Entries in Coaching skills (22)


Youth Sports Coach - Watch What You Say

By Nick Dixon
Article Link: Ezine Articles: Youth Sports Coach - Watch What You Say.

Volunteering to coach youth sports can be one of the most rewarding experiences in your life. It is a privilege to spend time teaching, coaching and mentoring youngsters in one of the most critical stages of their mental and physical development. Many kids do not have positive role models in their life. Many kids do not get the attention and the discipline that they need and desire. The main thing I want to discus today is the importance of thinking before you speak and the fact that your words greatly affect the self esteem of your players. Many coaches fail to remember that what a coach says can have long term positive or negative effects on a player. All youth coaches should remember these points regardless of which sport that they coach.

What you say can have long term positive or negative effects on a player. It is a coach's job and responsibility to see, identify, and correct bad player habits, mechanics and incorrect actions and behavior. Coaches should use an approach in such times that is constructive and that produces positive results. There is absolutely nothing wrong with a coach verbalizes displeasure when a player does something wrong as long as it is done professionally and compassionately. What is most important is that if you tell a player when something is done wrong, always make a point to tell that player as soon as possible positive feedback praising something that the player does right.

Maintaining a balance between correction and praising is one of the greatest attributes of a good youth coach. Coaches should always take a moment and think before they speak what is on their mind. Sometimes coaches say something that they wish many times over, that they had not. Once you say something to a player, the damage is done. Regardless of what you do or say, that child will always remember the hurt and embarrassment. Words of praise build confidence and self esteem. A coach's words of praise and kindness are sometimes the only positive words a player hears outside of school and church.

3 Important Points to remember:

1. Praise Every Player at Least Once Every Day - Kids look up to you. They hear every word that you say. They take every word that you say to the "heart". Always strive to find a reason to praise every player at least once or more during every game or practice. Don't make it false praise because kids are too smart. They know when you are sincere or not sincere in your praise.

2. Maintain a Healthy Balance - Make sure that when you correct a player for poor execution of a skill, drill or action, that you praise that player later when a job is well done. If all the kid hears are negative comments one right after another, that kids is going to eventually "tune you out". Keep a healthy balance between your words of correction and your words of praise. Maintaining a positive attitude and a positive approach when correcting bad execution requires a high level of patience. Patience is another valuable attribute of good youth sports coaches.

3. Maintain Your Composure - Think Before You Speak - You can never take words back. Once they are said, they are said! Take a minute to think before you speak when you are irritated and displeased. Words spoken out of anger often come out wrong and have the opposite effect on a player or team than you wished for. If you want your team to play and perform with composure then you must be an example or role model. If you "lose it" every time something goes bad then why should your players not do the same. Be calm and composed at all times. Players and teams emulate the behavior of their coach. If he is calm and collected when the pressure is on, they will tend to be also.

Developing a Coaching Philosophy (Part 2)

By: John Leonard
From: South Easter Aquatics
Article site link: Developing a Coaching Philosophy
PDF Link: Developing a Coaching Philosophy

As a new and inexperienced coach, there is much preparation for your first season. Of course, you are excited and eager about your first head coaching position. You most likely have planned what you are going to do and believe that you are ready. But are you truly ready? Have you thought about the how’s and why’s of everything you will do as a coach? It is important as you get started in coaching to develop a philosophy. For that matter, even the experienced coaches may want to reevaluate their philosophy.

Many coaches do not believe in the value of developing a coaching philosophy.They do not realize how a philosophy can have an impact on their daily coaching procedures and strategy.However, a coach’s philosophy is actually a very practical matter. In fact, every coach, aware of it or not, follows certain principles based on their own playing experience. Most of our basic philosophy emanates from former high school and college coaches.This is a natural start, because it is the approach with which we are most familiar and comfortable.

It is also reasonable to assume that the philosophy of a person’s everyday life thinking and actions would be applied by most when it comes to coaching.For example, a salesman discovers that one of his clients is dishonest. He decides to sell to a competitor despite the fact that he will make less of a profit selling the same product. This may not sound like good business practice, yet many people are willing to adhere to their principles even if it meant making less money. How many coaches would stick to principles of sportsmanship or fair play rather than win the game?We can see a gap between what a coach may think is the right thing to do in every day life, and the actions they may end up taking on the field or court.

In your effort to form or analyze you own philosophy of coaching we must first know what a coach is. A coach can be many things to many different people. A coach is a mentor, a teacher, a role model and sometimes a friend.Most of all a coach must be positive. A positive coach has the following traits:

Puts players first:

A positive coach wants to win but understands that he is an educator first and the development of his players is his top priority. He avoids thinking the game is about him rather than the players. Has an unwavering commitment to what is best for the athletes.

Develops character and skills:

A coach seizes upon victories and defeats as teachable moments to build on self-confidence and positive character traits such as discipline, self-motivation, self-worth and an excitement for life. The desire to see the athlete learn and the ability to effectively improve their skill is the key to an effective coaching program.

Sets realistic goals:

Focuses on effort rather than outcome. Sets standards of continuous learning and improvement for the athletes. Encourages and inspires the athletes, regardless of their skill level to strive to get better without threatening them through fear, intimidation or shame.

Creates a partnership with the players:

A positive coach involves team members in determining team rules. Recognizes that communication is crucial to effective relationships with players. Develops appropriate relationships based on respect, care and character.

Treasures the game:

A positive coach feels an obligation to the sport they coach. Loves the sport and shares that love and enjoyment with the athletes. Respects the opponents, recognizing that a worth opponent will push the team to do their best.

There is no level, where as a coach, you cease teaching the game.As long as you teach, teach in a positive manner.You will produce the best players, and ultimately, the best results.

It is extremely important to develop a philosophy with the following statements in mind:

Your approach should be educationally sound.

Your drills should serve a purpose and not merely used for “killing” time. They should be structured to provide the necessary repetition for each athlete and should be relative to the athlete’s ability level.

Your approach should be appropriate for your players.

