Matt and I had a great discussion with Mike Koleber with Nitro Swimming. He gave us some great insights into how he leads his rather large staff, how he leverages professional development (including several references to people that coaches should be listening to!), and how coaches can navigate the delicate intricacies of working with a board.
This podcast is packed with great information that will serve both sides of the house – wet and dry!
00:00:04 – Introduction
This is the Your Sports Resource Podcast, where each week you’ll learn actionable strategies that you can implement so the operations of your club support your coaching staff and the direction of your organization. We are committed to excellence in youth sports leadership. Let’s get started.
00:00:26 – Renata
Hello, and welcome to the Your Sports Resource podcast. Today, Matt and I are really excited to do an interview with Mike Koleber. Mike is with Nitro Swimming and he grew up swimming in Michigan through summer league and then year-round high school. Competed his NCAA years at Oakland University under the legendary coach Pete Hovland. Is that right?
00:00:52 – Mike
00:00:54 – Renata
He started teaching lessons at 13 yrs. old with his Dad as his mentor. Went the corporate route for a number of years until the siren song of the chlorine called him back to the pool. Spent a couple of years with Swim Atlanta in the late ’90s and moved to the Austin, Texas area.
Began coaching part-time with a small club team. Was named Head Coach two years later and began to grow the program from 70 kids and one 6-lane outdoor rented pool to three years later, 370 kids, three rented pools, and an expanding coaching staff.
Mike broke away from the board-run program and Nitro Swimming was born! He and his wife Tracy risked everything with two young children and began work on building their own indoor 50-meter facility. June of 2007, they opened their first coach-owned, 50-meter, indoor center.
Four years later they did it again and they are now closing in on a 50-meter facility #3. So that’s 3 pools. Today Nitro Swimming has approximately 2000 USA registered swimmers and teach over 3,800 kids a week through the Nitro Swim Schools. That’s a holy heck. Holy cow. Welcome, Mike.
00:02:18 – Mike
It keeps us busy for sure.
00:02:21 – Renata
That’s right. Well, I appreciate you joining us and we’re just going to go through some basic questions and we’ll just see how this goes and hopefully it’ll fuel the audience on things or questions that they have.
So, I know that you did come from that traditional nonprofit swim club coaching background, but what I’d like to know is what was the impetus for you to move from that nonprofit to the coach-owned scenario?
00:02:53 – Mike
First of all, I want to thank you for asking me to just share whatever it is I have in here. And I also wanted everyone to know that there’s no such thing as the perfect program. No matter what you hear or see from somebody, they’re going to polish it and it sounds really nice, man, I wish we could be like them.
Every program has issues. Every program has problems. We’ve got our share of issues and problem. We try to get better every day. So that being said, what drove me? Probably more than anything was I just wanted autonomy.
I needed autonomy and being at the mercy of other people and other boards. And other owners of water and country club boards and city folks. And they all mean well. But when you’re at their mercy, it’s really hard to plan for a long-term future if you don’t know you’re even going to get another lease for the next year.
And I got so tired personally, of walking on eggshells and hoping that you just didn’t do something that may have really perturbed somebody else in the other side that might be in a decision-making type process and some influence where all of a sudden you’re the bad guy and they want you out of there.
So having two young kids and just looking for a future, I said, there’s just no way I can do this unless I own the water. We’ve got to own it. And that’s what really was the driver.
00:04:29 – Renata
Okay, I know that I can understand that probably having the same kind of personality type, I like to forge my own path kind of personality, and I always thought about it from a club perspective, but you brought up a good point. I never thought about owning your own water, and obviously, you’re going into number three.
But owning your own water is a big deal for a lot of– I know a club that’s renting 14 different pools. It’s got to be a hard one to navigate and manage and juggle all that relationship.
00:05:02 – Mike
And if one of those is down or two of those are down, you’re having to juggle, which you said, so much happening. And how many hours do you get those 14 pools? It might be where they’re all coming from that 5:00 PM To 07:00 PM or 4 – 7, right?
They might have a couple that might get you from 3:30 to 8:00, maybe. So, you’re having to juggle a lot of that. However, for an example, this just happened to us on Monday morning, I get the phone call, a message that was at 02:00 in the morning.
Our overnight cleaning crew said, hey, by the way, there’s a lot of water pouring out of the pump room at Nitro Cedar Park, and the lessons pool is pretty much empty. Now, we have Monday morning lessons at Nitro Cedar Park.
We’ve got an empty pool. So, the point I’m bringing up is if it’s a facility that’s not yours. And it’s somebody else’s, they don’t understand the urgency of how important it is to get your pool back up and running.
To the average city country club who’s not using the pool in October, they’re going to say, you know what, we’ll get to it when we get to it. Right? Well, we had that pool already remedied filled, and heated by 3:30 that afternoon, when our afternoon lessons started.
And so, it’s the ownership mentality, which also, it’s great to own your water. But the downside is you also own your water. But there’s an urgency that says, we got to fix this now. How many times you go into a health club or you see out of order?
Sorry, under maintenance, and two weeks later, you still see the sign there, out of order, under maintenance, waiting for a part. We don’t have that option if something goes down, I’ve got about 6 hours to get that up and running again. And so, it does make life interesting.
00:07:11 – Renata
Yeah, that’s great though. That’s great. So, I read off in your bio your membership and also. So, the membership from your competitive swimming and then also the numbers that you pass through for your schools.
