Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Coaching Swimming is a Hell of a Drug

Rick James should have tried a conference meet

I was thinking about saving this post for a few weeks from now. I didn't want it to seem boastful or arrogant. That's not my point. My point is: championship season is upon us, and for coaches that means that we are about to get our fix. Inside the coaching community, we often joke about how little we get paid, the weird hours, and the weekends sacrificed. So why would anyone go into (or stay) in this profession? Because coaching swimming is a hell of a drug. 

To explain, I'm going to go back to my own swimming days. By the time you're in college, there's a good chance that your swimming has fallen into a rhythm. You train all year just to go to one, or maybe two or three meets if you're really lucky, and swim a lifetime best. It feels great to swim faster than you ever have before. All that work and it finally paid off. But I can honestly say it doesn't nearly compare to coaching.

When you're a coach, you get that same hit of dopamine from a swimmer achieving their goal. Only its bigger. In my case, I am lucky enough to coach ten swimmers. Many coaches train more. If your swimmers are tearing it up, that could mean you're getting a hit after hit of that sweet, sweet feeling .

I've talked with other coaches about this, trying to figure out what makes the feeling so much better as a coach than as a swimmer. The volume is certainly a factor, but there's more to it than that. I'm sure that some would argue that the person getting the best experience is the swimmer, but I say they're wrong.

If you're a coach you know what I'm talking about. The swimmer takes flight in the race and becomes someone you've never seen before. They are a faster and stronger version of themselves. When they touch the wall, their head whips around to the scoreboard. Then comes that big grin and pure, childlike joy. When you're a coach, you know that you helped someone do that. You have less control over the outcome than the swimmer, and strangely that makes it better. At least, in my opinion it does. 

So I guess that's why this time of year feels like being a little kid waiting for Christmas. You know something good is coming, but the waiting feels like an eternity. You can't wait to rip off that wrapping. I'm just one week away from our women's championship and two from the men's. It's pretty hard to think about anything  else: coaching swimming is a hell of a drug. 


  1. So very true. I get much more excited watching my swimmers at champ then I ever did swimming. The only down side is I loved taper as a swimmer and hate it as a coach. Championship meets are the pay off for all the sleepless nights thinking about splits.

  2. I have to agree 100%! This is my first year coaching at a upper level championship meet and I can't wait for it! The difference from the buzz "in the water" during this time of the year to the buzz "on deck" is huge!

    I can honestly say that I'm more so pumped for coaching at a conference meet than I ever was when swimming in one!

  3. so is the result of living vicariously thru others...

  4. Nice, I coach triathletes so slightly different, but I understand that dopamine fix when I see a triathlete improve their stroke and look like a new swimmer in the water...