This week’s BSN Sports Swim Team of the Week is the US Naval Academy swim team. Led by head coaches John Morrison (women) and Bill Roberts (men), last week, the USNA teams swept the Patriot League swimming and diving championships, continuing a pattern of success the teams have followed for years.
The men’s team now has won the Patriot League title for a record-setting 17th-straight time, every year they’ve been in the conference, while the women’s team won for the 9th time in a row.
We spoke to men’s head coach Bill Roberts to get a sense of what make Naval Academy swimming special, as well as some of his thoughts on coaching in general. Roberts summed up his coaching philosophy simply as “Providing an environment for all team members to achieve their full potential as student, and athlete, and as a person who will go on to become a contributing member of our society.”
One thing unique about the Naval Academy is that every single student is preparing to become a future leader in the US Navy, something that definitely plays into the team’s chemistry.
One very relevant component and building block to the concept of team chemistry is being in the military and specifically an institution who preaches teamwork from day one. From there, team chemistry is not a given just because we are in the military. We work at this each and every day. Ultimately, it is the care and mutual respect that each team member has for each other that makes it special in my opinion. To get to this point, it takes a lot of time and effort all of which is time and effort very well spent.
Obviously, leadership is something very much on the mind of both coaches and students.
I think the main thing is taking responsibility for your own career. We have a lot of measurables and attempt to reward and most importantly, to honor these behaviors that embody leadership. Additionally, the Naval Academy has been empowering our students to become leaders for 175 years.
Roberts has been coaching college swimming since he himself graduated from college in the early 1990s, and he acknowledged that one of his biggest struggles as a coach is making sure to keep things fresh.
The main thing is to stay current and relevant in all aspects of your coaching and interactions with all members of the program. One example that I believe several of us coaches has in common is the ability to resist the urge to follow the same training plan from the previous season despite any incredible success that training plan produced. In terms of training design, being able to pull the good, eliminate the bad and re-design it for the individuals in your program is a difference making coaching habit. I wish I did this more in my earlier years.
While winning 17-straight titles brings lots of great memories, Roberts identified his favorite coaching memory as one that might seem a little obscure, but captures the essence of what Roberts and the entire Naval Academy swimming team is about.
One that stands out was in the fall of 2004. We had a team member who had broken his neck in a body surfing accident the previous summer. Through a lengthy recovery, he was able to return to our sport later that fall. To see his return to competition was a very emotional moment. We did not care where he placed….just that he had taken on this challenge of the recovery. That night in a meet versus George Washington University, Joe Smutz ’06, had to go from a push in his first races. It was a special moment and is what athletics is all about. Joe went on to complete his career for our program.
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