By Lauren Gaskill//Contributor | Saturday, September 12, 2015
Margaret Kieffer tried many sports growing up, but by the time she was 12, she realized swimming was her true passion. One year later, she joined the Wallingford-Swarthmore Seadevils, a USA Swimming club team, where she swam until high school graduation. In college, Margaret continued pursuing her passions while swimming and earning a bachelor’s in sports management from Widener University.
Though many swimmers eventually lose interest in the sport, Kieffer’s passion remained intact. After college, she transitioned to an aquatic director position before pursuing a coaching career. 2015 marks her tenth year coaching at Lancaster Aquatic Club.
USA Swimming sat down with Kieffer to learn more about her coaching journey and advice for young coaches.
What moment did you know you wanted to be a coach?
I can’t define a single moment. Growing up, my summer swim team friends and I said that when we were older we would all coach our summer team together. We never actually coached that summer team together, but several of us did grow up to be lifelong swim coaches.
What is your coaching philosophy?
I want every swimmer who comes before me to love swimming until they cannot do it anymore. I also tell them that I want them to have lives outside of swimming before they decide to really commit. I am lucky to work with the age groupers who are at a special point in their lives. They have so much going for them, and if I can help them continue to love the sport, continue getting good grades, respect their parents and coaches, then I am a happy camper. I want my kids to be kids while they still can and enjoy everything life has to offer.
Where did you get your coaching start and how would you describe your first job?
While in high school, I first started coaching a summer swim team in Tinicum, Pa. I assisted the head coach in getting the kids excited to swim, recruiting the four-year-olds I had in lessons and helping the swimmers see their potential.
After college, I was the Aquatic Director at a brand-new YMCA facility in Suburban Philadelphia (Rocky Run YMCA), where a member asked me to help him coach the swim teams at Cabrini College and the Academy of Notre Dame de Namur. I’m thankful I had the opportunity to coach at these levels, because it helped me realize my love for coaching.
What has been the crowning achievement of your career?
I really can’t say that I’ve had one crowning achievement. I honestly look at each swimmer and celebrate each achievement, both in and out of the pool. I feel that small victories are what make it all worth the effort. From the beginner who thought he would never do breaststroke legally, to the girl who didn’t make Winter JOs but worked even harder and made Summer JOs, and the young adult now swimming in college who still texts at random times to say hello or ask for life advice. I celebrate small moments, because coaching – and swimming – is a continuous process.
What’s the hardest part about being a coach? And how do you exercise work-life balance?
The hardest part about being a coach is the time spent away from my family. I have two young children who are just getting started in school, who want me to put them to bed and take them to new sports that they want to try.
Balancing life and work with a family can be stressful. Fortunately, our team’s parents volunteered early on to watch after my children while I was coaching. My children sort of became the unofficial team mascots, as they interacted with swimmers of all ages. My son, the oldest, is beginning his second year on the team. My daughter has begun to emulate me: pacing up and down the pool deck, flapping her arms and sometimes shouting to the swimmers.
Each day, the kids and I have an early dinner and head out to practice before my husband gets home from work, then hop back in the car after practice, eat a snack and head to bed. My son is now interested in soccer and baseball too. But just like most parents out there, we divide and conquer. My husband leaves work early so that I can get to work on time, and then he takes my son to the other sports. My daughter is not yet old enough to join a sport, so – for now –we don’t have more running around to do!
How have you grown in your leadership roles over the years?
When I first started with LAC, we had a head coach who had been coaching USA Swimming for quite some time. Tom Burchill taught me where to look for help, learn new techniques and became my mentor. After Tom moved on, Casey Coble became the Head Coach. Casey started as an assistant coach with LAC a year before me. Casey and I have been working together to lead the team the past 7 years. Casey and I speak several times a week about where we see the team going, what we want for the swimmers and what that looks like. Unfortunately, Casey has been diagnosed with leukemia four times throughout our ten years working together. His treatment and recovery regimen forced him off deck several times over the years. I did what any friend – and swim coach – would do: I pointed the assistant coaches in the direction Casey wanted the team to go and engaged the parents. I then made sure the swimmers were challenged and supported in the pursuit of their goals. Those few years were not easy, but because of our great staff and families, our team has become even stronger.
Margaret Kieffer’s five keys to being a successful coach: