Monday, July 22, 2013

What it's like to Coach in Denmark (A Guide for Americans)

Earlier this summer, I received a question from a reader (Paul Yetter) who wanted to know what was different about coaching in Denmark versus the states. In this blog, I hope to give some impression of the differences.

But before I start, I have to acknowledge the long gap in time since my last posting. It's unfortunate and the longer it went the harder it was to come back. Sometimes, real life gets in the way of keeping up with this. If you want to read about my new job, you can do so here. That's all the comment I'll be making on that, except to thank the many exceptional people who have offered their heartfelt support especially over these last two weeks.

On to Coach Yetter's questions:

1. What are some of the biggest differences coaching in Denmark vs the US

I struggle a little bit with this one because I really lack experience as a club coach in the US, having spent the majority of my coaching career in college. So, I have to guess a little at the particular differences between coaching club here and there. Maybe you can help?

For one, I think that teams in general are much smaller than the US. Almost every community of any size has a swimming pool and a team associated with it. This means that there are no super teams, the 1000+ swimmer juggernauts that tend to dominate US swimming. Your average Danish club probably has around 100 competitive swimmers on it. This can be confusing because clubs will cite membership rolls much higher than that (many of them in the 1000s). This is because most Danish swimming clubs are a one stop shop for swimming lessons, masters swimming and almost any organized activity you can think of at the pool. These people are all counted as "members" and they are important to the competitive part of the club, particularly financially.

In practical terms, this means that individual clubs usually only have one or several full time coaches on staff. It also means that fielding relays can be hard for a lot of teams, especially when the age group systems are in place. It also means that at almost all non-championship meets events are not sorted by age group, since it may be one coach overseeing a huge breadth of swimmers. This can lead to brutally long sessions. I had one meet this summer where I was on deck for 13 hours consecutively except for one 45 minute break.

2. What are the perks of the job?

There are some definite advantages as I see it for a coach over here. In general there seems to be a little more respect for work-life balance, so much so that it is gossiped that some coaches are "lazy" and only show up to practices, otherwise doing little administrative work or planning. The season also wraps up much earlier, for example Danish championships ended on the 6th of July, with many teams not starting up again until early to mid august there is a natural 3-4 week break. Most coaches get the government standard 5 weeks of paid vacation per year and take it.

3. Are the swimmers/parents receptive?

My impression is that parents and swimmers are generally more receptive than in the US. I think that parents here are actually a bit self conscious about being overbearing as many American parents are perceived to be. The kids, in general, seem to be a bit more mature when I compare them to my experiences of American kids of the same age. One thing I knew before coming here is that there is no doubt that the kids here are willing to work very, very hard. It is not uncommon for many of the top teams to hold morning practice every day of the week and train even age groupers 8-10 sessions a week. One of the funny things that is a little strange to get used to is at meets. There is really no "spectator" space at most competitions, so you may find yourself watching the swimmer race with his parents standing right next to you. It definitely takes a bit of getting used to.

I hope that helps give you an impression. If you have more questions leave them in the comments!

No comments:

Post a Comment