Courtesy: Elizabeth Wickham
When asked for advice for swim parents, Marni O’Dell said, “Kids should have fun. That’s the only thing that will keep them in the sport.” O’Dell is mother and former coach of NAG record-holder, 14-year old Teagan O’Dell. O’Dell was a 2020 ASCA Age Group Coach of the Year Finalist.
“We need more kids in the sport. It’s the best sport in the world,” O’Dell added. “When parents are too overbearing or force kids to go to practice, many kids burn out or do not want to swim. Let them develop on their own with the help of their coaches and be supportive.”
She explained that “fun” has different meanings for everyone. “For some kids, having fun is winning. For others, it’s fun because they have friends with them. Everyone has their own view of what is fun.”
O’Dell was a collegiate swimmer, Olympic Trials qualifier and swim coach prior to becoming a stay-at-home mom with four children under age five. She made sure her kids were pool safe and enrolled them with a local team. Teagan’s brothers swam until they discovered their passion for football and they left the pool. Teagan enjoyed it, excelled and stuck with swimming.
While on vacation in Ireland with her husband, O’Dell got a phone call from the coach of Teagan’s club team Chino Hills Aquatics. She was told they desperately needed her to coach after losing an age group coach. She and her husband talked it over. They knew it would be a sacrifice, but coaching was her passion, so she agreed. Also, she thought it would be temporary.
Three years later in 2019, Teagan made her first Junior National cut in the 11-12 age group. O’Dell said their team was small and that at Junior Nationals it was just Teagan and her attending from their team. They watched large teams with 30 qualifiers, having fun and swimming relays. She knew that Teagan needed more. In early 2020, prior to COVID shutdowns, Teagan moved to Irvine Novaquatics and began training with Ken Lamont.
O’Dell said it was hard to leave her swimmers as a coach, but was refreshing to be a swim mom and watch Teagan swim.
One of the highlights of coaching her daughter was in August 2019 when Teagan broke Missy Franklin’s 11-12 NAG record in the 200 IM. The meet was at Western Age Group Zone Championships — the week after Futures in Oregon. O’Dell said she had Teagan swim a few events at Futures and then take two days off before Zones. She said Teagan is a big girl and needs rest.
She said Teagan was rested for the 2021 Speedo Summer Championships where she broke Missy Franklin’s 200 IM NAG for 13-14 girls. O’Dell said that Teagan’s idol growing up was Missy. O’Dell said, “At USC swim camp Teagan learned about Katinka Hosszú. David Salo talked about what a great person she is, more than how she’s a great swimmer. Teagan has grown to admire her. She likes how Hosszú can swim anything and that’s what Teagan wants to do as well.”
As a coach, O’Dell said her mission statement was, “Kids learn every stroke and kids learn every stroke well.” She added, “You never know what they’ll love to swim as they grow and develop. All my swimmers were well-rounded and learned technically how to do each stroke correctly. I think it helped Teagan to have that base.”
O’Dell explained that growth spurts can mess with timing and tempo. “Teagan has had some knee problems. She had to lay off the breaststroke here and there and that fell behind.” But she said at 5 feet 11 1/2 inches, she thinks Teagan is done growing. “She’s starting to feel better and at this last meet, Summer Championships, Teagan’s timing came back.”
Asked how hard it is to be a mom and let the coach coach, she said she leaves 98% of it to Lamont. “If Teagan comes to me and asks for my advice, I am not going to shy away from giving it to her. But I try not to coach her. As a coach I know how it feels when parents are trying to coach, too.”
O’Dell said Teagan is an analyzer. “On her own, she’ll write down her goals and how to get to those goals. She writes down what splits she needs and makes sure she’s hitting them during pace work in practice. Ken offers her phenomenal sets to give her opportunities to hit race pace.”
Elizabeth Wickham volunteered for 14 years on her kids’ club team as board member, fundraiser, newsletter editor and “Mrs. meet manager.” She’s a writer with a bachelor of arts degree in editorial journalism from the University of Washington with a long career in public relations, marketing and advertising. Her stories have appeared in newspapers and magazines including the Los Angeles Times, Orange County Parenting and Ladybug. You can read more parenting tips on her blog.