By Mike Watkins//Contributor | Friday, October 5, 2018Tanica Jamison’s ultimate decision to become a coach was inspired by her high school English teacher, Mrs. McDonald.
As she approached her senior year in college with plans to become a teacher herself, her thoughts about her future profession shifted to something more familiar in the world of education where she could still make a difference in the lives of young people.
“I knew that I wanted to lead and teach in some capacity, but I was not set on being a coach then,” said Jamison, associate head coach at Texas A&M University and one of the top associate coaches in NCAA swimming.
“It wasn’t until my third or fourth year out of college that I found myself coaching my teammates during practice and at meets. I think that’s when I caught the coaching bug.”
Jamison’s major at the University of Texas – where she was a multiple-time All-America swimmer – was Youth & Community Studies, a degree program under the umbrella of Applied Learning & Development in the College of Education.
Since her degree is akin to coaching in that she learned skills that prepared her to teach – coupled with her own experiences as a swimmer – Jamison was well-prepared to coach.
“Coaching forces you to learn how to communicate effectively to and with your athletes,” she said.
Throughout her career, Jamison said she’s been fortunate to have two strong female coaches as mentors and role models in Debbie Real and Jill Sterkel.
In a sport still dominated by male coaches, she said they made a huge impact on her life by helping her believe that she could coach and maybe one day be a role model to her athletes as they were to her.
Jamison said she even modeled her coaching methods and approach after them.
“I’ve combined their coaching styles and added a few things that I’ve learned along the way,” Jamison said of her coaching style. “The main thing for me is finding ways to help my athletes perform at their best. That is my number one goal each season.
“My coaching philosophy is pretty simple: have fun, encourage hard work, emphasize technique (small details) and hold my athletes accountable to their goals. There is not an easy road to success, especially in swimming. Being patient and trusting the process is very important.”
Another mentor in her coaching life is someone she shares the deck with in College Station every day – Steve Bultman.
The duo has worked together for the past seven years, and Jamison counts herself fortunate to work with Steve.
She said they complement each other very well, and Bultman is her biggest mentor.
“Steve is by far one of the best swim coaches in the country to work for and learn under,” said Jamison, who was promoted to associate head coach at A&M in 2016. “I think what I’ve learned the most from Steve, and I am still learning, is patience.
“He sees the bigger picture better than I can. I found myself in awe of him at the beginning, watching how everything fell in to place, and now we do not skip a beat.”
Jamison said she thinks the way she coaches involves having more conversations with her athletes – the goal being to have them understand why we are doing something or how to feel the changes in their technique.
She said getting her athletes to understand how to move various parts of their body to have a more fluid stroke is important to her, and if they don’t understand how to change the feel of their stroke, then usually there will not be much technical change.
“Through conversations and feedback over time, changes can be made when they learn how to feel the difference,” said Jamison, who enrolled in swimming lessons as a child after her older sister nearly drowned at a pool party. “Sometimes I may say something to one of our athletes and Steve can come in and say the same thing with a few different words and it clicks for the athlete.”
But Jamison said she coaches to develop the entire person – not just the swimmer.
If one of her athletes leaves the program not growing as a person or a leader in her life, then she feels she failed as a coach.
“The greatest reward as a coach is knowing that I am helping my athletes become better people,” Jamison said. “You coach the swimmer in the pool and you coach the person who chooses to swim. I try to show my athletes that they should be viewed as amazing people first and swimmers second.”
Together, she and Bultman and their team have developed the Aggies into a perennial swimming powerhouse.
After four-straight fourth-place finishes at the NCAA Championships from 2013-16, the Aggies tallied their highest NCAA finish ever in 2017 with a third-place effort at the NCAA Championships.
They equaled that feat again in 2018, and all of Texas A&M’s swimming school records have been bettered since Jamison’s arrival in College Station.
“I think our athletes know that Steve and I are here to help them reach their full potential,” she said. “To do that it is part of my job – to hold my athletes accountable to their goals that they set each year.
“I try to motivate them to be better and believe they can accomplish more than they think. It’s my job to bring out their very best. Building relationships with my athletes is important because it builds trust and assurance that what we are doing is going to help them be successful.”
And despite being a woman – and an African-American woman – in a sport largely coached by white men, Jamison said she sees some definite advantages to her gender in the sport.
With aspirations of eventually leading her own swim program at the collegiate level, Jamison said she succeeds because she can relate to her athletes of the same gender.
And being a former Division I swimmer herself never hurts.
“There isn’t much that my athletes can say that I have not done as an athlete or seen as a coach,” she said. “I think the main disadvantage is the lack of female head coaches in Division I swimming. Hopefully there will be more opportunities in the future.
“There aren’t many African-American women who are coaching in Division I swimming. Is that a problem? The obvious answer is yes. I personally do not believe we should be defined by our race; we should be defined by our character, that is what matters the most. Don’t get me wrong. I love who I am, and I take pride in my culture and race, but I want to be known for my character and the way I coach – not just that I am an African-American coach.”
And what advice does she have for other young women thinking about getting into coaching now or in the future?
“I strongly encourage young women of all races to get into coaching,” she said. “There are a lot of rewards you gain from coaching; the relationships you build and the impact you have on athletes cannot be measured.
“If you are able to positively impact an athlete’s life, you are leaving a positive legacy in this world. The time commitment away from the pool can sometimes be intense, but the end results, season after season, makes it all worth it.