Women in Coaching: Elizabeth Hansen


BElizabeth Hansen, women in coaching. (Small)y Lauren Hardy//Correspondent

Though there wasn’t a single defining moment pointing toward a career, the bulk of Elizabeth Hansen’s life was preparing her to become a swim coach. Coaching runs in Hansen’s blood. Both her father and two uncles have coached cross-country since before Hansen can remember. And while growing up in Minnesota, she was surrounded by a handful of inspirational swim coaches.

“It was a culmination of moments that led me to coaching,” Hansen says.

She also credits these moments with influencing her training philosophy, which boils down to “emphasizing the importance of integrity, dedication and leadership—both in and out of the pool.”

For the last six years, Hansen has served as head coach for the girl’s team at Wayzata High School in Wayzata, Minn. This year, she led the team to its first state swimming championship. How did she accomplish such a feat? This month, we spoke with Hansen to learn from her recent success, something she hopes will continue for many years to come. 

Elizabeth Hansens team celebrates state championship title. (Medium)What makes a team successful?
Support. I coach in a community where the families are supportive of their daughters’ athletic endeavors. More importantly, my swimmers are highly dedicated, hard-working, self-motivated individuals who make my job fun and easy. For these reasons, taking credit for an entire community’s effort to win a state championship would be foolish.

As a coach, how do you cultivate high-performing swimmers?
My coaching staff and I have clear expectations that we establish at the beginning of the season and continue to reinforce. We also have the girls discuss both their individual and team goals, so they can remain focused and motivated throughout the season. Lastly, we try to emphasize that there is a lot more to swimming and diving than just swimming and diving. Sports are about building skill sets, relationships and traits that allow a person to grow.

How do you improve your coaching skills?
I ask a lot of questions.

Your favorite part about being a coach?
Every time one of our athletes comes back to visit or emails to let us know how life is—there is nothing better than watching our athletes grow up into intelligent, hard-working and kind people.

Advice for future women swim coaches?
Go for it! I can’t speak on behalf of all coaches, but I would like to think that most of us started coaching because we wanted to give back. I think many of us would also agree that we have ironically have received more and learned more about ourselves than we ever thought imaginable.

What challenges do women face in the coaching world?
My husband and I are currently six months pregnant with our first child. When I announced my pregnancy to friends and family, one of the first questions many asked was if I was going to continue coaching. As far as women have come in the workforce since my mother’s era, I think there is still a stigma/burden/expectation attached to women who, not only continue to work, but continue to work more than one job (my full time career is as a high school social studies teacher). I will say that I think there are a lot of women head coaches out there, but the turnover rate is clearly higher for women than it is for men, and I believe that family planning is part of that.

Your top five secrets to coaching success?

  1. Having great athletes and a supportive community
  2. Having a supportive family and coaching staff
  3. Developing clear expectations
  4. Humor
  5. Perspective (There’s a lot more to life than high school swimming and diving).