By Bob Schaller//Correspondent
Pat Hogan has spent a decade as the Club Development Managing Director for USA Swimming. He oversees efforts to support and strengthen the club system, which has included a growth in field services to members clubs and coaches, and several other key initiatives. He talks about his exciting job, and the incredible people he works with, in this week’s 20 Question Tuesday.
1. It’s a pretty great time to be at USA Swimming and working with the amazing club programs nation-wide, isn’t it?
Pat: Well obviously, the success that we enjoyed in London is only part of what we can get excited about. You look at all levels of competitive swimming at this time: Our membership numbers are the highest they have ever been. You look at the number of age-group records being broken. I feel we are really healthy at every level of the sport. We are in a good position to maintain and grow our success.
2. It doesn’t stop now, does it?
Pat: I do think there are certain things that have lent themselves to our long-term success. We have to sell the value of hard work, setting high goals, and maintaining those things that are at the root of all that success.
3. So those keys are as important as ever, even coming on the heels of great success, aren’t they?
Pat: I think the key to it, is that it is a process, and you can’t ever forget the process – that’s always going to be part of the success. It doesn’t happen overnight. As happy as we are at one level, we have to be happy that, at other levels, processes are in place. And that the underpinnings of all of that are in place and being followed.
4. How much pride do you take in the programs, looking back, that you guided a decade or two ago?
Pat: When you invest so much time and energy and emotion into building these programs, your heart is always there. I look back at the Dynamos situation and the success they are having, as well as at SwimMAC, and it’s gratifying to see those programs flourish.
5. Allison Schmitt going from Club Wolverine to UGA, and then to NBAC and back to Georgia – how big is that working relationship with college and club coaches?
Pat: There’s certainly a measure of cooperation between clubs and colleges. I think a lot of coaches would enjoy an even higher level of cooperation. The important thing is, it’s all about what’s best for the athlete. In order to make sure those doors are as wide open as possible, anyone coaching that athlete has to put that athlete’s success above everything else.
6. I have interviewed hundreds of swimmers, and they all have these great success stories, even years later – why does the sport lend itself to that so much?
Pat: I mentioned earlier the process it takes to be successful. The thing that happens in our sport, whether we realize it or not, we are teaching the process of success; how to set goals, how to reach goals, and how to push through when things get tough – and how to reset goals once you reach the ones you are chasing now. As kids learn that process, they are going to be successful swimmers, but more important they will be successful in life.
7. I see what swimming does for people, and I wonder, why isn’t everyone at least swimming recreationally for health, self-esteem, etc.?
Pat: It really is a great, great activity, and certainly it is not the only one out there. One of the challenges we face as a sport is to make our sport available to populations that are underrepresented and maybe don’t have the access to our sport that everyone has. That’s a challenge to our sport. That’s one of the big ways we can look to expand the opportunities afforded by swimming.
8. That group of talent on the 2002 Short-course Worlds team, what was it like to be part of that?
Pat: That was one of the real privileges of my career, to be part of that staff and work with that group of athletes in Moscow. It was a terrific group across the board, both men’s and women’s.
9. Could you ever have imagined meeting all these people in your life and working with them?
Pat: I’ve been very, very fortunate, and been particularly fortunate to have some great mentors. When I was at SMU, Coach George McMillion was there, and he was assisted by Richard Quick. I worked with Richard not only at SMU, but with his club team. I was fortunate to have great leadership to open my eyes to what the possibilities could be.
10. You have clubs in every nook and cranny in this country, don’t you?
Pat: We have 2800 club programs around the U.S. today. That’s a number that is growing steadily. One of the things that we have tried hard to do with the club development program is offer something for everybody. There are vast differences in clubs in terms of size, location, access to facilities and everything else. So what we try to do is develop a menu of programs and services that at least provides something for everybody, and hopefully our focus on smaller clubs has had something to do with some of the success we see people having from smaller, lesser known programs.
11. Coaches can recruit in the corners of Maine or Vermont, or in the warm weather states, as opposed to some sports that have specific geographic areas only of talent, correct?
Pat: I think so. It’s interesting because as opposed to recruiting for other sports, we have some pretty objective numbers coaches can look at, but the coaches who are really good at identifying the lesser known standouts are the ones who take the time to visit these places and watch these kids swim, and see the potential they have.
12. And it’s not just looking at times at sectionals, is it?
Pat: It’s not something you can base only on times, because there’s a lot more to be seen. These are amazing young people from incredible families.
13. I look at Shannon Vreeland, she tells me about how she dropped a bunch of time later in her career than is common – that can happen to anyone, just at different times, as long as they stay with the program, right?
Pat: I certainly believe that to be the case. I just think people are going to have different opportunities at different points in time. The ones who are ready to take advantage of those opportunities as those doors open are the ones who are going to be best prepared to pursue all the opportunities our sport provides.
14. And it doesn’t have to be in a quad specifically, does it?
Pat: Maybe not even on a yearly basis, but a month to month, week to week and even day to day basis. You have to be ready. That’s why we’re fortunate to have such great club coaching at every level.
15. How do you get the amazing 24 percent growth during your decade plus in this position at USA Swimming?
Pat: There are several factors. Obviously, the notoriety our sport has had through great personalities like Michael, Natalie, and Ryan, and looking down the road, Missy Franklin, we’re going through a time where we have had more media coverage of our sport than ever before. We have been successful for a long, long time, but that success is being recognized now better than ever before by the media and sports marketplace.
16. There are a lot of factors then, right?
Pat: Yes, a lot of things come into play. Coaches and clubs are smarter than ever. In order to get great talent, you have to be able to let kids pursue opportunities. So I think the sport is being marketed better than ever. Several things are contributing to all of the growth.
17. A lot of talent showing up at NCAAs again this year – it just keeps coming, doesn’t it?
Pat: We certainly hope so, and there are a lot of positive signs that we have great young talent coming in behind the great talent we have had in recent years. It’s something that I can’t stress enough: We can’t get comfortable, we have to keep working hard to maintain the process, because that will lead to future success.
18. Kevin Cordes in the breaststroke – that’s another good sign, and he had a very unique route, to get to the top, didn’t he?
Pat: I think it’s key to point out, part of the success at USA Swimming, and in the sport in this country, is that there is not just “one way” to get there. There are any number of ways that we see people work their way up to the top of the sport. One of the things we have done well as a country is embrace that diversity of methods and support that. When you see great athletes like Kevin come out of a program like he did in the Chicago area, it’s just one of the examples of the ways that people can be successful.
19. So it’s not just a one-size-fits-all plan is it?
Pat: It’s like driving a car across the country. There are any number of roads you can take, but you are still going to get there. So rather than push people in one direction, it’s important to embrace other options and see what works best for each one.
20. Your job demands a lot out of you and your staff – how do you deal with that?
Pat: This is one of those jobs that because of the vast number of people we serve, and the variety of ways that people are involved in the sport, there’s always something that needs our attention, or someone who has a question. One of the key things for us is to be available to meet those needs. I work with great people. And one of the great things of working here in this building is working with great people who are willing to do whatever it takes, virtually anything you ask of them, to get the job done.