by Bronwyn Pasloski
The alarm clock blares at a grueling 5 a.m. The drive is quiet and lonely. Walking onto the pool deck it is humid and hot, with a scent of chlorine which will linger on you for the rest of the day. The coffee never seems to be strong enough. Teenagers start trickling on to the pool deck. Hoodies up, shoulders hunched, eyes down on the ground, ‘it’s-too-early-to-talk, coach’ written on their faces. Many excited “good mornings” from me with half-grumbled “’mornings” in return.
While scribbling their morning ‘torture’ on the whiteboard, groans emerge as they read over my shoulder before diving into the water. There’s two hours of work between them and a day’s worth of school, only to be back here again in the afternoon. As a coach, there’s two hours of stealing the seconds of their recovery at the wall to provide feedback, stroke correction and yells of encouragement. Practice comes to an end faster than one can think possible. Swimmers jump out of the water, each saying thanks as they head off to the change room with renewed enthusiasm for the day.
Why would anyone care to get up so early to experience this? Is there anything in it for you as a coach?
Having been in the exact same shoes as these youth once, I can say that the sport itself has fairly little to do with why each athlete comes to practice. Yes, the sport teaches us self-discipline, it promotes fitness, and it gives us long-term goals and dreams. However, it’s the relationships that are developed that keep these kids coming back day after day, morning after morning, workout after workout. Of course, having a coach who is strong, technically, in the sport is important, but it does not outweigh the importance of a coach who’s able to connect, support and understand each individual athlete. I can list the adults, coaches, and mentors who’ve left a long-lasting impression on my life and helped shape me into the person that I am today.
When I walked onto the pool deck for the first time as a coach instead of an athlete about three years ago, I quickly realized that the words that came out of my mouth were actually being heard. Every single word I spoke was being grasped by my young athletes. I was building a connection with each swimmer and, more importantly, I was showing up for them every morning. Through my short time coaching, I am in awe watching so many of my athletes grow into the fine young people that they are today. I am proud of them and humbled that my small appearance in their life might have had an impact.
January is Mentorship Month; a month to highlight the importance of engagement from our community to support and help develop our youth.
We need to see more positive engagement from the adults in our community, as well as an understanding of how we all impact our youth and, ultimately, their development.
You do not need to be a designated coach to accomplish this, nor do the youth need to be athletes to experience this. No matter what role you play, each of us can start by understanding that our youth do hear us, even if we don’t think that they do. More importantly, they are looking up to the adults in their life for direction, by observing our own decisions and our actions.
Let’s get involved this month! Look for an opportunity to volunteer, coach or mentor. Plan some activities to do with kids, watch them do something they love, or take an opportunity to simply sit and listen to them. You’ll be surprised how sometimes silence speaks louder than words.
What builds our youth? We do.