Lessons from Legends: Ira Klein, A Servant of Swimming


Last week in Garden Grove, Calif., the United States Aquatic Sports Convention was filled with delegates in service to their sports. For a large contingent of swimming representatives, the Convention is an annual sojourn from LSCs to the national meeting. Through a massive committee system, and a House of Delegates, they help steer a huge ship called USA Swimming, which now carries more than 400,000 passengers.

Few representatives at the Convention manage to combine that week of service, with giving and learning the week prior at the American Swimming Coaches Association Convention. One of those who regularly devotes the better part of these two weeks to the sport is Ira Klein.

Ira’s devotion to shaping the sport, and his capacity to be effective, comes from unusual roots. He never participated as an athlete in age-group swimming. Instead, his time after school growing up in Far Rockaway, New York, was spent at Hebrew school and his evenings doing homework. The weekends were devoted to large gatherings of his extended family. When he was 6 years old he helped his father in his work in produce acquisition for grocery stores on the docks in Brooklyn, sometimes getting up at 3 a.m. A twin amongst three children, he watched his dad’s pride and effectiveness in his work. He also learned lessons about service.

His father once told him, “Son, there are three kinds of people:”

  • Those that watch things happen.
  • Those that wonder about doing differently what just happened.
  • Those that make things happen. 

“Be someone that makes things happen,” Ira’s dad told him.

When Ira entered Queens College he became energized by the endorphins that ran through his body when he played water polo and began competitive swimming. His love for exercise physiology fit in with his growing passion for coaching – and his maturity as his father’s son, as someone of action to make his new world of Swimming a better place for everyone involved.

His start in coaching, and in improving swimming, included an overhaul of the leadership slate in his local Metro LSC, which he helped abruptly change to a more objective group of people. In addition to New York, he has been active in all the LSCs in which he has coached club teams, including Illinois, Florida, Las Vegas and California. He was one of the founders of the YMCA Coaches Association, an influential body that was initially rejected by the National Y leadership. Ira also had a great experience teaming up with David Marsh to help leap Auburn University into prominence as an NCAA power in the 1990s.

Through his local contributions, experience at all levels of swimming and working on the details of legislation on USA Swimming’s Rules and Regulations Committee, he built his strong credibility, and a reputation for fairness in merging ideas together to benefit the common good. When asked about his capacity to put The American Swimming Team first by arguing vigorously for his point, but regardless of the outcome of a vote, move forward with kindness and respect to others, he points to his family heritage.

“My grandparents came to America in 1921 from Hungary. Out of the hundreds in our family that stayed in Europe, only five survived the Holocaust. I noticed that despite the loss my grandparents experienced, they still looked forward in life to what was to come. They engrained in me that life is too short to hold on to ill feelings.”

But the thought of people standing by while devastation was committed upon people of the Jewish faith also made a long-term effect on Coach Klein. It has emboldened him with the courage to speak up passionately when he believes something is wrong. (And some would say even when HE is wrong!)

In national leadership he was elected first to the ASCA Board of Directors, then elected technical Vice-President of USA Swimming. Eventually he became President of the ASCA as well. Following a stint as Field Director for Coaching Services for USA Swimming, he’s back to coaching every day in his beloved city of Sarasota, Fla., where he owns and operates his own program.

Cindy Klein, Ira’s wife, leads their Swim Academy that starts babies into swimming and provides a foundation for “TeamKlein” to build another powerhouse program at their Sarasota Tsunami Swim Team. With much to take care to secure his own livelihood, Ira is still following his father’s mantra to ‘make something happen.’ He is active in the Florida LSC, volunteers time to help local coaches, serves on the ASCA Board of Directors and serves on the USA Swimming’s prestigious Olympic International Committee.

And Then They Won Gold (Small)Thanks to all of those that serve USA Swimming. And thanks to Mr. Klein for teaching his son to leave the bench, get involved and make a positive difference in the sport of swimming, and consequently, in the world.


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.  


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