Coaching as a Second Profession by Steve Morsilli (2000)


First, thanks to John Leonard and ASCA for having me here.  John called in January or February and left his home number, so if that happens to you, he probably wants you to speak.  I have never been a “full time” coach and I didn’t quite know what John was looking for, so he sent me some questions.  The answers are pretty much the story of my “journey” in coaching up until now.  This is not a talk on training swimmers, that is a separate talk later in the clinic.  Hopefully, you can learn and get some ideas from my journey.


  1. “Tell us about how you got started in swimming and in coaching…what previous coaching jobs had you had, how had they influenced you in the direction of owning your own club? Who were the major influences?”


I Started swimming late, between Frosh & Soph year in High School, summer 1967.  I saw others on HS team who were fast, wondered why.  They were “AAU” swimmers, I investigated….two teams, one was $20/mo one was $3/mo.  My mother selected $3/mo. I swam through the rest of HS and into college.  During that time, my Head Coach noticed that I enjoyed working with/helping the little kids on team trips & at meets.  He asked me whether I’d like a job starting with a new 8-U group with the team.  With no experience & no clinics or formal training I jumped in while I was still swimming.  I had no idea I’d still be coaching 30+ years later and that I would end up molding my life around it.  I planned to be a teacher out of high school (in 1970), but got to college and was told to change my major due to a glut of teachers at the time.  Probably a good thing as it turns out because I had much more authority/autonomy in coaching.  Major coaching influence at the time were Haines and Chavoor in Northern California.  I tied to make sure I didn’t do the things I didn’t like my coach doing.  I was always more of a people person.


Previous coaching jobs…(all in SF Bay Area)


-Flying Fins 1969-1974, still in school (HS & College), living at home, single.


-Piedmont 1974-75, with Doug Reyes, going to form team @ Chabot (local JC with rare 50 m pool) after one year.  PST only team close by with Jr/Sr level kids (PHSC, SCSC, AH).  At PST had the chance to work with Barbara (Stark) Jordan, 1952 Olympian swimming Masters.  She was a first time Masters Nat’l Champ in multiple events that year.  I was also working with the Fed Gov’t having graduated from GGU with Degree in Acct’g.  After coaching  a year in Piedmont, we were ready to go to Chabot as planned, when Doug(Reyes, Head Coach PST) said we were going to Pleasanton instead.  I didn’t even know where Pleasanton was located.


-Pleasanton had a motivated parents group, a 25 yard pool at AVHS, a 25 meter pool at PAC, a new 50 m pool 5 miles north (at Cal High), a (strange) 50m pool 10 miles east (in Livermore), although an existing club was using it, and a new 50m pool on the drawing boards at the new local HS (Foothill).  It seemed like a great opportunity.


-At that time I considered myself a professional AG Coach, with no interest in Sr Coaching or being a Head Coach.  1974 was also the first time I was exposed to Clinics, as Doug insisted we go.  Over the next few years, I listened to Doc Counsilman, George Haines, Jim Montrella, Don Gambril, Sherm Shavoor, Don Jacklin, Bill Rose and a few guys relatively new to the International coaching scene, Dick Jochums, Mitch Ivy & Mark Schubert.


-I got married August 1975 and began with Pleasanton Thunderbirds in August 1975.  Tbirds had been mainly summer, breaking in the winter, losing better kids to powerhouse PHSC 25 miles north.  Parent group wanted to go “year around” to stop the bleeding.  We never lost another swimmer to PHSC.


-Doug left in 1977 for a different club, I stayed & was persuaded to be the “HC”, even though I wanted to keep coaching the 9-12 group.  I had produced swimmers with NRT’s, PA Rec’s, etc and I was content to continue coaching younger kids, moving them into the Senior Group and keep my day job.  We hired a Senior Group coach to work with the older kids.


-About one year before Doug left in 1976, Bob Casci (who had placed a breaststroker on the ‘72 Olympic Team) took over another local club 5 miles north.   That was a small club with mostly older swimmers, some at the Jr/Sr Nat level.  We had been sharing a pool during part of the 1976 season, so in 1978, after Doug & some older kids left, Bob suggested a merge, joining our strong AG kids with his strong Sr kids.  As (a reluctant) Head Coach, I convinced the Board that this was a good fit, so we formed Golden State Aquatics with Bob as the HC and I was the HAG.  A small splinter group (20+/-) stayed behind with the newly hired Senior Coach.


-Golden State was very successful between 1978-1980 at the Jr/Sr Nat’l level and the AG level, with Nat qualifiers, Jr Nat Champions and NAG Champions (11-12), plus many NAG rankings.  Bob retired in 1980, I still did not want to be a Head Coach, so a coach from back East was hired.  He lasted 8 months, after which the entire Sr group left to go to a different local club, then he quit.  I’m a Head Coach again, this time for good. I just got very frustrated with investing 2 to 3 years in a group of kids, sending them off to the Sr group, then having them leave the team with a coaching turnover.  I quickly went from being a well paid assistant (for the time) to an underpaid Head Coach.  A mistake.


-1981-82…Searching for water, workouts at different pools in different cities on different nights, only about 35 young kids left, all the quality had left the team to find secure water with established teams.  Working on re-merging with splinter group which had been through six Head Coaches in four years (but had steady water).


