Do coaches have favorites?

Today at practice one of my swimmers said to me very casually, “everyone has favorites, it’s human nature.” She then asked me to list my top 10 swimmers in the senior group (which I refused to do). I’ll never admit to having favorites, but her question got my wheels spinning while the kids were warming up. What makes an athlete fun to coach and what characteristics make them a “favorite”? About half way through practice I came up with 5 qualities that I believe embody an athlete I would love to coach:

1. They are coachable – they listen to feedback and apply it to the best of their ability. Coachable doesn’t mean compliant, it means they are involved in the training process, ask questions, and solicit their coaches input. Which brings me to point two…

2. They focus on the details – what are the small things that will make you a better swimmer? Sometimes this is more than what you are doing in the water. Often the things outside of the pool have a greater impact on a swimmers success. Are you getting enough rest, eating healthy, practicing mental toughness, etc?

3. They are committed to our program – do you trust your coaches, your teammates, the process? Do you believe that you can be successful in this environment and more importantly are you helping create an environment where others can be successful? I love seeing my swimmers wear our team gear to school, truly be happy for one another’s success, and be a proud member of ATOM in a city where there are at least 10 year round programs to choose from.

4. They consistently attend practice – I don’t care what Allen Iverson said about practice, the more consistently you attend the better your odds for success. My first coaching mentor, John King, once said, “every lap, every practice, is an opportunity for greatness.”

5. They give their best effort day in and day out – it’s not enough just to attend practice consistently. My favorite athletes are the ones who don’t quit, who fight for every yard, who know swimming can be a grind and embrace it. When it’s all said and done I don’t care if you are the fastest kid in the group or are struggling to make the interval, if you give me your best I will be your biggest cheerleader. I will do everything I can for the athlete who is all in.

There are obviously other characteristics that I appreciate (positivity, humor, honesty) – but I believe these five qualities provide the foundation for any athlete to get the most out of their sport. My hope is that when our athletes leave ATOM they will have sound character, a great work ethic, and the ability to face any challenge life throws their way.