What’s the constant that has driven your passion for coaching?
Making the difference in the lives of young people. I like to say that I coach for smiles and hugs. To me as an age group coach I truly believe that a positive, quality competitive environment makes a huge difference in preparing young people for their future in life.
Share with us your coaching style, what have you found motivates athletes to do their best?
I don't believe that there is only one way to success and of course each coach might define success differently. For me I try to coach from a positive stand point, and to appreciate all ability levels of athletes.
Sport has wins and losses, how do you encourage an athlete who starts to doubt their abilities?
Competitive swimming is a different type of sport since you are racing the clock as much as everyone else in the pool. You can finish last in the heat or event but still have won your best time. Athletes and people in general usually look at how many are still in front of them and not how many are still behind them. For the athlete who is beginning to doubt their ability I will start with pointing out what they have accomplished and then work to focus them on smaller tasks that they can take down one at a time. Very often, before they know it they are back on track towards the bigger goal.
There has been a lot of discussion about parent’s impacts on youth sports, what advice would you give a parent today?
Bottom line, this is the child's sport, not yours. Don't live vicariously through their involvement. Celebrate their effort as much as their success. Never punish a child for not performing to the level you want. Be honest but also realize that there are different levels of talent but level of effort can be the same for everyone. Put character ahead of performance.
How do you establish team building when swimming is mostly an individual sport?
In both HS and College there is a strong team atmosphere largely because there are specific rules that constitute what a team is. In club swimming we see it more as training as a team but competing as an individual. In a great team atmosphere the athletes work to push each other to their best training and therefore potentially their best effort in racing.
We learn by sharing stories, is there an athlete’s story that stands out to you that others could learn from?
A young man I didn't coach but knew from the NY/NJ area when I coached there, set the world record in 1980 but we boycotted the Olympics that year and he didn't get to participate. In 1984, still holding the world record, he finished 3rd in his event and only the top 2 get to represent the USA. Sitting by the warm down pool, very sad and dejected, swimmer after swimmer stopped to console him. Some time later he made the comment that is sucked not making the team but was great in realizing how many friends you have. In the end times and placing might be forgotten but character will always remain!
What’s your current mantra?
My mantra has been the same for decades, 'You race what you practice'. Practice sloppy or with low effort and you will race that way. In racing, my last words most often to the swimmer heading towards the blocks 'don't forget, have fun'.
Follow Coach Ira & his Sarasota Tsunami Swim Team and Sarasota Swim Club