As a swim coach, you're responsible for the success of your team, plain and simple. But to get to "success" you've got to juggle diverse personalities andages, help student-athletes stay on top of their academic and practice schedules, and ultimately understand what motivates each swimmer. It sounds like a daunting task, but with a few tips and tricks, you can learn how to motivate your swim team and look forward to a successful season.
1. Understand each person
Take time to get to know your team. Go beyond the stats, times, and athletic profiles and dig a little deeper. Find out what motivates your swimmer to do better. Do they want to swim in the Olympics someday or are they just doing it to please mom and dad? Are they seeking out a college scholarship or are they just trying to find a way to stay healthy and fit? If you take the time to connect with each swimmer, you'll be better equipped to motivate them.
2. Set some goals
Now that you know what motivates your team, sit down with each swimmer and set some goals for the season. You'd be surprised at how many coaches don't do this critical step. Communicate with your athlete and come up with goals for the season and then break that down into goals for the week, the practice session, or the set. If you're dealing with younger swimmers, include the parents in the goal setting discussion. It's easier for your swimmer to succeed when the whole family is on board. Discuss technique, swim strategies, nutrition plans, sleep habits, and see how they fit into the overall goal for the athlete.
3. Ups & downs
As a coach, you're there to celebrate successes, but you'll also have to help your athletes learn from their failures. Use failed performance to focus on what went wrong, what to work on in the next practice, and how to improve the next time around. Stay away from belittling and berating your swimmers when they don't do their best. Every swimmer has a bad performance and a day when they don't do their best, so to motivate them the right way, connect their performance back to the goals and what they want to achieve. You can also use videos of uplifting speeches from other coaches or thought leaders who you admire, or send emails and messages to your team with inspiring quotes to keep them focused and motivated to do better at practice and at the competition.
4. It's all mental
When you're dealing with swimmers in different age groups, the psychology of motivation becomes critical for a coach. If you're working with younger children, they may have not developed the mental capacity to take other's perspectives into account. This is important to remember when coaching a team of young kids, because many times they're not able to understand how their actions in practice and their performance affect the rest of the team, or even you as their coach. They're also more motivated with extrinsic rewards such as ribbons and medals. But as children develop mentally, the way to motivate them changes. When children reach that "tween" period, they tend to lose interest in the extrinsic motivators and are more likely to respond to rewards that signify positive performance and improved competence. They begin to appreciate other people's perspectives and are more likely to understand how their performance affects the overall team. Being mindful of the different psychological stages that your swimmers are experiencing will help you speak their language and limit your frustrations when trying to motivate your team.
5. Have fun!
And last, but not least, enjoy your job and your team. This positive attitude is infectious and will help your swim team, your coaching staff, and even parents to enjoy the season. Set aside some time each week to celebrate successes and give your swimmers a chance to take charge of the fun, too. Your swimmers are balancing the rigors of their studies, family demands, and of course their intense swim training, so keeping a fun and upbeat atmosphere is a great way to keep your team motivated and looking forward to practice.
Motivation looks different for everyone, but one things for certain, it can give you and your team that jolt of mental power that is needed to succeed!