You may learn a lot of new offenses and defenses and they may be excellent systems, but are they suited for your players? Use an approach that is developmentally appropriate to your players.

Your philosophy must be ethical.

In basketball, for example many coaches instruct players to fake an injury in order to stop the clock. This is unethical. Consider what you do in all aspects of coaching. Coaching from an ethical standpoint is extremely important. Remember, you are a role model for your players

Stick to your philosophy.

Most coaches, especially on the high school level, have to develop the talent on hand. There may be some years in which the athletes may not possess the ability or skill to fit into your philosophy.You cannot change the players, but you can alter your approach.

Is there a better way of doing what you are doing?

Apply this question regarding all aspects of your coaching philosophy-the offense, defense, motivation or your athletes, etc. Keep an open mind. Learning should be a life-long pursuit and this should definitely apply to your coaching philosophy.

Explain why you do the things you do.

To instruct and to motivate your athletes, you have to justify what you do. Can you? You better be able to.The days of just simply saying, “Well, this is the way we are going to do it,” are long gone. There is no way that you can justify anything associated with your program or team to athletes and parents without an explanation.

Your coaching philosophy should be compatible with your personality.

Are you a risk taker? Patient or impatient? Deliberate or aggressive? You will be more successful if your philosophy and personality are both in sync.

Sportsmanlike conduct should be a top priority involved with your philosophy.

There are certain situations in some games, which could be considered unsportsmanlike by opponents, officials and fans. Running up the score, playing starters long after the outcome has been determined and taunting are just a few examples to be considered. If any of these exist within your approach to coaching, you may have to make some changes.

After analyzing all the factors that I have mentioned, develop your own philosophy by putting it into written form. It is extremely important to be able to express and to explain your approach to athletes, parents and supervisors. A written document can also give you something concrete to reexamine and to evaluate annually.


Communicating With Athletes: Timing Is Everything

By: Robin S. Vealey, Ph.D. Miami University, Oxford, Ohio
From: Team USA: Olympic Coach, Vol 17, No 1.
Article site link: Communicating With Athletes: Timing Is Everything

Mary Harvey, goalkeeper on the U.S.Women’s Soccer Team, who won the 1991 World Cup, gave up an “easy” goal just before halftime of the championship game, which tied up the score 1-1. Instead of berating her or questioning her about what happened on the goal, Coach Tony DiCicco simply talked to her about the upcoming second half and what she should focus on to prepare for the next half of play. A year later, Harvey told her coach:“ I never told you this, but at halftime, when you didn’t mention the mistake I made and simply told me what I needed to do in the second half, well, that had an unbelievable impact on me. It gave me a lot of confidence and allowed me to focus on the second half” (DiCicco, Hacker, & Salzberg, 2002, p. 101). Most coaches understand the importance of communication skills in interacting with their athletes. However, most articles written on communication talk about what to say and how to say it. But as veteran coaches know, choosing when to say it is perhaps the most important thing. Sending the right message in the right way at the right time is the most important communication skill for effective leadership. Coach DiCicco understood that halftime of a World Cup Championship game was not the time to criticize or even discuss an obvious mistake made by a veteran player. His choice of message at that time was brilliant, because it provided powerful motivation and confidence for Harvey, and allowed her to focus on what she needed to do in the second half.

Like me, you probably can remember times when you had the best intentions to communicate in a thoughtful way, only to have the situation blow up in your face! Because of the intensity and emotional highs and lows of sport competition, understanding when to communicate certain messages to athletes is a constant challenge. The four quadrants in Figure 1 represent what can happen in four different situations based on the message sent to athletes as well as the timing of the message (adapted from Maxwell, 1998).


The bottom left quadrant represents what can happen when a coach chooses the wrong message at the wrong time. Disaster! As a college basketball coach, I was once attempting to help a player learn a new offensive move. As she struggled in learning the move, I said in a glib attempt to motivate her, “Come on, Mary. You can do it. It’s easy!” She looked at me with frustration, defeat, and tears in her eyes and replied softly, “It’s easy for you.” I realized I was wrong to infer that it should be easy for her to learn this skill, especially at a time when she was struggling and feeling incompetent. It took some time to gain back her trust due to my lack of empathy at a time when she needed reassurance instead of my attempt at lighthearted motivation. My intent was to be positive and motivational, but my timing was wrong.


Even the right message delivered effectively, but at the wrong time, still represents ineffective communication. The bottom right quadrant represents what can happen when a coach chooses the right message at the wrong time. Resistance! I learned quickly as a coach that talking to a team immediately after a heartbreaking loss requires great care. My mistake the first time this happened was to attempt to get my athletes to open up to discuss their feelings about a tough loss to our arch-rival. It wasn’t a bad idea, but they just weren’t ready for it. I met stiff resistance in the form of averted gazes and rolling eyes, which surprised me as they typically responded very openly to me about their thoughts and feelings. The next day at practice they were ready to discuss the loss, and they explained to me that the night before was just not a good time for them to think rationally and unemotionally about their performance. They needed some time to think through what had happened in the game. My athletes helped me learn the valuable lesson of timing, because although my actions were right, my timing was wrong.


The upper left quadrant represents what can happen when a coach chooses the wrong action at the right time. Mistake! With eight seconds left in a game in which we were down by one point, I called a time-out to set up a play for my team. Instead of telling them exactly what to do, I called for an offensive set in which they would then read the flow of the play to dictate who would take the last shot. I used a democratic leadership style, so often lauded in coaching books, to let them determine for themselves who should take the last shot. We failed to score because we turned the ball over due to a lack of execution. I immediately realized that I had chosen the wrong course of action for my team at that time. It was not what they needed from me, and it was a mistake. It was the right time to make a crucial decision, and I made the wrong one.


Fortunately, I was able to rectify my mistake in a game later that season. This situation represents the upper right quadrant in Figure 1, which is where the coach chooses the right action at the right time. Success! Our team found ourselves in the same last second situation we had faced earlier in the year. This time I was ready, as I had learned from my previous mistake. My leadership behavior was totally autocratic, which was the right action for this situation because autocratic decision-making is needed in stressful situations. I told each athlete exactly what they must do on the play, emphasized they each had one job to do, and made those jobs very clear and specific for them. The result was we got a great shot, it went in, and I learned a valuable lesson about choosing the right communication style to use depending on the timing of the situation.


