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 Illinois 2012 Age Group Coach of the Year, Kelly Capen.
Kelly Capen discovered her love for swimming at a late age and went on to swim at the University of Wisconsin – La Crosse, where she was a Division III All-American. Earning her bachelor’s in psychology, the Minnesota native went on to get her graduate degree in sports psychology at Ball State University, where she also served as the assistant women’s coach for its swim team.
In 2005, Capen joined the Academy Bullets Swim Club as the Head Age Group Coach in Aurora, Ill. Capen earned her first Age Group Coach of the Year Award, after guiding her swimmers to the 2012 Short Course and Long Course Age Group State Championship.
Her husband, Todd, Academy Bullets Head Coach, has won the past two Illinois Age Groups Coach of the Year awards.
Briefly describe your swimming journey.
I started kind of late as a competitive swimmer when I was 11. I just told my parents I wanted to swim, and they took me to a tryout, and I went from there. So I swam all through high school and college. And then I got a graduate assistantship at Ball State. I was coaching and going to school there. Then after that, I started working with Naperville Swim Team, which is no longer, and switched to Academy Bullets.
You swam D-III at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. What were those years like?
I loved my coach, Rich Pein. He was just the biggest inspiration. He was just the biggest dad. He made it fun and hard and was the best coach I ever had. Between that and all my friends being swimmers, it was just such a good time. I wish I could go back.
Who most influenced your coaching philosophy?
My college coach mostly because he always involved everybody. He never played favorites. He treated the best swimmer and the worst swimmer the same.
After coaching for a few years, I realized you never know how good a kid can be. The best kids at 10 aren’t going to be that when they’re in college. … I’ve had kids who I thought they’re going to either A) continue with the sport or B) be national level swimmers. So you just never know. So when parents come to me with concerns about their 10 year old, I say you just have to stick with it.
What is one of your favorite coaching moments?
This past year, we have a little boy whose dad has ALS (Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a serious neurological disease), and he can’t come to his son’s meets anymore. The boy won one of his events at our age group championship meet. His mother was in the stands crying, and his brother was recording it all on his iPad so their dad can watch it later.
Your husband is the head coach of Academy Bullets Swim Club. What’s it like working alongside your husband?
I don’t think it’s unique. We have another coach on our team, and his wife is a coach on another team. I don’t think it’s rare. I think it takes a lot of patience from both because it’s a lot of odd hours, a lot of weekends, nights, early mornings. And I think that’s true for any spouse who’s a swim coach.