Beyond the Pool: What High School Coaches Need to Know by Arvel McElroy, Blue Valley Southwest High School (2014)


Well, good afternoon. I guess we will go ahead and get started. My topic this afternoon is to talk about Beyond the Pool: what high school coaches need to know. Hopefully you will find some things that if you are an experienced coach might jog your memory a little bit about some things; if you are a new coach some of the things that you might find that might blindside you if you are not used to working in a high school situation; if you are a club coach, some of the things that will be different than working in a high school. I just want to kind of cover some of those things this afternoon; things I learned over 36 years of coaching. And I am always finding out there is something more to the list.

Helpful things:
• The first thing I think that helps is to be organized. And it will save you many headaches if you organize by planning ahead. You can never be too organized, as far as being a coach is concerned.
• Anticipate the challenges that you might have. That might be athletes, that might be particular parents, that might be facilities. It might be a challenge of not working in the building where you coach.
• Be certain of your responsibilities. What are the expectations that are placed upon you? Beware of the administration’s expectations.
• And pay attention to details. Because sometimes it is the details that catch us.

So in order to make sure that your tasks are not… that you do not overlook things, you can divide them into categories. You might divide them into things that have to do with the school, things that have to do with the swimmer, things that have to do with the parents. Or you might divide them into paperwork, you know schedules, guidelines—those kinds of things. Or you might divide them into pre-season, in-season and post-season. For today’s purposes, we are going to talk a little bit about the categories of: pre-season, in-season and post-season.

At the school-, at the district-level, you need to figure out the meet schedule. Now, that was something new to me 25 years-ago when I changed districts; prior to that the athletic director took care of making the meet schedule. And we had a district schedule from the conference, that there was a dual meet conference schedule and that is how the conference championships were determined and so that part of the schedule is completed for me. I moved to a new school district and all of a sudden I knew no one, and no contact information for anyone in the area as far as coaches were concerned, and all of a sudden it was my responsibility to create the schedule. So you may have to do the meet schedule. So you need to figure out if it is the coach or the athletic director or the combination of the two that has to deal with that. It might mean that you want to do an overnight meet, but you have to okay that with your school district and see what happens there.

Transportation forms. This is where I get caught every year: I always forget to fill out the transportation forms. Whether we are going to use vans for the school, which is easy; it is the buses that catch you. And invariably you plan the bus schedule, and then the bus company changes the schedule because they want you to get out another hour earlier so that you do not conflict with an elementary school bus schedule that comes-in after school. So you are pulling kids out of class for more than you really want to, as far as that is concerned. When I first started coaching, we used passenger cars for some of the out-of-town meets and some of the parents drove the kids. So it just depends on where you are and what expectations there are. But you have to have forms to fill out with that.

Schedule transportation. You might have to call the bus company. Chances are you fill out a form and the administrative assistant for the athletic director takes care of that. But that is something that you may not be aware of. When I coached club in the summer, I said the meet is at this pool, we are going to swim at this time, and the parents got the kids there.

In our district they have a policy that if it is a home meet or an in-district meet, if it is a Saturday, they just show up at the meet. They do not have… they can transport themselves; they do not have to ride school-provided transportation. But that varies from district to district. That is something to find out.

Academically eligible. Are your athletes academically eligible? We have guidelines from our state association that says they must pass 5-out-of-6 or 5-out-of-7 classes from the previous semester in order to be academically eligible to compete.

They must have a physical on file. And that is something that the schools are sticklers about, because of liability insurance.

If you have an outdoor pool, there may be weather restrictions. There might be weather restrictions for an indoor pool. We had a state championship, it has been three years ago—3 or 4 years ago now—that was interrupted because there was lightning outside, even though it was an indoor pool. They have guidelines that have to do with that, and they postponed the meet. We got to postpone the state meet between the 100 Fly and the 100 Free for an hour-and-a-half because there was a tornado warning and a tornado within two blocks of the pool. So it took a long time for the state championship that year.

So there may be those kinds of restrictions, that even have to do with practice. That came up as an issue in my previous district, and I said, “I have no idea. There are no windows in the pool area, so if it’s lightning outside, I wouldn’t know if it was lightning or not. Unless I heard the thunder on some extreme case.” Because we do not have windows to look outside to see if it’s lightning. So that is something to check with in particular states or particular districts.

They have a substance abuse policy, and it is subject to change. Our substance abuse policy changed this year in my district, that now once the athlete and the parent signs the form, it is in-effect for the entire school year—not just during the season. So if an athlete decides if they want to go out and party on a weekend in October but they do not start their season until November, they are still subject to up-to half the season suspension from competition.