Enhancing the timing of our communication requires a lot of practice, trials-and-errors, and critical self-reflection to learn from mistakes. Here are some suggestions for working on your timing in your messages to athletes:

Consider the emotional needs of your athletes based on the time of the season, the proximity of competition (upcoming or just completed), and the influence of good and bad performances (or wins or losses). In emotional moments athletes are typically not effective listeners or able to engage in thoughtful and rational discussions. None of us are.
- Consider your emotional state when communicating with athletes. If anger or frustration blocks your ability to communicate productively, wait until your emotions are under control before speaking with your athletes. Know yourself, and only deliver important messages when you are able to do so in a thoughtful, rational manner. And if you say things that you later regret, simply take the time to explain that to your athletes and apologize if necessary. By honestly and openly taking responsibility for mistakes, coaches gain credibility and the trust of their athletes. In fact, it’s good timing to follow up your mistakes with an honest admission of fault and regret.
- Realize that athletes respond better to concise messages as opposed to lengthy explanations or tirades during practice sessions and competitive events.A research study found that legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden rarely spoke more than 20 seconds at a time during practice, with his teaching comments being short, punctuated, and numerous (Gallimore & Tharp, 2004).
- In tense situations, communicate in unexpected or lighthearted ways that help athletes loosen up and gain perspective. A high school baseball coach developed a unique (and a bit off color!) sign to give to his players from his position in the third base coaching box in pressure situations. As the batter watched, the coach would go through his sequence of signs and then finish up by touching his thumb and second finger together in the shape of a circle. The sign represented a key sphincter at the rear end of the player’s body that the coach wanted the athlete to keep open and loose. The circle sign told each player to “be loose and take an aggressive cut.” The coach told me that his players loved the sign, and always smiled no matter how pressurized the situation! In pressure situations, also avoid stating the obvious such as “just relax,” “we really need this,” or “it’s all up to you.” I had a well-meaning coach that had the habit of always telling me to “relax” in tense situations. The comment always caused me to wonder “Am I not relaxed?” and to become more tense as a result. Provide some concise instructions, give a verbal or nonverbal show of support, but don’t state the obvious.
- Similarly, avoid pointing out or dwelling on the obvious when athletes make dumb mistakes. It only focuses on the negative, so a better strategy is to ignore it or to develop a “mistake ritual,” which is a common gesture coaches can communicate to athletes after mistakes to indicate that it’s no big deal. Examples include “no sweat” by wiping two fingers across your brow as if wiping sweat away, “brush it off” by brushing your hand across your shoulder to brush away the mistake, and “wave goodbye” in softball and baseball by taking off your cap momentarily as if to wave away the mistake prior to putting the hat back on (Thompson, 2003).Ask your athletes to develop their own Mistake Ritual – it really works!

- Avoid constantly using high intensity, rah-rah approaches to motivating your athletes. Why? They quickly learn that this is an act, and then in situations where you attempt to communicate intensity to them, they don’t buy it.

Highly successful Duke men’s basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski (2000) talks about the importance of always telling athletes the truth to create trust in what the coach says, or what he calls “instant belief.” Coach Krzyzewski credits the development of “instant belief” for his ability to help his players focus in the final 2.1 seconds of the 1992 NCCA Regional Final with a trip to the Final Four on the line. After a Kentucky player scored on a miraculous shot, Duke called time out down by one point. Coach Krzyzewski knew that the message his athletes needed to hear at that moment was critical, because he saw in their eyes that they didn’t believe they could win. As his athletes came to the bench, he shouted at them, “We’re going to win! We’re going to win!” Could he guarantee this? Of course not. But because he had been an honest communicator all season, his players trusted him and believed him, and what was important at this moment was to create an “instant belief” that they could win. Of course, Duke went on to win the game on one of the most thrilling last-second shots in basketball history. Coach Krzyzewski sent his team the one message they needed to hear and believe at exactly the right time. The key point to remember is that if he had constantly used this rah-rah ploy with his team, they would not have believed him at the critical time when it was needed. When coaches send the right message at the right time, communication flows, athletes learn, and teams flourish. Veteran coaches understand the crucial aspect of timing in attempting to enhance team cohesion, performance, and motivation in their athletes. Develop a file folder in your head of what you learn about timing and communicating with your athletes. Timing is everything in knowing not only what and how, but especially when to communicate with your athletes. Good luck and good coaching.

Dr. Robin S.Vealey is a Professor in the Department of Physical Education, Health, and Sport Studies at Miami University in Ohio. A former college basketball coach, she now teaches courses, conducts research, and consults with athletes and coaches in the area of sport psychology. This article is taken from her book, Coaching for the Inner Edge, available in March from Fitness Information Technology (http://www.fitinfotech.com/).


Gallimore, R., & Tharp, R. (2004).What a coach can teach a teacher, 1975-2004: Reflections and reanalysis of John Wooden’s teaching practices. The Sport Psychologist, 18, 119-137.
Krzyzewski, M. (2000). Leading with the heart. New York:Warner.
Maxwell, J.C. (1998).The 21 irrefutable laws of leadership: Follow them and people will follow you. Nashville: Nelson.
Thompson, J. (2003).The double-goal coach. New York: Harper-Collins


12 Steps to Beating the Kenyans & Ethiopians

By: Frank Horwill
From: Serpentine Running Club
Article site link: 12 Steps to Beating the Kenyans & Ethiopians

Not rowing, the philosophy behind what is said can certainly be linked to all sports.

