Lessons Learned from Coaching a Swim Team
Three years ago, I was offered an opportunity to coach my local Country Club’s Summer Swim Team. Growing up, I had participated in recreational swim teams, but this was as far as my experience had gone in the sport. While I may not have been the most qualified choice to coach the team, I was well aware that I could do a good job, and help my swimmers to get better and enjoy their six weeks as part of the team.
To ensure that I had what it took to be a swim coach, I recruited my best friend, and a much more experienced swimmer to work with me. We had a successful first season, during the summer of 2018, and were asked to return as coaches the following summer.
With great enthusiasm, we coached for a second season in the summer of 2019. Now that our ‘rookie season’ was behind us, we were able to bring more value to the team, build greater connections with our swimmers and their families, and gain a great appreciation for this opportunity that we were afforded. The six weeks that we spent coaching each year quickly became some of the most special times of the summer; holding a special place in our hearts.
For many, the summer of 2020 felt like a lost summer. Events and activities, including youth sports, were cancelled due to COVID-19. For the time being, we would not be returning for our third season of coaching, and we would have to wait another year for the joy and excitement that this opportunity provided us. Time passed and as the saying goes, distance made the heart grow fonder. We approached the summer of 2021 with great eagerness, and went all-in on our commitment to provide a successful and memorable season to all of the families who joined our team. If the past year had taught us anything, it was that we can’t take anything or anyone for granted. We would spend the next few months in-service to those who were willing to spend their time and energy with us, celebrating all that swimming (and sports in general) provide us, as a society.
As the end of Summer nears, the 2021 season is now behind us. By all accounts, it was a large success, and one of the more memorable times of my life; as it taught and reinforced many lessons that I hold true to my human experience. In an effort to not take any of this for granted, I wanted to share the reflections that I take away from this special time.
The lessons that I have learned over the past three seasons as a coach will inform the way that I choose to live my life, as they apply to all opportunities that we are afforded. The value that I have gained from this experience speaks to the power of saying ‘yes’, and viewing the moments of our lives as something that we get to do, and something that we will hold in high-regard for years to come.
1. Ascending to a Higher-Level
More often than not, we have more to give. What we believe to be our best, is not actually our true potential. We can work harder, smarter, and more effectively.
There is a 40% rule that we often fall prey to in our daily lives. This rule states that when we feel that we have given all that we have and our mind is telling us to be done, we have only reached 40% of what is possible. Now, imagine if this rule is true. What if we only work at 40% capacity at all times? Imagine the possibilities if we could tap into more of our potential. Perhaps, we could move the needle incrementally over time; from 40, to 60, to 80, and maybe even a bit closer to our true 100.
What would this growth require? Hard-work, grit, determination, an ability to learn, and even help from others. But all of these things can only go so far. We need to design a life for ourselves that fuels growth; and that allows us to function within environments that encourage development.
With coaching, I have been able to live this life. For 6-8 weeks out of the year, I feel that I am in control. I have autonomy over my environment, people around me who care to collaborate effectively, and most importantly, I have the desire to be better. Because I enjoy what I’m doing, I’m more willing to take the actions necessary to grow. I put in the extra time, work through my frustrations with more grace, and am okay with failing, so long as I fail forward.
Passion does matter. I’m not really sure how to define it, I’ve tried in a past post, but feel that it is so different for everyone. It is something that you don’t truly understand until you feel it, and you can work within it for an extended period of time. And once you’ve felt ‘passion’, you begin to crave it. You want your passions to translate to all areas of your life. You want to show off your unique skill set, and you desperately want to achieve at your highest possible level.
2. Lead with Action
As part of our human-nature, we tend to dream big, yet take minimal action to achieve our visions. Instead, we hold out for a better time to act; a moment in the future where we have the requisite knowledge and experience to turn our dreams into reality. Yet, there is no perfect time; there is only now.
