Mike's Mailbag: Understanding a Coaching Decision

Mike's Mailbag: Understanding a Coaching Decision

By Mike Gustafson//Contributor  | Monday, March 20, 2017

Every Monday, I answer questions from swimmers around the country. If you have a question, please email me at swimmingstories@gmail.com or ask me on Twitter @MicGustafson. 

Hi Mike,

I am an age group swimmer who works hard and pushes myself to go faster at every practice. And the coach is the person who is supposed to support you doing that. However, our team recently got a new coach. He doesn't believe I can do what I can. He puts me in lanes with people who are substantially slower than me and gives me intervals that I can make easily, while in reality, I can keep up with some of the kids in the faster lanes who are two or three years older than me and make their intervals. This new coach also separates us by gender, for some reason, and gives girls slower intervals than the boys while most of the girls could easily make harder ones. I want to continue to improve in swimming and make cuts for more championship meets, but I don't think this coach is willing to help me do that. Do you have any tips? Or should I move to a different team?

Thank you,
Swimmer Being Set Back


Hey Swimmer Being Set Back,

Don’t move teams. Not yet. Moving teams is difficult — new teammates, new facilities, new culture. And even after moving teams, there’s no guarantee your new coach will be better than the coach you have now. 

I’m not sure why your coach separates groups by gender. At my age group team growing up, we all trained together. Often, the girls would dominate the boys in practice. (Myself included.) In my experience, women can train as hard — if not harder — than men. I’m not sure what that reasoning is. Even in college, when the men’s and women’s teams were separated by different coaches and different schedules, sometimes, we still trained together. It helped build camaraderie team-wide. 

I also don’t know why your coach doesn’t want you training with the faster swimmers. Perhaps your coach feels that you’ll succeed more in your current group. Maybe there’s an aspect to your training you still need to work on — breaststroke kicking, for example.

Fact is: We just don’t know. 

So, why don’t you ask?

It’s possible your coach doesn’t move you to a faster group because you’re younger, and your coach thinks you want to train with swimmers your own age. 

Sometimes coaching decisions can be befuddling. But unless you’ve spoken to your coach about those decisions and had a reasoned, logical conversation, you’ll never know the reasoning. We can get into all the “maybes” and “perhaps” circumstances, but you just need to speak with your coach.

Here are ways you can phrase the conversation:

“Hi, Coach. I’ve noticed that I am doing well in my current practice group, but I don’t think I’m being as challenged as much as I’d like. What are your thoughts on me moving to a training group that is more challenging?”

Or: “Coach, I am not being challenged enough in my current training group. I would like to train with swimmers who are faster. Otherwise, I am not getting as much out of my training as I should be.” 

The first step towards understanding a coaching decision is to ask your coach directly, “Why is this decision made?” You won’t know your coach’s reasoning until you speak with your coach. It’s possible, and realistic, that your coach assumes you’d rather stick around with swimmers your own age and not train with swimmers two or three years older than you. It’s also possible that, culturally, your coach would rather keep ages together throughout the training group for a long-term bonding effect.

If that’s the reasoning, at least you know. You can argue, “Hey, I don’t care about bonding with people my age, I want to be the best swimmer I can be.” That’s good. If you believe that, you should state that to your coach. And if your coach disagrees and still thinks you should swim in the training group you’re in for no other reason than because of your age, then at least you’ll know the exact reasoning behind your coach’s decision.

Only then, after understanding the exact reasoning behind your coach’s decision, I’d say, move on to a new team where you will be challenged. (Or at least make an informed decision to stay or to go.)

I hope this helps.


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