David Marsh’s Three Keys to Building a Successful Culture

David Marsh is one of the most successful coaches in the history of the sport of swimming.

One of the reasons for his success is his ability to develop an environment of excellence and a winning culture. Marsh was the Head Coach at Auburn University from 1990 to 2007. In that time his teams won 17 SEC titles as well as seven men’s and five women’s NCAA Division I Championships.

In 2007 he left Auburn to take over the SwimMac Mecklenberg Swim Club. During his nine years there he built a power house club team and the first USA Swimming Center of Excellence, now known as Team Elite. While in Charlotte he coached 15 American Swimmers onto three Olympic teams. He also coached swimmers who earned 38 National Championships, 27 Junior National Championships and 233 Academic All-Americans.

Marsh left Charlotte this summer to take the job as Head Coach of the University of California San Diego. He is now in the process of building an environment of excellence in one of the most fantastic places in America.

When visiting San Diego I got a chance to sit down with Coach Marsh to discuss his keys to building a winning culture.


Where ever he has been creating a place in which swimmers have a true belief in the outcome has been a huge factor. The belief comes first, then you can fill in the process.

Many feel that belief is something that comes naturally to many of the best, but Marsh believes that it can be learned. Many times it is instilled by a club coach who sits down with a swimmer and genuinely expresses their belief in them.

He also knows that belief can be developed at the college level having seen it happen many times throughout his coaching career.


Just like belief, some are predisposed to have the focus and determination that will not let anything stand in their way on the path to their goals. Just like belief, Marsh knows grit is something that can be learned and developed.

He describes the successful swimmers he has coached as having “eyes of fire”.

He defines grit by arriving ready at all times, especially when not feeling at your best, being willing to put in the extra work and loving the process.

Marsh believes that his swimmers at UC San Diego have that mindset when it comes to academics. Now it is his job to translate that mindset to the pool.


The love Marsh talks about comes in many forms. Love for the sport. Love for your teammates. Love for your support network.

Marsh will talk to his swimmers about falling in love with a sport where they control the outcome. He uses the examples of Rowdy Gaines and Ryan Lochte who seemingly can’t live without being in the water.

Creating an environment at the pool with your teammates where you have a strong bond and appreciation for each is another expression of that love. Having that initial bond and growing closer with challenges that are put in front of them is a huge part of the process.

Finally having gratitude and recognizing everyone who does and has supported you in your journey is extremely important. Recognizing that without your family, friends, coaches and teammates, you would not be successful.



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Happy Parent
5 years ago

It’s not all about the money or prestige. He’s close to 60. He wants to live the healthy, good life near the beach with perfect weather and the ocean to swim in and fish tacos and smart, smart students who want to learn and improve. UCSD is top-notch; the school is ranked maybe 12th in the country. Who would want to live somewhere like Auburn when they can walk to one of the most beautiful beaches in the world after work while developing kids with unlimited potential and taking the D2 program as high as it can go, with or without D1?

Reply to  Happy Parent
5 years ago

Ehhhhhhhhhh I think 12th ranked is a wee bit of a stretch for UCSD. Maybe in public university rankings.

Reply to  K. GU
5 years ago

The US News rankings, which are a fairly universally-respected ranking, has them #9 in “Top Public Schools” and #2 in “National Universities.”

5 years ago

UCSD, great school in a great location. Not sure when they will go to Div 1 but I suspect it will mean the program will need to recruit much differently.

Reply to  Hal
5 years ago

CA is an under served state for swim programs, especially for men. I pointed this out in another post, but only Cal and UCSB (in the UC system) have men’s swimming. But the “average swimmer” had virtually no shot at a spot on Cal, USC or Stanford swim teams. That leaves only a small handful of private universities and a couple CSU’s with open spots for the most populous state in the Union.

5 years ago

UCSD is academicly a first rate school, in a beautiful location. UCSD is a Division II swim program.
I’m confused why Marsh is coaching a Divion II program when he is suppose to be such a good coach, and has had professional level swimmers in the past.
UCSD may be an academic match for Stanford or Cal but not their athletic programs. Is this changing?

Reply to  Dave
5 years ago

They’ve just become a division 1 school.

Swimmer 123
Reply to  Catherine
5 years ago

Even so.. why did he not coach at a power house college/university that is already well known?

Reply to  Swimmer 123
5 years ago

Building a team is more impressive. Marsh knows what he is doing.

Joel Lin
Reply to  Swim
5 years ago

Two words: international recruits.

NCAA programs can become a powerhouse with 5-7 core guys. Marsh has don’t that before at Auburn. UCSD has a lot of attributes that sell the place for him & Marsh is such a great coach he will most definitely make the most of those unfair advantages. Picture a Canadian or a European recruit arriving to visit San Diego in February…

Reply to  Swim
5 years ago

i would agree with that reason ….passion for swimming can make some coaches make unusual decisions . I love Marsh , his voice is soothing and full of trust .

Reply to  Swimmer 123
5 years ago

Now that they’re D1, watch where Kathleen Baker goes. seamless slide within the UC system and away from the craziness at Cal to who has been ensuring her success.

Reply to  Catherine
5 years ago

not D1 yet, applying to be D1. have not been accepted into a D1 conference yet.

Reply to  Dave
5 years ago

So in your opinion, Division II doesn’t have good coaches?

Reply to  Dave
5 years ago

All the recognition, and none of he pressure! People will seek him out in order to swim for him. He will do great without having to deal with D1 expectations. Although he will most likely deliver past expectations.

Dr Fisch
Reply to  Dave
5 years ago

No Div 1 schools offered him a job. He got canned at SwimMac and needed a paycheck.

Reply to  Dr Fisch
5 years ago

If you think that he needed a paycheck then you clearly have not worked on deck with this man nor do you know anything that he stands for. If you don’t know all of the phone calls he had than you cannot begin to talk about what he was or was not offered or what he has done over the past two years. You think he got $25,000 from the Israel National Government of the athletes at Team Elite had to pay $200 a month?? Take it from me. Once you win a National College Championship or reach the highest level of swimming possible over and over again, something challenging like this opportunity becomes more fun.



Stand… Read more »

DR Fisch
Reply to  PAYCHECK!?!?!?!
5 years ago

Since you seem to be both his accountant and career counselor, and intimately know how he turned down the Virginia and the Arizona positions (and I’ll assume from your comments, many others) for the philanthropic opportunity to build a program. I stand corrected.

If you really think team elite paid $200 a month, you are sadly misinformed

Reply to  DR Fisch
5 years ago

Just admit u didnt know why Coaches Like Marsh would make such a move for the passion fo the sport ONLY .

About Jeff Grace

Jeff Grace

Jeff is a 500 hour registered yoga teacher who holds diplomas in Coaching (Douglas College) and High Performance Coaching (National Coaching Institute - Calgary). He has a background of over 20 years in the coaching profession, where he has used a unique and proven teaching methodology to help many achieve their …

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