Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Slacker's Guide to Coaching Survival

Many years ago, in a land far far away, I wrote the "Slacker's Guide to College Coaching Survival". It was intended as a companion piece to the excellent "Slacker's Guide[s]" by Mike Gustafson, one for training trip and one for taper survival. Those, entries, sadly, have been lost in the internet void. The Coach's guide, however has not, but when I looked at it recently I realized how sorely it was in need of updating. As I leave the college coaching profession for the time being, I felt it necessary to impart all the lessons I've learned in the last five years about being a slacker coach.

First's lets revisit the ground rules from 2008 and see where they need updating:

1. Avoid physical exertion of any kind (Yup, this one still applies). Now, in some ways coaching swimming is physically no joke: the hours of standing around can do a number on your back. However, no amount of standing can compensate for the all out gorging you will do at "hospitality". Bonus points for sitting down during practice. Double bonus points for sitting down in an elevated lifeguard chair so that you cannot hear any of the swimmers in the water, in the unlikely event that they actually want to talk with you.

2. Assistants, Assistants, Assistants. (This one is still good as well.) The key to a well oiled assistant coaching staff is to squeeze as much as possible out of them for as long as you can, and then swap them out for newer, more eager models when they become disillusioned. More on this later

3. Finally, never forget the slacker coach's motto: When the swimmers or team are successful, you did it! Whenever they fail, they did it!

Ok, now on to the specifics:

1. Recruiting: 

Recruiting is one of the top areas where you can make it look like you are working extremely hard while doing next to nothing. Why? Because most recruiting takes place while none of your assistant coaches are watching. Therefore, feel free to embellish about all your connections, athletes that are supposedly interested in the team because of your grand reputation, and the fruitful conversations you are having. Always give the impression that you have a really big fish on the line. It is doubtful that anyone will keep a running tally of how many swimmers you actually recruit. Finally, if you must, "recruit" several kids who would basically give one of their kidneys to come to your school regardless of what you say. Pat yourself on the back, you've got a recruiting class!

2. Off-Season

The off-season is a crucial time of year for a slacker coach. The best part of the off season for many coaches is that you are still getting paid, while having no official obligation to coach practice. If you are at a major conference division one program, there may be some pressure to run year round swimming. Delegate all responsibility to one of your assistant coaches, collect money for your "club", then count the extra money you can make for doing nothing! Of course, as above, it is important that you talk a lot about how important the off season is to your entire team, then spend the summer on vacation. Better yet, get yourself hired coaching a local summer team. Now you've tripled your money with no real additional work! Congratulations!

3. Season

When I wrote the original slacker's guide, I deemed that the apex of slacker coaching was finding the absolute "can't miss" swimmers on your team and putting them in your "group". Well since then, I've learned better. The best slacker coaches retreat from even having a defined set of swimmers for the year. Instead, they "oversee" the whole program. Let's review the advantages of this method:

-Not having to prepare any practices? Check
-Able to take credit for literally anything good that happens over the year? Check
-Ease of putting responsibility for failure on your assistants? CHECK!

One of the downsides is that people may expect that you actually know what's going on team-wide with this approach. Put that notion off by continually stating that you are still in the process of "observing".

4. Championship Season

There is one huge key to slacking your way through championship season: Amnesia. The great thing about "taper" is that it's nearly impossible that swimmers will not improve over their performances for that given season. Still, given your lack of motivation to coach them, some of them (particularly your upperclassmen) may have disappointing results in relation to their career bests. Amnesia provides the best way to pave over this challenge. You must forget the results that all swimmers had over previous seasons and switch over to exult how they just "went a best" over and over. If they still object, suggest that their lack of a positive attitude is to blame

Some final tips and strategies

-"Motivating". Motivating is really difficult and should be avoided at all consequences. Still, you need to give the impression that you are running some semblance of a functioning program, and for that to work you will need other people to do what you say. There are two key techniques in the slacker coaches motivational arsenal: intimidation and guilt.

Guilt is your first line of defense. You will have swimmers and coaches working underneath you that have a sense of loyalty and devotion to the school and team. Put them in positions where they have to compromise this loyalty to do your work for you.

Of course, the longer you play guilt the more likely you are to be found out. That's when it's time to move to intimidation. Bring whomever you need to "motivate" into a one on one meeting and accuse them of "not being on the same page". Make outsized threats: "do it or your off the team!" or "I will relieve you of your duties". You do not have to be able to follow through on your threats. In fact, you likely will not be, but most people will not be willing to test that out. Scaring people will get them in line for the time being, and if you are doing it right swimmers and coaches will be on their way out by the time they figure you out.

Being a slacker coach is not easy: it takes practice and time. Take heart: your diligence at not working hard will surely pay off.


