2019 USA Swimming Leadership Summit Athlete Recap

 Last month, we sent athlete rep Sarah-Grace Thompson, along with Coach Emma from ABSC to the USA Swimming Leadership Summit. They both took a lot from the summit and they have shared their notes with us!

2019 USA Swimming Leadership Summit Recap

All coaches and athletes were divided into color groups which they completed small group activities/lessons with and ate with throughout the duration of the summit. There were five color groups based off the colors of the five olympic rings (Blue, Black, Red, Yellow, Green).


Values Clarification


All coaches and athletes completed individual activities which involved identifying and evaluating their core values.

  • A list of about 35 values were listed in an evaluation chart, and participants were asked to mark the values which they believe to be the most important to them.

  • The participants then narrowed down their list of values until they had identified their top five core values which they were asked to rank in order. They were also asked to identify their lowest three values.

Next, the participants completed an activity which evaluated the alignment of their behaviors with their core values. They were asked to reflect on the following questions:

  • Identify your current behaviors. What do you always do? What do you never do? What things should you do?

  • Where are your values and behaviors aligned?

  • Where are there inconsistencies with your behaviors and values?

  • How can you change your behaviors to reflect your values?

After individual reflection, everyone received a nametag which they wrote their core value on. The participants then organized themselves into groups based on shared core values, and groups were asked to explain why their value was most important to them.

Key Points :

  1. It is important that your behaviors are aligned with your core values in order for you to be successful!

  2. Your values determine your behaviors and are often the “root” of an issue.

  3. Different people have different core values; we should respect the values and opinions of others to work best as a team.


Meet the Olympians


All coaches and athletes had the opportunity to meet olympians Maya DiRado, Natalie Coughlin, and Davis Tarwater. They learned about the athletes’ roles in USA Swimming governance and participated in a Q&A session.

Key Points:

  1. The “Athlete Voice” is important!

    1. Even if you are not on an olympic team, you are contributing to the fabric that makes our sport great.

    2. Use your voice to represent and empower others.

  2. Learn to take feedback.

    1. Use feedback (from those you trust) to make changes and move forward.

  3. There are no failures, only information which can help you grow.

    1. Learn to make the distinction between failure of outcome and failure of effort.

    2. Take progress where you can find it; Better is good!

  4. Be a leader!

    1. Listen to your peers and figure out what their needs are; take yourself out of it.

    2. Live out what you teach.

    3. Be encouraging. Pay attention to those who need extra support or guidance.

    4. Be willing to pivot; Be flexible.


Strength-Based Leadership


Athletes first completed a personality assessment to discover more about themselves.

  • Athletes picked the statements they agreed with most from 20 introvert and extrovert statements. After tallying each column, the athletes identified where they fell on the introvert/extrovert sliding scale.

  • Athletes revisited their five core values and answered more questions about themselves including their skills, motivations, and things they enjoy doing.

The athletes then took an assessment which helped determine their individual leadership styles(a version of the DISC assessment). After identifying their styles, the athletes were separated into style groups and completed a team-building activity building towers with marshmallows and uncooked spaghetti. Each group created a list of strengths and weaknesses for their leadership style and shared with the room. The four leadership styles are:

  • D ominance/Executing: These people are the “do-ers”. They like to get things done, are very focused and responsible, and often take charge of the situation. Sometimes their commanding nature can come across as bossy or rude to others, and they may argue for control.

  • I nfluencing: These people are the “hype-men”. They are very optimistic and outgoing, and they love competition and having fun. They are big on communication and are often the activators who get things started. Sometimes their impatience and excitement can lead to a lack of planning, and they can be overwhelming to others.

  • S teadiness/Relationships: These people are the “supporters”. They value strong relationships, connectedness, and inclusion. They are very loyal and are very empathetic. Sometimes they are too emotional, or they do not take enough time to refuel themselves and become empty from giving to others. Their avoidance of conflict can also make it difficult to make changes or get things done.

  • C onscientious/Strategic Thinking: These people are the “thinkers”. They are very analytical and strategic, and they value consistency and logic. They want to learn and get things done right. Sometimes they experience “analysis paralysis”, and they are often perfectionists which can make it hard to get things done quickly. They tend to overthink and can be micromanaging.

After evaluating their strengths and weaknesses, and that of others, each style group made a chart of things they should start doing, stop doing, do more of, and do less of. The groups then shared with the rest of the room. The room discussed key similarities and differences between the styles and identified the best ways to communicate with each style.

  • The D and I groups are more fast paced and make decisions quickly; C and S are usually more reflective and take longer to make a decision.

  • D and C make decisions based in logic and self-thinking; I and S groups tend to make decisions based in people and often ask for many opinions before making a call.

  • When asking each type for help: D’s just want to know what you want them to do, but they don’t need many details. I’s want you to be excited about the project; they reciprocate your energy. S’s want to know how doing this favor will help you or the group. C’s want to know all of the details so that they can make sure they get the job done perfectly.

Key Points:

  1. Being introverted or extroverted is on a sliding scale. Neither are bad, but knowing which group you are can help you identify what exhausts you and what refuels you.

