Part 2 of 3: What I Learned from the Student Athletes
When I decided to be a volunteer coach at Johns Hopkins, my motivation was to help George Kennedy, the head coach and a close friend, and to give back some of the knowledge I have learned in being associated with competitive swimming almost my entire life. One of the unexpected benefits was what I learned from the swimmers I was coaching.
Lesson #1 – TRUST
My first lesson was TRUST. I remember one of the first practices when I was coaching. One of the kids on the team at the time was ranked as one of the top backstrokers in the country. When I watched him swim, I noticed a flaw in his stroke. Being very new, I went to George and asked him if I could address the stroke correction with the swimmer. George said, “Go for it”. So I stopped the swimmer and told him what he was doing wrong and how he could improve his stroke. He didn’t question me at all. He thanked me for the tip, jumped back in the water, and corrected his stroke. That was TRUST. He didn’t know me. How could he be sure that what I was telling him would help him? He didn’t. He TRUSTED me and it did help him.
When people give you feedback or suggestions- TRUST them…
Lesson #2 – APPRECIATION
My second lesson was APPRECIATION. The very first practice I coached, I gave them a very hard workout. At the conclusion of the practice as they were all headed out, several of the swimmers came over to me and thanked me for giving them a hard workout. They APPRECIATED the fact I was volunteering my time and that I gave them a hard workout.
Don’t forget to say THANK YOU to people who have helped you.
Lesson #3 – THE TALENTED AND HARD WORKING MILLENIALS
My third lesson was how talented and how hard working kids in this generation can be. I had read a lot about the Millenials and was skeptical of what this new generation would be like to coach. I was pleasantly surprised to find such a dedicated group of people who were students first and athletes a close second. Swimmers majoring in Neuroscience, Molecular Biology, Physics, and Pre-Med were carrying very high GPAs, while working there butts off while they worked out 9-10 times a week in the pool and weight room. I can’t imagine where they got the time. They certainly worked harder than I did or most of the other guys I swam with back in the early 80’s.
Don’t be afraid to hire the Millenials and mentor them. You will be surprised with the results.
Lesson #4 – DO THE LITTLE THINGS RIGHT!
My fourth lesson was “DO THE LITTLE THINGS RIGHT”. During my past five years I have seen many examples of swimmers who pay attention to the little things in practice, such as not breathing off the wall and using good technique. This group of swimmers will ask me to look at their strokes and suggest corrections. There is another smaller group of swimmers who work just as hard as the first group, but they don’t pay attention to the little things. And if I make a stroke change suggestion, they will do it for a lap or two and then go right back to their old way. Take a wild guess as to which group performs better in the swim meets. You are right. It is the group that pays attention to the doing the little things right. I see that at my company as well. The sales people who perform the best pay attention the small details day in and day out.
Pay attention to the little things in your life and the big things will almost take care of themselves.
Lesson #5 – BELIEVE IN YOURSELF
Finally, I learned from the swimmers to BELIEVE IN YOURSELF. Again, I see two groups of athletes here as well. There is the group of swimmers that believes, when they get up on the blocks, that they are going to win the race and beat the goal they have set for themselves. The other group is reluctant to set goals and when they get up to race, as a coach you are not sure what is going to happen. In this group you will see some awful races and some great races as well. The first group you can count on for a good outcome just about every time.
The lesson here is to BELIEVE IN YOURSELF. You may not always win or hit your goal, but your results will be better and more consistent than those who do not.
So all in all, while I think I have been able to help numerous swimmers over the years, the real gift has been the lessons I’ve learned from them.