Pursley Pep Talks: Expect To Be Challenged

Swimming World will publish a collection of coaching perspectives written by Alabama head swimming coach Dennis Pursley. This is the fifth installment of a series that will be rolled out throughout the coming months.


By definition, we must be different if we want to be exceptional. This difference should manifest itself in many ways: level of commitment, attention to detail, response to adversity, willingness to sacrifice…the list goes on.

One of the most important differences among those who are exceptional in any endeavor is the desire to be challenged in the pursuit of excellence. Most people avoid a challenge when possible. Instead, they prefer to live life in the comfort zone. Life in the comfort zone is a life of mediocrity. It is through positively responding to challenges that we acquire the strength of character necessary to achieve excellence.

Unfortunately, it is not unusual to hear the comment, “I hope we don’t have a hard workout today.” An athlete who expects to be challenged or, better yet, demands to be challenged in his or her daily preparation will be advantaged over most of the competition. When an entire team embraces challenge in this way, miracles can happen. The tedium of endless hours of practice is transformed into an invigorating, exciting and fulfilling experience. There are few experiences more gratifying than being a part of a group effort that successfully responds to a formidable challenge.

Whether in training preparation or in major competition, it is important that we expect to be challenged, that we look forward to the challenge and that we give all that we have to give in response to that challenge.

To shy away from challenge is to accept mediocrity. To be the best that we can be, we have to be different.

About Dennis Pursley
After getting his start as a volunteer coach on Don Gambril’s first Alabama staff, current Alabama head coach Dennis Pursley has gone on to one of the most extraordinary careers in the sport of swimming, a career that led him to be named one of the 25 most influential people in the history of USA Swimming in 2003.

Pursley has helmed coaching staffs throughout the world, including stops as the first head coach of the Australian Institute of Sport, the inaugural director of the United States National Team and most recently the head coach of Great Britain’s 2012 Olympic squad. Pursley returned to the deck in 2003 as the head coach of the Brophy East Swim Team in Phoenix Ariz., before becoming the head coach of British Swimming in 2008.

Pursley and his wife Mary Jo have five children, Lisa, Brian, David, Steven and J.J. Lisa and David have joined him on the Alabama staff.

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