Ever Think About Being an Athletic Coach? Here’s What You Need to Know

swim coach
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Confession time: Everything I know about athletic coaches is what I’ve learned by watching Coach Sue Sylvester’s antics on Glee. It turns out that most coaches don’t spend all their time plotting diabolical schemes to undermine other teachers and cheat their way to the top. No, some coaches actually genuinely care about guiding their student athletes to success—the honest way.

We caught up with Nita Guidoux, Head Swim Coach at Madison High School in Portland, Oregon to find out more. Nita didn’t always know she’d pursue a career in coaching. She graduated from Portland State University with a BS in Political Science and Willamette University College of Law with a JD, but sought an opportunity to pursue an interest unrelated to law.

Nita shares the ups and downs of being an athletic coach and what you need to know if you’re interested in pursuing a similar path.

How did you first find out about the swim coach position and how did you decide to get involved?

In the fall of 2012, I was working part-time as a legal consultant/executive assistant to the owner of a property management firm, and I began looking for opportunities to supplement my income while pursuing a passion outside of law.

I am a life-long athlete (including 10 years of competitive swimming) and I have always enjoyed working with youth, so coaching sports felt like a natural avenue. Through school websites, I identified the current swim coaches and athletic directors at the local public high schools and I sent out several introductory emails.

Almost immediately, I received a response from a Cleveland High School coach who knew of a possible vacancy at Madison High School. She put me in contact with Madison’s Athletic Director, and within weeks I was on deck leading my team of Madison Senators.

Was there any certification process?

I had to become a nationally certified high school coach. The process was comprised of a combination of online courses on various subjects (general coaching concepts, sportsmanship, health and hydration, concussion education, child abuse awareness, etc.) and in-person CPR and first aid classes as well as a series of mandatory meetings hosted by the Portland Interscholastic League. I invested approximately 45 hours over a two-week period to become fully certified.

Do you have to do any ongoing or additional training?

Concussion and child abuse education must be renewed annually. Other certifications (including CPR and first aid) expire every two years. Other classes must be completed once every five years.

What are your main responsibilities and activities as a swim coach?

My pre-season begins with leading a recruitment effort to invite more student-athletes to our program, followed by informative/introductory meetings for both students and parents.

Once the season officially commences, I spend every afternoon on the pool deck writing and executing work-outs and providing stroke instruction and constructive feedback. During our practice sessions as well as meets, I am responsible for ensuring the health and safety of each of the 40 swimmers on my team and responding appropriately to injury and illness.

Prior to our swim meets, I enter each swimmer in their respective individual and relay events—this seeding process can literally last hours as I try to accommodate swimmers’ preferences while following the requirements and limitations (i.e., each swimmer can participate in a maximum of four events but no more than two individual races and to be eligible at our district championship, a swimmer must have competed in a minimum of three dual meets and have swum the events they wish to compete in at least one meet during the current season) and balancing equity as to give every swimmer a chance to compete as much as possible yet still giving my team the best chance to win.

Throughout the season, I facilitate regular communication about team schedule and events between athletes, parents, teachers, and school officials. I also oversee fundraising efforts. Our season wraps up with a state championship meet for swimmers who qualify and finally with an end of the season banquet. During the banquet, I recognize each of “my kids” for their accomplishments, distribute awards and certificates, and share fun memories with parents and families.

What is your favorite part about this job?

My favorite part of the job is working with energetic, motivated high school athletes and watching them improve individually and collectively over the course of their high school swimming experience. My team also has tremendous team spirit, so our meets are especially fun. The support and camaraderie demonstrated by the athletes are truly inspiring.

What is the most challenging part of this job?

The time commitment is my biggest challenge. Coaching is compensated as a part-time, seasonal position but most weeks during the season I invest nearly 40 hours and some coaching responsibilities are truly year-round.

What do you think are the most important skills/characteristics of a successful coach?

Successful coaches must balance the love of sport with the best interests of their athletes. This requires a combination of high technical knowledge and enduring leadership—a coach must have the ability to vigorously motivate athletes while exercising compassion and understanding.

What advice do you have for students who are interested in pursuing a career in this field?

The best way to test the waters of coaching—whether it’s in the pool, on the court or around the track—is to volunteer for a team. Most high school athletic programs (particularly in the public sector) run on tight budgets and seek volunteers to flesh out coaching staff.

Homework time! Nita mentions that volunteering is a great way to learn more about what it’s like to work as a coach. Contact a few local schools to find out if you could get involved in one of their athletic programs.

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