By Bob Schaller//Correspondent | Monday, November 30, 2015
When she started in 1999 at York College, Crystal Coleman knew she had found something that resonated with not just her past and present, but her future.
After returning to her alma mater at Council Rocks for five years, she’s now coaching at Penn Charter, and working with, among others, Reece Whitley, who today was named Sports Illustrated for Kids Athlete of the Year.
“It’s very exciting,” said Coleman, who also has a Master’s degree in Special Education and teaching from St. Joseph’s and was recently added to the National Junior Team's coaches list. “The potential Reece has is endless. I can’t even begin to think where his potential ends.”
Though she is proud and grateful for the coaches who shaped her through the years, she has combined all those valuable lessons and added her own philosophy to her coaching style.
Rather than focus only on what Reece is doing in the water, she believes what he isn’t doing is as important in many ways as what he is doing.
“As a 12-year-old breaking records, a lot of parents and coaches might want to start dryland and more practice with the approach, ‘What can we do more,’ to make him better,” Coleman said. “We didn’t do it that way. We did what’s developmentally appropriate for not just the sport, but for him as well.”
As a result, Reece didn’t even get into the weight room until last March. In fact, most of his weight room work focuses not on actual weights - though he does some - but his own body weight.
“We do a lot of abs, a lot of core work, and a lot of body weight work,” Coleman said. “We are really building that up, and we have a nice gym at the school.”
While he is adding weight training, it won’t come at the expense of the core.
“Everything in this sport is based around the core,’’ Coleman said, "And as tall as Reece is (6-foot-8), he really needs that foundation. So he continues to focus on that, and he continues to get stronger every year. Not crazy weight work. We do not want to have him gain a lot of weight, but keep him around where he is and gain strength, increase flexibility, and work on things that engage his core.”
His parents are both in the medical field, so Reece gets good advice and direction at home. While many search for answers in a diet as they seek to maximize their potential in or after college, Reece’s parents and coach only want him to eat smart, giving his body what it needs and wants rather than be excruciating limiting.
“With the diet, his parents focus on keeping him healthy and not eating anything and everything, but not cutting anything particular completely out at his age,” Coleman said. “We’re looking at just making better choices than a full nutritional program at this point.”
While the coach and parents have a good partnership, Coleman said even though Reece is only 15, he is wise beyond his years and has good input.
“Reece and I have as a team have done a really good job at really treating this as a journey, thinking of this as a lifelong journey,” she said.
Coleman is also beyond pleased with the appropriately involved Whitley parents, whom she can count on as much or as little, as a resource, whenever she wants.
"I don’t think that Reece would be where he is at without his parents," Coleman said. "They are so supportive to him and meboth, working with us, and letting Reece and I talk things through,” Coleman said.
While she loves coaching, she also loved swimming, and competing. She got into it because an aunt who babysat her was also a swim coach, and little Crystal Keelan - her maiden name - would love being around the swimmers.
“I tried practice one day and loved it immediately,” Coleman said. “I swam all through my life, all through college, and then started coaching, even giving private lessons in people’s backyards, and teaching little ones how to swim. That’s where it all began for me.”