Mike's Mailbag: Make a Season Plan to Communicate with Your Coach

Mike's Mailbag: Make a Season Plan to Communicate with Your Coach

By Mike Gustafson//Contributor  | Monday, February 5, 2018

Every Monday, I answer questions about competitive swimming from swimmers around the country. If you have a question, please email me at swimmingstories@gmail.com and I’ll do my best to answer.


Dear Mike,

I recently moved to a new country and joined a new swim team. At first, I was really enjoying it and was excited about what was to come. My coach completely changed my events, and now instead of being a breaststroker, all I've done for the past three meets are 50,100, and 200m butterfly. I did really well at my championship meet and was looking forward to seeing what I could improve in. Now my coach has become a lot less responsive to me and constantly comments on how lazy he thinks I'm being at practice, even when I blow the interval out of the water. He wants me to start coming to at least seven practices a week, but the international school here is very tough academically, and I just don't have the time. I never get a chance to talk to him about my events, and I'm going to be swimming my fourth 200 fly in the past two months next Saturday. All of these factors have made me lose pretty much all my passion and interest for swimming, and going to practice sometimes feels like a chore. Do you have any tips on what I should do?


Demotivated Swimmer


Demotivated Swimmer,

In swimming — a sport so dependent on routines — transitions can be tough. You’ve recently moved to a new country and joined a new swim team, which means all kinds of transitions: new teammates, new friends, new practice routines, new events and new coaches.

The latter two (new events & new coaches) can be the most challenging, especially when there’s a breakdown of communication. It sounds like you and your new coach simply aren’t communicating that effectively. Especially about practice expectations and “new event” expectations.

Your coach expects you to attend more practices, to compete in new events, and doesn’t necessarily understand the rigors of your academic schedule. On the other hand, you expect not to swim the 200m butterfly at every single meet, you can’t commit to seven practices a week due to your academic schedule, and you feel frustrated by “lazy” comments — especially in light of good practice performance.

Talk it out.

Then — and here’s the important part — once you talk it out, put it on paper.

Often, communication breakdowns happen verbally. We don’t often hear what is said. Sometimes, we hear what we want to hear. Set up a meeting with your new coach, invite your parents or guardians to this meeting, and make a season plan. Put that season plan on paper.

Season plans can/will address:

  • The number of practices you will be attending that season
  • The kinds of events you will compete in
  • The expectations for practices and effort in practices (since you don’t understand where the term “lazy” comes from)
  • Any other guidelines, expectations, and communication-musts

Discuss these points, and put them on paper. By the end of this meeting with your coach and parents, the goal should be that everyone has an on-paper plan for the upcoming season. The expectations. The events. The practices. Once these things are on paper, you, your parents, and your coaches will have a solid understanding what the upcoming season’s expectations will be.

This kind of a season plan writing exercise doesn’t need to be some hours-long event, either. It needn’t take up your coach’s entire day. It could take only five or ten minutes. But those few minutes will likely make you feel better, make your coach feel better, and align everyone on the same page.

At the end of the season, after the last race has been swum, you and your coach can then review your season plan: Did you meet those expectations? Was there a communication breakdown? Were you able to commit to the amount of practices you needed to, as well as continue to do well in school? What events did you compete in? How did you do? What would you and your coach do differently next season?

In a sport like a swimming, everything is measurable: times, places, distances. And yet, there are an abundance of communication breakdowns between swimmer and coach. These communication breakdowns are usually a result of differing expectations and relying on verbal communication instead of on-paper communication.

So put expectations on paper. Call these expectations a season plan — or anything you’d like, if there’s a term that makes more sense for you. Just like seeing a time or a place on paper, sometimes, seeing expectations on paper (such as the amounts of practices you’ll attend each week, or seeing what is needed to swim other events, or seeing the upcoming season-long expectations) can make a world of difference for you and your coach.

I hope this helps. 



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