Pursley Pep Talks: The “Team First” Mindset

Pursley's Pep Talks

Swimming World will publish a collection of coaching perspectives written by Alabama head swimming coach Dennis Pursley. This is the 19th installment of a series that will be rolled out throughout the coming months.


The question of whether swimming is an individual sport or a team sport has been debated for decades. The answer is that it will be whatever we choose it to be.

My experience has thoroughly convinced me that the team approach has the potential to be more rewarding, more fulfilling and more successful than the individual approach. The willingness to sacrifice personal preferences for the sake of the team is an essential and fundamental prerequisite to the creation of a strong team environment.

Herein lies the catch. The “team” is important to all of us, but not everyone is willing to make it the highest priority when it conflicts with individual preferences. Ironically, individual performances are invariably enhanced in a strong team environment.

Although it sometimes requires a leap of faith that some are reluctant to make, the “team-first” choice is a win-win choice. Unfortunately, we often want to have our cake and eat it, too, by paying lip service to the team concept, but stopping short of the commitment required to make it happen.

So, what are the benefits of a “team-first” mindset? It will facilitate the development of a positive environment, which, in turn, will enhance the probability of team AND individual success.

By taking some of the focus and pressure off of ourselves, it will help us to establish a balanced perspective. It provides strength to overcome. It will provide additional incentive to perform well, and will make the competitive experience more rewarding and fulfilling. There are few experiences more rewarding than to be a contributing member of a successful group effort of significance.

There is a direct correlation between the degree to which we are willing to sacrifice for the team and the degree to which we receive these benefits. Sometimes, it does not occur until long after our athletic careers are finished, but at some point, most of us eventually come to the realization that success in life is measured not by what we have gained for ourselves, but by what we have done for others.

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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