Ariana Kukors has given us an amazing opportunity. I reflected on that yesterday as I field another phone call, criticizing me for pointing the finger everywhere but myself.
So here it goes, I failed too. I did not like Sean Hutchison, I thought there was too much smoke in 2010. But I did nothing. I was afraid. I feared that in doing so I would face a retaliation from Hutchison and others that would be career ending.
Kukors' bravery allows us to have a conversation about how we can improve our culture. We must not allow that opportunity to pass us by. We cannot just say "Sean was bad" and move on as we have many times in the past.
So I would repeat my call to my coaching peers. Rather than nitpicking my posts or sending me your hushed encouragements, join me in demanding change, especially in the form of transparency from USA Swimming. And don't let up.
Can I still shake hands?
One of the biggest missed opportunities I see in coaches discussing this topic is the way they misinterpret Kukors' description of the grooming process. Kukors says that it started with a handshake, and I've seen coaches lose their mind about whether they can still shake hands with athletes.
They are missing the forest for the trees. It's not about handshakes, it's about being compelled into physical contact whether you want to or not. Rather than focus on whether or not their hands get shook, coaches should speak to their athletes and be clear that they can set their own physical boundaries with the coach, and that the coach will respect that.
Coaches should also communicate what true and appropriate boundaries are, since young people can often be unclear on that.
Likewise, many coaches bemoan the fact that part of Hutchison's grooming process involved getting to know Kukors life outside of swimming. They pride themselves on seeing the whole person, not just a swimmer in the water. Do not interpret this description as "no talking about anything but swimming".
Once again, make clear to athletes that they are free to set the boundaries of what is discussed with their swim coach, and what a clear set of appropriate boundaries are again, since young people can often be confused about what those boundaries are.
One thing I have seen discussed is that a coach can help people if they are struggling with mental health. This is correct, but only as a supporting player. Coaches are not a one stop shop. if they believe an athlete is struggling with a mental health issue they need to get a mental health professional involved as quickly as possible.
The point is, this is about the swimmers, not us. They have a right to show up to swimming practice and get great coaching regardless of whether they touch us or tell us anything about their lives. If they want more than that, let them make it clear to you that is what they want.
Recognize that, the younger athletes are, the harder time they will have setting boundaries with you. So you must be extra careful.
Ariana Kukors bravely gave us a form to discuss these topics, and we should use that opportunity to talk about how things should change and get better.