Bill Sweetenham, Director of Performance of the 2004 British Olympic swim team, banned mobile phones from poolside. In principle I supported this rule because I have seen too many coaches just looking at their phone and not coaching. When Jonty Skinner pointed out in comments to a blog discussion about coaching etiquette, that a mobile phone is no longer ‘just a phone’ it made me re-consider. Have things moved on since 2004? Is a mobile phone a distraction or a tool?
I quite often use a phone’s camera to video to instruct a swimmer who is not ‘getting it’ in some technique change. It is useful for the swimmer to see themselves rather than interpret your explanation of what you saw. Before mobile phones became ubiquitous there were no phones on poolside. If it was necessary to phone someone a coach would have had to walk down the hall to his office or use the phone in the lifeguard office. To video someone you had to bring along a great deal of equipment to make that happen. It was cumbersome and time consuming. Watching the video took even longer because you would have to take out the tape or CD out of the video camera and then play it on the VHS or CD player connected to the TV.
Should a mobile phone be on deck now? I think this is a good question.
A phone is no longer simply a phone. It is a computer. The latest version of the iPhone and the competing android versions of a similar ilk have thousands of apps. All of the various notes that coaches previously did on paper during a training session can now be put onto a spread sheet and accessed by your phone. Many coaches, if permitted, use the camera on their phone for all their videoing. I use a swimmer’s parent’s mobile to video so that the image is not on my phone but on their phone to cover myself in case of any question relating to child protection. I have a great deal of scheduling on my phone and hundreds of contacts, so accessing information for competitions & training are all easily included in a phone’s memory.
The days of thinking of a mobile as a ‘phone’ are over. With the number of applications available, a mobile phone is more of a multi-tool like a Swiss Army Knife. You can easily use it as a heart rate monitor and graph, a video analysis tool like the one Nick Gillingham has developed called SwimOptimum, or even quickly making entries into a competition or checking results. Maybe even to Skype another coach to discuss a relevant swim issue to show them a swimmer swimming. The variety of uses are almost endless now.
So a phone is no longer a phone, it is a tool for a coach to use. Even the simple act of taking a still photo of a white board is a great way to record a training session’s work-out and descriptions or drawings.
Conversely a coach does not need distractions. That was Sweetenham’s point. A coach needs to be concentrating on their group to alter the plan that they have made. They have to be involved to make the changes that may be required ‘on the fly’. They need to watch their swimmers’ skills and swim times. Swimmers often forget how many intervals they have done in a set so a coach needs to know where the group is in relation to the set. Is everyone on task or are there some swimmers who are needing some encouragement? Will a tool like a phone simply be too distracting to be useful? I am sure many people have done what I have done, gone to look something up in a search engine and simply got lost in something more interesting. Maybe even forgetting the original reason for using the computer. Even texting a reply to a message will take a coach away from their job.
I think another good point to ban the phone is that the image of a coach is tarnished when they are looking at their phone and not the pool. The task on the phone might be completely necessary but it doesn’t look good. Coaches are on-show in many parent-run programmes.
Where will this lead us? I am sure that very soon more apps will come available to assist coaches even more. Is it necessary?
And then there are the coaches playing candy crush during the training session…which is almost as annoying to me as a parent ignoring their children.
So is it a distraction or useful tool?
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