The pursuit of excellence
Dictionary definitions summarise a coach is either a four-wheeled vehicle that transports passengers or someone who teaches, instructs or trains. So, according to the dictionaries, there is no difference between coaching and teaching.
There are performance personnel who prepare athletes for competitions, and others who enable swimmers to initially survive in water and subsequently help them to become safer, more skillful, or fitter swimmers.
The former have been traditionally called coaches and the latter teachers. In either case, they all teach, instruct or train As Shakespeare says, ‘What’s in a name?’
And whether we like it or not, we are still being referred to as swimming instructors by employers and the general public in the same way that scout leaders are still scoutmasters and headteachers are still headmasters or headmistresses.
What matters is what we produce and how we coach – and that leads all conscientious coaches to pursue excellence, irrespective of whether they teach, train or instruct.
An excellent start
But where do we get this excellence from? Your starting point is that your next session or lesson has to be more than just the normal session.
Innovation plays a key role and that is combined with imagination, evaluation, and differentiation – rather than sticking rigidly to set textbook dogma.
A football story illustrates the imagination point. It was said that footballer Denis Law asked Bill Shankly about doing a coaching course. The Liverpool manager told him to go and do an FA coaching course at Lilleshall, come back, do the complete opposite and he would have a successful team.
I am not advocating for one moment that coaches should ‘do the opposite’ but I suspect Shankly was saying a lot more in that the course was only a basis and that coaching had to be innovative.
This can take a number of forms in the way the schedule or lesson is planned, the way the swimmers take ownership for their practice, what is included and the style and form in which the work is delivered.
I’m sure all coaches believe in variety of practice but sometimes when I watch sessions it seems to be a variation on the same old format. A coach must be able to ‘read’ his charges well.
Swimmers have to have complete focus as to what their aims and objectives are. These can range from achieving the next award through to achieving a qualifying time. So goal-setting is also very important.
It should be incorporated into each individual lesson or session on the way to achieving the next level.
This way, the lessons and sessions are challenging and have a direct purpose.
Finally, differentiation plays a major role in each session, even if it is deemed that the swimmers are in a set squad or a lesson of a compatible standard. Group work and lane work are a huge benefit to the individuals.
Planning a schedule for the University of East Anglia club, it appears at the outset that they are all competent swimmers. So does one schedule make sense?
I could use just the one but I get better improvement by planning three different schedules for three levels of ability.
I am also able to pitch innovative and challenging work, give appropriate feedback to individuals and be more alert to individual needs. And this, in turn, enhances both performance and enjoyment.