The Bridge: by Harry Hauck
An Open Letter to High School Swim Coaches
It is that time of year when most teenage male swimmers start thinking about the State High School Championships. The general aquatic public little realizes what is really involved in the preparation of a State finalist. Few and far between are the school champions that achieve their titles with only inter-scholastic training. Most great preps receive either a basic or an advanced competitive background prior to entering high school. Where do they get this background? Sometimes in Junior High School, if a program is available. Sometimes at Country Clubs during the summer. Occasionally a recreation system will provide a competitive schedule. But most "big" name high school swimmers are earning their local and national success due to foundations that were built at an Age Group Club.
It is the age group coach that starts with the raw material and molds it into a finished product. The hardest part of coaching is getting the boy to learn how to train; how to discipline his body to rigorous schedule; how to sacrifice a lot of personal niceties, in order to build the swimming machine he is hoping to become. This is the phase of coaching that is unglamorous. This is the period that the boy becomes discouraged, tired, frustrated. There are no cheering crowds of teenage admirers during long preparatory workouts. These are the years that the other mediocre prep swimmers are "socializing" and relaxing. This is the time of the athletes career when the club coach must council and guide and convince the swimmer so that he will continue to work with a purpose in mind.
Next the age group coach must expose the swimmer to top flight A.A.U. competition, so that he will have the proper poise and confidence at the crucial moments in his later career. This entails the club coach traveling around the United States to find the caliber and variety of contests, that will eventually develop the boy into a "finished" swimmer.
So now after years of self sacrifice and dedication to the creation of the prime athlete, the age group coach must turn him over to the high school coach for 4 months. And what does the typical high school coach do in return for this state or national caliber swimmer? He unjustifiably tells the boy that he is now coach and that if he catches the swimmer working out with his real coach that he is off the school team. In other words, this school teacher is forbidding this aquatic star to continue to train with his mentor of many years. This means that any long range plans that the swimmer and the club coach have, such as National AAU championships, Olympic trials, a college education, etc. must be shelved for 4 months while the high school "coach" basks in the reflected glory of someone else's labor.
Occasionally a school coach has sufficient integrity and is farsighted enough to allow the swimmer a little leeway in his relationships with his original creator. These are usually men who have brought some high schoolers up through the age-group program themselves. His interest in his student extends beyond the class "A" high school championship. He knows that the swimmer will return to his year round coach anyway, and wishes for the break in AAU training to be a brief as possible.
School coaches, beware, if you continue to try and split the loyalty of these fine dedicated athletes, and if you continue to give them a hard and fast choice--high school swimming or AAU swimming--you will find we club coaches will retaliate. If we make the swimmer choose-- 12 months with us or 4 with you--guess what their decision will be!
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