Take good care of yourself and your swimmers every day
Being a Masters coach is more than just providing workouts. Coaching is its own lifestyle that requires you to be well versed in many different skills. You have to be able to mentor new swimmers, coach experienced swimmers, run a business, manage other coaches, and extinguish problems as they come up.
It can be a stressful and demanding lifestyle, but there are things you can do to reduce the stress in your daily routine. Creating healthy habits for yourself can make coaching a lot of fun.
Before Practice Starts
Write your practices in advance. How far in advance you write your practices depends on your level of comfort. Some coaches are comfortable writing a practice 20 minutes before starting, some write the day before, some even write practices a week in advance.
In any case, being prepared with a workout before each practice can ease nerves and give you confidence. You might need to adjust based on who shows up, the space you’re allocated, inclement weather, or other things outside of your control, but that’s OK.
Use any medium you’d like to write your workouts. Maybe it’s on the computer or maybe you prefer to write your workouts by hand, but always treat your workouts as if they were written in pencil. This allows changes to be made on the fly, if necessary.
Dress to impress. You’re a representative of your club and program. If you’re expecting your swimmers to wear a certain logo or brand, then you need to be leading by example. And although the pool deck might not seem comparable to a regular office, it is your place of business and you should dress professionally. Team polos, other collared shirts, slacks, and shorts are all appropriate.
Brush your teeth and use the bathroom. You’ll be interacting with people before, during, and after practice. Make sure your personal hygiene is up to par.
Be on deck at least 10 minutes before practice starts. This is the time swimmers have to ask you questions about the upcoming practice or just to have a casual conversation. It’s also prime time to convince a few to attend the next swim meet or team social. And it gives your swimmers a sense of comfort and certainty knowing you’re there.
Talk with everyone. Acknowledge every swimmer, every practice. It might be a question about how a triathlon went over the weekend, how a child’s graduation ceremony went, or just a general how-is-your-day-going question. It might be about swimming, but it doesn’t have to be. It can be hard to give everyone the same amount of attention but acknowledge everyone. Bonus points if you use their names while conversing with them.
Wear good shoes. You’re going to spend hours walking on concrete. Save yourself future pain by wearing a good pair of shoes. Hiking shoes work great—they’re meant to handle miles of walking on tough terrain, they have great traction on a slippery deck, and they’re usually waterproof.
Keep moving up and down the deck. It’s disappointing to see your coach sitting down while you’re working your hardest. Stay engaged and walk around the pool—it will help you see your swimmers from multiple angles, and it gives you the chance to talk with everyone.
Pay attention to your swimmers. There might be a day where your workout calls for flip turns but, during warm-up, you notice that 80 percent of the swimmers in attendance are triathletes. Yes—they need to work on flip turns—but maybe it’s better to work on the catch or sighting that day.
Get to their level. Squat or take a knee to get closer to your swimmers when you’re explaining the next set or answering their questions.
Drink water. Coaches often have to remind their swimmers to stay hydrated during practice. Lead by example and keep yourself hydrated as well, even if you work in a colder environment.
Keep your phone in your pocket. Your attention should be on your swimmers during practice. If you’re using your phone to film swimmers and provide feedback, that’s fine. But don’t spend too much time on your phone even if it’s practice-related.
Point with two fingers. This is a tip I picked up from amusement parks. Their staffers are taught to point with two fingers instead of one because it’s less likely to mean something rude or offensive in another culture.
Learn to read your swimmers. Swimming is often an escape and a form of stress relief. If you’re mindful of your swimmers, you may be able to tell when something’s up. It’s okay to ask if there’s something on someone’s mind, but don’t push to find out more if someone just needs some space or is there to forget about life’s stresses.
Let your swimmers laugh at you once in a while. It’s OK—they like it when you’re human. I often find that the team gets a good laugh when I have to demonstrate a flip turn or the dolphin kick while on the pool deck. Go with the flow, it’s OK to laugh at yourself.
Check your posture. You might not have noticed, but when you’re coaching, you’re looking down most of the time. This is bad for your posture, so try to keep your head, neck, and back straight while walking the deck, and stretch often.
Take care of your skin and eyes. Wear sunglasses for glare, sunblock, hats, and long-sleeve shirts as needed.
Write in your coaching journal. Take note of what worked, what didn’t, and why you made the decisions that you made. You’ll be able to review and adjust your practices and seasons accordingly.
Follow up, follow up, follow up! A lot of your success will be determined by simply following up. On everything. Follow up with the swimmer that asked for more information or had a question you didn’t know an answer to. Follow up with a swimmer you haven’t heard from in a while. Follow up on every project you’re working on or have delegated to another coach.
Communicate. If a practice has to be canceled for anything other than sudden weather changes or other things out of your control, let your swimmers know well in advance. Remember, less is more in communication. Your swimmers are already being bombarded with hundreds or thousands of emails and notifications. Keep your weekly emails short and sweet and remember to write every email like it’s going to be read in front of a jury.
Take a three-day weekend once in a while. If you’re a full-time coach, chances are you’re putting in way more than 40 hours per week. It’s healthy to take a break from the grind once in a while. Look out for your health and strive for balance.
Set business hours. Respond to email during set hours. It might feel like you're being extra productive and dependable if you respond to an email right away, but all you’re doing is teaching your swimmers that they don’t need to go looking for information, they can just email you instead. Your time is precious, and you aren’t being paid to be available 24/7.
Review your mission statement, values, and team objectives frequently. See if you are following them, and if they still fit the program.
The work, the preparation, the time, the energy, the sacrifices—they’re all worth it in the end. Following these daily tips will help create a healthy work environment for yourself and help you form healthy relationships with your swimmers. Take care of yourself, and you’ll be able to take good care of your swimmers.
- Coaches Only