Swimming Coach Education

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Take home points on Swimming Coach Education
1) Little formal structure exists to develop coaches in the United States.
2) Education programs are critical for coaching to gain respect as a profession, which will help advance swimming performance.
3) Better swimming coach education is key, but intrinsic motivation is the most important factor.

“It is the coach’s responsibility to balance the intensity of psychological and physiological stress in such a way that the swimmer achieves optimal performance, to provide an environment that is conducive to positive motivation of the swimmers, to have a thorough knowledge of training methods and stroke mechanics, to communicate enthusiasm to the athletes, and to cooperate in a team effort with other personnel, such as the managerial staff, the sports publicity department, and support personnel (Counsilman 1986)”.

Coaching is often described as a “profession” rather than merely a “job,” and rightly so. With insanely long hours, a highly varied skill set, total commitment, and the potential to shape lives of young athletes, the coaching profession is one of the most important elements in all sports, not only swimming. But despite the position of influence in the sport, many would agree the pipeline for future coaches is often haphazard.

Now, the lack of a formal pipeline for coaching is neither good nor bad; it simply describes the current state. On-the-job learning opportunities that predominate the coaching pipeline are more important than book knowledge. Back in the old days, on-the-job training was called the apprenticeship system, and historically has worked very well for numerous professions. Yet, what’s wrong with an infrastructure that values BOTH book knowledge and practical experience in coaching development?

To their credit, ASCA and USA Swimming have increased swimming coach educational resources for coaches and made the process more efficient with online offerings, minimizing the need for time away from your squad. Despite this evolution, it is possible the real issue is not swimming coach education, but overall culture. We addressed some of these issues in previous articles Coaching Burnout and Coaching Opportunities for Females. In particular, the survivalist culture that shapes the athlete side is also reflected in coaching development.

While national bodies can provide resources, ultimately motivation from the coaching side must exist. However, it is no secret that many young coaches enter the field without the intention to become coaches and are merely putting in some time until finding another job. In a study of 469 USA Swimming age group coaches, Raedke (2002) found that “less attractive options” was one of the motivating forces for coaches surveyed. But on a positive note, they did find a significant relationship linking satisfaction and investment with commitment (“You get out of it what you put into it,” as the old adage goes). It is true that the long hours of coaching are not for everyone, but intrinsic motivation is the driving force in anyone’s desire to improve their craft.

Conclusion on Swimming Coach Education

One reason for the birth and subsequent growth of this site has been to bridge the gap between formal science (which is often seen as distant from the “real world”) and best practices on the pool deck. As Williams (2007) noted in a survey of elite coaches (not only swimming) respondents, “perceived a need for more research in the area of sports psychology, dissemination of research findings via coaching clinics and sports-specific magazines, and the use of more appropriate “lay” language in information dissemination.”

Ultimately, the key for continued long term development in the coaching profession is for both the demand and supply sides to intersect: coaches must enter the system with a keen desire to learn and the system must create the right learning opportunities for success both for coaches and swimmers.

References:
1) Williams SJ, Kendall L. Perceptions of elite coaches and sports scientists of the research needs for elite coaching practice. J Sports Sci. 2007 Dec;25(14):1577-86.
2) Raedeke TD, Warren AH, Granzyk TL. Coaching commitment and turnover: a comparison of current and former coaches. Res Q Exerc Sport. 2002 Mar;73(1):73-86.
3) Counsilman JE. The role of the coach in training for swimming. Clin Sports Med. 1986 Jan;5(1):3-7.

Written by Allan Phillips is a certified strength and conditioning specialist (CSCS) and owner of Pike Athletics. He is also an ASCA Level II coach and USA Triathlon coach. Allan is a co-author of the Troubleshooting System and was selected by Dr. Mullen as an assistant editor of the Swimming Science Research Review. He is currently pursuing a Doctorate in Physical Therapy at US Army-Baylor University.

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