child swim the only good race of the day/month/year. Parents have to support the coaches even though at times they think that the coach(es) have totally lost their minds. Parents have to be friends to their kids even when they are treated like "stupid idiots" as most adolescents would tell them frequently. Parents are there through thick and thin, good and bad, hopefully always picking up after them and even sometimes picking them up out of the doldrums of defeat by a meager one one-thousandth of a second driving home in the silence of despair.

Parents expect great swims (results) from their swimmers every race (it doesn't always happen due to various training phases, timelines and plateaus). Parents want a highly trained and compassionate coach for their kids especially due to money and time expended (some coaches spend more time with an athlete than their parents due to job demands and swim schedules). Parents expect coaches to train their children in good moral tenets, positive values and life skills that will make them successful members of society. Parents expect coaches to counsel and moderate athletes sometimes intervening in tense family discourse (argument mediation), producing a skewed positive outcome (sometimes they are right; sometimes they are not so right). Do coaches really walk on water, athletes and parents can think so? Trust me they don't. Parents expect the best possible training facility, equipment, and surrounding environment for their kids (wouldn't anyone??). Parents want the best for their kids, period.

A crazy sport for the intellectual elite, maybe. Time management skills development, surely. A lifetime of success, truly. Swimmers, parents and coaches are a rare breed, indeed.

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