3 Signs Of a Bad Coach

Head in Hands

By Wayne Goldsmith.

It’s easy to spot a good coach – energy, passion, enthusiasm, dedication, connection with their swimmers, knowledge…and it’s just as easy to identify terrible coaches.

So how do you identify terrible coaches?

  1. Terrible coaches “Tell and Yell” – they don’t listen to their swimmers or learn from them. They stand at the end of the pool – drinking coffee or talking on their phones or talking with other people instead of focusing on helping every swimmer in their program be all they can be. They yell times, they tell swimmers about technique and skills and streamlining – but they don’t connect with swimmers – they don’t work with them – they don’t empower swimmers to take ownership or responsibility for their own workouts. Instead of walking up and down the pool looking for opportunities to help swimmers improve, they stand still with one leg on the blocks yelling instructions and telling swimmers what they’re doing wrong.
  2. Terrible coaches impose their motivation on their swimmers – rather than listening to them and taking time to understand the motivation of the swimmer. They enforce training standards and workout limits rather than partnering with the swimmers and showing them how to unleash their limitless potential. They assume every swimmer wants the same thing that they – the coach – wants and as a result expects every swimmer to do things the coach’s way. They don’t care why the swimmer is training – they only care how they can they can push and drive and force the swimmer to do what they want them to do so they can further their own coaching reputations.
  3. Terrible coaches talk in absolutes – they speak in terms of “always” and “never” and “musts” instead of creating, innovating and developing new and effective ways of helping swimmers to achieve remarkable things. They set up “fake-rules” like ALL 10 year olds MUST do seven sessions a week or EVERY swimmer MUST do distance training if they are going to succeed. They don’t look to create new and exciting ways of coaching or to develop innovative and interesting ways to inspire young swimmers to do extraordinary. They don’t look to develop plans and programs designed to help each and every individual swimmer in their teams be the best they can be. They simply apply one set of rigid rules to all swimmers of all ages and any failure to comply with these rules results in negative consequences.

Terrible coaches are everywhere.

But they can change – and they can become an outstanding coach – if they remember the three key coaching concepts:

  • Listen – to your swimmers. Take time to understand them and what’s motivating them to swim.
  • Learn – be uncompromisingly committed to learning, to change, to improvement, to getting better at coaching.
  • Love – love what you do – do what you love and express that love through every aspect of your coaching – everyday.

Wayne Goldsmith

Wayne Goldsmith has been an influential figure in world swimming for more than 25 years. Visit his page here.

He led Swimming Australia’s National sports science / sports medicine program for many years and has spoken at numerous national and international swimming conferences in the USA, Canada, England, Scotland, Spain, South Africa, South Korea, Japan, The Philippines, New Zealand and Australia.

He has written more than 500 articles on swimming, swimming coaching, swimming science, triathlon and swimming performance which have been published in books, magazines and online all over the world.

Wayne has been a staff writer for Swimming World for the past ten years.

Wayne lives, writes and coaches on the Gold Coast, Australia.

Click here to contact Wayne.


  1. Caren Vondell

    I wish some coaches would read this.

  2. Kathy Beckley O

    Unfortunately my kids have had too many of these coaches in our program

  3. Penny Mcculloch

    Not just for swimming coaches but for all sports!

  4. Jen Kacz

    Rosemarie Carrillo

  5. avatar
    Mo carey

    I love watching his youtube videos

  6. avatar

    Yup. Nail head hit square on. Unfortunately my experience has been these coaches are WAY too rare. My experience is coaches focus on their fastest swimmers and bark at the rest of them. Once my daughter had a coach who really cared and worked with her to improve her technique. My daughter really performed for her because she knew her coach cared about her. Sadly she had to retire and my daughter got lost again in a giant program again. Hopefully things will get better as head coach acknowledges failing most the swimmers and the assistant coaches. I do recommend taking the time to go in and have a fair reasonable calm conversation with the coach if you feel the coaches are letting down your kid. I also recommend not rushing in – give it time; but don’t wait too long like I might have done. My daughter just did her last SC meet as a junior. Now we have to try and fix things next fall so she won’t be committing until Spring.

