When coaching/teaching/encouraging/supporting/laughing with young athletes there are a few different ways to make it all happen.
What is the best style? That is certainly debatable. I try to make a great situation for as many athletes as I can – reaching each athlete in different ways.
When you look at yourself, aren’t you better in certain situations? Some people are better under pressure. Some are better in a more relaxed state. Some need just a little of this or just a little of that. For some having great practices is important. For others, they need to feel a little pressure. For others they need to be able to stay relaxed. Sure being able to adapt to different situations is key, especially later in life, but with our younger athletes we need to help them along in a way that is both supportive and instructional. Making sure each athlete gets what they need is key.
How to figure out what each athlete needs? Everyone is different. Some need a personal conversation each day to keep going. Sometimes this is just a short chat – as you stop them for a 50 at some point during practice to reach out to them. Some need a weekly talk, a “how is it going?” type of chat. Others need a chat less frequently. Others don’t need chats at all - they just keep rolling along….
Those athletes that seemingly need less or nothing at all still need SOMETHING. Maybe they just need something that doesn’t have to do with swimming: “Learn anything cool at school this week?”. Maybe they just need a quick reminder of something: “Later today we are going to do some 50’s Breaststroke. One thing you can work on is even counting those 25’s and trying to hit your 200 pace that we talked about at the last meet.”
When do you connect with athletes? Before and after practices would be great but often swimmers are getting there just before practice and have to leave just after. One time that is great to work with athletes is during the warm up. Stopping them for a minute or two goes a long way. This is often MUCH more beneficial than doing a few extra laps. 5,400 yards or 5,100 yards with a great conversation? I would say the conversation is much more beneficial to the athlete. You can do this in a few ways:
· You can have a quick chat about practice yesterday. This lets them know that you were noticing what they were doing even if you didn’t get a chance to tell them before they left.
· You can have a longer chat – maybe even getting out of the pool to look at time standards and writing splits on a dry erase board. Don’t worry about giving someone too much attention – as long as you find time to reach out to every athlete each day, week, month.
· You can talk to someone about an upcoming set at practice and what you think they should focus on doing during that set. This is great because you have already connected with them so they are already prepared for the upcoming set.
I also like to use kicking time to chat with swimmers. I despise “social” kick, but sometimes we will do a set where they have kicking built into the set and it is a great time where their ears are out of the water and you can talk to them the entire time. 4 rounds of: 100 easy, 4x50’s kick, 4x50’s drill, 4x50’s swim can be an example of where you can spend the 4x50’s kick as a “keep it moving” type of thing and also a time where for 3.5 minutes you can talk to anyone that you want because their ears are out of the water. Talk about what just happened on the swim or what is just about to happen on the drill. Tell a joke or a riddle. Connect with them somehow.
What about the kid who doesn’t listen when I speak to the group? Well, you haven’t figured out how to speak to them. Seriously. Everyone is different and learns in different ways. Try something different. When you have to speak to the group for 5 minutes send that kid on 10x25’s on :30, one backstroke kick, one backstroke swim. Then when you are finished with the long group talk, spend 60 seconds on that one kid and fill them in. I bet you can get your point that took 5 minutes to get across to the group to that one kid in 60 seconds. Sure, that’s a little more effort, but it pays off in the long run and is much less frustrating than having to stop and yell at the kid who doesn’t listen during your speech. PLUS, you can recognize the kid who doesn’t listen for listening during your little chat. Slowly they will come around and improve their group behavior. You do not have to fix it in one day.
As you talk to young athletes you can start to figure out what makes them tick. What makes them tick faster. And faster. And FASTER. As you key into those triggers, you can start to access them at the appropriate times, like prior to meets. Better coaches are generally better at finding what those “triggers” are in individual athletes. They are better at connecting with them and thus better at putting those athletes in great situations for success.
Now, how exactly do you connect with a 7 year old? More on that later….