Fundraising forms have to be filed, if you do fundraising. The districts have to approve those.

You might have to schedule the pool. In my district, I have to schedule the pool, even though it is in my high school. Because they do rent them out to clubs in the evening, and they need to know when we are swimming and when we are not swimming.

You have to schedule things for like team pictures. You have to schedule things for team dinners, banquets and so forth. And you sometimes have to use school forms to fill that out, or you can go to the administrative secretary and they sometimes can schedule those things.

Communication with the local club coaches. Helps in those athletes that you are going to be sharing with them, as far as training is concerned. Do that during the pre-season, rather than once the season starts. That way, they know what to expect, you know what to expect; when you all have the athletes, etcetera.

If you are going to do pre-season paperwork, you may do a team handbook. Put things in writing is my philosophy. That way it is not questioned as to how someone hears it or interprets it. And if you have swimmers that have attention issues or processing issues, sometimes what they hear and what you are saying are two different things. So if you have it in writing, that is the best policy. You can talk about: your coaching philosophy, your team rules, your expectations. Your try-out criteria; if you have a cut policy. Your lettering policy—that is a big stickler with the parents. Put it in writing so there is no question at the end of the season if they have earned a junior varsity letter or a varsity letter or whatever awards that your school gives out.

Put in your attendance policy. If you have an attendance policy for practice—I highly suggest it—put it in writing so that there are no question: what is an excused absence, what is an unexcused absence, what are the consequences for unexcused absences. It helps to put out the practice and meet schedules, so that families that plan trips. We split the Winter holiday, and so they need to know what days we are practicing over the practice breaks. And Spring Break in the Spring for girls: they need to know when we are practicing, when we are not practicing. So it is everything from orthodontic appointments to dermatology appointments to violin lessons and so forth, that you may want to have that out so that there is no question as to when things occur.

This last year, after 36 years, I finally decided I needed to write guidelines for the Booster Club. Some of the parents seem to think that the coach’s office during swim meets is their place to store all of their equipment, to run in and out of the coach’s office with things. And their expectations of what they think the coach should be doing, and what the manager should be doing, are totally different. So we are writing a handbook for their responsibilities and their guidelines as well.

Equipment—and so forth. If you are a club coach coming into a high-school situation, you probably are used to having the athletes purchase their own equipment. Does not usually happen in a high school situation.

You have to learn how to run the meet and entry software. When I coached club, I had a parent that did all of the entries for the swim team. My first school district that I coached in, there was no technology: we used handheld watches. Now this was 36 years ago. I moved to a new district and all of a sudden, I was hosting an invitational and hand-seeding everything, filling out all the entry cards, typing up the program. So it was imperative that when we got meet software that I learned how to use it so that it made my life a lot easier.

At the beginning of each season I always check the stop watches and buy new batteries for the stop watches. I purchased two here this week that I am excited about because they are rechargeable: you can plug them into your car outlet or a USB outlet and recharge the batteries. Forever taking… or I have a wonderful wife who takes the stop watches to a watch repair shop that we go to and they replace all the batteries, so that they will last the entire year.

Inventory your equipment, both before the season and after the season. You do not really know, unless you have the only set of keys to your inventory cage, who might have been in there during the summer or whatever and what inventory… what is in good repair, what needs to be replaced. Order the new equipment, uniforms as needed; so that they arrive in-time for use before the season.

Update or create a team web page. If you have a school like mine, they expect a team website page. They want you to have it updated with the new schedule and so forth when the school year starts.

Other pre-season tasks would be to…

Secure your coaching staff, if you are not fortunate enough to have the same staff year-after-year.

Provide any training to your staff that you would like to have.

Schedule the officials for your home meets. In my district, and the previous district that I was in, I have to schedule my own officials—unlike football, where the football coach, there set of officials are scheduled by the conference. So you might need to update them on rule changes, if they have not gone through the new changes with rules. For instance, there is a new backstroke rule this year, so that is something that they may need to know.

Meet with leaders of the team and talk to them about leadership training. Or work with them about leadership training. Just because they are senior, does not mean they are a good leader. It does not mean: if they have been on the team for four years, that that is who you want leading your team. So you need to meet with those team leaders. The ones that are the… there are verbal leaders and then there are those that lead by example; and they may not be the same ones. So you teach them how to be an effective leader.

Select your team managers and provide what training they might need as far as timing, equipment and so forth. I am fortunate that some of my managers run the Meet Manager program during our swim meet, so I teach them how to use that. So if we do not have an adult show up, there is somebody that can fill in.

