Feature by Jeff Commings
CHARLOTTE, North Carolina, May 24. JON MacColl didn't see his job as assistant coach at Queens University and SwimMAC-Carolina as a demotion, even though he had spent more than a decade as head coach elsewhere.
“I've learned more in the last year than the last four or five years combined,” he said. “I've learned how to be a professional, how to recruit, how to manage. I feel like I am getting a Masters in coaching now.”
The Michigan native is one of six members of the American Swimming Coaches Association's 2012 Fellows Class, a group of young coaches picked to work with experienced mentors for a year. The others in the class are Danielle Strader-Bordi (Salvation Army Krocs), Joel Elber (Southeastern Swim Club), Mickey Murad (Rancho San Dieguito Swim Team), Rodrigo Pereira (City of Plano Swimmers) and Sam Wensman (Club Wolverine).
The Fellows are working on a year-long project that aims to create plans for a professional swimming league in the United States. MacColl has a lot of research at his fingertips — literally. He's been assigned to read the book “Golf's Driving Force,” which MacColl said essentially describes the start of the Professional Golf Association.
“There are some ideas in there,” he said. “I'm reading it on my Kindle and writing notes in my actual book.”
And every once in a while, MacColl will work with the elite team at SwimMAC-Carolina, and he sees firsthand how important it is for postgraduate swimmers to have a way to support themselves in the sport.
“Extending their careers is very important,” he said. “I feel like I'm right here watching and looking at arguably the most successful team in the country and I look at about how we're going to do professional swimming and have it translate to medals. It's a good topic to tackle.”
It wasn't easy, though, to make the decision to leave STAR Aquatics in nearby High Point, a team he called “a wonderful situation with wonderful people,” but the 28-year-old knew he could not pass up the chance to work with such notable coaches as Jeff Dugdale and David Marsh.
“I get a ridiculous amount of knowledge from them,” MacColl said.
Though anyone who sees MacColl on deck would agree that he has an innate love of the sport and enjoys coaching, it's amazing that he had plans to enter law school while a student-athlete at Slippery Rock University in Pennsylvania.
“They cut the (swimming) program, and I was in a situation where I needed a job,” he said. “I started coaching at the Butler YMCA part-time, and at the end of the experience we had tremendous success, and parents told me I was good at this.”
After an encouraging conversation with his father, MacColl found himself head age group coach in Temeculah, Calif., as a 23-year-old rookie, followed by stints in Washington state, Illinois and now North Carolina.
“It has been an amazing, wonderful maturation process for me,” MacColl said. “I'm definitely not the same person that I was at 23. My goals have changed, my understanding of swimming has changed.”
The biggest change for him has been getting rid of his view that swimming is completely about competition.
“The coaches that do well are the ones that don't get caught up in selfishness, thinking 'This is my swimmer,' and that they have to make this time or that time. I've learned that it's OK for swimming to be just an activity for some kids. You can still be a positive influence for those kids.”
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