Coaching: The Intangibles by Bill Sweetenham (1999)


Coaching is convincing the willing and unwilling to accept the unwanted and to achieve the unattainable and unknown.


Coaching is living, feeling and smelling success. Coaching is achieving great joy and satisfaction in working with young people, having each individual reach their individual potential and capitalize on it. You do not have to have a champion swimmer to be a champion coach, but chances are if you coach like a champion, the results will reflect this commitment and enthusiasm.


Coaching is challenging the unknown coaching is a continual quest for knowledge. It is about touching the intangible. Coaching is learning. It is about convincing young people to accomplish tasks and goals that without your influence, they would otherwise consider impossible or unachievable. Coaching is running where others walk.


Coaching is not so much about what is achieved by the super-talents in your care, but more about what is achieved by the least talented. Coaching is promoting personal pride in performance as paramount to all else. Ask yourself how many senior athletes have you coached to their full maximum potential without rationalization of any type? How many have you coached at senior level to perform above their talent levels?


This is a coach’s job and it must be done without any rationalization of why it could not be achieved — know no boundaries! Coaching is about giving totally and not entertaining compromise. It is about converting involvement into commitment.


Coaching is converting a “group” of swimmers, parents and officials into a “team”. There is a huge difference. It is developing individual excellence and team success. When an athlete wins when they should have achieved a lesser result, both you (the coach) and the athlete recognize that you made the difference.


Coaching is having the swimmer(s) perform consistently at training and competitions to your standards, not necessarily what the athlete is willing to give at any given time. It is knowing when to “go” and when to “stop”.


Coaching is expecting and demanding the impossible, along with motivating the athlete in order to achieve the possible. It is having the athletes able to perform their best in all conditions.

Coaching is having great empathy for young people who attend the program willingly and continually put their talent and commitment on the line and scoreboard for all to see, and to perform beyond their limits. How many business people are prepared to display their business dealings on a scoreboard for all to see and give opinions or ratings on?


Young athletes do this, knowing that everyone thinks they are a sports expert. As a Swimming coach, we get to work with the best young people in the world. Unlike school, they attend because they want to, not because they have to. We sell dreams and assist in turning dreams into reality.


Are the athletes willing to do the right thing when they don’t have to? Have you sold commitment, enthusiasm and excellence to them as normal facets of their lives? Have you converted participation into commitment? Do you coach and/or train athletes? Do you know the difference? A few questions for the coach to ponder on.


Coaching is communication, building confidence and providing leadership for athletes, other coaches, parents and officials. We are ultimately held accountable. With that goes a responsibility for developing your skills and knowledge in all areas to enable you to be successful in communicating this to the athletes. Coaching is managing all facets of the program (both creative and scientific) and selling commitment to parents and swimmers.


Coaching is thinking laterally! How many coaches have Learn to Swim brochures on offer in local doctors’ rooms introducing new parents, asthma sufferers and the injured to the benefits of learning to swim and swimming as a therapy? How many associations and coaches ask the referees at swim meets to talent spot the see all swimmers and have an eye for talent?  Coaches and parents only watch their own.


As a coach, you must be and be seen to be fair, consistent, flexible, open-minded, ready to listen, prepared to delegate authority and have patience, i.e. to coach the total person. Coaching is developing male and female athletes both at age group and senior club level through to international ambitions and talent across all events. Coaching is producing coach independent senior athletes as an end result.


Coaching is eliminating weaknesses and negatives. Ask why will these swimmers go faster this year than they did last year? Why will swimmers want to join this program? The answer is giving total commitment. Part-time commitment always concludes in part time results. Will you be a better coach tomorrow because of what you did or did  not do today?


Coaching is making eye contact with every athlete in every workout! Coaching is spending 10-15 minutes one-on-one with a different athlete before and after every workout. Formula 1 cars do not come off an assembly line. Coaching is being able to “read” athletes and people in general. A coach must handle individual and team success and failure with the same conclusion do it better next time and not dwell on past performances, good or bad. Do not see success as the end of progress.  Go beyond!


Coaching is maximizing individual and team potential. Why be normal when you can be anything you like? Success is a choice and more importantly, it is your choice. Dream, say, and do the same thing to enjoy happiness. Ask yourself what attributes do the great coaches have that you do not, and then set about developing them. Ask yourself what attributes do you have that the great coaches do not have, and use these as your strengths. Eliminate weakness-be invincible. An athlete and coach will enjoy success due to their strengths and be defeated due to their weaknesses.


I strongly recommend never coaching tired this is a big negative. Every coaching decision I have ever made that I now feel I would either like to change or deliver differently was due to being tired.


It is said that the most aware and alive person in the world is the person due to be executed within the hour. Whilst I have no desire to be executed to find out if this is indeed true, the greatest feelings of being truly alive have happened to me about 9 12 times in my life.


This has usually come about when I have enjoyed a time just prior to a major event when both the athlete and I have had a perfect performance preparation, where there has been total commitment from both us and a feeling that something special lies only minutes away and nothing can prevent it. From many years of experience, I have enjoyed the sweet feeling of success. However, I must say that no matter what monetary gain success brings, the best times have come from those rare moments when the successful athlete comes to you and thanks your for all you have done in contributing to their success.


This is coaching! This is being truly alive! Coaching is expecting to succeed rather than hoping it happens. Success is the difference between expectation and hope. Is coaching an art constrained by scientific principles? Coaching is the greatest profession in the world, and great coaches have a real touch of genius.





This is why I am a swim coach


God created Donkey and then told him:

“You will work tirelessly from sun up to sun down carrying heavy bags on your back.

You will eat grass.

You won’t have intelligence and you will live 50 years. You will be Donkey.”


Donkey said, “Okay but 50 years is too much, 20 will do. “ So God said, “Okay 20 years.”


Then God created Dog.

“You will look after the house, be man’s best friend, eat whatever they give you and live 25 years.

You will be Dog.”


So Dog said, “Okay but 25 years is too much, give me 10.” God said, “Fine.”


God created Monkey.

“You will jump from branch to branch. You will do silly things.

You will be amusing and live 20 years. You will be Monkey”


The Monkey answered, “God, giving me 20 years is too much, give me only 10.”

God agreed.


Finally, God created Man.

“You will be Man, the only rational being on earth. You will use your intelligence to control other animals.

You will dominate the world and you will live 20 years. You will be Man.”


Man said, “God, I’ll be Man but living 20 years is not enough.

Why don’t you give me the 30 donkey refused,

the 15 from Dog, and the 10 Monkey didn’t want.” So God said, “Okay, so be it.”

Since then, Man lived 20 years like Man, then he got married and spent 30 years like a donkey working and carrying loads on his back. When his children left, he spent 15 years living like a dog, looking after the house and eating whatever was given to him. Then, old and retired, he spent the last 10 like a Monkey, jumping from house to house or from children to children, doing silly things to amuse the grandchildren.



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