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Feature by Swimming World intern Celeste Cirillo-Penn
PISCATAWAY, New Jersey, January 15. MOHAMED Abdelaal, associate head coach at Bayonne Mermaids-Starfish Swim Team (BMS), does not look like a typical coach; in fact at just 25 years old he is one of the youngest coaches around.
"I swam my whole life," Abdelaal said. "When I was in college I volunteered at my home club [BMS] just to give back. After a few years, the gentleman in charge retired, and he let me take over at the club. He knew that I was committed to the program."
Despite his young start, Abdelaal feels that he has what it takes to succeed as a coach.
"I have a lot of energy," Abdelaal said. "Whatever experience I lack, I try to get from talking to coaches."
Abdelaal credits some of his success to the support he has received from his mentors, including Tom Speedling (Scarlet Aquatic Club), Ken O'Reilly (New Jersey Wave Swim Team), Brian Brown (Fullerton Aquatics Swim Team) and Jim Wood (Berkeley Aquatic Club).
"I really have a very good support core. I reach out to a lot of coaches and have a lot of really good mentors. I am never afraid to pick up the phone and call someone," Abdelaal said.
In addition to gaining support and experience, Abdelaal tries to focus on the individual swimmer.
"Reading what motivates them is really difficult, so you have to know a lot about each athlete," Abdelaal said. "You always have the athlete's best interest at heart. Sometimes what you do to motivate them does the opposite, so you have to figure that out."
However, with his tireless work ethic, Abdelaal has managed to connect with his swimmers and achieve much success in his coaching career.
In addition to coaching at BMS, Abdelaal coaches both the men's and women's swim teams at St. Peters College, a Division I school in New Jersey. Last year, one of Abdelaal's swimmers, Lovro Bilonic, qualified for the NCAA Championships in the 100 and 200 breaststroke.
"That was one of my greatest coaching achievements," Abdelaal said of Bilonic's qualification.
Abdelaal admits that coaching college students is much different from coaching at the club level.
"The biggest difference is the maturity, and college kids break down a lot easier physically. They have a lot more external concerns because they are trying to get ready for their careers," Abdelaal said. "High school kids are developmental, and from the philosophy standpoint, we try to get all high school swimmers to be good in the IMs and long freestyles. College students, you train for a specific distance and a specific race."
Abdelaal looks to continue helping the swimmers on both the college and club level.
"I love helping athletes," Abdelaal said. "I like to see them mature, and there is nothing you can't teach through swimming. It teaches good values and commitment…There is no challenge presented that you are not used to."