But what I’d like to know, because, you know, we talk about operations and leadership here, so can you just give us a bit of a breakdown of the structure of your staff, what type of staff do you have, and then how many coaches do you have?
00:07:40 – Mike
Yeah, I thought about this one. We’ve got pretty much three different areas. We’ve got the swim schools, and they’ve got managers, assistant managers, the swim instructors. We’ve got admin, there’s software, there’s, registration folks, all that stuff, right?
There’s front desk staff, which handles whoever comes in and out, phone calls, emails. If it’s not coming to me directly, they handle the basic questions and answers. People want to enroll, they want to withdraw and then there’s a swim team side.
So, I kind of call it small pool, big pool, and front desk. And so, the small pools lessons, the front desk does the front desk stuff and the USA side does the USA side. Number of folks I’ve got at each location. I have a head site coach that takes care of the big pool coaches.
I’ve got a head age group coach that takes care of, we split our program from kind of senior type programming and then age group. And then the other locations got the exact same thing. And then we also have front desk manager and we have swim school manager swim school assistant manager.
So, three different areas. Total employees, about 120. And full-time USA coaches, which is probably what most people listening to this podcast are interested in. Full-time USA coaches, I think 18 or 19, and I believe we have three that are part-time hourly.
And they’re part-time hourly pretty much by choice. They do other things. There’s teachers during the day and they help us at night. So I’ve got three of those folks that help us on a part-time basis.
00:09:23 – Matt
Mike, correct me if I’m wrong. But when you started this, you were having people do both, right? I mean, you had coaches coaching the swim part and helping with the swim lessons to get started.
00:09:38 – Mike
Oh, we did everything. Sure. Starting up, you talk about a bootstrap operation. We did whatever it took because you can’t open up a brand new location, let’s say, hey, look guys, it’s nice and shiny, it’s beautiful ribbons on it, 50-meter pool.
You can’t afford to have an entire staff ready to take care of 787, 800 you know thousand kids, because you’re going to get maybe 100. So those 100 kids or so are going to be taken care of with a couple of coaches. There’s obviously some extra time during the day, hey guys, guess what? I need you to teach right now.
But now we’re at that point where it’s coaches coach, teachers teach, managers manage, front desk is front desk. I was on the ground putting Bleachers together at two in the morning the night before we’re supposed to open. My kids spent all nighters in the office with Tracy doing administrative work.
Those are the days that you look back on now kind of fondly, but you go, oh my gosh, we did a lot of work. You don’t just wake up and have two indoor 50 meters and a third one on the way because of luck.
You work your tail off. And every day we work our tails off. But I would not want to do anything else in the world than what I’m doing right now.
00:11:01 – Renata
But I love that model because a lot of clubs, when we’re working with clubs, I’m amazed at how many of them don’t try to do swim lessons. That the fear of taking on that expense.
Even though there’s proof after proof after proof of the fact that being able to conduct swim lessons, actually it fuels financially your competitive program. And so what you just said, as far as if you’re worried about taking this on, maybe the club should really consider, okay, maybe some of the coaches can have dual roles to get you up and going with the knowledge that it’s not long term.
If you’re able to really get this going and really it’s a feeder for your club, but not only a feeder for your club, it’s a great boon financially for the organization and it’s huge for the community. Right. Because swim lessons is a skill, whereas competitive swimming is a desire, right, or a goal.
So I think that a lot of clubs when they get a little fearful about starting up a program, mainly because they’re worried about taking on the staff and not being able to pay for it right away.
00:12:15 – Mike
Well, on to that point lessons parents or swim lesson type parents are networked and they are connected through their social networks themselves through their own media, their own social media families.
And imagine if it’s a pretty well-known swim club with pretty decent coaches out there. If those moms and dads find out that there’s actual real swim coaches that are teaching some lessons, who’s not going to want to take their kids there.
You know that’s huge for if you’re listening to this and thinking if you should do this or not, you’ve got your coaches. Let’s say, let’s say they’re working 4:00 to 7:00 or 4:30 to 7:00. Okay, then from 3:00 to 4:00, you can have the preschoolers that get out of school early for 1 hour.
And you could pay your teachers more. I’m sorry, you could pay your coaches more for the extra hour, they’re driving there anyways. I certainly would get there an hour early if it meant an extra XX number of dollars per week. I’m there anyways. I’ll teach some kids.
When you teach lessons, I firmly believe it also makes you a better coach. When you teach lessons, it takes you back down to the basics and the buoyancy and body position, and you’re in the water. And you can take that now to the coaching side of the USA side.
And it just makes you a more rounded coach, and it reconnects you to the joy, the pure joy of swimming. And if you’re that kind of a coach on a pool deck, kids generally will gravitate more towards you.
And so your program, I think, as a result, should start to expand because people want to be around people who enjoy what they’re doing. They don’t want to be around people who just hate what they’re doing. You can see them a mile away. You can detect that a mile away.
00:14:13 – Renata
Yeah, I love that feedback. That’s great feedback. And also the fact that that makes them a better coach because it forces that coach to simplify how they instruct. Right. And they got to do a little bit more critical thinking instead of going, okay, no, this is just the set. Let’s go.
Okay. So over the years since you started Nitro to now, what do you feel are some of the lessons regarding operations and leadership that you feel like have stood out for you, that would be a benefit to the audience. I mean, it could be in setting up your structure.
It could be, I don’t know, anything from just you yourself as a leader and expectations. It could be development. Like, what are some operational things that some really good key takeaways that you learned through the years from when you started to now.
