It’s often been said that “great swimmers don’t necessarily make great coaches.” Just because a swimmer was a spectacular athlete does not mean that he or she will make a spectacular coach.
There is no perfect personality for coaching, and people with varied backgrounds have produced successful swimmers. And while there is no formula for becoming a great coach, there are certain qualities that a great coach must have.
1. Ability to be intuitive: I’ve seen it happen hundreds of times — when a great coach is asked why he decided to do a set a particular way, he doesn’t always have a quick answer. He did the set because that’s what his gut told him to do; he did the set because he could see that the practice he had planned wasn’t going to work out on that particular day. He could have made the split-second decision for any number of reasons, but what it comes down to is intuition.
An intuitive coach generally has a great self-image, an even better curiosity, and an incredible ability for self-awareness. He knows when his intuition it telling him to change something, and he listens and follows that feeling. He’s generally very independent and he’s never afraid to experiment and try something new.
2. Honesty: A great coach always gives it to her swimmers straight. She doesn’t try to hide behind euphemisms and she doesn’t withhold the truth. Honest and open communication helps to build trust between an athlete and a coach, and without that trust, it becomes much more difficult to help a swimmer improve.
3. Knowledge and passion: It’s not enough to just have the proper knowledge to write a practice and teach technique. A coach must also be passionate about the sport. Swimmers take cues from their coach, and they are likely to pick up a coach’s lack of enthusiasm. Without passion, it’s difficult to wake up early and bring enthusiasm to the hot pool deck each day. Swimmers notice that lack of enthusiasm, and they could follow suit.
4. Leadership ability: Coaches must be comfortable giving directions, sure, but being a great leader is so much more than that. Great leaders have great communication skills. A great coach is independent, self-confident and tends to do the right thing. Those with leadership ability understand that attitude starts at the top and trickles its way down, and a great coach knows that the attitude of the swimmers in the pool begins on the deck with themselves. A great coach always tries to be an example for her swimmers.
5. Confidence with humility: A great coach is confident. He has to be in order to lead his swimmers day in and day out. The confidence that a great coach displays, however, isn’t an arrogant and self-serving confidence. Rather, it’s a quiet and humble quality, as a great coach is confident that he is taking his swimmers through the proper training. A great coach is so confident, in fact, that he doesn’t feel the need to brag about his successes in practice. Instead, he simply lets the swimmers’ performances do the talking.