Finding the right swimming coach can make a difference in whether you or your child learn to swim freestyle in 1 year or 3 months. In a sea of “supposedly National Registry of Coaches (NROC) ” qualified, we trust that the “authority” has done the check for us? Not true. Some of these coaches lack technical know-how (hard skills), and we are not even talking about soft skills yet.
That’s why it’s frustrating and even more baffling why your child has not progressed much despite being in that really nice coach’s class for last 6 months.
Your super-nice coach appears to be doing what you assume to be the “right thing” – drilling the kids, and telling you this is what your child is learning. You can only rely on blind faith because there isn’t a “syllabus” and she should know better because she is a registered coach?
Our swimming coach is the key conduit to that mysterous land of “getting it”. So if you are wondering why your or your child is not making the progress as he/she should, it’s high time to find a new coach. Here are Tao Li’s top 5 qualities of a great coach that you want to look for in your swimming coach.
1. A Good Motivator
A great swimming coach has this ability to get your child to complete that 10 laps even though it is “one of those days” when he/she seems to have screen saver mode on half the time. Her unwavering thousandth time “you can do it, I am just right next to you” seems to have sinked into your pysche and for the first time, you feel only just mild panic underwater.
A good motivating coach has the ability to combine the disciplined vs softly entrusting approach in potent balance. More critically, he/she helps you realise the ‘emotional why’s’ so you get out of the rut and continue to be interested in your swimming lessons.
For Tao Li, who has trained with many international world-class coaches, cites Ian Turner as embodying this quality. Ian Turner was the acclaimed head coach of British national team, and worked with Taoli for the London Olympics 2012 preparation where day-to-day timing improvement was critically monitored.
“During one of the days, my gym coach over-exerted me, and when afternoon swimming training started, I was way beyond exhaustion and that was the first time I had ever felt like that,” she recounted.
Ian knew, and continued to put her up for a high intensity training sets (a set calls for close to an hour of swimming at almost consistent rate of 200 heartbeat/minute!) and her timing was disappointing despite doing her best.
Ian lifted her heavy heart to help her understand his lesson. She explained, “the last 25m is the most painful part of the 100m race. Your body not only burns with exhaustion, it’s like when you have a bad dream and you tried to run but you can’t, and feel as if your body is tied by invisible force.” Ian taught her that if she did not learn to overcome this exhaustion-paralysing grip, she could lose the game.
Motivating lesson indeed.
2. Good Listener/Observer
A great swimming coach has observation skills to sight the key signs of your swimming progress, as well as knowing how to leverage the student’s mental state during the lessons. Despite 6 students in a class, the coach notices the exact when and how your child’s freestyle was off-mark.
Or she stretches out and holds your hand underwater umpteen times and gives you thumbs-up, seemingly to know the exact point you are panicking. A great coach sees these important details and helps bring your focus back to your swimming lesson all the time.
Peter Churchill, Taoli’s Australian coach who helped her to finish 5th at 2008 Beijing Olympics, was a great listener. “I had a lot of study pressure at the Sports School then, and struggling with the subjects, especially english. I had a lot of press interviews, sponsors’ demands, and external engagements, and I did not have a manager to help me manage. And of course swimming training took up a lot of time, and I was not coping well with all these demands. I wanted to give up swimming.”
Peter became TaoLi’s listening ear, and being that emotional rock, Peter helped her stay on the swimming path that led to her remarkable success as the first Singaporean who swam into Olympics finals in 2008.
3. Good Problem Solver.
Good problem solutioning is the actionable part of being a great observer. A great coach is able to diagnose the causes of your child’s stroke problems through keen observations, but more importantly, not just offer ‘textbook’ solutions but instructions that leverage on the child’s body structure and strengths.
Sometimes, it can also be a lighthearted joke after observing your distracted irritation with a colleague from work, “imagine the water is that person, kick as hard as you can!” to leverage your state of mind for betterment of your progress.
The average height of natonal swimmers towers at 1.85m and beyond. TaoLi stood at a disadvantaged 1.6m, yet she became the world’s 5th fastest butterfly swimmer in 2008 Olympics. “Peter (Churchill) identified and corrected my physical disadvantage by enhancing further the power of my underwater kick at the start off point,” said TaoLi.
That solution shaved off 0.5S, which we know in competition where miliseconds count, is leaps and bounds improvement. A great coach’s solutioning is based on your unique capability and body to get the best from you.
4. Precise Grasp of Swimming Techniques
A good coach is not merely defined as someone who has registration with the National Registry of Coaches (NROC) or someone who register with Singapore Sports Council’s Swimsafer. We all know from experience every school teacher is also registered with Minstry of Education, but that is not a guarantee that a teacher knows her stuff inside out (or for that matter, knows how to teach) on teaching swimming.
We all know passing the “requirements” of certification is world apart from someone who is precise in the techniques & technicality of strokes.
Sure, your child can swim but never longer distance, why? Poor technique foundation taught prohibits that. Your coach claims to set the master learning plan for you/your child, but unfortunately that master plan remained elusive only in his/her mind (assuming he/she does have one). A good coach will review progression report and technique milestones to get you clearly involved in the learning process.
5. Updated Knowledge of Swimming Techniques & Development
A coach says he has been teaching for last gazzilion years. Now, using the same method of teaching every student how to swim for many years does not equate to best or high quality swimming lessons. Even the teaching method of phonics ‘ABC’ to kids today is vastly different from 10 years ago, would you care to learn swimming from method of that era?
A great coach has the network of resources to stay updated on latest psychological, visualization and teaching methods from the world’s best swimming countries – UK, USA, Australia and China. The competitve training methods will always trickle down to learning-to-swim-teaching methods.
Unless you are in the circuit, TaoLi reveals that it is difficult for the average Singaporean coaches to get access to the wealth of training knowledge.
She gave an example of her 2-month training in Australia with Stephan Widmer, the Australian national team coach who trained the Australian Olympic Gold and Bronze medalists Libby Trickett and Jess Schipper. She had weights secured to her body in the water to build strength against water resistance. “That is something you won’t know unless you are at these world-class training centres,” said TaoLi.
So, now you know TaoLi’s top 5 qualities of a Great Coach, and what Taoli Swimming Club Coaching Mantra is.
A Great Coach should have all qualities but in varying degree of strengths that fits you or your child and your swimming skill level whether you are a beginner, or a competitive swimmer.
Take this as guide to review why your child is not making the progress as fast as you think he/she should, or decide it is about time to take the plunge for swimming lessons.
Share with us your thoughts or your list of what makes a Great Swimming Coach.