David Marsh Evaluates ‘Poor’ Summer, Has New Focus Ahead of Olympic Year

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Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

When asked about his coaching performance this past summer, all David Marsh had to say was “not very good.” Marsh, who has been on four U.S. Olympic team staffs and won 13 NCAA team titles at Auburn, as well as coached many Olympic champions and world record holders, said very matter-of-factly that the summer of 2019 was one of his “worst performances” as a coach.

Marsh is the head coach at Team Elite in San Diego, where he is in charge of a group of professional athletes including Kathleen BakerLia NealJacob PebleyMichael Chadwick and Marius Kusch among others. But Marsh told Swimming World he didn’t do a good enough job of honing in on the elite swimmers to maximize their full potential at the World Championships and other international meets over the summer.

What Went Wrong?

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Marsh (right) with Bob Bowman; Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Marsh had served as the head coach for the UC-San Diego Tritons Division II team the last two seasons, but was unable at times to coach both groups at the same time. The university did not want Team Elite to be using the same facility as the college team so that meant he had to run a separate workout for the college team and then again for the professionals in the morning and the afternoon.

“There were days where I would be on deck eight hours a day,” David Marsh said. “You need space to think through workouts and I was not as dialed in.”

“Thankfully it wasn’t the Olympic year so we could make adjustments.”

But now it is the Olympic year and Marsh is shifting his focus to Team Elite only, having stepped down from the UCSD head coach position earlier in the year. Long-time colleague Marko Djordjevic has taken the head coaching reigns from Marsh. The rest of the coaching staff stayed intact so Marsh was optimistic it wouldn’t be a huge adjustment for the athletes at UCSD. And now with his own pool space at the Jewish Community Center in La Jolla: “It really feels like home” to Team Elite instead of just a pool where they are renting space.

Now with a real home pool secured, Marsh and his American Team Elite swimmers are only two training cycles away from the 2020 Olympic Trials. But even with no guarantees at who is on the plane to Tokyo, he is still reminding all his athletes that the ultimate goal is winning medals at the Olympic Games.

With finals in Tokyo set to be held in the morning, Marsh shifted his morning practices to be from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. in preparation for what the morning finals will feel like next summer with finals being held at 10:30 a.m. local time in Japan.

Currently David Marsh is focusing on getting everyone ready to go in the morning, with some helpful tips from Bob Bowman, who helped coach Michael Phelps to the greatest eight-day run in the history of the sport of swimming. Phelps had to swim every single Olympic final in 2008 before lunchtime and broke seven world records in that run. Swimming fast in the morning has been done before, but it is always a challenge to get athletes used to performing early in the morning when their peak performance is usually done in the afternoon.

“You need to prepare the body for morning swims and we are getting as close as we can to that,” Marsh said. “The biggest thing is the environment: going to bed early having a real meal in the morning. The athletes need the energy to get through the morning.”

From now until March, the main focus for Marsh and his Team Elite swimmers will be on the Olympic Games, and after March his American swimmers will shift their focus to the 2020 Olympic Trials in late June. This isn’t a new experience for Marsh, who has been on the American staff at the 1996, 2000, 2012 and 2016 Olympic Games. But it is a much different experience for him now as opposed to four years ago when he was training the Team Elite squad in Charlotte, North Carolina.

David Marsh’s New Life in California

Obviously the biggest adjustment for him is the sunny southern California weather as opposed to the colder climate in North Carolina. But with Marsh’s outdoor facility in San Diego, he has to keep track of the weather to get the most out of his athletes in each set.

“When the sun is down, it is cold since there is usually no humidity. We have to adjust quality training based on weather because if we are doing a quality set and everyone is out here shivering, we aren’t going to get a whole lot out of it.

“There are days when you miss having an indoor pool but I think it is healthier to train outdoors since you aren’t dealing with the pool filters inside and you have more fresh air.”

David Marsh tries to use the warmer California weather to his advantage, not just on the pool deck but in his everyday life as well. Last week his athletes went for an ocean swim and had the opportunity to see lots of different wildlife in the ocean. Marsh did similar things with his swimmers in Charlotte, using Lake Norman as an open water venue and taking trips to the Whitewater Center in Charlotte.

But things like surfing are not things you can do while living in North Carolina, which is why Marsh has encouraged his athletes to take up surfing and/or just going to the beach as a form of personal recovery. It is something he preaches to all of his athletes: to have a release from swimming and to have an outlet away from the pool to help get your mind off of it when you are not training. The season can get long, as any swimmers (or athlete for that matter) can attest to, and Marsh wants his swimmers to have an opportunity to not be thinking about swimming 24/7.

Which is why Marsh helped start the Stand By Me Foundation, which is designed to help financially support his Team Elite athletes so they can “develop their skills and get to the Olympic stage and achieve their dreams.” The foundation also gives them opportunities for speaking engagements and clinics, including one with the Preventing Drowning Foundation of San Diego.

Positives From the Summer

Marsh is back now on the pool deck coaching the Team Elite pro group in San Diego. Although he thought his performance this summer was poor, there was still some positives to take away.

Beginning with Kathleen Baker, who had an amazing 2018 where she broke a world record, qualified for the World Championships in three events, and turned professional all in the same year. 2019 was a completely different story for Baker, who was out eight weeks dealing with pneumonia and a herniated disk, but was still able to finish sixth in the World Championship final of the 100 back. Marsh ended up pulling her out of the 200 IM before the World Championships to focus on a light event load, but said she will still be training for that event this year.

Another positive Marsh took from this summer was the gold medals that Kendyl Stewart and Gabby DeLoof were able to haul in at the Pan American Games and World University Games, respectively.

“They both were not thrilled with their times but they still won gold medals,” Marsh said. “I reminded them that the conditions will not always be perfect but the main priority at those meets is to take care of places.”

At the last Olympic Trials in 2016, Marsh helped coach six swimmers to the U.S. team including Baker, Cammile AdamsRyan LochteKatie MeiliAnthony Ervin and Jimmy Feigen. Three of those six went on to win individual medals on one of the most successful U.S. Olympic swim teams in recent memory.

David Marsh is hoping he can put this disappointing 2019 summer behind him, and qualify even more swimmers to the 2020 Olympic team next year.

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