Dressing for Coaching Success


Laura A. Cox, Ph.D.
Age Group Coach, Alamo Area Aquatics Association Northside
Associate Scientist, Southwest Foundation for Biomedical Research
San Antonio, TX

I had the honor and pleasure of sitting down to lunch with Coaches Peter Daland, George Block and Ingrid Daland during the ASCA convention. We wandered through various swimming topics and landed upon the topic of coaches’ dress at the ASCA awards banquet the previous evening. Coach Peter Daland commented on the number of coaches receiving awards who stood on the podium wearing shorts and flip-flops. He was quite disappointed by the number of young coaches who did not understand the importance of wearing attire appropriate to the occasion. Many of you know that Coach Daland is approaching his 90th birthday and in spite of his incredibly successful coaching career you may be thinking that he’s from a different era when society had different values regarding attire.

However, our conversation reminded me of an experiment we conducted at AAAA Northside a few years ago. During a weekly coaches meeting, one of our age group coaches, Salomon Soza, stated that what a coach wore while coaching influenced the interactions of swimmers and parents with the coach and thus influenced the effectiveness of the coach.

Salomon is a graphic designer in real life and we thought he was confusing the world of advertising with swimming. Age group coaches always wear t-shirts on deck and the idea that changing from a t-shirt to a collared shirt would change the on-deck dynamic was crazy. Well, that was the stance by all coaches except Salomon, myself included. After much lively discussion with Salomon refusing to back down, we agreed to run the experiment, i.e. does a coach’s attire influence swimmer and parent interactions with the coach?

Of course everyone but Salomon thought it would make no difference, but all 8 age group coaches agreed to run practices for one week wearing collarless AAAA team t-shirts and one week wearing collared, team logo embroidered AAAA shirts. This was mid-season so the 2 weeks were very similar regarding parent and swimmer relationships with the coach;there were no special events such as fund raisers or championship meets during either of the weeks. In addition, only the age group coaches knew the experiment was being conducted.

Well, as most of us thought, coaches’ attire had little if any influence on swimmer-coach interactions. Swimmers don’t care what their coaches wear as long as the coaches are on deck coaching them.

It was a totally different story with the parents. When coaches wore t-shirts, parents interacted with coaches as if they were high schools kids hanging around on deck;parents tried to talk to the coach and their child during practice and frequently interrupted coaches when the coach was replying to parent questions after practice. In contrast, when coaches wore collared shirts, parents addressed them with respect;parents did not try to interrupt practice and did not interrupt coaches during discussions. The difference was dramatic.

You may ask “why do I care how parents interact with me during and after practices? It’s the swimmers I care about.” Well, think about swimmer-parent conversations during the drive home after swim practice. Does the parent say positive, respectful things about the swimmer’s coach? Or does the parent make comments about the coach, either stating or implying, that the parent does not respect the coach? Now think about the next practice session with that swimmer. Which of those parent-swimmer conversations is going to help you build the swimmer-coach bond? My guess is that if we extended the timeline of the experiment we would have seen a shift in coach-swimmer interactions for some children.

It’s a simple fact that most people will judge you by your “cover.” Do you want adults to treat you like a high school kid who hangs around the pool or do you want them to treat you like a professional coach? The results from our little experiment indicate that if you want parents of your swimmers to treat you with respect then you need to dress the part on the pool deck, at the parent board meetings and when you’re out in your community. When you’re out in public wearing your team logo you are representing yourself AND your team AND your sport. If you don’t believe our experimental results, please try it with your own swim club.

Hopefully by this point in the article a word is sticking in your mind… Respect.

The flip side of this story is that how you dress demonstrates your respect for others. You respect your swimmers and their parents by being professional and how you dress conveys your professionalism. And you show respect for yourself, your club and your colleagues by dressing appropriately for an occasion. So next time you attend a swimming hall of fame ceremony make Coach Daland proud that you are his colleague by showing some respect.

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