Coaching Corner: Q&A With Crow Canyon Head Man Ethan Hall

Ethan Hall

Coaching Corner: Q&A With Crow Canyon Head Man Ethan Hall

California son Ethan Hall left the Golden State to experience the aquatic environment in North Carolina. Two years later, he was back winning conference championships, the hand of a 12-time Olympic medalist and directing Crow Canyon swimmers to USA Swimming silver medal status.

Ethan Hall
Head Coach – Crow Canyon Country Club
Danville, California

• University of California, Santa Barbara, B.A., communications, 2002
• Recipient, UCSB Athletic Department Golden Eagle Award for the highest GPA, 2002
• Head coach, Crow Canyon Sharks, 2005-present
• Senior Director, Swim Engineering, Aspiricx, 2017-21
• Aquatics Director, Crow Canyon Sharks, 2015-21
• Olympic Trials qualifier, 1996 & 2000
• Set University of North Carolina 200 yard breaststroke record, 1999 (1:58.78)
• CSCAA All-American (Honorable Mention), 1999
• 15-16 NAG record holder, 200 meter breaststroke, 1995 (2:18.86)
• 3x Top 100 World Coach

While at Crow Canyon Country Club, Hall has coached Olympic Trials qualifiers in 2008, 2012, 2016 and 2021. The CC Sea Lions have won the local Contra Costa County Championships from 2005-19. In 2010, the Sharks won the Long Course Far Westerns team championship, and in 2018, the women’s team took first place at the Winter Junior Nationals-West meet. In 2020, the Sharks and Sea Lions came together as one team.

Q. SWIMMING WORLD: You were an NAG 15-16 200 meter breaststroke record holder who left California for college swimming at the University of North Carolina. Why that choice?

A. COACH ETHAN HALL: Because it sounded like an adventure, one that would transform me into the swimmer I wanted to be. I did it almost 100% in search of athletic glory. I knew UNC was a strong ACC swim team, and the athletic facilities were amazing. I was probably a little too enamored with the fact that Michael Jordan and Lawrence Taylor had gone there. I really liked the team colors, too.
I don’t think I thought deeply enough about such a big decision. I made it for superficial reasons. I always tell my athletes to make college decisions by identifying where they want to live, who they want to be around and what they want to study.

SW: As the Tarheels’ best breaststroker, you left Frank Comfort for UCSB and Gregg Wilson. Why…and did your friendship with Natalie Coughlin enter into that decision?

EH: The decision to transfer to a school in California was a tough one. I had a lot of respect for my teammates at UNC. Realizing what would make me happy beyond the pool and proximity to family and close friends was important. I’d been overly obsessed with finding the peak of the sport. I was still finding out who I was during my first couple years at UNC and what would make me happy.
I ended up living with three of my closest club swimming buddies at UCSB, a stone’s throw from the Pacific Ocean. It was the right decision. Natalie was a good friend during those years, but not a major factor in my choice to change schools.

SW: In what way did your many coaches influence how you coach today?

EH: I took little pearls of wisdom from each that shaped my values and the way I see the sport. Today I model their lessons and pass them forward.

Mike Heaney taught me that the sport is supposed to be fun. He is always quick with a smile and a light heart. From Paul Stafford, I learned to love the water and the sport. He assigned it almost a mystical quality. He is an absolutely brilliant technician and very creative in his explanation of concepts. I still use the meditation and visualization exercises he taught.

From Ray Mitchell, I learned grit and determination—that nothing is out of reach if you make a plan and are willing to work. He is a great season/weekly practice planner. I use those concepts to cut down on the chaos. I also preach the necessity of grit to the CROW athletes more than they’d like to hear it.

Frank Comfort demonstrated the value of a team pulling together, about leadership and how to empower athletes to be leaders. When athletes have a culture among themselves, it can bring a super effort, grit and resilience and takes some burden off a coach. I seek this group synergy constantly.

Gregg Wilson stressed developing the whole person—in the pool, classroom and life. This may have been the most important lesson for me personally. It took me too long to learn that I am more than just a swimmer and focus my efforts and assign self-worth accordingly.

I have coached athletes who went on to be super successful mothers, doctors, NFL wideouts, Olympic rowers and business people. I am just as proud of being a part of their journey as I am of the ones who broke records in the swimming pool.

SW: You have been recognized as smart—a critical thinker dedicated to his craft. How was it you chose swim coaching as a profession?

EH: Honestly, it chose me. I tried to work in a mortgage bank right out of college for six months. I managed a retail store for a few weeks. The water was calling. When in doubt, the sport was my home base.

I decided to take a temporary position in 2003, helping out my best friend Matt Streumpf coach summer league swimming at Crow Canyon while I figured out my next move. At the time, many former UCSB or Terrapins teammates were also coaching swimming in the Contra Costa County summer league. We all had a blast coaching with and against each other. We fed off each other competitively. I guess I dug in my heels and never left.

SW: You have worked at Crow Canyon Country Club in one aquatic capacity or another since 2003. Has growing the Sea Lions summer league program met your expectations?

EH: The Sea Lions was my first head coaching experience. We had this awesome group of passionate athletes and supportive parents and still stay in touch. The Sea Lions used to be known as “slow canyon” because we didn’t win many races. We quickly gained success and won the LMYA Contra Costa County Meet in 2005. We latched onto that success and have won the county meet team title each year in which we have competed.

