By Rachel Lutz//Contributor | Thursday, November 1, 2018
The Nashville Aquatic Club’s coaches John Morse and Doug Wharam are USA Swimming’s 2018 Developmental Coaches of the Year, an award given to the coach or coaches with the most 18 & Under swimmers on the National and National Junior Team.
Morse and Wharam – who also combined to win the award in 2016 – were quick to say the award truly belongs to their swimmers.
“[This award] means two things,” Morse said. “It means that we’ve got a group of talented kids who have committed themselves to working really hard and setting high goals and achieving those goals. And it means that we have been able to instill in the swimmers the drive and the belief that they can achieve at a high level. The award’s really theirs. They’re the ones that accomplished it.”
Morse grew up swimming in Florida and after college, came to Nashville to do an internship.
“When I came up here, I really thought I would be here for a year, maybe two, and learn about swimming. But I’m still here,” said Morse, who also won the Developmental Coach of the Year award in 2008.
Wharam grew up near Washington, D.C. and was mentored by several top coaches, including Mark Bernadino and Don Easterling.
“Those two guys really were able to give me my start in professional coaching,” Wharam said. “I had a couple stops along the way, and then I was lucky to end up here in Nashville working with John.”
This year, the coaches have three 18-and-Unders on the junior team and one swimmer named to the national team. But Nashville’s rich swimming history goes as far back as the Tracy Caulkins days.
“John’s been a pretty steady hand at developmental swimming,” USA Swimming National Junior Team Director Mitch Dalton said. “They’re constantly producing, and Doug being down there has really helped in the last few years as well. They’re just a great team – a staple in age group swimming. They just keep getting it done.”
The duo’s developmental philosophy in Nashville puts a priority on “each athlete to go as far as their talent and desire will take them,” Morse said. It’s something the team discusses at the start of each season.
The swimmers at Nashville Aquatic Club have a lot of coaches before they reach Morse and Wharam. Each of them imparts something along the way, Morse said, but Wharam added that it’s about “the reflection of the attitude, the approach, and the consistency that the training group is able to bring.”
Their proudest moments as coaches revolve around – no surprise – the swimmers themselves. Morse said he especially loves it when kids beat the odds.
For Wharam, his proudest moments come when he sees swimmers overcome their obstacles.
“I always get the most enjoyment out of seeing kids that have really run into a rough spot,” he said. “Whether that’s injury or something else going on in their life that’s impacting what they can do in the pool, and watching them stick it out and persevere and come out on the other side and be successful. Successful is different for everybody. But watching those kids that don’t have the easy road and still come out on top and are successful is always a really rewarding part of the job.”
The Developmental Coaches of the Year also offered some advice to other age group coaches. Patience always pays off, Wharam said.
“Patience is the number one thing coaches should be thinking about from time to time. I think a lot of times it’s easier as a coach to be patient than it is for the athlete and the parent. As coaches, if we can impart that on the parents and the athletes themselves, I think that that is a good recipe.”
Morse had words of wisdom for both the coaches and the athletes.
“I think coaches need to set high expectations for performance, but also correlate those expectations to what they’re asking in practice,” he said, before switching focus to the swimmers themselves. “The number one thing for athletes is perseverance. You look at kids, and you see them swimming fast, but you don’t see what they went through along the way. You don’t see the trials, the tribulations, the injuries, the setbacks, whatever it might be. But everybody has to go through that. Perseverance is very important.”