Written By: Brandt Nigro
Academy Culture: Developing Tomorrow’s Leaders
Duty, Honor, Country. West Point is known for developing ready and strong leaders of character at its academy who will serve our country in the most honorable ways within our Armed Forces. Leadership is at the cornerstone of all that we do at West Point and within our Swimming & Diving program.
A great example of the exceptionally high value placed on team leadership here at West Point is our Captain process. This is a highly sought-after position within our team. Beyond the usual reasons folks seek captainship, at West Point, Team Captains earn a higher rank within the Corps of Cadets as a whole which offer more privileges, but also much more responsibility. To select the right captains, we have created a detailed application process: athletes must self-nominate and complete a questionnaire. Further, they must go through an interview process aimed at determining how they will handle challenges within the role, how they will lead their team, and how their visions align with our team mission and vision. Once this process is completed, team captains are selected.
Education & Development: Beyond The Pool
We want to prepare our Firsties to leave our program with an understanding of what they are truly capable of. These cadets are challenged and held at a high standard continuously at West Point, instilling confidence, and determination in their leadership skills. Balancing the rigorous academic schedule and simultaneously thriving in our swimming and diving program teaches them time management, dedication, and self-motivation, all of which are skills of great leaders.
An additional leadership opportunity we created within our team is the role of Team Academic Mentor (TAM). Here, highly qualified cadets are paired with underclassmen to help them navigate the challenges and demands of the West Point Academy. This creates a team bond within our cadets and helps them embody true teamwork as they lend a helping hand to other teammates and classmates.
Team Unity: One Mission, One Team, One Family
What sets West Point apart from the other military academy swim & dive teams is that we are the sole combined men’s & women’s program. This creates a strong, united family bond within our team culture. We are a diverse group with the largest team size of 75 between our coaches, swimmers, and divers!
These team dynamics create a unique opportunity for athletes to learn to communicate and navigate differences within the team as our athletes come from different backgrounds all over the country. Cadets can develop these key skills that cultivate extraordinary leadership that prepares them to lead their future unit after graduation.
We developed a list of core values that we instill over the course of our program to help athletes reach their highest potential as individual cadet-athletes and to create a strong, united bond with our team:
Family – Trust, Unity, Accountability. We need people around us, people who will hold us accountable and be honest with us. Who can grow together, who can fail together, and who will stick together.
Passion – All in. Passion can’t be lukewarm because inspiration and critical change doesn’t happen halfway. When you become engaged in something you deeply believe in, your energy rises and you become a magnet for people who share the same convictions.
+Attitude – Be like water. Appreciate the journey and be ready for what’s next. You can’t control most of what happens in life, but you can control your attitude and how you react. Make hope a habit and approach life with the right mindset.
Gratitude - Learn From Each Circumstance. Appreciate our successes and the opportunities we have as team. But, more importantly, the world would suggest we should be thankful when times are good, but life's greatest lessons are learned through adversity and challenge, and it’s important that we are thankful for that as well.
Humility – Know who we are. True humility leads to genuine collaboration — the cornerstone of any high-functioning team. Don’t think too highly of yourself. Don’t think too low of yourself. That’s important, you are on this team for a reason, you have a purpose, do your job, and do it with everything you’ve got. What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived, but rather how we live and how we make those around us better.
Team Culture: Family Away From Family
When you think about the college experience you think about athletes being on their own for the first time in their lives away from home. This has a deeper meaning here at West Point. Our cadets are also learning how to manage this time away from family to prepare them for future deployments they will face in their military careers.
One of the ways our cadets help to create a feeling of family within our team is through cooking for the team. They will make meals for each other after practice and take part in the Army tradition of “Leaders Eat Last” making sure their teammates have all eaten and have been served before sitting down to enjoy their own meal.
