When a Good Swimmer Leaves Your Team

Changing teams.jpg

If you’ve been around swimming for any length of time, then you’ve witnessed the impact of good swimmers leaving a team.  It could be because the family moved, or the swimmer went to college, or even that the swimmer quit the sport (worthy of its own post – see Gary Vandermeulen’s recent post here).  But this post is about when one of your top swimmers leaves for another team.

This is not all that rare an event: everybody from Olympic Champions and lesser mortals have changed clubs.  I even did it myself many years ago. And while there is always a common theme in the reasons, the impact on those around them can be quite varied.

It’s almost universal that swimmers make these types of big changes because they think the move will make them faster.  I still remember having complete confidence (in that typically omniscient style that only teenagers have) that it was all onwards and upwards for me.  But there are a lot of other emotions as well, including frustration that this move is thought necessary, excitement at the new potential, and concern about fitting in with new teammates, a new coach, and a new environment.

From the coaches point of view, the feelings when a good swimmer leaves is similarly complex.  There is definitely some frustration at all the effort that was invested in the swimmer, with the rewards to be reaped by another team.  But at the same time, when a swimmer is unhappy and wants to go, it’s usually far too obvious to everyone around them.  That attitude can create a negative presence on the team, and sometimes you don’t realize how destructive that is until the swimmer has gone.  It’s as if everyone can breathe again.  As a coach, having the right environment is of paramount importance.

I’ve also been in the position of receiving a good swimmer, and that has its own flavour. First off, you hope the swimmer can fit in and not upset the team’s chemistry. And secondly you also hope you can address whatever was bothering them with the old team.  Initial meetings help, but in my experience, not everything comes out in those meetings.  And lastly, in the back of your mind you also wonder whether the swimmer is a malcontent: one of those who never stay in one place for too long.

In the end though, I think most coaches just wish the best for the swimmer.  If a swimmer who left or a swimmer who just arrived improves, we  know we had a hand in their success.  That’s exactly why we coach. And if we’re left with the team environment that we want, then its the best thing for everybody.



4 thoughts on “When a Good Swimmer Leaves Your Team

  1. It is always a difficult thing when swimmers arrive or leave. Group dynamics change. Sometimes for the better sometimes for the worse. Then there is the time when a coach leaves…quite often an extremely traumatic time…esp if they are fired, but also too if they leave.

    1. I agree Gary. Coaching changes can be far more traumatic. A coaching change is what galvanized my move to a new club in a new city. I didn’t want to take the risk of a brand new head coach when I was heading into my last year of high school. But my club now has been lucky that we had two of our coaches (and we only have 3) get engaged to each other last year and head out east. We brought in two new coaches and the transition has been excellent. We were jokingly saying that we need a new team bylaw that says coaches can’t get engaged to each other.

      1. I always have a rule that there is no ‘public display of mutual affection’ on poolside or in training. It may be unenforceable but I have always had agreement with the swimmers on this issue. The holding hands and that sort during training just doesn’t seem to fit in. Now with coaches…hmmm a different set of rules. Since I coached my wife (we met when we were swimmers), we never had that outward display on deck, we were coach and swimmer then, at home it is different. May be a blog post in that eh?

      2. I like that rule. Our 2 coaches who got engaged were very careful about PDA in any swim setting, even though everyone knew about their relationship. I have had to explain that rule to a few swimming couples every once in a while. And two of my kids now I have to ensure are separated by at least 2 lanes or they get distracted.

        I’ve heard of teams where swimmers dating swimmers on the same team is frowned upon. But I really can’t figure out why that rule exists. For many swimmers the team IS their social circle. In fact dating non swimmers often ends badly as non swimmers don’t understand the time or energy required.

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