Doc Counsilman Euologized -- April 21, 2004
BLOOMINGTON, Indiana, April 21. A three-hour memorial service for Dr. James "Doc" Counsilman, who passed away last January, drew some 400 friends, family, colleagues and former swimmers to the Whittenberger Auditorium at the Indiana Memorial union on the campus of Doc's beloved Indiana University on Sunday, April 18.
Fifteen speakers illuminated different aspects of Doc's life. The following euloy was delivered by Doc's friend and colleague, Swimming Hall of Fame Coach Cecil Colwin.
Eulogy by Cecil Colwin
Today we Honor and Celebrate the Life of Coach James 'Doc' Counsilman of Indiana University, United States Olympic Coach and Swimming Mentor to the World.
This assembly covers a wide cross section of the swimming world, and includes many famous names in the modern history of our sport. There can be few people here today whose lives have not been touched by the influence of this great man.
To Marge Counsilman, Doc's wife and companion for sixty years, famous in her own right as his stalwart supporter, constant aide and adviser throughout his many endeavours, and to his children, Kathy, Jill and Brian; and to all the other members of his family, we offer sincere condolences.
Giving a eulogy implies speaking in praise of a person. Praising all that 'Doc' Counsilman contributed to competitive swimming would seem to be an easy assignment. But this is not so because the achievements of this multi-faceted and remarkable man are so many that they truly defy adequate description. And so mine is indeed a daunting task.
'Doc' Counsilman will always be remembered as one of the greatest coaches in swimming history, and certainly as the foremost contributor to the science of swimming. His life's work and high ideals leave an indelible mark on the sport,
Doc's track record as a coach, to say the least, is most unusual. Doc's Indiana swimmers won conference titles 23 times including an amazing streak of 20 consecutive wins between 1961 and 1980. A list of swimmers who swam for Doc reads like a who's who of swimming greats: Kevin Berry, George Breen, Gary Hall, Charles Hickcox, Chet Jastremski, John Kinsella, Don McKenzie, Jim Montgomery, John Murphy, Larry Schulhof, Alan Somers, Mark Spitz, Mike Stamm, Ted Stickles, Tom Stock, Mike Troy, Bob Windle and many others.
Over the years, swimmers coached by Doc at the time of the Olympic Trials were selected for eight consecutive United States Olympic Teams. Doc was head coach of the two most successful United States Men's Olympic Teams, 1964 and 1976.
In 1976 the United States Men's Olympic Team won 12 of 13 possible gold medals. As if this were not enough, over the years swimmers, coached by Doc, set world records in every single swimming event, an amazing accomplishment no other coach has achieved.
Doc was Mentor to the Swimming World. His research in swimming caused an almost complete revision of existing methods. He published over 100 scientific papers on various aspects of competitive swimming.
Doc wrote two unique books on swimming that completely revolutionized the understanding of competitive swimming. In 1968, his classic book, "The Science of Swimming" was a blockbuster, a book that swept away almost everything that hitherto had been published on stroke mechanics, conditioning and coaching philosophy. Doc enlarged on these topics by writing in depth on applying the principles of motor learning to the teaching of stroke mechanics.
He gave the most comprehensive explanation to date on the adaptation of interval training, used on the running track, as a training method for competitive swimming. He classified the physiological effects of different work-rest ratios and showed how different types of work load could be progressively built into a successful seasonal program.
In fact, history may show that "The Science of Swimming" may well have been his greatest contribution to the sport. Reprinted 22 times and in many foreign languages, the book, beautifully written and illustrated, showed the value of a scientific approach.
In 1977, he published another best seller, "Competitive Swimming Manual" an outstanding feature of which was the series of underwater action sequences of Mark Spitz, Gary Hall, Jenny Turrall, Kornelia Ender, and dozens of other great swimmers of the 1970's. This collection remains the finest photographic record of the stroke mechanics of great swimmers.
Doc pioneered the use of the motion camera as a scientific instrument for analyzing swimming techniques. He solved the problems of underwater photography; light refraction, image distortion, and made use of strobe flashing lights and grids to accurately measure for the first time stroke velocity and acceleration.
His interest even extended to swimming pool design, anti-turbulence lanes, specially-designed pace clocks for interval training and the biokinetic bench widely used in land training.
Doc visited no fewer than 28 countries and built bridges of friendship among the coaches and swimmers of many nations. A constant stream of coaches and swimmers, from over 37 countries, came to Bloomington to learn from him, and often to stay and complete studies or train under his guidance. Then they went home to spread the Counsilman gospel.
Doc's talk at the Montreal ASCA World Clinic in 1971 on "The 'X' Factor in Coaching" remains a classic example of Doc's wry sense of humor. He spoke about a mythical coach, 'Frank Zilch' who read and studied practically all there was to know about every aspect of swimming, but hard as he tried to become successful, he lacked the 'X' factor.' Doc explained the 'X' factor as the ability to recognize the important things in coaching, and to know the difference between what is important and what is not.
