It can be a little surprising when a new parent or child arrives at the pool to hear the coaches yelling loudly at the kids in the pool. If you’ve ever had a bad experience with being yelled at, your first instinct might be to turn on your heel and make a run for it!
Don’t worry — there’s a perfectly good reason why coaches need to yell.
To be heard clearly by the swimmer
If you’ve ever had your head under the water, you know it’s almost impossible to hear someone on the land giving you instruction. As a swimmer moves through the water, it’s not uncommon for them to get water in their ears. This acts as an ear plug, muffling the sound of the human voice. Even after you pull your head out of the water, water can remain in the ear, making it impossible to hear or understand the coach if they’re not speaking very loudly.
So what about when they’re using kickboards and their head is out of the water? The sound of the feet kicking in the water makes a thump thump thump that is the primary thing the swimmer hears when using a kickboard. If coaches aren’t loud, they’re not able to give instruction or encouragement to a swimmer.
The water itself also makes sounds, both when you’re swimming and at the end of the pool. Water flowing into the gutters creates sufficient sound to make it incredibly frustrating for swimmers to hear instructions from the coach.
As a swimmer with hearing challenges, I would practically be in tears from the frustration of not being able to hear what was being said. As a coach, I’m still trying to increase my vocal loudness to avoid “What? What? What?” of confused swimmers who can’t understand what is being said.
Because we’re enthused or passionate about what a swimmer is doing
Energy is contagious. If a swimmer is really giving their all in the pool, we know it and are usually really excited. It feels GREAT as a swimmer to have your coach yelling enthusiastically as you push to the limits of your endurance. We coaches might be shouting encouragement, celebrating their success, or providing a rhythm to keep their stroke in time (not too fast or slow).
Conversely, if a swimmer is dawdling along and is obviously distracted by items on the bottom of the pool or thoughts in their head, we’re going to yell to them to let them know we notice, get them focused, and let them know that what they’re doing matters. Swim team isn’t just about swimming fast, it also teaches kids how to overcome obstacles and challenging circumstances. Knowing that your coach is watching you and that it MATTERS to them that you give your best effort is the difference it takes many times for kids to be able to push through discomfort to achieve a personal best or complete the set.
They invariably feel inwardly happy that they were able to do the thing and pushed through. Although we might be yelling at them to do so now, that feeling of self-satisfaction is something that will motivate them to overcome future challenging circumstances in school and in life.
Positive yelling vs. negative yelling
Certainly, kids being able to hear the coach is a positive. However, yelling by a coach should never be abusive or demeaning. Positive yelling gives the child a healthy attitude about themselves and their abilities:
“C’mon, you can do better than that!” or “you’re not giving this your best effort” sends the positive message that the child is better than the present effort. It reflects the child’s potential or already proven abilities.Y
It goes without saying that yelling “YAAAASSSS!! That’s it!” or other positives will help build a child’s self image and reinforce that what they’re doing is noticed and affirmed.
On the other hand, a coach shouting “you’re just a loser, you’ll never amount to anything” sends a child a negative message about themselves. Some of us grew up with this type of yelling by coaches in swimming or other sports (myself included) and know how disheartening this can be.
At Race Pace Club AZ, our American Swim Coaches Association-certified coaches regularly take ongoing training about motivating age group swimmers and providing a bullying-free environment. In addition, our team participates in USA Swimming’s Safe Sport program with annual athlete coaching training required. This means that you can feel confident your child is in a positive, enriching environment designed to help them bring out the best of who they are both in and out of the water.