Feature by Jeff Commings
ANN ARBOR, Michigan, June 1. WHILE most of his friends entertained thoughts of being a fireman or an astronaut, Sam Wensman knew at an early age that he wanted to be a swimming coach.
“In my choices of going to (college), I wanted to find a place where I could excel as a swimmer, but also learn from great coaches,” he said. “I looked at (the University of Michigan) and immediately knew it could make me a better coach and improve the sport.”
Wensman, 22, has been absorbing all the information he can gather from the coaching staff at Club Wolverine, which includes head coach Mike Bottom and fellow assistant coaches Mark Hill and Josh White.
Wensman is one of six in the American Swimming Coaches Association's 2012 Fellows Class. The others are Joel Elber (Southeastern Swim Club), Jon MacColl (Queens University of Charlotte), Mickey Murad (Rancho San Dieguito Swim Team), Danielle Strader-Bordi (Salvation Army Krocs) and Rodrigo Pereira (City of Plano Swimmers).
Though Wensman is grateful for the opportunity to work with a coach as renowned as Bottom, he points to age group coach Mike Perratto of Seacoast Aquatics as his first coaching role model.
“Seeing the way he conducted himself and the fun he got out of bettering people's lives was something I liked about him,” Wensman said. “I knew it made me a better person, and allowed me to go a lot of places in my life, so I wanted to give back to the sport in the same way it gave to me as a kid.”
Wensman started coaching as early as high school, working with his high school team while he trained with his club team.
“I didn't really know a whole lot being 14, 15 years old, but I knew I had a passion for the sport,” he said. “I was always reading, always trying to better myself in the pool, even when I was out of the pool.”
That continued on when he arrived at Michigan. As he progressed through his years as a student-athlete studying sport management, he would work during the team's summer camps, honing his craft before he would take on coaching full-time after graduation.
Though he's got his diploma, learning still continues for Wensman.
“The amount of knowledge they (the coaching staff) know is breathtaking, but they've also taught me that there's no limit to what you can learn,” he said.
He's learning a lot in his preliminary research as part of the ASCA Fellows group. He's learning about the early days of the Professional Golf Association and how it grew to a sport phenomenon that has legions of fans.
“There's a lot to learn from golf,” he said, “especially since it was a sport that a lot of people didn't consider a spectator sport.”
For the moment, though, Wensman seems mostly occupied with the wet side of swimming as a magnet for any information he can find that will make him a successful coach.
When asked to name a specific moment from his time as a coach that stands out to him, Wensman is unable to find one — for a good reason.
“Coming in and realizing that any day can be a triumph,” he said, “whether that be someone who fixes one minute thing in their stroke and say 'I get it' is what keeps me excited and coming in to work every day.”
Send feature story ideas to Jeff Commings at firstname.lastname@example.org.