1971 WORLD CLINIC, COMMUNICATION GAP by Mike Troy, Coronado, California


I stumbled on this topic by accident, I do know that a communication gap existed between me and my swimmers, It does still exist with some of my swimmers, I think it’s an individual problem.

The communication gap was first forced to my attention at a nationals where I had a girl who had been swimming with me for six years. Before her race I went up to talk with her, to give her some motivation, Yet I found that I could not communicate with her. I could say to her, go, and a few other things, but really I felt that I could not get across to her in any way whatsoever. Yet, with other people, I had a tremendous rapport, I started to think what is wrong? Why can’t I talk, and motivate this girl?

I found that my total communication with this girl revolved around whether it was four hours of workouts this day or two hours a day. It revolved around the same thing, You’re late, Start your warm-up. Comments between repeats. When the workout was over – don’t forget to put away the boards and the tubes, I wouldn’t see her until the next workout,

Thinking about this, I found that with some swimmers I communicated very well. They would come to you before or after workouts. Call you on the phone or I would call them or stop by their house. As a result I had tremendous rapport with them, I felt I knew them better, I knew what they were doing in workouts, I knew about their good and bad days, Yet, with others, I had little tolerance for them, I felt they lacked interest. I didn’t know them, And they didn’t know me either.

First of all I think there, should be a communication or a talk session, Actually, it should not be a lecture, When I started coaching, I thought I was going to spend an hour and a half with each child, When you’ve got 50 or a 100 swimmers, multiply this by 1 1/2 hours, and figure it out if you can get one in before and one after a workout. Extend your workouts to three hours,

Pretty soon these talks are best done before or after workouts. Some time, if possible, go to the swimmer’s home. If they’re doing weight training at home – observe them doing it. Watch them do their stretching exercises and then start from
there, It’s also a good chance to get a rapport with the parents especially if you don’t allow them on the pool deck, and you don’t want to see them otherwise.

I think you should allow enough time, 30 minutes initially, another good idea is to give them a bit of an advance notice, This will allow them a chance to collect their thoughts over the years they probably accumulated a great deal of things they want to say to you – good or bad,

To help them communicate, tell them that you’d like to spend some time with them, and that why don’t they get some things together and we’ll talk about it,

Once they talk to you and open up, they get all excited, especially about their goals and things they’re doing, They feel they have a great communication with the coach. And, if possible, talk to them in person as against over the phone. Sometimes, over the phone, you’re just talking to the cord, and you may not be communicating at all with the person. Once you have the rapport established, it may be a bit easier to pick it up by phone,

I do feel that there is a gap, Mainly because the youngsters today are just constantly hearing the story about the generation gap and everything else, So at the time when I couldn’t communicate with this girl, perhaps she looked upon me as a biology teacher that she saw two hours each day for a class. She might even enjoy being with me, but knew me no better than she knew the instructor that just gave her a grade.

I really felt badly about it and tried to seek a way to remedy this feeling and to get a better rapport with the child.
There is a communication gap obviously between you find it impossible to fit it in.

I found that a great deal of the time was spent with someone with whom I had never communicated before, outside of just talking to them during workouts, So, initially, I had to spend a great deal of time with each child, I feel that these talks should be done in private, rather than in a group, Although, group talks are very good, for parents and children. Also between peers. A lot of times some of the kids are in the IN group on your team, or this circle for training. And if you’re not in that group, nobody will talk to you, So there’s a lot of potential conflict,

Why the private sessions? I felt that it enabled me to know my swimmers and them to know me, I thought they knew me and I really and truly believed that I knew each of them because I saw them two to four hours a day. The private sessions give them an opportunity to get things off of their chest, things they would never say in a group.

In private session, things come out that would never come up in a group discussion. For example if there is conflict with another child, or an inability to workout at the same time with some other individual.

These talks can alert a coach to his own short comings. I was getting feedback like-you said we were going to do this last year, but we didn’t. And then you remember you forgot about that. You get it back, that three-four things I told them we’d do, we never did, and this led to a credibility gap between them and me, I could have been guilty of this for over three years and only after the sessions that it all somehow came out.

