10 Things Swimming Coaches Do That Drive Swimming Parents Nuts


In response to public opinion, some really wonderful, intelligent, passionate (and at times heated) commentary and in the interest of fair play, here’s 10 Things Swimming Coaches Do That Drive Swimming Parents Nuts

(Have to admit I cheated a bit here – I contacted several swimming parents I know and asked them for their views on the topic. Thanks to everyone who contributed to this article).

By Wayne Goldsmith

10 Things Swimming Coaches Do That Drive Swimming Parents Nuts

1. Don’t communicate.

Of all the things swimming parents hate about swimming coaches this is number one. Swimming coaches should try to live by the four Cs of coaching: Constant, clear, consistent communication.

2. Apply a “one size fits all” coaching philosophy to all swimmers.

There is no one way to develop swimmers. There is no set of “golden-rules” that applies to all swimmers of all ages at all times. Coaches who promote that their way is the only way and that all other swimming coaches, clubs and programs have got it wrong are incorrect. What works for the swimmer is what works for the swimmer – not for all swimmers.

3. Favor the more talented swimmers.

It’s normal and natural to want to be successful when you’re a swimming coach. Winning swimmers give your coaching program credibility, which in turn attracts more swimmers etc. and as a professional coach, swimming is a business first and foremost. However, the parents of a 45 second 50 freestyler pay the same fees as a 27 second 50 freestyler and it is fair and reasonable for all paying customers to expect equal service. Do not “worship” talent – i.e. do not give outstanding coaching to the best performed swimmers and less than your best to the others.

4. Don’t take other sports, family commitments and school commitments into consideration.

There is life other than swimming – particularly for young swimmers. Whilst swimming is central to a professional swimming coach’s life, for most other people and families it is just one thing that happens in increasingly chaotic lives.

5. Fail to take the goals and aspirations of the child into consideration – and update them regularly.

One of the biggest mistakes swimming coaches make is to assume that their motivation is everyone’s motivation. Swimmers come to a coach for many reasons: fitness, health, win a gold medal, weight loss, triathlon training, perform better at their school swim meet, make friends…… If the coach tries to impose their motivation (i.e. win national titles) on swimmers who just want to get fit and enjoy making new friends, then things are going to fall apart at some stage.

6. Have different rules and standards for the better swimmers.

Inconsistency in this area really annoys swimming parents. Allowing older and better performed swimmers to be late, cut laps, fool around during kick sets, get out early etc. while enforcing strict discipline and tough rules on the other members of the swim team only causes division and resentment. T.E.A.M. means “together everyone achieves more”. There is no “S” in team – i.e. “some swimmers” achieve more.

7. Become distracted – i.e. using mobile phones on deck, and therefore not being 100% focused on coaching during training sessions.

As a general rule, there’s four Ps swimming coaches shouldn’t entertain on pool deck:

  • Phones;
  • Parents;
  • People (i.e. friends, other coaches etc. who drop in);
  • Play – i.e. things not directly related to coaching the swim team.

8. Not disciplining all children fairly and appropriately.

It takes as much time, effort and energy to say “Stop talking and get in the water” and it does to say “Keep your elbows high during your pull”. Discipline is an important issue – and at times – discipline is a critical safety consideration. Swimming coaches need to have clear, consistent ways of dealing with difficult, destructive and distracting swimmers so that as little time as possible is wasted on words and actions that don’t directly contribute to improving swimmers.

9. Not making it fun for younger swimmers.

Young swimmers are children first, students second and swimmers third (or even fourth, fifth or sixth). If swimming coaches remember this simple statement, everything falls into place. Don’t think “what’s going to work for this swimmer” – think instead “what’s best for this child” – and then shape your physical, technical, tactical and mental skills training program around that.

10. Not giving the kids who need it more time.

The three most important things to all swimming parents are – in order – their children, their time and their money. Swimming parents pay swimming coaches to coach their children usually at inconvenient times like early mornings or late afternoons when they have a lot of things on their minds. Swimming coaches must be mindful that all children need their complete focus in and attention regardless of whether they are 8 or 18 years of age and no matter if they’re training for fun or preparing for the Olympic final.

