By Kelsey Reese//USA Swimming Communications Intern
Editor’s Note: Every Friday, usaswimming.org will publish “Coaches You Should Know” featuring some of the best age group and grassroots coaches in the nation. This week, we bring you ASCA’s Sierra Nevada 2012 Age Group Coach of the Year, Brad Robbins.
Brad Robbins has over 18 years of coaching experience and recently became head coach of the Vacaville Swim Team in the summer of 2013. During his coaching career, Robbins has worked with multiple Olympic Trials qualifiers, Senior and Junior National qualifiers, as well as Arena Grand Prix and Sectional qualifiers.
Robbins first began swimming on a summer league team in Sacramento. He continued swimming through his first year in college before a severe shoulder injury forced him out of the pool.
When did you begin coaching?
When I was thirteen-years-old I started helping out with the five-year-olds at the summer league team I swam with and then started doing a little bit more every summer. By the time I was about 18, I was coaching every summer. I got my first year-round coaching job when I was 22 or 23. When I started graduate school I began coaching for a club team down in San Diego and always had coaching in the background even when I was working on school and other things.
Coaching started to filter into my academic career as well. When I was studying psychology I transitioned to studying sports psychology and from there I went into a little bit of sport management. Finally I realized, “I’m doing all these things that are about coaching but I’m not actually coaching full time, I think it’s probably what I really want to do.” So I made that switch and went after the full-time coaching career; I love coaching!
How have you seen your psychology degree come into play as a coach?
I use it all the time; I certainly make efforts to incorporate some of the sports psychology that I’ve learned into the program I use with my athletes. We do work on managing stress and anxiety, talk about goal setting and things like thought stopping and positive versus negative thoughts.
A lot of it is on an informal basis where it’s about talking to the athletes and helping them through their personal struggles, whether it’s with swimming or something outside of swimming, or something with motivation. I feel like there are a lot of little key moments where having that knowledge and that background in psychology makes me better prepared to step in and give them what they need without having to guess or stumble upon it.
Do you have tips you use to motivate your swimmers?
With motivation for athletes, it’s really very individual and important to remember that everybody comes from a different perspective. I think my biggest tip is that you have to try to understand what will motivate each athlete because it’s not cookie cutter. It’s so varied and specific to the individual that as a coach your best resource is to try and understand the athletes themselves.
They will tell you what works for them and what motivates them. You have to be open and perceptive enough to hear it though because they’re not going to come right out and say, “This is what motivates me.”
As a coach if you can be perceptive enough to pick up on that then you can find that your athletes are telling you what is going to help them. That’s what I try to do: understand the athletes, figure out where they’re coming from, why they are involved in the sport, what it is that they love about swimming and what gets them fired up about performing well. Then you try and incorporate that into how you work them every day.
If you relate to that athlete on their specific level and you get two things out of this. One, the athlete is going to do a lot better, they’re going to come in swimming hard and excited about practice every day. Secondly, you’re going to form a really great bond with that athlete because you are going to understand them on a level that most people never get to.
How would you describe your coaching philosophy?
Emphasis on the individual is a big part of it. Recognizing that every swimmer you’re going to get is different and they’re going to come in from a different place with different attitudes, expectations and motivations. My philosophy is that we want to stress excellence, effort, and performance. I want them to bring their very best ever day and that’s what I really try to do in my coaching is to draw that out of them and get them to be invested in what they’re doing and take advantage of every chance that they get to better themselves.
For me that’s always been a big component of what I try to teach the athletes—to take responsibility for their own actions. They are the ones spending all the time in the pool. They need to be the ones that are committed to what they’re doing. For me, finding ways to make that fun, exciting and fresh for them every day is the challenge. I really want them to appreciate what they do and to feel like they’re getting a lot back because they put a lot in, with all the work that they do in the pool.
Lastly is to develop a really strong culture. I think that our sport can very easily become one of individuals in the same place doing the same thing, which tends to be a very lonely and boring experience. I think we want to have a strong environment and culture where there is a team and everyone feels like they are invested in what their teammates are doing and are there to be supportive and positive.