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Euan Dale reflects on the 2024 regional age group swimming championships

Euan Dale – director of swimming at Millfield School – has reflected on the 2024 regional age group swimming championships. 

Euan has coached Team GB at the Tokyo Olympics and was a part of Team England’s backroom staff for the Commonwealth Games two years ago. Here, he shares his three main learning points for developing coaches from this year’s events.

As I walk away from another regional age group swimming championships, I reflect on my observations and conversations.

As someone who has dedicated their life to the art and science of swim coaching, I believe there are invaluable lessons to be shared with developing coaches about the delicate balance between nurturing young talent and avoiding burnout.

Patience

I’ve found patience is a fundamental pillar of effective coaching, supported by evidence. Research in sports science consistently highlights the importance of a long-term approach to youth development.

A study by Jayanthi et al (2015) demonstrated that early specialisation, intense and dense training will increase the risk of injury and burnout in young athletes. Instead, a more progressive and diversified training program, focusing on skill acquisition and overall physical development, leads to better long-term outcomes.

Balance

In a world that increasingly prioritises immediate results, it’s crucial for coaches to maintain a long-term perspective, supported by evidence-based practices.

Yes, we all crave success, but true success in swimming is about more than just medals and records. It’s about educating athletes to reach their full potential, while ensuring their well-being is not sacrificed along the way.

That means finding the balance between pushing them to excel and knowing when to give them the space to rest.

Fostering a love for the sport

One of the most rewarding aspects of coaching, in my experience, is instilling a love for the sport in young students, which is also backed by research.

For instance, a study by Vallerand (2007) showed that athletes who are intrinsically motivated – driven by a genuine passion for their sport – are more likely to achieve long-term success and satisfaction in their athletic endeavors.

As coaches, we have a profound opportunity to make a lasting impact on the lives of our students – not just in their athletic endeavors, but in their personal growth as well. Mentorship, empathy, and understanding are just as crucial as technical expertise when it comes to guiding young athletes through the highs and lows of their journey – a notion supported by psychological research on coaching effectiveness.

So to all the aspiring coaches out there, remember this: coaching is not just about shaping champions, it’s about shaping individuals.

By prioritising patience, balance, and a genuine love for the sport, supported by scientific evidence, we can help pave the way for a brighter, more sustainable future in swimming. And in doing so, we’ll leave a legacy that extends far beyond the pool deck.

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