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Coaching excellence and how to achieve it

Careers Advice

Coaching excellence is easy to say but difficult to define, like many areas of our profession. One example is the difference between teaching and coaching.

Dictionaries summarise a coach as either a four-wheeled vehicle or someone who teaches, instructs or trains. So, there is no difference between coaching and teaching.

Whether we like it or not, employers still refer to us coaches as swimming instructors, the same way the general public still see scout leaders as scoutmasters. We have to be patient and aiming for coaching excellence will help.

What matters is what we produce and how we coach. This should lead all conscientious coaches to pursue coaching excellence, irrespective of whether they teach, train or instruct.

Coaching excellence: where to start

Your starting point on the path to coaching excellence is your next session or lesson. It 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.

Coaching excellence: innovation

Innovation can take a number of forms. It could be

  • In the way the schedule or lesson is planned
  • The way the swimmers take ownership for their practice
  • What is included
  • 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. This is part of coaching excellence.

Coaching excellence: goal-setting

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. Goal-setting is vital on the pathway to coaching excellence.

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.

Coaching excellence: strokes

Finally, differentiation plays a major role in each session if you are truly seeking coaching excellence, even 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.

So when planning a schedule and it appears at the outset that all swimmers are all competent, does one schedule make sense? No.

You could use just the one but by planning three different schedules for three levels of ability you will get better performance. This is how a coach considering coaching excellence thinks.

It also allows coaches to pitch innovative and challenging work, give appropriate feedback to individuals, and be more alert to individual needs. This, in turn, enhances both performance and enjoyment.