By Mike Watkins//Correspondent
When Todd Schmitz started as an age group coach – in his case, the 8 to 10 years olds – with the Colorado Stars, he had no idea his identity as a coach would be so deeply connected to one of his young pupils.
Now, a decade, several world championship titles and four Olympic gold medals later, Schmitz, who assumed head coaching duties with the Stars in 2008, realizes he will be forever tied to teenage phenom Missy Franklin.
He also knows he and the other members of the 160-plus team are more than Missy – although she is a big part of the team and its overall success.
It’s a relationship Schmitz said he is both proud of and committed to, even with Franklin leaving for Cal-Berkeley and Teri McKeever this fall.
“In many ways, Missy and I have grown up together – she as a young woman and me as a young coach,” Schmitz said. “In fact, I’m still coaching four of the original 16 kids I started working with in September 2002, including Missy. She, of course, is the breakout star of our team, but we are deep and talented with and without Missy, and we proved that when we won the 2009 Junior National title without her.
“I had several coaches come up to me at that meet and ask me how we were in first place without Missy being there. But I challenged my team and they responded. It would have been easy for them to say they couldn’t win without her, but the team never did that. They were up to the challenge and did it. Almost everyone on that team has gone on to swim Division I somewhere, so that tells you they were a talented group in their own right.”
Schmitz’s path to becoming the coach of one of the most popular and successful swimmers (male or female) in the world began while he was still in high school in North Dakota. He started assisting his coaches in baseball and softball as a 15-year-old and continued through his senior year.
As a swimmer at Metro State in downtown Denver, he continued down this path, although he was more focused on a future career in finance at the time. He started his final semester in fall 2001 – just three weeks before 9/11 happened, and his career choice plummeted from the No. 1 job in the country to the bottom of the tank.
Needing an alternative, he worked in the restaurant industry for a year until he interviewed for and secured a full-time summer position coaching with the Stonegate Stingrays (8 and under kids) before moving onto the Stars.
“I was making a good living sitting behind a desk, but that wasn’t what I really wanted to be doing; coaching is in my blood,” said Schmitz, who coached five athletes at the 2012 Olympic Trials – an increase from one (Franklin) in 2008. “I’ve always truly enjoyed being around kids, and I love the life lessons they can learn through the sport of swimming. When you can go to bed happy with your job, it makes getting up, often very early, that much easier.
“I didn’t get into coaching to be an Olympic coach, but that happened for me last summer, and I learned some valuable coaching tips and lessons working alongside the best in the sport.”
While he admits his coaching philosophy remains in constant evolution and evaluation, Schmitz said his foundation has and will always remain the same: swimming should be fun.
He takes this approach with all of his athletes – from the wee ones to the veterans – because it keeps workouts fresh and exciting.
Not having a pool dedicated to his team (they travel among a few different sites in metro Denver) has made things challenging, but that hasn’t stopped Schmitz and his Stars from continuing to be among the best clubs nationally.
“We’ve won more short course state titles than any other team in the state, and we’re very proud of that accomplishment; it says a lot about our swimmers but also our dedicated coaches and parents,” Schmitz said. “We love to have fun in the water and in our dry land workouts, but that’s not to say we don’t work hard. We just work smart, and that means listening to my athletes and trusting my gut on things.
“For a lot of coaches, it’s all about getting a certain amount of yardage or whatever come hell or high water. But for me, it comes down to respect for my swimmers. If they need me to fill their water bottles during a set, I’ll happily do it for them. But I still hold them accountable and have expectations for them.”
No matter all of his and his team members’ accomplishments, however, Schmitz knows his name will always be linked to the incredible success Franklin has had over the past few years.
And while he admits that bothered him a couple of years ago because he knew his team’s and his coaching accomplishments involved more than just Missy, he said he now realizes it’s a badge of honor he embraces
“Missy is an amazing person; what you see on TV, in interviews, etc., is the real Missy, not a show, and it’s been a privilege to work with her these past 10 years,” said Schmitz, who hopes to continue coaching Franklin at some level beyond this summer’s Phillips 66 USA Swimming National Championships and World Championships in Barcelona.
“I think the perception that we’re only Missy Franklin and I’m only coaching one successful swimmer will change over time, but for the time being, I’m enjoying the opportunity to see her continue to develop and swim faster and smarter. She’s a one-in-a-million athlete, one I recognized early, who had a tenacity and fire for racing and competing. I’ve always seen my role as more of guide and nurturer because she already had the talent. It was my job to not screw things up and give her what she needed to develop that talent. I think we’ve done pretty well together.”
Todd Schmitz’s Five Pillars of Coaching
1. Be true to yourself
2. Always learn
3. Smile every day
4. Have fun
5. Enjoy the moment, create memories