Yeah, as we’ve grown. I was corporate for a while, corporate kind of corporate, you know I guess that I told you, fluorescent lights in the cubicle. And when I gravitated more towards this teaching and coaching, again, I’m a very anti-corporate guy.
And so I went way to the other side of the spectrum without processes, without core values that you actually drove the organization, without a mission statement, without a vision statement, and without an organizational structure.
We were pretty much a flat little line with no hierarchy, except for Tracy and I were the owners and everybody else. We all did.
Now, it’s funny that the gentleman who created our pro forma statements in our business plan was a Harvard MBA guy who’s a dad of two of the kids we coached years ago. And he came to me very early, on early days, and he said, Mike, you’re going to have to decide what you want to do here.
Either you’re going to be able to still coach and not run your business or you’re going to be managing your business, you won’t be able to coach. And I didn’t believe him. I kind of thanks, appreciate that Mark. His name Mark Sherman. I said, yeah, thanks, Mark.
I’ll worry about that when I get there. In my mind I thought I could do it all. I can manage, I can coach. I could play this superhuman type individual and he’s right. He was right and he is right. And so even though I’m coaching, I don’t have a regular group anymore. I’m the fill in.
I’m kind of the great uncle that shows up and I can be friendly with everybody. And if we’re short staffed on a given night because someone’s got a day off, vacation day, whatever. Hey, Mike, listen, can you go cover Nitro Bee Cave? I got to cover the Gold Group tomorrow night. Sure.
00:17:23 – Renata
You’re the floater.
00:17:25 – Mike
I’m a floater. I’m also a floater on the swim school. Hey, we’re short two teachers from 3:30 to 6:30 on Thursday night, next week at Cedar Park. Could you be there? Sure, I’ll write it down there. I’m in the water teaching lessons.
So from an organizational standpoint, we now have more of a structure in place. There’s an accountability structure which we didn’t have. We didn’t have any. Don’t do that again. That was pretty much it. Now there’s actually real structures in place which we needed.
So that’s where I’ve kind of gone now and gravitated towards it. I’m not that comfortable with the corporate structure but we still try to make it very very friendly and joy is at the core of everything that we do. The word joy is so critical to keep in this business of swimming.
00:18:19 – Renata
I love that you said that the corporate thing because when I first started a few years ago, Tide was my first client and one of the coaches said this is way too corporate, this is way too corporate. And I’m like, listen, I’m trying to get a balance between the free flow and the opportunity for you to develop your coaches.
Because my mindset has always been if you invest in your coaches the level of your club across the board will just elevate. Right. So I was trying to get people or coaches away from the mindset that they have to manage every single person in the club.
I mean, even at the layers of large clubs that I have worked with, I was amazed at how many people were supposed to be. I’m going to do air quotes of reporting into the head coach and there’s no way that they were able to be an effective leader and have really good touchpoints with those coaches.
So I really love the fact that you hammered in on that because I think, listen, obviously, you can go to corporate or you can go to lose. But the bottom line is structure just makes you efficient and effective and it allows you to give value to your staff and for your staff to feel like hey, they really value my input.
They’re helping me grow. And I just think there’s nothing better, especially in a day and age when you have coaches that are leaving this industry in droves. If you want to build your culture, you got to have some kind of structure and opportunity for your coaches to feel valued.
00:19:52 – Mike
00:19:54 – Renata
Yeah. Okay, so I want to talk about something a little bit. It seems like a minuscule topic, but I would love to understand how you structure your coach meetings because one of the things that we push when we’re doing organizational design with our clients is what are you doing with the precious time of your coaches?
If you’re having these meetings and you’re having four a month and all four of them are administrative, is that really of value? And how are you giving back? How are you enriching? How are you growing? So I’d like to understand, what do you do? What is your structure for your coach meetings?
00:20:42 – Mike
We’ve got two layers of our coaches’ meetings, and the first layer is just with the two head site coaches and the two head age group coaches. So those are weekly. That’s a Monday meeting, and that is at 10:30 in the morning, and that is 1 hour.
At 11:30 no matter what we’re talking about, we just shut it down and we say. We pick it up the next week, every Monday morning, 1030, and every other week we meet live and in person. And the other week we’re on a teams call, Microsoft Teams or Zoom, go to whatever you have.
And so those are actually structured. Those meetings are structured. And we open up with what’s the best thing happened this past week? A personal and a professional, in your personal life, what is the best thing that happened to you?
I want to hear this and we want to share it with each other. And then it’s best professional. What happened over the last week that you want to share that you think at Nitro Swimming, what happened Give me a good news. So we start with the good news.
And then we head into, we have a list of to-dos you had to do items that you were assigned. Whatever you agreed to the week before to do. Yes or no, you did it or it didn’t get done. If it didn’t get done, we just say not done, and it gets dropped to the next section of called The Issues, and we’re going to discuss it.
But we’re not going to discuss it right then. We’re going to discuss it when we get there. It’s a form of a meeting. So the to-dos go to issues, and then The Issues are anything from, hey, there’s a meet coming up, let’s make sure we get who’s going to be running the council, who’s got the meet information?
So we’re talking about yes, we are talking to admin-type stuff. This particular call isn’t really a coach development type call. It is more geared towards that 1 hour every week of, let’s just get all our housekeeping, we’re all on the same team.
Let’s all make sure we’re rolling in the same direction. What is this week going to look like for the team. You guys anything got to filter out, cascade the message down, and take it to the troops. The every other week, every two weeks, we have an all-staff, all coaches.
