Written By: Jennifer Wallace
So many topics came to mind while contemplating what to write for this article. But which one was right for me? What do I bring to my program that is "teachable?" I took time to evaluate my coaching career and the coaches that have influenced me as both an athlete and a coach. I perused previous posts to see how others approached the topic. I also looked through the many quotes that I have saved and frequently reference. A few meaningful ones rose to the top.
The late Ed Bahan often said, "If you have a lane, you have a chance." Using this approach to both training and meets means that anything is possible, and nothing is written in stone. Many athletes get caught up in letting the past determine their future. I've heard athletes say, "Have you seen their times? There is no way I can beat them." The challenge is getting the athlete to understand that they have the power to change the outcome. We talk a lot about competing in the moment, swimming "their race," and trusting the process. Concentrating on what we can control allows us to drown out the noise of what we cannot control. We also focus on improvement. Anytime they enter the water or jump up onto the board, they have the power and opportunity to improve. The chance is there for anyone willing to take it.
I came across the following quote from Olympic snowboarder Silje Norendal years ago. It sums up my philosophy on training and life in general. "Want it, then work for it." In our program, like most, the student-athletes write out their goals; athletic, academic, and personal goals. We then formulate a plan on how to achieve those goals. If a student athlete wants to break a minute, what does that race look like split by split, what times do they need to be hitting in practice and what technical changes can be made to increase the chance of reaching their goals? It is then a matter of putting in the work and holding each other accountable for what it will take to achieve the goal. Working through both the easy days and hard days takes perseverance and character.
And finally, and maybe the most meaningful for me personally is from Jon Wooden, "A good coach can change the game. A great coach can change a life." I was fortunate to have several great coaches change my life and shape my coaching style. My club coaches, Paul Hornsleth and Geoff Rife at Malvern Swimming Association and John McFadden at Foxcatcher, set the tone by instilling hard work and accountability in training. At Pitt, Marian Cassidy Clark, and Jennifer Michaels, encouraged grit, grace, and confidence while demonstrating how to coach with compassion. These same tools that help a person succeed in sports are the tools that help a person succeed in life. My goal is to develop these tools in my own athletes while redefining their ideas of success.
The most successful and memorable moments of my coaching career are not winning conference titles or attending NCAA championships. They are watching my "kids" walk
at graduation. They are seeing them achieve a goal or time they thought was out of their reach. They are being present when a diver hits that one dive at the perfect moment. They are the phone calls to tell me they are engaged, pregnant, or got the job of their dreams. They are the bus rides and van trips. They are the "family" meals on the road crammed into the living room at a team member's childhood home. They are sitting on the pool deck comforting an athlete who lost a friend, is going through a breakup, or is struggling. They are connections I make with my athletes. And for those of you who know me well, yes, I am crying while I type.
I have used these quotes and so many more to shape how I look at my job as a coach. But it comes down to one thing… It is about more than just swimming. It is about coaching the person, not the sport. If I am able to make a difference like my coaches made in mine, then I have accomplished my job.
Jennifer begins her 19th year as the head men's and women's swimming and diving coach at Penn State Behrend. Wallace is also the aquatics director and a lecturer in kinesiology. In her 18 seasons, she led the men’s program to 14 straight AMCC Swimming and Diving Championships, while the women have won 11 of the last 14. Between the men and women, Behrend currently holds 25 of the 30 individual conference records as well all 10 relay records. Wallace has been named AMCC Coach of the Year 13 times, while mentoring 15 Divers of the Year, 19 Swimmers of the Year and 12 Newcomers of the Year. She has also mentored three-time All-American and four-time Academic All-American, Dan Simon. Wallace was a standout swimmer at the University of Pittsburgh. She was a NCAA provisional qualifier in the 500 and 1650 freestyle. Wallace's accolades include being named the team's most improved swimmer as a sophomore, a Big East Scholar Athlete, and the University's Bell Atlantic Scholar. Wallace earned a bachelor's degree in psychology from Pittsburgh in 1999. She completed her master's degree in education the following year.