Swim Coaching Innovation from a Lifelong Athlete

Lifelong learner, lifelong athlete. One in the same if we view our brain and body as intertwined for the benefit of both. And that integration of influences is the key to innovation in sports. 

Experience is our Greatest Teacher

Almost 20 years ago I had one of the best races and worst results of my swimming ‘career’. At the 1999 Pan American games, I was mentally prepared to race, but physically not in a position to outperform my own high expectations. Despite a poor showing, I had a great time with the team. In particular because of an assistant coach by the name of Dave Salo. He had an infectious spirit with roller coaster cheers and a consistently constantly evolving coaching. Without speaking with him, I assumed it was his Ph.D. and it led me to explore Kinesiology as the root of my subpar performance.

Fast forward a decade and a now young coach sat and listened as Salo said at a coaches conference, that if companies wanted coaching innovation they need only look at the discarded remnants in a coach’s garage for inspiration.

Coaching Innovation as a Tool

swim workouts with paddles

The inspiration for anyone to better understand coaching innovation is the man who used the waffle iron to transform a pastime into a sport, a way of life, and a multi-billion dollar company. Bill Bowerman used ingenuity and availability to help his athletes maximize their potential by crafting new soles with a waffle iron pattern. The key to moving from egotistical athlete to explorative coach is a curiosity for the as yet explained.

Commitment to Understanding Implementation

Yet when problems persist, proposed solutions are not enough. If they make it out of the garage they typically find themselves used once or twice then discarded in a chlorine-filled puddle to gather mold. Innovation is really a communication feedback between performances. And to build trust we must first be willing to leap. Guinea pig your innovations to best understand how to iterate and position their adoption by the many different learning styles of those you mean to help.

The first one through the door often gets bloodied by an entrenched ideology that is frightened by a change at the risk of their perceived success. But if you can hang on through the slings and arrows with messaging that transcends bitterness, companies like NIKE emerge. And products that allow for 4% gains emerge. Innovation in sports should not frighten, it should encourage and embolden the competitive spirit to create and conquer new goals while engaging more in a mission to move the world physically and figuratively.


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