The Day I Stopped Worrying About Performance & Began To Really Coach

Written By: Mike Murray

I remember waiting in line to get my second cup of espresso for what seemed like a lifetime. The small café at the Piscina Scandone in Napoli was packed, it was a brutally hot July day in Southern Italy and I was visibly nervous before the finals of the 400 IM where my stepdaughter was about to compete for an international medal for the first time in her career.

Waiting like an anxious American tourist stereotype; I started to compartmentalize the impeding race and like a flashback in a movie, I allowed my mind to wander through the montage in my head about our journey, our experience as Coach-Swimmer and Father-Daughter, the intense moments of joy and the epic failures that painted the canvas of our lives to this point; the finals at the World University Games.

Mike, do you think someday I can make the national team,” a memory, a return flight home from  Colorado Springs and National Select Camp at the OTC popped into my head as I walked to the grandstands, now packed full with spectators and young swimmers from clubs all over Naples, adorned with Italian flags and noise-making toys that echoed through the walls of the aquatic center anytime an Italian stepped up on the blocks to race.

If that’s your goal, I don’t see any reason why we can’t make the happen,” I quickly chimed back to a then fourteen-year-old Makayla Sargent. Reflecting on my response I thought about how arrogant and presumptuous I was as a younger coach, ignorant of the intricate, delicate, challenging process of qualifying for the National Team and representing Team USA. Back then, I wanted to have all the answers for her, for all my swimmers, no matter the question or request, I believe I had all the solutions, all the right responses.

On that night, watching the races before the final of the 400 IM I was in a complete daze; the montage continuously playing out in my reflections: the widest smiles in all her accomplishments, the streaming tears of sadness in the difficult struggles; all juxtaposed in the context of the largest stage and moment in her swimming life, our life together and the levity of it all.

For the first time in my career as a coach, I breathed in real, palpable truth and as scary as my new truth was, it brought tears of genuine authenticity to my life, long before Makayla even stepped up to the blocks I made a decision, “I don’t care if she’s dead last, I could really care less, I’m just so impressed with who this kid is and what she’s sacrificed to achieve her dream….and this is HER dream.”

I can’t speak for anyone else, but you could coach for a thousand years and you may never see that type of realization take place in front you and watch the culmination of a dream play out like a film that you’ve written a million times in your head, but maybe never thought it was possible.

The experience changed the way I coach, it changed who I am on the pool deck for my athletes and it altered who I am as a father. As parents, we want to hold on, like coaches who never want their best swimmers to go to college because you lose the product you have developed and spent so much time on perfecting. We have trouble letting go too often in this life.

One of the most beautiful moments in my life came when I realized I wasn’t focusing on the right things, I had discovered, on a sultry, sweat-soaked Mediterranean evening, that I needed to shift my focus on developing the person and not simply the quality of the athlete.

I have a friend in the business who reminds me that we are not our performances, i.e. our performances do not define who we are as people. In swimming, you can’t live like that, the pitfalls are plentiful, and the path is fraught with peril and disappointment. From that moment on I have been focused on directing my efforts to empower my athletes with the skills they need, some of which have nothing to do with swimming.

When the Gold Medal was placed around Makayla’s neck that night our lives both changed; she would go on to continue to find new goals, without me and that might be the most important lesson I have ever learned in coaching, to let go!

This profession doesn’t offer much money or prestige, but the opportunity to make a significant impact on the lives of your athletes is something much more precious and will nourish you with memories that will last a lifetime and inspire future swimmers to strive for their fullest potential. In the end its never the achievements you remember, it is the people you gave your most valuable commodity, your time, your care, your belief in them. When you have created that scenario in your life, that is when you have really started coaching.

Coach Mike Murray rejoins Victor Swim Club as the Program Director and CEO in September 2019 after heading Islanders Aquatics for the past 2 years. From 2017-2019 Islanders Aquatics reached new heights at the Local, Regional and National levels. IA swimmers helped cement the highest VCC score in club history, we as well as having the team's 1st ever Junior National qualifiers, led by George Kalletta, who finished 16th in the 400 IM with a club record of 3:56.41. Islanders finished in the top 10 as a combined team at the 2018 Speedo Sectional Series in Buffalo, NY; led by the women's team which finished 5th overall. Swimmer Makayla Sargent made history as the 1st ever Islanders Swimmer to make a US National Team, qualifying for the 2019 World University Games with the 6th place finish at the USA Swimming National Championships in the 400m IM with a time of 4:40.12 in Irvine, CA. Sargent, who trained all season with IA, also finished in the top 5 at the USA Swimming 5k Open Water Championships in Tempe, AZ. Sargent will represent the USA at the World University Games in Naples, Itlay in July 2019, finishing 2018 in the top 32 in the world with her performance from Irvine. Islanders also saw an increase in the number of futures qualifiers, with 5 swimmers reaching the time standards for the 2019 USA Swimming Future's championship in Greensboro, NC. Murray played an integral role in completing the requirements to earn Islanders USA Swimming Club Recognition Level 3 in 2018. In 2017, Victor Swim Club had its most successful year of swimming in its 40-year history. Over 12 Victor Swimmers competed at The Futures Championships, Junior National, Senior National/World Championship Trials and the US Open. At the 2017 Futures Championship, Victor finished 2nd overall and the women's team claimed the runner-up title for the 2nd consecutive season in Geneva, Ohio. Victor Swim Club also won its 3rd consecutive Niagara LSC SCY Championship Title, as well as the 1st ever Niagara LSC LCM Championship title. During that time, Victor Swimmers were awarded 16 National Age Group Top 10 time awards and Victor Swimmers represented their team at National Select Camp, National Open Water Select Camp, Diversity Select Camp, and Zone Select Camps. In 2016, Coach Murray and his staff led the Victor Swim Club to a Niagara LSC Championship Title, the second consecutive Championship for the organization. At the 2016 Speedo Champions Series, Victor's Women contingent finished 3rd overall, against some of the best teams in the country, including a top 10 overall finish for the club. At the 2015 Short Course Junior National Championships, Victor finished 32nd overall. Over the course of the 2016 Season, 6 Victor athletes would earn USA Swimming National qualifying times; including 3 Olympic Trial Standards. Swimmer Makayla Sargent led the way with a 22nd place finish in the 400 IM at the USA Swimming Olympic Team Trials, with a top 100 World Ranked time. 2015-2016 also saw 4 Victor Swim Club athletes earn USA Swimming Scholastic All-America honors and the women's squad qualified their 1st ever Junior National Relay in the 400 Medley. 4 Victor Swimmers were ranked in the top 100 overall for the USA Swimming IMX program and Makayla Sargent finished 2nd nationally. Coach Mike has also been featured in Swimming World Magazine's "Morning Swim Show," with host Jeff Commings and his work has been featured in the American Swimming Coaches Association newsletter and the International Swimming Coaches Association publications. Over the course of Murray's four years with the club, Victor has earned the USA Swimming Club Recognition Level 4 Achievement Award, as well as the prestigious USA Swimming Bronze Medal for Club Excellence in both 2015, 2016 & 2017.  

Mike Murray's USA Swimming Staff Appointments/USA Swimming Governance:

  • 2013 USA Swimming Eastern Zone Select Camp Staff

  • 2014 USA Swimming National Select Camp Featured Speaker; "Making Test Set's Meaningful."

  • 2015 USA Swimming National Select Camp Staff

  • 2015 USA Swimming National "Online Coaches Clinic," featured clinician. 

  • 2016 Appointed to USA Swimming House of Delegates as an "at large" member. 

  • 2017 USA Swimming National Select Camp Head Team Manager

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