All of our swim coaches are on one of those calls. Now, three weeks ago, we were in person at a barbecue place at 10:30 in the morning. We take the whole back place, and we had Wayne Goldsmith. Wayne Goldsmith, he’s a coach of coaches, big time rugby background, but he’s got a lot of swimming experience, and he’s from Australia.
I love his accent, and anything he says sounds good anyways. But he’s really big on connecting with your athletes and making your coaching count and having them have buy-in of the workouts. I had a webinar, I guess I recorded. I brought my laptop.
I had my speaker, my little portable speaker. We sat in the corner of this, and we watched Wayne for about 30 minutes, and we discussed Wayne for the next 30 minutes. How are we going to implement that in your own coaching?
So two weeks later, which was this past Monday, what’s today? Wednesday. Yeah, Monday. Our call that we had on the Microsoft teams, the only item that we talked about that would have been considered, I guess, somewhat administrative was I maybe took 30 seconds of that, 30 minutes, and I said, hey, guys, let’s get our pool deck look a little cleaner.
Let’s make sure that after each practice there’s wrappers and there’s water bottles and hair ties and bandaids. Make sure it gets all thrown away. Now let’s get to the meat of the call. And so the mission that they had for this last call and I had 1234567, probably 18 or so coaches on this call, and I said, we’re going to go around.
And they knew this ahead of time. We’re going to go around. Everybody’s going to speak. What is the one area this week that you think you’re going to, I’m sorry, that you think you’re going to commit to that’s going to elevate your coaching game?
What are you going to commit to this week? And I’m going to read you right now real quick. I have this ready. I’m not going to say the names, but just for instance, one coach said, I want to take more time and have 30-second chats with the group before they get in.
Just a 30 seconds. How are things going? More like a check-in. Normally, you know, coach, let’s go. We got warm up, we got warm up. This coach says, no, I’m going to take 30 seconds just to see how these kids are doing.
Another coach said, I’m going to build up on the success of the last meet, but I’m going to bring more energy into the hard sets. The sets that Kids don’t want to do. I’m going to deliver those sets with a higher level of energy and excitement to get those kids excited. That was another one.
Here’s one, out of water. I want more accountability on dry land. So when he’s coaching dry land, he’s going to hold his kids more. So I just did that for 18 or so coaches, and we’re going to check back in two weeks from now, and they’re going to give a report of how those two weeks go.
And so if they can do this and commit to it, just like we ask kids to commit to making changes, if a coach can commit to it for X number of days in a row, how long is it going to take before it becomes a habit for that coach to actually change?
So that was the first part of the call. The second part of the call was a Bob Bowman video from the International Swimming Hall of Fame presentation, where he just presented Michael Phelps with the Hall of Fame Award. And Bob was in a classroom.
It’s a four-and-a-half-minute video off of YouTube, and he’s talking about underwaters and how you have to do underwaters every single set of every practice. It’s not an every-so-often thing. So we had watched the video and then we’re discussing the video and how are we going to apply that to our own groups.
So that was our half an hour call every other Monday. So to your point, is that coach development? I would say absolutely.
00:27:05 – Renata
Yes. It’s also leadership, Mike, though, because what you did is that first question, you put it upon them to be in charge of their own elevation, and it was okay that everybody’s was different. It was okay that everybody’s raising their own bar was accepted.
And all of it I heard like, I’m raising my own game, but I’m also deepening the connection with the athlete and maybe even the parent through that process. And it’s not all technical-focused. I know some of them were, but I love the fact that the first question was really leadership-driven.
And I know there’s probably some people listening to that or were listening to that, that thought that maybe that’s a little cheesy. But you know what? Sometimes those kind of questions to get your staff to think, what is it introspectively, internally about how they operate and how they work, and how they communicate.
All people need sometime is someone just to push the question, get you to think, and that, okay, get out of your own head and let’s change some behavior. So I love it. It’s great. That’s great.
00:28:24 – Mike
Well, our coaching staff. They receive emails, we share whatever. If we see something that’s good out there and there’s so much good information at our fingertips, you don’t have to go to a clinic. You don’t have to.
I’m on the board of ASCA, so I’m like, yes, please go to clinics. We love it. But there’s so much great information at your fingertips that you can access at any time that you want if you choose to apply it. Glenn Mills has his go swim every single Tuesday.
It’s 01:00 Eastern. It’s 12:00 my time in Central Time Zone. Every Tuesday he’s got a call. That’s 1 hour, it’s a Go Swim live call. And I don’t care if the topic is, I’m going to make something up here, swimming backwards on freestyle, whatever.
You might have no interest in whatever he’s going to say, but I guarantee you, you spend an hour on those calls, you walk away with at least two or three things that you can do that afternoon with your own groups. I learned something every single time.
I’m 59 years old now. I learn something every time I’m ever on that call. I love Swim Nerd. Swim Nerd does great stuff. Brett Hawke has got great podcasts. There’s just a few of them. I like Herbie. Herbie Behm at Arizona State. He puts out something usually once a day that they’re doing at Arizona State on Twitter, X, whatever it’s called now.
And anything that’s worth it, I check it first and I go, that’s good enough for us. Boom. Boom. Send it. Hey, guys, here’s the 30-second video. Boom. So coach education should never stop. And I think what’s the old line, is, if you think you know it all, then you might as well quit because you don’t.
