National Team Coaches Seminar: Assembling a Winning Culture


Durden (small)

By Tommy Schield//USA Swimming Communications

USA Swimming hosted the 2013 National Team Coaches Seminar April 15-17 at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. The event drew more than 115 National Team and Junior National Team coaches, who came to listen to panels and share ideas with each other.


Dave Durden, the head coach of the University of California men’s swimming and diving program, spoke to the group about assembling a winning culture. The 40-minute presentation examined Durden’s three pillars of creating this culture.


Durden says the three pillars – academics, swimming and social engagement – are all vital to a successful culture, but his presentation focused on his second pillar – swimming. Here’s a look at five key takeaways:


1. Empower Your Athletes
Give the athletes decision-making responsibilities within your program. We do multiple things to allow our student-athletes the ability to empower themselves and each other. We have athlete-led practices, where the team decides the schedule and rundown of that day’s practice. More often than not, these are the most difficult practices of the season. They also give input on relay assignments and roommate assignments on road trips.


2. Students Always
Create an environment for athletes to always learn. For instance, one thing we do is a stroke class. An athlete is assigned to teach the team the technique and intricacies of a certain stroke. That athlete studies film and does research on the assigned stroke and then teaches it to the team. This way, the team is constantly learning from one another. I also send athletes to meets to learn without me being there. This way, they may hear tips and techniques from a different voice or in a different way that it might resonate more.


3. Question the Status Quo
It’s important to listen to the ones who came before you, but don’t follow blindly. Always ask yourself why. Why are we doing things this way? Why do we have to hit this time? Just because you have always done things this way doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do for your program now. I’m always changing methods to make sure we are maximizing effort.


4. Self-Improvement
In this business, it is very easy to sacrifice your own self-improvement for the betterment of your program. It’s very important to find a balance in your life. You can’t get so consumed with what it means to be a good coach.


5. Beyond Yourself
It takes a collective effort from everyone involved. This starts with the coaching staff and moves on to the athletes, parents, alumni, former coaches and even administration. We want to make fans of the program. Every time we go to an event or on a road trip, it is an opportunity to create fans. When we meet a fan, we want them to feel like they are our biggest fan. It’s easier when people root for you than against you.