5 Misconceptions of Gold Medal Clubs and the Truth

by SwimSwam 21

March 04th, 2015 Club, News, Opinion

Swimming Opinion is courtesy of Gavin Cooley.

Swimming for a gold medal club is tough, if you weren’t aware. The competition in the elite groups is extremely intense. The rest of the teams in the state look at you with scorn, and you hear the rumors. “Oh, I heard they each have personal dietitians ,” and, “They PAY the athletes to swim there,” are two of my favorites. Your gear is stolen frequently at meets, for no good reason. Sometimes, it is simply hard to get the head coach to notice you, let alone know your name. These are the top five misconceptions about that team that always wins the state meet.

ONE – They only let crazy fast kids on the team.

Whether that means the kid has Junior National cuts, or is on the Olympic team, this team only takes the best of the best. Nothing less.

Many teams have their fastest swimmers in high school come from their age group program. I can tell you from personal experience, not all of these kids were very fast when they were younger. In fact, a majority of them were considered SLOW. Speed can come from anywhere.

TWO – There are a thousand members on the team.

SwimMAC, Palo Alto, North Baltimore Aquatic Club… They all have a lot of kids, right? So aren’t all fast clubs like that?

(Editor Note: NBAC appears to be a large club because of their depth of talent, but they average about 220 swimmers.) 

Carmel Swim Club only has 450 members. Yes, that is a moderately large number, but definitely not huge. York YMCA only has 80! Quality over quantity.

(Editor Note: NBAC appears to be a large club because of their talent, but they average about 220 swimmers.) 

THREE – They do an insane amount of yardage.

“Oh, the good old days of 80,000 yards a week… Now that produced strong swimmers!”  – said any older swim coach you’ve ever met.

Yes, there are days when they go really far…and I mean REALLY far. 12,000 yard Saturday morning practices are the best. In contrast to the popular belief, they do not do this kind of stuff every day. A more accurate average would be 5-7000 yards per practice.

FOUR – They have the best and newest technology to work with.

IKKOS glasses, a casual swim flume, four 50 meter by 25 yard pools, OMEGA touch pads, a massive weight room, anything you can think of.

The best coaches know, nice equipment helps. At the Queensland location for SwimMAC, they have Paddock Evacuator, and it keeps the air quality crystal clean, but they would be a high-powered club without it. The extra tech is a bonus (and good for their longterm health).  However, at the end of the day, the best clubs work with what they have.

FIVE – Only clubs that were fast before have a chance to be fast now.

I mean…really? Do you honestly believe that?

If you  believe it, you’re holding yourself and your team back. New gold medal clubs pop up fairly consistently, and everyone wants a shot to call themselves the best. If you can get just three of your fastest swimmers to lead your team, and support and raise your less experienced swimmers to new heights, Gold Medal standing is within reach.

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I can tell you first hand that the technology isn’t a factor at Nitro (gold medal club in Austin, TX). I mean, sure the water is crystal clear, but the best thing there is the coaches and parents. There is no “facility” to speak of – just a corrugated metal building barely big enough to house the pool. Dryland is outside in the parking lot. There is no air conditioning, a tiny office shared by multiple coaches, no lifeguards, no kitchen, no meeting facilities. What there is a lot of? Heart, fantastic coaches, parents who sit through practice and know each other and lots and lots of success.


I get your point, but please don’t make it sound like Nitro has it so bad. Mike spent tons of money on an indoor pool so that Nitro wouldn’t have to fight with external administration for pool time. It most certainly is air conditioned (the locker rooms at least. The pool has an immensely expensive air treatment system.) They are building another, separate lessons pool across the street and converting the existing lesson pool/viewing area into a separate dryland area. It may not seem like a lot, but its more than most other clubs have. I will definitely agree with you about the coaches, they are fantastic.


Uh, speed can come from anywhere is the perfect quote and talkin about technology. Ian crocker, from MAINE (btw I think he is the first summer gold medalist from maine) . go watch the unfiltered documentary and you’ll see where he trained. you could probably youtube that part.

