A Voice for Club Coaches

Swimming World Magazine – November issue
Coach Bob Gillett has formed a new coaching organization called the National Club Swimming Association, whose objective is the development and professionalization of club swimming in America.

The National Club Swimming Association (NCSA), formed by veteran Arizona Desert Fox coach, Bob Gillett, is designed strictly for American club coaches, who number in the thousands. One of its first objectives is to sponsor a national junior championship meet next spring for swimmers 18-and-under.

Swiminfo.com correspondent Bill Bell recently spoke to Gillett about his budding organization. Highlights of that discussion follow:

Swimming World: Coach, what is the rationale for this new organization?
Bob Gillett: We want to professionalize club coaching in America and also have a voice in the conduct of our own affairs. At present, there is no organization that speaks directly for the club coach, whereas there are organizations comprising college coaches, high school coaches and American swimming coaches in general, such as the ASCA. I've long felt that the club coach needs to have an organization he can call his own.

SW: Who will be eligible to join the group?
Gillett: We want all club coaches who have college degrees.

SW: Why the degree requirement?
Gillett: We believe that this professionalizes the organization, gives it enhanced stature. Look at doctors, attorneys and accountants—they're all members of professional societies and they're all degreed professionals, too. This is the sort of thing I want NCSA to become—an organization of professional club coaches so we have the respect of our swimmers, our parents and our peers.

SW: What if a coach doesn't have a degree?
Gillett: If a coach has had 12 athletes qualify for senior nationals, that’s sufficient to become a member.

SW: What was the impetus for the creation of NCSA?
Gillett: I've long felt the need for such a group, long believed that the club coach's voice is not being heard in the halls of Colorado Springs (the headquarters of United States Swimming). And with the demise last year of the regional Junior Championships, that was the thing that really pushed me into action.

SW: Let's discuss that for a moment. United States Swimming first got rid of Junior Nationals, then the regional Junior Championships and replaced them with the Speedo Sectional meets. What's wrong with that?
Gillett: These new Speedo meets are fine, but they don't fill the void left by the absence of a Junior Championship meet. What we need is a true Junior National Championship open to all U.S. kids 18 and under. We need a meet that will be motivating to developing athletes—one that is significant and offers a level of prestige equal to the type of effort that is required to achieve at this developmental level. We need something that will inspire developing athletes to achieve! And that's what we intend to sponsor next spring, be it in Long Beach, Austin, Fort Lauderdale, Orlando—there will be a meet.

SW: Michael Phelps is 16 years old. Would he be eligible to swim in the meet?
Gillett (laughing): Certainly, if that's what he wants to do. NCSA would love to have any young athlete come and achieve at the NCSA Junior Nationals. A new American record in the 200 fly at Junior Nationals would be great! For most, though, it would be the intermediate step between age group swimming and USA Swimming Nationals. I think this'll be a good stepping stone for their development.

SW: Some college coaches suggest that club coaches deliberately keep kids back from competing at seniors so they can be successful at juniors—and that this impedes a swimmer's development.
Gillett: I don't believe that. A kid is kept back from seniors because he's not ready yet. It should be the coach’s decision when the athlete goes up to nationals after he or she has met the standards. It should not be some rule that can result in an inappropriate move for an athlete with special and individual considerations.

SW: Why do you think USA Swimming got rid of the junior meets?
Gillett: Because of the college coaches’ opposition to it. These college coaches are not faced with the daily task of developing young 13-18-year-old athletes. The majority of the club coaches want Junior Nationals.

SW: What can NCSA accomplish that working within the framework of USA Swimming as it is now constituted cannot give you?
Gillett: We want to establish a “project” structure to achieve specific developments for swimming. We want an organization that can move more quickly and try new ideas that can impact swimming in the near future, not in the next decade! We need to work on projects that will actually help the coach/athlete situation.

SW: Do you want USA Swimming to sponsor a national junior meet?
Gillett: Not necessarily. We would simply like them to recognize our meet and accept the times as valid qualifying times for senior nationals, as an approved meet.

SW: What if they don't?
Gillett: We'll cross that bridge when we come to it. There is a lot of history with approved meets for NCAA, high school, YWCA, NAIA, junior college, etc. A legal precedent has been established.

SW: Do you intend to run NCSA meets differently than they are run now under USA Swimming auspices?
Gillett: Yes! There is a need for more informal meets for younger age group swimmers—less paperwork, less officiating personnel and more swimming. The way things are done now, I believe, is driving kids out of our sport. Meets last way too long. We need to tighten up our format and give kids more meets in which to participate. We've done away with our developmental program, and that's going to be NCSA's mission—to resurrect our floundering age group program.

SW: If you could ask one thing of USA Swimming, what would it be?
Gillett: We want them to come to us and ask, “How can we help you?” Our greatest strength in USA Swimming is in the diversity of our coaches, but that diversity is also our biggest weakness. There’s no consensus on how to move forward.

SW: Do you think coaches are interested in an organization representing clubs only?
Gillett: Absolutely. I have had literally hundreds of coaches contact me in the last few months and say this is what's been needed for years.

SW: How can coaches get more information about the NCSA?
Gillett: Visit our web site at www.ncsa-usa.org.

SW: One last question. Did you think Misty was a lock to win at Sydney?
Gillett: Before the U.S. Olympic Trials, I had a gold Olympic Rings necklace designed and made with 10 small diamonds, symbolizing the 10 national championships she had already won. It was given to her after the finals at Indy (the site of the Trials). Notice I said the necklace was gold—not silver, not bronze!

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