Perhaps the most difficult job for any sports organization is uniting the athlete’s, parent’s, coach’s and community’s attitudes and expectations under one philosophy.
A firm understanding of the expectations of all these parties will go a long way in creating an effective philosophy and setting a correct course for a team to sail toward success. A coach who understands what his or her personal expectations are–both from the club as an administrator and from his athletes as a coach–is better prepared to discuss with parents, athletes and directors of the board what it will take to develop a compatible philosophy.
The following are some general expectations from coaches. (For expectations of parents and athletes see the articles to follow.)
For most coaching situations, coaches should expect their swimmers to be hard working and dedicated to the program. However, coaches should be wise in understanding the subtle differences between giving a solid effort and completion of every task. Athletes can give a full effort, yet not complete a workout. Other athletes may complete an entire task without giving 100 percent effort. It is a fine line that good coaches understand how to walk.
It is only detrimental to pressure athletes into changing their training priorities before the athlete is mentally, physically or socially ready. Coaches who over-push swimmers run the risk of burning the athlete out before his or her time. The amount, intensity and focus of training should vary according to the athlete’s level of commitment, age and ability. Coaches need to respect all three of these categories and not accelerate the process.
Just as an experienced gardener waits until the fruit is ripe before picking, an experienced coach will wait until the athlete is ready for intense training. Early success from training acceleration usually benefits only the coach’s resume at the long term expense of the athlete.
Along with a commitment from his or her swimmers, a coach also expects full confidence and support from parents and club board members.
Before the head coach and his or her staff can begin to mould the club’s expectations and attitudes, the head coach and the board of directors must be united on the following administrative issues: the establishment of a program emphasis, coaching ratios, the handling of disputes, the removal of disruptive parents and athletes, coaches pay, and coaching bonuses.
Good communication between coach and board and between coach and parent groups will build needed support. Continued separation of these parties can be like fanning a flame of unresolved problems and concerns. A good coach, through good communication, can extinguish lack of support quickly and smoothly.
The experienced head coach should expect to spend an extraordinary amount of time handling the administrative needs of a club during the first three to six months of a club’s building or rebuilding process. Without a structure in place to handle the program’s needs, any success will be short lived. It will take time to teach staff members, parents, volunteers and board members the administrative and support needs of the program before a coach can devote his or her energies to coaching. New coaches especially will expect this “extra” time to organize.
In club swimming, most coaches do not have an off season to plan and prepare. Therefore, part of each season needs to be dedicated to planning. A coach may expect that time from the program and swimmers. Once, the program has been established, seasonal planning becomes more routine and automatic. Less time may be needed.
A new head coach will also expect his parent group to be patient. Parent groups that force the head coach to set sail while planning and building the ship will not be prepared for rough currents. Burnout will eventually occur and lifeboats will be built instead of ocean liners.
A club is a collection of individuals, each with separate strengths and weaknesses. The blending and moulding of a club into one image and one focus is no easy task. The task of bringing the club together should be the primary responsibility of the head coach and his or her staff.
Most clubs have a head coach and a board of directors (BOD).
The perception is that the BOD runs the show and the head coach answers to the board. In reality, the board is responsible for establishing the general direction of the club and supporting that direction by overseeing all administrative aspects of the club.
Coaches may expect the board to recognize that the head coach is the expert hired for his or her knowledge, experience, and expertise. The head coach should be ultimately responsible for the success or failure of the athletes. The head coach must have the power to lead. Without a clear leader, the club will flounder in a pool of misunderstood expectations and conflicting attitudes by all parties.
This may seem obvious, but, although the ultimate goal of any program is to produce winners, the methods and means for accomplishing this goal become the foundation of every coach’s coaching philosophy. Experienced coaches realize that winning comes in many guises. Programs that emphasize all aspects of an individual will be able to produce many winners. Success is not always defined as a decrease in time, but perhaps in physical, mental and social growth.
From a negative perspective, coaches who hold the attitude that “winning is everything” do a disservice to athletes in the long run. When these athletes mature into adults, they likely may not be well rounded individuals. Their self image may revolve solely around ribbons, medals and trophies instead of people, places and ideals.
(from Brent Rutemiller’s Below the Surface)
Once the expectations of all parties are understood, a philosophy can be developed. The clearer the philosophy the better. Vague philosophies lead to misinterpretation. Here are some sample philosophies:
Sample of an Elite Program’s Philosophy
“Our mission is to produce elite, national calibre athletes on a consistent basis by providing every athlete with an environment that will allow him or her to systematically progress from the novice to the elite levels of competition. To attain this goal, we believe that the coaches have the responsibility to teach the skills that instil the ‘dream.’ We believe that every athlete must be hard working and dedicated to remain in this program. And finally, we believe that every parent must support the overall program by volunteering to chair committees, work events and officiate competitions. United we stand. Divided we fall.”
Sample of a Competitive Club’s Philosophy
“Our mission is to bring all members together in one effort and purpose to achieve a consistent environment and stable program so that each athlete can reach his or her potential. To attain this goal, we believe that the team is greater than the sum of its individuals. We believe that the team falls apart when successes are horded and failures are blamed. We believe that every member, no matter how humble, is an important part of the team. We believe that praise begins by praising others. We believe that if you want support, you first must support others. We believe that disputes must be handled privately. We believe that if you want to succeed, you must first help someone else succeed.”
Sample of a Recreational Club’s Philosophy
“Our mission is to create opportunities for young athletes to enjoy the sport of swimming. We believe that within this process, the athletes will learn lifelong skills that enable them to be successful and productive individuals in their selected professions.”
Swimming Technique, Sports Publications Inc.