Paralympic gold medallist Matt on the coaching message that resonates the most

Paralympic gold medallist Matt Walker explains the key coaching message to help para-swimmers develop that resonates with him the most … and his motto to get the very best out of them.

I came up through Marple SC as a swimmer and the club had an ethos of providing swimmers the opportunity to transition into a coach for the club.

As a young swimmer, I always wanted to be a coach even after I had completed my degree in business management.

The club helped me financially with the qualification and, in return, I coached at the club with various squads, while I also became a qualified swimming teacher and started teaching at the same time.

Alongside that, I also started coaching at City of Manchester Aquatics Swim Team (COMAST)  to pick up some extra experience and income.

While working in both clubs coaching and teaching, I was also training as an athlete for the London 2012 Paralympics.

This was demanding but I soon learnt how to balance my work, training and life and what is and isn’t a priority.

This lesson has helped me as a coach now at COMAST where I have coached para-swimmers up to European standard and I have swimmers on the Swim England Para-swimming Talent Programme.

COMAST has provided a supportive environment as coach where we are a team which works closely under the guidance of Mark Rose.

Enhancing my skills

Mark has helped me develop as a coach and one of the first lessons I learnt from Mark was to create a catalogue of sessions.

This has been great process that I have put in place where each time I put the session in the catalogue, I have reflected and made amendments.

Completing the qualifications has led me to other opportunities for development that I have accessed at a club or regional level.

By having a swimmer on the England Para-Swimming Talent Programme, I was able to work on the coach development programme which has helped enhance my skills and knowledge on how to develop para-swimmers – as well as helping me improve my overall coaching practices and behaviours.

I was just implementing some of this changes before lockdown.

The para-swimming team’s approach of coaching the swimmer in front of you, not the impairment, was a coaching message that resonated with myself.

I believe this to be a key message that all coaches should take note of.

The better you know your swimmers, the bigger the improvements that you can make as a coach.

Engaged with modern trends

I specifically spend time to get to know the swimmers and their wider interests outside of the pool.

Being on the programme also provided me with opportunities to take part in conferences with experienced coaches who have developed Olympic and Paralympic medallists.

I learnt a lot from this and was able to ask specific questions on certain areas of development.

Attending talent camps, working with the lead coaches on the sessions and being given feedback on my sessions and development has helped me keep engaged with modern trends in coaching and has reignited my desire to undertake my senior coach qualification.

One of the highlights before London 2012 was that I was awarded an MBE in 2009 for services to disability sport and how I have swimmers in the pathway.

Without the coaching qualifications and on-going support through the club, I would not have been awarded the MBE.

As a coach, I try to get to know my swimmers as best as I can so that I can deliver key technical messages in a way that helps get the best out of them.

My motto is set no limits – if I can do it you can do it.

At this current time, one of my positive messages is keep smiling.