Adam Epstein On The Challenges of Starting a College Swimming Program

Photo Courtesy: Keiser University Athletics

By Alec Scott, Swimming World College Intern

Adam Epstein is a first-time head coach at Keiser University and is learning that there’s much more to starting a collegiate program than creating a seasonal plan and giving feedback during practice.

“The biggest challenge is just the unknown, there’s no culture set. There’s no upperclassmen and no tradition so you’re creating everything on your own,” Epstein said.

Keiser University in West Palm Beach, Florida is in the midst of their first swimming season as a program in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics. Keiser competes in the Appalachian Athletic Conference– for swimming, it is a mixture of NAIA, NCAA Division II and Division III schools.

One of the biggest challenges with starting a new program is balancing the need to fill out a roster with importance of getting the “right” kind of kids on campus to create a successful team culture. These decisions can be tough when one top recruit can be a huge addition to a program.

“As a coach you try not to jump on a great talent if they aren’t the right type of kid because, ultimately, you want a good person. You need to make sure that you’re bringing in the right athletes to build that culture around,” Epstein said.

Building a culture of success is something Epstein is familiar with after five years as an assistant at Indian River State College. During his time there helped the men to their 42nd consecutive national title and the women to their 38th overall title in the National Junior College Athletic Association.

“Being at Indian River for five years definitely helped mold me,” he said. “I feel like I was very prepared for the jump to become a head coach. It’s still coaching but definitely a lot more responsibility.”

That added responsibility is something that many coaches are prepared to take on when they make the leap to becoming a head coach, but the reality of it can be overwhelming. It is difficult to prepare for the duties of a head coach from an administrative standpoint. For swim coaches, the coaching is always the easy part.

“Your phone never stops ringing. Between coaches, recruits, administration, compliance directors, everything, you’re always working 24/7. That’s the life of a coach, but I guess you don’t really realize how much a head coach does until you’re thrown into that position,” Epstein said.

One of the more difficult challenges Coach Epstein faces is handling the duties of an entire coaching staff on his own. From writing training plans and workouts for every training group, to coaching the entire team at once and tackling all the administrative duties of a head coach, Epstein shoulders a lot of responsibilities. He is hoping to bring in a full-time assistant during the middle of November or beginning of December.

“It’s had its challenges. You’ve gotta make what I like to call your big boy decisions. Being by myself right now, I don’t really have the opportunity to bounce ideas off assistant coaches and those kinds of things,” Epstein said. “Fortunately (and unfortunately) my numbers aren’t very large this year so it’s manageable. I’ve got 17 men and four women.”

Since women generally make their college decisions early and he was only hired at the end of April it was hard for Coach Epstein to get quality women on campus for his first season. This year, he’s looking to bring in a big women’s class. Despite the small numbers, he feels great about the potential of this team in their first season.

“It’s a good group of kids. I don’t know if it’s a false sense of reality because it’s year one and they all have a common goal, but right now, it’s a lot of fun.”

The Keiser men have a great chance to compete for a championship at the NAIA level in their first season. Coach Epstein believes that opportunity is creating a culture of accountability and competitive spirit that is rare for a first-year program.

“Our boys think they can win a National title. We’re ranked second in the NAIA in this week’s polls and I’ve been very fortunate to have a group that’s hungry and holding themselves accountable,” Epstein said. “They have a common goal, and when they believe they can accomplish that goal, it creates its own culture.”


  1. avatar
    Benny Z

    Way to go Adam! Congrats!