  1. The ultimate slacker coach is Tom Groden of Boston College. been head coach of both teams for 40 years. reuses the same workouts every year. doesnt leave his office during practice. doesnt recruit. much to learn from this old timer

  2. This model isn't limited to college teams. I've seen many aspects of this approach in play at the club level as well.

  3. Your subtlety at the end is brilliant. The team deserves better and there are things in the works to make this happen.

  4. or, you completely demoralized the team with your "kidney" comments- you think they havent all read this and wondered who you were speaking of ? As a parent of one of the middle of the road kids in terms of times/success ( but who thrived in leadership and scholarship) -Im really horrified . This is very unprofessional no matter what your opinion- you have introduced ideas to freshmen who were , on the whole , very excited enthusiastic kids. Im horrified as a parent you put this out there- It was probably obvious you wanted to leave/felt you needed to leave but a backstabbing blog like this is completely unnecessary and , if things are as you say, only made things worse.MY swimmer had quite a productive year- NOT in your group- and I daresay there are 2 sides to every story.I thought more of you before this.

  5. As a parent, I am glad someone spoke up even in this way. What I observed with my child in this program is something i do not wish on anyone, anywhere. The mere fact that you can connect it to the team is embarrassing.

    The standard of what has taken place from the top of this team should be below anyone's adult standard. I am ashamed that I did not help my child find a better place.

  6. Disgruntled parent number 1, it is not too late to either help facilitate the change within the program that is likely going to occur or to take your child elsewhere. This blog is in no way introducing these ideas to the freshman who are experiencing these issues first-hand. Perhaps you should take a closer look as to what is really going on within the program and realize that this is a college swim team, where the success of the entire program is ultimately what matters, not the success of the individual.

  7. Just want to throw it out there, as a recent alum who considers his career to be a decent success, that a program is what you make of it. To the disgruntled parents out there, please remember that being a student at Georgia Tech is the real honor; being a student-ATHLETE is only one shining facet of one's individualism.

    Furthermore, Chris is entitled to his opinions. While the delivery isn't exactly easy on the eye, it's his choice to write and publish any piece that may affect his personal relationships ... Also, the post above me echos nothing but the truth. The freshman are very aware. I hope that you trust your kid enough to let this situation offer him/her the opportunity to manifest his/her own stance. I don't think any of the current swimmers are so naïve that they cannot figure these things out on their own. If your kid has any questions or burning concerns, I'd be more than happy to talk things through with them.

    Lastly, NEVER wish for the better in retrospect. That is one of the most damaging things one can do in this scenario. Look forward and work with the present to better the future.

  8. Huh? I read this as strictly satire.

  9. I thought it was based on general observations out there in the coaching community, and I'm surprised at the implication that this is a not-so-subtle commentary on the coaching staff at GT. An unfortunate exit interview for sure.

  10. And Chris remains silent .... Chris, care to explain? You put it out there ....

  11. I wrote the original one of these when I was employed at Penn, and no one assumed that it was about my then boss, Mike Schnurr. Actually Mike found it very funny and still brings it up to this day. So, I would deny the implication that this is designed as some sort of personal attack.

    It seems that this blog has come at a very sensitive time for GT swimming. Part of that I knew of (my own departure), another part I did not (the departure of Marty Hamburger). I have a fairly strict policy of not taking down my own work, even if it is controversial, because I would think it was dishonest to do so. I also honor any and all comments above, even those that express negative feelings towards me. If some of this satire seems a little to real for some people, all I can say is: that is sad.

    1. There is no room for ambiguity here. Either you intended this as a criticism of the program or you did not. You owe it to the present and possible future team members to make it clear - otherwise you are intentionally leaving a very negative impression while saying you would "deny the implication that this is designed as some sort of personal attack."
      You are either being dishonest or deliberately deceptive. If you fail to clearly, unequivocably clarify what you meant, then one can only conclude that you are at best an immature jerk. It would be much better for your career (and probably your conscience) if you would choose to be constructive, rather than destructive, sincere rather than cynical, straighforward rather than sarcastic. If not, I hope you are happy with yourself, because you will find as the years pass that fewer and fewer others will be happy with you.

    2. "If some of this satire seems a little to real for some people, all I can say is: that is sad." The key word here being SATIRE.

  12. To the parent who posted a comment on April 10, 2013 at 9:08 AM: "Disclaimer: This guide is intended for satire only. If you experience any feelings of sadness/frustration/hitting too close to home please contact your doctor as these may be symptoms of a greater condition." - Desantis (2008)

  13. In swimming it all boils down to time. A key element to good humor is timing! In resurrecting your old satire piece, I believe we can all simply conclude that it was poorly timed.