By Kelsey Reese//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 Connecticut 2012 Age Group Coach of the Year, Betsy Matheney.
Betsy has been coaching and teaching for over 20 years and is starting her fourth season with the Water Rat Swim Team. She has produced swimmers that were ranked eighth in the country and first in YMCA swimming as well as Connecticut Age Group Champions, Zone qualifiers, and Regional Champions.
Betsy began swimming at a young age with her siblings and family. Eventually she swam and worked for USA Olympic coaches, Jack Nelson and Don Gambril. She was a multi-event All-American swimmer in both high school and college and a member of two American record-setting relays.
How did you first get into coaching?
After I graduated from college at Alabama I was a physical education teacher. I went back to my alma mater and worked over 20 years at Pine Crest (Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.). I coached just about every sport, I did swimming for a couple years and then my daughter was born. I was coach of the year twice in cross country and had numerous winners in track and field and then I retired from teaching. I’ve only been back coaching my main sport, swimming, since 2008.
I have over 50 athletes in the Pine Crest Hall of Fame in five different sports and I’m very proud of that. I love my swimming but I’m really proud of the fact that I have so many talented kids in other areas as well.
I don’t know how to run or jump or throw a ball but I do know what makes bodies move and the mechanics and kinesiology of what needs to be done. I know how to motivate kids. I feel really lucky that I didn’t just do one sport, that I was able to do other sports, which gave me a really good background on looking at different things.
How have you seen your physical education experience come into use with coaching?
I think all coaching is basically teaching; that’s what I do, I teach first and then I coach. When you study physical education everyone thinks it’s just games and it’s not. There’s learning kinesiology, physiology, anatomy, how things move, the physics of things, etc. I think I had a really good background in that. My background, growing up with swimming, and the top level coaches I’ve had, have all meshed into my philosophy on how I do things.
What is one of your most memorable moments from coaching?
In regards to swimming, my first year back, I coached a 12-year-old girl to number one in the country for YMCA 50 freestyle. She went a 24.64 and she hadn’t even been close to that time but she came to the age group meet and we just worked start, turn, finish. It was a twelve-year-old putting together exactly what we had worked on; it was a perfect race. At the time I didn’t know it was the number one time in the country and I just was amazed that a 12-year-old was so focused and put together exactly what we had practiced. It was really awesome. I still get goose bumps over that one when I watch the race. It was just magic that day.
I’ve coached so long now and all my athletes still keep in touch with me and I think that’s the cool part of coaching too. You develop this type of relationship with your athletes where you give to them and they give back. I think they really appreciate it and it goes both ways because I get so much enjoyment out of watching my kids grow up and do well and then have families and instill some of the same types of principles that I gave to them.
How would you describe your coaching philosophy?
My philosophy is you teach, have fun and I think I’m old school because I believe in a lot of integrity—that you’re a gracious winner and a gracious loser, that you learn from your mistakes, you’re happy about your victories but you don’t brag about it. My kids at the end of my practice, part of what they do is they all come up and say, “Thanks for the workout, Coach Betsy,” and I say, “Thanks for being here.”
My philosophy is teaching first, have fun, remember that it’s a process and to be gracious in everything that you do. I do coach age groupers and I want them to realize that my eight and unders are going to do one thing and my ten and unders are going to do another and it’s all a process towards getting them ready to enjoy the sport, towards getting them ready for high school swimming and then onto college. I want my coaches to teach, have fun, and tell their athlete that this is a process.
It’s learning, and hopefully everything that I teach them doesn’t just apply to the water, but also to life. When you go out you have integrity, you’re honest and you work hard. Life isn’t easy and even if you do all those things it doesn’t always work out the way you expected it to, but you learn to roll with the punches.
I had a great time with my career, I couldn’t have asked for anything better. Part of is the love of kids, the love of sport and the love of following the right way and I’m really lucky because not very many people I know enjoy their jobs. I’ve had an absolute blast with everything I’ve done!