Where Did All The Great Women Coaches Go?

  11 Gold Medal Mel Stewart | September 10th, 2012 | Featured, News, Training

Chuck Warner, author and coach, is an old friend. Thoughtful and passionate about the sport, he has studied the details behind what it takes to achieve swimming excellence.

CHUCK WARNER: Lessons From Legends

A highlight of the ASCA World Swim Coaches Clinic in Las Vegas on Friday night was the induction of Karen Moe Thornton into the ASCA Coaching Hall of Fame. Coach Thornton retired from coaching at age 39.

Former swimmer and newly named Texas coach Carol Capitani tiptoed through an emotional introduction successfully conveying the enormous impact that Coach Thornton had had on her career and that of her teammates. Capitani rattled off several bits of wisdom that she had learned twenty years ago from her coveted mentor including, “Being prompt is not an accident, it’s a choice.”

Karen started coaching the Cal Women’s Team in 1978 after completing a swimming career that included breaking the 200-meter butterfly world record three times in the early 1970, winning an Olympic gold medal in the Olympics in 1972 and earning her undergraduate and graduate degrees from UCLA. Her teams she coached at Cal had been very successful finishing in the top five at the NCAA Championships seven times in her 14-year career.

Like many women, Karen retired early from coaching in 1992. Carol Capitani recalled a part of her coach’s explanation at the time as “Men define themselves by their career but I don’t.”

USA Swimming says that 43% of all their member swim coaches in America are women. The percentage might have decreased a tick when Lea Loveless Maurer stepped down after the 2012 Olympic Trials and a short but highly successful run as Head Women’s Coach at Stanford. “More family time” was given as a reason.

In ASCA Board of Directors meetings last week one topic that repeatedly surfaced was the need to have more women on the ASCA Board. Currently only two females of fifteen members, a higher number than the norm. Coach Ira Klein states that, “While most male coaches don’t get elected to the ASCA Board the first time the run, every women who has ever run has gotten elected the first time.” Why? Rarely do women coaches put themselves up for election but they offer a much needed perspective on the profession of coaching swimming. We need them in leadership roles.

After Coach Thornton’s eloquent acceptance speech ASCA Executive Director John Leonard leaned over to someone near him and commented, “That was simply brilliant.” What did Thornton say? To paraphrase a portion, “Coaching is a partnership between the athlete and the coach. Until you establish that partnership with mutually agreeable goals, you are going nowhere.”

Karen pointed out that she had great mentors in her days as a young coach. She mentioned former teammates at Santa Clara, and highly successful college coaches Claudia Kolb Thomas and Pokey Watson Richardson. All three swam for the great George Haines at the Santa Clara Swim Club.  All retired early from coaching.

Where did all the great woman coaches go? To serve their family and raise their children?

When 2012 Head Men’s Olympic Coach Gregg Troy addressed a packed room of 1600 coaches from 397 countries at the Clinic in Las Vegas he said, “If I had to do it all over again I would take a three day weekend every month.” As usual Coach Troy had excellent logic for his retrospective point. “The athletes would become more self-reliant and the assistant coaches would become better coaches.” But Troy’s inference for a desire for more family time leaked out to a greater degree in his Hall of Fame acceptance speech when he was also inducted on Friday night. The humble coach spent much of the time thanking his three children for what they had taught him about life, even when he wasn’t at their activities, and how they had helped him become a better coach.

Coaching swimming at a high level is an enormous undertaking.

The American Swimming Team will thrive even more if a greater number of the 43% female coaches stay in the profession and more of those that are coaching assume leadership roles. We’ve missed having the Moe Thorntons, Kolb Thomas and Watson Richardsons help guide the profession and the sport.

Michael Phelp’s coach Bob Bowman is a great example of someone who has invested enormous amounts of time in helping athletes like Michael meet his potential. This includes being away from home for many weeks each year at altitude training camps, travel for competition and long hours for training and planning.

