One on One with Danielle Strader-Bordi
By Manuel Banks//USA Swimming Diversity Specialist
During Danielle Strader-Bordi’s competitive swim career she participated in three Olympic Trials (1988, 1992, & 1996) and held several world rankings. After her career ended she decided to give back to the sport that gave so much to her by becoming a swim coach. Danielle is the coach and Founder/President of the Urban Swim Program. She is also the Diversity Chair for Middle Atlantic Swimming.
Below Danielle talks about a variety of topics ranging from her experience on the national team and challenges that she faces as a minority coach.
How and why did you become involved in swimming?
I started swimming when I was four. We lived in an apartment complex in Pittsburgh and the life guard at the pool taught me how to swim. Every day I would walk there until I could swim a lap. I still remember the feeling of accomplishment it gave me. I loved to swim. The sport is a part of me now, then and always.
Talk about your experience as a National Team member.
I had a great experience as part of the National Team. I was a part of the first National Jr. Team in 1989 that traveled to Paris, France and Berlin, Germany right after the wall came down, I still have a piece. I was also part of the 1990 team that competed in Canada. It was great to experience international competition. I advanced my goals. It inspired me to swim faster. There is nothing like competing internationally and representing the USA. I made friends on that team that I still keep in touch with today.
Why did you decide to go into coaching?
I had an amazing experience. There were so many people that impacted my life. I want to be able to give that back. I want to be able to encourage young athletes, make them understand they are capable of anything. I also want to bring swimming to those kids that don’t have access, even if it is basic skills, I truly believe that if you can teach a child, to overcome a fear, or achieve a goal, you can help change their life forever positively impacting the decisions they make inside and outside the pool.
Do you think it is hard for minorities to become involved in coaching?
I don’t think it’s hard. I just think there aren’t that many minorities in swimming. So where do you pull from? Our job is to give these athletes quality experiences that not only get them involved in the sport but keep them involved.
What unique challenges do minority coaches face?
I can only speak from my experience but I believe minority coaches face challenges from parents and other coaches. You constantly have to prove yourself, prove you have the experience, prove your swimming background and prove you are worthy of coaching the sport of swimming. Whether or not we believe it, many people still believe minorities can’t swim or don’t understand the sport
Why did you create the Coaches Diversity Conference?
Drawing from the experiences I have as a swimmer and a coach, in my opinion we have to impact coaches on another level, a deeper level. We constantly talk about how to attain minorities, what events to run. We talk numbers. It seems we never talk about the real issues surrounding diversity. We fail to give coaches the tools to have those difficult conversations. We can get diverse swimmers on the team, but we can’t retain them. We need to know the simple difference between Diversity and Inclusion. Diversity is numbers and it is much more than race, it’s disabilities, culture, religion, socioeconomic status, sexual preferences, it’s everything. Inclusion is not being blind to these differences. It’s recognizing these differences, learning from them, embracing them, giving these athletes a quality experience and learning how coaches, swimmers and teams can benefit from these differences.
Who spoke at the conference?
We were fortunate to have a great line up of speakers at the conference. Our keynote speaker was Dr. Jenny Withycombe. Withycombe conducted a five hour Diversity Workshop on the first day. Dr. Withycombe is the leader of advanced diversity workshops for the NCAA. The second day gave us a very diverse group of speakers who lead diversity efforts in various fields. They included Regional Diversity Manager for the Coast Guard, Lt. James DeLeon, US Rowing Inclusion Manager Richard Butler, MA Disability Chair and paraswimmer Travis Pollen, as well as swim coaches Jim Ellis of Salvation Army Kroc Aquatics (formerly of PDR) and John Mason of Central Chesapeake Swimming.
Did you receive any support from your LSC?
We are extremely fortunate to have a very supportive LSC. They have drastically increased our budget. We are also lucky to have an amazing group of committee members that include coaches, swimmers, officials, community leaders and an amazing group of out of the box thinkers. But none of this would be done without the support of our LSC. One of the most important goals of Middle Atlantic Swimming is not only diversity and outreach but true inclusion, so they show incredible support to our efforts.
What piece of advice would you give to swimmers who are striving to get to the National Team level?
To have fun. I know it sound basic, but I swam because I loved it. It is that easy. This may sound silly, but I used to tape my goals on the wall above my bed, so it was the last thing I would see at the end of the day and the first thing I would see when I woke up first thing in the morning. One of my favorite quotes is “Life begins outside your comfort zone”, well so does fast swimming. When you go to practice you have to push your limits, 99% of which are set only in your head. And if someone tells you, you can’t do it. Prove them wrong.
What would you say to young coaches who are looking to move up the ranks?
I can only speak from my experiences, but you have to create opportunities. When I decided I wanted to coach and get involved in the sport. I called people, I volunteered, I did anything to get involved. My parents always told me, if you want something, you have to go after it and believe. I have called and emailed so many people they are probably sick of me. I have so much to learn and you have to be like a sponge. Take classes, read books, get involved with every aspect of swimming that interests you and even those aspects that don’t. There are so many people out there willing to share and teach. If someone tells you no, go on to the next one. Persistence is the key, I’ve learned that from every coach I have had from Jim Ellis, Richard Shoulberg, Dave Dahler, Jim Lutz, Nick Hansen, Jill Sterkel, every last one of them.
To read more about the Coaches Diversity Conference please click here.