By By Emily Sampl//Contributor | Thursday, November 30, 2017
Since starting the team back in the late 1980s and building from the ground up, head coach Doug Fonder and the Virginia Gators have flourished, earning silver medal recognition from USA Swimming in the 2017 Club Excellence program.
“The Club Excellence program is very good. We make it a really big point to gear our senior program towards making the cuts,” said Fonder. “It’s important to get kids to a high level without sacrificing technique, and my goal is to have every swimmer be the best they can be.”
After coaching other club teams in the state, Fonder made an immediate long-term impact when he arrived at the Gators and helped the club acquire its own facility, which they still practice in to this day. That’s been one of the key factors in the team’s success, as he details in this week’s Club Excellence spotlight.
1. Facilities. When I moved to Roanoke back in 1988, I had coached in Richmond for 10 years and northern Virginia 10 years before that. I had a picture of what they did in both areas, and I had a pool to use. In Roanoke, they wanted to start a team out of a facility that didn’t have a good long-term outlook. So, we started the team in 1989 and by 1990 we had built an eight lane indoor facility to use. The city leased us land for a dollar a year, which we built on. To this day, that’s our pool. We just opened a new girls’ locker room, and after the first of the year we’ll be working on building a new boys’ locker room. The major key to success in swimming is who has the keys to the pool. It’s not like running – if you’re a runner, you can go run outside. Without a pool, you can’t do much. That’s the number one key for us.
2. Coaching Staff. You have to be able to put together not just a good staff, but a staff that’s loyal and willing to work within your views of how to make a team better. Luckily, I’ve had coaches that have bought into my philosophy and worked well with me. In all of the years I’ve coached, I’ve only had to let one coach go for philosophical reasons. Right now, it’s a family affair [my wife, daughter and son all coach for the team] which has been great.
3. Dryland Program. You have to have well-conditioned athletes and a dryland program that keeps kids injury free. Age group swimming is about developing the kids for the future, not an end in itself. We don’t want our practices to look like a hospital for the injured!
4. Emphasis on kicking and underwaters. Kicking is very important – the legs have to be involved in the sport! We put a lot of emphasis on kicking. Of equal importance, we put a ton of emphasis on underwater swimming and getting to the 15-meter mark. Internationally, the biggest difference between swimmers is their underwaters, and we put a lot of focus on that.