Good Coaches Don’t Have To Be Experts

You don’t have to be an expert at something to be a good coach. In fact, you don’t even need experience. If it sounds counterintuitive, it’s because it is – or at least that’s what I thought too, until I heard about Bill Boomer.

Bill Boomer is the world-renowned college and Olympic level swimming coach who never so much as saw a meet before taking his first job. No credentials. No former experience. All openness to figuring it out. His track record and the positions that followed speak for themselves. Here’s how he did it and what we can steal for ourselves.

The first thing Boomer brought to the pool was an outside view of the sport. He honestly didn’t know how it was supposed to look or work. As a graduate assistant to the track and field team, he knew form mattered, so he figured he would start there. On the track, bodies moved through the air. In the pool, they moved through water. Some of his outside knowledge could carry over.

Boomer looked beyond the swimmers in front of him and studied how animals swam. He observed how different strokes cut through water, experimenting with his athletes as they went along. Many of his techniques not only worked, but led to real results, from winning records to championships. The ways he learned to explain form and communicate how it could be improved are in use by others today.

So, he brought an outside view, he applied his own knowledge where he could, he sought out ways to learn what he didn’t know, he experimented with his players, he honed his communication skills, and he always kept making forward progress. Sounds really easy and really hard at the same time, doesn’t it? We can make this even simpler to make it more applicable.

Boomer’s coaching practice could be thought of as being a learner and not a knower. The reason you don’t have to be an expert or even experienced to be a good coach is it’s all about learning and not already knowing. Learning requires awareness, attention, and intention. Coaches aren’t there to have the answers, they’re there to learn about the situation and help someone else give their best answer in terms of their best performance.

Boomer was a master of being aware of what he didn’t know and seeking whatever else he could understand. He’d put attention on those details with the intention of proving they made a positive difference. No doubt there were hiccups along the way, but he was determined to make his teams swim better, and his track record proves he did.

If we want to help others, we don’t need to be credentialed up to start. If our mindset is to be a learner and not a knower, if our mindset is to explore the boundaries and not standby and guard them, we can help anyone on any journey. We don’t need the right answer, just the mindset to help someone else find and express it in whatever they’re doing.

This is pretty wild – that’s Bill Boomer on the left. Not what you were expecting, eh? Be a learner, not a knower, see where it takes you.

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