| Friday, April 28, 2017
**This blog was originally posted on January of 2015
A good coach has to be something of jack-of-all-things. I know well what it’s like to be the guy who opens the gym in the morning and who sweeps out the locker room at the end of the night. I know what it takes to pull all-nighters working with only a water hose to lay down sheets of ice on an outdoor skating rink.
I know what it takes to be a coach with limited resources and how you just do whatever you have to do to be successful. What’s always impressed me the most about coaches is the positive impact they have on athletes.
Back in the day, I was 33 years old and living in Woodstock, VT. I had a master’s degree in education, and for nine years had been running the town’s recreation program and coaching high school basketball, lacrosse and summer league swimming. I was happy as a clam.
During those years, I also found that I had a knack for creating events, organizing new programs and raising money. I started the annual In-Your-Face Basketball Camp, and ran a summer basketball league that attracted players and public attention from across the region. The league was the subject of a multi-page pictorial essay in Sports Illustrated.
I organized the Woodstock Winter Carnival and help plan and run the inaugural U.S. National Snowboarding Championships. I managed the first-ever Vermont Swimming Championships and founded the July 4 Road Race, now in its 39th year and named after my best friend from those days, John Langhans.
These efforts got me elected President of the Vermont Parks & Recreation Association, where I served two terms. Increasingly, I found that my skills were leading me away from coaching and into organizing, marketing and promoting athletic and sports events and programs. That led to an opportunity in 1983, when officials from Hilton Head Island, SC, brought me in to establish a public parks and recreation program there.
While this is the background that set me on the path that led to my role here at USA Swimming, my roots lie in coaching. It’s always been in my blood.
What I remember and cherish most about those days was the camaraderie with athletes and fellow coaches. I fondly remember the long bus rides in the “Yellow Cadillac” and the late night stops at McDonald’s for post-game meals.
I still hear from some of the kids I coached. There are emails and Christmas cards. No longer kids, they are adults now, with their own families. I share this because I want you to know that I understand what it means to be a coach. That was my life for a decade, and the experiences and the things I learned have stayed with me for a lifetime.
When I took the job as USA Swimming’s executive director, the very first person I met with was the executive director of the American Swimming Coaches Association. This first meeting was important to me.
It was my belief then, and remains so today, that the most important part of the USA Swimming “system” is the coach.
If you were to ask most NGB executive directors who are their most important constituents, the answer would be the athletes. Of course the athletes are important, but it is the coaches who are there day after day, month after month, year after year.
The coaches ARE THE SYSTEM. This is why it is so important for us to have programs and services that provide numerous opportunities for coaches to learn, grow and improve, in addition to what we offer athletes.
My proudest accomplishment at USA Swimming is having a hand in the creation of the Club Development Division. Our staff members in this division are on the front lines in helping coaches and strengthening clubs. They are the face of USA Swimming at the grassroots level. Any coach and any club need only contact the Club Development Division, and there is real expertise and best practices that can be shared.
USA Swimming has adopted the slogan of “America’s Swim Team.” Every member of USA Swimming is a part of the same team, from the youngest age grouper to the National Team athletes. This is much more than just a tag line. As a coach, you are part of the overall national network of swim coaches whose work ultimately leads to the selection of our U.S. Olympic Swim Team. Your athletes are a part of this system as well.
At times over the past few years, media and others have not been kind to swim coaches. There have been stories of inappropriate behavior by some coaches. In many instances, these stories are about items that happened decades ago. Sadly, the actions of a very few taint the entire profession. This is unfair and not reflective at all of the entirety of our nearly 20,000 coaches.
When I think back on my own coaching experiences, I think about all the positive values we tried to live by, and how important it was to pass those onto the athletes we coached. I believed then and still believe now, that next to parents, a coach can be the most impactful individual in a young person’s life. With that comes great responsibility, and coaches deliver on a daily basis.
Of course, it’s important to help set and achieve goals for your athletes to swim faster. There is great satisfaction and pride that is shared equally by the athlete and the coach when these steps are accomplished. But it’s the values you live by and the values you impart to the athletes with whom you work that will have the most lasting influence on those kids.
When I open a holiday card from a young man I coached decades ago and see pictures of his family, I’m probably filled with as much joy and pride as his own parents. That’s a feeling that stays long after the gym lights are turned out and the pool is closed. I hope each of you have the opportunity to experience that feeling many times over in your life.
Working with young athletes is a privilege. Your work is monumentally important in the carry-over values that you teach and the way in which you help today’s youth become tomorrow’s leaders and responsible citizens.
As we begin a New Year, I want to thank you and every coach who is a USA Swimming member. Your roles as educator, teacher and model far exceed everything else you do.