BSN Sports Swim Team of the Week: Costa Mesa Aquatics Club

While meets are largely on hold worldwide right now due to the effects of COVID-19, and many teams are just getting back to practices, we still want to highlight and celebrate swim teams from around the country. This week’s Team of the Week is the Costa Mesa Aquatics Club of Costa Mesa, California. The team is celebrating its 10th year of existence, and offers a variety of aquatic avenues, including swimming and water polo teams and lessons, and has roughly 140 athletes.

CMAC is led by head coach Keith Ryan, who’s been with the club since 2017 and has been the head coach since 2018. We talked with Ryan to get a sense of what makes CMAC special, as well some of his thoughts and reflections on coaching in general.

Ryan described his coaching philosophy simply as, “Instilling a lifelong love of aquatics through the camaraderie, skill development, and knowledge needed to reach one’s potential as a swimmer and developing young person.”

Costa Mesa is still a relatively young club, a fact that Ryan credits with positively shaping much of what makes the team unique.

We are a relatively small team of around 140 athletes, but much of that growth has been in the last 2 years. The journey of becoming a more reputable team that comes from humble beginnings is what gives CMAC a unique team chemistry and family feel. The kids and families have a lot of pride in the team’s success as well as the success of all the individual athletes. I spent many years coaching high school swimming, so I strive to build that TEAM element into our club, and I believe that is a unique approach, and one that creates a synergy among the members that is visible to many, even outside of our program. We have coaches often ask at higher level LSC meets if our team is a “new team” due to the strong showing of our 12 & unders that appear to have “come out of nowhere.” This is a compliment that drives our staff to keep doing what we love to do.

One of the most enjoyable parts of talking to coaches from across the country is sampling some of the “iconic” workouts that each team does, and Ryan described one particular set that CMAC’s age group set does, as well as a few thoughts on the team’s overall approach at the senior level.

Our age group athletes (I primarily coach the 8-12 year olds) do a set that is very simple, but can be tweaked and repeated many different ways due to it being very short. We also splice it into sets for added challenge or when a major gear change is needed.

10×25 variable intvls–3 rounds of 3×25-# 10 recovery or FAST

–  25 @ 25 sec
–  25 @ 20 sec
–  25 @ 15 sec

Our senior group (Daniel Vale runs this group) spends a lot of time doing great things like upside-down paddle EVF work, drag socks, really fun and innovative power/push-off and turn work, and has had great success with heart-rate based test sets where we build in camaraderie by having one group of swimmers timing while the other group swims, and then switching. It helps the athletes understand and see the work their teammates are doing from a different vantage point, and it gets everyone excited about each other, which is really big for our program. We’re located a few miles from the beach, so the “stoke” element from surf culture is very much alive in our program. This should probably be listed above too – we really get stoked on each other at CMAC.

Ryan has been coaching at the high school or club level for the last 15 years, so we asked about what he’s learned as a coach over the years.

One of the toughest things to get kids (and parents) to understand is the relationship between effort, improvement, best times, and the maturation process as a human being. It is a challenge, and one I’ve become more adept at handling over time, to convey confidence to swimmers when they feel down about not dropping time. I say very openly to the kids that I do not really care about their time (and I don’t), but about execution and learning from each race. Races are honestly just a way to accrue knowledge, and that can carry over into practice and that’s where true improvement happens. I have parents who don’t quite understand how I can be “ok” with their kid adding time in an event, or making mistakes. To me, these are already written often times before the swimmer even steps on the block. I am pretty good at predicting how each swim is going to go given I watch these kids train and know their habits best. Then you have the converse side, where a kid grew 4 inches over the summer, and maintains the same lazy habits, yet they drop a boatload of time – you still need to back that up with honesty too while giving some praise for the improvement. They may have dropped, but there were other things that could have helped them go even faster. We need to help athletes and parents put things in context, and that isn’t an easy task. If they end up getting the big picture though, there are no limits to what they can achieve!

Of course, plenty of seasons on deck means that there’s plenty of great memories to be had, and Ryan shared with us his top three.

1st memory – Edison High School’s Boys 400 free relay CIF-SS Championship victory in 2009. This swim smashed our school record (3:05), thanks greatly due to Tom Shields (who had broken the 200 free national record that same meet in 1:33.83) anchoring an astounding 42.88 to secure the team’s victory. The win, plus that split, and who it was, and having them be a true leader on your team… unforgettable. Our girls team won the CIF team title that year too… the whole CIF meet in 2009 was just unreal.

2nd memory – I coached this girl named Abby Oshiro for 3 years at Edison. She was a polo player, lefty, short, hard shot, fierce competitor… and had absolutely amazing underwater kicking ability. Our polo coach was also my co-head swim coach and we would spend hours trying to figure out how to get this kid to reach her potential. Her sophomore (2009) year she went about 1:01 in the 100 fly. Junior year maybe she broke a minute, but not by much. Made some progress, but wouldn’t trust her kickouts and would surface too soon and stroke couldn’t hold up the whole 100. We knew she was a 56-57. Finally, in 2011 we used our rickety diving well that was about 8 x 20 yards and worked in some really fun ways to get her to focus on her under waters. She ended up winning the league title and smashed her best, going 57.6, and did a truly epic double arm flex sitting on the lane line with a smile from ear to ear. It felt so rewarding to get her to finally do what we all knew she could do, and to see it play out. Plus, she was a polo player, but swam like a “swimmer”!

3rd memory – watching my daughter Kamilah, after just turning 5 a month before, crush her first swim in her first meet – the 50 free! Nailed the flip. I will never forget it.

Cosa Mesa Aquatics is one of 3,000 swim clubs in the United States.  How can we grow that number and promote the sport? 


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Nate Dammann

Sounds like a great program! Love to see young coaches bring fresh energy and new training methods into the sport.

Sophia V.

Love this team!!! So excited to see them get a shoutout 🙂

Eric V

Hearing good things about this team! The coaches seem to be building well, and love that they are incorporating team spirit into workouts. Enjoyed learning of Ryan’s specific good experiences. Thanks for this article.

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