Of course, the bottom line for this discussion – as so many contributors to the debate have commented – is that swimming coaches, swimming parents and swimmers should work together as “partners” in the realisation of the potential and the performance of the swimmer.

Now it’s up to you!


Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick


Thanks to everyone who’s added something to this discussion. It’s been great and I’ve enjoyed reading your views – thank you sincerely for your contributions.

For the record, I have four children of my own and I’ve spent 25 years traveling the world and delivering swimming parent / sporting parent education sessions everywhere you can think of: USA, Canada, Great Britain, Spain, South Africa, Zimbabwe, South Korea, Thailand, Fiji, Papua New Guinea, New Zealand and every major location in Australia.

I’ve spoken with football parent groups, tennis parent groups, large groups of high school level sporting parents, parents of elite level athletes in high performance sports programs, triathlon parents, athletics parents and of course to countless swimming parent groups – you name the place and the sport and I’ve probably spent time there talking with parents, coaches and athletes about the issues that are important to them. I’ve visited more than 400 different swimming Clubs over this time and delivered swimming parent education sessions at most of them.

The issues are – as many of you have pointed out – not unique to swimming. There are similar problems being faced by groups of coaches, sporting parents and athletes in all sports all over the world.

As the environmentalists saythink global but act local.

The critical issue is how you – as a parent, coach or athlete are committed to developing, building and sustaining a strong, effective, open and honest working relationship – one that is 100% focused on the best interests of the swimmer – on helping them to realise their potential and on supporting them to see their swimming dreams turn into reality.




  1. Lisa Dean

    Thomas Mackay

  2. Miruna Dacu-Furdui

    As a former profi swimmer i can only agree 🙂

  3. Anne Silburn

    Hmmm. Glad this doesn’t pertain to our current coach.

  4. Tom Atkinson

    Alison Atkinson Buckton

  5. Alison Atkinson Buckton

    I could think of a coach that should read this, but I’m not saying. Those who know me will know who I mean.

  6. Lailani Velasco

    Coach, i need to post this on my wall

  7. avatar

    Chiming in as a coach for 23 years- those things don’t just drive swim parents crazy. It drives co-workers crazy too, especially the being distracted thing! If you’re only on deck for two-four hours a day, if it is THAT HARD to focus on what is going on in the water, you’re probably in the wrong profession.

  8. Debra Schmidt

    Not taking Bullying seriously!!!!

  9. Benjamin Mewing

    Find this a little annoying Adam Hosking

    • Adam Hosking

      Haha. I am none of those things Benjamin Mewing!

  10. Billy Arfianto

    Lena Sutanto Margaretha Lili Sutanto

  11. Ashley Galsworthy

    I’m a coach. This may apply to some but not ALL coaches. Just like how something works for one swimmer, not all swimmers.. Pot calling the kettle black?

  12. Karen Anne Gunton

    These words could have been taken out of my mouth! How very true …

  13. Meme Sammee

    Flora Chow guess who

  14. Robert Genter

    More important is how the swimmer views these issues. Parents tend to see these issues from a special point of view. Thank you. Good article.

  15. Casey Lang

    Glad to hear my sons coach does none of these. I’m a first time swim parent …but long time runner and these could apply to track coaches too.

  16. Heather Weidenhamer

    This needs to be a poster posted on coaches walls & poolside. They all need to really read & change the way they coach.

  17. Janet Beddow

    Anne Ng Katy Robinson Sue Goodlud any of this sound familiar???

  18. Anne Ng

    Absolutely true Janet Beddow can relate to most

  19. Janet Beddow

    Lol Katy Robinson! I especially liked no. 4

  20. Rhonda Horton Miller

    Thank you for this article, Swimming World. In my 5 short years in this sport as a swim parent — I’ve seen more articles than I can count on all the things we [swim parents] do wrong. Yours is the first I’ve read that call out the coaches. As you concluded in your article, it should be a 3 way partner approach (swimmers – coaches – parents). We all want what’s best for our swimmers/our team. True believer in “it takes a village.”