But Doc was much more than swimming's great Coach-Educator. He touched life at many points, and with dramatic effect, he changed the face of competitive swimming, both the art and the science of it.
Early in his career it became obvious to 'Doc' that both art and science go hand in hand, and that success depends upon both.
Doc believed that the art in coaching centers largely around the personality of the coach and his ability to instil confidence, the enthusiasm to work hard, and the determination to excel in tough competition. Doc, a former national short course and long course champion and record holder in 1942, and Captain of the Ohio State Swimming Team, brought to coaching much of his own successful experience as a competitor.
Doc possessed the unusual skill of being able to bring together mature swimmers, from a wide variety of backgrounds, and to coach them to even greater heights. People who are recruited to a major program are usually already highly motivated, but Doc had the knack of being able to keep them excited and to improve them even further. Doc understood that the most difficult task of all was not only to create team momentum, but to be able to maintain it once it had been developed.
Doc aptly fits the great Australian swimmer, John Devitt's description of a great coach. John said "A great coach can take a good swimmer and make him great, and he can also take a great swimmer and make him greater." However, Doc warned about getting caught in the trap of seeking to develop champions only. "You don't have to sacrifice the rest of the team to develop the exceptional few", he often said. "Develop a state of mind that concerns itself with everyone on the team. Then you will have more than your fair share of champions, and fewer champions will have a distorted idea of their own importance."
Doc showed that science in coaching centers largely around exact knowledge of the skills to be taught and the mechanics of their execution. In training for competition, knowing how to apply the proper dosage of exercise in accordance with physiological laws, are all part of the science of coaching.
Doc opened new insights into science as applied to swimming; the true nature of human swimming propulsion, and the biomechanics as well as the fluid mechanics involved; a selective basis for applying the training workout; motivating swimmers to achieving their true potential, and in the process showing that there are no limits to human swimming performance. Doc maintained that truth in science can be defined as the working hypothesis best suited to opening the way to the next better one.
When we view Doc's illustrious career, it is appropriate first to celebrate the respect that he brought to the profession of coaching. Following in the tradition of a long line of great American coaches, he lifted the coaching of swimming to new high levels of prestige.
We celebrate Doc's dedication to the sport he loved and all the people in it; we celebrate his great intellect, his strong character; his will-power and determination; his patience and perennial good humor, not to mention his ability to remain calm and relaxed in tough competition.
Doc's coaching philosophy was influenced in many ways by the example set by his first coach, the late Ernst Vornbrock of the St Louis Downtown YMCA, who aimed to help swimmers achieve their full academic, athletic, and social potential. Vornbrock introduced Doc to classical music with the result that Doc developed a life-long appreciation of classical music. Towards his swimmers Doc was avuncular, he was like an uncle, a warm, kind and friendly man, and his colleagues said of him: "He is one of us."
We celebrate Doc's personality, his depth and love of learning, his open mind, his charm, his whimsical sense of humor, his charisma, his patient teaching, his love of the sport, especially as a form of leisure education, and, above all, his profound influence on the lives of young men growing up. These will long remain an ideal model of what a coach should be. Long before he reached his middle years, Coach Counsilman had become universally, lovingly and simply known to the entire world of swimming as "Doc".
But long before Doc became known as 'Doc', and long before he was even known to the world as a great swimming coach and coach-educator, Doc had established for himself a reputation as a strong leader and a man of high courage. Barely out of his teens, as a World War II pilot in the United States Army Air Force, Doc, known as a fine formation flyer, flew 32 missions as a B-24 bomber pilot and was awarded the Air Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster.
After bombing the railroad yards at Innsbruck, his plane's landing gear was damaged by enemy fire, and so was one of the five parachutes on board. Doc told his crew to bale out, while he would remain in the plane and try to land it. But rather than be captured and become prisoners of war, his men opted to stay with him and take their chances. B-24 bombers, after their bombs had been dropped, were known to be difficult to handle in a pancake landing because they tended to go nose down, cartwheel and burst into flames.
Doc told his crew that at the critical monent, he would sound the plane's warning bell at which time they were to run to the back of the plane in order to distribute its weight more evenly. The plan worked and he made a successful pancake landing near Zagreb in Yugoslavia, saving the lives of his crew. For his resourcefulness and courage Doc was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.
Nearly 40 years later, on September 17, 1979, Doc showed again the courageous spirit of his youth by emulating Matthew Webb, his boyhood hero, when at the age of 59 he swam the English Channel, and became the oldest person at that time to have accomplished this challenging feat.
During the last seven years of his life, Doc bravely and stoically fought and endured the ravages and torments of Parkinson's Disease. Those who visited him during his long travail attest to the fact that he maintained nobility and cheerfulness in the midst of terrible adversity, frustration and suffering, and that his renowned will power, courage and determination stayed with him until the end. The legend and example of Coach James Doc Counsilman, a collossus in the sport of swimming, will live on in the pantheon of great coaches in all sports.