Bill Thompson is currently the head coach at Motor City Aquatics, in Michigan. Additionally, he coaches a local high school swim team and practices law. Thompson has been a swim coach for over 35 years, working with athletes of all levels from the novice/learn-to- swim level through the Junior National, National and Olympic Team Trials qualifier level.
His swimming career began in seventh grade and went on through college. Thompson swam for four years at Eastern Michigan University, where he set several team records and was elected as captain his senior year.
When did you start swimming?
I started swimming in seventh grade and was cut from the team, and then I went back in eighth grade. After that I swam through high school and college.
I think I realized from being cut and then doing okay as a swimmer that there are many benefits from swimming, and now as a coach I try not to cut anybody unless they’re looking for it. The way we do things, the whole idea is for everyone to at least have the opportunity to be the best that they can be, and that goes for the fastest kids and the slowest kids.
When did you begin coaching?
It was after my freshman year of college when I started coaching at the club team that my college coach was working at. Coaching seemed like it would be fun. It was an opportunity to give back a little bit with whatever limited skills I had at that point in time. Plus, I heard that to learn coaching from the other side, standing up on the deck looking down, really helps your swimming, too.
In high school, I didn’t know whether I wanted to go to college until the college coach of the school that I attended came and talked to me and said, “Come to college and we can do these things and you can get an education.” Then I went to college and after four years I started taking some classes in my major that turned me on to possibly becoming an attorney. After undergraduate school I went to law school and had been coaching all the way through. It was when I hit law school that I realized I couldn’t stand being away from the pool, so I coached during law school. Then when I finished law school I got out of coaching for a while and when I had my own kids I used to take my kid to swim practice. One day one of the coaches didn’t show up, and they asked me for help, knowing that I had been a swim coach. I haven’t left the deck since.
Who has been most influential on your swimming experience?
My coaches. My very first coach cut me. He was a high-powered coach in the area, but the next year is probably why I made the team. He left and we recruited a social studies teacher, who knew nothing about swimming, basically to stand on deck with us and coach us while the upperclassmen wrote the workouts. This guy was passionate, and he cared about every single one of us. He was absolutely clueless, but he was wonderful.
Then my high school coach was phenomenal. He’s the type of coach that you always read about, one of those people you want to know. He cared about every single kid on the team, was there from dawn until dusk, the whole shot. Then my college coach was the same way. So I was really lucky and thought this is a really neat thing. I would love to be able to give something back like this.
Do you have any advice to pass along to other coaches?
You got to love it. You have to have the passion for it. It’s not a job. You can’t treat it like a job. There is so much more to it. You’re not going to make a fortune doing it. Unless you’re one of those elite coaches, you’re basically doing it to give back. That in itself is probably more rewarding than any amount of money, as long as you’re making a living, too.
How would you describe your coaching philosophy?
I believe in giving everyone the opportunity to be their best, and we don’t give up on anybody. We keep on laying it out there for them, hoping that they will grab it. I don’t believe in twisting the arm to get everybody to do stuff. You need to let them know the consequences for not doing the work, but to me it has to be self-driven. Coaches that I coach with have a passion for the sport, and the kids who are going to be their best, they also have to find that passion. Sometimes there is some pushing and prodding. There’s a lot of hard work that goes into it, but I think the satisfaction is worth it. When you watch a kid working really hard and then finishing a set and doing a real nice job, they’re getting a high five or getting a look across the pool from the coach, and that to me is a high.