By Bob Schaller//Contributor | Tuesday, September 5, 2017
As the head coach of Penn Charter Aquatic Club, Crystal Coleman has made quite a career for herself. She’s coached many swimmers with impressive cuts, including Reece Whitley. But Coleman also has made a mark internationally, coaching the Junior Pan Pacs U.S. team and this year’s National Junior Team at the 2017 World Junior Championships presented by Sigma Gamma Rho. It’s a lot of work, and a lot of fun, as she explains in this week’s 20 Question Tuesday.
1. What was it like being part of that staff at World Juniors in Indianapolis?
Crystal: Oh my gosh, it was incredible. It was one of those things where the next night topped the night before, and then you couldn’t imagine it happening again -- but it did. It was super exciting.
2. A lot of exciting races for Team USA?
Crystal: It really was. The podiums were, of course, great, but there were also races where we might not have medaled but our swimmers were just incredible; the men’s 200 free was one we didn’t medal in, but it was one of the greatest races I’ll ever see.
3. This must’ve been a nice step-up for your career?
Crystal: This was my second trip. Coming off Junior Pan Pacs -- which was an awesome trip, a great experience and a great meet but a little laid back compared to Junior Worlds and there were fewer countries at Pan Pacs. That of course didn’t take away from it and it was one of the greatest experiences I have ever had, it was just a different feel. So Junior Worlds with so many more countries and the whole setting was a completely new experience.
4. There must have been some familiarity from having coached Pan Pacs since several were on this team?
Crystal: There really was, but a lot of new faces too. I had the breaststroke group so I had Zoe (Bartel), Ella (Nelson), Emily Weiss, Daniel Roy, Reece (Whitley) and I worked with several others. We had the men’s staff working with the women’s staff, so it was just an incredible experience for all of us.
5. Plus you had the Junior Team camps which sound like they are critical to get to know folks and get on the same page?
Crystal: I did know a lot of the women especially from swim camps. And you know we see each other at all the big meets. Coming from different clubs, they all need something a little different, so the big thing for us was for them to know we were there for them and we could do whatever they needed. So we might have five different warm-ups, but then as you move forward everyone gets comfortable with each other. Plus they are all great kids, you can’t help but admire and respect them. Very likeable.
6. Was everyone doing their own thing a challenge?
Crystal: It really wasn’t. I absolutely loved that everyone felt comfortable doing their own thing but at the same time was comfortable enough to talk to us about how we could help them. So our role was to make suggestions and help them move forward, but also know when to back off if they needed us to. When you’re working with young people like this who are so driven and motivated, it’s really a pleasure to work with them and they are so easy to get along with.
7. The whole staff was like that?
Crystal: We were, plus everyone from USA Swimming was great. Russell Mark is incredible with his work underwater (video) -- he can get you anything you need for analysis. (Carmel Swim Club Coach) Chris Plumb did an amazing job with his group, so I got to watch some video with him. (Marlins of Raleigh Coach) Paul Silver and (Baylor Swim Club Coach) Dan (Flack), (Ridgefield Aquatic Club Coach) Emmanuel Lanzo and (Riptide Swimming Coach) Mike Parratto were outstanding. And of course (head coaches) Bruce Gemmell (Nation’s Capital Swim Club) and Kate Lundsten (Aquajets Swim) are as good as it gets. We kept it nice and open as a staff. No one stepped on toes or felt like their toes were stepped on. It was a great way to run it.
8. You worked with the breaststroke group but also sat in on sprinters and distance?
Crystal: That was the great part about it, not one said, “This is how it has to be done.” It was very iterative. There was a collection of coaches there who all had good input so we all learned something from the different styles. And that’s good because swimming isn’t a sport with a one-size-fits-all approach that can’t be worked on. A lot of it outside of the pool was about making sure everyone was all right, with the dinners, breakfast, and housing, just making sure the kids felt comfortable and everything was going all right.
9. The U.S. team seemed very close, did that happen right away or evolve over the course of the meet?
Crystal: I agree, they were close, and it was just amazing. We watched the new kids on the team and the new coaches mesh with the ones who had been there before. Every single day it became more like a family. You saw kids there for their first time and the first day you could see they were understandably a little nervous and then you see someone introduce themselves and they were off. Reece roomed with Carson Foster and they are different in every aspect from physically and height to age, but they were a perfect fit -- seeing moments like that between these two new friends is something I’ll remember forever.
10. Carson Foster, who picked up the nickname “The Kid,” is really a special talent and personality, isn’t he?
Crystal: He really is. It’s kind of fun in swimming because you see these kids who you might not think of as hanging out together, but in swimming, it brings all these different people together so wonderfully. I remember when (USA National Team Program Director) Mitch (Dalton) told Carson he’d be rooming with Reece, Carson got this gigantic smile and was so excited. So they really developed this nice bond and it’s something they’ll have long into the future as will so many others on this team who made new friends.
11. I saw on the video a lot of you on the U.S. staff mingling with coaches from other countries -- what was that like?
Crystal: I think again it’s just another aspect that makes this meet so cool. You got into conversations with coaches from other countries as often as you could. They were all so excited and gracious to be here and it really made the meet that much more special and meaningful.
