Coaches You Should Know: Norma Balogh
by Chelsea white//usa swimming communications intern
Editor’s Note: Every Friday, usaswimming.org will publish “Coaches You Should Know” featuring some of the best age group and grassroots coaches in the nation. This week, we bring you ASCA’s Midwestern 2012-2013 Age Group Coach of the Year, Norma Balogh
Norma Balogh is an age-group coach for the Lincoln Select Swimming Club located in Lincoln, Neb., which she and her husband, Louie, started back in 2008. Coach Norma is the primary head coach for the club’s Gold and Black groups where she has had multiple successes from her swimmers. In 2011, her swimmers earned 23 National top-10 times, 30 new MW records and eight swimmer of the year awards. In 2012, her swimmers earned 21 National top-10 times and 30+ new MW Records. Additionally, this past summer, one of her swimmers established a new National Age Group Record in the girls 11-12 year old 50-meter breaststroke. Norma is also the mother of six swimmers: Bennett, Blake, Bobbi, Brad, Brennan and Brooke.
1. What is your swimming background and how did you get into coaching?
“I swam for a club team in Michigan throughout my childhood; I probably started at around age 7 or 8. I planned to swim in high school because high school swimming at that time was definitely the big way to go. But our millage at my school didn’t pass so we dropped all sports. So I didn’t have high school swimming but I continued swimming club, although it felt like a dead end. I did not know an avenue to college swimming at that time through club; it seemed like high school was the only way to get into college swimming. I started coaching college through the club that I had swum at. I was able to continue in the sport that way and still remain on the deck. I was able to stay involved in swimming so that was a really great thing for me.”
2. Your husband, Louie Balogh, is also a coach at your club. How has it been coaching with him?
“That is not something everybody gets to do, but I pretty much have had him by my side from the beginning of my coaching career. He was coaching the club team as I was finishing up school and then we co-coached. We spent four years coaching together before we were even married. Then we continued for several more years coaching, but then he stopped coaching for a while so that he could focus on his engineering job. During that time, we also had a few kids so I took a little break. Eventually we have found each other coaching together a couple times since then. So, how does it work? It works really well. We both share the passion for the sport of swimming and we both really enjoy the community involvement. It has its challenges, too, in that swimming is a very high-demanding sport, so there have been some times when we are both needed at the pool and are both needed at home, but we have always managed to make it work.”
3. You were a successful coach in Michigan, what brought you over to coach in Nebraska?
“Louie, my husband, is an engineer and he worked for an auto company in Michigan. With all the changes in the economy around 2006-08, there was just a lot of downsizing going on and so he lost his engineering job, which has always been our primary form of livelihood. Coaching has been secondary in terms of income even though it was always probably primary in terms of passion and enjoyment. But with six kids, and as much as we tried to stay in Michigan because all of our family is there, we had to move. He found a great employment opportunity in Lincoln, which was able to survive the economic issues a lot better than the Detroit area did. Lincoln is a wonderful place; it is a great place for us to raise our family. We love Lincoln itself, but the main difference has been the swimming. The biggest factor has been that we have to travel so far to get beyond our own LSC’s competition. Where we were in southeast Michigan, we could travel three hours and be in four or five different LSCs. In Nebraska, we travel a lot. The closest place for us outside our LSC is the University of Missouri, and that is four hours. Otherwise, we are traveling six hours by car or flying someplace, and that really is just to seek the right kind of competition.”
4. Being a mother of six and an age group coach, how do you manage it all?
“I started coaching in the mid-80s and coached through the early 90s, which by that time I had a few babies. We had three by the time I had stopped coaching for a little bit. Then I had two more children and in that time Louie had stopped coaching due to his job. He eventually got back involved with coaching as my kids were getting into swimming in the late 90s. Then the high school position became available in 2000, so I stepped back onto the deck in 2000. But I was just kind of seasonal; I was doing a little bit with club swimming, but it was more of a flexible schedule because I had a little one. I could step in and out as I needed to as it worked with our family. I was coaching the high school so it was a season-long commitment at a time instead of a yearlong so I was able to manage being a mom and a coach at the same time. I did that through 2007, and then we moved to Nebraska from Michigan. My husband and I weren’t really planning on coaching, because we have done it for such a long time. At that time, we were really busy; we had all six kids still at home. So during that busy time we thought we would just stay off the deck and just enjoy watching our kids grow. But what we really found during that time was that we missed the role of contributing to the community. We missed coaching and being on deck, but we really missed engaging with the community and swimmers and having a commitment with the families, so eventually we had to get back into it.”
5. What has been your favorite coaching moment?
“I would say that my favorite coaching moment would be each of those times when a swimmer achieves something great. When they just realized their success and they look over and you get eye contact and you share a little smile—that is my favorite moment. You know sometimes a parent gets that or a swimmer just kind of keeps it internal, but those times where the swimmer just kind of glances over and you make eye contact and they smile—that is the moment; that is my favorite.”
6. What is your coaching philosophy?
“I believe in hard work and I have very high expectations that all of the swimmers are going to be very purposeful. What I mean by that is when I am giving instructions, and I specify that I want something done in a certain way; my expectations are that they are going to do the best to follow that to a T. I am pretty committed to making sure that workouts are individualized, but I don’t mean specialized by any means. I don’t specialize because we are an age-group program so I think everybody needs to work on everything. But we individualize our workouts so that everyone is getting their needs met within the set. In any given lane, if it is 5x100s, then people can expect different things for those. I am pretty quick at explaining what everyone needs to do so my swimmers need to pay attention, be respectful and be on task. I think it is important to meet the swimmers where they are at, too. Some are really striving to go off to college and continue their career and some just want to have a great youthful experience. I try to really make sure I am meeting them at their level and make sure they understand that their expectations need to match their commitment level.”