How deeply do the swimmers in your program buy into the swim practices? The team values? The culture?
You likely already know the hyper-awesomeness that happens when the team is full of swimmers who have bought in to the program: They are more positive, they support one another, and they swim their brains off because they are full of purpose.
The groups and teams on the other end of the spectrum, of course, aren’t such a pleasure to coach. They have swimmers who are fair-weather interested in showing up to practice, don’t support their teammates, and so on.
Assuming you have created a set of expectations, team values and a goal for the culture, how do you go about encouraging swimmers to buy-in to the program?
Here are some ideas:
Start with why.
More than ever swimmers want to know why.
- “Why are we doing ten 100s?”
- “Why are we doing that set?”
- “Why haven’t we started tapering?”
There are limitations to this curiosity, which can pass from informative to the trivial, turning into a never-ending time-suck if every single last meter of the workout needs to be accounted for and explained.
But generally speaking, a deeper curiosity is a great opportunity!
It provides coaches a chance to clarify the workouts and goals for the team. Swimmers who get the why are more likely to work their tail off then the swimmer who is told, “Because, that’s why.”
If a swimmer is asking why it’s easy to say that they are lazy or that they are just trying to get out of doing a set because it’s hard.
More likely, it’s because the set or workout hasn’t been explained in a way that shows how it benefits them. The why is missing or hasn’t been properly communicated.
Use a conversation to decide on team value and goals.
Swimmers should participate in deciding what the goals, standards and values are for the team. This creates accountability from the side of the swimmers and allows both parties to create “together” goals.
What can we accomplish together? What can we change? What are we capable of?
Buy-in is much easier when common ground is found from the very beginning.
Swimmers cope with change in different ways.
Reading the room is important when changing course with the team or group. When outlining change and the accompanying expectations you will see a variety of reactions—the quiet nods of acceptance, the rolled-in shoulders of uncertainty.
Expect to have coach swimmers differently towards your new expectations. One size doesn’t fit all. We each cope with change differently.
Tell the stories of the excellence you want to see.
Swimmers love a good story.
It’s why we go crazy over the epic moments in our sport, whether it’s Babashoff conquering the East Germans at the 1976 Olympics or Jason Lezak pulling off the impossible in Beijing.
Facts are boring and impersonal.
Tell the stories that reflect the culture and values you want to see from your swimmers. It shows them what is possible in a way that they can relate to.
Over-communicate on expectations.
Getting more buy-in from swimmers is hard when the expectations are communicated once or very infrequently. With the deluge of information online and FOMO swimmers are becoming more and more skeptical.
One study of workplaces found that employees needed to hear the new message 3-5 times before it starts to sink in.
Don’t be afraid to hammer away with the expectations.
Flood the environment with cues and signals.
A lot of effort is placed on effort and coaching when it comes to creating buy-in. And rightly so. But far too often this is done at the expense of the environment.
Getting deeper buy-in from your swimmers can be pushed along by designing an environment that communicates these messages.
Here’s a few ideas off the top of my head: Team t-shirts that include your “new” motto, championship banners, and using social media and the team newsletter to reinforce team values.
The environment is rife with opportunities to promote your culture and encourage buy-in. Use it to the fullest.
Live up to the standards.
We’ve all worked with swimmers who has big dreams and expectations for themselves, but consistently falls short in living up to their own standards.
How can we expect to create a team culture that creates buy-in when we don’t walk our own talk?
Words and promises can only take you so far—if you are talking about excellence to the program but not reflecting this in your own behavior it creates a credibility issue. As you have likely told your own swimmers at some point, talk is cheap!
More Stuff Like This:
10 Things Swimmers Can Do for Exceptional Team Culture. A swim team’s culture can boost your chances of success in the water just as easily as it can hold you back. Here’s how you, the elite-minded swimmer, can do your part to create exceptional team culture.
Why Swimmers Should Peer Mentor Younger Teammates. Some of the biggest role models your athletes will ever have are already on your team. Here’s why you should pair up senior and junior athletes for some peer mentoring.