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I Can Handle Change

Written By: Matt Hurst

The world has changed, we have changed, the sport of swimming has changed; but can we handle it?

After 25 years as a swimmer or coach, I accompanied my daughter to a tryout for her first year-round team. The coach running the practice was also my daughters’ summer league coach. After a summer of fun in the sun, my daughter enthusiastically accepted the tryout invitation as she dreamt of spending even more time with her coach.

“I can handle change.” The coach said it again. The team of 8&Under’s repeated in unison, “I CAN HANDLE CHANGE.”

I found this to be a fitting introduction to my first swim practice as a parent. So there we were, my daughter on the deck, and I on the bleachers, both of us enthusiastically thinking, “I CAN HANDLE CHANGE.”

And yet the question, can the swimming world handle change?

Yes. We answered with a resounding, “Yes!” “We can handle change.” As inconvenient as change can be, it has forced us as individuals, and as a sport, to look at what really matters.

“I can handle change.” In many ways, that should be the bumper sticker for the last 18 months. Social distancing, Zoom meetings, pool closures, Katie Ledecky gets beat on the international stage, and NAG records once held by Michael Phelps and Michael Andrew getting broken, each more unimaginable than the last becoming commonplace.

As a sport, we have been forced to question training pedagogy. Work still works, but now we acknowledge and embrace just how much work it takes to properly recover. Once the black sheep of the performance world, recovery has become the prodigal son. The challenges of the last 18 months have forced us to take a long hard look in the mirror. Yoga, meditation, breathing, dryland, even surfing, have become common; and we’re better off for it. We have long said, “happy swimmers are fast swimmers.” Pool closures forced us to test our hypothesis, and the results are in, high performance is not dependent on an exclusive relationship with the black line.

As coaches, COVID allowed us more time at home with our families than ever before. I learned that being a coach and a family man are not mutually exclusive. While balance may be difficult, harmony is achievable. Being the best coach I can be includes being the best dad and husband; and, if that means taking an afternoon off the deck to watch a summer league meet, or a soccer game, well, that's OK. The swimmers will be OK. I will be OK. The sport will be OK.

As the cartoon philosophers Calvin and Hobbes reminded us, “Day by day, nothing seems to change, but in the end everything is different.” Different is here, and so far we’re all better for it. Coaches, athletes, and teams who continue to embrace change and apply the lessons of the last 18 months will lead the way. We can handle change, so strap in, it’s going to be an exciting ride.

Matt Hurst is an Associate Head Coach with the Penn State Nittany Lions. Hurst primarily coaches the team's sprinters and oversees their strength and conditioning programs. Most recently, Hurst coached Gabe Castano to an Olympic qualification time in the 50 meter freestyle as Castano represented his native Mexico at the 2021 Olympic Games in Tokyo. Castano, the Mexican National record holder in the 50 meter freestyle, was also a member of the University record 200 freestyle relay which placed 11th at the 2021 NCAA Championships. Hurst has also coached six additional Nittany Lions on their way to United States Olympic Team Trials cuts, as well as Irish Olympian Shane Ryan during his appearances at the 2017 World University Games and World Championships. Hurst arrived at Penn State University after a 12-year tenure at Southern Connecticut State, first as a student-athlete and then as an assistant coach. During Hurst's tenure at SCSU, he mentored 84 All-Americans and three individual NCAA Champions, while guiding two individuals to four NCAA Division II national records. In addition to his responsibilities with Southern Connecticut State, Hurst also coached at SoNoCo Swim Club. He was a 2012 Junior National Team Coach and qualified four individuals for the Olympic Trials. In 2009, Hurst attended the FINA World Championships as an assistant coach with the Dominican Republic. Hurst rejoined the Owls after spending the 2006-07 academic year as an assistant coach at Wesleyan University. In his position at Wesleyan, Hurst worked with the team's sprinters and breaststrokers. He also led the team's strength and conditioning and dryland programs. During his time at Wesleyan, Hurst coached two All-Americans and one Academic All-American. Hurst is joined in State College by his wife, Theresa, daughter, Annabelle, son, Michael, and dog, Ryley.

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