With just under a year left until the 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials, one swim coach is taking a tour across America to see a wide view of America’s Swim Team in the lead up to America’s biggest swim meet.
Former Asphalt Green coach Rachel Stratton-Mills and her husband, 1980 Olympic qualifier Glenn Mills, are already a couple months into a nationwide tour of USA Swimming swim clubs, a tour that will span the country and finish at the 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials.
“My husband and I have been dreaming of doing this for 20 years,” Stratton-Mills told SwimSwam. “We plan on seeing what’s going on in the grassroots and seeing what club across America are doing for their swimmers.”
Stratton-Mills said she sees the tour as a major learning opportunity – a chance to pick up ideas, methods and more from a wide range of swim coaches in a wide range of environments.
“I look at it as a yearlong sabbatical,” she said. “In coaching, we don’t often get that sabbatical period to just learn.”
The couple kicked off their tour about two months ago, starting on the east coast, and have now made their way to the midwest.
The early stages of the tour were in Maryland and eventually stretched to Philadelphia (including Great Philadelphia Aquatic Club, where Stratton-Mills got to observe the training of national champion breaststroker Brendan McHugh, among others).
Lately, the journey has swung through the midwest, with stops at the Academy Bullets of Illinois, Wisconsin’s Ozaukee Aquatics (home to Short Course Worlds team member Katie Drabot and Paralympic star Tom Miazga) and Minnesota’s Aquajets (high school training ground for Olympian Rachel Bootsma, among others).
But Stratton-Mills says the tour isn’t just about seeing the highest-profile clubs and athletes – though that’s certainly a draw – but seeing a wide range of clubs of varying sizes and levels.
“We feel really lucky to get to see these elite athletes, but we’re really trying to see all sides of the sport,” Stratton-Mills said.
The tour will hit a majority of states in the U.S. by it’s conclusion, Stratton-Mills says, and should provide the couple a wealth of knowledge and experience when it concludes. Stratton-Mills plans to get back into coaching after the 2016 Trials, hoping to put her new-found knowledge to work.
“After this year, I’m hoping to really know what I want in a program,” she said.
For now, though, Stratton-Mills is enjoying the ride, taking in the experience at each club on its own terms.
“I’ve been coaching for a good amount of years,” she said, “but there’s nothing like being really immersed in a team.”
You can follow Stratton-Mills and Mills on their journey through the couple’s blog, which tracks their experiences in written, video and photographic form. You can find that blog here.