Leading with thought is easy. We plan, coordinate, and scheme our way into a stupor of possibilities, only to achieve very little of what we imagined. The ability to plan is an important asset, but not when it is used as a means to delay valuable action towards a goal. The best work is action-forward. It focuses on what should be done in the present, and step-by-step, brick-by-brick, the foundation is built.
I am as bad as anyone at fitting the notion of paralysis by analysis. Considering all of the possible outcomes, yet not taking action on any of them. This past swim season, I not only coached the swim team, but had the opportunity to assume more of a management role, in ensuring that all team needs were met. As a natural ‘over-planner’ the many aspects of team management provided me with a laundry list of possibilities to outline. The weeks that preceded the summer season were full of analysis, and little action.
It wasn’t until the season kicked off at the end of May that things began to flow naturally. I was taking action on my ideas, adjusting on the fly, and doing what came naturally to me, coaching. There will always be a better way; a more well-thought out approach. But as Teddy Roosevelt’s quote goes, “The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena”. And for 6 weeks, I placed myself in the arena. I gave it my best, I focused on my intentions, and as Rooselvelt put it, I spent myself in a worthy cause.
Focusing on actionable items provides us with great benefits in whatever process we are working within, and whatever goals we are working towards. Action provides pathways of feedback and reinforcement, allowing us to diagnose the results of our actions, and to make adjustments as needed. Action provides experience, an invaluable part of life that promotes confidence, networking, communication, and memories; all of which could serve us more than we would ever have imagined, had we not taken the necessary action.
3. Better Together
Nothing worth doing is done alone. Perhaps, my greatest takeaway from our most recent Swim season is that our experiences are enhanced in the presence of others. I was fortunate to work with an amazing group of parents, as well as a great friend, to help make this season a success. These people were welcoming, positive, and selfless in their willingness to help. In turn, I felt all the more inclined to give my best, in service to our families.
When we work with others towards a common goal, we have more to offer and more to receive. We have a greater ability to offer a quality product, as more work can be done with more assistance, and a wider range of skills are brought to the table, due to the unique experiences of each person. As part of a team, we can individually derive a lot of benefit from working with others. We share ideas, build new perspectives, and gain a greater appreciation for the contributions of each individual. To experience the benefits of great teamwork in action, is life altering. It makes you consider how you can recruit similar comradery and like-mindedness in other areas of your life, and helps you to understand the gaps in your own knowledge and ability.
All businesses are ‘people businesses’. We are all in the business of helping others, in one way or another. As a coach, this is extremely evident, as I’m directly measuring my success by the ways in which I influence others. Did they have fun? Did they grow, both as a swimmer and as a person? How did I make them feel? Did I instill confidence and self-belief in each person that I worked with?
I find these questions interesting, because they allow me to reflect upon my own performance; yet, they are not questions that focus on what others think of me. Rather, they spotlight the goals of my job. My goals are to create an enjoyable experience for my swimmers, help them to become better swimmers and athletes, and ultimately to build a base of confidence and belief in themselves, that is so crucial to life success.
These are not easy goals to achieve, especially in the short duration of a 6-week summer swim season. However, big goals allow for big impact. While I may not achieve, on any noticeable scale, the mission that I work towards, my influence is greater because I tried. I put people first, and worked for their betterment, not my own. It is through these intentions that life is well-lived; when our actions are fueled by a passion for serving others.
Gratitude For All That Was, All That Is, and All That Will Be:
Each Summer I feel extremely fortunate to be in the place that I am in my life. There is a quote that goes, “No matter where you are on your journey, that’s exactly where you need to be”. This isn’t always an easy idea to embrace. It’s quite common to compare our experience to the experiences of others, and believe that we should be farther along in our journey. Yet, I believe that each of us has something that makes us feel at peace. Like nothing else in the world matters, because we are right where we need to be; serving in a position of passion, surrounded by quality people, and showing off our unique skill set.
This is the joy that coaching brings me; and I sincerely hope that this joy can be translated to my future endeavors, as I set out on an exploration, searching for the acts of service that bring me the most joy. Searching for those passion-filled opportunities that make everything feel just as they should be. I am exactly where I need to be.