Advice To Coaches (and Swimmers)

In my last post titled “Champions ingredients” I listed five common factors that I think make a champion not just in swimming, but in any sport. As coaching starts to become my primary responsibility at the pool, I realize there are five important things to keep in mind doing this job. I still consider myself a total rookie and this post is directed more toward swim coaches who are just beginning their coaching career. However, these five points can apply no matter where you are in your coaching career.

Although I wrote this post with the goal of sharing some of my experiences and help swim coaches, I realize that this information can also help athletes as well. After all, at the end of their careers, many swimmers end up coaching themselves to a large extent. So no matter if you’re just starting out in your coaching career or have been on deck for a long time or you are an athlete learning how to coach yourself, I hope you find something useful.

Never Stop Learning

Don’t pretend you know everything and never think you’ve learned it all. Be a sponge! Don’t let pride get in the way of learning from others. This truly is something to keep in mind because working in a field as dynamic and fluid as swimming, you can quickly fall behind if you do not actively strive to stay ahead of the learning curve. Be open minded and willing to experiment and try new things as you go. And most importantly, share your experiences and knowledge with other swim coaches. There’s no better way of learning than by getting information from another coach.

Take Criticism Constructively

One thing to always remember, we should welcome feedback from others that try to help us improve. Inviting suggestions allows others to help open our eyes to new approaches. This seems to be one of the most difficult things for coaches to understand, yet is vital to our learning process. Find a way to consider the essence of what you are being told to see if you can gain anything from it. Usually, you can glean something positive. Also, thinking of it as feedback and not as “criticism” might soften the blow for you. Be open to feedback and learn to love criticism!

Be Patient

If you can master this one, then you will have saved yourself many sleepless nights and headaches along your journey to greatness (I’m not saying you won’t have any at all). Take all the time you need to learn the basics just as you did when you were in the pool swimming! Remember that these skills didn’t develop overnight as a swimmer and they certainly won’t as a coach, either. There’s so much more to being a swim coach than just understanding swimming.

Believe In And Be Yourself

Another powerful bit of advice is to always believe in yourself and be yourself. Allowing negative words and disparaging character assessments to lower your self-esteem will diminish your chances of success. Don’t try to imitate others who have found success. Never try to be someone else, because that never works out the way you hope. Being inspired by others is fine, but don’t lose your identity and voice in the process. You need to find your own coaching style and way to get the job done, while still remembering the second point on the advice list.

If You Don’t Love It, Leave It

Coaching swimming is more than a job; it is a way of life. It challenges you every day with something new to conquer or sort out. As a swim coach, you are so much more than the person on deck: you are the person behind it all. This is where your love for the sport comes into play. Passion goes a long way in any sport. True passion for what you do comes only from loving it. You can’t fake passion for very long. A lack of passion not only will reflect in your daily work on deck and your workouts but will impede your success as well. If it is just a job for you and you do not look forward to early mornings, breaking nights and working weekends, then find another job! But at this stage my guess would be that you have the passion and love for our sport or you would have stopped reading this post already.

Swimming is a time-consuming sport and swim coaches work long and hard days every day. Staring at swimmers for hours takes its toll, even if you love what you’re doing. So for my final advice, I have a bonus to keep you sane as you go.

Make Time For Yourself

The best way to do this is to keep some sort of side project going. A side project also ensures that you constantly learn. You can choose projects that challenge you in ways that you don’t find in your daily work on deck. There are many reasons to do this, your sanity being the main one, but always have something to work on that lets you unwind.

All of the points above are important to remember or else the work that once enthralled you will lose its excitement, and the passion that led you to your success are will begin to fade.

– Nico

What is the most important thing you learned in coaching the first year ?

  • Never Stop Learning (28%, 20 Votes)
  • Be Patient (27%, 19 Votes)
  • If You Don’t Love It, Leave It (18%, 13 Votes)
  • Believe In And Be Yourself (15%, 11 Votes)
  • Take Criticism Constructively (8%, 6 Votes)
  • Make Time For Yourself (1%, 1 Votes)
  • Other (1%, 1 Votes)

Total Voters: 71

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7 Responses to Advice To Coaches (and Swimmers)

  1. Liz

    Thanks so much for this great article… its interesting as the number one vote so far was “If You Don’t Love It, Leave It.” Coaches have a phenomenal impact on their swimmers, not only in helping a swimmer’s competitive abilities, but also in shaping who they are and a love for the sport. This is especially true with young swimmers. My son has battled for years quitting swimming, all due to coaching. It can really turn people away. Luckily he’s in a better place and sticking with it. I hope coaches of young adults come to realize their importance. Treat all swimmers with respect and help each one improve within their abilities. It’s not only about your favorite swimmer, but rather the impact you have as a whole in each swimmer.

    • Nico Messer


      the more I reflect on my own past years of swimming and looking on my work with young athletes, I realize that there’s so much more to being a swim coach than just “producing” champions. Once those young athletes commit to the sport of swimming they will spend almost as much time with their team mates and coaches as they do with their families. Coaches also have a responsibility to “shape” those young athletes and help them grow as a person.

  2. Nico Messer

    I read something on coach Gambril and his four bullets for success in swim competition. Coach Gambril is a five-time US Olympic swim coach and has been recognized as one of the finest in our sport. My good friend Jon Olsen, former US Olympic gold medalist, swam for coach Gambril at the University of Alabama and I heard many great stories of him, so I thought this might be of interest for everyone reading this post.

    So here are his four items:
    1. Having confidence in oneself
    2. Making, believing in, and dedicatedly following a plan but not being afraid to adjust as needed
    3. Being a motivator
    4. Setting the example and being consistent

    I find his 4th point especially interesting and to be true. This is something I try to live up to myself every day while working with athletes (especially with younger swimmers).

  3. laurie albert

    Whenever I read or hear something that invites me to reflect on my own coaching by thinking about my reasons for coaching, it helps me to re center and refocus on the values that define my coaching. Thank you Nico.

  4. Mike

    Good job coach!

  5. Danielle Cox

    Being a swimmer all through high school inspired me to become. a coach after. My goal is to teach high school science and coach the swim team. As I read your blog a few things really stuck out in my mind. First “coaching is more than a job, its a way of life.” this is so true. Swimming is constant an everyday commitment, and you really have to enjoy being in the pool for hours as well as around it. It can’t be faked, you can tell who wants to be there and who doesn’t. As I begin my career I look to your advice of finding your “own coaching style, be yourself” I really agree with this. Every coach has a personality and philosophy, to be your best you must believe in yourself. I also like that you mention being able to experiment and try new things. I really want to instruct my beginners on the law of physics when doing flip turns. I believe they can get more force by using the laws of physics. I will,definitely keep in mind that people are just trying to help me be a better coach when they criticize. Most of all I want my swimmers to be motivated to do their best and I will set the example by being the best coach I can be.

    • garyhallsr

      Sounds like you will be a great coach…which requires knowledge in science (physics, biomechanics, physiology, psychology) and experience. Just remember to always put your swimmers first…and you will do just fine.


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