David Berkoff

Gavin, I agree with most of your comments, but I do disagree with your assertion regarding club size. When it comes to Club Excellence and who gets gold and silver, the statistics do not lie and yes, SIZE DOES MATTER. I am on a task force for Sr. Development and one of the things we are doing is coming up with ideas to better the Club Excellence program and to make sure it is fair–aka we are rewarding clubs and coaches for doing an excellent job developing swimmers. One of the things I did was put together statistics relating category or award to club size. Here are some statistics: Clubs sized 0-50 (this size club makes up 33% of USAS… Read more »


Best response ever! You go boy!


Thanks for the insight! I think the point I’m trying to get across more is symbolic than factual (I haven’t done quite as much research as you on the matter). I think those facts can be changed though. The mental factor of having a small club is what I think holds back many clubs, and there is no reason that can’t change!

David Berkoff

Gavin. I agree and disagree. I have been coaching in Montana for 20 years–the last six being the part-time pay/ full-time duty Head Coach of a club in Missoula. I have helped grow the program from 80 swimmers to 140 and we have incredible parents, volunteers, community support and support at the two pools we use. To get there, I have take a ton of time and energy to “change the culture” from that of a small town-small expectation mentality to that of individual and team excellence. Yes, changing culture and “thinking big” is a must-do for any program wanting to be part of Club Excellence. Yet that’s not the only factor. The biggest constraint for rural clubs (Wyoming, Idaho,… Read more »


A couple of comments: first, the statistics you present are skewed by treating very small clubs and very large clubs (and everyone in between) the same in terms of their percentage of overall membership. In other words, for example, you consider the ten largest clubs to represent the same percentage of the total as the 10 smallest clubs, despite the fact that the ten largest clubs represent many times the number of swimmers as the ten smallest. It would be more meaningful to give the percentage of total swimmers that each club size category (clubs size 0-50, 51-100, etc.) represents. The numbers would still favor larger clubs, but at least they would more accurately represent the distribution of swimmers. Second,… Read more »

David Berkoff

Actually, the numbers don’t really change that much when you look a #’s of swimmers served in each category of swimmer. Clubs sized 0-150 serve 40% of the USAS membership (1 gold, 8 silver, 19 bronze). Clubs sized 151-250 serve only 26% of the individual members (3 gold, 22 silver, 6 bronze), and clubs sized 250 and above serve just 34% of the members (yet 16 gold, 51 silver, 44 bronze). So again, 80% of the gold clubs represent only 34% of the USAS individual members while 20% of the gold clubs represent the remaining 66%. Numbers don’t lie. As for WHY those clubs got big, the reasons are not often based upon the good reputation of the coaches or… Read more »

swim coach

all usa-s recognition programs are led by the “big” clubs… club excellence, virtual club championships. sure, small clubs can produce fast swimmers, but those clubs do not have the depth of talent to score big points in the club excellence or vcc. my current club averages approximately 50 swimmers and has twice been awarded a bronze medal… we were fortunate to have some extremely talented swimmers. usa-s has said it is working on a system which can award smaller teams, but has yet to actually do anything. that said, as long as a team is in a heavily populated area, has adequate access to facilities, appropriate feeder programs and can compete regularly, the major recognition will be to the “big”… Read more »


What a great reply!

I don’t understood the goal of the club excellence awards. Whose behavior does the program try to change?

Coaches? Aren’t they already trying to help their swimmers get faster? Are the coaches/administrators really motivated by the logo they get to put on their web site? What do you want them to do differently than they are doing today?

Prospective members of a recognized team? I doubt that new-to-swimming athletes or their parents even know this exists, or what it means. And those with more experience probably already have heard through the grapevine, the good, bad, and otherwise for clubs in their area.


Where is the Terrapins Swim Club in your breakdown? It has about 120 swimmers and it is a Gold Medal Club.

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