00:30:24 – Renata
I like the fact that you talked about different ways to develop the staff, because one of the areas that we really push is that, again, I said it earlier, that the head coaches, I wish they would focus more, or the CEOs, whatever that role is, focus more on developing sorry for the dog barking.
That they would develop and spend time in their coaches. And not everything like ASCA has great courses. There’s things at ISCA. There’s things at USA swimming. I mean, we’re not lacking in training opportunities, but I think that people overlook the knowledge that’s in-house that can be shared.
And that could be something as simple as a younger coach didn’t know how to have a conversation with a parent and really screwed something up. And then you opened it up to all the coaches and everybody could share their feedback.
I mean, that’s a great knowledge thing. But also, just like you said, there’s so many other coaches out there that are willing to give their advice, their tidbits, and if people would just tune in, they could learn little bits and pieces and then they can share it with the rest of the staff.
So one of the things that we push on for that professional development is not everything has to come from a big long course or a big speech. It can be in micro bytes. And how you share it is what’s important to your staff and ensuring that they’re constantly consuming that knowledge.
And I think it’s a bit of push and pull. I think you do a great job. Mike, I love what you said about pushing it out to your staff. But the other thing is your staff should be seeking it and pushing it back into you guys as well.
00:32:09 – Mike
I’ll share you a secret that I do. I think I’m pretty sure my staff knows this. On the Glenn Mills calls on Tuesdays, you can always see who’s attending. And so I’ll go through the list and whenever I see some Nitro coaches on that call, Glenn and I will usually he usually asks me a question at the end.
Hey, Mike, what’s your thoughts on this? And in the last several calls I’ve said, you know what, Glenn, you’ve heard enough from me. I see Lindsay Grogan’s on the phone, right on this line. Ask Lindsay what she does. Ask Allison. Ask Raven. Ask Charlie. Ask Adam.
So when these coaches are on those calls, I want them to start taking that, hey, guys, time to leave the nest. Let’s spread those wings. You’re going to fly now. Which I really appreciate.
00:32:57 – Matt
Because as important as it is for you to teach them, you know each coach, it’s important that they have kind of a personal development plan right from year to year where it’s like, hey, I’m going to take this on this year. I’m going to learn this aspect of it, whether it’s leadership, swimming, whatever it is. So that’s awesome.
00:33:16 – Mike
Well, Renata, you mentioned parents a little bit ago, relationship with parents. And for us, it’s not if, it’s when. Right? When there’s an issue with the parent and we love our parents on our program. We keep them close to us. We let them sit on the pool deck.
We’re chatting with them if, hey, guys, just so you know, watch this radio. Watch this next set. These kids are going to crush it. Here’s what we’re, you know. I want to keep them informed of what we’re doing. Yeah. Engaged.
But when there’s an issue, I want the parent to go to their and they’ll come to me first. Oh, Mike, I got a problem. All right, hold on. Let’s go to your lead group coach first. If they can’t resolve the issue, then we go to the head age group coach. If they can’t resolve the issue, head site coach.
If you’re still not happy, I’m happy to get involved at that time and through those steps, we’re training our parents how we do things, which is out of respect to the coaches because a lot of times a coach doesn’t even know that the parent has the issue.
So they come to me and I can’t be that guy that’s going to always try to fix things. I’ve got that nature. But I’ve got to sit on my hands sometimes and say, no, you know what, let’s go through the right channels here. Let the coach handle it.
And we just had one just yesterday pop up with a mom wants their child in the next higher group, which happens in every program, USA, right? This child isn’t quite ready and we know they’re not ready. And anytime we’ve made that decision to say, yeah, you know what, we’ll acquiesce. You know what, it’s okay, let’s move them.
Anytime in our history that we’ve done that, it’s been the wrong move, right? It’s been the wrong move anytime we’ve done it. So we’re a little more apt to sit back. Let’s let it ride out when that swimmer is ready. You’ll know, we’ll know. We all know when they’re ready.
But it went to me. I drove it back to the coaches. The coaches made their suggestions to me for me to communicate back to the parent. I said, no, you’re going to communicate back. You can copy me on it, but let your head coach proof it first before it goes out.
Because for us, the relationships are so critical. And emails can be so misread, misinterpreted, and misconstrued because you don’t have that vocal flexion, you don’t have the body language, and it can be misunderstood. And we don’t want upset families.
We don’t want upset kids. It’s got to be just handled so carefully. I see you smiling.
00:35:49 – Renata
I love it. Because coaches, if you’re listening to that message and you have a board that’s pushing you for an alternate plan for feedback, send this podcast to your board. One of the problems that I don’t think I’ve been to a club yet that hasn’t had this problem where I talk about boards always want to put in roundabout feedback loops instead of going to the coach first.
And the excuse they always offer is, well, the parent feels there’s going to be retribution. Well, why is that? How has that been set? And then to me, that just means that there’s no trust. So by you creating a roundabout feedback loop, you’re diluting the trust even further.
So what you need to do is follow that process that you just outlined. You go to the coach, you go to the site manager, then you go to whatever the next level up may be. And if the problem is with the head coach and he’s the last stop or she’s the last stop, then I guess the board is the option.
But we really need to get these boards across the line on the fact that just because you have a squeaky wheel or one loud parent, you don’t shift the direction of the entire organization for one or two parents who have a loud mouth. That is not in the best interest of the organization.
And it absolutely just tells your staff that you don’t believe in them in handling a scenario. Now if they handle it poorly then there’s things that you can do for that. Just like in any other, we talked about corporate America before, just like in any other organization.
