Written By: Steve Lazaraton
“Character shines greater in times of adversity versus moments of success”
I have shared this quote with my team multiple times this year as the amount of uncertainty has exponentially increased.
Two years ago this week, life changed in a way no one could have predicted. In the world of swimming, my heart went out to the coaches attending NCAA Division II Championships who were tasked in telling their athletes that the season was over after the meet was cancelled at the end of Thursday prelims. Within the next few days, every college championship meet and most club championships were cancelled and coaches had no definitive answers to give our teams.
Adversity is part of our lives. In the realm of swimming, some are minor including weather conditions at practices and meets, broken goggles, goggles filled with water, caps falling off, missed turns, missed races, disqualifications, not being placed on the “A” relay, missing a qualification standard etc.
There are no perfect situations, no perfect swims, no perfect conditions. A role we have as coaches is to teach our swimmers how to appropriately respond to adversity. As a coach one of my favorite races was from a swimmer whose cap came off the first 25 of a 500, goggles taken off at the 75 and she still swam a best time breaking the 5:00 barrier. I credit Dale Porter, Head Age Group Coach at The Bolles School, who periodically writes no cap/goggle sets to prepare his swimmers for those imperfect races which I feel contributed to the swimmer’s success in that race.
There are also times of adversity we can’t prepare for. Last summer, a swimmer came up in tears at a meet as she just found out her grandfather had died. The meet quickly took a back seat to the loss of a loved one. My focus became on how we as a team can walk through the journey of loss and grieving with our swimmer and her family. Phone calls, periodic check ins and conversations throughout the next few months became the norm.
At our conference championship meet last month, I learned that my friend’s wife had died after a brief illness. Those experiences give us perspective. One of my greatest joys as a coach is watching my swimmers compete. In my own experience last month, I walked outside to collect myself after receiving the news and when I walked back to watch my swimmer compete in the finals of the 200 Fly, he smiled and made the hand gesture that his goggles broke. It was a proud moment as I watched him handle adversity with confidence.
I believe some of the greatest moments of growth come in times of adversity. It teaches those life lessons we want our swimmers to learn. Life isn’t fair and how to respond when life knocks you down are two thoughts that come to mind.
We competed at the NAIA National Championship meet last week. My count was 15 swimmers missed races/the entire meet due to illness. Training all year only to miss out on the opportunity to compete at a national meet because you’re sick isn’t something we can prepare for. I watched a colleague and friend make a difficult decision to DFS a relay the first day of competition to give her swimmer, the top seed in the 1650, the opportunity to recover from flu-like symptoms and compete the last day.
Those are the moments I feel we can come alongside our swimmers and walk through the emotions they’re experiencing and teach them how to respond appropriately. Those are examples of the life lessons that give our swimmers an opportunity to grow as young adults. Those are the moments of adversity that create character that allow our swimmers to thrive when circumstances aren’t ideal.
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.