1. Get rid of the television. The news is invariably depressing. Instead of watching others amuse us, we should entertain ourselves with mental and physical activity. If you must watch it, tune in to ITV, the commercial breaks give you an opportunity to leap up and do some press-ups or bent-knee abdominals. Only 1 in 50 Kenyans have television.
2. Sell your car and become a rich pedestrian. Buy a bicycle. 5 miles of cycling is equal to 1 mile of running. 1 in 3 Kenyans own a bicycle.
3. Cook your own food. Fast-food shops have not caught on in Kenya. They don’t like fried food. They boil and roast. Obesity in Kenya affects only 1 in 200. In Britain, the ratio is 25 overweight people per 100.
4. Abolish or drastically reduce unemployment benefit and welfare hand-outs. In Kenya you work or starve or run to earn a living. If you become a mother, you must provide for the offspring. There is no unemployment or welfare benefit in Kenya. They have learned that man’s destiny on earth is work.
5. Don’t buy children computer games. In 100 years’ time our heads will be twice the size. Our bodies will be the same size as our heads.
6. Schools should alter their modus operandi to 4 hours of study in the morning and 2 hours sport in the afternoon, every day of the week.
7. Don’t watch over-paid sportsmen perform. Instead, perform yourself.
8. Burn down shops that sell tobacco and liquor to under-age juveniles.
9. Get away from too technical jargon in running training. In Kenya, they think microcycles, macrocycles and mesocycles are different types of Japanese motorbike.
10. Train at altitude for a month at a time, 3 times a year.
11. Make 1/3 of your total running much faster than the other 2/3.
12. Be carried off the running track once a week on a stretcher, due to exhaustion


Crossing the T’s & Dotting the I’s

By: Vern Gambetta: Visit his website
From: Elite Track
Article site link: Crossing the T’s & Dotting the I’s

As a young coach I was always told to be sure to cross the T’s and dot the I’s At first I thought they were kidding me, but the longer I coached the more I realized that was much truth attached to that time worn cliché. Here are some T’s to cross and I’s to dot that I have found to be important in my own coaching and through observation of successful coaches and athletes the past 38 years.

Talent -- It all begins here: without native athletic ability and a feel for the event it is tough for an athlete to excel at the highest levels. That doesn’t mean that someone with less talent can’t succeed, but he or she will have to work much harder. The less talented individual will also have less margin for error in training. The coach’s job is to identify talent, nurture and direct the talent.

Tenacity -- Mental toughness is the result of sound physical preparation. It is also the ability to focus on the task at hand and not be distracted by minor setbacks. The champion is often the one who can persevere and overcome obstacles

Technique -- Sound fundamental movement skills are a precursor to specific event technique. Both must to be developed early in an athlete’s career and refined as the athlete progresses to the elite level. The challenge is to become technically proficient without becoming mechanical.

Training – This is the process of acquiring specific fitness while balancing all training components. Obviously this is the foundation for success. No one can succeed without a good training base. Never lose sight of the fact that training is a means to an end, not an end unto itself. That end is competition. Winning is the outcome of good preparation.

Tactics – Tactics are based on knowledge of the sport and of effective competitive skills. Know the rules; study the skills involved in competing well.

Testing - The competition is the ultimate test of the total training program. It must be measured not only by wins and losses, but also by improvement and quality of effort. In order to be ready for the ultimate test, it is important to test periodically in training to assess progress toward a goal.

Inspiration – This is the spark that motivates the coach and the athlete to persevere through difficult times. It is the vision of the results of the hard work. It is the courage to do the little things that make the best better. It is willingness to do the morning run when it is snowing and it would be easier to stay in bed. It is doing the cooldown after a very hard workout when it would be easier to head for the shower. Inspiration is the guiding light toward pursuit of the goal.

Innovation – The willingness to try new things, to change even if you have been successful. Change is a constant. We must be willing to change to get better. This involves continually learning and upgrading your knowledge base. Never be satisfied with where you are now; always seek ways that will help you get better.

Intensity – This is the laser-like focus on the task at hand, the focus that is necessary to be the best you can be. It is not screaming and hollering; it is focus, concentration and inner drive. It is attention to detail.

Interest – This is the commitment to improve. Your interest must be clearly defined, whether it is to be the best coach or athlete you can be. The interest must be unwavering.

Involvement – This is necessary for success in any endeavor. You must be fully involved; it cannot be a passing fancy. Involvement is a 24 hour commitment, not two hour commitment during the workout. It is committing to a lifestyle that supports excellence. Everyone wants to be involved on meet day, but the winners are those coaches and athlete who pay the price everyday.


Australian Coaches and Burnout: Causes, Symptoms and Prevention

By: Justin McNamara, Australian Institute of Sport and Lauren MacNamara, University of Canberra
PDF Link: COaching Australia

Coaching is potentially a very rewarding pursuit due to the joy of working with aspiring athletes, the challenge of building a successful program, the satisfaction derived from teaching sport skills, and the opportunity to facilitate an athlete’s psychosocial development. At the same time, coaching can be a very time-consuming, demanding and frustrating experience. Not surprisingly, some coaches thrive in the coaching profession and are passionate about their involvement. Others have a less positive view of their coaching experiences, which in some cases culminates in burnout and/or the individual leaving the coaching ranks.

Each year a substantial number of individuals stop coaching. Although coaches discontinue for a variety of reasons, recent years have been marked by increased public interest in burnout.
Burnout is a psychological syndrome characterised by emotional exhaustion, depersonalisation, and reduced personal accomplishment.

What causes coach burnout?
Several factors that have been linked to burnout in coaches are:
• pressure from administrators
• role conflict or ambiguity
• too much time spent travelling
• low control over job
• low social support
• democratic leadership style
• recurrent conflict with athletes
• pressure from parents of athletes.

What are the symptoms of burnout?
Recognising the signs of burnout is critical for coaches. These signs are:
• coaching seems to have lost its fun and dynamic edge
• preparation and planning become more arduous as the seasons wear on
• your athletes have become accustomed to receiving criticism rather than praise from you
• you turn to excuse-making, instead of searching for answers when faced with an issue.

