Category Archives: Swim Coaching

Mindfulness & the Christian Coach

You simply cannot live in todays world and not have heard of mindfulness. It has become a bit of a buzzword these days.

an article in the Sunday New York Times pointed out

…Mindfulness has come to comprise a dizzying range of meanings for popular audiences. It’s an intimately attentive frame of mind. It’s a relaxing, alert frame of mind. It’s equanimity. It’s a form of rigorous Buddhist meditation called vipassana (insight), or a form of another kind of Buddhist meditation called asanapanasmrti (awareness of the Heart). It’s M.B.S.R. therapy (mindfulness based stress reduction). It’s just kind of stopping to smell the roses. And last, it’s a lifestyle trend, a social movement and – as a Time magazine cover had it last year – a revolution.

Like, I’m Sure, many Christians, I struggle with the concept of mindfulness, largely due to its Buddhist roots, and yet at first glance, there is something attractive about it. In the midst of an overworked, consumerist culture or a culture of relentless competition and pushing for the next level performance, couldn’t mindfulness off us something true and good?

There are a couple of concerns 

#1 – “as a Christian, mindfulness goes against my theology, as its a Buddhist practice”

It is true that mindfulness has its roots in Buddhism, However the type of practice that is employed by athletes and coaches is totally westernised, it is devoid of any spiritual or religious connotations and simply focuses on the act of awareness. at its very core It is stress reduction. 

Stress damages our emotional, mental and physical bodies, costs billions every year, it has a negative impact on our children as well as the athletes ability to operate at their very best. Mindfulness is an incredibly inexpensive, powerful and easy tool in dealing with challenging and often overwhelming issues.

#2 – “As a Christian, mindfulness is about ‘clearing the mind.’ This opens a gateway to demonic/evil forces, thoughts or actions”

Mindfulness is not about clearing, In fact, its pretty much the opposite of that.

Mindfulness, on every level regardless of which exercise you practice (mindful breathing, walking, hearing etc), is about bringing awareness to thought. What is ‘cleared’ is the overwhelming majority of thoughts – it teaching you how to quiet the incessant dialogue that ravages our brain to bring forth quiet, clarity and clam.

It is my belief that mindfulness offers Christian a way to deepen their faith in, and to develop a deeper connection to, God. By learning to ‘tune out’ distractions and focusing on the moment, listening to that still small voice offers a way to learn, grow and focus completely on what God wants for our lives.

As a coach, I have debated the use of mindfulness with my athletes, it is something that I should encourage, is it something that we should utilise? it has undeniable benefits for race preparation and readiness.

Should a Christian coach encourage their athletes to practice mindfulness?

the mind is the athlete

My answer, at the moment, is a resounding yes, (Once again let me stress that I am referring to the completely westernised, non religious form of mindfulness). It is my belief that the calm focus on the immediate, the ability to calm the doubts and just act in the moment is a huge benefit to the athlete.


I know that not everyone will agree with me and that is fine, debate is healthy and this post barely scrapes the surface of a huge subject.

Until next time




Worried for the future…..

I was never a particularly good swimmer, I was ok i guess. Not that different from the vast majority of youth athletes who walk through the doors of our swimming clubs every day.

I disliked training and I disliked what, at the time, felt like constant nagging hindsight shows it was simply the insistence on good skills by a good coach who wanted me to achieve my full potential).

Even though I wasn’t a fan of these things I kept going to training every day – why? Because I liked racing! I rarely won, but i liked diving in and swimming as hard as I could. That competitive spirit is not that different from the vast majority of swimmers who walk through the doors of our swimming clubs every day.

Racing! It’s what keeps the fun and enjoyment factor in training. It’s what keeps youth athletes enthusiastic enough to keep training ling enough to mature and develop the skills their coach hopes will help them achieve their full potential.

More and more I worry about the future of swimming here.


I worry that we are getting drawn down a more and more prescriptive pathway.

A pathway that is depriving our young athletes of the opportunity to actually race – the result? It’s no longer fun

I understand the need for skills, I understand that in order to achieve at any level skills are preeminent and, more than that I 100% agree with a skills/process driven approach to coaching.

The problem is that we are being dragged down an approach that is far removed from the holistic approach to coaching a pathway that forgets what initially keeps our young aspiring athletes actually in our sport – diving in and swimming as fast as they can.


I’ll say it again – I 100% support the need for a skills/process approach to coaching. But whose skills do you work on if your athletes all leave to take part in a sport where they are allowed to compete and have fun?

Coaching is definitely a science, I love graphs and charts, buts also an art form. Above everything else though coaching is about people.

Our governing body must surely realise that the best way to raise the standard of swimmers within our sport is to improve the standard of our coaches not reduce the quality of education and courses.

I worry for the future of our sport.

H is for……..