As a staff, we try to create opportunities to allow our athletes to be around our own families. We strive to do team outings and bring our own families around the team. Here at West Point, we want to set an example for them on family leadership in addition to team leadership. One of the ways we did this last year was for Thanksgiving. COVID created some challenges, and our cadets were unable to leave campus for the holiday. Our staff reached out to each of their families and asked them to send us a small box for each athlete to present to them on Thanksgiving. We wanted to bring “home” to our cadets while they were away from home. As a team, we are family away from family!
Fatherhood: Impact On Team Leadership
Becoming a father myself has taught me a great deal about perspective. It’s taught me to place a high value on work-life balance. Being a father is a lot like being a head coach, at the end of the day you are a leader and how you choose to lead impacts the those around you. I want to embody leadership in everything that I do.
It’s very important that cadets see me place value on my own family as well as our team family. I want them to realize the impact and influence they will have on their own future families and units. How I embody leadership and live out my own family values can impact their development as a cadet and future service member. I want all our cadet-athletes to gain an understanding and perspective when it comes to work-life balance. It’s something that will be uniquely challenging for them and I hope my example helps prepare them for those moments ahead.
One Mission, One Team, One FAMILY
Here at West Point, we are so much more than fast swimming! We are a growing, developing team with our best days ahead. I’m lucky to have the opportunity to work and live at West Point and learn from some of the athletes in the NCAA and from some of the best leaders in the world. If you have any questions or just want to talk shop, I’m always open to talking with you and answering any questions you might have about West Point Swimming & Diving! Go ARMY!
Brandt Nigro was named the Army head swimming coach in the summer of 2019 and enters his third year at the helm. Since taking over the reigns, the men's and women's teams have posted a combined 15-8-1 dual meet record, which includes a 6-5 mark against Patriot League opponents. Nigro came to West Point after a two-year stint at NC State as an assistant coach for the swimming and diving teams. His primary responsibilities included working with the sprint freestyle and stroke events, and he also assisted in recruiting. Both the men's and women's teams enjoyed tremendous success during the 2018-19 season as the Wolfpack men and women swept the ACC Championships team titles, with the Pack men winning their fifth straight conference crown. The Wolfpack women won a total of 11 event titles at the conference meet, setting the program record for the most single-season conference titles. The men picked up a total of 17 podium finishes, including five gold medals. Coleman Stewart was honored as ACC Meet Co-MVP after racking up two individual titles and breaking a pair of ACC records. At the 2019 ACC Women's Swim & Dive Championships, Nigro helped mentor the 200 freestyle relay squad to an ACC Title and an ACC Record while posting the second-fastest time in the country with a time of 1:26.15 - each member of this relay split 21's for the Wolfpack. Both teams went on to tie program-best finishes at the NCAA Championships as the women placed seventh and the men secured their fourth team trophy and podium finish in a row with their fourth-place finish at the national meet. For the men, senior captain Andreas Vazaios won a national title in the 200 butterfly. At the women's NCAA Championship, Nigro guided sprinter Ky-lee Perry to 2 A Finals (50 freestyle & 100 freestyle), a first for a Wolfpack female sprinter. In addition, he helped coach several relays to program records and all-time high finishes - 200 freestyle & 200 medley relays. Nigro also aided swimmers to several international meets, highlighted by Perry earning gold medal in the 50 LCM freestyle at the World University Games in Napoli, Italy. Additionally, his swimmers competed internationally at the World Championships, Pan American Games, Pan Pacific Games, and Central American Games. The 2017-18 season was highlighted by N.C. State’s first NCAA Individual Swimming Champion since 2006 as Stewart won the 100 backstroke at the national meet. Anton Ipsen (1,650 freestyle) and Andreas Vazaios (200 butterfly) also