Leading by example
It’s 6:45 a.m. in the middle of January and not that cold in Tucson, Ariz., where I’ve joined the SaddleBrooke Masters for one of their five weekly workouts from September through May. The 6:45 group is the first of three groups of Masters swimmers. Each workout lasts about 90 minutes and ranges from 1,500 yards for beginners to 3,000 yards for the more experienced swimmers.
As the sun rises and casts a beautiful light on the Santa Catalina mountains, USMS Level 2 certified coach Doug Springer is encouraging his swimmers to get in the water and get going. Ranging in age from 50 to 101 years, the 72 team members, many of them swimming snowbirds (who winter in the southwest and summer elsewhere), are avid fans of swimming and of Doug for what appear to be good reasons.
Doug started coaching age-group swimming 51 years ago in Greenwich, Conn., following his freshman year in college. From there, he served as assistant coach at the University of Maryland, coached at Gallaudet College in Washington, D.C., and served as head coach of the Puerto Rican National Team at the Pan American Games.
Doug has been coaching the SaddleBrooke Masters for 12 years and considers the swimmers there to be “his kids.” His philosophy has not changed much in all those years, with two tenets standing out.
The first is that anyone who wants to swim can swim and can be successful at it. Like many Masters swimmers, members of the SaddleBrooke group have had their injuries and chronic illnesses and have experienced life’s setbacks, but Doug’s focus is on inclusion. As SaddleBrooke Masters swimmer Jack Allison notes, “he ensures everyone is included. Everyone swims, sometimes more than they want to. He doesn’t push for speed, he only asks that you swim it and stay legal. He knows we will push ourselves.”
The second principle—and Springer takes great pride in this—is that these SaddleBrooke Masters are a collection of team members who work and play as one cohesive group. Another SaddleBrooke swimmer, Joyce Howard, notes that what’s great about Doug is that “he challenges us, but we always have fun. He loves to tease and we always have some laughs. In fact, he’ll tell us ‘I know you’re working hard because it got so quiet.’”
Although any one event is an individual labor, the effort is as a group. Members are there for each other, both in and out of the pool. All 72 registered swimmers compete in various meets and at various levels, contributing to their successes, such as being the short course champions for the past four years in the Arizona state meet.
Doug is also an active swimmer and was a two-time Atlantic Coast Conference champion while a student at the University of Maryland, where he qualified for three NCAA championships. He currently has 73 Top 10 USMS individual finishes (and 42 relays), won the 200-meter breaststroke at the 2014 Marriot USMS Summer National Championship, is a USMS All-American, and was awarded the 2015 USMS Kerry O'Brien Coaching Award, which recognizes coaches who are building our membership in communities throughout the country.
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