BUSINESS

Who’s the Coach? Lessons learned during summers at Sequoia Swim and Tennis Club

Katherine Johnson
Oxford Stories
krjohns5@go.olemiss.edu

Not all people are made to interact with children. It can truly be a hit or miss situation for some people. However, I absolutely adore getting to spend my summers with the kids at Sequoia Swim and Tennis Club in Nashville.

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Becoming ‘Swimmer of the Week’ of the Sequoia Swim Team at age 7. Photo submitted by Katherine Johnson.

I find a special part of myself when working with these little girls and boys, for I used to be in their exact shoes.

I joined the Sequoia Swim Team when I was just 4 years old. I swam on the team for 14 years until I aged out of the system at 18.

At 16, I took on an additional role and became a coach for the first time. I absolutely adored the position and have gone back and coached for the past four summers. Most of those years, I was able to double as both a swimmer on the team and a coach. Now that I’m older, my only role is coaching the children the best I can.

There is diversity in my job that comes from the kids I work with. They range from ages 4 to 18, which offers a variety of personalities, moods, fears, and senses of humor. While each individual might be different, they each teach me as much as I am teaching them.

Each age group requires a certain set of skills that is unique to that range of kids. For example, new swimmers normally need a more gentle approach to compensate for their fears of the water. Oppositely, the 7 to 10 year old range normally requires a more stern attitude to offset their wild personalities.

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With one of my youngest swimmers, Tucker Paxton, at the end of season banquet. Photo submitted by Katherine Johnson.

However, I have learned the importance of flexibility from working in this position. There is value in not mass labeling every age division or gender sector, for some kids break the mold in the ways they learn. It is important to reach every child and meet them where they are.

There is a spontaneity in this position that mirrors the required flexibility. Kids don’t understand a schedule, and sometimes they show you that it’s better to not have one at all.

Some days this may look hectic and frazzled, making me want to pull my hair out as the kids are bouncing off the walls. Other days, this may be playing games at the end of practice because they are all so quiet. They go back and forth, and you have to be willing to gauge their attitude and adjust yourself to fit.

More than anything, working so closely with children is incredibly humbling. They have a unique ability to make you feel like a superhero even when you feel like you’re drowning. Their high-pitched squeals entice you to act crazy in front of them, for their joy seems vastly more important than your own humility.

At a swim meet with some of the 7 and 8 year old girls age group. Photo submitted by Katherine Johnson.

There is a remarkable return from investing in these children. All you have to do is notice them, love them, be intentional with them, and care for them, and they will look at you like you hung the moon. Their simplicity is an impressive reminder of what we should be focusing on in this life.

Furthermore, I adore getting to experience these children without the presence of technology. There is a refreshing tone that comes from having them outdoors in a setting that is iPad free. They remind me how to laugh and find joy in any situation as I watch them play a board game at rest period with complete strangers or gather a motley crew of children to all play a pool game together.

One of my favorite parts of working in this position is the relationships I build with my swimmers and their families. They are bonds that extend beyond the confines of the summer season, seeping into all other parts of the year. There is an unmatched joy that comes from seeing a kid out in public and being swarmed by tiny hugs.

My genuine friendships with these swimmers pales in comparison to the relationships I have with my other coaches, though. We all used to be the little people we are now in charge of, as we all swam on the swim team together for our entire childhood. It simply makes sense to do this job with these people by my side.

The coaching staff at the Nashville Swim League City Meet in 2015. Photo by Katherine Johnson.

I can’t imagine any other way I would rather spend my summers than surrounded by my swimmers. While it is appealing to give back to the place that groomed me into the person I am today, it is even greater to know the impact I can have on these kids. I remember the coaches I had back when I was swimming, and I smile thinking that one day, maybe these little ones will remember me too.

In every way, the children’s nature reminds me where to place my focus in this world. They teach me more about myself than I could ever hope to learn from adults or professors. Their kind hearts, yet crazy personalities make the world a better place and me a better version of myself.

Thank you, Sequoia, for being my home away from home for 15 summers and allowing me to grow into the person I am today.

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