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Mental Physical Technical Swimming

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: Beware Of The Bully

Beware Of The Bully

08 May

In my book, The Swimming Triangle, I emphasize the need for coaches to adopt a positive coaching style in order to maximize swimmers’ full potential. Unfortunately not all coaches believe in the power of positivity, choosing instead to bully their swimmers. Central to this outdated form of thinking, is the belief that in order for a swimmer to succeed they must be threatened, intimidated, and made to feel fearful, guilty, and/or ashamed. Treating a swimmer in this manner (bullying) has absolutely no place on the pool deck and can wreak havoc on self-worth, confidence, and performance. A bullied swimmer finds it difficult to focus on the things necessary to excel, especially in competition. The fear of displeasing a bullying coach overrides all other thought. Not surprisingly, swim meet performances suffer, which in turn leads to even more bullying and greater despair on the swimmer’s part.

A 2003 study by Dr. Stephan Joseph at the University of Warwick found that verbal abuse (a form of bullying) can do more harm to a person’s self-worth than physical attacks. A 2005 study at UCLA found that children who were continually subjected to name-calling felt humiliated, anxious, angry, and disliked school to a greater extent. And a 2007 Penn State study found that children who were bullied, or who were expecting to be bullied, experienced increase levels of cortisol, commonly known as the stress hormone. Ironically, when cortisol levels spike, the ability to think clearly or remember is greatly comprised, thus impacting performance in a negative way.

Swimming parents seem to have varying degrees of tolerance when it comes to a coach bullying their child. Some are willing to accept it to a point, provided their child is making acceptable progress in the pool, while others have zero-tolerance for it. I happen to believe that bullying is a totally unacceptable and dated coaching behavior with great potential to do serious harm.

Note: The ideal coach is professional through and through, setting high standards for both themselves and the swimmers they coach. While they demand much, they do so in a manner that enhances the swimmers’ self-worth, a key to peak performance. Rather than break swimmers down, they build them up via positive coaching techniques.


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