Six Key Lessons From Coaching Legends That Should Be Adopted


By Wayne Goldsmith (On Coaching Legends)

Through the years, Wayne Goldsmith has had the opportunity to attend and speak at some of the world’s most prestigious and important swimming coaching conferences, including The Australian Swimming Coaches and Teachers Association (ASCTA) Convention, the American Swimming Coaches Association (ASCA) World Clinic and the British Swimming Coaches Association (BSCA) conference. Goldsmith formerly wrote this piece that highlighted Six Simple Lessons From Coaching Legends You Should Implement Now.

At these events, Goldsmith had the pleasure of listening to and talking with some of the legends of world swimming coaching including:

  • Eddie Reese
  • Bob Bowman
  • Bruce Gemmell
  • Gregg Troy
  • Bill Sweetenham
  • Marcel Wouda
  • Jon Rudd
  • Romain Barnier

So you’d have to ask – what did I learn?

What did I find out from these outstanding swimming coaches that provides an insight and understanding of what it takes to swim fast?

Were there common factors or consistent messages or secret tricks that I discovered from spending time learning from the best of the best?

Yes. There are some common factors: some consistent themes that all these leading coaches talked about as being critical for swimming success.

Here are some Lessons from Coaching Legends.

1. There is no one way

Perhaps the most consistent theme is – there is no consistent theme….not in terms of training programs anyway.

Some coaches prefer long, hard, disciplined, high volume programs and others are just as committed to speed focused programs with relatively low training volume.

In the end, as a coach you need to figure out what works for you and more importantly, what works for your athletes.

2. Success is determined by the swimmer

At every session I attend in a conference, and in every discussion I have had with these legendary coaches, the importance of the swimmer’s attitude, commitment and competitiveness was a message repeated loud and clear.

Regardless of the training program philosophy, the training volume, the set design or the session plan, ultimately it is the swimmer’s decision on how successful the program will be.

The more successful swimmers are 100% committed to their own success, fiercely determined and highly competitive, and it is their attitude that determines their success more than philosophical debates about training loads, equipment use, drills or periodization.

3. Hard work: no short cuts

Whether the coach believed in a philosophy of high volume training or if they were more committed to a sprint focused approach, the bottom line is there are no short cuts. The sport is still all about working hard – consistently and deliberately.

One common misconception is that a sprint focused program means life is easy and there are somehow short cuts and an easier way to achieve swimming success. In reality nothing could be further from the truth.

Whilst a small number of these coaching legends are advocating relatively low training volumes in the pool, the overall training commitment of their athletes across all forms of training still represents 24-30 hours of dedicated practice per week.

As one coach put it beautifully….“we are not about less training time – we are about not wasting time”. 

4. Copying Kills – Creativity is King

Having had the honor of meeting many of these coaches on more than one occasion and in some cases having known them for many years, it never ceases to amaze me that every time we meet, the conversation is about something different.

Do these guys work hard? Absolutely – they keep hours that would kill most people.

Are they passionate about the sport? Totally – they live for swimming and for the successes of their athletes.

But their most defining quality??? Creativity.

These great coaches are leaders – they are thinking and doing things before anyone else and as a result they consistently find ways of gaining a competitive advantage over their competition.

15 BSCA073

Photo Courtesy: DPIX (Jon Rudd, Marcel Wouda and Wayne Goldsmith – BSCA Conference 2015)

5. Trial and Error – there’s no guarantee

As brilliant as these coaches are – they are human.

Another strong theme that emerged from the presentations I attended in Australia, the U.S. and the U.K. was that no one has all the answers. Sometimes it’s a matter of trial and error to find what works the best for each individual swimmer in the team.

What is also apparent is that all of these coaches are tireless – relentless – in working with their athletes to help them realize their potential.

These are the sort of people you’d want standing next to you when the chips are down, when you’re facing a seemingly impossible battle and when it seems like there’s no way forward.

There’s an old saying in coaching – “swimmers don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

What’s obvious in all these great coaches is that they know a lot about swimming: they know more about sets and reps and drills and skills than just about anyone. But, they also care about their athletes and want their athletes to succeed more than you can imagine.

6. Lessons from Coaching Legends….the bottom line.

So…how to summarize hundreds of hours of listening and learning from the living legends of swimming coaching into a few words.

  1. Give all you’ve got to everything you do;
  2. Seek continuous improvement – be relentless in seeking new ideas, new ways, new directions;
  3. Focus on the athletes – give them more than you ask from them;
  4. Be humble – accept that you don’t know it all but never stop trying to find out the answers;
  5. Being a great human being is the cornerstone of being a successful coach.

To all the coaching legends I’ve met, worked with, talked with, listened to and learned from, thank you and keep up the outstanding work.


Photo Courtesy: Taylor Brien


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Kellyanne Keefe Cortese

Great article !

Shana Trabona
8 years ago


Paul Robbins
Paul Robbins
8 years ago

Wayne captures the essence of high performance coaching in this article. Leadership, innovation and the development of a winning culture were at the heart of the BSCA 2015 50th Anniversary Conference.

Ken Thorley
8 years ago

I think this sums it up.

Logan Pierson
8 years ago

I had the amazing opportunity to train with three of the all-time best Coaches in Eddie Reese at Auburn, Terry Carlisle at the Bolles School in Jacksonville, Florida and Jack Nelson at Ft. Lauderdale Swim Team. Each had their own winning style and creative way of training. Their edge, I believe, was that they understood years ahead of most that along with rigid physical training, the mind controlled the body.

Paul Robbins
Paul Robbins
8 years ago
Reply to  Logan Pierson

Logan, interesting comments you make. The big question is can we develop these skills through education and training or are the greats just born to be great?

8 years ago

Hi Wayne,

Great summary of what should be common sense, but as we consistently see is not. These lessons are applicable across any sport, without adjusting any of it.

Given the athletes attitude is such a critical element to success, I would be interested to hear peoples thoughts on how you identify the young athletes who have those attitudinal attributes, not just the physical and physiological attributes.

Great work,

4 years ago
Reply to  Richard

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Kent Johnson
4 years ago

Nailed it….some amazing yet simple words of wisdom.

Mark Fellner
Mark Fellner
4 years ago

Thanks Wayne – “terrific summary!”

1 year ago

YES,YES,YES 150 percent

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