By Emily Sampl//Contributor | Friday, February 10, 2017After a stellar summer in which the team sent more than half a dozen athletes to the 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials Trials and placed Zoe Bartel on the National Junior Team, Fort Collins Area Swim Team in Fort Collins, Colo., has earned the team’s first-ever gold medal club recognition in USA Swimming’s Club Excellence program.
Led by head coach Chris Webb, FAST has been piling up the accolades in the past year, garnering first place finishes at multiple sectional meets, the western senior zone meet and taking third overall at last summer’s Junior National Meet. FAST’s rise to the top of the competitive ladder is just one piece of the puzzle on the way to being a gold medal club.
“I would say Club Excellence was a high priority from the competitive side,” Webb said. “Becoming a gold medal club was a five-year goal. I was a coach at Carmel the first year they were gold, same with Swim MAC when they reached the top of the gold clubs, and I saw that as a great benchmark for the team’s competitive and long-term development. It’s a great measure of the level you’re bringing your athletes to by the time they’re ready to leave your program.”
Webb details the keys behind FAST’s success in this week’s Club Excellence spotlight.
1. The community. The city of Fort Collins is one of the top reasons we’re successful. If you know Colorado, you know how important health is here, and how important it is for people to have a work/life balance. It’s a health conscious community and the people here are really in tune with those things, and an institution like ours can really add value and be supported. The swimming community is also really strong; we’re one of the top 10 swimming cities in America. Swimming in Northern Colorado is really healthy. High school swimming is also strong here. and that can really lift a culture. They’re very supportive of our club.
2. Our staff. You can’t do this without good people, and people who care about kids. It’s a 24-hour job, and when you leave, you’re still thinking about the kids and the program. Our staff does a really good job of recognizing where their passion is. We try to put them in positions to make the most of their passion and competencies. Our head age group coach Mike Novell and assistant Doug Stone have both been head coaches for a long time in Colorado, so we made a point to hire people with a lot of years of experience leading swimming programs, and that can’t be overstated.
3. An intentional culture. Our value system is really important – our values are fun, family and culture. We spend a lot of time making sure that the things we ask the kids to do are very clear and all decisions we make align with the values that we have for the club. When you make key decisions in the thick of the season, it’s important to have a very small but well-defined list of values to keep you pointed towards magnetic north at all times.
4. Relationships. That’s got to be one of the key reasons we’re as successful as we are. Life is about relationships, and your work has to be too. Our relationship with our families and parents, and our staff – we spend a lot of time doing check-ins and performance reviews, we spend time away from the pool to get to know each other, we communicate on the pool deck obviously. We rent our pool space, so our relationship with the city is really important. Our relationship with the summer league programs is important to build our team. Our relationship with our athletes is important – being able to be good listeners, having good coaches who care about their athletes. Kids are willing to give more when they feel they are cared about.
5. Speed first. We believe in speed first. This is a racing sport. We go fast every single day, and to go fast, you have to have good technique. That’s an underlying piece of our success. Every day, in every group, we go fast. Every day. Going fast is fun – it’s instinctual. Who’s the fastest? That’s what competing is! It comes down to a very basic thing in the water. It’s the first thing. Making that a center point of our program has been essential for our success. Whatever we’re doing, we’re going to learn how to do it fast.