Ok so I know I have skipped a few letters there but I will go back to them next I promise.

in the meantime

His for……………

Characterized by the belief that the parts of something are intimately interconnected and explicable only by reference to the whole, the treatment of the whole person, taking into account mental and social factors, rather than just the athlete.
Some of the decisions we make as coaches are hard.
It would be very easy to simply look at names and numbers on a page, come up with systems and apply them to those numbers and names. We may even get some results doing things that way but what is the long-term effect?
Holistic approach
If our job as coaches is simply to produce the fastest swimmers we can then maybe we can afford to simply push the physical side as hard as we can as often as we can. If they break down then we learn and maybe the next wave of athletes will be better from what we learn from our mistakes.
But as coaches we are responsible for much, much, more than this.
I recognise the fact that 90% of the athletes I coach will stop swimming before they achieve their physical potential. I work every day to try to ensure that each and every one of them has the option to continue to swim for as long as they wish. However, the benefits gained from a physically active lifestyle are huge. the physical, emotional, intellectual and lifestyle benefits are immeasurable.
Our job as coaches is to ensure the development of the whole person. We owe it to the athletes in our care to get to know them, to understand what makes them tick. we owe it to each and every one of them to care about them.
Something, it seems, that can easily be overlooked in pursuit of success.
Don’t get me wrong, I want to coach an Olympian, I want to coach multiple Olympians.
But is that the most important part of my job? Not really.
The treatment of the whole person IS the most important part of our job.
Til next time

E is for……

Its been a while since I posted in this thread. I would say I had been easy but, more accurately, I have been overtly lazy.

Anyway, the next instalment in my personal A -Z of coaching is

e is for Empathy

Empathy is defined as the ability to understand and share the feelings of another

While on sports coach UK aspire programme last year we were put through a personality test, SDI – strength deployment index, (anyone who is at all interested in it can google it for a little more information)

Anyway, the results for me were that I am a ‘green’ personality – that means I focus on the process. Not a massive surprise to me. However, when I am in conflict I move to Judicious – Competing focused on assertiveness, justice, leadership, order and fairness in competition. Again not a huge surprise.

The surprise for me came when I was told that I lacked empathy.

For a while this really bothered me.

I believe that the ability to understand how your athletes are feeling, to understand what they are going through is essential to be able to coach effectively.  

Coaching as part science part art, I love my spreadsheets, I love tracking data and interpreting it to get better results – the science. 

That’s not all I am though, it cant be.

There is also the artist in me that looks at the athletes and sees the people, tries to understand their desires and emotions and works with them to get the result.

Thats why empathy is the next essential ingredient in the make up of a coach


til next time

It takes courage to be a man

I’m 42, my daughter is one today. do I worry about my health a little more than I used to? yeah I do, I worry about getting sick and not being here for her, I think that’s probably normal but the biggest killer of men my age isn’t heart disease or cancer. 

The biggest killer of men my age in the UK is suicide. the statistics make pretty grim reading.

24.1 deaths per 100,000 for men aged 40 – 44 is suicide compared to 8.3 for women. there is obviously a problem that needs to be addressed somewhere.

In this last year I have reached a whole new understanding of what pressure is, I feel under pressure to provide a life for Harper and Louise, to find a balance between work and family, to continue to focus on my job when things get tough and to plan for the future.

Its a challenge and I understand, a little more, why men would feel like they have nowhere to turn to.

By this age we are supposed to have it all nailed down, our family life, our career, a mortgage, the future is planned really. (I don’t feel like I have any idea what my future holds if I’m honest)

Now, I’m not the most mentally robust person I know, I have suffered from depression, been on pills and to talking therapy (which lets be honest no one likes – I hate it). I have had my challenges and have no doubt that I will have more in the future. I am incredibly lucky to have a loving and supportive family around me and to have learnt, the hard way, that if I talk to them they wont judge me, in fact there is a better than good chance they will help me.

Growing up in a world where the male role models we saw on TV were action stars, tough uncompromising men who basically kicked ass every day, its easy to see why men feel like this is what we have to be like, that this is what real courage is.


not deterred by danger or pain; brave

But then yesterday I heard something the other day that resonated with me,

Courage is a heart word, the root of the word is cor – the Latin word for heart. the original meaning of the word courage is to speak ones mind by telling all one’s heart

Being courageous doesn’t mean bottling things up and dealing with stuff on our own. it means the exact opposite true courage is being open enough and brave enough to tell people when we are struggling, to admit when we need help and not be afraid to accept help when its offered.

Maybe if more men where brought up with role models who behaved this way we would start to see a reduction in the awful statistic above.





D is for…….

The next in my A-Z of coaching…..

d is for…..

Every child that joins a swimming club has a Dream. They want to win races, to get better and, ultimately, go to the Olympics.

Dreams  are aspiration desires. Dreams should be BIG, dreams that don’t scare you, dreams that don’t get you out of bed every single day are simply not big enough.

Those people who achieve their dreams are those who have the DRIVE to transform their dreams into goals.

The D in my A-Z is therefore Drive. 


To be driven is to be compelled to act in a particular way, especially one that may be considered difficult.

There is no doubt that sport if difficult. No ‘normal’ people would do it. Its a lot of early mornings and long weekends. Its dealing with injuries and disappointments. Its antisocial.

It takes special people to stick at sport for the long haul, to reach the very top.

It takes people with Drive

Personally the thing that drives me is the desire to prove that I know what I am doing smiley-face-flat

I consider myself to have been incredibly lucky as a coach, I have coaches some athletes who have been exceptional Irish swimmers but there is always that little doubt at the back of my head. The reality that those athletes would in all likelihood have achieved at least as much, if not more, elsewhere.

If my desire is to become as good as I can be, to be as close to world class as possible, then I believe I need to assist athletes to reach their fullest potential on a consistent basis. It is this drive that wakens me every morning at 5am, that makes the decision to say no to nights out an easy one.

It is my belief that no matter what area of life you have ambition in, without drive your dreams will remain just that.