Strategies to prevent burnout
It is critical to note that burnout is not a result of flawed character, behaviour or drive. It is the result of job stress and the nature of the coaching environment. There are several keys for preventing burnout:
• Take care of your own health by eating properly, getting sufficient sleep and getting involved in exercise.
• Spend less time on paperwork and administration, and more time involved in the enjoyable aspects of coaching.
• Break up your routine by introducing new training drills and activities.
• Find time to have fun during work hours.
• Seek out a mentor to gain support and advice during difficult times.
• If possible, restrict the amount of travel you do with teams and athletes.
• It is okay to say no, especially relating to committees and non-critical projects.
• Do not take ‘coaching’ home with you.

Burnout is a serious concern for coaches at all levels. Recognising the causes and symptoms, and knowing a few things about how to prevent burnout, can help coaches maintain a positive attitude and continue to love the work that they do.


The Hardest Thing about Coaching

By: Tim Welsh, University of Notre Dame
From: Swimming Coach
Article site link: The Hardest Thing about Coaching


Believe it or not, 99% of all parents out there are sane and workable. If you want to be a successful coach you have to deliberately make an effort to train them. The following is a list of strategies and ideas that will help you in this endeavor.


Most parents who push, do so because they don't know how to be helpful and do not understand the effects that this has on you and their child.


You are in a position as a coach to give parents the 2 things that they want the most and that frequently causes them to say and do unhelpful things. They want their child to feel happy. They want their child to be successful.


Help parents redefine what it means to be a winner. Winning is not about coming in 1st. It's about pushing your own limits and constantly striving to do better than your best. You're a winner if you drop time off a previous best, even if you come in dead last.


Help parents redefine competition. It is not appropriate to distract a swimmer with thoughts of beating someone else. Help parents understand that a focus on the competition usually results in slower times and performance problems. The competition is your partner and your real obstacle lies within. Train them to encourage their children to compete against themselves.


Help refocus parents. All too often parents get their children to be concerned with the uncontrollables (UC's) in a meet (i.e., competition, crowd, race heat, water temperatures, last year's race, qualifying, etc.). Teach parents that a focus on the UC's will only get the child into performance trouble. Instead the swimmer should be encouraged to focus on what they can control (i.e., themselves). 


Don't use a crisis intervention model with parents. Don't wait for problems and emotions to arise before you are forced to deal with them. Use a preventive model and commit yourself to training parents from day 1 in your program. Actively educate them with verbal and written material.


In writing, state clearly your coaching philosophy, coaching style, club policies and view about competition. Don't leave any of this material to their imagination. They have a right to know and you have a responsibility to clarify these for them.


Clearly define the roles of swimmer, coach and parent so they knows what is expected of them and how they can best help the team. For parents specifically state that coaching is something you do and they don't. Define what it means to coach so that they won't have any confusion about the matter.


Define appropriate meet/practice behavior, the do's and don'ts for both swimmer and parents and explain why this is so. Spell out clearly the consequences for violating appropriate behavior so when you intervene it doesn't come as a surprise.


Establish yourself as an expert. You know the sport, (even if you're inexperienced) and it's your job to see that things are run the way you see fit. Although parents may challenge you on this, act as if you are the expert in a non-defensive way. If you feel unsure of yourself consult regularly with other more experienced coaches.


Define a common mission for the team and organization. Let parents know where you want to go and how they can help you and their children reach these goals.


Communicate. Keep lines of communication open between you and the parents. Be approachable. Encourage them to bring their problems to you directly. Listen to them and give them the feeling that you hear them and can understand where they are coming from, even if you don't agree with them. 


Keep professional whenever possible. Do not use your emotions to respond to problem parents. If they push your buttons, keep your emotions out of your interactions with them. If you lose your professional perspective, you can't be effective. 


Help parents understand the developmental perspective you have in training. Most parents don't understand why their child isn't going faster immediately and winning everything in sight. Explain to them about the long term process you are involved in with their child and the proper way to measure success with it.


Teach parents the principles of peak performance which they can then use as a guideline for what to say and do with their swimmer


The Quality of Approachability

By: John Leonard
From: Swimming Coach
Article site link: The Quality of Approachability

Recently at a swim meet, I had "accidental contact" with a young coach whom I had never met before. He came to offer his thanks and appreciation for what ASCA and WSCA are doing in the drug wars in our sport. After a few kind words, he mentioned that he didn't agree with all of ASCA's "philosophies," but knew that things are "a balance" and wanted me to know that he appreciated my efforts. Very nice of him.

I thanked him, and then asked what particular things he didn't agree with.... I am always interested in how the things we are working on are perceived. I was prepared for criticism of some program or project that we were undertaking, because I have certainly come to recognize that you can't please all of the people all of the time. What he said however, surprised me.

"Well, maybe its not philosophies, exactly... its more like, well, uhummmm... ah .... well ... ummm, it's that you seem so unapproachable sometimes."

Unapproachable? Me? Moi? Mr. Telephone-stuck-in-head, Mr. Walk the deck at every meet, talk to everyone, Me? Me? Gulp. What am I hearing?

I got over the shock, and asked him what he meant. He said, "you always seem so busy, and I never get to talk to you." As he said it, I saw something else cross his face.
My response was, "Gee, it doesn't seem like that to me. I spend about half of every work day answering phone calls from coaches, and another hour a day answering e-mail from people I often don't even know, and another hour a day writing letters in response to letters I get. If I'm unapproachable, an awful lot of people have gotten past it."

My new friend thought about that for a moment, then said, "you know, as I said that a second ago, I thought maybe really the problem is in me, not in you." Now I wanted to leap on that and agree with him... anything to avoid blaming myself ... but I resisted, and thought some more.
"You know" I said, "I think if you walk around this deck, you'll find an awful lot of coaches who bring me ideas in hopes and belief that I, and the ASCA Board, can help bring them to fruition. We have a pretty good track record in that regard.

"I know" he said, "and I think that's why I feel like I'm cut off ... I have ideas I want to get out there also."
A light came on like a cartoon in my mind.
"How old are you, coach?"
"I'm 29."

