From Student to Teacher: Carolyn Belardinelli Takes up Coaching at Saddle River Valley Swim Club

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Photo Courtesy: Saddle River Valley Swim and Tennis Club

By Lucas Alvarez, Swimming World College Intern.

What are the qualities of a good swimming coach? A positive attitude and constant encouragement can prevent swimmers from becoming frustrated or quitting entirely whenever they’re struggling. The ability to clearly communicate is also important in order to instruct swimmers on where they need to improve. Lastly, patience is necessary, because all swimmers learn at different paces. Perfecting the different strokes and techniques takes some swimmers longer than others, but a patient coach will be there to teach them regardless of their processing speed. Carolyn Belardinelli exemplifies all of these qualities, which is and why she took up coaching after hanging up her googles.

Belardinelli swam competitively for almost ten years, but that ended when she graduated high school and went to college at Oneonta, a State University of New York. At Oneonta, Belardinelli is a typical student. But when she comes home for the summer, her role reverses and she becomes the teacher. Now a rising junior, Belardinelli has spent the last three summers working as an assistant coach for the Saddle River Valley Swim and Tennis Club in Bergen County, N.J.

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Photo Courtesy: Carolyn Belardinelli

When Belardinelli initially found out about the assistant coaching position, she felt that it was the perfect job for her. “It sounded exciting,” she said. “I love working with kids and I love swimming. When I was offered the opportunity, it sounded like a good match up for everything.” She starting coaching the summer before her senior year of high school and has been going strong ever since.

Prior to her first days on the job, Belardinelli was anxious. “I was a little nervous because I had never coached before,” she said. But she picked it up quickly, partly due to her experience as a competitive swimmer in addition to being a former member of the Saddle River Valley Swim and Tennis Club for many years. She would draw on her time as an athlete and use some of those same drills with her current swimmers.

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Photo Courtesy: Saddle River Valley Swim and Tennis Club

When she first started coaching, it was a fun way to make some money over the summer. But now the role has taken on a more significant meaning in her life. “I don’t swim anymore,” she said. “So, it’s kind of like a way that I can still be involved in it without actively swimming.”

Belardinelli estimates that there are about 100 kids involved in the summer swim club, but she doesn’t have to manage all of those kids by herself. She is one of five assistant coaches who all work under the club’s head coach. During practices, each assistant coach works with a particular age group and do drills that they plan out ahead of time. The age groups are 5-6, 7-8, 9-10, 11-12, 13-14, and 15-18.

Belardinelli will bounce around as needed, but she primarily works with the 7-8-year-old group, which presents its own set of unique challenges. “I can’t make a 7-8-year-old do what a 14-year-old is doing,” she said. “They don’t have the stamina; they don’t have the technique down. I can’t tell my kids to swim four laps, especially at the beginning of the season. But for 14-year-olds, it’s expected that they should be able to (swim four laps).”

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Photo Courtesy: Saddle River Valley Swim and Tennis Club

The main focuses of the summer swim club are on strokes, techniques and swimming drills. Additionally, many of the younger kids have never competed in a swim meet before, so their coaches teach them how swim meets work and how to dive and do relays. Above all, the primary objective is to get the kids to improve their times over the course of the season. “We wanna get their times down – that’s the goal,” Belardinelli said. “We take times before the season really begins, and then we take them at the end and see how they develop.” When she isn’t directly working with the kids, Belardinelli is making heat sheets, recording times or simply putting in or taking out the lane lines.

Belardinelli said that sometimes the hardest part about coaching is just initially getting her kids to go in the water. “If the water’s cold and they don’t want to get in, it’s a little bit of a struggle, especially since they’re young,” she said. But the true challenge is maintaining the delicate balance of having fun with her kids while simultaneously teaching them valuable swimming skills:

“You have to find the balance of being fun but also being a coach, because it is a summer league. It’s supposed to be fun, but you also want them to learn how to swim,” she says. “Having them tan on the side of the pool doesn’t really do anything.”

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Photo Courtesy: Saddle River Valley Swim and Tennis Club

Belardinelli thinks that the best part about being a coach is seeing her previous kids come back year after year:

“That’s the most exciting part, because then you see them come back and they get really excited. Then they see their friends and you see them improve, which is always kinda fun. That’s what I love most about it. At the beginning of the season, if there’s a kid who can barely swim and barely keep himself above water and then at the end of the season he’s one of the fastest kids, that’s the best part. Or especially when a kid comes up to me and they’re like you inspired me to to swim full time, I love that. I like making the bonds with the kids.”

Stay tuned for coverage of Saddle River Valley Swim Club meets this summer!

All commentaries are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Swimming World Magazine nor its staff.

1 comment

  1. avatar
    Kate Walter

    Great article! Summer league swimming is the best 🙂