The other day a coach posted a short article that he wrote about swimmers and their responsibility in the pool. How they need to own it. Not too long ago we had a parent complain that it was our fault that her daughter did a flip turn in an IM on back to breast in her event in a meet. Do we teach that? Of course not, did the swimmer know that she isn't supposed to do a flip turn there? Yes, she did. But the mom felt it was our fault, not her daughters. So whose responsibility is it? Is it the Coach's or the Swimmer's?
I asked Coach Berry Schipper if I could publish his article on my blog and he graciously said yes. I think it is spot on, and worth sharing. Hope you enjoy it as much as I did. Here is what he had to say about swimmers and their responsibility:
"What swimmers need to understand is that a coach needs to divide his/her attention, focus and –mostly- energy over an X amount of swimmers. The swimmer only needs to invest all this in one swimmer: in him or herself. No matter how good and engaged the coach, it simply doesn't match up.
So motivation and accountability can eventually not come from the coach, it has to grow from inside of the swimmer self.
In order for a coach to help in that process of the swimmer owning responsibility, there needs to be enough distance between the coach and the swimmer. It is why I insist my swimmers not call me by my first name. When we’re at the pool I am not your buddy, I am your coach.
In my years of coaching I have met young swimmers that I would easily take in our home and treat as family. But when we enter the pool there is nothing of that left: I tell you what to do and you do it, and I am not interested in reasons why you can’t.
Yes, if your shoulder hurts, or you feel dizzy, I need to know. But I do not want to hear (other) reasons why you can’t train hard, why times aren't met. Because that way the swimmer is putting the end responsibility in the coaches hands. And the coach simply can not carry the end responsibility of an X amount of swimmers in the same way a swimmer can do (or could possibly do) this for her/himself. The math is quite simple.
I heard Phelps say in an interview ‘he swims for Bowman.’ I disagree with that. You don’t swim for your coach or your club, you don’t even swim for your country and you definitely don’t swim for your parents. You swim for you.
Because this is the only path that can lead to relentless responsibility, or what Rasmus Ankersen called ‘ruthless accountability.’ You are responsible for your swimming, for giving everything you've got on an insane amount of occasions. You are responsible for not taking an easy way out, over and over again. Otherwise you will fail in reaching your end goal.
In the end those numbers are exactly the same: the swimmer only has one swimmer who can fail: you. The coach has new opportunities with every new swimmer that walks in.
Sounds mean and detached? No. Sounds like reality.
So what does this mean for the development of a swimmer?
One rule only: no external excuses. Never.
The pool is too cold, there is noise from other lanes, the set is just too hard, etc. You have to shut these thoughts down. It will take you away from reaching relentless responsibility. Do not expect a short cut to your goal, do not think you will not have rough times where nothing seems to work. Do not think there is anything that can take the place of unbelievable hard work on an endless amount of small details.
But rather see the training, see the hard work as a given. It is there as the baseline of your thought process. You build your life around that given: training is there, how do I accommodate?
And the coach? He or she is there to help you become ruthless. Ruthless to yourself and the rest of the squad. Nice swimmers don’t win races, nice coaches don’t make champions."
Berry Schipper has been coaching for 15 years, he has worked with swimmers in The Netherlands, Cambodia, China and currently is in Namibia. He and his wife lead a nomad lifestyle as his wife works for UNICEF. He usually works as a technique coach with age groupers and triathletes. "I'm actually an Iron Man finisher (Amsterdam/Almere in 2010) as well. Not too shabby for a 6'8"giant!