By Mike Watkins//Contributor | Friday, February 3, 2017
Paul Yetter has a definitive view of success when it comes to coaching swimmers.
For him, the reward arrives when an athlete makes an unwavering commitment to excellence – and does everything necessary to make it a reality.“I really enjoy watching athletes develop their own personal confidence through breakthroughs in athletics,” hesaid. “The most rewarding thing for any coach is to watch the progress of an athlete who finally sheds their mental limitations and starts training and racing like there’s no tomorrow. That’s when you see the great high-level performances start to happen.”
The head senior coach at the North Baltimore Aquatics Club (NBAC) – he returned to NBAC last October – Yetter said his coaching philosophy is largely an amalgamation of the many coaching influences that have made an impact on him over the years.
When you’ve worked with some of the best in the business, their good traits and practices often rub off.
“I’ve worked with many great coaches,” he said. “I’ve developed the way I do things based off the way I’ve seen it done. Bob Bowman and Murray Stephens are two of my coaching mentors. I spent a year coaching with Coach Bowman from 2001-2002, and Coach Stephens was my coach from 1990-1996.
“I saw Coach Stephens coach my teammates to U.S. Olympic Teams in 1992 and 1996. Additionally, I have been fortunate to coach on USA Swimming staffs, and I picked up something from many coaches I’ve worked with.”
Yetter’s coaching roots extend back to college, but swimming has been a big part of his life since childhood.
He competed for the Bowie Bulldogs (Bowie, Md.) with Coach John Mason until the end of eighth grade. He then swam for NBAC while attending Loyola High School, after which he competed for the University of Wisconsin Badgers for two years.
Yetter stopped competing for the Badgers after his sophomore year and started his first full-time coaching opportunity with the Waugh Chapel Sea Dogs summer league team in Maryland.
From there, he returned to Wisconsin to coach the Verona High School teams (Women and Men) in Wisconsin from1996-2000 while finishing his degree. He also coached for Badger Aquatics Club in Madison for three years.
Yetter said he was drawn to coaching largely because of the challenge of developing athletes and helping them discover their own paths to success.
“When I assess athletes, I look at the athlete’s strengths, and I look at the athlete’s weaknesses,” he said. “I try to create an environment where the athletes can get better at their strengths while attacking and improving upon their weaknesses.”
Since those early days, Yetter has experienced a great deal of success on the national and international levels.
A 7-time member of USA Swimming’s National Team coaching staff, he has represented the United States as an assistant coach at the 2008 Olympic Games, the 2007 Japan Open, the 2006 Pan Pacific Championships and the 2005 World Championships.
Additionally, he served as the Head Women’s Coach of the 2007 Pan American Games, and most recently as the Head Men’s Coach for the U.S. Youth World Championship Team at the 2013 Youth World Championships in Dubai, U.E.
Over the span of his career, Yetter's athletes have represented the United States in every major international competition, winning medals at the Olympic Games, Paralympic Games, World Championships, Pac Pacific Championships, World University Games, Pan American Games, Junior Pan Pacific Championships and World Youth Championships.
Most recently, while still at T2 Aquatics (before leaving to come back to NBAC), Yetter coached Michelle Konkoly to two world records within the S-9 Classification on her way to winning two gold medals, one silver and one bronze at the 2016 Paralympics in Rio last summer.
Yetter was Katie Hoff's coach in 2004 when she qualified for the Athens Olympics at age 15, and again in 2008 when she qualified for the Beijing Olympics.
From 2005-2008, under Yetter's guidance, Hoff set two world records and 18 American records while earning three individual Olympic medals and six World Championship gold medals. During the 2007-2008 season, Hoff set at least one American record in nine different events.
“The most memorable race I think back on is Katie’s 400 individual medley to make the 2004 US Olympic Team at age 15,” said Yetter, the 2007 USA Swimming Developmental Coach of the Year as well as the 2007 United States Olympic Committee Developmental Coach of the Year for all Olympic Sports. “She made the team from lane 7 and did it by racing smart and aggressively.
“The back story made it more memorable because Katie went 10 seconds over her lifetime best in the morning, but dropped 12 seconds from morning to evening to win the event.”
.Following the 2008 season, Yetter guided another 15-year-old – Elizabeth Pelton – to a spot on the 2009 World Championship team. In Rome, Pelton, who qualified in three individual events, finished sixth in the 200 backstroke. He’s also worked with U.S. National Team members Felicia Lee, Dan Madwed, Courtney Kalisz and Brendan Morris.
Yetter said he keeps his coaching skills fresh by talking with other coaches, watching YouTube videos and listening to podcasts as well as talking with NBAC staff.
The staff at NBAC – where he coached from 2001 until 2009 before leaving for Auburn University – is one of the reasons Yetter decided to return last fall.
“NBAC’s culture is one of daily swimming excellence,” he said. “We have a great staff and excellent places to train. Everyone within our team, from swimmers and coaches to parents and alumni, is excited about performance.
“I want to continue coaching athletes to the highest levels possible for each athlete. I plan to help our staff at NBAC continue creating a great place for athletes to train and prepare to race at the highest level.”
As far as advice for athletes and coaches about how they can find ways to improve, Yetter has some simple yet poignant advice.
Communication is the key to great working relationships.
“My advice with any athlete is to talk with their coach and/or their parent; the younger the athlete, the more they need the guidance of their coaches and their parents,” he said. “Additionally, I’d offer that athletes should always look within themselves first when they feel like they’re struggling.
“Focusing on key things like ‘attacking all walls on the main set’ is a great place to start if an athlete feels like they would like to make a breakthrough. The coach is there to help and guide, but it’s the athletes who make it happen.”