12. And the U.S. coaching staff, there were young ones and veterans from all over the country, what was that like?
Crystal: I love it. It’s incredible. Again, with the other coaches who have been around longer, they would talk about how “When was the last time Hungary was in this position” or about another country that was doing well in distance events or a particular stroke. Just a million different things they discussed. I was barely alive (laughs) when the ‘84 Olympics were going on, but I learned so much great history about the sport from these incredible coaches. Another part of that which was interesting was looking at the times and how far the sport has come. We looked at the 800 men’s relay from 1988 and compared to our time in Indianapolis, and we would have medaled at those games, which was really a neat thing to talk about. This sport is amazing, and so is the history behind it and the incredible athletes and coaches who got it to this point over the course of time.
13. I would imagine the hardest thing with a young group is relays, yet that’s where your team was at its best -- how cool was that?
Crystal: It’s incredible to watch how they step up on a relay. I don’t know how these kids train all the time, but when you put on that Team U.S. cap with the flag on it, you reach deep into your soul to find something you didn’t know you had, but in the moment, you need it. I think having U.S. Olympians come and talk to them really helped the relays in particular because all of our speakers let them know how important relays are and what it means to be there for your team.
14. A lot of team spirit it appeared on the video, is that right?
Crystal: The kids did an awesome job supporting with each other. One might be tired after a semifinal swim but then they’d be right there in the stands to cheer their teammates in the next race. They knew what it means to be an awesome teammate and what an incredible opportunity they had earned to be there.
15. Explain to me how Regan Smith can be this amazing?
Crystal: She’s great. She’s just so kind of relaxed -- but I don’t know if she feels relaxed inside (laughs). She talks to her coach, then does her thing. It’s fun to watch a kid swim so fast that she even amazes herself every time she touches the wall. She has that look of, “How did I just go faster than I did two weeks ago.” She would race and then warm down, get her suit on, get her medal, get her cap on then go out on a relay and go faster again! I can’t imagine she even knew where she was at times given all her travel and all the swims she had this summer! Then she jumps into the relay and goes faster again. Just incredible.
16. How many times did Michael Andrew amaze you with the way he handles one of the busiest programs around
Crystal: Watching his 50s was insane. Every time he dove in for a 50 we were like, “Wow that was fast! Is he going to go faster in the semis and finals?” Everyone watched each of his races. It’s been so fun to watch him mature. A few years ago the big talk was about Michael and Reece and how they were rivals in the 100 breast and now we’re so far past that and these incredible young men who are friends who can just sit there and encourage each other while they talk swimming. So inspiring to see that.
17. What about Reece and how he swam, and as a team captain?
Crystal: With Reece. I personally loved his individual races and his relay performance. I think he would agree if he could swim the 200 breaststroke (where he won silver) one more time he would have been faster -- he was just a little bit off his plan of where he was going to be in attacking that race. But he brought home silver and did a best time -- and best of all the U.S. went 1-2 (Daniel won gold). As far as a leader, I could not be more proud. Reece and the rest of the captains did such a good job the entire meet. As his personal coach, to watch him mature and have such a great year was so fulfilling. This is a young man who comes from a great family who has great discipline and commitment. He had such a great year. The short-course season was special and the long-course season allowed him to learn some things that will only make him even better moving forward. He did an awesome job and I couldn’t be prouder. Just watching him lead the team and support everyone made me so proud.
18. The kids you coache in the breaststroke and some others you got to know -- what’s that mean to you?
Crystal: Beyond words. Again, just working with them you form a relationship. I got to know each kid a little bit, but obviously all that time with the breaststroke kids day in and day out, I got to know them a little better in terms of their personalities, what they want to achieve and how they want to swim it. We did a lot of interacting with the kids and learned what works for them. When we had new ideas or things that were out of the box, we used that thoughtfully because we know what they had been doing worked because it got them there. So it was a great learning experience.
19. College swimmers really made a statement on the Olympic team and at Worlds in greater numbers, and now with the talent even younger, how well does this bode for the excitement of college swimming’s future?
Crystal: I mean, it’s so exciting to see incoming college freshmen and kids still going into their senior year of high school going so fast. I can’t even wait to watch them in college. Talking about how I have known these kids for 2-3 years and coaches them at Junior Pan Pacs and Junior Worlds, and all the time at National Junior Team Camps -- it makes it more fun and mean more. I’m not a college coach so I won’t be at all the meets, but I will follow and cheer for every single young person we had with us -- they are easy to root for and will do very well as student-athletes.
20. What is a country that surprised you that we should watch in the future?
Crystal: Definitely Japan, especially on the female side, and not that it was a surprise but that it was eye opening how many female swimmers they had that I didn’t know about. And I’d definitely include Hungary as a team to watch. I had heard they were on the rise. The reality is we could list a half dozen to 10 countries that are improving because swimming is just continuing to grow incredibly fast world-wide, and we are all excited because we know what that means for the sport.