We are told that Coach Bowman is taking the entire next year off from coaching so he can see how it feels to not have to be some where at any time. That won’t work for a mom very well, but it might help a coach occasionally.

Legendary Mullings:

…a perfectly viable contract clause for a club coach is to have the summer off from coaching every fourth year following an Olympic summer. It’s been done.

…Matt Biondi’s summer league and high school coach Stu Kahn gave a great talk on freestyle technique at the Clinic. Coach Kahn and his wife coach the largest known Masters team in the world of 600 in Davis, California. Stu has been a great success coaching every level of swimming. Why? He loves what he does and it shows.

…the Russian National Coach was caught on camera at the Olympics cheering for Michael Phelps in the 400 IM. Whoops! Didn’t work for Russia or Michael.

Chuck Warner has been a swimming coach for more than forty years. His teams have won seven national Y team championships, been runners-up for the NCAA Division II championship three times, been a USA National Team coach three times and Big East Conference coach of the year four times. Chuck has authored two books: “Four Champions, One Gold Medal” about the training and race for the 1500 meter gold medal in the 1976 Olympics. “…And Then They Won Gold: Stepping Stones To Swimming Excellence – Volume I” is out now. It is eight short stories of some of the greatest male swimmers in history. The second volume devoted to women’s swimmers is due out next year. He is the founder, President and CEO of Arete Aquatic Services and owner of the ARETE Swim Camp.

FOR MORE INFORMATION ON ORDERING“…And Then They Won Gold” go towww.areteswim.com and access “Books/Media.”

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11 Comments on "Where Did All The Great Women Coaches Go?"

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4 years 1 month ago

I know one in NYC. 😉

Scott Shea
4 years 1 month ago

They are out there! NYC, houston, and we have more than our fair share in palo alto. Keep your eyes out ask questions and give them the respect they deserve and you’ll see they are out making a difference.

4 years 1 month ago

397 countries?

Garrett – did you mean counties?

4 years 1 month ago

Sorry Garrett- it’s you Mel.

You have a wicked sense of humour.

4 years 1 month ago

An International correction: There were 397 international coaches from 36 countries.

4 years 1 month ago

As a female who has been an assistant coach, head age group coach, and head coach, let me tell you where we are (all of these have happened to me or have been witnessed at the LSC level):
-We’re at LSC meetings being talked over, shouted down and dismissed.
-We’re told we are “too opinionated”, “too loud”, or my favorite, “B-tchy”
-We’re dealing with the needs of husbands, children, parents and other family members.
-We’re told we won’t be taken to meets, clinics, etc. because it’s cheaper to take two male coaches rather than add an extra hotel room for a female coach.
I find it hard to believe that ASCA really wants more women on the board, women who are ready to speak their mind and add to the conversation. I don’t want to be a token representative, I want to make a difference. If I were to throw my name in to be on the board, would I really be able to change things? I don’t know if the establishment is ready for that.
For all of you head coaches and head age group coaches out there, think about how you nurture and grow your assistants. Do you take them to LSC meetings? To clinics? Do you introduce them to your network and encourage them to network as well? Look at how you treat women coaches, especially young women coaches, and see how you can nurture their career development. I try very hard to help and work with my younger female staff because I remember what it was like to be in their shoes and not have a role model or a mentor to learn from.
While a lot has changed over the years, we can certainly do better. Where was the female speaker at Clinic this year? Teri McKeever spoke last year-we can’t find any one female coach who can impart some wisdom to coaches and help them become better at what we do? If the female perspective is missing, let’s do a better job of seeking it out and listening to it.

4 years 1 month ago

In addition, I heard that ASCA decided NOT to have a Women’s in Coaches Meeting this year at the Vegas Clinic. What is the reason for this?

I too noticed that Tammy Hopkins from DACA was the only female coach listed as a speaker.