Other pre-season task is: order your National Federation rule book early. Read it. Become familiar with the regulations that are present in your state, as well as the rule book. The Federation rule book does not say how many meets you can have during the season, but the Activities Association does dictate that. How do you do your State meet entries? What are the qualifications for the State meet and so forth, because it is different with every state. Those are the things that you need to know; know the rules.

Meeting with the athletes and the parents. My pre-season meeting is going to occur Tuesday night when I get back. We are going to be talking about the team handbook; we will be talking about attendance and sportsmanship; and the coach’s responsibility to control crowds and parents and so forth. Talking about academics and what is expected with academics. The lettering policy. Meet schedules. Ways that parents can help; I usually to turn that part over to the Booster Club and let them talk about what they will cover, what they will do. And whatever forms need to be filled out, hand those forms out and give them a deadline as to when they need to turn those back in.

Filling out a season plan. Something that probably most coaches have already done.

(This is one where you talk about) You have to schedule the weight room, possibly. Because in our schedule if we are doing a pre-season weight program, I am going to have to work around the wrestlers who are also doing that, the basketball team that is also a winter sport and working on that. Or just maintaining the possibility of doing those kinds of things, by conversing with other coaches in the building that have those facilities and use those facilities.

And then planning any of your team building, any of your physiological training, and so forth.

During the season

If your policy says something about attendance, then you need to make sure that somebody is taking daily attendance.

Make sure that… the big one with parents and a big one with swimmers is: announcements. With meet results and team accomplishments, after every meet. And so it is contacting the appropriate person that is in charge of announcements for your school. That might be an administrative assistant, it might be the receptionist—it just depends. And you can e-mail them or you can call them.

Meet entries: when they need to be done, where they need to be. Nothing is more frustrating than hosting an invitational swim meet and having the entries be due at eleven o’clock on Thursday morning, when the meet starts at Saturday morning at nine o’clock, and have a coach not turn in their entries until six o’clock on Friday evening. And then they do not understand that you have still got to go run the program off and do all the other things that they go with hosting a meet. And oftentimes there will be teams that come to your invitational that never host a meet because they do not have a pool to use for hosting meets; and they are usually the ones that are the worst offenders.

You got to find out: meet information to parents; as far as: when you are going, where you are going, what time you will be back. You have to prepare the heat sheets for the home meets, for other coaches, and team reports. Sometimes they want you to post a psych sheet.

Team rosters: once you have determined those, they have to be filed to the athletic director—they have to send them onto the state association.

Order forms. For anything, equipment.

Records. Dealing with meet results, school records and so forth. You need to keep those up to date. If you do not order them yesterday, then you have a booster-club parent asking why not. I got an e-mail the 1st of August about Have the records been updated from last year? and Where are we on the new record board? Record board was in, had not been delivered yet; told them we were not going to order the records until the record board was delivered, so we knew that they fit. So you are dealing with those kinds of things.

If you want the meets that you host to be USA [Swimming] sanctioned, you need to talk with someone about that and see that those meets are sanctioned. So that those times that are… like with our State meet and our conference meet are sanctioned meets, so that they can use those times for USA meets.

Other tasks include: Confirming the transportation schedule. Keep a copy of it, because you may not remember when it is that you scheduled the buses.

Communicate daily with your staff, so that they are on the same page that you are. Communicate with your managers, so they know what their responsibilities are.

Setting-up pool equipment to host meets. Every district is a little different. In my district, it is my responsibility to carry the tables, the chairs. Put all the chairs and tables up on the deck. Put out the timing system, hook up the timing system, test the timing system. And so forth, before the meet starts.

Confirm the schedule for officials.

You have to maintain that equipment.

Communication with the parent booster club.

Train officials to run the timing system. If you have to train, extra-duty-paid teachers or parents. If you find a parent that you can train them to run the system for the year, that really helps. It is really good if you can get a freshman parent to do it, because they are going to be around for four years—or at least you hope they will be. Better yet, if they have younger brothers and sisters that are also going to be swimming for you.

In-season communication: make sure that you continue to communicate with the diving coach and the divers. If you have never dealt with diving before, sometimes there seems to be a disconnect between the divers and the swimmers. The divers always feel that they are being left out; the divers always feel like that they are the ugly stepchild of the program; or they try to cause a rift between swimmers and divers. Part of it is because you are down at the shallow end of the pool, you are getting ready to get in, you are communicating with the swimmers; and the divers who are at the other end of the building, or the other end of the room, and they are training with their diving coach. But the issue is that you need to make sure that they feel a part of the team and make them understand that they are a part of the team, and that we are not going to do a we versus they situation. I require them to have the same suit, for instance. They are not a separate team, they are 1 event of the 12, and they need to feel a part of the team.

