7 Confessions of a New College Swim Coach

Now that I’m about to enter my second season of coaching at the college level, I’ve finally had time to think about coaching and what I’ve learned since I started. Going from athlete to coach is a strange feeling. After 14 years of competitive swimming, the switch doesn’t happen overnight. These are just a few of my realizations so far and while some of them are exactly what I always expected, coaching never runs out of ways to make you rethink what you know.

1. Some sets are totally made up on the fly.

Every athlete secretly suspects this, I think. While I spend hours planning workouts, coming up with new and inventive ways to make my athletes suffer (muwahahaha…ahem) the best laid plans are sometimes thrown into disarray. Oh it’s pouring rain on the track? Half the medicine balls are missing? Track decided to use the weight room at the exact same time as we did? What do you mean this interval is so fast that three people have thrown up already? Sometimes it’s the weather, other times it’s because I vastly underestimated how hard those 100s were really going to be. A coach always has to think on their feet.

This was the plan the whole time guys, I swear!

2. I secretly think I could still keep up with my athletes.

“I would’ve eaten this set for breakfast” I think as I watch them on the wall adjusting their goggles and stretching their shoulders for the 7th time this set, missing their interval. “Anyone can do a 50, I’ll suit up right now! I’ve totally still got it. Right guys?”

3. I do things as a coach that I hated coaches doing when I was an athlete.

My college coach had a terribly annoying way of trying to motivate us during sets. He would walk up and down the side of the pool, clapping. Like a wind-up swim coach he  made his way from lane to lane, clapping mechanically. I used to make the biggest, splashiest flip turns possible when he was near mine, just to make the metronome stop for a brief moment.

And now what do I do? Walk up and down the pool during sets, clapping like a doofus. What else am I supposed to do to motivate them? I know full well they can’t hear a word I say when they’re underwater!

4. Really long sets are boring for coaches too.

Seriously. At least when you’re swimming the long set you’re doing something. What am I supposed to do while you all are swimming 5×1000 on 15 minutes, crochet?!

5. We are painfully aware of who is dating who.

It’s inevitable. When people spend 20+ hours a week together, eventually some of them pair off. As a coach you watch it happen, helpless, crossing your fingers that it won’t blow up the week of the championship meet like it always does. No worries, I’ll just restock the tissues in my office for the third time this week.

6. I hate being the bad guy.

I know these workouts will hurt. I know that sometimes we will disagree about your taper. I know that sometimes I will have to yell, or call someone out on a set, or cut someone from the championship team. I know it needs to be done, but that doesn’t mean I don’t see how it affects you.

7. I never knew how much I could care about a team.

Being a coach is a lot like being a parent. I feel the ups and downs, even when I’m just an observer. I know what it’s like to go so far and still fall short. I want to watch you hit the wall and realize you’re capable of more than you ever dreamed, even though I always knew you had it in you. There’s 19 weeks of workouts, 15-passenger vans, forgotten water bottles/suits/goggles/caps, cold pools and hot decks. Swim teams are more than that though. They’re family. As a coach I feel like I’m a part of it, and there’s no better feeling.


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