By Jim Morris
The life of a coach can get so busy they sometimes forget one of the fundamentals that makes them successful at their job.
Abderrahmane Tissira, head coach of the University of Regina Cougars, was reminded of that during the recent American Swimming Coaches Association world clinic in Dallas, Texas.
“I really believe we teach but we need to have a teacher also,” said Tissira. “The athletes grow but the coaches need to keep learning. It’s not something you learn one time and it’s done.
“You have to keep moving and improving. Every year is different, every athlete is different. Keeping that growth mindset is really important for the coaches.”
Tissira attended the conference as part of Swimming Canada’s Select Coaches Group, made up of 10 coaches from seven provinces. During the conference some of Swimming Canada’s top officials conducted seminars and workshops for the select group.
The sessions and the knowledge he gained reminded Tissira why he coaches.
“I remembered what we are doing and why we are doing it and how we can make it happen if we really want to do something to help athletes get better every day,” he said.
“When we are busy running after meets, after training camps . . . we sometimes forget the aspect of keep learning and keep updating what other people are doing. What the international level looks like, what it takes to win a medal. We forget what it takes to be at that level. When we talk with other coaches or leaders, we can achieve that level.”
Tissira began his coaching career in Quebec and since 2014 has been head coach of both the men’s and women’s team at the University of Regina. He also is head coach and general manager of the Regina Optimist Dolphins Swim Club.
“Abderrahmane has relentlessly built a combined program between the Regina Optimist Dolphins and the University of Regina Cougars,” said Iain McDonald, Swimming Canada’s Senior Manager, NextGen High Performance Pathway. “Both teams have flourished under his leadership. In 2018, two of his swimmers produced the first ever On Track performances from the province of Saskatchewan.”
Achieving success can sometimes cloud a coach’s mind into thinking they have all the answers. Tissira compared coaching to installing software on a computer. That software sometimes needs updating to operate at peak proficiency.
“We all have certain levels of knowledge but it’s always challenging how we can provide that information to different athletes,” he said. “The goal is for the athlete to understand what we want them to do so they can improve. The way to deliver that information will be different from generation to generation or athlete to athlete.”
To expand their knowledge coaches also need to understand changes and developments at the international level. Tissira praised Swimming Canada for keeping club coaches informed and up to date.
Over the last several years Tissira has participated in mentorship programs and clinics offered by Swimming Canada. The classroom sessions are hugely beneficial but what he enjoys most is hands-on experience, like when he was an apprentice coach for Swimming Canada’s team at the 2018 Pan Pacific Championships in Tokyo.
Tissira was at the team trails, then travelled to the staging camp and the competition itself. He watched how the different coaches communicated with their athletes. He also saw the role played by massage therapists and sport science personnel.
“I had that experience on the deck, to see that interaction in the field on competition day in a real situation,” he said. “It’s different than the classroom. It’s way better learning in the field from the coaches how they approach their athletes. Different athletes, different challenges.”
University athletes may have different long-term objectives than those swimming on the international stage, but the approach to coaching remains similar.
“I try to explain to my athletes it’s not about the gold medal, it’s about reaching your full potential, how we can get there no matter what your full potential might be,” said Tissira
The victory Tissira cherishes most is when an athlete reaches a goal they didn’t think was possible.
“At the end of the day when they reach that goal, and they feel satisfaction or they gain confidence, for me that is the best thing, no matter what place or position,” he said. “They have achieved their goal.”
The lessons a swimmer learns can be applied beyond the pool.
“The confidence we give to the athletes will be for their life, it’s a life skill,” said Tissira. “They believe they can do anything in life if they set a goal and work for it. Focus on the process and they will make it.”