Jennifer Pollnow: Teaching Leadership Also A Lessons For Coaches
Jennifer Pollnow, Arrowhead’s varsity girls swimming coach, sees more to her job than simply helping her athletes trim seconds off their event times. She wants to help them become better people and leaders. And she’s found that teaching leadership is also a learning experience for her.“We always need to keep in mind that it’s not just about the sport, it’s about helping them be better people,” she says.
One way of helping her swimmers become better people involves helping them develop leadership skills.
“We’ve done a little initiative on this at Arrowhead,” she explains. “We’re studying more about leadership and what it takes to be a leader.”
That comes into play particularly in working with her seniors each year.
“I look at my seniors and think all of them are leaders and all of them have different abilities and types of leadership that they can bring to the team,” she says. “But you can’t have five captains.”
By learning more about leadership, Pollnow hopes to develop better ways of encouraging and developing the various leadership traits her swimmers already possess. She feels this also helps her better use those leadership skills, even for the swimmers who are not captains.
“I think coaches can learn right along with their athletes,” she says. “This is a part of knowing the pulse of your team. I think it’s vitally important to know who your leaders are and build your team around that.”
That’s one of the big challenges that high school coaches face every year, no matter what sport they’re in. It may be one of the things successful high school coaches don’t get enough credit for: Adapting their coaching and approach to the athletes they have in a given year.
“You can have very talented swimmers like we do, but you need to take care so that your team doesn’t erode from within and you beat yourself,” she says. “That’s one of the most important things that (assistant coach) Ruth Ahnen and I strive to do, is keep that erosion out. We make sure to keep a feel for the pulse of our team and get right on top of any problems that arise.”