Todd DeSorbo leading the rise of the University of Virginia swimming program may catch some people off guard but don’t count me as one of them.
I’ve had the privilege to have many interactions and lots of time to talk training, coaching and all things with Coach DeSorbo over the past few years. He’s been on the Swim Coaches Base Podcast and I was able to visit and “embed” myself with the team for a couple of days last season.
Through my time with Coach DeSorbo and his staff it’s clear there are a number of reasons they’ll continue to have success as a program in the coming years. Here are my observations as to what makes this program and coaching staff so successful.
ONE – Personalized and Intense Training
There’s a growing trend it seems of college teams not simply sticking swimmers in a “sprint, stroke or distance group” for the whole season. You can see the cutting edge of training groups at programs like UVA. Each coach on staff is assigned to one of the groups. But the swimmers are not fixed in those groups for the whole season. In fact, some swimmers may swim in each of the groups at least once a week. This way all of the swimmers get exactly what they need. Two sprinters may respond very differently to the same training. So, by allowing swimmers to freely rotate among multiple groups, it lets the swimmer get exactly what they need to be successful. The way DeSorbo has set up the UVA program clearly puts what the athlete needs as the top priority.
TWO – Demanding and Caring of the Athletes
Any program usually takes on the personality of the head coach and UVA is no different. Coach DeSorbo is very demanding, but it’s not in a jerk way. You can tell that he wants his athletes to push themselves harder than they have before to reach their goals, but he does a great job of making sure they know it comes from a place of him caring for them and not being in fear of him. The rest of the staff models this as well. Set the standards high and then be there to support the athletes striving for those goals.
THREE – Power of the Greater Collective Team
Of late many swim programs are splitting the genders and also coaching staffs. UVA practices together all the time. And you can see the collective energy that is generated when that many dedicated athletes and coaches are working together for the common goal of getting better. This is a true case of “strength in numbers.” What was most impressive to me personally during my visit to Charlottesville was the combined dryland sessions on deck that the team did. It’s always awesome to witness swimmers being incredible athletes on land and improving their athletic characteristics and to then translate them into the pool.
FOUR – Expert Stroke Technicians
During my visit to UVA I was able to sit down with both Coach DeSorbo and his Associate Head Coach Tyler Fenwick to dig into how they teach freestyle. It was fascinating, especially because Todd is thought of as more a “sprint” coach and Tyler is the “distance” coach. There were definitely some differences in some of the nuances but what was interesting was how much it was also similar. As I would walk through the staff offices I’d see various biomechanics and other sports science topic books on different coaches’ desks. Again, with Todd setting the tone from the top, the rest of the staff clearly wants to stay on the cutting edge of how they’re approaching technique. It’s clearly not the case of “well we’ve always done it this way so this is the way we’re going to teach it.” The UVA staff are constantly trying to innovate and make sure they are giving their athletes the best there is to succeed.
Here’s one of Todd’s favorite drills for Freestyle – BOOM Drill.
FIVE – Swim Fast and Fast is Fun
This isn’t a new concept but swimming fast is fun. And wow does UVA swim fast a lot. I mean a lot in practice. It was really remarkable to see how hard all of the athletes were working, even with the grueling sets, but there was still very much a “positive energy” throughout the pool.
Yes, it’s true – to be successful as a college coach you absolutely need to be able to recruit talent to your program. But ultimately the best college coaches and programs are ones that can then take the great recruits and coach them to be even better once they’re on campus. UVA under DeSorbo’s leadership is doing just that. And it’ll be exciting to see what they do in the coming years.
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