Question of the Day

I just got the confirmation that I’ll be coaching Juniors for the fall! I’m so excited, but nervous at the same time. I was wondering if you had any tips on effective coaching (or at least tips on staying patient, which I’m afraid will be my issue)? Thanks so much! Your blog has helped me out quite a bit lately.

There are going to be times when someone you’re coaching (or coaching with) makes you go from zero to rage in two seconds flat and 98% of the time you can’t say a single thing about it (because of parents, your spot on the totem pole, etc.). It’s inevitable. In situations like that, the best thing you can do for yourself is just close your eyes, take a deep breath, rage it out in your head for a few seconds, and then get on with whatever you were doing. Being impatient or getting easily frustrated doesn’t make you a bad coach as long as you’re not going off on people Bobby Knight-style every time something happens.

When I first started coaching, if I had $100 for every time I thought this, made this face, or wanted to do this I would be a very wealthy person. I’m not a patient person at all so having to teach people how to do something and watch them initially do it so poorly despite what I thought were the most basic and simple instructions I could give them made me very frustrated on a pretty consistent basis.

When you hit that point where you’re thinking “I’m gonna lose it on this kid” because he can’t seem to do anything right, take a step back and re-evaluate. There’s a good chance that he’s just as frustrated as you are because he can tell that he’s not doing or understanding what you want. This is the part where you have to remind yourself that you’re most likely not actually frustrated at the kid, you’re frustrated with yourself because what you think should be working … isn’t. That was my problem. I was never actually angry at anyone for not understanding something, rather I was getting progressively more and more frustrated with myself because I wasn’t used to my (pretty solid) communication skills failing me.

Because that was an unfamiliar feeling, I didn’t know what to do and that pissed me off. What I concluded though was that instead of getting mad you have to get creative. For example, I found out that I am really good at coming up with analogies to explain what should be happening at different points in the stroke. That happened completely on the fly one day and I’m pretty sure I had no idea what I was saying as I was explaining it but it worked (about 50 million times better than anything else I’d said up to that point) so that became my go-to fallback for when somebody doesn’t understand something.

Have a plan but keep it flexible. If you’re one of those people that can function on the fly with no prep or schedule or planning … cool. I’m kinda jealous of anybody that can do that. Everybody does things a little differently though and has their own system that keeps them at their “most effective” but even if you’re not the planning type of person, try to sit down at least once or twice a week and come up with a rough idea of what you want to do at practice over the next couple of days. It doesn’t need to be planned out in 10 minute increments or anything like that but you should at least know the drills you want to do throughout the week and why you want to do them (to reinforce something you did the other day, to highlight and work on something you noticed a few people having trouble with yesterday, etc.), as well as the pieces you want to get in so that when someone (your coxswains) says “Hey Mike, what are we doing today…” you can say “X and Y to start [reasons why] and then we’ll finish off with Z [reasons why]” instead of “I donno yet, we’ll see once we get out there”. (As a coxswain, I hate you if you’re that kind of coach. It’s infuriating. If you want your coxswains to be on top of their game, you need to be on top of yours.)

The reason I say keep it flexible is because there are gonna be practices where you wanna change it up a bit based on what you’re seeing so far, what your coxswains have seen the last few days, what you saw last night when you finally had time to sit down and watch last week’s race footage, etc. Deviating from the plan is totally fine as long as it’s done in an organizational manner that doesn’t throw off everyone else (your coxswains). Being too attached to your schedule can result in you doing stuff just to check it off and say it got done instead of you actually spending time coaching the kids through the drills, pieces, etc.

Oh, and if you’re like me and need (and like) to have a plan in order to be your most effective, don’t take shit from anybody who tries to tell you that that’s wrong, stupid, “not how it’s done”, etc. That goes the other way too – if writing stuff down and adhering to a strict schedule makes you over-think things and spend too much time focusing on unnecessary stuff, that’s fine! Feel free to speak up and say that but don’t let anyone tell your way is wrong just because it’s different from theirs. Be flexible and open to trying new ways of doing things but if you find something that works, don’t be afraid to stick with it.

Last thing. Every so often when you’re out on the water, take a second for yourself to just enjoy being out there. This job is always going to be frustrating to some extent but for every frustrating thing that pops up, there’s going to be ten things that happen that remind you of why you do it. Those five seconds where you hang back in the launch just to take a deep breath and shake out the tension in your shoulders help keep you sane, especially on the days when it took ten extra minutes to get off the dock, traffic is ridiculous, your coxswain is steering like she closed the bar, and now it’s snowing in September because let’s be honest that’s just how the weather’s been this year. Don’t let all the crazy shit that’s going on make forget why you’re out there.  Enjoy the little moments because at the end-of-the-year banquet, that’s gonna be the stuff you laugh about.

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