Women in Coaching: Dawn Smith's Success Guided by Love for Kids and Sport

Women in Coaching: Dawn Smith's Success Guided by Love for Kids and Sport

By Lauren Gaskill//Contributor  | Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Dawn Smith has been a swimmer for most of her life, but it wasn’t until she had children that she knew she wanted to be a coach.

“I started my two children in lessons when they were young, and they persuaded me to let them join the local team,” Smith says. “I spent the first season as a parent, and after that, I knew I had to be a part of it again. From the very first night stepping on the deck as a coach, I knew this is what I was meant to do, coach.”

This winter Smith celebrates her first season as head coach of the Falcon Swim Club of the Lebanon (Pa.) YMCA (FSC – LEBY). USA Swimming sat down with Smith to learn more about her coaching experience and how she has grown as a leader over the years.

What's your coaching philosophy? 
This is a team sport, but as a coach I try extremely hard to look at each swimmer as an individual. I try to find a way to relate to every one of my swimmers as a unique person. I know if they do not feel like I believe in them, then why they would want to try hard for me and for their team? I really try to make a point to just be a part of my swimmers’ lives on and off the pool deck. They need to know I care — not just about swimming but as a positive influence on their lives.

Where did you get your coaching start, and how would you describe your first job?

My children swam for our local winter team, the Sea Lions, out of the Middletown, Pa., area. That is where it all began. I was very blessed to work with coaches who really cared for each other and their swimmers. It was a small team, but it was our swim family, and I could not have asked for a better start.   Learning how to be a coach and not being the swimmer anymore was very hard at first. Things that were so easy in the water were not as easy on deck. I really had to take the time and relearn the sport but from the deck this time, not the water. Having great co-coaches who guided me and allowed me to grow was a key to my long-term success.

What has been the crowning achievement of your career? 
This past year I was given the opportunity to become the head coach for the team I swam for throughout my younger years.  This new coaching position allows me to see my own two children be a part of the same team and achieve their own success as swimmers with the same program that once gave me such joy and success as a person and athlete.

What’s that hardest part of being of coach? 
One of the hardest things about being a coach is watching young swimmers work day in and day out and not be able to achieve goals. As a coach you have seen the swimmers work hard and put in many hours and still not achieve the “almighty goal,” whatever that may be, and there is nothing more you can do as a coach to help them. I think sometimes it breaks my heart more than theirs knowing they truly do deserve success that they have not achieved. 

How do you maintain work-life balance? 
Coaching is my life. I eat, sleep, and breathe swimming. I am very lucky my own personal family truly is a swim family. My children swim and my husband is one of our team's most loyal and dedicated volunteers.

How have you grown in your leadership abilities over the years?
When I started coaching, I never wanted to hurt the feelings of my swimmers, and with that I was unable to express negativity in their race preferences and practice ethics. I have learned that not telling them the truth only hurts them. I have realized constructive criticism is part of the job. It’s not fun or pretty but I need to do it for my swimmers and to help our team grow.  If you never talk about the bad, how will they improve? 

Another area I’ve grown in is the area of conflict resolution. As a head coach you have to deal with parents and conflict, which is never fun. I am not able to run and hide behind the head coach, because that is me, so I have learn to trust and believe that what I am saying is how I feel and how I want to run my team. 

5 Key’s to Dawn Smith’s success:
Love , respect, dedication, determination, and more love for the sport and for the kids.


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