Minneapolis GP Preview: Edina Swim Club
By Mike Gustafson//Correspondent
When the Minneapolis Grand Prix rolls into town next week, local area swim clubs will get a chance to see some of the nation’s best swimmers in their backyard. Missy Franklin and Ryan Lochte are expected to compete in the season’s first Grand Prix. It should be an exciting time for swimmers and fans alike. This week, as part of our continuing Grand Prix preview series, we sat down with the head coach of the Edina Swim Club Jeff Rodriguez. Edina, one of Minnesota’s oldest swim clubs (founded in 1957), is just fifteen or twenty minutes’ drive from the Minneapolis Grand Prix.
When a large meet like the Grand Prix comes to town, describe what that does for the club team. Does it get kids and swimmers excited?
Absolutely, it does what you just said. It gets the kids really excited. This is a higher level. This gives more of our swimmers a taste of what year round swimming is all about -- a taste of the collegiate levels when they’re in their teen years. Having the Grand Prix year after year gives the upper level swimmers a chance, and those kids on the bubble see that, “I can strive for this too.”
Do kids who aren’t swimming in finals go to watch?
Yes. The age group kids are excited, and their parents. It shows promise within the club to watch the upper level swimming when there are big names in the pool. Some of our swimmers do make it through to finals, too.
What was the atmosphere like last year, being an Olympic year, with lots of big-named swimmers around?
We didn’t get in [to the meet]. The meet sold so quickly, our team didn’t get in. It filled up in 10 minutes. I was one of the teams that wasn’t able to go. As far as the atmosphere, it was well-attended. There was a lot of energy.
So even though the meet was basically in your backyard, you were shut out?
[The meet entries] are done online. I’m not sure, I think there was some priority, some of the bigger names got in first, but once they opened it up to the country, some got accepted, some didn’t. We were one of several teams from Minnesota that didn’t get in.
Did your swimmers get to meet any of the future Olympians?
They generally go and watch them swim. They have an autograph session afterwards. Many swimmers waiting afterwards would get signed pictures or posters. Most of those kids are at the age group level, but that sparks interest in them and with their families to see those bigger names. That happened with Phelps [last year]. It’s the first one of the season every year.
This year, how many of your swimmers are going to the meet?
I have 19 going this year. The cut off times were pretty quick. The B standards, I was initially going to take a smaller group, and they reissued the standards and I could take more. The variety of athlete is 13-18 years old. Some that just got the cut, and some who will come back for finals. That shows the broad range of experience. Being able to have that extra time standards allowed more kids within the state to have that opportunity.
Was it as competitive to get in this year from last year?
It wasn’t at all. I sent the entries in, and it was accepted immediately. The last time it took 24 hours to know if we got in. I attribute that to being an Olympic year last year. This year the Olympics are over, people take time off.
I know Edina is one of the oldest swim clubs in Minnesota, founded in 1957. What’s been the secret for longevity?
I believe it’s just the consistency of the mission. Being able to hold great coaches throughout. In the beginning, when I started, there was a lot of coaching change. But I’ve been there for 15 years, and I think that’s helped stabilize the club. Being able to hold assistants, we haven’t lost a lot of the staff at all. It’s been great consistency for an older team. That just brings in more kids as they see there’s not a lot of change. We have been able to ride the wave of success and produce a high level of athletes.
Will your swimmers rest for the Grand Prix? Or do you treat it like any other meet?
This particular round, I’ll have some that rest. Those are going to be boys that are going into the high school system who won’t do any other meets. They won’t do Juniors in December. I have a handful who will rest because this will be the last meet before going into the high school season. They get really excited about that.
How important do you think it is for kids to swim alongside National Teamers?
I think swimming at the club level, and being in a meet with a high profiled athlete, is extremely exciting. That helps the kids themselves have some sort of dream, to identify themselves and say, “Hey, that could be me some day.” The reason why is they are still in that dreaming process of being the best they can be. My kids are always talking about the high level swimmers who make it to the meet, and how good they are, and how they want to be just like them. That’s a huge thing as an up and coming swimmer, being at that kind of meet, doing the warm ups, and being able to be in a heat with some of those high profiled athletes. They can see themselves being like them in the future, and that’s great.
As a coach, what is your number one philosophy to pass down to your swimmers?
My philosophy is we always try to achieve their highest level. We have the novice level to the National level. We try to make sure swimming is a lifetime sport. We emphasize that it builds great character and we achieve to the best of our ability, whatever that ability is. We’ve been in existence since 1957, and we strive to be the best we can be. The one thing I try to pass on is character building. Being responsible for your own work. Swimming brings a lot of great things, but being your own person, you get out what you put in. I want them to be great swimmers, but I want them to be better people, and to be able to carry the sport of swimming into their daily lives. I want to continue to develop swimmers into great people.