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Q&A with Inspiring Award-Winning Swim Coach Patty Waldron


Coach Patty Waldron, a 2020 Double-Goal Coach® Award Winner and the Head Swim Coach at the Charlotte Latin School in Charlotte, North Carolina, recently conducted a Q&A to share her positive coaching perspective and how she has been connecting with her swimmers during this unique situation with the coronavirus pandemic.

Coach Patty was recognized as a 2020 Double-Goal Coach® Award Winner for the extent to which she reflects the model of a Double-Goal Coach, whose first goal is winning, and whose second, more-important goal is teaching life lessons through sports.

Q&A With Coach Patty Waldron

What does "positive coaching" mean to you?

Positive Coaching to me means approaching your instruction to your athletes with the clarity of instruction backed by enthusiasm and encouragement. With knowledge and clarity of instruction the likelihood of your athlete being successful is very good. Success breeds belief and excitement towards learning the next skill. My deck time is my happiest place and coaching enthusiastically is important. Some swim skills are very difficult and I have always had the belief that with patience and time any skill can be learned. During the learning phase encouragement and instilling patience in your athletes to come back day, after day is so important. Positive coaching to me means coaching with clarity of instruction, coaching enthusiastically and being encouraging throughout the learning process.


How have you been connecting with your swimmers during this unique situation with the COVID-19 pandemic?

On March 16th (before schools were forced to close in NC) our Head Master held an all-staff meeting to outline Charlotte Latin’s plan for COVID 19. The school has been amazing with its support of the teaching staff to prepare and implement remote instruction. I sent an email to my team (that is in off-season) before Latin went to online instruction. I have waited for them to get into a “new” normal life rhythm and have plans to Zoom with them in the upcoming week.

Our athletic Department is providing online dryland workouts for all athletes and families. I have also done a video for Coach’s Corner advising Latin Hawks to “find their happy” for a few moments every day. In front of my house I created a tribute to Hawk Swimming with chalk art, Hawk Swimming clothing, cap, goggles and workout equipment. Positive outlook and strong mental health is something we need to promote during the stressful time of dealing with COVID 19. I look forward to seeing my athletes and checking in on their well being. I miss strolling across campus to see them or meeting them in the cafeteria.

Do you have a mistake ritual you use with your team? (A mistake ritual is a communication or gesture used to help players move past a mistake and get on to the next play.)

No we do not have a ritual for this. Our athletes get feedback after each swim and we are quick to point out if their events allow for the chance to correct the mistake they just made. We also use the mistake as a teaching moment at practice and then at the next meet and in our meet re-caps acknowledge the improvement.

We do have a ritual we use to reward athletes for sportsmanship and athletic achievement following a swim meet. As we wait for the team scores we do a friendly cheer to the other teams, and then I do a general recap of the meet. Finally, we give out what we call “Tough Nut Awards.” This award is simply a silver (now a parent has painted them gold) nut, the biggest one I can find and afford at the hardware store. The staff, together, chooses athletes to be recognized with a tough nut for acts of sportsmanship (cheering for teammates, shaking hands with an opponent) and athletic achievement (winning the close one, coming from behind for the win on a relay, coming off a plateau, achieving a new state time standard)

Many parents with athletes now at home full time are looking for advice about how to maintain the balance of being both a positive parent and coach. Do you have any suggestions for them?

The signature line for the COVID crisis is “we are all in this together.” Well, that is always true when you speak about the relationship between parent-coach-athlete. I think what is important is the parents and coaches act together as support for the athletes always… and in the future.

I remember when I was a young coach and the parents were older than me no one asked me this type of question. Now I am older than the parents of my athletes, I get asked questions about how to handle situations involving their child from a parent perspective. With age comes wisdom, right? As far as advice for parents, I would say be the best listener. Listen to your child and really look into their soul. Listen for what their greatest concern is and take time to talk about it. There are so many moments this crisis is taking from our student-athletes and we need to be sensitive about their feelings of loss. Be empathetic and remember when you were a high school-aged person and the moments that were important to you at the time. The impact on a student’s emotions about these missed opportunities cannot be ignored. Remember too, remote teaching can get the x’s and o’s done, but missing their daily interactions with teammates and friends is a huge loss.

As coaches too, we have to realize there may be some households where being together is not healthy and communication and support to athletes in this situation are extremely important. On the positive side of COVID, the yes positive side, families are being forced to be together and may appreciate each other a bit more. Hopefully, there is more play and dialogue going on. There also would be more appreciation between family members for what the new day looks like. Everyone working and remote schooling from home under one roof.

