By Lauren Gaskill//Contributor | Friday, October 21, 2016
When Dory Halbe’s mom took her to her first swim practice at age 7, she refused to get in. Though she learned to swim at an early age and didn’t fear the water, In Halbe’s mind swimming was something you did for fun — not for sport. After stepping on the pool deck however, Halbe noticed something: all of her friends were in the water, and she wanted to be with them.“I asked for my suit and the rest was fate,” Halbe says. “I swam year-round since that day and never looked back. From that first day in the pool with my friends, I always knew swimming would be a part of my life.”
Halbe went on to swim at American University, and qualified for the USA Swimming Nationals, U.S. Open and NCAAs. As graduation approached and Halbe began thinking about life after her collegiate swimming career, she began looking at coaching opportunities. When an assistant coaching job surfaced at Nation’s Capital Swim Club (NCAP), she jumped at the chance.
“Applying for the position at NCAP was the best decision I ever made,” she says. “After my first day of coaching a year round team, I came home simply ecstatic and knew I had found my career. I simply loved it!”
If relationships are what drew Halbe to swimming, it’s also what keeps her passionate about being a full-time coach. We sat down with Halbe to learn more about how to foster healthy relationships between coaches, swimmers, parents and families alike.
What do you love most about the sport of swimming?
Swimming is a very demanding sport, both mentally and physically, and having a group of people to go through that with is invaluable. I made lifelong friends because of swimming, friends I’ll always remember and who have stood by me throughout my entire life. There is also a strange pride in waking up before everyone else and pushing your body physically for hours. At the end of the day, it’s an individual sport and there’s no judgment — the clock doesn't lie. That’s what I love about it.
What's your coaching philosophy?
If I don’t want to do it, neither do they! I try to make every set interesting, inspiring or challenging. I’m very loud and bring a high energy to the deck. If I’m having fun, so are they. There was a period of time in my swimming where I struggled to enjoy it. But after relocating and finding a new coach (shout out to Debbie Potts!), she inspired me to enjoy the sport again. Every day, I ask myself: What is going to make my swimmers enjoy practice? Hard sets can be fun and so can drills. When it comes to changing their technique, I constantly say, “make it feel weird,” because change often is. It’s about balancing the energy and keeping the kids motivated. I’ve learned if a set isn’t going well, don’t force it. Scrap it and try something different!
Where did you get your start as a coach?
My first job was teaching lessons. I had 10 kids, all high-energy and learned early on that they all needed different things. It was a lot of trial and error. After lessons, I coached summer league and loved the enthusiasm, passion and competitive community that surrounded it. I got in the pool every day to coach, which helped me relate to the swimmer and explain the stroke. Immediately I was drawn to the 8-and-unders. They always have the love for the sport no matter the difficulty. Summer league taught me to relate to all different ages, temperaments, and personalities.
What do you love most about your current position?
I don’t sit down. I have the 9-11 age group, and it’s a high-energy job that keeps me on my toes. They are at a stage in their swimming when they determine if this is what they want to do, and I like going through that process with them. We do goal sheets and I love reading all the different answers to the questions. Sometimes a 9-year-old can teach you more in a goal sheet than you could teach them in a season.
I also get to work with a lot of amazing coaches that teach me something new all the time. I never thought I would be in this position, but I enjoy making the most of all the resources around me. It has been a blessing working for a big club, and I love being able to always find someone to relate to on staff.
What has been the crowning achievement of your career so far?
Some swims you never forget, and it’s not always the first-place or qualifying time, either. Those are achievements in other ways. But the most valuable achievements are the moments when you watch a swimmer put it all together and make a big drop in time. That’s the best feeling. Those moments when a swimmer is skipping to talk to you about their success, that tells you you’re doing something right.
What makes being a coach challenging, and how do you maintain work-life balance?
The hardest part is wearing many different hats. Coaches are more than just people who write the set. We take on several roles in the lives of our swimmers, parents and families, and managing all of those dynamics can be challenging.
Outside of the pool I am a mom of three and that keeps me very busy. One thing I try to do from a work-life balance perspective is I always make time for my family and our vacation time is valuable. Recently I have learned there is no shame in backing off or saying no. Sometimes a simple step back provides a lot of clarity and peace.
5 Keys to Dory Halbe’s Coaching Success:
1. Stay positive: Negativity rubs off on everyone.
2. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.
3. Be unique and learn to adapt to change.
4. Find what makes you a valuable part of the team.
5. Just keep swimming! (With a name like Dory you have to!)