Outgoing Ohio State Coach Bill Wadley Measures Career by Lives Impacted

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Photo Courtesy: Ohio State University Athletics

By Maddie Strasen, Swimming World College Intern.

Retiring Ohio State men’s swimming coach Bill Wadley has accumulated several impressive numbers over 33 years of coaching in the Big Ten. He has mentored more than 35 world-ranked swimmers, with 15 of his student-athletes reaching the Olympics. He coached 10 consecutive top 20 finishes at NCAA Championships, and his teams have been ranked in the NCAA’s Top 25 for 22 of the past 25 seasons.

As Wadley steps into the next chapter of his life and he reflects on his coaching career, it becomes clear that his most eye-opening accomplishments have nothing to do with numbers.

“[Being a coach] gives us an opportunity to connect and make an impact on the life of a young person in a critical period of their life,” Wadley states. “It can help change their thinking and way of life. At the end of the day, the swimming times are fading and fleeting and the target is a moving target, so the swimming statistics are not nearly as important as the growth that occurs from the process.”

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Photo Courtesy: Ohio State University Athletics

Retirement was not an easy decision for Wadley. However, knowing that he was leaving the Buckeyes in great hands helped him feel confident about both his choice and the future of the program. Ohio State announced that the men’s and women’s swim programs would be combined under women’s head coach Bill Dorenkott, an experienced coach and Wadley’s close friend.

“We’ve had a great brotherly relationship,” Wadley notes. “For him to take over the team, I couldn’t be happier for anybody.”

“I felt like it was time,” he says of his retirement, recalling that he’s had “plenty of great opportunities to enjoy Big Ten and NCAA swimming. After that after 33 years, it’s time to give someone else an opportunity. I wanted to open the door for someone else to have a chance.”

In addition to the many honors earned by his swimmers, Wadley himself has compiled many accolades. He was named Technical Swimming Chairman for the International University Sports Federation and has represented the United States as a coach on multiple occasions. He was voted 2010 Big Ten Conference Coach of the Year, has served as president of the American Swimming Coaches Association (ASCA) and is a USA Swimming board member, frequently speaking at swim clinics across the globe.

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Photo Courtesy: Ohio State University Athletics

Wadley’s involvement in the sport is far from over. Still on the board of the ASCA, he plans to stay active in swimming. “My passion is to help other coaches,” he says. “I expect to stay involved with the association as much as possible, assisting and mentoring others.”

The process of becoming a great coach is one of the biggest changes Wadley says he has witnessed over the course of his career. “The sport has evolved to a level—with the internet and access to fast-paced learning—it’s faster and easier today than it ever was. It really is a special landscape for coaches today to learn how to become a great coach. There are so many educational opportunities that coaches can get involved in.”

However, Wadley recognizes that gaining knowledge through experience is the best way to learn how to stretch yourself to your fullest potential. “The experience factor can sometimes be taken for granted,” he notes. “Experience that has drilled a little bit deeper, such as how to manage a program or how to manage young people, takes time. That’s one of the things that the ASCA and I feel strongly about—to educate coaches and take them to the next level by sharing life experiences that could be valuable to them.”

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Photo Courtesy: Ohio State University Athletics

Through his work with collegiate athletes and other coaches, Wadley has created various opportunities for children who want to get involved with the sport or simply learn how to swim. Wanting to add value to the lives of children, Wadley started a program called Safe Splash Swim School. Its nine locations provide all-important swim lessons for children. Additionally, Wadley started a charitable nonprofit called Swim for Life Ohio, a program that provides 50 free swim lessons every week to children from impoverished families in the Head Start program.

“The number one cause of death among five-and-unders is drowning,” Wadley explains. “I want to do my very best to make an impact on the lives of these children. At Swim for Life Ohio, the kids are three, four and five years old, and it is the best 60 minutes of my week every week.”

Through all of his coaching, work, and giving back to the community, Wadley remains humble. He reminds us that personal growth is one of the most important aspects of sports.

“View sports as a growing opportunity, to be a better person overall,” Wadley advises. “I think the most important thing [as a coach] is, ‘who are we in service to?’ I think every coach is in service to the athletes and children that they work with. That’s the most important thing.”