Perhaps ASCA needs to do more outreach and figure out why 43% of our profession is underrepresented and dismissed? Maybe ASCA needs to lead the way in making a change, instead of just making money.

4 years 1 month ago

Coach and Morrow3,

Your comments deserve a response.

Regarding politics: The coaches that seem to be successful in the political arena seem to be those that are ticked off about something, want it changed and are diplomatic enough to make it happen. My experience may not be yours, but it has been that those willing to sit, listen and learn for as much as 6 months to a year in an LSC, Board, committee, etc are in the best position to speak and are usuallly heard with credibility.

I didn’t hear Tammy speak but did hear Cindy Callagher (UCLA, DI coaching track) and gained my most important information from Lori Klatt (ASCA Co-Director of Swim America).

Over many years of being on the ASCA Board the subject of creating a position to represent certain segments of coaching (age-group, masters, etc) has come up. The sentiment has been that anyone can run for the Board and use their affiliation as a platform to do it. In 1985 I felt as though the “average club coach” was not represented, printed leaflets and placed them on seats at the meeting. I was felt like I was a “nobody” but was elected to the Board. I was amazed how what were nearly entirely Olympic coaches listened to me…after I listened to them…not before.

I will make sure comments regarding a “Women’s meeting” and looking harder for female leaders are shared within the Board. But the fact of the matter is that the concern amongst the Board for more good coaches of both genders to walk out on a limb and put themselves up for election is very emphatic. Board meetings are open and if you can get there you would see that for yourself.

I’ve had experience in a variety of positions within USA Swimming. My impressiion is that the ASCA Board sits around a table a couple of times per year, puts the best interests of the sport of swimming (and especially it’s athletes) in the center and shares ideas, moving toward action to do everything possible to create a fair and clean sport, with professional coaching, that brings out the very best that America has to offer. It’s a fantastic think tank and action group.

But that doesn’t mean every decision is the right one. Fortunately or unfortunately there are so many obstacles to results that even if they were the correct decisions all the time there is a whole other process to make an idea come to fruition.

The youngest ASCA Board member is 47 years old. Where are you the young and the restless? Female or male? The sport of swimming needs you….

4 years 1 month ago

Identifying devisive behavior accepts and furthers devisive behavior. Even the title of the article is offensive. The foundation of nearly every successful swimmer in this world (it is the same in all successful swimming nations) comes from that coach that instilled the love of the sport in the athlete. Male coaches, for the most part, fail at this. Then, when real world comments were expressed about LSC meetings and the like, your advice is to shut up fof 6 months? REALLY? C’monnnnn!! Get with the 90’s, they’re almost over! Maybe if some of you old guys would shut up for 6 months we could press through many of ghe problems we have in the sport and then get back to progress.
Anyone can train an athlete, that’s why so many male coaches are out there. But 43% of our coachin population is instilling the love and knowledge required so that when you make the sport boring for them later the swimmers seem to love it anyway. Magbe a better totle would have been “please step forward and speak up, we have evrything to learn from you”.

4 years 1 month ago

You answered your own question… They are coaching masters’ teams in California.

4 years 21 days ago

Where are the the young and restless 30something female coaches with experience, knowledge and passion? I’ll tell you where they are…..they are stuck at Age Group Head Coach or Women’s Assistant instead of being considered for positions that allow them to be mentored and learn to be leaders in our sport. Oh,and theyre supposed to be really excited about it too. Until the day comes when the 97% decide to give us a break, we will continue to provide our 9 and unders and womens teams with the best leadership possible. SMH


About Gold Medal Mel Stewart

Gold Medal Mel Stewart

MEL STEWART Jr., aka Gold Medal Mel, won three Olympic medals at the 1992 Olympic Games. Mel's best event was the 200 butterfly. He is a former World, American, and NCAA Record holder in the 200 butterfly. As a writer/producer and sports columnist, Mel has contributed to Yahoo Sports, Universal Sports, …

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