Coaches will play a large role in creating an athlete’s experience. Not only do they write the practices and control the workouts, but often times they set the tone of the environment. They can choose to create an environment that is focused and strict, one that is oriented around having fun, or somewhere in between. It can be difficult to find a balance between these environments, and there is often a delicate line between being “too strict” and “too fun” as a coach. Large teams, which are common in swimming, may cause coaches to yell and discourage fun in order to keep athletes focused. On the other hand, coaches may be too relaxed, which can cause athletes to miss an opportunity to fully develop and take advantage of all that sports can offer.
So how can coaches find the perfect mix between work and play?
1. Remember why athletes started swimming in the first place.
Usually swimmers join a team to create friendships, to have fun, and to feel accomplished. As swimmers progress through the stages of competitive swimming, these should still be some of the core benefits of the sport. A coach must be able to develop an athlete’s skill and help them achieve their goals, while maintaining the fun side of competing. So, it’s okay for athletes to goof off… occasionally. This could be their way of blowing off steam from a stressful day, or enjoying time with their teammates in between sets. Remember, swimming should be enjoyable! As a coach, it is important to know when athletes have had enough social time and need to get back to work. While the majority of practice should be structured and focused, athletes need time to talk to teammates, laugh, and enjoy the sport. If there is no happy medium, they could end up walking away from swimming entirely. And, we certainly don’t want that!
2. Allow your swimmers to earn a game day.
Especially in summer league swimming, it’s a great idea to allow for a game day or relays at the end of practice, even if they have to work for it. This is a great way to keep athletes engaged and motivated. Allowing for fun activities like this will help remind the athletes that swimming isn’t all about winning. A big reason why kids decided to quit swimming is because they might be in an overly competitive environment. As a coach, it is important to keep this in mind and preserve that fun and rewarding aspect of swimming. This will become a whole lot easier as coaches get to know their swimmers!
3. Remember that swimming in not all about winning.
While sports are centered around competition, coming in first shouldn’t always be everything. The best coaches find a way to make practices enjoyable for athletes, while still working toward achieving success. One relay at the end of practice won’t hurt anyone, but too much emphasis on winning could cause a kid to walk away from the sport. Winning doesn’t only mean “First Place.” Time improvements are always a big win for swimmers as well! And with that being said, athletes preform best when they’re having fun! HINT HINT