Learning From Colleagues: How Swimming Promotes a Familial Relationship Among Coaches – Part I


Learning From Colleagues: How Swimming Promotes a Familial Relationship Among Coaches

Swimming World explores the fraternal nature of how coaches learn from one another. Not surprisingly, such education isn’t always about X’s and O’s, but borne from familial relationships that reveal the caring for athletes, which at its heart, underscores the beauty and essence of our sport.

Eddie Reese underwent a transformative experience on the deck at the 1972 men’s NCAA Championships. As a University of Florida assistant, he witnessed an exchange between University of Southern California coach Peter Daland and Frank Heckl, a former 200 IM winner who finished sixth, 4.72 seconds behind winner Gary Hall. Reese recalls that no one liked to race Heckl because he had a killer instinct—“one of the toughest swimmers that’s ever been,” he remembers.

“Very simply, Peter said to Heckl, ‘That’s not you. You can let the rest of the meet be this way or you can fix it.’” And fix it he did, finishing second in the 100 free (by .08), third in the 200 free, second in the 400 free relay and swimming fly on the victorious 400 medley relay. “That was a great important moment for Peter, Frank and an eavesdropping Eddie Reese,” notes the now Texas coach.

Reese has gone on to claim more men’s NCAA championships than God—15 and counting. In the process, he has coached seven Olympic teams, 73 individual NCAA champion swimmers and educated countless swim coaches. He has also made enduring friendships that have enriched the lives and education of one and all.

One of those bonds is with Jack Bauerle, recently retired head men’s and women’s swimming coach at the University of Georgia. “Eddie and I probably talk once a week,” says Bauerle. “We’ve roomed together at international meets and a had a great time. When he comes to Georgia, we go quail hunting; when I go to Texas, we shoot ducks. That time spent together is invaluable.

“We had dual meets against one another for more than 25 years. In-season, I would come home from meets with other teams. And on Saturday night, I’d get a call from Eddie. He’d always have a pretty good idea what we could have done better. I’ve told people that there is no person in my lifetime more of an expert on my program than Eddie Reese. And that call was always made with great intentions,” says Bauerle—and probably for a laugh or two.

Clinics notwithstanding, “Without question after a certain time in your career, I think you can learn more from a colleague than anything else,” says Bauerle. “Like any good coach you are looking for something new. For sure, we write a lot of workouts. To me those conversations are really important,” he says.

In truth, Bauerle has a lot of conversations—and friends. They include people like former Arizona head man Frank Busch, one of his closest friends in life whom he met on a basketball court between prelims and finals at NCAAs—along with fellow ballers Greg Rhodenbaugh, Tim Murphy, Chuck Warner and others. He and SwimAtlanta founder Chris Davis have been soulmates for years.

That’s not to say all has been sweetness and light.

Teri McKeever (Cal) and I were bitter rivals. I loved it. There were six to eight years when we were up to our necks. That can turn into anything when you are competitive, but we had a great relationship and shared a lot,” he says. Among other things shared: deep respect.

Often such continuing education can include mentoring. Bauerle had a good one in five-time Olympic coach and SEC competitor, Don Gambril. “He was very helpful to me in a time when not everyone in the SEC was that affable. He said, ‘Take care of your swimmers and as many others as you possibly can.’

“When Georgia started to get a lot better, it was he who told me, ‘You need to make being a national team staff member as soon as possible. Do anything they ask you to do, and you will build from there.’ My first assignment was the Olympic Sports Festival in Oklahoma City in 1991 followed by the World University Games in England.” Since then, Bauerle has gone on to serve on two United States Olympic and four World Championship teams as well as win seven NCAA and 12 SEC titles.

An even earlier Bauerle mentor was legendary Germantown coach, Dick Shoulberg. “From him, I got a lot of my basics. He taught me more than anything that swimmers ‘are all different. Don’t treat them the same. Work ’em, but treat them differently.’”



Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Tyler Fenwick, presently associate head coach at the University of Virginia, spent years as a swimmer and as a fellow coach with Shoulberg. As a swimmer, Fenwick clearly learned fundamentals, but as a coach, Shoulberg counseled:

• Demonstrate to every athlete and employee individually how much you care about them;
• Treat the people that most people don’t take the time to see (maintenance, cleaning crew, hotel staff, bus drivers) really well.
“Shoulberg would watch QVC in the middle of the night, think of someone, and have items shipped to them,” says Fenwick.

Mission Viejo’s Bill Rose advised:

• If you have a great employee, do everything you can to keep them;
• Roll with the punches (Rose was incredibly patient and took even the most tense situations in stride);
• Always have your employees’ backs first. Sometimes coaches make mistakes. “Coach would always protect his employees and give them the benefit of the doubt.”

From Tennessee’s Matt Kredich, he observed:
• When hiring for a position, hire people who do something better than anyone else—i.e., those with superpowers;
• The mark of a great assistant is that the team moves forward and improves when you’re not there.

And from national champion coach, Todd DeSorbo of Virginia:
• Be a good person, work really hard, and great things will happen;
• The head coach should be outworking everyone. “I’m not sure Todd ever sleeps,” says Fenwick.

Jeff Dugdale and his Queens University Royals are in Year One of a transition from D-II to D-I. In their wake, they leave behind seven consecutive (both men’s and women’s) NCAA titles. Now in his 12th season at Queens, Dugdale has taken with him sterling wisdom from coaches:

Mike Bottom: Coach to one’s mindset, not their physical ability. Amazing things happen when you get out of a swimmer’s way.

Dan Colella: Laugh and have fun. It’s just swimming.

David Marsh: Always start with what “GREAT” looks like. Words and appearances matter. Choose them carefully.


Abby Brethauer was a 13-time NCAA D-III All-American and captain on Jim Steen’s fabled Kenyon squads. Her coaching journey has included stops at Hamilton, Columbia, University of Mary Washington (head coach), Tufts (associate head coach) and was recently named the head coach at Princeton.

She counts as mentors Kami Gardner (Washington & Lee), Nancy Bigelow (Tufts), Anne Goodman James (Colorado College) and Paula Miller (Ithaca College). “These women have truly shaped who I am—and who I want to be—as a coach,” she says.

Among some of the things Brethauer aspires to be is a respected and winning coach. Her track record shows she’s on her way (10-time conference coach of the year accolades at Mary Washington). She also wants opportunity for the underserved in aquatics—especially female coaches. “I’ve learned if there is another woman coaching when you are on deck, introduce yourself—especially if they are younger,” she says. “There aren’t a lot of us, and it is important to make those connections. This was modeled for me by women who were my age—42, gasp!—when I started. They made it a priority to know me.”

George Kennedy (Johns Hopkins, CSCAA president) imparted to her, “It’s OK to try new things and then change your mind if they don’t work.”

“Experience has taught me that coaching is hard—really, really hard,” says Brethauer. “It isn’t something that necessarily gets easier, so find the people who make it fun, and prioritize maintaining those relationships. Be yourself with your team and be open to learning from them and those around you.

As a coach nigh on 20 years, Brethauer has earned the right to take a longer view of herself and her place in life. She echoes Dan Colella’s sentiments that “it’s just swimming,” but adds, “At the end of the day we are really, really lucky to do what we do.”

Concludes Bauerle, “It’s an incredible sport. You can never give back as much as we receive from swimming—ever.”

Check www.swimmingworld.com the first week of April to read Part 2 of “Learning from Colleagues” in which international coaches weigh in on lessons learned from colleagues around the world.

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

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T Hill
T Hill
1 year ago

Great to see this lots of good comments and time and sharing with others is invaluable

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