Booster club, again. I put this in several times because you cannot have too-good of communication with your booster club.

Keep your athletic director and his administrative assistant informed about what is happening in your program.

This is a tip that I have learned and I have observed coaches who do not follow this: develop a good relationship and keep good lines of communication open with the other coaches in the building. You do share facilities from time to time. And sponsors in your school: the band director, the choir director, the orchestra director; because your swimmers may be involved in more than one activity. They may have a concert at seven o’clock at night on a school night; and the band director is telling the band members that they need to be there at four o’clock for the seven o’clock concert, and that is right in the middle of your swim practice. Any of that… the play; State music festival that might fall on a swim meet day. I mean, we have had every gambit you can imagine.

So try and keep communication open; very difficult if you are not in the building. I am actually subbing in the building for the full year this year, where I coach, for the first time. And since I have been retired and came out to do that. I have gotten to know the band director, and so we have a very good relationship as far as moving back-and-forth with communications.

But be flexible: you do not want to put the child in the middle, your student in the middle, of a power-struggle between a band director or a choir director or a play director, and you.

I feel it is part of the coach’s responsibility to be part of the college recruitment process. And I have had kids come to me, and I have been successful in doing this, is having the kids… talking with them and saying okay what’s appropriate for you, as far as programs are concerned. And one way to know that is to look online at teams that you might be… for schools that you might be interested in attending.

I tell them: Now, online you should be able to find meet results from their current swim meets. And if your times fit in with them, you might be a good match. Also look at the roster; see how many freshmen, sophomores, juniors they have versus seniors. Who might they have within the… because some of them tell you what they primarily swim, so you can kind of see where you fit. And then you can find the e-mail address of the coach; I willingly e-mail coaches for my athletes that are interested in pursuing a program.

I also think coaches need to be knowledgeable about the Clearing House and the NCAA rules and regulations; and what is the difference between Division I, Division II, Division III; who offers money, etcetera. It just happens that the national federation has a free online course, now, that deals with this very topic. And so you can go… it is very good; you can go through and know those regulations. Especially for those of you that have not had a lot of kids that get recruited by the elite swim programs of the county.

Make the administrative assistants and custodians your friends—cannot say this enough. Treat them as equals; it pays off. Our janitors come to me and say: What can we do to help you with your meet? I have been in buildings and worked with coaches that treat the athletic director’s administrative assistant, or secretary, as if she is an inferior. And she has never been real-willing to help them with things that they need, and I can understand why. I treat them as equals—you call them by their first name, you get to know them, you find out about them, whether you know they have kids and so forth—and they will do practically anything for you. That is probably one of the biggest tips that I tell coaches.

Establish good communication with a person in charge of student recognition and student announcements. In my case that is someone different than the administrative assistant. I go-in, she says, Hello, Coach—or she calls me Arvel. And I will say: I want to put this announcement on. Sure. And she will type it up for me, even if I just tell her what I want, or I can just e-mail it to her.

But things get down when you know… if you know the staff and you know them by their name. I have to deal with the registrar, when we do grade checks and so forth; so I get to know her as well. Basically, anyone in the office. You might, at some time, need to know the school nurse as well.

Tips for hosting a high school meet—just real quickly. If you have never hosted one, learn how to set up the timing system. And if they switch it on you, then you need to learn earlier than the day of the meet. Test the system before the first meet, sometime. We have two weeks from when we start to when we have our first meet, so sometime within those two weeks, I want to test the timing system. Now invariably: you test it, everything will fine, you will have it all set up, everything will work fine; start the meet and something goes wrong. But at least you kind of have an idea of how to troubleshoot, if that is the case.

I teach the managers and swimmers how to set-up and take-down the equipment. I put my seniors in charge of my touchpads. This is how you unplug the touchpad. Do not pull it by the cord; take hold of the plug and take it out of the system. And then I put like sophomores and freshmen in charge of like chairs and so forth. So that when we got to set up a meet, we get them out about half an hour early, they can set up the meet fairly quickly. That is the example that we do.

Train your managers on how to run the meet software in case they need to fill in.

Allow plenty of time for the meet set-up. If you have a meet at four o’clock, invariably you are thinking okay warm-ups are going to be at 3:00. You will have a team show up at 2:30. And there are regulations that a lot of schools have about: keep them in the pool area, they can’t go to the locker rooms because school’s still in session and those locker rooms are being used by PE. So please keep them in the pool area until 2:45 or whatever. Those kinds of things.