But for me, I’m so happy that you talked about that, because, I mean, I’m dealing with a club right now that really wants to open up Pandora’s box and let people or parents basically bitch and complain to the board so the board can hammer and finger wag staff.
And that’s just not appropriate. So any other last few bits of feedback on that that you can encourage the coaches on how to talk to the board about that?
00:37:49 – Mike
Yeah, I guess you and I, we chatted. I think it was a week or so ago on the other call and most boards I believe have good intentions when they come out of the gate and they start. I think it’s parents that want the best for a program and what they think, what they think is the best for the program, the club, and primarily for their child. Right?
And any type of an interaction with parent, it’s helped me at least in the last number of years that I take that step back for just a second and I give myself without reacting. There’s a difference between responding and reacting, right?
Reacting is not good. Responding is what you want to do. Respond yes. React no. And so respond requires a little bit of emotional intelligence enough for you to stand back and go, okay, you know, let me filter this for a second.
First and foremost and ask yourself is this parent doing this because they believe what they’re doing is what’s in the best interest of their child? Yes or no? Most times it’s a yes. Notice I said what they believe is in the best interest. It might not be in their best interest if they need to learn a life lesson of hey, harder work.
The cuts will come, the group advancement will happen later, whatever that is. But from an emotional intelligence standpoint, taking that step back and realizing this parent only wants what’s best for their child. And so we had a situation this past championship season.
It was at the age group, Texas Age group meet down in San Antonio and we had a parent who was doing some things on the pool deck that they shouldn’t have been doing. They were running pace work. They were doing stroke tempo rates for their swimmer, and we had other coaches.
And it was causing this swimmer to miss the team meetings and was missing the cheers and was not sitting with his friends and not being with the relays that we’re getting ready because his dad was doing literally stroke rates and pace work before. We’re talking about a parent of a twelve-year-old.
So we had the meeting, Allison Brol, my head site coach at Bee Cave, she sends the text to the dad, said, hey, it’s now been brought to my attention from other coaches, from other teams that this has been going on. We’re having a meeting.
So week later or so, we met back at our pool, and Allison, myself and the mom, and the dad, and we sat down and before we said anything, the dad started apologizing, which was nice, but is it shallow? Is it a shallow apology or is it real? Is it real apology? And I cut him off and I just said, hey, before we even get going, I want you to know that we know that you want what’s best for your son.
We’re not going to question the love that you have for your son. He’s awesome. You guys are great parents. You love your son. We know that. However, this is the but, right? If you continue on the path you’re going, your son is not swimming for himself, and your son is not swimming for the team.
Your son is not swimming for his Junior National cuts and for his college years. Whatever coming. Maybe, maybe not. Right now, your son is swimming for you. And there’s a point, we know this because you’ve been around for a while like I have, and there’s going to be a point where the son’s going to say, the heck with this, dad, I’m done.
I’m sick of it, and he’s going to rebel. So either you want that relationship with your son to be preserved and have a great relationship going forward, you’re going to do it our way. If you want to take that chance and take that risk and it’s going to go the other way, keep doing what you’re doing because you’re on a bad course.
But I’m not questioning your love that you have for him, not questioning that. And that talk went perfectly. And since then, they’re model parents. Most parents do want the best. And again, I know that there’s parents out there that aren’t going to react that way, that aren’t going to respond that way.
Well, we have had those in the past. They’re no longer a part of our program. And I don’t kick them off in a mean way. I just say, you know what? I think there’s probably a better program someplace else that can do what things that you want them to do, but that’s not how we’re going to be. But that one turned out good.
00:42:37 – Renata
Well, I love how you led in with, we know that you love your child. I think that’s amazing. And I think that’s wording, yeah. Matt and I had our podcast for this week was about parents. And even through the best intentions, the pressure just removes the joy from the children.
And parents have really got to recognize when they’re stepping into that space, is it damaging the opportunity that the child has to learn and grow in a beautiful sport that we believe has given us so much in our adult life.
00:43:18 – Mike
No question, no question.
00:43:20 – Renata
Yeah. So I love it. I love that terminology. It’s great.
00:43:23 – Matt
And this is where experience helps, right? Because as a younger coach, you don’t see it in the same way. Right? And then now that I’m dealing with my own kids in high school sports and things like that, it’s like, okay, how am I acting?
How am I coming across? What are the things I’m doing? And as you’re younger, you don’t necessarily see that, but that’s where some mentorship is a good idea when you’re dealing with parents and people to help situation.
00:43:54 – Mike
Yeah, I take myself way less seriously now than I did when I was 30 or 35. I knew everything back then. I knew it all. And you weren’t going to tell me differently. And it was too important for me to miss a practice. No, I can’t miss that practice. And if I can add one thing to the coaches listening.
If you’ve got to make a choice between coaching a practice or going to see your daughter’s piano recital, go to the recital. Go to the Scout award night. Go to the soccer game that your son’s playing in, go. The team will survive.
Get an assistant coach to cover the group. And boards If you’re listening to this podcast, allow your coach or coaches that have the kids or personal time to go do those things they need to do. You’ll have a much happier coach and a much longer-tenured coach if you do that. I made that mistake early on. I made the mistake. I would do it differently.
00:44:59 – Renata
And that creates that culture that keeps that coach around. Right. So they don’t want to go look elsewhere. All right, I have one more question that I think would be good for the audience about boards, but if you’ll give me a second, I want to deviate and ask the audience for their help.
