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Three years ago, I was on a parent committee charged with finding new coaches for our kids’ swim team. The team was floundering. We were ranked dead last in the bottom division of a 36-team league. Our swim team was drowning, and there was no lifeguard in sight.

On one Saturday morning, I sat with three other moms waiting to interview a few college students for the assistant coach position. The first arrived late. The second was a case study in what not to do at an interview: Why do you want to coach? It will look good on my resume. Did you like swimming when you were younger? I swam because my dad made me. Eventually I just got used to going. Do you enjoy working with children? Yeah.

Luckily, those interviews ended quickly, and then a ray of sunshine named Rob walked in the door. Rob’s passion for this coaching job came oozing out of his body. We all saw it, and we all loved it.

Why do you want to coach? I love swimming. When I get up in the morning, all I want to do is swim. It’s what I think about all day. I can show kids how great swimming is, so they can feel that passion, too.

Did you like swimming when you were younger? I had great coaches, and the practices were tough. We worked really hard, but I know that made me a better swimmer and a better person. I’m proud of what a good athlete I am, and I know my coaches did that for me. I’d like to do that for other kids.

Do you enjoy working with children? Kids are great. I’m a kid myself, so I like to have fun. Swim practice can be lots of fun, but it has to be hard work, too.

We hired Rob as assistant coach, and he was loved and adored by our kids, who quickly started blossoming into better swimmers. The next year, he was offered a head coach position at a neighboring swim club. We worried. We didn’t want him to leave, but we understood the great opportunity for him. He turned down the offer because he loved the team, he told us.

Rob became head coach this past summer season. And our swim team – the one that three years ago was ranked last in the lowest division – swam undefeated and will move up one division next year. Weekend after weekend, meet after meet, we won – sometimes by one point. The kids on the team were unified, working toward a goal their young coach had convinced them they could accomplish: win.

My oldest daughter told me that before the start of each meet, Coach Rob would tell the team he knew they could win because no one worked harder than them, and no one wanted the win more.

Last month we had our swim banquet and Rob, now in his senior year of college, came in a suit and tie. He traversed the room with ease, moving from a circle of parents in conversation to a table of chatty pre-teen girls to a bunch of non-stop 9-year-old boys. When the kids got a little too loud during the presentations, one word from Rob and they quieted instantly. Clearly, he had mastered this job and – in a world where coaches who should know better are often out of control – became an ideal motivator and teacher for a small group of swimmers.

Coach Rob performed a miracle. He convinced swimmers who were accustomed to losing that they were good enough to win.  He taught young minds that if they work hard, they could reach the most impossible goals. And he showed us all that when you have a passion for what you do, you can make great things happen. The unthinkable is possible. A great coach teaches you that.

October 2011
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