    • avatar

      Jennifer: “My experience is coaches focus on their fastest swimmers and bark at the rest of them.”

      Yup. Or other times just plain ignoring them completely. As an official, I have personally watched at the meets the head coach cheer vigorously for the fastest kids, and boldly not say a peep of encouragement to his own developing swimmers swimming at his feet. This closely resembles the famine diet of any relationship or encouragement with these same swimmers during the practice week.

  7. Soan Thung

    Herman, terrible coaches make you do certain sessions per week. Sound familiar?

  8. avatar
    B Marshall

    So agree with this! Unfortunately, my daughter has one of these now. Nothing is good enough for him, yet no feedback, encouragement, correction or actual coaching is ever given, especially during practice. All that is done is giving the set and yelling out times. Most practices go without anything being said to her.
    I believe coaches beed to be encouraging and supportive of their athletes. If you only bark at and chastise them, it can lead to confidence issues and then performance issues.

    • Chris Voigt

      Matthew John Fun Fact Sunday: Wayne Goldsmith has never coached any swimmers to any success ever. This article is cringeworthy.

    • Matthew John

      Actually helpful information. While I don’t think you need to produce high level athletes to be a good coach many of this guys articles seem tone deaf.

    • Douglas Joseph

      They are making a JOKE out of something that exists but that they are NOT talking about. PEDOPHILIA and all coaches of youth. Youth MINISTERS are another group to keep a VERY close eye on because THEY are the most prevalent sexual predators and consistently top the charts as SEXUAL OFFENDERS. Think I am kidding? Don’t just believe, check it out yourself. It exists and is more prevalent NOW than ever. there ARE some great coaches and I have had a few great ones during my career. Nowadays though it’s almost impossible to do anything to these creepy people even when they are CAUGHT because the attorneys and politicians are ALSO pedophiles and protect their “kind”. It is the most disgustiung thing in THEIR FU world and it MUST stop now.

  9. Thomas Richner

    Might be better to switch the angle from ‘bad things bad coaches do’ to ‘positive things good coaches do’

  10. Dick Beaver

    Just a little more SWM

    • Kara Wojcik

      Melissa Thomas yes, definitely lucky you!

    • Anne Emaus

      Jocelyne Humbert O’Kane most definitely lucky you

  11. Douglas Joseph

    Satire??? How about the CREEPY ones that eventually CO-habitated with one of the YOUNG lady swimmers they coached. Pedophilia is STILL rampant in the swimming realm and every other SPORT as well which is WHY these crazy adrenochromed people are suggesting all this made up pretend BS. Invisible enemy? Yeah, it’s YOU! You are screwing yourselves by MIS-using that Legal Name you always THOUGHT was YOU!

    Think I am crazy now do you? Well go ahead and continue on that crazy path of deception and fraud you live IN and SEE how it works for ya. If YOU fall for this BS, you deserve to be enslaved…STUPID.

    • Aeden DeGraw

      Douglas Joseph i had a coach who would stand at the door of the girls locker room and listen to them and then pull them aside to have conversations with them after about how you don’t gossip about your coach. i left the club because of this man and it was just disturbing.

  12. Sharon Frazier

    My coach used to smoke on the pool deck while we were swimming, curse at us, write the entire workout on the chalkboard and leave, and put his leg up on the starting blocks while wearing shorts( accidentally showing his testicles). At same time, there were coaches doing worse things to the female swimmers in my area. These three things listed are small potatoes.

    • Rachel Handren

      I agree Sharon. You must have swam in the 80s/90s when coaches had free will to do whatever they wanted to swimmers without any consequences

    • Kelly Kaye

      Sharon Frazier sounds familiar

    • Sharon Frazier

      Rachel Handren you are correct about the era. Mid 1980’s.

  13. Douglas Joseph

    These people are DESTROYING everything we must have to enjoy life. This MUST end. Walk away from these crazy asshats and lets form our OWN cooperative that those asshats are NOT allowed to participate in. WALK AWAY NOW.