The health and mental health of our parents is so important. Make sure you are doing your best to stay connected to them to help support them, but also understand the current mental health of your athlete.

Are there any particular resources that you've found and are using for yourself or your team that you could share with us?

Our school provides tremendous resources with the Coach’s Corner segments and our Athletic Development posts. I had a Swimposium scheduled for my staff coming up and this is where we would look at what is provided and see areas of potential needs. It is our responsibility to look together and decide what we can add to our program and exam all facets of how we function as a staff. This would be our first get together of this nature and was supposed to take place in the Foothills of NC at my home there. Now we will have to deal with conducting this remotely and have a “do-over” once we are past this crisis.

I believe being connected with PCA opens up new resources for me and for the kids. I am looking forward to taking advantage of what is being offered.

Do you have a favorite book you've read and can you tell us why it's a favorite?

It’s How You Play the Game : The 12 Leadership Principles of Dean Smith by David Chadwick

I have been a TarHeel fan since age 5 and grew up listening and watching every TarHeel basketball game ever broadcasted! My brother with whom I am very close, passed along stories and lore about Coach Smith. I fell in love with Dean Smith as a Coach and the Universtiy of North Carolina at Chapel Hill as a university. My brother attended UNC and I did as well.

I swam four years for the UNC Varsity Swim team. In our years we won 4 ACC Championships and had 4 top ten finishes in the country. I was an average athlete on this elite team, but my biggest contributions to the team was promoting team cohesiveness and a team spirit unparalleled by any team we race in the ACC. I was honored by my team by being voted the Hill Carrow Spirit Award winner for the first three years it was awarded. Fast forward, at Latin I had the opportunity to coach a young athlete named Michael Chadwick. His Father is a well-known minister in Charlotte and at the time Michael was a young developing athlete with incredible love and enthusiasm for the sport. Michael developed into an professional elite swimmer, and a USA National Team Member with a legitimate chance to make the 2020 (now 2021) USA Olympic Swim Team.

Michael’s Dad, David played for Dean Smith and wrote the book, It’s How You Play the Game. David outlines 12 Principles that he felt made Coach Smith successful in coaching players to be successful on and off the court.

1) Be Loyal-Your athletes need to know you are there for them no matter what. We gain our student’s trust and confidence by letting them know we care about them in a 360 approach, not just what they are doing in the pool.

2) Provide a Family Environment-Our team is a subset of the greater Hawk Athletic Family. This year we have worked hard as an athletic department to connect our athletic teams. We have team meetings to connect ourselves and use activities from our SALT (Student Athletic Leadership Team) to better understand ourselves and our team.

3) Be a Friend Forever-Our swimmers understand that our friendship with them has no time limit. We are committed to them whenever they need us and we are interested in their life beyond their Latin life! It is my favorite time to have former swimmers come by the practice at Christmas time. I love introducing them to the team and letting them talk reflectively about their time at Latin (in and out of the pool) and what they are currently doing.

4) Put the Team Before the Individual-I believe everyone has something to contribute to the team has an obligation to do so. I believe in the Power of 1! This means just one person, one comment, or one act can have a profound impact on results in and out of the pool.

5) Be Flexible with Your Vision’-Every team is slightly different in personality and skill level so you have to be ready to adjust.

6) Get Better and the Team Gets Better-Professional development for yourself and for your coaches. Same=same and different =different has always been my philosophy. You want the same results do everything the same. You want different results do something different!

7) Speak Positive Words

8) Pass on What you know-I pass along what I have learned after 40 years of coaching…things that aren’t in books….lessons my athletes have taught me through the years.

9) Be a Person of Good Character-Walk the talk. Be who you are and be an example. I am very passionate about excellence. I remind the kids, “Don’t swim fast because you have to…..swim fast because you can!”

10) Make Failure Your Friend-Failure is just an opportunity for a teaching moment. Failure truly is the grassroots of learning to do something correctly.

11) Know Who Is Really In Control-Have faith in something other than yourself. This is personal for everyone but extremely important.

12) Commit Yourself to the Long Haul-My saying is, “Swimming is not microwaveable.” From a technical perspective, swimming is very difficult ant at the Olympic level Coaches rated swimming as the third most difficult sport… dancing was number one and I honestly forget what was #2. My point is it's important, especially for the most developmental swimmers, to let them know that learning these skills takes time and patience and that our sport is recognized at the highest levels for technical difficulty.

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