View Full Version : Capturing Master Swimmers' Hearts

March 17th, 2013, 05:07 PM
Capturing Swimmers’ Hearts or Capturing Master Swimmers' Hearts

Most swimmers don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. Think about it--the people who have had the greatest influence in our lives have been the people who have shown us they genuinely cared about us.
M.B. “Flip” Flippen is the head of the Flippen Group which was designed for “bringing out the best in people.” A group from his organization presented a program to our school district called “Capturing Kids’ Hearts.” The premise of the program is that children can effectively learn more when their teachers “open the doors to their hearts and minds.” The mission of the Flippen Group is to “win their (students) hearts and to lead them to their personal best.”
Flippen’s program introduces the “Social Anxiety Theory,” that shows how an increase in fear and anxiety creates an environment that decreases personal performance. It also states that fear does not have to be true to be real. A coach can be oblivious to the fears and anxieties swimmers may harbor but if they do exist, there are simple things the coach can do to help alleviate them.
The reduction of anxiety levels can be facilitated by a coach simply meeting, greeting, smiling and sharing the day’s stories with their swimmers. Most coaches know colleagues who have the charisma and effective social skills that create an environment that makes swimmers feel comfortable and safe. A coach’s warmth and sincere caring that they show their swimmers may be part of the “X Factor” that Dr. James Councilman alludes to in his book The Science of Swimming; charisma and effective social skills should be something every coach would like to improve and refine.
Many coaches don’t like to spend the time chatting and shooting the breeze with their athletes during practice because it takes away from training time. I don’t think coaches need to cut into practice time for this, but they do need to spend quality time with each swimmer on a regular basis, getting to know all about them—finding out what makes them tick. Remember the Social Anxiety Theory: Performance is negatively affected by anxiety and fear. So, as a coach, I’d expect swimmers to improve in a training environment where social stress is minimized.
A social contract is Flippen’s way of maintaining discipline within the program. A social contract defines an agreement of acceptable / pro-social behavior between coaches and swimmers. This contract is written collaboratively between the coaches and athletes and may include parents and other professionals.
This is the way I develop a social contract with my swimmers: we sit down together, and we talk about the things we need to do to be the best that we can be. I ask them what they expect a good coach should do and write down those behaviors / characteristics. Then we talk about and write down the behaviors / characteristics good swimmers should display in and out of practice. The list grows as we add descriptors of a good coach and a good swimmer. When the list is compete, the swimmers sign the contract and show that they’re buying into or agree to the contract that we’ve created.
The information given throughout the program is useful in varying degrees. One useful piece of information is the statistic on first impressions: A person has only thirty seconds to make a first impression, but it takes approximately twenty additional encounters to undo or change a bad first impression. This information helps me stay on my toes at my first practice and when I meet new swimmers. Coaches need to understand the importance of a great first impression.
The direction you’d take when working to “Capturing Kid’s Hearts” is given with the “EXCEL” model, where E= Engage, X=Explore, C=Communicate, E= Empower, L= Launch.
The program takes a good two days to understand and be able to comfortably apply everything you learn. I will introduce you to EXCEL and then at the end of the article, tell you how to contact the Flippen Group to learn more.
E = Engage - Engaging swimmers begins by greeting them as they first step onto the deck. It starts with a handshake as a positive attempt to draw them into the coach / swimmer relationship. The handshake is a way to give each swimmer undivided attention. The fundamental cues of a greeting begin with eye contact, professional posture, a sincere smile, welcoming tone of voice, professional attire / dress, relaxed but positive energy /attitude.
X = Explore - Exploring begins by asking probing questions and allowing swimmers to share good things that happen to them. These open-ended questions show that you’re genuinely interested in them, it sets a positive tone to your practice and it teaches the importance of a positive attitude / thinking. When you explore you can get caught spending too much time, so you’ll learn to improve the skill with practice. You’ll learn how to give everyone a chance and teach others how to effectively listen. This one particular concept is the one that has had the greatest impact on my coaching.
I ask my swimmers when they walk onto the pool deck if anyone has good news they’d like to share. The kids love to share bits of good news that they experienced during their day or week. If I don’t hear anything, I step right up and tell them some good news that occurred to me. It’s so much fun, that once you get good at it, you’ll never stop starting your practice with “Good News.”
C = Communicate - Communicating is all about effectively getting your message across in a positive way. The program tells you that fifty-five percent of a message is through the use of body language. Thirty-eight percent of a message is through your tone of voice, while only seven percent is communicated by your words.
I know that I’ve always said that good coaches give directions at least three times. I heard it somewhere so I stick by it because it makes sense to me. The things that contribute to mis-communication is when a coach;
Walks around while giving directions
Doesn’t smile or is non-expressive
Uses sarcasm
I did some soul-searching and found that I used sarcasm too much and still catch myself using it. Although I thought it was funny and appreciated by some swimmers, the fact that a few swimmers didn’t appreciate it and some thought it was offensive, made me decide to eliminate it (a difficult task for a funny guy like me).
Let me add to my last statement. I had a couple of swimming coaches who used sarcasm as they coached, and I loved it. I looked forward to their quick-witted humor and enjoyed it. I knew a couple of swimmers on the team who hated the sarcasm. I decided to stop using sarcasm because I didn’t want it to be the reason, even for one swimmer, to not enjoy their swimming experience with me at the helm.
E = Empower - Empowering swimmers takes your program to another level. The ability to empower your swimmers to practice and apply what you teach them helps them become responsible for their future success. I wrote an article about empowering swimmers by teaching them what they need to understand about stroke mechanics so they can help themselves improve.