captured first-place finishes at the 2018 NCAA Championships, giving the Pack three individual titles for the first time in program history. The Wolfpack’s relay teams set NCAA, U.S. Open, and American records to win both the 800 freestyle relay and the 400 freestyle relay. The five titles and 31 All-America performances led N.C. State’s men to their third straight fourth-place finish. The finish capped off another successful season during which the Wolfpack men became ACC Champions for the fourth year in a row, led by ACC Most Valuable Swimmer Ryan Held and ACC Men’s Swimmer of the Year Andreas Vazaios. The Wolfpack won four of the five relay events and 10 of 13 individual races the 2018 Men's ACC Swimming & Diving Championships. In total, while at N.C. State, Nigro had a hand in coaching the Wolfpack to a total of 112 All-America citations between the 2017-18 and 2018-19 seasons. He additionally was a member of the staff that coached N.C. State to a program-record five event wins, including three individual national titles, at the 2018 NCAA Championships. In addition to the Pack's three team wins at the ACC Championships over the course of the past two seasons, Nigro has been a part of 32 event titles at ACC Championships in that span of time. Nigro also had a hand in coaching Wolfpack Elite, the Post Grad/Pro group training out of N.C. State. With Wolfpack Elite, Nigro had the opportunity to work with some of the biggest names in the sport such as Cullen Jones, Arianna Vanderpool-Wallace, Simonas Bilis, and Christopher Reid to name a few. "We are thrilled to have Brandt taking over our swimming programs," Buddie said. "Everyone we spoke to about Brandt had great things to say about his work ethic, character and that he is a rising star in the sport. I am looking forward to following our cadet-athletes' success under his leadership." Prior to his two years in Raleigh, Nigro had three successful seasons as an assistant coach at Marshall and UMBC. The 2016-17 season saw Nigro help Marshall to its most successful season in program history. The Thundering Herd women's team scored a program-record 724 points at the Conference USA Championships to finish third. Nigro, who served as the primary coach for the sprint and backstroke groups, guided Sirena Rowe to the 2017 NCAA Championships. Rowe, the 2017 Conference USA Freshman of the Year, was the first Marshall swimmer to qualify for the NCAA Championships since 2005. In addition, Marshall swimmers set 11 new school records, six pool records, and 10 NCAA B standards. The Thundering Herd also set high marks in the classroom, earning the nation's fifth-highest GPA. Prior to Marshall, Nigro coached the UMBC men's and women's swimming and diving teams to back-to-back conference championships in his two seasons in Baltimore. He was a part of the 2015-16 CCSA Men's Coaching Staff of the Year and the 2014-15 America East Women's Coaching Staff of the Year. In those two seasons, 18 school records and eight conference records were set. The team was led by Emily Escobedo, who earned NCAA All-American honors in the 200 breaststroke. While at UMBC, Nigro also served as the head senior coach of the Retriever Aquatic Club. At RAC, he guided the club through USA Swimming's Club Recognition Program, helping it to achieve Level 4 Recognition, the highest level for USA swim clubs. He also coached multiple Junior National/Futures qualifiers, Academic All-Americans, and Maryland Swimming Senior Champions. From 2014 to 2016, he served on the staff of USA Swimming's Eastern Zone Select Camp. Nigro, a native of Bristol, Conn., began his collegiate coaching career as a volunteer assistant on the staff at Wesleyan University. He also coached extensively at the high school and club levels in Connecticut. Nigro worked as an assistant coach with the Cheshire YMCA Sea Dog Swim Club and served as head coach of Brookfield High School Girls Swim and Dive team, winning a Southwest Conference championship in 2012. Nigro is an ASCA Level 4 certified coach. He was selected to the ASCA Fellows Class of 2016 and interned at the Sprint Salo Swim Camp at the University of Southern California. A former student-athlete at the College of Charleston, Nigro was a member of the 2003 Southern States Conference Championship team. He graduated with honors in 2005 with a B.A. in Political Science. In 2009, he graduated with honors from the University of Hartford with an M.S. and Sixth-Year Certificate in School Psychology. While in Connecticut, he worked as a state and nationally-certified school psychologist.