Well, at the time of this incident, I was two days short of my 50th birthday. "Coach, you know, you may have something there .... when I was 29, I couldn't even bring myself to talk to any of the name coaches in the sport. You're a long way ahead of that curve, you already have some ideas."

Some age-old principles of communication came back to me. The most relevant of which is that work expands to fill the time available. So does communication. I do an enormous amount of communicating. Everyone I have known and know now, communicates with me, some quite regularly, some everyday. Some, several times a day. And we are all like that. As a swim coach, we spend most of our time getting and receiving information from those we know. We rarely or scarcely have time for those we ... don't know.

So we are all "approached" and communicate very often, sometimes it seems, way too much. But each and every one of us spends most of our time communicating with those we know.

For a person like me, working with an association, or a person like you, working with another kind of association, known as a team, there is a huge temptation to reach "saturation level" with communication, and not seek out those people who are a "stretch" for us to communicate with. In my case, this young coach reminded me that I spend so much time receiving communication ... incoming calls, people coming up to tell me something, e-mail, snail mail, third hand reports, that I can neglect to get out and force myself to find ever more people, who I don't know, to get more input from, and seek out ideas. And that's a good idea for every coach.

And I think the young coach had a sudden realization that he was behaving a lot like the young parent who bemoans the "lack of communication" from the coach, but never telephones the coach, or comes to talk to the coach. He saw, I believe, that the opportunity was there, and he wasn't taking it.

The second principle of communication that this reminded me of is that unapproachable is in the eye of the beholder. I have never met a person associated with swimming in the coaching profession, who would not, when asked at a reasonable time and place, take all the time in the world to consider your question, and give you a respectful and well-thought-out response and try and help you. Its a cornerstone of our profession that we help each other to the best of our ability. I was thirty-two when I first got up the nerve to ask George Haines a question, after sneaking up behind him for years to listen to what he would tell his athletes at nationals. I was thirty-five and starting work at ASCA before I could bring myself to ask Coach Peter Daland for advice. Doc Counsilman came to me early in my career, and reminded me "how we do these things," or I might never have met him, and that turned into a lifelong admiration and respect and eventually friendship. I don't know that I ever would have felt worthy to approach Doc for help if he hadn't taken the initiative to help me out by straightening me out.
For young coaches today, including my new 29 year old friend, the key coaches in swimming are the Richard Quicks, the Mark Schuberts, the Skip Kenneys and many others. Those gentlemen are just as "approachable" as Doc, or George, or Peter, or Don Gambril. Respect their privacy and their need to take care of their own teams first, and then introduce yourself, tell them why you are coming to ask them something, then ask. You'll find them just as friendly and approachable as every other great coach throughout history, and as eager to help, and continue the tradition of established coaches helping the next generation the same way they were helped.

As for me, I'm going to make it a point to meet three new coaches I don't know, everywhere I go, and spend some time talking to them. Thanks to my new young friend, I was reminded of the valuable truths above.

And I hoped he learned that "approachable" is within you, not within the person you want to approach. Do it with your team parents, with your school administrators or other teachers .... and do it with your fellow coaches.


The Danger in Knowledge

By: John Leonard
Article site link: Swimming Coaching
Article link: The Danger in Knowledge

Knowledge is an interesting concept. In the Websters New Dictionary the word "know" is defined as:

1) To perceive with certainty; to understand clearly;to be sure of or well informed about. As, we KNOW the facts. That's the preferred definition. Hmmmm. "To perceive"".... Lets look at perceive.
2) to take hold of, to feel, to grasp mentally,to recognize, to observe. To become aware of.
So, to KNOW something is to perceive it with Certainty. And, to perceive it is to feel, hold, grasp it, recognize it.
So what you know, is what you perceive?

What if what you perceive is limited?
- Limited by looking through a microscope at the cells of a whale.
- Limited by standing in Manhattan, and looking at the Statue of Liberty.
- Limited by listening to only one source.(What if Eddie Murphy was the only person to listen to?
- Limited by reading only one opinion.(What if you could only read Rush ?)
- Limited by seeing only one quality swimmer.(What if you ONLY saw Janet Evans swim freestyle?)
- Limited by only one source for scientific information?(Chinese/East German athletic system?)

This is scary.

Back in 1980, there was an article in Time Magazine that noted a small footnote of a disease found in Haiti that debilitated the immune system of black male homosexuals. The article assured us that there was no danger to any other population.

In 1982, TIME printed that the disease had spread and now, only male homosexuals were at risk. Everyone else was ok. No worries, unless you were a male homosexual. In 1985, TIME's story was that homosexuals, male and female were at risk. No one else need worry.

In 1986, TIME said there was evidence that it was spread through the blood. (and the blood supply for those who had transfusions. No one not homosexual or in need a transfusion need worry.

Then they added that well, maybe a few heterosexuals might have IT also. Then they finally noted that well, yes, it did appear that it was sexually transmitted, as well as blood borne. Now, you note, AIDS is the scourge of the century, with no cure in sight. But in 1980, we KNEW that only black male homosexuals could get it. No worries. Scary. Now, remember, they are absolutely sure that mosquitoes can't carry aids. I'm reassured. How about you?

What does this have to do with swimming?
A lot. One thing that most of us have in common when we start to coach, is that we want to do a good job. To do a good job, we are convinced we have to KNOW something. I read Doc Counsilman's early books, and was absolutely certain that I KNEW that action-reaction was what produced forward propulsion, and anything other than that was a waste of time. And I vigorously fought for that stroke with my swimmers, and with my assistant coaches. Then I met an engineer who talked about funny things like "lift" and Bernoulli's Principle and things...and I thought he was crazy and kept on teaching what I KNEW as correct.

Five years later, Doc and many other people decided that LIFT and Mr. Bernoulli and his principle was the main thing. (And Doc told us, repeatedly, to "QUESTION EVERYTHING", and we thought he was just being modest.) So I learned and KNEW that the new paradigm of lift was "the Answer". Now I am reading material that says that at certain speeds, the Action/Reaction Drag force is the only way to move fast enought. Hmmm.... Yet many of us insist on "knowing" something. And once we have that "perception" of "knowledge", it becomes deeply a part of each of us. We defend what we know with vigor, enthusiasm, and a touch of....desperation? Why? Because we value, and we hope others value, something called knowledge. If we actually "know" less, we are therefore, worth less. (or worthless?)