If you can build an atmosphere of trust where swimmers feel free to fail while learning the concepts of training and stroke mechanics, they will work harder to improve, and they will begin to see themselves as a resource to become a better swimmer.
I heard Doc Councilman speak at a World Clinic, and I remember him saying “I coach swimmers so they can coach themselves.” I thought those were words of wisdom and provided me with yet another brick responsible for helping me build my coaching philosophy.
The creation of empowerment requires a sound baseline training regimen. Professionals may scoff at this because they think it should be a “given” in every swim program, but even the seasoned coach can refine it.
The following article on baseline training is presented but not limited to the novice coach:
A great coach like Doc Councilman taught and encouraged his swimmers to understand stroke mechanics well enough to gain the confidence necessary to improve without him. The goal of empowerment is even more than helping swimmers learn how to coach themselves; the bigger picture is creating a team that effectively becomes self-managing.
L = Launch - Launching is the way you end each of your practices. The launch helps send your swimmers away with something to think about. The launch can inspire swimmers to come back to the next practice with renewed motivation. An expression of passion and excitement via a quote or message from you can help create the thrust a swimmer may need to help them through the week, the day or simply a moment in their life. A launch can be in the form of a story, poem, life experience, anecdote, a picture or other motivational tools to help drive home the points we want our swimmers to remember.
The Capturing Swimmer’s Hearts is a continual and evolving work in progress. You will inevitably find yourself forgetting things and when you catch yourself you’ll work to fix it
As I enter the fifth decade of my coaching career, the process of refining the things that I believe will make me a better coach is not only invigorating but enlightening as well. I hope that improving my relationships with my swimmers helps them become not only better swimmers but better people. I feel in my heart that I’m becoming a better coach and a better person, too. It’s improved my attitude and I think “Attitude is everything.” Good luck my friends!

March 17th, 2013, 06:16 PM
I am not a coach, however, I really enjoyed readying your post. I passed it along to my part-time coach/training partner who coaches a kids swim team and does a fabulous job implementing most of what you posted. Watching him a few times in action brought a smile to my face and warmed my heart. It's too bad he wasn't my high school swim coach! If so, perhaps I wouldn't have felt so insecure...

Thanks for posting! :agree: