BSN Sports Swim Team of the Week: Denison University Big Red

This week’s BSN Sports Swim Team of the Week, the Denison University Big Red, saw their men’s team roll to a 115-point victory at last month’s Division III NCAA Championships, marking their third title in the last five years, and their fifth in the last nine. Their first team title, in 2011, ended Kenyon’s 31 year championship streak, and since that year, Denison has won more championships than any other school.

The Big Red are led by head coach Gregg Parini, who has led the Big Red since 1987.  The team has steadily improved under his watch; in addition to the men’s titles, the women’s team has also been among the top teams in Division II swimming over the past three decades, netting one NCAA title and seven runner-up finishes during Parini’s tenure.

BSN Sports Team Ambassador Jessica Hardy spoke with Parini after the NCAA Championships to get a sense how he’s led the Big Red to their success. Asked about his coaching philosophy, Parini told Hardy that

Encapsulating a coaching/teaching philosophy in one sentence is darn near impossible. And I thought tweeting was a challenge. That said, I’ll give it my best shot… “at their best, master coaches provide the resources and opportunities that encourage the athlete to engage with herself, to learn more about herself, to expand her capacity to live more fully – a process that results in significant improvements in her athletic performance and the quality of her life both in and out of the athletic experience.”

Any program that’s been consistently near the top has to have a team chemistry that’s working. Parini emphasized the importance of being intentional when it comes to developing a strong team culture.

It gets down to believing that everyone on our team matters and that everyone is cared for.  We’re very intentional about coming together and doing the work required to make our team culture healthy, satisfying, and productive for all team members.  We learned a long time ago that you can take your chances with team culture development by hoping it comes together … or you can take the intentional steps to craft, develop, and secure a team culture that you can be proud of.  We’ve chosen the latter.

Part of the emphasis on team chemistry involved developing leadership. Parini explained how the Big Red’s culture is based on the student-athletes taking ownership of the team, which has helped inculcate leadership lessons that last beyond a swimmer’s college career.

Most of our team building exercises are designed to draw on the many talents and enthusiasms of all our team members.  We incorporate a stewardship model that encourages everyone to take ownership in the team’s goal setting and successes. By doing so, everyone will be challenged with opportunities to lead throughout the season and school year.  Every team member is encouraged to find their voice and to effectively/proactively express it.  It’s a process that begins freshmen year and continues until and beyond graduation.  Our alumni continue to be part of that process well beyond their senior years.

Parini has been in the game for a long time, long enough to learn a lot and recognize some of the mistakes he’s made in his career, especially when first starting out.

I got into this line of work because I like helping people.  My achilles heel, especially as a younger coach, was to overplay that desire by doing things for my student-athletes that should be doing for themselves.  Recognizing where my responsibility ends and theirs begins in the learning process is an ongoing challenge for me

Obviously, in over thirty years of coaching, Parini has plenty of great memories, and it’s not at all surprising which memory he identified as his favorite.

There are so many but the men winning NCAAs in 2011 is probably at the top of the list.  It was a moment built on so many others – the culmination of 25+ years of vision, hard work, and team building.  That moment set the stage for us to take on other and even more exciting challenges since.


Founded in 1972 as a factory-direct equipment company, today BSN SPORTS is the largest distributor of team sports apparel and equipment in the United States, with over 3,000 employees across 80 regional offices. At BSN SPORTS we believe that sports have the power to change lives. At the heart of what makes sports happen are the coaches, teachers and mentors who work with young and old alike to build meaningful lifelong experiences. That’s why our mission is simple. The more time we save coaches with everything they do off the deck, the more time they can spend changing lives. And that’s the real final score.

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