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Swim Coach Hack: Learn from the Athletes’ Teachers

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One, two, three: eyes on me!

One, two, eyes on you!

This simple rhyme changed my coaching life.

My first coaching job was in the glorious world of summer league swimming: where most of us get our competitive starts, and where many of us get our professional starts.

This was a pretty big team, with about 250 swimmers aged 3-18, and it was a pretty good team, with quite a few D1 swimmers and a Junior National Teamer racing there together, but at its core it was a fairly-standard summer league program, where cheers and fun trumped yards and wins (for most of us).

I went through about 2 years of coaching with this program, when at an early-season event, I was trying to get the attention of all of these kids of different ages and get them to pay attention for whatever I was trying to tell them, a rare moment where the whole team needed to be corralled simultaneously, when a board member, who happened to also be a teacher, said “One, two, three: eyes on me!”

And in an instant, every single one of those kids stopped whatever they were doing, turned at full attention, and called back “One, two, eyes on you!”

And then there was silence.

And attention.

And it was life-changing.

It turns out that this was the system being employed by the local school district to grab the attention of kids in the schools. While the kids went to a number of different schools, it was apparently used by enough of these schools, and for enough years, that they were all trained to respond with attention.

It was that moment where I realized just how much of an ally teachers can be to coaches across the world of sport, especially for a young coach.

I know some reading this probably are both teachers and coaches, but for the rest of us, there’s a lot that we can learn from our partners-in-education. Dispel the ideas you learned from Disney Channel movies about battles between coaches and teachers. Embrace the “it takes a village” mentality, and figure out what you can learn from teachers.

Sure, the local 4th grade English teacher may not have an intimate understanding of how to train different energy systems, how to structure a season plan, or the pros and cons of shoulder-driven versus hip-driven freestyle.

But what they do understand is how to influence the young students who are also young swimmers, how to mentor young people, how to encourage and grow a love for learning, group dynamics of young humans, how to discipline without destroying, how to push without deterring, and how to teach to each.

I will forever be grateful for what I learned from that teacher, who probably didn’t and still doesn’t know how much easier she made my life that summer.

You probably know a teacher. There are a lot of them around. It’s a good reminder that other swim coaches aren’t the only people who can teach you more about the skills you need to excel in coaching. Diversify your network. Connect with trainers, business people, administrators, and teachers. Build your village, so you can help build the village for your athletes.

And thank you teachers – not only for what you can teach the kids, but what you can teach us all.

Happy Teachers’ Appreciate Week.

The first week of May is National Teachers Appreciation Week in the United States, with Tuesday, May 4th this year being the focus National Teachers Day. Thank your teachers this week, especially in this strangest of years where teachers have been pushed to their limits.