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US Olympic Swim Team Coach: HTE Interview!

April 10th, 2012

US Olympic Women's Swim Coach Teri McKeever. Photo courtesy Tim Binning www.TheSwimPictures.com

Have you ever had a special teacher or coach who changed your life? We should all be so lucky. Coach Teri McKeever seems to be just that person to many swimmers, including one of the most successful Olympians of all time, Natalie Coughlin.

Coach McKeever was recently named the Head Coach of the U.S. Women’s Olympic Swim Team for the London Olympics this summer — the first woman to have that job. In addition to that important work, she was kind enough to answer 11-year old Nico Ferrara’s questions to share with HTE readers.

Nico Ferrara. Photo credit: Blanche Mackey.

This is the final one of our four posts featuring Nico’s interviews with Olympic gold medal swimmers and an Olympic coach. Thank you, Nico, you did a great job! And thank you to swimmer and artist Frank Zio for making it happen.

You can click here to read the rest of the interviews in case you missed it:  Anthony Ervin Natalie Coughlin , and  Nathan Adrian . They all have amazing stories to share. A big, huge thank you to them and to Coach McKeever, as well.

Nico Ferrara with Coach McKeever:

Nico: How does it feel to be the first woman named Head Coach of an Olympic Swim team?

Coach Teri McKeever: It feels awesome to be the first woman named to be the Head Coach.  It is a tremendous honor and I am really looking forward to the opportunity and challenge.  I’m excited about working with the swimmers and trying to create a team environment that makes people comfortable and able to perform at their bests.

Nico: Do Olympic coaches get gold medals too? If not, do you wish they did? Do you think they should?

Coach Teri McKeever: Olympic coaches don’t get medals.  After the Beijing Olympics though I got a medal from the US Olympic Committee recognizing me for coaching someone that won an Olympic medal.  It was really neat and came in a special case and everything.  I have it on the mantel in my home.  We do get a lot of neat gear though that says we’re on the Olympic Team and that is pretty fun!  I think you should only get the “real” Olympic Medal if you’re the athlete that won it.

Nico: Were you a swimmer when you were young? If so, what were your favorite races?

Coach Teri McKeever: I was a swimmer from the time I was 10 until 21 and I finished college.  I was pretty good in all the strokes except breast stroke and probably the 100 or 200 butterfly was my best event.

Nico: In a sport like swimming, you have to train a lot and get to compete for only seconds. How do you keep your athletes focused and dedicated to their training?  

Coach Teri McKeever: As a coach my job is to keep the training exciting and relevant to the athlete’s racing expereinces.   That way the athlete will want to train because they know that their hard work will help them come race time.

Nico: How do you motivate your swimmers? Do different things motivate different people?

Coach Teri McKeever: Different things definitely motivate different swimmers.  I think being a good coach is figuring out how best to motivate each individual and the team collectively.  Sometimes it’s just a matter of trial and error and asking the right questions and being a good listener.

Nico: What does a typical practice day look like when you are training for the Olympics?

Coach Teri McKeever: The swimmers on our team train very hard and also have to go to a really difficult school.  They have to be excellent with their time management and they have to make good choices about food, sleep, meals and social activities.  We train for an hour and 45 minutes four mornings during the week.  Two afternoons we lifts weights and then do 30 minutes of hip hop dance before swimming another hour.  Two afternoons a week we swim for a hour and a half and then do 45 minutes of mat pilates.  During the fall semester we also do spin class once to twice a week.  The swimmers also do jump rope and body awareness activities for about 15 minutes every morning.  We have a longer 2-2 1/2 hour swim usually on Saturday morning.

Coach Teri McKeever. Photo credit: Tim Binning, www.TheSwimPictures.com

Nico: What kind of dry land training do you think is good for young swimmers like me?

Coach Teri McKeever: I think playing other sports like soccer, basketball are great.  I also think simple things like cartwheels and tumbling are excellent.  You should do activities that make you feel “athletic” and that you are having FUN doing!!

Nico: Are swimmers usually good students? Why?

Coach Teri McKeever:  Typically I think swimmers are good students because they have good time management skills.  I also think swimming requires that you set long and short term goals and have to stay committed for extended periods of time.  I think sports also prepares you for when you don’t do as well as you want. And that if you work harder, you can get better results.

Nico: You have been coaching Natalie Coughlin, one of the most successful Olympians of all time, for 12 years. What’s the secret to that success? 

Coach Teri McKeever:  Natalie and I have a great working relationship.  We have both grown and changed in that 12 year period.  Natalie has great personal insight and communicates with me so I can help come up with a training program that makes her feel ready and confident.

Nico: How is your swim team like your family?

Coach Teri McKeever: The team is an extension of your family because you spend a lot of time together.  You see the best and worst of one another.  You also have tremendous experience together that help you learn about different people and respect them for what they add to the team.  A successful team appreciates each individual’s contributions and let’s each individual be their best.  A good team challenges and supports one another too.

Nico: I read that you never really thought about being an Olympic coach. So how did you end up being one?

Coach Teri McKeever:  I never set out as a coach to go to the Olympics, but as I had the chance to work with better athletes I began going to international competitions as a USA coach.  I love working with athletes from all over the US and it makes me a better coach and person to have the opportunity to watch such great athletes and be around other fantastic coaches.  I think you succeed in life by being a constant learner.

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