What’s in your coaching bag?

We all have our critical items in our coaching bag: a phone, a stopwatch, likely a ledger with your plan, some flip-flops, and then various highlighters, pens and paraphernalia. (And a face mask!) There is one more thing you need at every session.

Before I reveal the last item, follow this hypothetical story;

You have been exceptionally busy in your working day and now you rush to the pool, probably a little late due to slow traffic.

In the back of your mind you have a good idea of the drills you want to do based on your plan but you are considering options as you arrive late.

As you barge past people in the pool entrance, who are slowing your route to poolside to try to ask you an inane question, purposefully ignoring some them, and finally you rummage through your bag looking for your stopwatch and whiteboard markers. You’re still thinking about some things you’d like to get done at this session.

Your start to the training session is by shouting at the stragglers who didn’t get in the water on your first command. Finally everyone is swimming except for the one or two having swim cap or goggle issues.

What did you not bring out to make this training session productive?

You’ve already lost your coaching productivity. You’ve got everything you need but because your sour face, (or more eloquently; your resting bitch face) switched off every child. Your body language and frown says: ‘I’m angry’!

What needs to be in your coaching bag of tricks? A smile. Bring a smile to your sessions.

If you set up a feeling of negativity around you, swimmers won’t like you. They won’t want to impress you to get praise or want to talk to you. Your coaching bag is empty without a smile. If your face and body language says; I’m unapproachable then you will get nothing back.

Success will be achieved more easily with swimmers who love being at the pool because you are fun to be around.

For those with a face-covering a big hurdle to try to overcome is smiling with a face covering. But you can always say things that are positive and saying your are happy to see the team.

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Teen Depression

Teenage suicide is not a topic of my choice but one I now can’t stop thinking of.

A young man I knew decided this world was too… lonely? scary? uncertain? He has left everyone behind now.

His broken-hearted Mum said “Encourage them to talk…” in a hope that other families are not torn like theirs. And I certainly agree. I know there are other interesting young people in our world like him so maybe I can help those families with young swimmers experiencing depression.

Engagement in conversation with teens is a bit tricky at times. My coaching experience leads me to regularly speak to teens. I hope my experience can help someone.

Teens who were, in pre-COVID days, very busy individuals, have a big hole in their lives now. All that energy without a vent can spiral down. COVID has brought us to a very strange crossroads. Teenage life is tough enough but imagine going through this COVID situation as a teen! As adults we have coping mechanisms due to our experiences but we must pause and have some empathy for the teens around us. Adults cope by keeping things going with friends and family. By getting into their hobbies. But teens might not have that.

Anyone can begin to spiral into a dark place if they are left alone with their own thoughts. It is why solitary confinement is so evil. Talking with a friend will be a great joy; we all know it’s great to be around friends.

Engagement is the trick, and it’s tricky. To engage in conversation a question should be asked. For example…How was your day? A rubbish question like that will not engage because it can be answered with one word. ‘good’ or ‘fine’. And it is a stupid generic question with no thought anyways; stupid question…stupid answer.

Engagement in conversation creates a sounding board and is what friends do. Friends are interested in you. COVID has narrowed the number of sounding boards in our lives. Maybe down to none! As parents we must be included as a sounding board for our kids and in particular teens.

To get engagement you should ask a specific meaningful question. (Yes you must think about this question). Then…(the important bit).listen carefully.

Now you have the power in your hands to have a conversation with a teenager! Based on the answer, ask another question to begin a discussion. Just talking is enough. The important thing is to show you care enough to listen.

Teens will need a more intellectual and relevant question from you to be taken seriously. You will have to be able to ask a good question.

In our COVID-world our social space has shrunk. So parents may be one of the very few true interactions experienced every day by teens. Emotionally immature teens might not know how to initiate conversations. They are often too shy or get treated like small children (which they are not).

This young man loved coming to my swim camps in Perthshire. He quickly made friends and often had his lane laughing. He was integral to all of our games-hall games out of the pool, involved in every challenge, but mostly he really loved to swim!

He was always keen to learn and he was a sponge for new ideas to train or race faster. He was easy to coach and happy. If he wasn’t laughing he was smiling.

Anyone can get depressed, watch for warning signs. As parents, in particular Mothers, can tell if there is something amiss but only if we are engaged.

Corey, I was looking forward to seeing you at our next swim camp. You have made me sad and I wish this wasn’t happening too. Goodbye wee man, you are missed by all your friends.

Miss you.
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Why it is right to be wrong

Most people hate being wrong. But being wrong is what we do rather often.

So we block out the memory of what we did incorrectly and only remember the good bits.

However, you’re already good at the good bits.

Think about the possibility that maybe you are not improving at all right now and so possibly you are at an interesting place; the waiting place. Dr Suess’ genius captures it perfectly.


And what are people doing there:


I hope you can read that….if not, the text goes like this:

...for people just waiting

Waiting for a train to go

or a bus to come, or a place to go

or the mail to come, or the rain to go

or the phone to ring, or the snow to snow

or waiting around for a Yes or a No

or waiting for their hair to grow

Everyone is just waiting

Waiting for the fish to bite

or waiting for wind to fly a kite

or waiting around for Friday night

or waiting, perhaps, for their Uncle Jake

or a pot to boil, or a Better Break

or a string of pearls, or a pair of pants

or a wig with curls, or Another Chance

Everyone is just waiting

So are you waiting for the future or are you trying to live in the present?

So what is left after we are good at what we are already good at? The things we are missing.

In quarantine there are many things we are probably not good at. Assessing them by keeping track will show you them. Keep a log or diary.

Racing mistakes can be changed but there are other areas to improve . Your body weaknesses can be changed.

You must observe yourself by reflection and try to figure out what you are good at and what you’re not. Address them!

Taking the time to reflect on any race or training session is valuable because it helps to improve faster by fixing errors, but now, in our unique situation, you have an opportunity. So don’t make the same mistakes twice, make a plan based on your reflection, and enjoy the journey.

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Credits At The End Of The Race

Yesterday during the coverage of the Tokyo Olympics two Scottish swimmers impressed me.

One swimmer is coming home with hardware around his neck and the other isn’t. But I was impressed not by their hardwareness but how they thanked their coaches.

If you are interested in the credits at the end of a movie you’re probably a movie nut. You want to know who was involved, who picked the actors and who were the stunt men & women. In the swimming arena I’m like that. I want to know who were these superstars’ coaches.

Ross Murdoch was so determined on getting his credits out to the audience he took his mask off! He thanked his coach of his age-group years Jimmy Orr and a host of families involved with his story.

Ross Murdoch, a class act

One of the other Scottish swimmers Duncan Scott, who had an Olympic gold put around his neck credited his coach Steven Tigg. And during the interview after the gold medal 800m relay, Tom Dean, credited the swimmer who swam in the heats.

Duncan Scott and Tom Dean

I always wonder about the background and history of Olympic swimmers. Generally there isn’t much information available to find out the history of each champion but the true class-acts of the sport give credit where credit is due.

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