  14. Erik Lebsack

    Sounds like some coaches in Boulder

  15. Kate Dunne

    You could add a lot to this list… My kids of had all kinds of coaches… The bad ones were really bad…When it’s about the coach and not about the kid… That will tell you everything you need to know

  16. avatar
    Julie Dow

    It’s a shame that some of these coaches get into power and ruin kids love of swimming.

  17. Jen Mirandy Raue

    Sounds like the head coach of Loyola New Orleans

  18. Anne Emaus

    Sadly there are too many this is reminiscent of….

  19. Angelynn Nguyen

    Angel Sandoval I wonder who this reminds me of 🙂

  20. Darci Greenfield

    Ah yes, the classic one foot up on the block…For the entire practice ?

  21. Rachel Handren

    Where do I begin. I had a coach throw metal chairs, tables and hurl kickboards at us. I had a coach make us do sit-ups in our swimsuits on tile pool deck until our tailbones started bleeding (same coach would try to make us swim entire workouts butterfly). I had one coach wear short shorts and put his leg up on the block showing his testicles. My college coach thought it would be a grand idea to have us climb up a rope from the water to the 5M platform which caused me to tear the labrum in my shoulder. And many coaches did bodyfat testing/weigh ins. I had so many teammates with eating disorders. Oh, and lets not forget about the coaches that slept with teenage swimmers on the team.

  22. Rochelle Price

    Swimming club committees should read this article …. then spend some quiet time observing all their coaches … then reassess the coaches and work on what can be improved for their swimmers …

    • Charlie TU

      Shane Ashcroft number 1 is quite funny ?

  23. Aeden DeGraw

    yep, i left a club because of a coach
    who could never follow through with anything he said.

  24. Diane Stafford

    Jennifer Hornby Leanne Stafford Jonathan Stafford worth a read

  25. Rad Cernus

    Considering the current situation, the huge gap in training, the possibility that some swimmers will not come back after being absent from pool for weeks if not months and might feel lack of connection we should probably be posting/reading positive stories about the massive number of fabulous coaches that want only the best for their swimmers.

  26. Meredith Caddis

    Bridget sound like any particular “head coach”?

  27. avatar
    Remyr Angeles

    Coaching is a work of HEART . . .

  28. Matthew John

    Do they just keep reposting the same half-ass article under different titles? ??‍♂️??‍♂️??‍♂️

    • Rae Rae

      Matthew John yes

    • Rae Rae

      Matthew John they do it with the reopening plan too. Just remind me every day how we won’t be able to afford it for a while lol.

      Instead of repackaging the negativity, they could be reaching out to teams from different areas and asking what they’re doing to stay together apart. Sort of like inspirational pieces while also giving other teams ideas. Just a thought ??‍♀️

      • avatar
        Craig Lord - Swimming World Editor-in-Chief

        Rae Rae, ‘Negativity’ is like beauty and oft misused, as is ‘positivity’. Eye of beholder; another man’s poison; pinch of salt and so forth. Our small team has done just what for you suggest for many weeks now, in places far and wide, Italy, Spain, UK, Australia and yes, with some U.S programs, too. You must, somehow, have missed it. We’ve been busy too, with a lot of very varied coverage in a season without any swimming. Your shrug is matched by a team shrug right back at ya 🙂

    • Matthew John

      I just can’t stand the “coaches who speak in absolutes are bad mentors” as this dude tells us in absolutes what makes a good coach and what doesn’t ??‍♂️

  29. Tanya Penrod

    Good article. I think there’s a 4th though… the “left front fender” where they coach every person the same way, with the same exact technique then gets mad when their kids don’t improve, blaming the swimmer instead of the their lack of coaching.

  30. Joanna Florio-Jefferys

    I like the article, because the writer included how to correct the negatives & it reminds everyone to be mindful.

  31. Jenoa Olson

    Why do I keep seeing coach shaming articles every other day? It’s frustrating.

    • John Dussliere

      Jenoa Olson some need to tear things down. Sad, really.

    • Jenoa Olson

      John Dussliere it’s a difficult profession, especially for us 3 season seasonal coaches.

    • Lyle Campbell

      Jenoa Olson
      Amen. This writer gravitates to this way of thinking.

  32. Mark S Miller

    Good swim, good swimmer
    Bad swim, bad coach?