Earn Your ‘A’: The Arizona Wildcat Method to Team Coherence

Photo Courtesy: Arizona Athletics

By Emma Schoettmer, Swimming World College Intern

Team (n.): a group of people who compete in a sport, game, etc., against another group; a group of people who work together. Another such translation could be a club, a unit, or a squad. Based on these findings from a dictionary and thesaurus, it is safe to say that the general population likely doesn’t see the sport of swimming as a team sport.

In fact, a majority of us in the swimming world also don’t actually function as a “team” when it comes to the sport. It is engrained into our heads to compete for ourselves; to gain personal goals and accomplishments from the countless hours spent perfecting our races.

Yes, we do have club swimming and the idea of teams in which we organize ourselves, but what does it actually mean to be a part of a team? What does it mean to be a part of something greater than yourself?

Defining Team

I never fully understood what it meant to be part of a team until I walked on deck at the University of Arizona for the first time. The atmosphere and the dynamic movements of the classified swim team were working as one.

Yes, I had been part of a high school team, and I had competed on relays throughout my swimming career, but nothing could prepare me for the level of commitment each swimmer had to the team at UA. There is still an emphasis on individual improvement, but the bigger mindset is, “how can I better myself for the team?”

When we hear the word team in the competitive atmosphere of sports life, the phrase, “there’s no ‘I’ in team” comes to mind. That phrase has always been the mindset with the University of Arizona swim program. Team before me.

This was highlighted in the competitive nature the girls around me displayed when it came to performing at practices and at meets. There was honor in getting selected to represent the school on a relay at the conference and national championships.

This past season, with the debut of new head coach Rick aka “Rocket” DeMont, the team-centric thinking emerged with a creative twist that brought a group of individuals together in a way I have never experienced in my 13 years in the sport.


Respect the ‘A’

Rocket began his first season as head coach by implementing a system which required swimmers to earn their place on the team.

To begin with, we were issued one Arizona swimming and diving t-shirt that was to be worn inside out and one white swim cap. With this uniformity and without the classic Arizona ‘A’ representation, each individual had to earn their place on the team.

“I think that within this generation there is a lot of entitlement and kids think that things are just handed to them, so becoming deprived of something so simple made you appreciate just being a part of something bigger than even the name on the shirt. It made the team unified together,” assistant coach Brandy Maben stated. “The cap represents the ‘A’, which until you show pride and the effort level that the ‘A’ requires, you can’t wear it respectfully.”

In this method of thinking, a competitive edge formed amongst the ranks and challenges were dished out to us in hopes of earning our ‘A’. This exercise set the tone for the season. It highlighted the emphasis of earning a place to compete and grow as a Wildcat versus being handed our positions and swimming with a bland entitlement to be a member of such an elite program.

Unifying Results

“I think it did a lot for our team coming together because it really encouraged us to work as a unit and commit to being a part of something great,” graduated senior Elizabeth Pepper commented. “I thought it was an awesome idea that really made everyone invested in what they were doing.”

During the process of earning your individual ‘A’ the team began to function as a single unit. We became one. In this, we developed bonds that ran deeper than any of us were expecting. As a collective whole, we had to be able to function as one entity to earn gear for the rest of the season. A collective challenge to a group of 50+ men and women at such an elite level of competition within the pool would likely fail without the determination and struggles overcome by each individual in our unit.

“I think it did create a sense of an awareness to a work ethic,” head coach DeMont said. “What I was trying to avoid was to a sense of entitlement and coming in and automatically thinking and walking on the deck that you automatically deserve all the bells and whistles. That’s an attitude that I’m really trying to get rid of. I’m looking for a little more down to Earth and old school work ethic.”

Earning the right to wear the ‘A’ brought about a heightened sense of TEAM for the University of Arizona. After all, there is an ‘A’ in team.