Written By: Casey Charles
In August of 2012, on the heels of one of our former swimmers making the US Olympic Team, Lauren Perdue, I started our annual new parent meeting with a tone-deaf chuckle saying, "You're children are in great hands - we have developed an Olympian" (don't worry, I'm cringing with you).
In some way on some planet in some other dimension, I expected these strangers to widen their eyes and let out an audible exaltation, or for some guy in the back to give me a head nod and a thumbs up. Or, maybe I thought I was some sort of organic idol and bowing was the only reasonable response. It was inconsequential that I was speaking to a group of 10&U parents who essentially knew nothing about our sport.
Well, as anyone with a functional imagination can ascertain, there was basically zero reaction. I stared at faces that expressed things like:
"I wish he would just shut up."
The truth of the matter is that my town, Greenville, NC, was around 50k people at the time. Anyone who wanted to know about Lauren making the Olympic team already knew, and those who didn't probably didn't care anyway.
Secondly, these parents, who gathered on a Sunday, were there for their children - not for me or Lauren or anyone else.
It probably needed to be more sobering in the moment, but it wasn’t. At that point in my career, I completely believed my own BS.
If any of you are as fortunate as I have been with regards to coaching an Olympic athlete, the one thing you will realize is that the coach is probably 1-5% of the overall equation. Now, that 1-5% matters much more at the highest level because these athletes are fractions of a percentage apart in many cases from their competitors. But, don’t kid yourself, Olympic athletes are cultivated, refined - they are never “made”. Thankfully, through the looking glass of time and maturity, I have come to realize much of this. At this point in my life, the whole “we have developed an Olympic athlete” comment is almost vomit inducing.
Needless to say, like many of you, I learn the most when I fall flat on my face. Retrospect is the painful life companion of effective coaches who engage in any type of reflection. In this situation, one takeaway has painfully served my ego:
No one cares what you've "done".
And, while this may sound pejorative in nature, understanding that no one really cares about your perceived accomplishments has been wholly liberating for me in the long run.
Now, I'm not going to lie to you for many years I wanted so badly for people to care... for "accomplishments" to matter… for some secret elevation to happen, but that just isn't the case.
The silver lining of all of this is that if no one cares what you've "done", then every swim family presents an opportunity to reinvent yourself as a coach. So, learn from the best of what you've "accomplished", refine what you've screwed up, and most of all - check your ego.
Remember that swim parents and their swimmers care about how you treat them now - not how you tell them you treated someone else a decade ago. They care about your effort in the moment - not what you were willing to give before. They do not instinctively understand what your best is - so, you need to constantly be willing to show it, not just say it.
Now, Lauren making the TEAM will probably stand as the greatest coaching accomplishment of my life when it's all said and done, and I will hold that experience near and dear to my heart, but I will never expect anyone else to care. I will only expect them to care about the way I treated them in the moments we shared together.
Entering his 18th season with the ECA, Coach Casey has fostered the meteoric rise in not only the number of swimmers on the team, but the success of those swimmers at championship meets. In 2003, as the head assistant coach, ECA (then GSC )numbered 85 swimmers. During the 2011-2012 season, ECA numbered close to 300 swimmers from 4 to 78 years old spanning three counties. During that 18 year period, ECA swimmers have won over 100 state titles, 15 sectional titles, 1 national title, and 1 Olympic gold medal. In addition, Coach Casey has directly worked with 3 swimmers who have achieved World Rankings and 8 swimmers who have achieved over 20 US Olympic Trials Cuts. Coach Casey stresses personal accountability, time management, and an arduous work ethic with all of his swimmers. Structure, progression, and adaptation are also staples in his swimming philosophy, which dictates the overall goals and mindset of ECA.