Friday, March 6, 2020

Talking success with Danielle Brayson

In our second monthly installment of interviews with key figures from the world of aquatics, we dive in to an in-depth chat with Danielle Brayson, coach at City of Glasgow Swim Team. We caught up with Danielle on the back of her multiple coaching accolades, which include BSCA (Scotland) Junior Coach of the Year, sportscotland COV Awards Talent Development Coach of the Year, UK Coaching Talent Development Coach of the Year and the Glasgow Coach of the Year.

There is often talk about athletes having a breakthrough year; following your coaching awards, would you describe 2019 as your breakthrough year as a coach?

I am not sure, I would say from a networking point of view – then yes it has allowed me to network a lot more with other coaches through the opportunities and events the awards have taken me to. I feel like I am known more, but purely as a coach, I don’t think so. The coaching awards haven’t changed my role, and has not made me enjoy it any more or less but has brought around some brilliant opportunities.

I wouldn’t say 2019 was any more successful than other years for me – it maybe has been for the swimmers, but it all depends how you measure your success. The success is all theirs. It’s important for me to remember there are 26 kids in my group and it’s not purely just the two or three who are doing really well.

What makes a good coach and what got you into coaching?

I think a good coach is someone who wants to learn and is proactive with their learning. I think you need to be self-aware, work well with others and know how to get the best out of someone. A good coach can’t have an ego which centres around their own goals rather than those of the swimmers. They need to always put the swimmers first and understand the best way to achieve their goals.

I had some really good coaches when I was younger and I really enjoyed swimming, so coaching seemed like a natural progression for me. I started volunteering and found a way in to coaching that way.

There’s a performance pathway for athletes, how important is it to have a similar pathway for coaches?

I think it’s important to have a similar pathway but also to ensure that the coaches are one step ahead – or two. That way if you have a swimmer who is developing at youth squad level then the coach is a few steps ahead so they are not developing at the same rate, which could be counter-productive.

You and Katie (Shanahan) were part of a GB Junior Squad who went to Japan for training/competition in December. How important are these ongoing opportunities and what did you learn from it?

I learned a lot about Katie on the trip, which is really invaluable as her coach, but I also learned a lot about myself. It was important to learn about the different cultures, the contrast in the environments and understand there is more than one way to get a successful result, which we need to learn to be open to. These opportunities are really important and I made it clear from the start this was a learning opportunity. The swimming doesn’t change, it’s still the four strokes but it was a good opportunity for her to appreciate what it would take to be at the top level and the potential challenges she could face.

What is your coaching ambition?

To be the best coach that I can be for my squad. Currently, I have some really good junior swimmers but in five or ten years time, I could be teaching entry-level kids, I don’t know for sure. So, I just want to be the best I can be and keep the fire burning as long as I can. I don’t know if I want to be a senior coach, as I love what I do just now, so I couldn’t say for sure what the future holds.

You coach a large group of girls in a large club. How to you maintain their motivation during tough seasons (including stress of exams, disappointing results, peer pressure, less progress etc) and stop them dropping out?

I think the relationship I have with the swimmers is the key part, and this was really highlighted by my time in Japan. The relationships with their friends, coach, staff and so on, was clearly so important to the girls out in Tokyo and being in a different environment and facing different challenges really highlighted the significance of these relationships. I am constantly looking to build and improve these relationships. We always collect information on our swimmers, such as stress levels, what they have going on outside swimming and so on, to make sure we are aware. Yes, they come here as swimmers, but they are people first and we don’t want to lose that focus. We want to take an interest in them as people and we are really lucky to have such a great group of girls who are so welcoming. They have created their own positive atmosphere within the group and we think it’s probably the best this group has ever been in terms of dynamics. 

How important is it for younger athletes to have interests outside of swimming?

I think this is crucial. In the past, too many swimmers have identified themselves as just swimmers and when things perhaps haven’t been going too well, they have struggled to cope. We always encourage other activities outside of swimming and we are always flexible with this. Katie sometimes dances and may miss a session. We have Saskia who plays hockey as well as swimming. We actively encourage this and try and help when we can.  We do say that it’s best for them to not take up an extra session but we want to keep them active. A lot of these things can contribute to the girls becoming better swimmers.

The British Championships are just over six weeks away – how do you handle the pressure of these big occasions and how do you support the athletes?

For me, I am incredibly excited. But it’s not about me , it’s about them and  I always want to ensure they are there to enjoy the occasion. It would make me unhappy if they went and weren’t enjoying it. It’s the Olympic trials! How many people can say they were there when the Olympic team was selected? So, we want to reinforce to them that it’s exciting but that there isn’t any added pressure. It’s still the same process on the Sunday night, they still head back up the road and go to school the next day.

Opportunities may change for them but it’s just the same process as any other meet. I think its really important for them to be really open on how they feel about it too, as I want to make sure that they are enjoying it – they’ll swim better that way than if they are stressed.