In 2005, I cofounded the USA Swimming Crow Canyon Sharks with my oldest Terrapin/UCSB buddy, Dan Cottam. We had a super-hard-working group of eight 12-15-year-old Sea Lion girls who wanted to take it to the next level. Since then, I have divided time between the Sea Lions and Sharks. In 2020, we merged the two teams, and we are all Sharks now.

SW: Crow Canyon has a slew of talented swimmers: national team member Madison White, national junior teamer Taylor Nanfria and Olympic Trials qualifiers, Zoie and Bailey Hartman, Ana Jih-Schiff, Maddie Murphy and Forrest White, just to name a few. How has that success inspired the younger swimmers and perpetuated your winning culture?

EH: It helps everyone believe the dream a little more. The up-and-coming swimmers see the hard work and character displayed, and that lights the path. It has also established our program as a place where cool things can happen. Our talented swimmers have been really good about recognizing the influence they wield and eagerly give back to the team. They take splits, give buddy lessons to younger swimmers, and they come back from their (NCAA) D1 programs with stories, inspiration and wisdom.

SW: What is it that allows Crow Canyon to sustain its silver-medal status?

EH: It’s certainly an improbable run for a team of our size and limited facilities. There is some luck involved, too.

We had a dedicated, talented and invested group in those early years that got the ball rolling. The strong athlete leadership has also been a catalyst as has our trusting and collaborative staff of great coaches like Dan Cottam, Matt Streumpf, Jake Schroeder, Joseph Natina and others. All these elements have been central to our team culture and helped build the values we hold dear. Our mantra on Sharks is Teamwork, Toughness and Trust. These values guide us.

Another key to our success is a chip-on-our-shoulder mentality. We have always gained strength from seeing ourselves as the underdog. We don’t always have the best access to water like the more tenured clubs. We started with no pool and no reputation. We take pride in matching strength with some really great clubs in our LSC and zone.

SW: How has your time as senior director of swim engineering at Aspiricx complemented your role as head swim coach at Crow Canyon?

EH: It has been an awesome change of pace. I feel like I am the opposite of an algorithm when I am coaching. My style is much more instinctive and intuitive. Working with Aspiricx CEO Kannan D.R. has challenged me to view the sport like a data scientist—i.e., look more at intra-stroke split times and new ways to measure our sport mathematically. LaneVision is a great tool to mine the statistics of a swim performance from simply shooting a video. I’m sure all swim coaches’ jobs will be farmed out to robots by 2030, so I try not to think too hard about it. Ha!

SW: How do you implement your sport-specific, strength-building dryland program with your swimmers?

EH: We have had a huge strength training boost from co-head coach Joe Natina since he arrived in 2015. We do flexibility and mobility exercises with the age groupers on deck two to three days per week until they reach high school. The high school athletes begin very light weightlifting with Coach Natina. Once they become technically sound, they add weight.

It is kind of a makeshift operation. We purchased all the weight racks and barbells cheap and used. We drag them in and out of the country club yoga room in the wee hours of the morning. It is a worthwhile investment, but setting up and taking down is a workout by itself. I’m proud of what we do with limited access, equipment and space.

SW: What does an in-water midseason week look like for your senior swimmers?

EH: Typically, they do eight sessions per week with three being mostly dryland. They get a pretty balanced diet of endurance training and sprinting in the pool. We try to get creative with the space we have available and give them targeted specialty-specific training a couple times per week.

SW: How about toys or resistance elements in training?

EH: We use stretch cords, parachutes, tempo trainers and power bags once or twice a week. Sometimes we use them in a shortened swim session in the mornings after dryland. It’s a great change from the grind.

SW: With a six-lane, 25-yard pool, how do you accommodate 300 club swimmers?

EH: We are proud of what we have done out of our six-lane pool. The close quarters are ideal for yelling instructions at all the swimmers in a practice. One’s voice can reach all four corners of the pool without taking a step.

We have been lucky to rent various area pools to make the larger program work. We rotate among 15 different area facilities. Sometimes our families drive up to 20 miles from home base to our rented sites.

We have a dream of one day stabilizing and calling a larger facility home. No solid plans yet. Besides, if we got what we want, then we might lose that chip on our shoulder!

SW: You are married to 12-time Olympic medalist Natalie Coughlin. How have you managed your coaching career with her life as an international-level swimmer?

EH: I was privileged to watch her as she competed alongside Shark athletes at many of the Pro Series meets, nationals and Olympic Trials. I traveled with her family to watch her race at the 2004, 2008 and 2012 Olympics, 2011 Shanghai World Championships and 2010 Bolzano Grand Prix.

SW: Does swimming ever come up as a topic of dinner conversation?

EH: I do ask questions. Natalie would rather be talking about other topics most nights. She deflects by insisting that she isn’t a coach, but she is obviously a great resource. She has as much perspective on recent high-level swimming as anyone. She shares stories about her national teams and the great swimmers with whom she has trained at Cal. She is a big help.

SW: Your 56.08 and 1:58.60 100-200-yard breaststroke times were impressive in their day. How much faster could you have gone had you been allowed a dolphin kick?

EH: Not much…. Honestly, I may have snuck one in anyway despite the rules. Fortunately, it was also before video replay.

Michael J. Stott is an ASCA Level 5 coach, golf and swimming writer. His critically acclaimed coming-of-age golf novel, “Too Much Loft,” was published in June 2021, and is available from store.Bookbaby.com, Amazon, B&N and book distributors worldwide.

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James
6 months ago

Congratulations Coach!