At SyncEffect our mission is simple: to develop human potential, to inspire coaches and athletes to reach higher by connecting them to their unique gifts and to create experiences and opportunities that allow growth and development.
When Covid-19 hit the world in March and countries began to lockdown, our SyncEffect Artistic Swimming Coaching team of Olga Novokshchenova, Chihiro Ishii, and I discussed what our role could be during this time. We wanted to find ways to stay true to our mission, to support our community, and to give back to athletes and coaches during this challenging time.
Looking for ways to provide a more meaningful online experience for her athletes in the Caribbean country of Aruba, Coach Chihiro invited many of the clubs (with whom we had worked over the past seasons), to join her Zoom training sessions. She invited her former athlete, Kano Omata, a member of the Japanese National team and 2016 Olympian, to conduct land training sessions. In addition to the valuable training experience, the objectives were to create a welcoming environment to inspire everyone, to have athletes meet new friends, and help everyone feel less isolated. Coach Olga got busy making masks for her swimmers and their families in Jamaica while I made myself available to speak with any coach who needed support as she navigated the challenges of club programming.
Early on Chihiro noticed that the coaches with whom she was interacting needed support so she asked me if I would run a group session for the coaches, following the training session, one Friday evening in April. Without thinking too much about it, I agreed. Only as I began to prepare did I experience huge resistance, a sense of self-doubt, and a feeling of “I am not sure I can do this”!
Why did I feel resistance?
I love speaking and sharing with coaches; it is what I do. This, however, was different. What could I possibly share from my own background since I had never experienced anything like Covid-19? The uncertainty of this situation made it even tougher. This led me to an interesting process of reflection where I had to lean into this resistance, put myself in their shoes, and consider what coaches and athletes must be going through during this unprecedented time. For one of the first times in my life, I felt helpless, and that is where I began – by sharing authentically what was in my heart.
That first meeting covered the following:
- Acknowledging Grief. It is essential to allow ourselves and our athletes to mourn what we have lost during this time, noting that everyone’s process is different and that some athletes will take longer than others to move through this.
- Retaining Girls in Sport. Three key factors, documented by research, are important for retaining girls in Sport: Social Connection and Acceptance; Role Models; Skill Acquisition. I asked how these could be worked on during the pandemic.
- The Importance of Connection. While Zoom is a wonderful tool for online workouts, during this time of isolation athletes miss the informal opportunities to connect with one and other: the small exchanges and interactions that take place in the locker room before or after training, the conversations at break times, and the celebration of small victories after a good run through. I challenged the coaches to think creatively about how to simulate that same sense of connection amongst their athletes during the pandemic.
- Foreseeable Challenges for Athletes During Isolation. We discussed the unique challenges that isolation presents to athletes in terms of mental health, including depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and other reasons athletes are more at risk. I encouraged the coaches to check in regularly with athletes individually to see how they were doing.
- Maximizing Opportunities During COVID19: I shared my personal views on where I saw opportunities for growth for coaches including creative development, getting clear on your personal vision, building the engine (physical capacities) of your athletes, starting a meditation practice, and scenario planning.
At the end of the session, I felt like I had imparted some valuable advice and insights to the group of coaches and I also felt energized myself. Note to self: When we give freely to others, it lifts us up!
When I agreed to the initial session, I did not imagine that we would continue to meet every Friday evening since then. Over the past 2 months, the sessions have provided a safe forum for coaches to experience professional development, to share key learnings from their week, to support one another through challenges, and to share best practices as countries navigate their return to the pool protocols. We have also explored in greater depth each of the areas introduced in our first meeting.
Food for Thought: Perhaps the vulnerability I expressed in our initial session laid the foundation for the group to bond and connect?
