Tim Welsh Reflects On “Father Figure” Peter Daland

By Tim Welsh, Interim Head Women’s Swimming Coach, Notre Dame University

Peter Daland has passed away. The rest of us, without being wiser (Peter was wise) are older now.

In the real world, we are sometimes told that a part of us is still a child as long as at least one of our parents is alive. It makes sense. Mom is always Mom, and Dad is always Dad.

In the world of swimming coaches, Peter Daland was at least a father figure, and in many cases, including mine, much more than a father-figure to and for many of us. Peter’s passing means that we all have to grow up now. Just like that and just that quickly and all together on this one day, we have to grow up. Our father figure is gone. It is now our time, and now our turn, to take on the responsibility and the accountability that comes from losing yet another of our great older and wiser leaders. As of today, we can no longer be Peter’s disciples. As of today, we have to be Peter’s successors.

Peter would want it that way, of course. He spent at least the last half of his life teaching, and preparing, and leading us — constantly pointing out the way and the path that he thought we ought to be walking. And like all good fathers, he was right more often than not. Peter had an ear and a passion for the “big issues” and he had an unusually clear sense, earned from years and years of hard experience, for the “right direction” to follow in “tackling” them. (“Tackling” being a word chosen carefully to reflect Peter’s passion for college football, which often led to his watching three or more football games on a single Saturday.)

Thank you, Peter. Thank you for the years of training, and the passion with which you trained us. Rooming with Peter on the road was like job-shadowing the Master. So thorough and so constant was his instruction that it was not unusual for Peter to be speaking on a topic as he fell asleep, and to wake up in the morning picking up where he left off the night before. It was that way for me on several occasions.

Thank you, Peter, for teaching and training all of us, whether we knew you or not and at whatever our level of coaching. You made us more professional.

You checked on our dress code, wearing a coat and tie yourself into your 80’s, and remarking when you saw us whether we passed dress code inspection that day. Why? Because it make us more professional. Thank you.

You made us value being prompt and punctual and on time (“tickey tockey goes the clockey” is reported to be what you said to your swimmers to remind them to be on time). And punctual you were at every event we can remember. In fact, if you were ever late for anything, I hope you were late for St. Peter. We needed every day with you that we had.

You made us more prepared. In the paper and ink era, you filled our Swimming World and Junior Swimmer magazines (which you helped to start and keep going) with the data of names, and times, and events …and you remembered them too, as your history of Olympic Swimming shows. You kept us focused on the big picture … not only in USA Swimming, but also and always with World Swimming. You taught us before it became obvious that the swimming world is a flat world.

You advocated for coach leadership and coach representation and a coach voice at every level of world swimming from local LSCs to FINA, and you led the first FINA Coaches’ Commission, not to mention being the first coach of the World Swimming Coaches Association. Every coach in the world thanks you for that.

On the issues of drugs and “suits” and every other major issue at home and around the world, you taught us that every decision is a political decision and that we needed to learn and be in a position to “do” politics if we wanted to speak up for the “right” issues and to influence decisions regarding them.

Going on and on would be easy. In recent years, you seldom mentioned your on-deck coaching successes, but we all know how long the list of those accomplishments is. And we know too how much you valued and thought of yourself and called yourself a coach. In remembering you, we will want to celebrate and emulate your on-deck coaching achievements. We have so much to thank you for, Peter.

When our parents pass away, we “step up” as adults into the shoes they have prepared us to fill. Such is our job and our challenge now in the swimming world. Our lasting tribute to you will be to upgrade our coaching, to upgrade our professionalism, and to upgrade our involvement and our commitment to the issues that make our sport better throughout the U.S. and around the world.

Thank you, Peter. May you rest in peace. You have earned it.