One of the questions that I get asked a lot is about what do other coaches make. And I always say, but it depends on the state. It depends on are they in the city. Are they out in the country? Is it suburbia? There’s so many factors. And I’ve tried to get pay information from the various organizations, and there just hasn’t been anything done recently.
So we’ve taken it upon ourselves to create a very short, less than two-minute survey to try to understand anybody who is working in the swimming industry, how are they paid, how are they compensated? And it’s for everybody. It doesn’t have to just be coaches.
It can also be administrative staff, anybody who’s working in the swimming industry, college or club. We are asking you guys to go to the website yoursportsresource.com and take the two-minute survey in order to let us know it’s anonymous. There’s no names, so we can understand kind of based on those scenarios.
Rural in Virginia or city in Virginia, wherever it is. You know, what are the coaches or that staff level, what are they making in that area? And we will turn that information around and give it right back to the industry. We’ll give it to ASCA and USA Swimming so that information can be used to understand if you’re doing a good job or if you’re not doing a good job with your pay, with your staff.
But the information is only going to be valuable if we have a really good representation of feedback. Right now we’re coming up on 200 responses, which I think is great, but it’s like not even a micro percent of how many coaches are out there or staff that are out there.
So I really would like to encourage everybody we’re going to keep it open for another couple of weeks to go in and do that survey for us. So if you could help us, I would really appreciate that.
00:47:07 – Mike
00:47:09 – Renata
All right. So my last question for you is that and we’ve been talking that Your Sports Resource and ASCA are trying to work together on helping coaches work through the discord that not always but often happens between the wet and dry side or the coaching staff, head coach and the board.
And we are trying to, you know, help them take responsibility on bridging that gap and creating opportunities to develop a really strong relationship with their board even in the worst case scenarios. So what I’d like to ask you, Mike, is what can a coach do?
What is within their control to create a better relationship and work atmosphere with the board? From your perspective, what are some things that they can do?
00:48:04 – Mike
You know, as you were leading this question, I had read it also and I just started thinking of a different angle just now. And I think of it more like I think you and I talked about this a week or so ago. It’s more like imagine a joint counseling session. All right?
And let’s say that Renata, you, or Matt are the mediator and you’re the go-between. And I think what really would help is if when the mediator would ask these two parties if you want to say two separate parties, the coach over here and the board over here.
You ask the board, board, do you believe that this coach over here has the best interests of the club in mind? Yes or no, do you think this coach cares about this program? Invariably this board better say yes to that. And I’m not saying from a threat standpoint, just if not they’ve got the wrong person over here.
Okay. But they’re going to most likely say yes. And the board, as far-fetched sometimes as a coach may think. That the board is or if they’re overreaching or getting into their territory and they’re come on, leave me alone, let me do my job.
If you ask the coach. Do you believe that the board has good intentions, yes or no? I think the answer is invariably yes. I believe most boards would have good intentions. Now, they might not have the best way of going about doing it.
They might have different ideas on how they’re going to solve something, but they’re pretty good. So now at least you’ve got two parties right now that both agree. Yes, I think this guy’s got a good, this guy or girl’s got a good intention. Yes. I think they’ve also got the team good intentions.
Now, what can a coach do? A coach can be more approachable. A coach can be less of a rock. And it’s my way because it’s how I’ve always done it because there’s ways that he or she could still do that and do their own thing. But you got to get buy in from this board.
And Renata, you mentioned the word early on in today’s podcast, you mentioned trust. And it’s a trust issue. And is the board trust the coach? Does the coach trust the board? If there’s not trust, let’s work on trying to gain some trust.
Now, I told you earlier, I’m 59 years old. I am reading this right now.
00:50:31 – Renata
Can you move it over a little bit? How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. There we go.
00:50:37 – Mike
By Dale Carnegie. And it was recommended by, I think Elon Musk actually said I think it was that said, this is one of the top books that you could read. Top two books. This one and The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. And I’m also reading this right now. You read this one.
00:50:58 – Renata
Back it up a little bit. The infinite game. Simon Sinek. The infinite game.
00:51:04 – Mike
Yeah. And it talks about process and it doesn’t talk about the championship meets. It’s everything that coaches talk about to the kids. It’s in this book by Simon Sinek and it’s so easy to read. It’s awesome.
00:51:17 – Renata
I’ll have to get that one. I haven’t read that one.
00:51:20 – Mike
I’m getting to the point of what a coach can do. A coach can start by working on themselves, and a coach can start by looking in the mirror and say, listen, am I that difficult to get along with right now? Am I that hard-nosed in my thoughts right now that I don’t even want to talk to this board right now?
I think it takes a big person to do it. I’m talking from a guy who left aboard. Who said, I’m going off and doing my own? The heck with you all. It takes a really big person to be willing to say, hey, board, listen, I’m just not happy with the trajectory that we’re on together.
We can accomplish more if we’re rowing in the same direction. Let’s get on the same page. What do we have to do here? I won’t say it’s a mea culpa, but I’m saying if a coach came forward to a board, a skeptical board, who they’re having a hard time with. And the coach came in with his hands out of the pockets.
I’m not carrying any weapons. I’m almost pleading mercy, guys. Listen, I want to have a great life here. I want to have a great team here. I want you all to support me in having this great life and having this great team. Somehow we’re not clicking right now.
