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Off Deck: Adriana Contreras, University of Nevada Women’s Swimming and Diving Coach

As part of The Hidden Opponent’s (THO) Coaches & Professionals Program, THO caught up with Adriana Contreras, Assistant Women’s Swimming and Diving Coach at the University of Nevada to discuss maintaining a work-life balance as a coach, her “why” behind coaching, her favorite moments, and handling pressure and expectations as a collegiate coach. 

Tell us about your coaching career. How did you get into coaching?

I had ended my swimming career and moved home for school closer to my family. When I got back I got set up with a job at a restaurant in town. Shortly after, my former coach reached out to me saying that they needed help filling positions coaching with the club team. I showed up the first day still unsure of what the job meant, what I really needed to do, and even what group I'd be coaching. After a few weeks of navigating the new season I remember telling my parents how much I loved coaching! The kids (7-11 years old) were so full of energy and happy to be at practice every day; it was a blast to share the sport I'd loved for so long with a group of kids that wanted to get better! A few years later, that same coach/boss of mine offered me the opportunity to work with the College program and I was so grateful! Every day was a lot of learning, but I really enjoyed working with older athletes at a different stage of their swimming careers! Since then, I've worked with all ages (7-24) at the club, and also at the high school and college levels. I think each stage of an athlete's development personally and athletically is so important, but for me, I enjoy working with the young adults in college the best! It is such a huge time of growth in all areas of life and the mentors I had in my life through those years helped shape the person I am today. I hope to just be a positive figure in my athletes' lives so they know they have another adult they can always rely on.

What is your “why” behind coaching? What do you enjoy most and why do you continue to coach?

Similar to my previous answer, I really want to be a positive figure in my athletes' lives. Having positive, trusted adult figures in your life at any age is so important and I was blessed to have several throughout my life (and continue to have them in my life) so if I can provide that to any of my athletes then its all worth it! I think most of all I enjoy watching my athletes grow. Whether its navigating a new social situation/conflict or watching them master new skills/levels of training its just so fun to watch them evolve!! I continue coaching to give back to the sport & community that gave me so much!

What moments or achievements in your coaching career are you most proud of and why?

Honestly, navigating COVID was tough! The isolation as someone who is so social was really really difficult mentally and so when we'd go to the pool it was relieving to see the athletes but they needed us to wear so many "hats" since we were part of their only outlet outside of "Zoom School". Making it through that without burning out (thanks to close friends in coaching!) is something I'm super proud of. I also think that I came out of the lockdown with a greater understanding of valuable mental health skills so from that perspective I think I was able to be able to come out of the terrible situation with an important skill set that I know has definitely impacted the way I approach coaching.

How do you maintain a healthy work life balance with the busy schedule of a coach?

I'm super lucky to have a really supportive boss, who supports living a well rounded lifestyle. I think because he not only talks about it, but lives it himself, it makes it easier to take time to recover and pursue other passions in my own life so that I can be my best with a full heart and calm mind when I get to workouts or the office. I also referee NCAA Division 1 & Semi-Professional Soccer, so having that outlet away from the swim world helps me to keep balance in my life (and vice versa, coaching helps to keep me grounded with my soccer life).

What is something (if anything) do you wish athletes knew about coaching?

I think just that most of us are doing the best we can. There is so much that goes on in the background that athletes will never know about (and I'm not sure they necessarily need to) but sometimes it is exhausting. But at the end of the day, they (the athletes) are a huge part of why we come to work each day. 

How would you describe your coaching philosophy and style?

My coaching philosophy is to create an environment where everyone on our team can develop their character in and out of the pool by exposing them to various methods of growth physically, mentally, and emotionally; and to teach student-athletes the value of process-oriented mindsets. I think that my coaching style is support focused. Each athlete needs something different from a coach each day so trying to support them the best way possible is really what focuses my style. Sometimes my athletes need a lot of understanding and sometimes they need a push (and a lot of days in-between those two extremes) but whatever is going to best support them in their goals is what I try to bring to the table each workout. There's a lot of days we're jamming out to music laughing through the set and on the flip side sometimes there's a day where everyone just needs to chill out. I think the more I coach the more I realize that one of the best coaching skills to develop is how to read the room...

How do you handle pressure and expectations, both personally and for the team?

I think I just try to take one day at a time. Yes, there's pressure for us to get results and for me to be my best (or better) each day, but I think it was really important for me to learn and accept that doing what I can is good enough. I'm a perfectionist so being okay with whatever my best is that day was hard, but thanks to my support system I have gotten better at it.



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