4 Ways to Best Communicate With Coach

Coach Troy and Elizabeth Beisel enjoy talk before the first day preklims.
Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

By Emma Foster, Swimming World College Intern

Coaches. They are some of the most influential people in a swimmer’s life. While their primary role is centered around developing fast swimmers, many coaches are much more than that. Nutritionist, first-aid personnel, and mentor are just some of the hats a coach might don in a single day. Spending time with athletes for as many hours as our sport requires often creates strong bonds between coaches and athletes that last long after the swimmer’s last race is swum.

At the same time, sometimes the relationship between a coach and athlete encounters strain. Whether it is through disagreement over training plans, or simply a conflict in personalities, this can put a lot of stress on the training environment.

Open communication is key to a successful coach-athlete relationship. While there does not always have to be complete agreement, if both the athlete and coach come at the relationship through a position of respect their partnership is sure to be successful.

With that in mind, here are 4 things to remember concerning communication between coaches and swimmers:

1. Approach the Relationship with Respect

Jul 13, 2014; Athens, GA, USA; Swimming coach David Marsh talks with Ryan Lochte during the Sunday finals of the Bulldog Grand Slam at Gabrielsen Natatorium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Liles-USA TODAY Sports

Photo Courtesy: Kevin Liles-USA TODAY Sports

While some swimmers may be convinced their coach writes painful sets just to torture them, and while some coaches may believe that their swimmers are actively trying to annoy them, in reality both coaches and athletes are devoting their time to the sport of swimming in order to be successful. This is the most important thing to remember during any conflict.

Conversations should be approached from a position of respect, with swimmers and coaches understanding that neither party is actively trying jeopardize the process of fast swimming. This way it will be easier to listen to what the other is saying. Respect is crucial in any relationship. Remembering that your coach or your athlete is someone deserving of respect is the best way to keep conversations polite and productive.

2. Be Clear

Photo Courtesy: © Peter H. B ick

Photo Courtesy: © Peter H. B ick

In order to get the most out of a coach-swimmer partnership, both parties must be clear on what the goals are. If there is miscommunication over what each person is hoping to be accomplish, there is sure to be conflict. Take the time to sit down one-on-one before the beginning of every season to map out a plan.

Not only will this allow you to have a clear path in mind, it will also negate any confusion concerning the process. If the swimmer feels that their coach has taken the time to understand what they want to accomplish they will be more comfortable accepting the sets thrown at them. On the other end, if the coach is clear on what the athlete is hoping for, he or she will be able to hold the swimmer accountable to that goal and the process of getting there.

3. Be Honest

Apr 15, 2015; Mesa, AZ, USA; 18-time Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps and coach Bob Bowman (right) hold a press conference at the Arena Pro Swim Series at Skyline Aquatic Center in Mesa, AZ. Phelps, 29, returns from a six-month suspension by USA Swimming after his arrest Sept. 30 when he was accused of driving under the influence. Phelps pleaded guilty to that charge in December was sentenced to 18 months supervised probation in lieu of one year in prison. The probation includes random drug and alcohol testing. Phelps also completed a 45-day treatment program in Arizona. Mandatory Credit: Rob Schumacher/Arizona Republic via USA TODAY Sports

Photo Courtesy: Arizona Republic-USA TODAY Sports

While a swimmer might feel like their coach expects something of them, if they aren’t honest about what they really want they will end up hurting both themselves and their coaches. Every coach does not expect every swimmer to go to the Olympics. What they do want are athletes who are focused on a goal and willing to do what it takes to get there. Whether that be securing a relay spot, achieving a national cut, or even just enjoying the recreational side of swimming, if swimmers are honest about what they want their coach is going to help them get there.

Honesty goes beyond simple goal setting. It is important for both coaches and swimmers to be honest at every stage of their partnership. If something is bothering either party, it is important to be upfront about it. When you are spending such a huge chunk of time working together every day, it will not work if communication is cut down.

Make sure you approach conversations when both people are opening to listening to one another. It is helpful to explain situations in a way that doesn’t attack the other person, but it is just as important to be honest rather than sugar-coating things. Fix conflicts as they develop rather than stewing and waiting for a big blowup.

4. Trust

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Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

More than anything it is important for coaches and athletes to trust each other. Swimming is a brutal sport, but it is also a very rewarding one. It makes up for the hours and hours of training with relationships with teammates and coaches that last a lifetime. Even if a coach and swimmer may disagree, they have to trust that each person is doing everything that can to reach their goals.

If you can make that leap, any coach/swimmer relationship conflict can be worked through. And at the end of the day it is all worth it. As most swim fans know, nothing is sweeter than when a swimmer hits the wall and turns to see their coach going crazy for them.

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