Let’s find out what’s happening. I think you can have some human discussions at that point, but I think and honestly, it’s going to take the coach to be that first person to step into that role to say, hey, let’s make this situation better because right now it’s just not working. But I don’t want to go anywhere else. Let’s make this place work. I think you can make it work.
00:53:00 – Renata
Well, I love that you said that it starts with them because I know a lot of times their frustration, the ones that I have dealt with, their frustration is so high that they’ve just built up this big wall. They just don’t want to deal with the board anymore.
And we kind of say the same thing, like, I’m sorry, but you have to be the bigger person and you have to come in and say, I want to make this work. Right? And then it’s all about, yes, decisions should still be yours, but it’s all in your approach, right?
So if you’re being rude and obnoxious about, this is my decision, stay out of my way.
00:53:32 – Mike
Hence, hence this book. This is the approach. This is the approach.
00:53:38 – Renata
How you handle that relationship, right? And I think that you can say the same thing in a different way that will reach people. The other thing that we try to get them to do is, listen, you have to be more proactive.
You can’t complain about the board not being on your side, but then have the board find out problems and issues from a parent because what you’ve done is you’ve put them on the back foot and they have no information or talking points to support you. And that doesn’t happen right away.
What happens is when that bonds of trust have been broken and they’ve thrown up the walls, well, then they quit communicating altogether, which just makes it worse. So when a parent, that’s just being a squeaky wheel complains, the board member doesn’t have the information to push back. So what are they going to do, right?
They’re going to kind of empathize with the parent and the coach interprets that as well. They’re on the parent side, not my side. And it’s just all a spin of information. Whereas if the coach was a little bit more proactive and said, hey, we had an incident on deck, this is what happened, this is what I’m doing to handle it, I would like for you to support me in this way.
Bullet point, bullet point, bullet point. And leave it at that because you know that that way you tell them you’re handling the problem. And then when a parent comes up and complains to them, they know the scenario, they know that it’s being worked through.
And even a generic statement of, listen, we’ve been informed and I know the coach is working through it, so we support him through that process or we support her through that process. So I think a lot of times they just get so tired that they throw up that wall and then it just spirals.
It’s like a death spiral. After that, it just gets worse and worse. So I love the fact that you said, Mea Culpa come in and, hey, this isn’t working. How do we make it work? I think it goes along.
00:55:30 – Mike
You brilliantly. Renata, you brilliantly. You circled this whole thing back around because earlier in the podcast we talked about the parent who has the problem, right? Who doesn’t go to the they go to they go above the coach or above the coach.
It’s the same thing here where this coach now, who might have an issue with the board is going to find a couple of parents on that pool deck who love the coach, and they’re going to be like, so now you’ve got your own little support network, but you’re not giving the board that chance that you would want.
It’s the same thing. It’s got to go both ways. It’s got to go both ways, right? Well done.
00:56:10 – Renata
Matt, you have any questions?
00:56:13 – Matt
No, I think that’s fantastic and I totally agree. And I think from the coaching side typically the board’s volunteers, right? They’re there when they can be there. They’re there for parts of it. You’re the one, as the coach, who’s living this every single day.
So it is important for them to go and kind of extend that invitation to figure out how to communicate better, how do we work better? Because you are the one living it every single day. And it has a bigger effect on the coach. So they do need to be more proactive because of that.
00:56:49 – Mike
Well, and what’s going to happen a year or two down the road, board members come and go, they rotate out. The coach is going to stay there. If you could get a long term stable board support environment for a coach. I think a coach could make a career out of it and a coach could retire. If it’s got the foundation of a great board system, which I think that’s what you do, Renata.
00:57:17 – Renata
Yeah. That structure is very important. That way everybody knows their lane. So when you have that turnover in your board, they already know what they’re supposed to be doing. They know where the bumpers are or the lane lines are like, I don’t cross over here. That’s their decision.
And so you don’t have that board member that comes in that thinks that they got this great new title for their LinkedIn profile and that they’re going to show everybody what they know and do a bunch of finger-wagging.
That doesn’t happen all the time, but when you have new board people coming in, it does create a lot of stress for the coaches when there’s no structure for those board members to come in and understand exactly what their role is.
So I would encourage clubs or coaches to say, if you feel you’re in that spot to where there’s not that structure, to have them reach out to us, because then we can help them formulate it so it works for your organization, and then it helps build that bond of trust between both the wet and the dry side.
And the coach can really do the job that they feel like they should be doing and not be frustrated all the time.
00:58:27 – Mike
And ultimately it’s a better program and who doesn’t want a better program? So boards and coaches, if you need any kind of help with this, she’s the lady right there. Grab Renata. I’m serious. I’m serious. Or you can keep complaining.
00:58:44 – Renata
Yes. For sure. Thanks for that Mike, I really appreciate it. Well, we really appreciate you joining us today and sharing information about your club and the things that you go through from a leadership perspective. You gave everybody a lot of tips of podcasts and people to go listen to and how to develop their team and also working with the board. So we really appreciate you spending time with us.
00:59:06 – Mike
Certainly. My pleasure. Hope it was valuable.
00:59:08 – Renata
It was wonderful. It was wonderful. All right everyone, thank you for listening, and please subscribe rate, and review this podcast so we can reach a bigger audience and help others such as yourself. And don’t forget to visit the website yoursportsresource.com, where you can find articles and tools as well as more information about how we can work with you directly. And please don’t forget to fill out that survey. Finally, remember, what is common sense isn’t always common practice. Put what you learn into action. Don’t just be good, be good at it. Thanks, everybody.