November 4, 2017
There are a few times in the course of the year when club coaches seem to spend weeks or weekends in a row at away meets. It’s not a complaint, it’s just how the sport is structured. State age group championships, followed by state senior championships, followed by regional meets and ending with both junior and senior (open) national meets; this happens two to three times a year in our sport.
When a successful program qualifies swimmers to national level competitions, their coach should be in attendance. He or she should be on hand to help ensure the athlete it at their best (selection meets are an exception, but that is beyod the scope of this article). It's also a great reward for the coach to watch the athlete compete at the highest levels after all of the time and effort they shared over the course of the season. The team's membership generally accepts the coach's time away from the home pool and happily agrees to the club’s adjustments in the coach's absence.
I have found that some people do not have the same comfort level when their coach is away at a high school, or non-club, function. This article is an attempt to explain why it is important for us to support high school swimming; even if you are the parent of an eight year old.
I am little over a year here at Blue Wave. Last high school season we were still in a honeymoon phase. I do not think anyone really notice my absence at the end of the high school season. There were too many positive things taking place. Suffice to say, it was one big positive blur.
This year, we are more stable. Our roles have become more solidified. I am a sort of an oddity among head coaches. I work with swimmers of all ages and abilities; not just the fast ones. While I believe this is a long term positive approach to building our club, it also makes my absences more keenly felt; especially when I am not on deck coaching the club swimmers because I’m at a high school championship.
Let me be upfront and say I haven’t seen or heard of any issues here at Blue Wave. That said, I like to address things upfront so everyone has the proper expectations of how we think and why we act as a program. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. I know my posts can be lengthy, but if you take the time to read them, you will have a real insight into my thinking and how we run our program.
Below is a conversation I had with a parent on the subject when I was a much, much younger coach.
Early on in my career, I was approached by a team Dad of a nationally ranked ten and under. He asked me point blank, “Why have you been spending so much time at the high school championship meets these past two weeks...don’t they have a coach of their own?”. “Yes, they do”, I replied and continued, “but they train with us year round and it is important that I be there”. He was unimpressed and went on to tell me that his son, too, was important and that they paid good money for my services. He expected me to be on deck for the club functions he was paying for.
Obviously, he did not know me very well.
This Dad thought he could push around a young, idealistic twenty something coach for the betterment of his quite talented child. It did not work. When I wouldn’t bend, he found another coach who would. That happens. It is better to lose a potentially great swimmer to keep the culture positive and on a track I know will help our families as a whole suceed.
In retrospect, had I had the knowledge and experience the years have provided me back then, I may have been able to give him a better answer when he posed that question. It might have helped him to see supporting our program's high school swimmers in a different light. Fortunately, I can now better articulate to our families why I feel it is important for us to support these high school events. Since my post can be long, here are simply the top three reasons why I feel we should all embrace the high school experience and why it will help all of our swimmers long term.
Recognition - I have had swimmers earn National Age Group (NAG) Championships and records over the years. It’s an amazing accomplishment. How impressive is it to earn the right to be called the best at your age, in an event, out of all the swimmers across the country; for that year or for all time? Man, that's special. But when the swimmer’s inner circle stops the celebration, the party's pretty much over. Of course, the intrinsic reward should be reward enough, and it may be for athletes of that level, but for the rest of us it’s nice to get a few more atta boys. When a freshman makes it to regional or state championship, the whole school knows. There are morning announcements, high fives from students and faculty and their name may even be adorned on the marquee in front of the school. Qualify to a NAG Top 10 placement, Championship or Record? Crickets. That real world community recognition and support may be just what that child needs to gain the confidence in their abilities they need to invest deeper in the sport.
Positive Area Relationships - By attending high school championships, the club coach can reinforce their positive relationship with the area high school coaches. I obviously support high school swimming. We taper our swimmers for their events. They swim fast, have fun and usually meet or exceed their goals. By having that success at the high school championships, the potential new swimmers to the sport see us as a viable option; and the area high school coaches become comfortable with sending new swimmers our way when the high school season is over.
College Recruitment - Many swimmers want to swim in college. Being at the high school championship meets allows the club coach to connect with college coaches; many of whom come to Florida High School Championships because of the high level of swimming in our state. By having those face to face talks with old colleagues, friends and coaches in new positions, the coach may help secure a roster spot, or even get more money, for his or her swimmers. Even if they do not have a swimmer that meets the coach’s needs at that meet, one of their younger club kids may be the right fit in future years. Keeping those relationships alive and positive helps the coach help otheir club swimmers for many years to come.
Going to all of these events can be time consuming. That said, doing so can have a real positive impact on the swimmers and their families. It shows you care. The more you care, the more they care. It's human nature...and it's the right thing to do.
If I did not feel that it was incredibly beneficial to our swimmers to go to these events, I would definately stay home. Last night, I got in around midnight after a long day at a Championship meet in Stuart Florida. This morning I went to a region meet in St Pete. I would have driven to Ft Myers this evening if we did not have a club meet tomorrow morning. Fortunately, Coach Kyle is in attendance at that meet so all of our club swimmers are in great hands. Being there they always know they a part of our swamily, regardless of the cap they wear.
I can not stress this last point enough. I do not have to go to these meets, I get to go to these meets. And, i love it. Last night I got to witness the final high school swims of two amazing young men. How cool is that? One swam with me as a twelve and under at another club and joined us here to complete his journey. He went on to have lifetime best swims and earned two gold medals. Many memories ran through my head as those two senior boys swam. I honestly turned the radio off and just thought about the lessons, workouts and the experiences we shared for the entire three hour drive home. Fortunately, we still have two club season to go before they move on to college.
The bottom line is I feel a club coach should not coach based on income, outcome or convenience. We should be in this for the betterment of the swimmers we are fortunate enough to work with each day. Based on my experiences, I feel that it is crucial for our staff and program to support Florida high school swimming. I am glad to have taken some time to explain why I feel it is important and hopefully make this a big part of our culture here at Blue Wave for many years to come.
See you at the pool - Rich