Coaching is Communicating

By Tim Welsh

Swimming’s Championship season has ended.  Hail to our Champions!  Oh My,
what a Championship Season this was!   At the very top, this was a Championship Season
that re-defined for us the meaning of “fast.”   Throughout the field, this was a Championship Season that taught us over and over again that times we once thought were “fast,” are no longer as “fast” as they used to be.  Message received.  Meaning communicated.  We “got it.” We have been “enlightened.”

One of the reasons why we “got it” is because there were so many very fast swims over and over again weekend after weekend.  The “teaching”  was repeated many times. We not only saw the swims, we also had time to think about them, to see them repeated in other events,  to review them, to discuss them, and to assimilate them. Remember when we were back in school and our professors taught us that the 3 R’s of learning are “readiness, repetition, and review?

I think that’s what we saw and learned this Championship Season. Don’t you?

We had been “ready” to learn when we arrived at the Meets. After all, we go to those meets to “see’ and to “learn” what the fastest college swimmers in the country (including and maybe especially the swimmers on our own team) can do.  “Readiness.”  “Ripeness is all” and all that (thank you, Shakespeare).  We had been “ready” but we did not “know” in advance what was going to happen.  In a very real sense, coaches go to championship meets as “students,” ready to learn about their sport, and ready also to evaluate their own teaching.

So, there we were: ready, eager, excited to learn. Over and over again at the referee’s whistle, we watched swimmers step up onto the starting platforms – and “step up” they did! The “lessons” to be learned were “taught”  by the swimmers. Our students became our teachers at these Meets. We saw; we reviewed; we discussed; we learned. When we returned home, we returned “enlightened” by what we had seen and learned – and we returned to our own pool with our own team.

“What does one do before enlightenment,” one of my favorite Zen sayings goes. “Chop Wood, Carry Water” is the answer.  And “What does one do after enlightenment?” the saying continues. “Chop Wood, Carry Water” again is the answer.  That is indeed what we do in our sport.  We work hard (chop wood, carry water) before the Championship Meet; and we go back to working hard (chopping wood, carrying water) again after the Championship Meet.  Other seasons and other championships are ahead.  Especially this year, with Olympic Trials and the Olympic Games still ahead, coaches and swimmers are back in the pool all over the country, and all over the world too. In our own competitive swimming way, we are chopping wood and carrying water.

Not only are we back in the pool, but we are also, and just as importantly, talking with our swimmers about what did happen during this past season and what we want to happen during this coming season.  We are back in our “usual” roles as “teachers,” and our swimmers are back in their “usual” roles as students.  “What are we to make of this past season?” we ask.

“What are we to make of what we saw? And what we did?”  “How are we to understand this?”
“How are we,” we ask of each individual swimmer, “going to go forward?” “What do we do now?” “What are our next goals?” “What do we want to keep doing?” “What do we want to change?” “What do we want to stop doing?”  “What do we want to add to what we are doing?”
Questions. Questions. Questions.   

We ask them in every conversation with each swimmer.  And I hope, we listen carefully to their answers.  Our swimmers ask us questions too.  And we hope they listen carefully to our answers as well.  Out of these questions and answers comes the next plan and the next direction and the next focus for all of us – coaches and swimmers alike.  These are conversations in which Communication is essential.  And communicating means sharing.  And sharing means listening as well as speaking. Communicating is a back and forth exchange of ideas and suggestions until we both come to a mutual understanding.  Communication is a talking “with” someone, rather than a talking “to” someone.  

Although we may not often remember to think of it this way, listening is empowering.
Listening to someone is a sign of respect. When we listen to our swimmers, we show that we
trust them and that we believe in them and that we value their ideas and want to hear and think about their suggestions. Our swimmers, as we have said before, always want to know that we care about them. Listening, and sharing is a sign that we do. Listening and sharing is what makes real communication possible.  Listening does not make us “soft.”  Listening does allow our athletes to understand that no matter how tough we are, we do have a caring side which wants to nurture them.  We have two ears and one mouth, the old saying goes, so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.

It does take more time to have a conversation in which “real listening” (as opposed to thinking ahead to what I want to say next) takes place. That’s true.  However, the time spent
strengthening our “coach-athlete” bond with our swimmers is valuable beyond words – even in our busy, busy, too-busy lives.  

It is also true that when we “really listen”to a person, it is more likely that the person will “really listen” to us in return.  “Really listening” is what allows real and really honest sharing to take place. Really listening and really sharing on both sides is what allows “real communication” to take place.  Really communicating leads to “really connecting” as coach and athlete.  Being really connected as coach and athlete leads to commitment and inspiration on both sides.  Commitment and inspiration on both sides starts us both on the path to remarkable growth and remarkable performance, such as we saw this year.  It all begins with communication.

Coaching is Communicating.    .