Coaching in the 21st Century

Posted on December 15, 2010

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Wired! How to Reach Today’s Youth

As we all know, kids today are wired in, connected 24-7 to phones, instant messaging, texting, video chats, X-box, etc. So, if we coaches are going to be able to stay relevant, we’ve got to learn to communicate on their level.

Swimming has come a long way with all the new technologies to help swimmers and coaches get better at what they do.  After being out of coaching for a number of years and getting back into it just a few years ago, I have noticed a huge change in the way coaches can do business. Most coaches and teams know they need a website (here’s ours), but there’s so much more available now; everything from videoing a quick segment at practice and utilizing Facebook pages to using iPhone apps, technology is changing the game.  Here are a few examples of how today’s technology has improved my coaching.

Specific Swim Coaching Apps

TeamUnify has come out with an app for the iPhone and iPod Touch called OnDeck Mobile Coach that helps the coach run a workout, find a swimmer’s best time, keep track of accounting info, billing, meet results, birthdays, rosters and attendance, on and on and right from your pocket. This is A MUST for all coaches.  And, the company has great support, answering any questions almost immediately.

Other apps available for coaches include Swim Time Converter, extremely useful for the obvious, SwimLink to easily see USA swimming time standards, as well as a variety of running apps for dryland training.

Facebook

Man, Mark Zuckerberg had no idea it would be this big….no way!  Facebook has become absolutely mainstream with personal pages as well as fan pages, with friends, followers, comments, and birthdays!

Swim teams that are technology savvy have a fan page, and it is a great way to have swimming alum from their teams chime in or get reminders of socials, reunions, etc. Our Facebook fans love seeing photos and meet results as well as having the ability to keep in touch with teammates from long ago.

As a coach, I utilize my personal Facebook page to send notices to parents and swimmers. I post reminders about meet information, practice updates, as well as give encouragement to my swimmers. After especially hard practices, I relish seeing what my swimmers are saying about the workouts! (And, as a coach it is always good to keep tabs on your adolescent swimmers!) Of course, my non-swimming Facebook friends never understand why I am telling people to remember to do their 300 sit ups each day!

Note: I always keep my comments on a professional coaching level, friending both parents and athletes. This is a professional must, in order to always maintain a professional coaching relationship at an appropriate level!

Penn Aquatics has a great Facebook fan page that people browse from time to time and they seem to update their status 24/7.  Busy stuff!

Twitter

This is a vital social media tool for my coaching and professional development. There is a whole international network of swimmers, triathletes, coaches, and professional athletes that talk back and forth via Twitter. I enjoy tweeting with Rowdy Gaines (@rowdygaines) and Melvin Stewart (@goldmedalmel) or seeing what Ryan Lochte (@ryanlochte) or Dara Torres (@daratorresswims) are up to.

For swim parents, Twitter is an excellent way to stay in touch with a coach as well as each other at a meet. It acts like a bulletin board of sorts, where parents can get warm up times, hotel info, seating arrangements, etc. right on their phones. Parents may not always be sitting at a computer, but they will always have their phone! And it is much easier for me to tweet the information one time, than make 17 phone calls!

You can follow me at @swimmerjoe. I’d love to tweet with you!

YouTube

As a team, we try to film as much as possible, especially when we’re doing something special. Road trips, special practices, and meets make great videos. And there are so many easy ways to edit the movies and add music and captions, that I can easily upload a neat video quickly. We even have our own youtube channel, which is free, and our swim alumni get a kick out of seeing what we’re up to. Not only do the parents and athletes love seeing themselves and their teammates, but it creates a great team bond. And as we all know, retaining swimmers through high school in this day and age is challenging!

Here’s a link to our youtube channel.

iPhone Videos

This is the one tool I love the best as a coach.  I can stand on the deck during practice and use my iPhone to video an athlete as he is swimming. And what’s more, I can talk him about his mistakes and how correct them while videoing. Then I send the recording directly to the athlete via email or text, whichever format they prefer.  So after practice the swimmer can go back and view exactly what I am seeing as a coach and hear what I want them to do differently.

This is truly amazing and well worth the short time and effort it takes to video the swimmer and send it along. I do it all the time and the athletes seem to like this feedback and it has an immediate impact on their stroke technique.

Audio Text Message

Often times I am at a meet and need to get a quick message to a swimmer when they are in the pool or warming down. However, it’s nice to send them something while I am still thinking of it, so I utilize audio text messaging.

Here is an example of what I wanted an athlete to get into his head. Now he has it on his phone, he can listen to it everyday before practice.  Haha! (if you are reading from a phone, this feature may not come in properly)

Live Streaming Video Broadcasts

Live streaming is one of the newest things to come about and is really easy to use.  I have used UStream.tv and Justin.tv but I know there are other sites that are free and easy to use.

I just watched our Junior Nationals team swim in Atlanta on Ustream.tv and it was amazing! I was able to talk to the coaches on deck while watching the swimmers in the pool. Awesome!  (I was even tweeting while watching, so notice I am the top tweet in the photo!)

And, as a social tool, we even held a swimming reunion recently and broadcast it on Ustream.tv for the people all over the world who couldn’t make it. We had 106 viewers for that evening’s reunion!

And, just yesterday, our pool heaters were broken in Oviedo (Yes, it was 30 degrees in Florida!) and so some of the swimmers went to a local YMCA to train. So what did I do?  I texted them the workout I wanted done, and then sat and watched them swim via Justin.tv. A swim parent (@anakenn) held up her iPhone to run live streaming of the kids swimming (check for yourself http://justin.tv/anakenn).  So, I sat in my living room coaching kids in a pool twenty miles away!  Now how’s that for creative and valuable use of technology!  Here’s a photo of me coaching from the living room:

So, how effective of a coach do you want to be?

If you want to keep up and continue to improve your athletes in modes they can relate to, start looking into these different 21st century helpers. They are great once you get the hang of them!

They will also make you a better coach just by you paying attention to all of the details these allow you to focus upon.  But, remember, nothing will take place of hard work and my kids know that I love that with more passion than anything.

So let me know how it goes and if you need help, drop me a note.

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