When I was a young coach, with no achievements behind me, and a very challenging world in front of me, my "knowledge" was all I had. The same is true for many coaches today. Yet that very knowledge, so precious to us, keeps us from doing the very best job we can do as coaches. That's what makes Knowledge dangerous. Coaches are good salespeople. We sell ideas to our swimmer and parents daily. We are selling our "knowledge". (Gulp)

Because its not really KNOWLEDGE in the sense we think of it. Its not TRUTH. Not permanent. Not inerasable. Its changeable. Its a product of perception. A product of what we see, hear, sense, "hold", smell and taste. To KNOW is simply to PERCEIVE. And perception, by definition is faulty.

How do we think we acquire KNOWLEDGE? By Education. Does this put Education in a bad light? Not if the Educational process presents its material in the correct light. What is the correct light? Its INFORMATION. Its what we perceive about a subject right now. As we get a bigger and better microscope, we get more information about the real size and scope of the whale. If we turn around we see a city, rather than a metal lady standing in a bay. We hear Jesse Jackson as well as Eddie Murphy, we read liberals as well as Rush, we watch Matt Biondi and Popov as well as Janet Evans. We get our science from ICAR, from Universities, as well as from the Chinese and East Germans. We want information from many sources.

In short, we gather INFORMATION. And we put it into our coaching TOOLBOX. One of my favorite expressions is "If you only have a hammer, everything looks like a nail." No one tool can address every project or problem. Anyone who builds can tell you that having the right tool is 90% of doing the job the best way possible, with the best result.

Our task as coaches is to build our toolbox. Without getting married to our saw, or our planer, or our chisel. No one idea, no one coaching method, no one stroke mechanic principle is "the tool" for everyone or every problem. We have to gain the set of tools necessary to do the job in each situation which we face. And that takes time, and experience.

The same materials go into your coaches Toolbox, as into your KNOWLEDGE, but you recognize that everything is simply information, and it can ALL be useful. Its up to you to apply the information that you acquire. And you don't learn ONE WAY of solving a problem, decide that you KNOW how to solve that problem from now on, and never look for new tools. There is no one way to build a team, win a national championship, teach a stroke, or a start or turn, plan a workout, plan a season, recruit a swimmer. There are many ways for every task, and they will all work well for someone, in some situation.

First, clear your mind of "Knowledge", then, fill it with information. The information forms your toolbox, and your experience will tell you what tool to use to solve each problem.

The older I've gotten the less I know. But the more experiences I've had, and more information I've touched...maybe not "held" exactly, but touched.
Doc Counsilman was right. Question Everything.

And I'll add, Put It In Your Toolbox.
And expand your toolbox at every opportunity.


Coaches as Leaders

By: Robert E. Baker and Christopher Nunes
From: SIRC
Article site link: Coaches as Leaders

Leadership is a concept that is often discussed but frequently misunderstood. Literature in fields ranging from business to education to sport examines the concept of leadership, but often fails to provide a pragmatic outline or blueprint for those in leadership positions. This article describes leadership strategies that coaches can employ to improve their own as well as their team's effectiveness. The strategies examine leadership from both a personal and organizational perspective. It is only when coaches critically examine their own leadership styles that their individual skills and abilities improve, and result in enhanced team performance. While the strategies described were written with coaches in mind, they are relevant to other sport leaders, such as athletic directors and team captains.

Plato once noted, "The first and best victory is to conquer self" (in Maxwell, 1999), and as coaches we pursue victory. While one never completes the task of conquering self, the pursuit of one's own growth and development is key. Coaches can facilitate their own success by attending clinics or conferences, giving presentations, taking classes, reading professional literature, staying on top of current trends, pursuing certification programs, and learning from other top performers in the field.

Using Jerry Rice as a role model, Rick Pitino (1997) stated that "... what is important is that I take the essence of what makes him successful and incorporate that into my philosophy." Coaches should look to individuals who have achieved high levels of competence and success. These role models can be found not only in the sport arena, but also in other professions. Ideal candidates have effective communication, decision-making and conflict management skills; they are able to appreciate the needs and goals of others. While adopting the strategies of successful leaders is effective and essential, each coach must determine what is consistent with his or her own personality and circumstances. Some techniques used by coaches at the professional level may not be applicable to coaches teaching in an academic environment.

Coaches should utilize their power to accomplish the goals and objectives they set for, or with, their team. They should have good interpersonal skills in order to foster relationships that go beyond name, rank and serial number. They can do so by employing an open door policy and being empathetic listeners. They will also need to strike a balance between personal and professional relationships. If balance is weighed too heavily on the personal, coaches may not be objective enough to critically evaluate a player's performance. Or, the coach who develops a friendship with a player's family may be conflicted when a disciplinary action is required. A player may also attempt to take advantage of the relationship to promote a personal agenda. Well-balanced relationships encourage players to work toward team goals consistent with the coach's intent.

While it is preferred that coaches consciously work to enhance their verbal skills, they communicate with others on less conscious levels. As humans, we all communicate by our personal appearance, actions, body language, pitch, tone, rate, inflection, emotion, volume, silences and pauses (Qordan, 1996). Communication is also multidimensional, so one must consider people, environment and circumstances in interpreting messages. An effective leader's messages "...are simple and direct and can serve as a battle cry of sorts for people across all organizational levels" (Carlzon, 1997). It involves sending clear, appropriate messages, reducing extraneous distractions, responding to feedback, selecting the correct channel, and actively listening. In order to ensure that messages are received as they are intended, coaches need to evaluate their own communication skills. This can be done by employing feedback from others (i.e., assistant coaches, supervisors) or by recording tapes of interactions with, players for objective viewing later. This kind of feedback helps to clarify goals and reduce the possibility of being misunderstood by others.