  2. Learning about your leadership style and understanding your strengths and weaknesses can help you become a better leader.

  3. Surround yourself with people who are strong in your weaknesses.

  4. It is important to understand the other leadership styles to communicate more effectively with others and identify root habits or behaviors.

  5. A good team has individuals of all styles; everyone’s contributions are important!


Peer Leadership


Athletes were asked a series of introductory questions about peer leadership.

  • What does “Peer Leadership” mean to you?

  • How do your leadership strengths and weaknesses come into play?

  • How are you perceived on your best day? On your worst day

Next, athletes learned how to lead in uniting their team with three key steps.

  • Building a Foundation: Establishing trust, respect, and relationships

  • Creating a Vision: What do you want for your team? Where do you want to go?

  • Communicating Your Vision: Clarity, consistency, and consideration

Athletes learned about communicating with their peers through the effective delivery of praise and constructive criticism. Both praise and criticism should have four key components.

  • Praise

    1. Be Honest

    2. Be Specific “Label It”

    3. Show that you SEE them

    4. Connect to the team vision or goal “The Why”

  • Constructive Criticism

    1. Be Honest

    2. Be Specific

    3. Focus on facts and the situation, NOT the person

    4. Connect to the team vision or goal “The Why”

The athletes played a simple counting game in partner pairs, and they were asked to practice giving their partners praise and criticism. This was an effective tool to practice both giving and receiving praise/criticism!

Key Points:

  1. “People don’t CARE how much you KNOW until they KNOW how much you CARE.” -Teddy Roosevelt

  2. Communicating with your peers is extremely important in becoming an effective leader!

  3. Praise and Constructive Criticism can be communicated in a polite and powerful way.

    1. Make praise stick!

    2. Giving/Receiving criticism is hard to do, but it’s necessary to stay on track!

    3. Make a “sandwich” of praise/criticism/suggestion

  4. Different types of people(DISC) may need different types of praise and criticism, so be mindful of this, and try new methods.


Goal Setting


The athletes learned about S.M.A.R.T. goals and were asked to create a personal and team/LSC goal using this format.

  • S pecific: What is you goal? How often? How much?

  • M easurable: How will you know when you’ve met your goal?

  • A chievable: Is your goal attainable?

  • R elevant: Is your goal aligned with your vision? Why do you want to reach your goal?

  • T imeline: What is your target date for reaching this goal?

The athletes learned that achieving your S.M.A.R.T. goal is a journey, and you should create a “Roadmap” to help make the process successful. Important items on your roadmap include:

  • Final Destination: Everyone must be moving in the same direction to reach the end goal

  • Timing: Is this a short/medium/long term goal?

  • Road Signs: Success along the journey can be measured by smaller steps to attaining the bigger goal

  • Road Blocks: When you reach a roadblock, you should evaluate and make adjustments

  • 9-1-1: Identify who you can call on for help

  • Tank-Fillers: These people help us to stay motivated and on course.

    1. Mentor: inspires you/gives you vision of future

    2. Champion: also inspires you/gives you direct help

    3. Truth-Teller: keeps you honest

    4. Connector: connects you to new resources/help

    5. Accountibili-Buddy: in the same stage as you/you can help each other

Key Points:

  1. Don’t confuse action with progress; you all need to move in the same direction.

  2. Take the small wins!

  3. Road Blocks are not stopping points, they are pivot points.

  4. It is important to always keep the central focus the same(communication).

  5. You can’t make it alone! Call on trusted others for help.


Servant Leadership


The Ten Principles of Servant Leadership:

  1. Listening: to others and to self

  2. Empathy: empathy is different from sympathy

  3. Healing: listen, be there, and forgive

  4. Awareness: of other and of self

  5. Persuasion: you need trust in the leader and the followers he/she tells ideas to

  6. Conceptualization: understating the plan

  7. Foresight: knowing what areas need attention

  8. Stewardship: a boss vs. a leader

  9. Growth of People: you grow as you help others grow

  10. Building Community: a sense of unity

In this session, athletes and coaches participated in a variety of activities to model the ten principles of servant leadership.

  • Picture Activity: To demonstrate the importance of listening, one person in each color team was given a picture; they had to describe the picture to the other color team members for them to draw.

  • The groups watched the following video on empathy: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Evwgu369Jw

  • Lollipop Activity: To demonstrate persuasion, each color team was given a bag of lollipops and asked to pick a specific flavor as their “team flavor”. Then, team members traveled to surrounding teams and attempted to trade for their “team flavor”. The color team who acquired the most of their “team flavor” won the game.

  • Puzzle Activity: To demonstrate conceptualization/foresight each color team member was given a puzzle piece(s) to a map of the US; the team had to work together to try and complete the puzzle under a time limit. After discussing the first attempt at the puzzle, the teams were given a second try and completed the puzzle much faster.

Key Points:

  1. Seek first to understand

  2. You can’t solve everything, but you can show that you care

  3. Heal yourself before helping others

  4. A Boss gives orders, but a Leader gives directions.

  5. You are not a leader until you have produced another leader who can create another leader...