The Mechanic and the Machine
As coaches we know what we are doing and why. Naturally the way, tactics etc. change over time but I sometimes wonder if as I coach I have always been as open and adaptable to this as I would like to think I am/was.
I have coached and taught swimming for a number of years and have always, whether it is a conscious decision or not, referred to those children or teenagers as MY swimmers. I am responsible for their progression in swimming. This is where the overlap of my swimmer/coach experience is more profound. I have been on both sides of that lane rope.
As a coach I see a machine that I need to maintain, correct and develop to make it run smoother with proficiency. Make it sustainably quicker and succeed. But that machine I see is encased in a very unique body that isn’t the same as the machine next to it (or 5 seconds behind it) it isn’t necessarily made up of components of the same specification as the other.
On the flipside, as a swimmer I am that machine, I know what my components are doing and when altered by the mechanic at the side of the pool they move differently or alter in strength or speed. But I’m not the same as the machine behind me but I am being made to work the same way as that machine. You can’t put the engine of a Ferrari inside a Volvo and call it a Vauxhall!
What we see and what we can’t see could be identified as one in the same thing. I can see a swimmer, person, boy/girl, child/teenager, potential elite athlete, potential drop out case. These are not always physical and it is with a keen I we must, as coaches, be able and to step back and reassess what we see and what we “see”.
I’m not sure there is a right or wrong way to coach. By this I mean beyond the obvious giving a training session, discussing technique changes etc. This is where I revert back to coaching the person not the machine. Regardless of the age range we coach there are so many factors in that person’s life that will have some sort of effect on that person.
- The stroppy teenager who can’t be bothered
- All his/her friends don’t bother asking them to social events anymore and they want to give up but their parents won’t let them as a social life is NOT a viable option
- The boy/girl who never says a word.
- At times a blessing, or maybe a concern. What is going on in their heads? Focus, determination, obsession, self-deprecating behaviours, are we concerned?
- The daydreamer clearly “not listening”
- Cant stop thinking about how much homework there is to be done
- Everyone expects top academic achievements whilst gaining top sporting achievements
- The arms folded, legs crossed body language
I am currently studying for a MSc in Sport Physical activity and Mental Health. From this I am aiming to complete a dissertation that will enable me to progress to a PhD in Sports Counselling. The mental health of our athletes is just as important as the physical “mechanical” health. It is through no one person’s fault that we may not recognise mental health issues in our athletes.
I would be really interested and appreciative to know of any coaches’ experiences of working with or recognising a need for a mental health/counselling practice within sport at any level.
Bio: I have been a swimmer since I was 3 years old, training with a competitive club since I was 5 and first raced at the age of 6. I am passionate about swimming and it has been the focus of most of my life. Having gained my Level 1 and 2 teaching certificates I studied at the University of Gloucestershire from which I hold a BSc in Sports Science and Coaching. I have coached mainstream and disability squads with both Gloucester City Swimming Club and Stockport Metro prior to and during my time at University. After I finished my BSc I spent a year coaching swimming at the Shanghai REGO International School. I returned to competitive swimming in October 2015 where I now train within the Masters program under Harry Needs at Stockport Metro swimming Club. I compete in masters events across the country and am aiming t5o compete in next year’s World Championships in Budapest. As of September 2016 I will be studying for an MSc in Sport, Physical Activity and Mental Health. My ambition is to able to write and publish works in this area of sport particularly with a swimming focus of parents, coaches and swimmers alike.