Sometimes it is necessary for coaches and team members to let go of old habits or preconceptions.

However, habits are often hard to break, and conflict may result when there is a breakdown in communication. Effective coaches can manage the conflict in ways that produce positive results. When conflicts arise over minor issues, they can usually be managed by talking it through with team members. When conflicts become more critical, they can be better managed through mediation or conflict resolution techniques. For example, if a serious issue such as racial bias or discrimination surfaces, formalized mediation through a counselor and/ or administrator would be appropriate. Through conflict, players can examine their own concepts, give evidence to support their position, stimulate creativity and devise resolutions that promote group identity and harmony (Qordan, 1996). Conflict is unavoidable, but "...conflict is healthy when dealt with in a mature, respectful, and open manner and ... it can enhance understanding and communication among team members and the coach" (Vernacchia, McGuire & Cook, 1996).

Just as internal conflict can yield positive outcomes, a variety of fresh ideas can be generated from both internal and external collaboration. Forming internal alliances takes place through team building, fostering open and honest communication, and clearly defining roles and responsibilities. Individuals are not always able to attain the same levels of achievement alone that they can when they are members of a team. For example, players who have limited talent but work cooperatively are often victorious over more talented players who do not cooperate. Such cooperation, then, generally results in an esprit de corps among all team members.

A Successful Coach

  • Has good interpersonal skills
  • Strikes a balance between personal and professional relationships
  • Manages conflicts in ways that produce positive results
  • Defines team roles and responsibilities
  • Collaborates with others to enhance his/her sports programs
  • Helps players establish their personal goals
  • Develops a consensus on team goals Strives for excellence rather than perfection
  • Trusts team members to achieve goals
  • Attends professional professional seminars and workshops

Partnerships, coalitions, and alliances with organizations that have similar missions can enhance sports programs. The collaboration can be formal or informal, and depends upon the needs of those involved. Benefits of collaboration include streamlining services, increasing credibility and visibility of all parties, and developing networking opportunities (Yoder & Ham, 1999). For instance, coaches from a specific region might work to develop and implement a summer fitness program or competitive developmental league to enhance the skills of their players and to better understand the methods of their opponents. Coaches should conduct an assessment of their program before they consider an alliance. Assessment should include measuring the knowledge, skills, and abilities of team members to identify specific areas in which players as individuals or a team can benefit. Coaches should then work to develop strategies that focus on sharing the team's vision, thinking conceptually, facilitating opportunities for growth and development of team members and building trust and respect.

To be successful, coaches and players must share the same goals, with personal goals synonymous with team goals. Success is not always possible, but failure does not have to be devastating. Coaches work best when they provide a non-threatening environment that allows for failure, but encourages the creativity and risks that lead to fresh, new strategies and techniques. Fresh ideas help teams reduce the possibility of stagnation. What others may perceive as failure, cooperative teams view as stepping stones to success. Teams and individuals operate best when challenged; the coach's role is to clearly communicate the ends to which the challenges are directed.

When a team or individuals strives for perfection, they limit creativity by playing it safe. Excellence, on the other hand, is not perfection, and is a process, not an end. It is what every player and team should strive for. When coaches demand perfection, they limit team knowledge, skills and abilities. The best the team can do is meet the coach's expectation, never exceed it. The pursuit of excellence involves going beyond expectations, not simply staying within the established confines of perfection.

Coaches can foster excellence and satisfaction when they encourage motivation. To motivate team members, coaches must first recognize their individual needs. Needs such as achievement, power, affiliation, autonomy, esteem, safety, security and equity can serve as motivators for individuals (Berryman-Fink & Fink, 1996). Coaches should have a professional relationship with each player in order to identify and meet those needs, and do so within the context of the team's operational goals. Methods include assisting players in establishing their goals, developing consensus on team goals with the players, then clarifying the connection between the two. Coaches who attend to each player's progress through feedback and recognition produce higher levels of individual and team performance required to achieve goals.

A coach must have the confidence and trust that team members will achieve the defined goals. Confidence means s/he puts the team in a position of authority and imbues the players with the power to accomplish specific tasks. By delegating authority, the coach assigns responsibility and accountability. For instance, if a coach assigns an assistant coach to conduct summer workouts, the assistant should be held accountable for the success of the workouts provided s/he had the authority to conduct them as supported by the coach. Similarly, the coach must supply the assistant with the tactical, mental and physical preparatory support necessary for success. The concept also applies to the coach's relationship with the team. The coach offers the support and guidance, and makes the appropriate decisions-but the game is largely in the hands of the players, who must be trusted to pursue and achieve individual and team goals.

The blueprint for effective sport leadership includes, but is not limited to, the strategies described above. A thorough understanding of these strategies will allow coaches to be more effective leaders on and off the playing field.


Berryman-Fink, C. & Fink, C. (1996). Manager's desk reference (2"' ed.). New York: American Management Association.

Carlzon, J. (1987). Moments of truth. New York: Harper Perennial.

Jordan, D. J. (1996). Leadership in leisure services: Making a difference. State College, PA: Venture.

Jordan, M. (1994).1 can't accept not tn,ing. San Francisco, CA: Harper.

Maxwell, J. C. (1999). The 21 indispensable qualities of a leader. Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

Pitino, R. (1997). Success is a choice. New York: Broadway.

Vernacchia, R., McGuire, R. & Cook, D., (1996). Coaching mental excellence. Portola Valley, CA: 4farde Publishers.

Yoder, D. G., and Ham, L.L. (1999). Partnerships. In B. Van der Smissen, M. Moiseichik, V. J. Hartenburg, and L. F. Twardski (Eds.). Management of park and recreation agencies. (pp. 75-97). Ashburn, VA: National Recreation and Park Association.

Robert E. Baker (rbaker20ashland.edu) is an Associate Professor for the Department of Sport Sciences at Ashland University, Ashland, OH. Christopher Nunes (cnunes0Qashland.edu) is an Assistant Professor for the Department of Sport Sciences at Ashland University, Ashland, OH.