by ros dumlao // 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 Southern California, Eastern committee 2012 Age Group Coach of the Year, James Bilbrey.
Just one year after joining the Mesa Aquatics swim club, James Bilbrey guided the team to an Eastern Committee Short Course Championship title. 2012 marked the club’s third-straight championship..
Bilbrey first started as an age group coach at Mesa Aquatics and moved up to head coach one year later. He previously served as age group coach for Redlands Swim Team and Yucaipa Swim Team in Southern California. In addition to coaching, Bilbrey works full-time as a Section Manger for Verizon.
After high school, Bilbrey went into the Army from 1993-1998.
How did you first get into the sport?
I actually wasn’t on a high school swim team. I never did any competitive swimming. I played baseball and ran track. I try to use that to motivate some people. I wasn’t a competitive swimmer, but even if you’re not a competitive swimmer, you can be a great coach to kids.
What prompted your decision to go into the Army after high school?
As a boy, I always wanted to go into the military. It just seemed like a great start for me to get some training. I was in communications in the Army. Then I got out and went right into the phone company.
Do you transfer any of the training you received in the Army into your coaching?
The Army focuses heavily on team building and supporting your team. I believe that’s one of the reasons why I’m able to teach that to my swim team. I spent five years of team building.
I focus heavily on team building and not letting your team down. I might yell a lot at practice. It’s not mean yelling; I just coach very loudly. I believe that to be a great swim coach, you need to truly love what you do. You have to enjoy going to the pool, and you have to enjoy helping the kids.
What sparked your interest to become a swim coach?
My 17-year-old daughter was 6 years old, and she started swimming on this club team, and I really enjoyed being there, so they asked me to work with their learn-to-swim program. And it just evolved from there. From the learn-to-swim, I took a group of those kids to a competitive team, and then just started working my way up.
What is your coaching philosophy?
I focus heavily on kicking. We’re a big team for kicking. And I focus heavily on racing. All my swimmers know the fastest time they’ve ever swam. Every night we do times stuff. So (in one practice), we do a 400 IM, and the kids get up on the block, and I tell them to swim that fastest 400 IM you ever have. As soon as they touch the wall, they receive their time.
I believe kids need to be taught how to race, taught that mentality. In addition to working on their stroke, technique and getting them conditioned, we need to teach the kids how to race. We race every night. Every night, I get them on the blocks, and we race teammates side by side.