top of page

Top Down

Everyone is listening to what you say, and how you say it. More importantly, everyone is watching what you do, and how you do it.


Countless books, seminars, and entire industries are devoted to leadership development. All of it can be valuable, yet none of it is relevant if we fail to understand and act upon the above statement.

There will be individuals within any organization that always act honorably, demonstrate great work ethic, and get work done. At the same time, there will be individuals who behave in the opposite manner. Both groups are in the minority.

The vast majority will rise and fall to the cultural expectations. These cultural expectations are communicated by how the coaching staff, particularly the head coach, behaves on a daily basis. We all look for subtle environmental cues as to what is acceptable behavior and these cues come from the coaching staff.

Of course, coaches can behave in one manner and then hold others accountable to a different set of standards. Yet this will breed a lack of respect, a lack of commitment, and a loss of faith.

Practically speaking, what does this mean for us as coaches?

Consider your own behavior, either at practice, at meets, interacting with parents, recruiting, etc…

  • How do you treat all people, not just those that can immediately help you?

  • Do you hold yourself accountable? Do you hold others accountable as required?

  • Do you show up on time?

  • What is your work ethic like?

  • Do you speak well of others, or do you talk behind their back?

  • Do you complain, or do you find solutions?

  • How is your energy at practice? How about at meets?

  • How is your mood? Is it consistent?

  • What’s your attitude like? Is it significantly different when the process is running smoothly as compared to when there are problems?

  • How about your mindset? Do you believe in improvement or do you believe in stasis?

  • Do you believe change is possible?

  • Are you committed to excellence? Always, or sometimes? Do you take shortcuts?

  • Are you trying to improve your skills as a coach? Is this obvious to your swimmers?

  • Are you vulnerable? If you expect others to admit and ultimately change their shortcomings, are you able to do the same?

  • When you fail, do you try again? Or do you give up?

  • Are you relentlessly positive? Or do you focus on the negatives?

  • Do you offer praise, or criticism? Are you able to shift back and forth as appropriate?

  • Do you criticize behaviors, or people?

  • Do you approach the small aspects of preparation as fervently as the big aspects?

  • Are you relentlessly supportive of your team members?

  • Do you admit and then apologize for your mistakes?

  • Do you do what you have to do whether you want to do it or not?

Reflect honestly about how you behave.

Reflect honestly about how you would like your swimmers to behave.

Reflect honestly about how your swimmers actually do behave.

If there is a disconnect, the change needs to start with you. Your swimmers need a model. They need someone to hold them accountable, and they’ll only be willingly held accountable by someone who acts in a manner that is consistent with what they require.

They need to be shown how it is done.

Honesty can be a stated core value, but if coaches consistently lie, dishonesty will be the value that is modeled and then acted upon by organizational members.

If work ethic is espoused, but coaches show up late, are disengaged, and are uncommitted, then this will be reflected in the behavior of the team. Always.

If swimmers are expected to bring great energy to training and competition, the coaches better do the same or it will never happen.

The harsh reality of leadership is that there is never a moment when you can be ‘off’. Your swimmers are always listening and they are always watching. They are watching for discrepancies in behavior and they are looking for cues as to how to behave themselves.

Show them.

How you chose to behave will dictate the culture of your program, for better or worse.


bottom of page