Over the last two years, this blog has turned a critical eye to the coaching world. It is, in many ways, a diary of my own journey through the coaching ranks. Much of that attention in the past two years has been focused on reshaping attitudes towards abuse of swimmers. Today, I'm going to tackle a more benign topic which is nevertheless sorely in need of changing. Swim coaches in America are, more often than not, unprofessional.
I was reminded of this when in a meeting I had last week with someone who's job requires him to be in constant contact with swim coaches. He was asking for advice, because in large part his communications with coaches go unanswered. Emails are not replied and phone calls are ignored. The experience he describes is very much familiar to me. When I set out to become a swim coach, I was largely ignored by many of the people I contacted.
As a college coach, I've also noticed this phenomenon on the recruiting trail. It's an all too frequent refrain from many swimmers I recruit that they were often considering another program until that program fell completely out of contact. I'm not talking about walk-on athletes that other schools may have a passing interest in- these are athletes who could immediately help. As I've covered before in another blog, some athletes also face pretty harsh words when they tell a school "no".
So what does it mean to be a professional coach? Let me at least start a definition:
1. Communication. As discussed above, reply to e-mails that are sent to you, respond to phone calls. Speak and write the way you would expect somebody in any other job to do.
2. Knowledge. Imagine a doctor recommending surgery because "this is what my doctor did to me twenty years ago". Totally unacceptable. While it's true that doctors get far more formal education than your average swim coach, swim coaches have every opportunity to be informed about what they do and why they do it. Know the "why" behind what you are doing and share it with your athletes. Also, know about the sport and those who take part in it. Still too often I hear of coaches called "swim geeks", as if knowing who the competitors are locally, nationally and internationally makes them some sort of freak. This kind of knowledge should be the expectation.
3. Responsibility. Too often I hear coaches moan about the burden of their work. They complain about the swimmers, or their parents, or some administrative body above them. With each group, remember your responsibility to them and yourself. You will meet parents good and bad. Regardless of what they do, keep to the high road and treat them the way you would want to be treated. With athletes, remember that they are entrusting you to guide them through one of the most important parts of their life. And whether or not you agree with the decision makers above you, never make them an excuse for your own poor performance. Regardless of their leadership you still have a responsibility to do your job well.