The Many Hats of a Swim Coach

The Many Hats of a Swim Coach

By Mike Gustafson//Contributor  | Thursday, May 17, 2018

You may call your coach, “Coach,” but your coach is more than just a Coach. Your Coach has many different roles, some of which you aren’t even aware of. Coaches are responsible for so much these days, it’s difficult to comprehend all the various roles coaches play throughout the swim season.

So, as a humorous little guide, here are some of those roles that Coaches also play:


1. Motivational Speaker.

While every coach may not embody some epic Braveheart-type of speech (as interesting as that would be before a 10-and-under medley relay), coaches do know how to motivate their athletes. Whether that’s a quick pep talk before a morning practice, or a simple, “You can do this,” before an Olympic Trials championship final, coaches seem to know the exact thing to say to swimmers to motivate them. I remember once a coach took me aside and said how I had earned the opportunity to go out and race. It was a simple sentence, but it motivated me, and it’s something I still remember to this day.


2. Mad Scientist.

A swim coach is a mad scientist. There’s no other way to explain some of those crazy drill sets your coach enjoys conjuring up. I’m guessing every coach, eventually — probably during one of those very long, very monotonous distance freestyle sets at 6am — stares at the water’s surface and enters some layer deep inside the brain that allows that coach to invent a new drill. Every coach seems to be some kind of mad scientist capable of invention, whether that be a silly relay or perhaps the Most Painful Practice Ever Concocted.


3. Cat Wrangler.

Imagine a swim team of teenagers. Now, imagine that same swim team of teenagers on taper. Terrifying, isn’t it? A swim coach must not only be organized, but a swim coach must somehow herd around a group of bouncing-off-the-walls teenagers. It’s amazing how coaches can get an entire swim team of kids to dive into freezing cold water on a Saturday morning. Then again, they are expert cat wranglers.


4. Drill Sergeant.

Being a swim coach isn’t always just conjuring up practices and giving motivational speeches. It’s also about knowing when to enact a little discipline. Because let’s face it, sometimes, coaches have to lay down the law (gently, but firmly). Coaches are really teachers, getting the very best out of their athletes. It’s a delicate balance, but occasionally, coaches have to challenge their swimmers to do their very best.


5. Therapist.

There are real therapists who should do real therapy work if you need one. However, coaches are incredible de facto therapists. I’m thinking back to my own experience with swim coaches: I often had mini anxiety attacks before races, and my coaches always would get me out of that head-space. Through jokes. Through a kind word here or there. Or just through listening to my worry list. Some coaches study psychology and understand the human mind. Good thing, because some of us need a little mental training in addition to that physical training.


6. Stroke Mechanic.

When your car breaks down, you take it to a knowledgeable mechanic. Hopefully that mechanic is one of those people who can look at the engine and in five minutes, know exactly what’s wrong and how to fix it. Same thing with a swim coach. Shoulder hurt? Let’s take a look at how you’re swimming. Water up your nose? Let’s slow it down and figure out what’s going wrong. Just not dropping time? Let’s analyze some video. A swim coach has an understanding of swim technique, and in this sense, is like a mechanic for your stroke.


7. Visionary Guru.

When I was a swimmer, my “vision” was mostly geared towards naptime. I wasn’t thinking about next week or next month, and I certainly wasn’t thinking about next season. Coaches, though, think equally short-term and long-term. Some coaches think not only in year-long cycles, but four-year cycles. Some even think longer than that. I would say that not many of us think in such long-distance terms, but coaches do. Coaches plan and plot out the long-distance future. This could be one of the most important aspects of what coaches do, because it’s so rare. A coach can simultaneously plan out where her freshmen swimmers will be in four years, while also keeping a flexible mindset to tweak and change that plan as need-be. That takes a patient, skilled, and wise head space, and it is a role that coaches play that is often severely under-appreciated…. until now.

Thank you, coaches, for not only being coaches, but also playing so many other positive roles in swimmers’ lives. Whether you are conjuring up next month’s long course practices or simply wrangling one of your hyped-up swimmers to get into the water for warm-ups, everything you do is appreciated. 



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