Sunday, November 23, 2008

Is the Grass Really Greener?

In the world of sports, at least the world of professional sports, it is all too common to read about the switching of teams by coaches and players. The reasons for changing are usually money though no one cops to that, at least not outright.

In our sport of swimming one of the most common reasons for athletes to change teams is the frustration that comes with a plateau or even a drop off in performance. All swimmers begin their career with steady, often meteoric improvement. This is natural since they are starting at zero as it were. Couple this with the growth factor and by 13 or 15 years of age the expectation has been set; namely that a swimmer "should" see some kind of regular drops in time.

What often goes unrecognized is the contribution the swimmer makes to the improvement. By this we do not mean the training, the laps swum or the weights lifted. We mean the intention that the swimmer has and how he/she acts based on those intentions. Parents are the ones who usually pull the plug on the current team. They see a swimmer or swimmers who their youngster used to beat in races who are now out performing their son/daughter. And so, they decide after some discussion that it must be the coaching or the program in general that is better on the other side of the fence.

The change is made and life goes on. What too few realize is that the swimmer who moves takes with them their "stuff"; namely stroke strengths and weaknesses, racing strategies, mental toughness (or lack thereof), focus ability (or lack thereof) and training habits. Until a swimmer is willing to honestly address their whole package the change itself will do little in the way of lasting improvement. It is common to see a quick bounce but lasting change is a whole other issue.

Since the inception of $500 racing suits and professional endorsement contracts swimming's profile has changed. In this week's mainstream sports media it was announced that two time Olympian Katie Hoff, who trains at the North Baltimore Aquatic Club, has switched coaches. In a related story, Michael Phelps' coach, Bob Bowman, formerly at NBAC then Michigan has returned to NBAC. Paul Yetter, also a coach at North Baltimore, coached Katie Hoff until this week. In the stories about the changes it tells us very little. The one comment that is worth noting is Hoff's when she talks about the intensity level that Bowman is famous for and how she thinks she is now ready for that. This is the "stuff" we referred to above.

We certainly do not know enough about the intricacies of this story to comment with certainty. What we do know is that all of the players, Hoff, Yetter and Bowman bring their own skills and weaknesses to the table.

This has happened to all three of us here at SwimCoachDirect. It isn't always a bad thing either. Sometimes a swimmer who switches gets and gives relief all at the same time. What we do know for sure is that before you switch you really need to make an honest assessment of your own set of tools. Do you really need new ones or can you sharpen the ones you have? If you need new ones and they are not available in your current program that is one thing. If they need sharpening perhaps you are the one who needs to do the work and not the coach.

Something to think about...

Have a great week and let us know how it is going for you!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

There is always much more to a story than meets the eye. Your assessment of the reason for coach switches is highly simplistic and is a confidential matter, between coach and athlete. The media looks for a reason--one has to be offered that makes everyone happy and doesn't air any dirty laundry...