As coaches, we have a lot of influence on the individuals we work with on a daily basis.
They will begin to believe what you believe, if they believe you believe it. This is particularly true when these beliefs are strong. If the message is consistent and the message is strong, swimmers will start to think what you think and behave like you behave.
Sooner or later, for better or worse, swimmers will begin to mirror the behaviors and values we express consistently. The important idea here is ‘for better or worse’. Swimmers will model your behaviors and values, regardless of whether these behaviors and values are serving their swimming. As such, it’s critical that coaches are aware of what they are bringing to the pool deck each and every day, as well as whether what they bring is helping or hurting their coaching efforts.
Unfortunately, many behaviors and values are mutually exclusive. If someone is really consistent, they’re probably not going to be particularly spontaneous, and vice versa. From a coaching perspective, both traits can be very valuable, but there will be very few individuals who effectively express both traits on a regular basis. Every value has a cost, and that cost must be weighed against the potential benefits that is provides.
The other major consideration is that we are who we are and we all have natural behavioral tendencies. Life will be much easier if we stay true to our natural tendencies. As a general approach, working towards our strengths is a more sustainable and effective strategy. When considering the impact of our behaviors, it always worth reflecting, ‘how can I leverage what I already do naturally?’
We have a choice how to behave and these choices have consequences that we must consider. As mentioned in a previous post, we can change how we act on a daily basis in practice. This will influence the behaviors we express on deck, which in turn will influence what swimmers begin to value and how they begin to behave.
To be effective coaches, we must behave in an effective manner and place value on relevant behaviors. As with all behaviors, it starts with an awareness of what we are valuing, what behaviors we are expressing, whether these behaviors are productive, and what, if anything, we want to do about it.
With every value and behavior, it’s worth asking the following questions-
For a given situation, is my current course of action effective?
What could be more effective?
What are the strengths of this approach?
What are the weaknesses of this approach?
What are the strengths of the opposite approach?
What are the weaknesses of the opposite approach?
In what context would my natural inclinations be most appropriate?
In what context would my natural inclinations be inappropriate?
In what context would the opposite of my natural inclinations be most appropriate?
In what context would my opposite of my natural inclinations be inappropriate?
Stated Values vs. Expressed Values
Let’s consider a set where there are stroke count and speed expectations. To execute the stroke counts correctly, the swimmer is swimming slower than normally would be expected. How do you respond? Do you tell them to stay with the stroke count, or tell them they have to hit the time? There isn’t a right or wrong answer here. Your decision reflects what you value in that situation, and the swimmers will adjust their behaviors to match your values. When given a choice, swimmers will execute what you place priority on, and what you require.
The same dynamic can operate in any number of situations. Regardless of what you say is important, what you MAKE important is ultimately going to dictate how swimmers behave. They will pick up on this very quickly, particularly is what is asked of them is very difficult. Most swimmers will not execute the requirement unless they KNOW it’s important.
If you value technique, and this is demonstrated by what you require on a daily basis, your swimmers will value technique as well. The same could be said for any other aspect of training. Swimmers will value what is consistently required of them on daily basis, not what is ‘suggested’ to them.
You get what you require and hold swimmers accountable to, eventually. Further, whatever you require is what you value.
Beyond what is required in the training environment, swimmers are also watching you to see if what you say is consistent with what you do. If you preach the importance of punctuality, yet show up late with any regularity, you can bet that your swimmers aren’t going to be punctual. They will mirror the values you express with your behavior.
In another context, professing the importance of positivity or a ‘growth-mindset’ will be a futile effort when coaches are consistently negative in response to challenges, or send messages that learning and improvement is not possible. In contrast, if you consistently demonstrate positivity and the belief that learning and improvement is possible, you never really have to openly discuss these values. Your behaviors demonstrate it clearly. Unfortunately, the opposite is true as well.
As with values, the behaviors we tend to express will begin to influence the behaviors of our team. While these behaviors will never override the innate personalities of individual team members, they can influence them over time. As examples, coaches who are always polite are likely to have polite swimmers. High-energy coaches are likely to have high-energy swimmers. Whether these behaviors are ‘good’ or ‘bad’ will depend on the context.
As always, awareness is key.
As with values, it’s important to consider not only the positive consequences of behaviors, but the negative or unintended consequences of these decisions. The following questions can be useful when considering how your behaviors are affecting your coaching-
What type of behaviors do you tend to exhibit in most situations?
When do these behaviors move you closer to your goals?
When do these behaviors move you further from your goals?
Which current behaviors would I want my team to emulate?
Which current behaviors would I NOT want my team to emulate?
What are the major benefits of your common behaviors?
What are the unintended consequences of your common behaviors?
Are my behaviors creating the appropriate model for swimmers to emulate?
Which individuals might suffer as a result of these behaviors? Which individuals might benefit most from these behaviors? How can you modify your behaviors to most positively affect everyone?
How can you maximize exposure to the upside of your behaviors and minimize exposure to the downsides of your behavior?
In the end, we are left with choices as to how to behave each day on deck. Sooner or later, these choices will be reflected in the behaviors. If we want to swimmers to behave in a specific way, we need to behave in that manner consistently to provide swimmers with a model that they can mirror. The more consistently and effectively we create this model, the more consistently will that model be mirrored.
If we want energy, we need to model energy. If we want commitment, we need to model commitment. If we focus, we need to model focus. Sooner or later, these behaviors will show up in our swimmers.
Beyond the influence you have over the swimmers you coach, values and behaviors are likely to influence who is attracted to your team as individuals are attracted to those who are similar.. If you are a high energy individual, other high energy individuals are likely to be attracted to your program. The same can be said of any other trait or value. Over time, more and more similar individuals will begin to comprise your team.
Again, this shouldn’t be viewed positive or negative, but simply part of the process that we need to be aware. It can be a great asset when similar individuals are aligned and view swimming and life from a similar perspective. It can also be a negative when the strengths and weaknesses of a homogenous group are not being balanced. Excessive uniformity can create rigidity.
One of the great aspects of coaching is the influence coaches can have on the lives of young people. This is recognized by most coaches. What is less recognized is how deep this influence can be, and how unexpected the direction of this influence can be. Youth are impressionable, often in ways that we can’t and don’t appreciate at the time.
The swimmers we coach are keenly, if unconsciously, attuned to all of our behaviors, as well as the values we consistently express, explicitly or implicitly.
For better or worse, they will mold their behaviors to model these values and behaviors, at least in the context of the training and competitive environment.
As discussed previously, it all starts at the top, and swimmers will mirror what they see and hear.