BSN Sports Swim Team of the Week: The John Cooper School Dragons

The John Cooper School is an independent, college-preparatory, day school for students in Pre-Kindergarten through Grade 12 located in the Woodlands, TX. The Dragons compete in the Southwest Preparatory Conference. This season, the Dragons men’s swim team won the SPC championships, while the women finished 4th, with the two teams finishing 2nd in the combined team standings.

After the season, BSN Sports Team Ambassador Jessica Hardy caught up with Sara Bany, who just completed her first season as the Dragons’ head coach after serving as assistant coach the year before.

Bany identified “hard work” as the basis of her coaching philosophy. “I work hard and expect my athletes to do the same – we have a mutual respect for each other therefore are willing to put in what it takes to be better,” she said.

Many of the Dragon swimmers grew up swimming together in the club swimming world, either on the same team or competing against each other, and thus already come to the high school with a good deal of camaraderie

They race and compete against each other all the time, but have learned how to respect and encourage each other along the way.  Fortunately I have a well – rounded team, so everyone has their niche.  I also try to incorporate fun into our team.  We have team lunches in my classroom, team parties, dinners, and outings so it’s not just about swimming, they genuinely like each other as well.

Any high school coach knows that swimmers can be a pretty well-rounded bunch, and it can be a struggle for swimmers and coaches alike to balance all the time demands that swimmers can face. Bany has chosen to try to be as accommodating as possible, an approach that has proven successful.

It’s really hard to balance all of the things that they do.  I have swimmers from several different club teams, swimmers who don’t swim club at all, they are good students at a challenging school, some of them participate in other sports, and some are involved with other activities at school besides swimming.  There are only 24 hours in a day and 7 days a week.  I can’t compete with that.  Trying to find a schedule for meets and practices that fits everyone, puts an emphasis on the team but also allows them to be teenagers involved with other things that they love has been very challenging.

One way Bany deals with this is through a flexible practice schedule, with a full team practice two mornings a week, optional weight room session two other mornings, and three afternoon practices a week that are not required for active club swimmers. Additionally,

When I made the meet calendar for the year, I got out all of the USA swimming calendars and made sure to work around any major USA meets…I realized years ago that I don’t want to compete with the clubs, I want to try to work with them and not make the swimmers pick between the teams.  Both are equally important in their development.

Another area of emphasis for the Dragons is the partnership between coaches and swimmers, something that Bany sees as a critical part of leadership development.

I like to involve my swimmers in team decisions.  I talk to them about relays.  We strategize together.  I feel like that gives them more ownership to our success or failure.  They understand my thought process and respect it.  I also put the responsibility on them to be punctual, to let me know when they won’t be at practice or at a meet.  As they get older in high school, it is up to them to communicate with me.  The seniors get together and make decisions for their senior season – they pick the suits, they help plan outings, and most importantly I expect them to be the leaders of the team at practices and at meets. The best lesson they can learn is to lead by example and not by just telling.

As we said, the Dragons had a successful first season with Bany as the head coach, as the boys’ team won the conference championship. Bany described that meet as her favorite coaching memory thus far.

I would say that whether we won or lost.  Every single person on the team was part of our victory.  They worked so hard this year and I saw it all come together.  I saw them supporting each other.  They built each other up after a disappointment; they celebrated victories together; they crowded around to cheer for each race; they swam for each other.  Everyone does better with support and I saw home much the support of a team can help a single swimmer.  It’s important to see that in swimming as it is such an individual sport.  Swimmers can go to a meet, swim their races and sit in the bleachers playing on their phones.  That’s not what happened. They got up, they cheered, they were a team and that was the most important thing they could learn this season.

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