Lessons from Legends: Coach Stu Kahn, Innovative Training


By Chuck Warner//Special Contributor

Stu Kahn completed his apprenticeship working under famed author and coach Ernie Maglischo in 1976 and landed his first head coaching job: The Moraga Valley Pool Swim Team. MVP was a summer league swim team in the San Francisco Bay area. The young coach was full of ideas of about how to use speed and skill to train swimmers. You might say he was perfectly positioned to take existing ideas and innovate them into his own training design.

His team quickly moved up the in the league standings and eventually won the Orinda Moraga Association Swim League Championship. His swimmers were delighted with the coach’s enthusiasm for the sport and approach to discovering new ways to swim fast. One of them was a youngster named Matt Biondi.

In 1980, Campolindo High School needed a swim coach, and the athletic director decided to hire Stu. The high school swim season in California was in the spring, and practice was scheduled to begin about Feb. 1. But there was an energy crisis at that time, and the school elected to keep the heat off in the pool for at least one month. Swimming outdoors in the San Francisco Bay area was chilly with heated water but without it, swimming was hardly possible.

Stu designed a dry-land program to get his team in condition. In the process he discovered that one of the boys on the team could ride a unicycle and another could juggle. The team went to work on everyone being able to ride a unicycle and juggle at the same time. When they started water training, the coach found that the coordination level of his teams had improved so much that stroke corrections became much easier to accomplish.

Juggling became a unique staple of the team’s dry-land program from that time forward.

Invention is something new, while innovation is merely taking what exists and adapting it in a different way than is normally used. Every coach and swimmer has tools each day at their disposal to innovate if they just look around: 

  • Are there windows in your pool area that, with the lights turned off on the other side of them, might be used as mirrors to practice technique?
  • Are there varying gutters or walls that are shaped to mimic the same turns in competition at an upcoming facility? If not, perhaps put touch pads in to create flat walls.
  • That lounge chair at pool side might make a pretty good team kick board.
  • Does the light come into the pool or from the sun that could allow for shadow swimming? 

Stu Kahn now coaches one of the largest Masters programs in the world, of about 600 swimmers, in Davis, Calif. A regular drill they use in the morning is shadow swimming, in which they watch their arm movements on land and pull down an existing line on a cement wall. 

In the spring of 1984, the Campolindo High School boys team won Swimming World And Then They Won Gold (Small)Magazine’s Mythical National Championship, and that summer, Matt Biondi won an Olympic gold medal. 

For more information or to order Chuck Warner’s books Four Champions, One Gold Medal or …And Then They Won Gold, go to www.areteswim.com (access Books * Media), Swimming World Magazine or the American Swimming Coaches Association. You can follow Chuck Warner on twitter@chuckwarner1.

ArenaBMWMarriottMyrtha PoolsOmegaPhillips 66SpeedoTYR