Club Excellence Spotlight: Terrapins Swim Team
By Emily Sampl//Correspondent
One must only glance at the Terrapins Swim Team’s list of accomplishments and record-holders to get an idea of the team’s rich tradition – Olympic Trials finalists, World Championship medalists, World University Games champions, decorated collegiate swimmers, national age group record-holders and more.
In 25 years, the Terrapins have produced some of the greatest swimmers not just in California, but in the United States and the world. Natalie Coughlin, Chelsea Chenault, Kate Dwelley, Lauren Rogers, Sean Mahoney, Aaron Wayne, Laura Davis, Julianne McLane, Presley Bard and Kasey Carlson are only a few of the decorated names to have called the Terrapins home during their swimming careers.
The team’s continued pursuit of excellence has earned them recognition as one of USA Swimming’s top clubs, achieving gold medal status in the 2014 Club Excellence program.
Team Director Ray Mitchell formed the Terrapins along with Paul Stafford in 1989, after a series of team merges in previous years. Mitchell and Stafford have worked together to develop one of the most successful programs in the country, thanks to a long-standing coaching staff and consistent training model. Mitchell discusses the keys to the team’s success in this week’s Club Excellence Spotlight.
1. Consistent training program. We’ve been able to hold a consistent training philosophy and model for many years. That’s certainly tied into the coaching staff and having coaches who’ve worked together for many years. It’s a mix of endurance work but we make sure to cover all energy systems in our training designs. If you were to paint our team with a very wide paint brush, I would say we would come down on the aerobic side of the spectrum for the most part, but that aerobic work has a specific purpose within our developmental model. We adhere very strongly to critical stages of development in a swimmer’s career, and this is built into our program; it has been since the start. We also rely heavily on technique work, as do all other successful programs, particularly at the age group level. The development model has worked well for us over the years and has helped prepare our kids for continued improvement in the collegiate ranks, which is a major objective of ours.
2. Consistent coaching staff. We’ve had the same coaches associated with each other for well over 30 years. Rick Waterhouse, myself and Paul Stafford. We’ve all been connected since the late 1960s and early 1970s. We’ve all been together at Terrapins since the 1980s and that’s been a huge factor in creating a consistent program, and that’s fairly unusual. Doug Reed is our head age group coach, and he’s been here 10 years.
3. Our ability as coaches to run and administer our program. Our program is entirely coach-run. It’s allowed us to perfect and modify our training model and we’ve been able to keep that intact. It’s allowed us to make all of the critical decisions for the club. Although it’s quite a bit more work than perhaps other organizational models, we wouldn’t have it any other way. The staff is going to be here for the long term, and they’ve proven this. They should be the ones directing the program over the long haul. We break off many of the tasks of operating the team between us and with the help of a few key parents the business gets done. Not always pretty, but we get where we want to go eventually!
4. The quality of our head age group coach. We’ve only had two head age group coaches in the history of our team – Paul Stafford and now Doug Reed, who’s been the head age group coach since 2007. He’s done a great job preparing athletes for our national program. This coaching position is perhaps the most important on any club. This coach is going to do the bulk of the foundational work – often unsung heroes, but they have their imprint on all of our great athletes who have swum at the national and international level. All of our standouts were products of both Doug and Paul’s age group programs. We have also been blessed to have had many other excellent age group assistants over the years who have helped further the age group program.
5. Level of organization of the program. Season plans, weekly plans, yearly plans, etc., are all distributed to the athletes. We have about 120 swimmers, and we have to maximize what we’re doing with a small team size. The coaches have done a great job keeping the program organized and weaving in nutrition, psychology and other information and the parents and swimmers really buy into it and are well informed about the sport of swimming.
The fact that we’re coach-run makes for extra work to some extent, but it protects the integrity of what we’re trying to do and our program model. We have great parents who work hard. We appreciate the fact that they have busy lives, and incorporating swimming into their family lives is difficult. We can take the burden of running a club off the parents’ shoulders so they can spend their limited and valuable family time trying to integrate the sport into their family lives. This is a big challenge for many who might have non-swimming siblings, or who commute to get to the club. That’s not to say our parents don’t work hard for the club. We are fortunate to have a membership who are willing to work hard at fundraising and at our meets, as they recognize the benefits, and I think they appreciate the efforts the coaches put in each day for their children.