Written By: Jonathan Watson
As a teenager already heavily engrossed in the world of competitive swimming, I was growing up an avid fan of the politics of swimming as well. At the local club level, my father had climbed the volunteer ranks from board member to Meet Director to Meet Referee to swim club President to a position on the NC Swimming Board of Directors. Each step of the way, I had been learning a steady stream of swimming facts at the dinner table and with a buffet diet of “how this” and “why that”, and I became fascinated with the intricacies of American Swimming culture.
In 1980, when Swimming leaders formed their own National Governing Board (NGB) and separated from the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU), my father got to represent the state of North Carolina as a delegate to the initial organizing conference in Snowbird, Utah that would become known as USAS (United States Aquatic Sports). The stories from that trip alone were the topic of many conversations. I remember a lengthy car ride to Junior Nationals in Columbia, South Carolina, prior to my Dad’s passing in late 1982, which was spent listening to the details of how delegates from across the country were organizing, then USS (United States Swimming), to watch over the sport of swimming nationwide.
The country was organized into 59 LSC’s (Local Swim Committees), each one responsible for the sanctioning of swimming events in their territory on behalf of United States Swimming. In addition, the LSC’s would set entry fees for swim meets, govern the conduct of its individual member clubs, and register and educate the clubs, coaches and officials.
Graduating in 1981 from UNC-Chapel Hill, I sought work in my field of study, Journalism/Advertising, and picked up a job as an assistant swim coach during the evening to supplement my daytime job. As a young coach just out of school, I had a very naïve view of how much work was involved in the running of a team beyond that which I saw daily on deck. It wasn’t like I hadn’t seen the parent involvement on our club’s board though since my Dad had been Club President and board meetings were held at our home, or other board member’s, on a near monthly basis. But the truth is, I never really understood the amount of time put in by so many until I began to see it from my “coach perspective”.
Attending my first LSC meeting as a young coach, I was thrust for the first time into the world of “swimming debate”. It was at these meetings that I witnessed many passionate debates on a variety of topics. Some topics debated were fascinating and it was hard to predict the outcome before a decision was made; others truly felt like more time was spent on the decision-making process than was needed. But I was hooked. I knew that I had found a place that I could make a difference and, at the very least, I had opinions that I wanted to share.
LSC meetings likely vary in number and size across the USA. Some LSC’s are composed of nearly all of the counties within their state borders, like North Carolina Swimming. Several large states, like Texas and California, have multiple LSC’s within their states. While still others combine multiple smaller states in one LSC, like New England Swimming. At the LSC meetings, you will come face-to-face with swim coaches, officials, athletes, club delegates (administrators and parents) and elected LSC representatives all of whom have a variety of agendas they strive to achieve.
Attending LSC meetings regularly twice each year for several years and watching the pros who were also regularly in attendance but a bit more seasoned than I (OK, they were usually older), it took me a while before I felt confident to speak my mind on just about any topic. By 1985, I had started my own swim club and was determined to learn as much as I could about who was making the decisions that would be affecting my club. I was lucky that I had several amazing mentors who were prominent leaders not only in North Carolina but also at the national level who helped me learn so much more than I knew about the governance of swimming.
Martha McKee, Peter Carney, Suzanne Heath, Franke Bell, Ray Perry, Camilla Crampton, Anne Wilson, Wayne Marshall and Don Kimball (just to name a few) are people whose involvement with North Carolina Swimming have all played roles in shaping my knowledge of the importance of volunteerism in swimming and how the sport has such an amazing history of being watched over by very fine, truly humble people.
Having witnessed so many terrific coaches give of their time to be active at the LSC level, I knew from stories that it isn’t easy to find a lot of extra time in an already busy career to dedicate oneself to giving additional time. I believed however, that if I could find the extra time, that the knowledge to be gained would come back to help me develop as a coach and be of great benefit in the long run.
In the 1990s, I began a near-30 year involvement with the North Carolina Swimming LSC Board of Directors. Serving first as the Scheduling Chair, I would later be elected to office as the Age Group Chair, Coach Representative, Secretary, General Chair, Programs Chair, and Camps Committee Chair. In each role, I tried to leave the position better than I found it and dedicated myself to improving the sport within our LSC. As a coach, I find it vital to be able to use the megaphone a position in the LSC governance gives individuals through involvement. The easier path would certainly be to remain outside the organization and to complain about every decision made that you don’t like, but to be on the inside and fight for ideas and energize the policies that you support is needed and necessary, otherwise you cede control of the direction of your profession.
At the LSC level you also are sure to get to know those in your profession a little better than you might be able to just from on-deck discussions at swim meets. I wouldn’t trade the time spent volunteering with the LSC for anything. I have met so many amazing people and swimming peers both statewide and nationally through committee discussions, board calls, zoom meetings and task forces that I would never have otherwise had the privilege of meeting.
One example of a success story that evolved from working behind the scenes was a shared-services idea that was generated from a working board meeting with members of the South Carolina LSC. Our two LSCs were discussing hosting programs that could help both LSCs reduce costs and team-up members from North and South Carolina Swimming. Through several discussions the Carolina Crown Swim Challenge was born and the 2021 Carolina Crown will make six years of getting 15-18 athletes from both states together along with meet officials, coaches and administrators for a single-day, long course swim event patterned after the Olympic Festival concept from the 1980s and 1990s.
I encourage all my fellow coaches, young and not-so young, whatever your background or experience, to consider serving time with your LSC. There are plenty of committees on which to get your Crocs wet before jumping in with both feet. Along the way, you’re sure to find some terrific people who will help guide you and keep you grounded at the same time. When you get involved for the first time, I would love to hear about your experience. I hope you will take the time and share your story with others so everyone will understand what I have come to know….your time spent volunteering is worth every second.
Coach Watson began coaching in Raleigh in 1978 with the Northbrook Country Club summer league team (1978-80, 81, 2006-2008). His year-round coaching jobs have included four years as an assistant with the Tarheel Aqua Racers (1981-1985); 21 years as Head Coach and founder of the New Wave Swim Team (1985-2006); and 13 years with the Marlins of Raleigh Swim Team (2006-present). Watson has coached numerous nationally-ranked athletes throughout his career. Watson is also very active with the North Carolina LSC and currently serves as the Programs Vice-Chairman and Camp Coordinator. He is also currently serving as the Age Group Chairman of the Southern Zone. In his career Watson has coached swimmers who have qualified for Olympic Trials, Nationals, Junior Nationals, Futures, Zones, Sectionals and State Championships. He has also coached nationally ranked athletes and athletes who have achieved state record performances.