Even if you’ve been swimming competitively for years, becoming a swim coach isn’t an easy and automatic transition. That’s not to say your past won’t be useful; it will. It’s a good idea to reflect back on what your former coaches did and didn’t do that was helpful and harmful to you and your team. That’s valuable experience you can carry forward with you as you work to provide quality instruction, motivation, inspiration, and guidance to young swimmers.
But being a great swimmer and being a great coach are totally different things that call upon totally different skills. So, here are some tips for new swim coaches that can help you get off to a good start and help you point your swimmers in the right direction—with their technique, their attitude, and their swim career.
Tips for New Swim Coaches
- Set rules and boundaries. Often, brand new coaches already know at least a few of their swimmers on a peer or friend level. While being friends is fine, you now need to establish the authority and respect an effective coach needs.
- Enforce them consistently. Your team needs to know that what you say goes. If you show them that you’re inconsistent or not serious about your rules, they won’t follow them and they’ll take you less seriously in general.
- Remain approachable. A coach should be a trusted advisor swimmers can comfortably turn to with questions, concerns, and problems. Remind your team regularly that you’re there for them, and back it up by making yourself available, being a good listener, and offering your best answers and guidance.
- Show your passion for swimming. It makes you far more relatable to your team and shows them that you have this great thing in common. It also helps motivate your team and carry them through tough times.
- Focus on individuals. Sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in the team dynamic. But each swimmer needs personalized attention to their technique on a regular basis. Also, talk to each person about their goals and how you can best support them.
- Ask your swimmers for their thoughts and feedback. A great coach is always inquiring after the team and its members. Find out how they’re feeling about things, what they’re happiest with, what they’re worried about, and what they’d like to see happen with their coaching and the team.
- Have swimmers practice their specific races. Recreate the races your swimmers will be participating in during upcoming swim meets. This gives them the opportunity to prepare psychologically and physically for the race.
- Keep swimmers focused on things they control. They may get caught up thinking about the size of blocks, water temperature, their competitors, and other things beyond their control. They should be concentrating on their start, their kicks, their breathing, and the rest of their technique.
- Use swim fins. These are great for warming up, building leg strength, and honing certain kick techniques. Plus they’re fun. Which brings us to…
- Make sure the team’s having fun. Yes, serious practice, hard work, and discipline are essential. But swimming also needs to be fun. Fun is a part of what makes swimming such a rewarding experience and fosters valuable deep relationships on the team.
- Watch for signs that a swimmer is taking competition too seriously. If a kid is taking swim competition too seriously, what should be a healthy, constructive activity can become unhealthy and destructive. Swim competition should be taken seriously, of course, but as a coach, it’s important that you realize it can be take too seriously.