Pursley Pep Talks: Commitment

Swimming World will publish a collection of coaching perspectives written by Alabama head swimming coach Dennis Pursley. This is the fourth installment of a series that will be rolled out throughout the coming months.


There are no short cuts to success. Everyone wants to succeed, but not everyone is willing to make the commitment necessary to do so. When we are tempted to settle for less than our best–and those temptations will come from time to time–it might help to remind ourselves that at least some of our competitors are willing to make any sacrifice and pay any price to climb the mountain.

If we are to reach the top of the mountain, we must be willing to do the same. Yes, we all have other priorities and obligations in life (faith, family, friends, academic pursuits, etc.), but we must find ways to fulfill these obligations without compromising our preparation for peak performance in championship competitions.

Too often, our focus is restricted to short-term objectives. Unfortunately, the approach to training that is necessary to achieve the best results in the short term may not be the approach that is required for the best results at the end of the season or the quadrennial.

Of course, there are always exceptions, but generally speaking, the training focus in the first half of the season should be on laying the aerobic-base foundation, then shifting to a greater emphasis on race-specific training in the second half. In some cases, this could involve sacrificing performance results in the short term to obtain better results in the long term, but this is the kind of planning that is essential to long-term success.

Quite a number of years ago, I remember seeing on the pool deck at championship meets the slogan, “We work harder,” on the backs of T-shirts. As the years passed by, hard work seemed to fall out of fashion, and those T-shirts were replaced with ones that said, “We work smarter, not harder.”

My years of experience in our sport have convinced me that we will need to work smarter AND harder if we are to achieve our performance goals. Although attributes such as commitment, discipline, perseverance and sacrifice may not be as popular in our culture today as they, perhaps, once were, they are still every bit as essential to success.

So, let us acknowledge the value of these attributes, and, together, let us embrace them and begin the climb to the top of the mountain.

About Dennis Pursley
After getting his start as a volunteer coach on Don Gambril’s first Alabama staff, current Alabama head coach Dennis Pursley has gone on to one of the most extraordinary careers in the sport of swimming, a career that led him to be named one of the 25 most influential people in the history of USA Swimming in 2003.

Pursley has helmed coaching staffs throughout the world, including stops as the first head coach of the Australian Institute of Sport, the inaugural director of the United States National Team and most recently the head coach of Great Britain’s 2012 Olympic squad. Pursley returned to the deck in 2003 as the head coach of the Brophy East Swim Team in Phoenix Ariz., before becoming the head coach of British Swimming in 2008.

Pursley and his wife Mary Jo have five children, Lisa, Brian, David, Steven and J.J. Lisa and David have joined him on the Alabama staff.

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