How to Spot Terrible Coaches

tyler fenwick

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.

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. Carolyn McDonald

    Every parent of a swimmer should read this👍

  2. Caren Vondell

    I wish some coaches would read this.

  3. My son had one of these bad coaches in upstate NY. Sadly my son quit swimming.

  4. Andrea Erard

    Had one. Luckily escaped.

  5. Kathy Beckley O

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

  6. Penny Mcculloch

    Not just for swimming coaches but for all sports!

  7. Dyan Braden

    Erin Braden Goss

  8. Jen Kacz

    Rosemarie Carrillo

  9. avatar
    Mo carey

    I love watching his youtube videos

  10. 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.

  11. Soan Thung

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

  12. 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.