  21. Sue Goodlud

    Hmmm – where should I start….

  22. Ed Dixon

    2 and 3 can certainly drive a parent nuts. 6,7,8 too.
    You could probably add certain parent coaches whose only motivation for coaching is the benefit of their own kid. Not saying all, but it exists.

  23. Ian Pollitt

    #1 is first for a reason…. Clearly (in my mind anyway) the most important of the bunch. Almost all problems I’ve encountered in 7 years in the sport can be traced back to this one, simple (or not so simple) thing.

  24. Rob F Hora

    Ahhhhhh yes, the days of being a swim coach.

  25. avatar

    I couldn’t disagree more with this article.
    I swam from age 8 to 20, and in that 12 years had a few coaches and swam many national, provincial, local and international meets.

    1. Find a coach that has the same motivation as you. Do not train with a coach that is looking for national title winners if thats not your goal. It must be as frustrating for them as it is for you. Then you blame them for treating the more serious swimmers differently and give them more attention?

    2. Coaches do communicate to the swimmers, do you harass your childs teacher on a daily basis?

    3. Swimming is a very tough sport, if you wajt to succeed there are many sacrifices you must be willing to make. Takes me back to point one, find a coach with the same motivation as you. Then they wont mind if you skip practise.

    4. Who cares if the coach treats people differently?
    If someone is always late or skips laps they doing themselves a disservice and you properly beat them at the next meet, and if you dont they are probably more talented than you, train harder, hard work always beats talent.

    Finally, i have seen many parents that think they are the swimmers, know better than the coach, interfere where they shouldn’t, push a child that does not actually want to do the sport. Parents are the problem not the coach.

    • avatar


  26. avatar

    Love #1, #2, #3.

    1- Proactive communication is worth weight in gold. At the minimum this should include accurate meet schedule with regular updates (post on website), accurate practice times (parents need to pick up and sometimes are picking up other kids elsewhere), contact information for teammates, parents, coaches. Excellent extras would be links to the informative articles from USA swimming, time standards etc.

    2- All swimmers are different, that is why there are different strokes, distances, etc. Breaststrokers and distance freestylers, as an example, need different workouts. All swimmers DO need to develop all strokes…but part of some practices should be working on specialties (which are often the swimmer’s ticket to higher level meets). Also, the :50-something freestyler should not be on the same interval as the 1:05 freestyler. As an analogy, in track, sprint hurdlers are not doing the same practice as 1500m runners!

    3- About worshiping talent. Kids change, slow kids get fast, fast kids plateau. Stop paying attention only to the superstars and give the other kids what they need too. They may need it MORE. Good coaching is not just coaching a natural-ability kid to win medals; it is also coaching an average but motivated kid to achieve that. The second one is actually more impressive and making a bigger difference. Also, remember, we are building children into adults and there is way more to it than swimming fast…it’s about building character, teamwork, responsibility, and nice, good citizens. Most of them will not swim in the Olympics… those lessons are coming from you, hopefully, as they grow into mature people.

    • avatar

      I don’t tell you how to do your job! If my kid was in a bad situation, I’d be smart and MOVE THEM instead of complaining on an internet site.

  27. avatar

    Coaches must offer judgement to get the most out of the athletes, and perhaps the parents (Family). These judgements can be and should be conducive to fast swimming.

    But when parents offer judgement, it’s not as conducive to fast swimming, it’s just complaining. Take it somewhere else. Leave your team if you disagree with the coach; there are plenty of teams out there.

    Besides, most of you are not as good at your job as I am at mine, if you want to go there.

    • avatar

      In addition, the article’s title is using the incorrect adjectives. “Swimming” is a descriptive word for “Coach”, and is used correctly; “Swimming” is not a descriptive word for “Parent” — and therefore is used incorrectly. Parents are simply that: “Parents”.