“Meeting as a group every Friday night has been an incredible opportunity for me as a coach. I have been meeting women who I have looked up to for years and never thought I would have a mentorship opportunity with. Working with strong coaches, sharing training tips, offering support, and connection during this time has truly been a diamond in the rough. I have learned a lot and have done introspection that will advance me in my coaching”
Lisa Dunville – Thunder Bay Synchro – Canada
“I think the most important benefit from these meetings has been the connection from coaches all over the world during this COVID19 pandemic, sharing our thoughts, fears, and future plans. “
Aziza Mahmoud – Al ahly Sporting club – Egypt
“With the transition to online coaching, I wasn’t aware of how much emotional energy would be required to keep the training going. At the end of each week, I felt defeated and full of anxiety. Talking with other coaches that I admire, and respect led to valuable discussions and I found myself inspired to take on another week with renewed energy and clarity.”
Alissa Moberg-Kinney CBAC Caymanites – Cayman Islands
Increased Networks of Support
Another beautiful and unexpected outcome: the coaches have started to reach out and connect and support each other outside of the Friday night meetings. Yingli Hou from Waterloo Artistic Swimming in Canada is now teaching a weekly Pilates class to Shelvy Melowa’s athletes in Indonesia; Holly Hjartarson from Aquatica Artistic Swimming in Canada had her athletes join Leilani Torres’ team in Chile for a workout led by Leilani. Alissa Moberg from the Cayman Islands conducted a Zoom training session for any of the coaches who wished to take part so they could learn more about what the technology can do. These are just a few of the many examples of the amazing things that have emerged from this experience.
A new appreciation of cultural strengths and challenges
As part of our weekly leadership development exercises, coaches have been asked to identify areas where they feel challenged and uncomfortable. The conversations have led not only to personal “aha” moments for everyone but have also created a forum for us to share our challenges and delve more deeply into relevant conversations. Latin American coaches from Peru, Argentina, Brazil, and Chile are helping coaches from Japan, Indonesia, and South Korea to become more expressive and, in turn, Asian coaches are sharing their knowledge and expertise in the areas of commitment, focus, and discipline – all necessary components for success in Artistic Swimming.
Where to From Here?
We recently held a brainstorming session for the future of the forum. The group was unanimous in wanting to continue the Friday night meetings. Everyone was asked to think of a topic area they would like to present. As part of our ongoing leadership development, I am encouraging everyone to put themselves out there, to build their tool kit and gain confidence in their presentation skills. We have now developed a healthy list of topics and a wish list of guest presenters. Our first guest presenter was Stephan Miermont who graciously shared his expertise and advice on training in small spaces (a challenge most people are facing during the pandemic and ‘return to play’).
This initiative happened organically, it was not planned, and it is not for profit. It is a rewarding and humbling experience to know that SyncEffect has been able to provide coaches from various countries, many of whom are working in isolation, with a meaningful forum to continue to be inspired, to develop a greater sense of connection both with themselves and other coaches and to ultimately create a better experience for their athletes going forward. The group is made up of coaches who have decades of experience and coaches who are just starting out in their career and everything in between. We have Olympic coaches and coaches working at the grassroots and development levels.
No matter what level of coach, no matter their country, this forum has shown us that we truly are all in this together and can all learn and benefit from sharing experiences. Coaches helping coaches is the way forward for Artistic Swimming as we work to embrace a new reality for our sport in the years to come. I am looking forward to growing this movement and continuing these Friday evening conversations.
If you would like to learn more, you can contact me via email.
About the Author:
Sheilagh Croxon has dedicated her career to helping individuals, teams and organizations connect with their greatest potential. A 3 time Olympic Coach in the sport of Artistic Swimming, she has led Canadian teams to medal success in 2 Olympic Games and several World Championships. A fierce champion and developer of women coaches and leaders, Sheilagh led the Women in a Coaching programme for the Coaching Association of Canada for 8 years. Most recently, she facilitated the inaugural women coach intern program for the Commonwealth Games Federation during the Commonwealth Games in 2018. She is the founder and director of SyncEffect and a member of the Fina Coaches Committee for Artistic Swimming.