You can arrange for cheerleaders or National Honor Society members… I hate to use parents as timers, but we oftentimes will have to do that. Our district does not pay for teachers, well excuse me: one school in our district does pay to have teachers as extra-duty pay to time for swim meets; most of them do not. So it seems to fall to the coach’s responsibility, unless you can convince your booster club to be responsible for that, to find the 12-18 timers that you need to run your swim meet.


You want to turn-in a list of those who earned their athletic letter to the athletic director, or the athletic director’s secretary—just depending on what your school policy is.

You have to arrange for a banquet room. You may want to prepare a banquet program.

NISCA Power Points is a program that NISCA [the National Interscholastic Swimming Coaches Association] offers that ranks you against other schools in the nation. And the formula does work with the meet softwares of HyTek and Meet Manager type-of-things. So you can do that application. That needs to be done after your season.

The NISCA All-American Swimming and Diving applications must be sent in by a coach in order for an athlete to be recognized. There must be an application on file. So that is a coach’s responsibility to do.

We [NISCA] do offer a Scholar Team application, which is a program where… it is the entire varsity squad, minimum of 12 athletes. And if your team qualifies, there are certificates for them as well. That all has to be filled out by application.

Academic All-American. For seniors with a 3.75 grade point average or higher can qualify for Academic All-American. Just knowing those standards, and knowing that you may have athletes that meet those, is a responsibility of the coach.

And then a summary. My athletic director always asks: Who made All State? If you have all an All Conference, who made All Conference? Who are your All-American swimmers and divers? For the athletic director. They need to know that information; that helps them support your program.

Collect the equipment and the uniforms from the athletes. Check to make sure that it is good in good condition. Keep a written record of the inventory. Make sure that it is stored securely. Determine any needs for repairs, and then you submit that to your athletic director.

I did not mention it earlier: before the season you need to secure, from your athletic director, the amount of your budget. If you have one. Or how big or small it might be, just depending on where you coach.

Evaluations. Chances are you will want to meet with your coaching staff—if you have assistant coaches—and evaluate their performance. Give them suggestions on ways to improve and also ways to gain more knowledge. Maybe it is an encouragement for clinics and so forth.

Assist the swimmers and divers in their recruitment efforts. Again, after the season.

You may want to meet with your athletic director. They have evaluations of you, that you will need to fill out and they will fill out on you.

You might want to look at the schedule. I evaluated my schedule from last year and decided I did not like how we were doing our schedule. We were competing against teams that were much, much larger than we were, that were not going to be our competition at the end of the season. So, we wanted to see more of the teams from the end of the season. We have some that we have established with coaching friends of mine that were going to continue to do, because we enjoy having some challenges with our program as well.

Evaluate the team’s performance. Might help you with changes that you need to make as a coach when you are preparing your season plan.

Personal preparations. You might want to look at professional education during the post-season. Be a student of the sport. What could we do differently? What do you not know enough about that you want to change? Read. Research. Listen to other coaches. Ask questions. Join your professional organizations. That is where you find the education.

Any questions?

[audience member]: One thing I do, I survey the swimmers: What did we do that you like the best? That helped your swimming? What did we do that did not help you? How did you feel about this…?

[McElroy]: So your post-season evaluation includes athlete surveys where they fill-out what they thought was good, what they felt they could use more help with, what maybe did not work so well for them.

Anything else? Yes?

[audience member]: Those people that help you, make sure you tell them thank you. Give them a little recognition.

[McElroy]: Definitely. Tell them thank you: the people that help you with meets, the parents, the booster clubs and so forth,

One thing I did not mention that I should have is to develop a relationship with the local newspaper reporter that reports on the sport of Swimming—if there is any in the past. If not, develop a relationship with a news reporter so there might be or should be or could be communication with the newspaper so they do publish stories about your sport. Publicize your sport as much as you can: announcements at school, the newspapers. We have a parent newsletter that goes home once a week online at the school; putting announcements in that really helps as well. There will be a story in the next NISCA Journal that will address that issue specifically.

Any other comments?

Ok, we are going to do a couple of drawings here. And we are going to do a little NISCA trivia to see who wins.

Who can tell me what year NISCA was founded? (1934)

1934, correct. It is the 81st year of NISCA.

Who’s the current president of NISCA? (Mel)

Mel Roberts. (She is from Utah: she kind of had an in.)

And Mark Onstott—who is speaking later today on goals—what is his responsibility with NISCA at this time? (And no, Mark, you cannot answer.) Anybody have any ideas? It is a big program. It is our biggest, most visible program. Take your guess in it.

He is the All American coordinator.

Thank you for coming. [applause]

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