Often, when I'm coaching swimmers, I think to myself: "I'm not sure what's going on here. I better figure it out". I have questions, and I want them answered. As a coach, it is good to lean into that curiosity.
However, there are some questions that you really do not need to ask. There is such thing as a dumb question. Here, in no particular order, is a list of questions you don't need to ask. Why? Because the answer is obviously "no!"
1. Are you having fun?
Do you like fun? I think most people do. What kinds of things do you do when you're having fun? Do you smile, or laugh? What is your body language like?
I talked to someone yesterday who expressed a similar sentiment when it comes to engagement. If you have to ask people if they are "engaged", you are kind of missing the point. It's very obvious when people are enjoying themselves, and when they are not.
As a coach, you don't have to make things "fun" all the time, and it's certainly part of the job to create things that are only really "fun" after they are accomplished. Still, you don't need to ask people if they are having fun.
If people are obviously having fun, great news! If not, ask yourself, or others, what you might do to change that.
2. Are you ok? (To someone who is crying)
I waded into this question like a complete dumbass many times early in my career, particularly with female athletes. Someone who is crying is experiencing some pretty intense emotions. This prompt is somehow deeply coded into my man brain because although I know it's not worth asking I still slip up from time to time.
Asking them if they're ok can seem like a sensitive approach, but more likely you will signal to an athlete that you are uncomfortable with their emotional response or don't really understand.
I've found better luck with simple statements that let someone know that you see them in pain, and want to help. And then, often, shutting up and letting them talk without judgement.
3. Are you ready for this?
I am cringing writing this paragraph. During one ACC Championship, when I was an assistant coach, there was some debate among the coaches about who to place on the relay. Should we put the swimmer who had for the majority of the season been a clear choice, but was struggling at the meet, or another swimmer who was performing better than usual. It was a coin flip.
What we decided to do was ask the struggling swimmer if she thought she would do a good job on the relay. And it was a disaster. The swimmer, already doubting herself, now all of a sudden had to deal with her coaches signaling their doubt too.
Even the most confident swimmers will have to confront some doubts in stressful situations. As a coach, you will be stressed too. It is not the athlete's job, however, to reassure you,.
4. Do you want to swim a 12,000 IM (or something like that)?
If they aren't begging you to do a 12,000 IM...they definitely do not want to do it. Trust me on this one.
5. Do you want MUFFINS???? Or medals???
NO! Just no.