Swimmers have lots of why and how type questions lot of times they start a question ten seconds before the next send off and in no way can you answer them. I usually get angry, telling them to ask the question at the end of the workout – after workout – its lock the pool and go home- and the why’s never get answered.

The sessions give you an opportunity to explain everything you do in workout, Not that you have to explain it all, but I believe certain things should be said,

I absolutely cannot stand pushing off the bottom in turns, or doing one arm turns. If you just say you don’t want them doing it any more, they usually retort “what’s the difference?” In a private session I can explain to him that in a race when he’s tired, and he’s swimming 100%, corning into the turn tired, he’s got to execute the turn tired, If you aren’t used to hustling the turn when you’re tired, it becomes a rest period and then you’ll blow the turn, By explaining it, it really made sense to the swimmer. I had a chance to answer the “why.”

By having the individual talk you really get a chance to open up the quiet kids, who you never hear anything from, I find that these types were more highly motivated than I anticipated, By looking at them, I thought they just don’t care, maybe their parents make them swim, I found that many of the swimmers had absolutely no goals, others had unrealistic goals,

I usually don’t want their goals at our first discussion but ask them to come back in about three weeks, think about them, I might even give them an idea what I think they can do, This will allow them a chance to come up with realistic goals, something that will allow for success. If they never have any success patterns and it’s always failure after failure, that’s not very rewarding either.

The best part of the session is that it made the goals vocal. “I am going to do this!” You know about it. You have written it down on your little card you keep on the swimmers. They’re committed. You can always ask “Do you really think you’re training for a 2:01 – 200 I.M.?” during repeats, reminding them of their goal.

If you can bring it back to them and show it to them and say “You said this: then you’re apt to recall it and get a little bit closer to the line of sight they had set initially, I think it eliminates any thoughts “that the coach does not care about me.”

The child who is quiet and you eventually talk to may have his only communication with an adult, Maybe the parents and teacher do not communicate to him, and you may be their only link with anybody who is trying to motivate them. If you cannot communicate it’s going to be pretty hard to direct him into some fantastic goal that you’ve set for him.

Recently I met a fellow that I used to swim with under Doc, at Indiana. I asked him if he remembered when we were training, how every lap we swam, every turn you executed, you felt that Doc was watching you the whole time – whether there was 30 or 40 people in the pool, You really had that in the back of your mind, Well, I honestly felt that way. Now that I’m coaching I know that there’s no way for that, You just watch one person, Anyway when I asked him if
he felt Doc’s gaze, he replied, “No, I never felt that,” and it really shocked me, I felt it and I assumed everyone did.

This just reinforced my own conviction that there are people that maybe feel the coach doesn’t care as much about them as he does for someone else.

Some surprising things have happened recently in my sessions. This one kid announced he wanted to work harder. “I’d like to train for the 1500,” I never expected anything like this, I was impressed. I have asked to rate themselves a loafer, hard worker, highly motivated, talented, etc. The answers I get are amazing, But at this point I don’t know how useful it is, I asked them who they respected most on the team and it was usually a hard worker – not necessarily the most talented or most successful swimmer.

The sessions have given me the opportunity to discuss attitudes before they swam, rather than afterwards. It’s a lot better than trying to rationalize it after the race is over. Initially I thought the communication break through was very difficult for some of them. For example, after a very poor competitive summer, to the question, How was your summer? They might
answer that “It was great.” They must have had a good time because their swimming was really miserable. After a few more questions of a general nature. “How’s everything going? Are your parents bugging you? How’s school?” The relationship is established as pretty buddy – buddy. They obviously can’t admit that they just “blew it.” I think there are certain levels at which it is good to ‘be buddy – buddy, and other levels where you should remain to be an aloof coach.

On this level you must get through to them. Ask them where they’re going, what they like about workouts, what don’t they like about workouts or the coach, etc. A lot of them have come out and said, “You know I really like you to push me, even though I scream and complain, but that’s what I really want.” So I feel a little better about pushing them as that’s what they really want. Once you have established rapport, the kids will come up themselves to talk to you when they have some problem, rather than having to figure out what is wrong.

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