By Ros Dumlao//Commincations 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 Kentucky 2012 Age Group Coach of the Year, Nate Knopf.
Nate Knopf has coached at Lakeside Seahawks – a USA Swimming Gold Medal Club – since 2006. The Kentucky native grew up in Shelbyville, Ky., and went on to swim at Auburn University, where he competed for the 2004 and 2005 National Championship teams and earned All-American honors.
The Lakeside Seahawks have been named a Gold Medal Club since 2004, and Knopf is enjoying his first AGCY award.
How did you land your first coaching gig?
I swam for Mike (DeBoor, head coach of Lakeside Seahawks) before I was an employee, which actually is really good because when you come in, you hit the ground running. You know the philosophy already. So I swam there for two years, went to college, swam, and the year before grad school, I did part-time coaching and was a law clerk.
The plan was to go to law school for a year. And the summer after my first year of law school, Mike offered me an interim position because a coach left, and it was a group I had worked with.
What happened to the law-school idea?
It was a great idea in theory, but it turns out being a lawyer is very boring, and not at all what it’s like in Law and Order, which basically up to that point was my exposure to it. I had been a clerk, but that was basically filing papers. … The stuff I was succeeding in, none of it was any fun. It was pretty obvious to me that at this point, if being successful in this career isn’t fulfilling, then it doesn’t really matter how much money I make. I have to go with what’s enjoyable.
How did you first get introduced to swimming?
My neighbors swam for a local country club. I was 8 years old, and I thought, ‘Oh wow that’s really cool.’ I had basically tried every little league sport up until that point. I was so un-athletic when I was a kid. I was this tiny little skinny kid and just awful, but I liked swimming and started swimming for a local team when I was 13 or 14, and just started to get better and better, and next thing I know, I’m swimming collegiately at Auburn.
What is one of your most memorable coaching moments?
This one kid, he was very overweight and moved up into my group. He had a decent summer training, but he was clearly a tubby kid. Then he came in during the fall, and he was probably a good 10-15 pounds lighter. I said something to him, and he was like, ‘Yeah I’ve been really working on it; I’ve been watching what I’ve been eating.’ And I think he lost seven pounds over the course of that year. … If you would have said two years ago that this kid would get second at zones in the 200 fly and get a U.S. Open cut, I’d say you’re insane. … But to just be a part of watching someone really over-achieve is amazing.
What is your coaching philosophy?
Mike’s philosophy is there is no philosophy. We should be able to reach every athlete; we should be able to provide for every athlete. There is no one way, one-shape-fits-all kind of deal with our club.