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. Also during April, as a part of #CoachesAre month, the “Coach You Should Know” will be telling you what being a coach means to them. This week, we bring you ASCA’s Inland Empire 2012-2013 Age Group Coach of the Year, Todd Stafek.
Todd Stafek is the head coach for the Tri-City Channel Cats, which is a team that combines neighboring cities of Richland, Keenewick and Pasco, Wash. Coach Stafek has been a life-long supporter of the Channel Cats, starting off as a swimmer in the club himself and eventually returning to his roots to coach the same team he was a part of. Since he began coaching for TCCC, the Channel Cats have achieved numerous team accomplishments such as winning many Inland Empire Championships and placing at both the Age Group and Senior Sectional Championships.
Finish this sentence: #CoachesAre________
#CoachesAre Coaches for life!
Definitely as the swimmers get older I think I spend as much time with them as the parents do. People always ask me how many kids I have. And I say “oh, about 150!” As a coach, you think of them as your own. Over the years, my swimming kids have gone on to college and done some great things. I like to reminisce with them about their careers. I have coached for so long that some swimmers I get to talk to them about their own children. It is almost like being a parent. I think that for me being a coach I have that mentality that I am not someone who goes to practice and then walks away from practice and doesn’t care about what those kids do. They mean a lot to me. Over 25 years, there have been a number of kids that I have coached that I can only hope that I have affected positively.
Tell me about your swimming history.
For the most part I grew up here in the Tri-Cities and probably swam here for about eight years. I went off to school. I went to the University of Idaho for a year then transferred to the University of California-San Diego and swam there for a couple years. I ended up graduating from UC-San Diego and then after that I moved back home to the Tri-Cities. At the time, the Channel Cats were going through some coaching changes so I started helping out and just kind of have been here ever since.
Why did you want to transition into coaching?
When I had just gotten out of school I was looking for a job but nothing was available so I started helping out the coach that was with the Channel Cats. When she left, the club was interviewing and since I did not have any other job prospects on the horizon, I applied. It was a very small team, I think there were about 30 swimmers when I first started, but I have been here ever since. I have enjoyed every minute of coaching, but just originally when I was planning for my career after school I thought I would end up in the business world somewhere. But how cool is it that I can be doing something that I love and still be in the sport of swimming.
You have a long history with the Tri-Cities Channel Cats. What has that team/club meant to you from being a swimmer to now being a coach?
In the area that I lived in when I was growing up, there were three separate teams. But when I left to go to college, the three teams had dwindled down to form one team. That is the team that I now coach. We were a very good team in our Inland Empire Association. During that time when I was off at college, the coach that was with the Channel Cats had left. In fact, they had gone through three other coaches, so there had been a pretty high rate of turn over. When I came to the team, it was just kind of a shell of what it used to be when I left. The team was under 30 swimmers, which was originally at about 70-80. So the coaching that was going on here definitely wasn’t at the same level that it was when I left. When I became the coach, I felt that I could rebuild the team. And myself along with some very long-term assistant coaches were able to do that. We don’t have a whole ton of pool space in our area, but the team is really healthy as we have between 160-170 swimmers. Since I have been here, we have been able to get the ball rolling again. We started to have some success again and since success breeds success, we have had quite a few great swimmers. We have had swimmers at junior nationals, nationals and the last two sessions, I believe, we have had some swimmers at Olympic Trials. We had one in 2008 and the last time I think we had four that qualified.
What has been your favorite moment of coaching?
There are a number of moments from individual athletes, but as far as with the team, probably back when we finally started winning the LSC championship again. That was what I was used to when I was a swimmer before I left for school. We had won it a couple years during my time as a swimmer. When I came back because of the numbers and because of the level that the athletes were at, winning a championship wasn’t even a possibility. But we did get back on top, and that was a really good feeling. Now we have been able to stay on top. I am not sure how many years we have won the LSC Championships, between five and 10 years now. I haven’t counted, but we have been winning the association championships for a few years now. The first one was great, though.
What is your coaching philosophy?
I guess my feelings are that if both the kids and the parents are involved and play their part then you are going to be successful. During the swimmers career, they need to come to practice and work hard. But I think that competitive swimming is so much more than swimming. The kids get so much more out of it. The parents and the swimmers that stick with it more than five years definitely understand that swimming is more than just the sport itself.