Professionalizing the Coaching of Swimming

Professionalizing the Coaching of Swimming

by John Leonard

Coach Peter Daland frequently reminds me that swim coaches evolved from the old days of “bath attendants,” who spent all day at the (overheated) pool, in their bathrobes, providing towels to patrons. Naturally, since these gentlemen (no ladies to our knowledge) spent all day observing the motion of humans through water, they became a source of information on how various people succeeded or failed in doing so. Hence, the birth of swim coaching.

Not very glorious.

This humble beginning, combined with a recent conversation with an ASCA member, led me to consider the concept of a “profession.”  I know, intuitively, that swim coaching is a profession.  And, we know, intuitively, that we are professional coaches.  But, under objective standards, is coaching a profession?

Here’s what I found:

The word profession comes from the Latin professio, meaning “public declaration.”  Historically, when a person made a commitment to a profession, they were automatically branded a member of a religious community, by openly declaring a faith or an opinion.  Sound familiar?

Nowadays, various things have been tacked on to that original concept. Today’s common understanding of a professional are individuals vocations requiring a highly specialized body of knowledge and experiences.  Another factor in the definition of a profession today is its universality.  Coaching swimming is indeed a global profession, with people practicing it on most of the continents.  Additionally, the idea of a profession is imbued with the concepts of a “discipline” and an “order” to the vocation.

How do we measure up against this standard? What has ASCA provided that helps us meet those expectations from the public we serve?

First, is there a common philosophy?

I would say yes, there is. Quite simply, we are in place to assist those who wish to swim in a more satisfactory fashion. This can range from learning to swim, to setting world records. We exist to serve our clients. Within that context, multiple philosophies of “how to” exist, largely to the benefit of the public we serve. Diversity provides a learning process and improvement process for everyone we can touch with our collective efforts.

Second, is there a common body of knowledge?

Yes, we’re improving. Within ASCA’s five required Certification Levels and 14 additional Enrichment Schools, ASCA has created and continually improves and evaluates and expands, the skills and abilities of its members. Globally, we are moving towards agreement on the foundational concepts of swimming and forming the basics of a common body of knowledge. Already, with international clinics, and the communication and learning possibilities of our digital age, information and education is increasingly accessible to any individual who really wants to be a swimming coach.

Third, is there a formal Education Process? Yes and no.

In the USA, thanks to our partners at USA Swimming, we have “required” education for our newest coaches before they get a coaching license. Above Level 1, education is required only for certification by the ASCA. The good news is that 12,000 (and growing daily) coaches have committed themselves to certification and the required education process it includes. This VOLUNTARY association clearly is superior to any forced mechanism we can create. The market for our profession – our clubs and employers – have a way to require and demand continuing education from our profession.

Fourth, are their standards of entry?

Yes.  All new coaches, within one year of starting to coach, must complete the Level 1 Coaching School through ASCA and USA Swimming. Unfortunately, no such standard exists for NCAA coaching assistants or high school coaching (though individual states have some requirements for HS coaches).

Fifth, are their guidelines for behavior?

Yes.  In 1991, the ASCA passed the first ever Code of Ethics in Olympic Sports coaching. (Since that time, twelve other sports have followed suit.)  And, USAS requires coaches to pass a background screen, which is a key protection for those whom we serve.

Sixth, does the profession have consistent communication mechanisms in place?

Yes! With the American Swimming Magazine, the ASCA Newsletter, and the Journal of Swimming Research, we provide information from the anecdotal to the rigorously scientific, on a monthly basis, in addition to 18-20 live clinics a year.  USAS conducts regional clinics, sends regular email communications and engages in on-site visits with coaches and teams.  Both the ASCA website and the USAS website are forums for thought leadership and fast communications of ideas.

Seventh, do we have leaders who serve as mentors and role models and are they active in leadership roles both formal and informal?

Yes, the ASCA Board, and more recently the ASCA Fellows Program, provides a set of mechanisms to evaluate past efforts, think about and plan for the future of the profession and then pass on accumulated wisdom to future generations of leaders. Our leadership role and individuals are highly active, highly visible, and provide key links from our past into the bright future.

The work of creating, maintaining and improving a profession is never done. But daily, the collective coaching community is committed to doing what we do, and believing in what we say, and envisioning what will come.  So, hold this close:  As a coach, you are part of a profession…The Swimming Coach.

(evaluated from Crain’s Chicago Business Journal, “What defines a profession?”)

About SwimmingCoach

The American Swimming Coaches Association (ASCA) is the only organization that brings together swimming professionals, across all specialties, to collaborate and inspire one another. Through relevant information, comprehensive training, and targeted networking, ASCA helps those in the aquatics industry deepen their expertise, elevate their careers, and ultimately, achieve better results. With our central theme of "leadership, education and certification," we provide a professional umbrella for synthesizing ideas and information from throughout the swimming community into a coherent direction for action.

Posted on April 21, 2011, in American Swimming Coaches Association, Coach (sport), coach education, Parent Education, swimming coaches and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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