Written By: Ashley Graves
Like most of you, I found myself thrown in head first as a coach. At the age of nineteen, I became the youngest female head coach in the country of a coach owned club team and a high school combined program. Talk about sink or swim, I was in way over my head.
When the business side of the team was given to me by the previous parent group that was keeping the team running, they handed me all the documents in a plastic grocery bag. Organization was desperately needed. I vividly remember Dave Thomas coming to my family's house to help me piece together what we had, how we could create what I needed, and help me find some sort of structure to stand on. I had a lot of work to do.
After year one of building a foundation of roughly fifty swimmers, I realized that I needed to learn a whole lot more. Living right outside of Raleigh and having such a small team, I was a bit intimidated by the larger, more successful programs in the area. Internally, I decided I wanted to learn from the best so I looked into the gold medal programs and decided Bolles was the right fit for me.
Jon Sakovich opened the doors at Bolles for me. We had a flexible set up where one week out of each month I would come learn from him and his staff. I had family living in Jacksonville at the time that housed me during my travels to make the trips affordable. My mother became a coach to run the swim teams while I was taking that time to grow as a coach. Everything seemed to fall into place for me to take on this next step in my career. This was an opportunity most young coaches would dream of, I appreciated every moment of the opportunity I was given.
Getting to work with the Bolles staff taught me more about coaching and life than I even knew was possible. Learning how to navigate parent discussions, run a business, plan a season, select meets, develop a staff, get a grasp on dry-land training, and so much more was now at my fingertips. I gained a support system of coaches willing to listen to my questions and guide me through the challenges and celebrations that came with running a team. I wouldn’t trade this experience in my career for anything.
Shortly after I completed my year long internship, I was notified that a YMCA purchased my facility and had to close the doors of my team. Everything I just worked so hard for was suddenly taken from me. I reached out to the YMCA and tried to create a merger into the YOTA program, nobody was willing to do that at the time and the rent they expected far outweighed what the team could produce.
I sent my resume to Paul Silver, Head Coach of The Marlins of Raleigh and he took me in as a lead age group coach. I loved my time at MOR and found myself in yet another great program building on the knowledge I gained at Bolles. Jonathan Watson became another mentor to me and taught me so much. We created a platform where I could watch his senior group and learn from what he looked for in athletes at that level. Together we created a realistic path for the age group swimmers that would feed into the next level groups. This was the first opportunity I had been given to be a part of a coaching staff on a daily basis and learn how to be a part of a greater mission.
Shortly after my time at MOR, a private preparatory school, O’Neal, in Southern Pines North Carolina reached out to me. They wanted to build a swim program run by the school to serve their students and community. They asked me to create that institution run club program for them. I accepted the offer and began collaborating with my mentor, Jon Sakovich, on how I could do this successfully. Together once more, we went through the administrative side of building a club team with USA Swimming and got this program ready to launch for the upcoming fall.
I started making calls to swim brands looking for the right fit for the new team and made a great connection with the TYR Rep, Brandon Reed. We decided to sign with TYR and soon after, Brandon was promoted to a management position within the company. When he called to let me know he would be phasing out of the role, he encouraged me to apply for the vacancy. He believed I had a valuable background that would be an asset to other coaches and saw my administrative strengths. I decided to apply and was fortunate enough to work directly for Steve Furniss, the co-founder of TYR.
Anyone that knows Steve, knows you can learn a lot from Steve in a “short” phone call, much less a year working under his direct supervision. Steve is one of the most inspiring people I have ever known. He taught me so much about relationships, serving the swim community, and advocating for teams. If there is one phrase that I will always take with me from Steve, it’s “Pay It Forward”.
When Covid hit the world, I saw teams all over the country hurting and struggling. I only had a certain set of resources to help them based on the premise of my current position and felt called to do something greater for the community. It was my turn to pay it forward. I had all of these amazing mentors to help me along my career path and realized not everyone was that lucky, I wanted to change that.
Streamline Teams was created to give coaches a platform to share their stories within the swimming community. Throughout my career I have met hundreds of outstanding coaches making big waves in their communities.
In times like these, coaches are disconnected in so many ways from the sport. I wanted to design a platform where coaches can share their passion, network together, and learn from one another. The college and club divisions within our sport now have a place to come to and embrace the opportunity to grow together. Collectively, we are the voices of swimming.
I leave you with this piece of inspiration that has always stayed with me. It is my hope that it will also inspire you to “Pay It Forward”. "When you have worked hard, and done well, and walked through that doorway of opportunity, you do not slam it shut behind you. You reach back and you give other folks the same chances that helped you succeed." - Michelle Obama
Wishing you all the best on your coaching journey! - Ashley Graves