Dedicated to Coach Dan Flannery of Ames High School.
Our high school swim coach Dan Flannery died suddenly from an unknown aneurysm. He was loved by over 20 generations of swimmers; and not just the state qualifiers and champions (of which were many) but by everyone who was on the team. Coach Dan used to tell us before every swim meet “be a team everyone wants to be on.” That went beyond winning or getting best times. It meant we should show a culture that others would want to be a part of. This book aims to share and fulfill that aim.
It is entirely possible that within a couple generations, the majority of the world’s jobs will be overtaken by automated technologies. The only profession left will be people development…aka coaching!
Since we operate in a wet environment, this book is dedicated to helping those people who desire to be the best swim coach they can be. This book is ideally meant for the new coach who probably just became a swammer and is looking to make swim coaching their career. The thoughts and guides in this book may also help seasoned coaches bring up their younger assistants in the sport and business of running a swim team. Or, you might be a parent filling in to help your own kids and their friends have a chance to swim.
There is a big (and often unseen) gap between being a swimmer and a swim coach. This book aims to close the gap.
This book was co-authored by Swim Smart founders Karl Hamouche and Mike Peterson. We love coaching and swimming but have seen (and worked with) plenty of sub-par coaches who didn’t realize what was truly important in building a team everyone wants to be on. We have also made plenty of our own mistakes along the way, and not just in swimming.
Between college, medical school, starting new clubs, inventing multiple products, starting multiple businesses, raising families… our experiences and mistakes come together to help you build your swim team.
In this book, you will learn how to be a leader first and how to portray yourself as a professional coach and life teacher. In the second half of the book, we will teach you to critically think like a coach so you can confidently develop your own style and program.
Imagine a parent walks up to you (the coach) on deck for the first time and says “I’d like to sign my 8-year old up for your swim team.” It’s the beginning of a family relationship that could last upwards of a decade. Here are a number of questions that should be running through your mind at this moment:
What’s your goal as a coach and an organization?
A few things to consider: What is your mission and if you are living up to it? Do you have practices and procedures in place to show value to the mission? We are going to work through some steps to get a more enriched program. Please understand these are not the complete answers to an amazing program. These are just thoughts and experiences we have gathered through building our team and when we speak to coaches and programs that are considered more elevated programs. We would challenge most to look hard at why they are good at what they do and what is the differentiator from the other programs around them. When we say other programs, it can be other youth sports too such as baseball and soccer and so on. What is the experience you are providing that will draw kids to your program and make them want to stick it out with you for the next 10 years? What are you going to do to make the experience one that the kids want to keep showing up to and your parents’ value to have as an impact on their kids’ lives?
If we were to pretend that your club is a factory that takes the raw materials (an 8-year old) and produces a product, what product are you producing? A fast swimmer or a good one? A follower or a leader? Someone who contributes to the team or only takes away?
As you answer these questions, make sure you can write down specific details of ways that your program is structured and built to actually show that quality. If you can’t answer these questions in a specific manner, you’re in the right place! If you can answer these questions, make sure they are written down and shared with everyone.
What about the parents?
Did anyone ask them what they want? Are they looking to turn their kiddo into the next Olympian? Is that for the kid’s benefit or the parent’s ego? Do they just want their kid to learn how to swim? Do they just want to give the kids something to do for an hour a day? Or are they looking for someone to teach their kid some hard life lessons and have them make some friends along the way?
If you are in a community with multiple clubs in the area, vetting a family to understand their motives is important. It only takes one family or kid that has their own (selfish) motives that do not fit your own core values to destroy a team. There is nothing worse than walking on a pool deck and everyone dreads "that kid" or "that parent." It is better to turn one kid away to keep ten kids from wanting to quit.
“Protect the mission and protect the environment of the story that you want to tell about your program”. -Mike
Also, be mindful that you may need to adapt and learn to be a little bit of everything to every athlete in a smaller community. Your ability to adapt and adjust on a dime will determine if you can grow or will stay stagnant.
Tangent: Oftentimes conflict arises between parents and coaches because they have different goals AND because those goals were not clearly communicated early on.
How are you going to go about the transformation of this 8-year-old? Is there a right or wrong way? A good or bad way? Is there evidence or just stories from the “successful” coaches out there?
As you make your plan, take your time when implementing it. Even your most committed families will struggle with large changes too often. Build yourself a long-term change focused towards the younger kids. They are quick to adjust and be willing to follow what is suggested. So ALWAYS work on your younger kids.
Tangent: Young swimmers may not be 100% of your team, but they are 100% of your future.
It’s a lot to consider, but these questions are important to ask because they give you a focused direction and a vision for the future. This vision can and should be shared with assistant coaches, parents and especially the swimmers. That’s what makes a successful long-term team: shared vision.
We are writing this book because we do think there is a right and wrong way to go about this. More importantly, we think many coaches (especially young ambitious coaches) get themselves in trouble and “burn out” because they focused on the wrong product to create. We know this because we lived it. We think that making a good person in a team environment is the first (and essential) step in creating a fast swimmer.
The “team” is your organization. And like any organization (corporations, military, non-profits, schools…), they require strong and clear leadership. That’s you, and we want to help. There is a lot of research that has been conducted in this field and it all applies to us. Knowing and understanding your role as one of the leaders within the program is critical, even if you are not the “head coach” or president. You are still a key asset in the chain of command and understanding your leadership and support role is critical to the growth and success of your organization.
In this book, we are going to standardize and illustrate in as much detail as possible how to create a team everyone wants to be on. We will start with the most important concepts and progress to the least (but still valuable) concepts. Your job before moving on is to believe your team can be bigger than swimming. To believe that swimming is not the goal, but the medium we use to communicate and create badass kids who would make great employees, siblings, spouses, teachers, leaders… maybe even coaches 😉
Tangent: When a parent comes up to you and says they pulled their children out of other sports so they can be on your team because you grow them as people and not just swimmers, then you know you’re on the right track.
Karl Hamouche is the founder of Swim Smart and author of The Biology of Swimming. He moved to Iowa from Lebanon when he was 12 years old, joined the local swim team, and instantly was part of a family in a place 8,000 miles away from home. Years later, he ended up coaching for that same team, expanding it by starting a new satellite, and helping them win their first club state title.
Karl studied biology and exercise science at Iowa State University and received his medical degree at the University of Iowa. At the writing of this book, he was in the middle of his radiology residency in Wichita. With his coaching and swimming background, Karl is the intersection of theory and practice, the book and the real world.
Karl still swims almost every day and competes multiple times a year. His daily interaction with the water gives him new ideas and insights into how we can all help to improve our swimming.
Michael Peterson is currently the head coach of ACAC in a town of 30,000 people in Ames, Iowa, and prior to that he was the top assistant coach with the Colorado Stars. While with the Stars he helped in the development of Olympic Gold Medalist Missy Franklin and Olympian Kara Lynn Joyce. As the head age group coach, Michael was a major contributor to the Colorado Stars winning 6 consecutive Colorado state titles and 2 Junior National Championship team titles.
Since moving to ACAC Michael has helped the program to more than double in athlete size, start a new site location and achieve its first Bronze and Silver Medal recognition. Since taking over ACAC has continued to compliment the local high school programs and win 7 state team titles and send multiple kids to the national level and accomplish the club’s first pre college trials qualifier.
As an athlete, Michael was a standout prep swimmer at Ames High School where he earned 9 high school All-American certificates. He continued his swimming career at the Denver University where he not only served as team captain, but also set 4 school records.