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 Michigan 2012-2013 Age Group Coach of the Year, Alexandra Platusich.
Alexandra Platusich, better known as Coach Z, is the head age-group coach at the Plymouth-Canton Cruisers Club in Plymouth, Mich., where she has been coaching for almost four years. Coach Z has led her team to two 12 & under state championship titles and multiple 14 & under LCM championships. She also was awarded the ASCA’s Michigan Age Group Coach of the Year award for the 2011-2012 season. She graduated from the University of Michigan with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering and a master’s degree in naval architecture and marine engineering.
What is your personal swimming history?
“My brothers and sister and I started swimming when I was about six. The main purpose was actually to save my father when he was fly fishing if he were to fall in the water. We were personal lifeguards. So then we started swimming competitively year-round. I did every other sport as well, but I swam year-round until my sophomore year in high school.”
How did you transition into coaching?
“When I was a student at the University of Michigan, I was on the water polo team. And when my water polo season was up I was approached by my coach who recommended me to the local age-group swim team. They were looking for a coach to start a water polo swim program for their age group. When I sat down with their swim coach, I think it just turned out that I was going to be much more suited to coach swimming than polo. So I was hired as a little kids swim coach.”
What has been your most memorable moment so far in your coaching career?
“When I was coaching in North Carolina—I was in North Carolina for a season—and we were at a championship meet. My 12-year-old boy was going to basically have a stiff competition the whole entire weekend against one other swimmer. Both of these boys were amazing swimmers and watching them was just mind blowing. They were both ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in the nation in just about all of their races. They were phenomenal! I am not usually geared up for high-point awards but this one was basically going to be a three-day battle for these boys; it was going to be a lot of fun. On the last day, my swimmer was actually called on a false start in the 100 freestyle after the race was finished. It just broke my heart, but I had to help him take it in stride and be able to move on. At the end of the meet when the high point was being announced I told him to go over to the podium and be supportive of his other opponents. The other boy who had won first place beckoned my swimmer to come over and stand on the podium with him. It is so hard to put into words when you witness such amazing sportsmanship between kids. So that is definitely my most memorable moment in swimming. I just wish all athletes could keep their competitions that simple and innocent.”
What was the experience like bringing home Michigan’s first age-group state championship for your area?
“Well it’s kind of funny because since I started coaching in 1999, I have actually been on more winning championship teams than I haven’t been. So when my husband and I came to the Cruisers it was the first year and that is always my goal to get a 12 & under team to be champions. When I came in it was a quick turn-around because it had been just a whole season for them. When you tell kids that they can be champions and then you teach them, it can happen. It was fun that first year to be able to do it so quickly. It is always the goal; however, the way that I look at it, it is definitely my job to put them at that level. My kids deserve to win in my eyes. They work really hard and are committed. Letting them enjoy the title as a team is more important than just teaching individuals so that is what drives me, my husband, and our other coaches to always do our best.”
Where did you get the nickname “Z”?
“My name “Z” is rather simple: My real name is Alexandra, and my nickname was originally Zan. My sister who is a year and a half older, pronounced Zan as Z. It has stuck ever since, and most people don't actually know my real name.”
What advice would you give to new coaches?
“Passion is infectious—so you have to have it as a coach. And then you have to be able to communicate it to all of your swimmers, so we practice it all as coaches. You have to be able to treat all of your swimmers exactly the same. Because they all have endless amounts of potential and if they all work hard and smart then they will all become great swimmers.”
Explain your coaching philosophy?
“The way that I do workouts is that every day is a new coaching day. I have yet to reach a point where I can recycle a previous season’s workouts. If you watch your kids closely you will always be able to see weaknesses, problems, progress and strength. My group swims fast every day. My job as an age-group coach is to prepare them for the next level. So technique and aerobic base are extremely important to me. Our kids just work hard.”