Coaching In Both Worlds

Updated: Apr 1

Written By: Steve Lazaraton

I have the best of both worlds in being able to work both as a USA club coach and college coach.

Let me give you a little background of myself. I’ve been in the sport for 45 years as a swimmer and a coach.  I grew up swimming with the Cincinnati Marlins prior to attending the University of Florida.  After graduation, I had my first coaching  job at the Birmingham Swim League and  eventually made it back to Florida working as a teacher and coach for The Bolles School in Jacksonville.  After 15 years with the program, my family moved to Redding, CA where I started a small program at the local YMCA.  Our team consisted of 13 swimmers at the time (2 of which were my own children) and we have grown to over 60 in 2 years time.  In addition, I was hired in 2019 to begin a collegiate NAIA program at Simpson University that completed their first season last year.  

Our sport places an emphasis on progression.  Everything we teach starts with basic fundamentals of the sport, for example, streamline walks around the pool deck to teach body position as swimmers push off the wall.  Another example is we encourage our young swimmers to accomplish certain goals in progressing to a different training group.  One of the best parts I see in coaching both levels is that our age group/high school level swimmers can see what it takes to become a collegiate athlete. 

As an age group swimmer at the Cincinnati Marlins, I remember how exciting practices were during Thanksgiving and Christmas as collegiate swimmers like Mook and Kim Rhodenbaugh would be home and train with the team.  I would be dropped off early so I could watch their practices and I was amazed about the speed and consistency of their efforts.

Before I share the benefits of coaching both levels, I want to explain that the training philosophy is different. I firmly believe age group swimming (and I included high school athletes in that category) is based on teaching the proper technique, building aerobic base, and teaching athletes how to race in an environment that encourages excellence and continues to look towards the next level.  As a college coach, I believe my role is to help my swimmers achieve the goals they set for themselves to be the best they can be.  I am not going to make a junior in college train or swim in an event that isn’t part of the goals they have for themselves.  As a club coach, I want my high school athletes to swim every event at least once as they are still developing their skills and events.

As I shared, one of the best parts of coaching both levels is that our club program can see what it takes to become a collegiate athlete.  There is a visual connection between the concepts we teach at the club level when our age group athletes can watch the college swimmers practice and compete. I love the idea of club programs taking a Saturday to watch a collegiate dual meet.  I think the experience is invaluable and it shows our age group swimmers what’s next for them.  Collegiate swimmers know how to go wicked fast in practice and it’s been fun seeing how the club swimmers have stepped up their sprinting efforts on sets because they’ve watched our college swimmers.

Another benefit of coaching both levels is that we see why there is an emphasis on technique and fundamentals at the younger levels. Make no mistake, there is still work to be done in teaching technique at the collegiate level. One practice my assistant coach and I corrected a swimmer on an improper turn and I said to my assistant, “that’s why we teach that skill in our club program.”  Again, our sport is based on progression whether its skills, training etc.  Coaching both levels gives us the ability to see the full progression of the athlete from 8 to 22 years old.  

I will finish with this.  My role as a college and club coach could not happen without the support of my assistant coach, Felix Moreno.  We all know coaching takes a lot of time and currently we are on the pool deck over 6 hours a day (soon to be more as our college season starts in a few weeks).  There are times I am gone for swim meets, meetings, recruiting visits that require time away from practices and he steps up every time to help. Having a great coach like him has been invaluable as we develop a culture of excellence in both programs. 

Steve Lazaraton was hired in January 2019 as the first head coach of swimming and diving at Simpson University. A former All-America swimmer at Allegheny College in Pennsylvania, Lazaraton has built an extensive coaching resume over the last two decades-plus at the high school and USA Swimming club levels in Florida, Alabama, and California. Lazaraton also competed on the University of Florida club swimming team while completing his undergraduate degree. He served as the senior assistant coach for The Bolles School in Jacksonville, Fla. for 16 seasons from 2001-16. At the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games, three former Bolles student-athletes, all who trained under Lazaraton in some capacity, earned six Gold medals. He served there under the mentoring of head coach Jon Sakovich, current Virginia Tech head coach Sergio Lopez-Miro, and current University of Florida head women's coach Jeff Poppell. At those same Rio Games, two of his former swimmers turned in record-setting performances. Ryan Murphy (USA) set a world record in the 100m backstroke, and Joseph Schooling (Singapore) set an Olympic record in the 100m butterfly.Over the last 22 years, swimmers under his coaching have earned 4 high school team national championships, 6 national high school individual event records, and 32 state high school team titles (boys and girls). Since relocating to California, Lazaraton has spent three seasons as head coach of the Shasta YMCA Sharks (formerly SOAR), a community-based program leading swimmers at the national and state championship levels. Lazaraton has also served as an adjunct instructor at Simpson teaching classes in Calculus and Algebra since 2017. He graduated from the University of Florida (1995) with a degree in geology. He also earned a Master's degree from the University of Florida (1996) in Science Education. Lazaraton and his wife, Lisa, are the parents of Sophia and Chloe, and reside in Redding.

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