Women in Coaching: Carolyn Ackerley

Women in Coaching: Carolyn Ackerley

By Lauren Gaskill/Contributor  | Friday, August 7, 2015

Growing up on Mercer Island in Washington, the popular thing to do during the warmer months was to join the Summer League swimming program. And that’s exactly where Carolyn Ackerley’s love affair with swimming began.

From the time she was six years old, Ackerley swam every summer with her three older brothers. Her involvement with the Summer League lead Ackerley to swim for her high school, and she also joined the Chinook Aquatic Club to swim all year. In college, Ackerley wrapped up her competitive swimming career swimming for Arizona State University.

“After college I got my first coaching job for the Arizona Marlins where I got to work with the youngest swimmers on the team,” she says. “I loved coaching from that time on.”

USA Swimming sat down with Ackerley to learn more about her coaching journey and what advice she might have for younger coaches.

What's your coaching philosophy? 
I view swimming as a life experience, and I treat it as such from a coaching standpoint.  I want kids to enjoy their experiences competing as much as I want them to love learning. My coaching staff works together to create a well-rounded experience with our swim team in which kids will discover they can do amazing things when they dedicate themselves.

What was your first coaching job like?
After my initial age group coaching job with the Marlins, I moved back to Washington and worked at an advertising agency, and simultaneously I coached a master’s team at the health club in the basement of our building. After getting married, my husband and I moved to Bainbridge Island to raise our kids. I swam for exercise when the kids were very little, and met the Bainbridge High School and the Bainbridge Island Swim Club coaching staffs while at the pool one day. Both programs were looking for help, and so my career as a coach began as an assistant for both teams. Fifteen years later, the head coaching job for the club team opened and I was fortunate to get that job.

What has been the crowning achievement of your career? 
I don’t want to sound cliché, but I don’t believe I have reached a crowning achievement, yet. Becoming a great swimmer is a process, and so is coaching kids to be great swimmers. When I am able to establish a level of trust with an athlete, and learn what makes him/her tick, I know I can help them improve as athletes.  I find great satisfaction in doing that! I believe I will be able to name my crowning achievement when I have completed my body of work and can look back on the things that stand out most.

What’s that hardest part of being a coach, and how do you balance life/work? 
I find my greatest challenges in coaching to be balancing my family life with work, and then finding time to pursue my other interests. Coaching is more than a full-time job because I strive to be available to both my swimmers and their parents most of the time. I have learned to schedule time for all of the things I value, like family time, exercise, time with friends, and hobbies. Most of the time I multi-task by exercising with my husband, or rock climbing with friends.   

How have you grown in your leadership abilities over the years?
My leadership style has changed over the years. When I was a young coach, I felt as if I needed to lead the way at all times. Over the years, I learned that the people around me often had great ideas, some even better than mine! I have gone back to consult with my club and college coaches who have all been very successful, and they have always shared ideas and information about trends in swimming.  These days, I take a different approach, because I realize I’m learning along with the kids. We work together to discover how to help them swim as fast as they can.  I map out the course, but my assistant coaches and our swimmers participate in determining how to get the best results.  

Carolyn Ackerley’s five keys to coaching success:
1. Have a love for learning.
2. Let go of your ego.
3. Have a love for watching people succeed.
4. Value your relationships with your coaching peers and mentors.
5. Have fun!



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