-December 1982–re-merged with the splinter group, forming Pleasanton Seahawks.


  1. “Tell us how your job with this club got started. Where did the idea come from? Explain in “sound bite fashion” why the coaching role in this club was different.  Explain the nature of your part time coaching role in the beginning.”


The Local media was puzzled over two teams claiming to be from the same area.  Splinter group had major consistency problems (with coaches), we had water problems.  It fit well although was still some animosity from the original split towards me. Their desire to merge was basically a “last chance” to have a team, since they had not been able to hold other Head Coaches and I wasn’t going away.  The previous clubs PST, PLEAS, GOLD had full time Head Coaches, and it was understood that I was working with the Government & not available for “full time” duties.  Because of that they could “afford” me as I could work for less than others who were trying to be “full time” with a decent salary (not easy in the SF Bay Area).  My “day job” also gave me the ability to turn down certain terms of the merge which were unacceptable to me.  As an example, one of the merge meeting ended when their side suggested that the new team should write to US Swimming and insist that all teams break in the Winter because it was more expensive to heat water.  I told them that was about the dumbest thing I had ever heard, and that the competitive season in the rest of the nation wasn’t going to be re-structured because they were too lazy to raise money to pay for heat.  End of meeting.  After months of negotiations, we finally worked things out, and I was clearly a part time HC who did not have to rely on the swimming income for a living.  I could walk away at any time and start a new team with 10 kids if necessary.


Our main pool was at Amador High, one 25 yard, six lane pool with a 10 yard diving pool.  We had no locker rooms, one toilet, no underwater lights, no showers, minimal overhead lights.  Although we upgraded it many times over the next 20 years, that remained our main pool until August 1997.  It helps to have a nice pool, but it is NOT a necessity to produce great swimmers.  We went through the first 4 years with NO afternoon workouts during HS season (Feb-May), and repeated situations where I was required to travel for the Gov’t right before our major qualifying meets (March).  I finally retired from the Gov’t in January 1985 and started the construction business.


  1. “What did your typical day look like, coaching on deck, running the construction business, coaching on deck again, and then when did the club work (Admin) get done?”

Typical day:

1975-79  —  Gov’t work 6:15-2:45, home, coach 4-6PM

1980-82–same work hours, different coach hours/location

1982-83–same work hours, back to 4-6PM, no AM’s necessary until September 1983 (Feb-May = AM’s only due to HS)

1983-84–same work hours, Craig Dillingham ran AM’s  (Feb-May =   AM’s only).

1984-85–same work hours, Hired Coach to replace Craig, not good,  retired from Gov’t in Jan 1985 to have more control of my time (Jr’s/Sr’s/AM wkts)  (Feb-May = AM’s only)

1985-92–AM’s 4:30-6:15, go to work, meet w/foreman, on job by 7:50, work to 2:30, go to pool, wkt 3:45-6, dryland, go home.  I added duties as the HS Coach to retain afternoon water time.  Admin work performed by Board,  by Admin Asst, or by me. Began Swim America lessons in the summer.

1992-99–same wkt sched, changed focus of const work to re-model, more picky with jobs accepted.  Discontinued HS Coaching in 1996.  More Admin work done by me.  Currently do workouts/admin work, manage 16 apartments, summers still do Swim Ameica.


  1. “What financial advantages/disadvantages did this set-up provide for you?”


The Board knew I was busy, yet committed to the team.  This allowed me to delegate much of the Admin work to volunteer parents.  When we had to pay for Admin work, I always tried to pay an Assistant Coach to do it, thereby establishing the “value” of the job performed.  When I finally had the time to absorb these duties, I also absorbed that portion of the salary.  Disadvantage is that whenever you delegate, it doesn’t always get done exactly the way you want it.  Meanwhile in the 85-90 years we did a lot of build & sell, then build & keep to establish a base of income property for the tax advantages and to plan for the future.


  1. “In the development of the program, what were the key milestones or stepping stones that you can look back on and identify? How (and if, or did they) interact, come from, or result from your continuing the construction business?”


Always determined to Coach in my own backyard.  I saw too many of my friends have to sell houses, pull  kids out of school and uproot their entire family.  I coached my first 14+ years on a handshake, no contract.  Changed in mid-1980’s when the President tried to change our compensation.  All Coaches stopped work, got to the bargaining table and established our first contracts.   This provided the opportunity to put incentive clauses in later contracts.  Our Coaches always act/negotiate as a group.  This is critical when dealing with a Board.  C.A.P. program sometime in 1986-87.  John Leonard came and addressed the membership, the Coaches and the Board, very beneficial.  Around 1990, Jerry Thorne, the father of a 12 year old new to the team accepted the task of convincing the City to build a 50 meter pool.  In 1995 I was placed on a City Task Force as the competitive swimming representative.  City of Pleasanton finally (1997) built a 50m pool at the Aquatic Center, 22 years after my original move to Pleasanton.    Between 1985-97, built a “break even” budget with only 65-75 kids.  I negotiated team size/group size contractual incentives, anticipating a time when the team would grow.  It was easy to get these incentives added to my contract because we were always talking about future growth.  New pool helped us double our size in two years.  Still growing.  I started our first Swim America lesson program in 1985.


  1. “What support mechanisms did you develop? Staff?  Hired expertise?  Parent Board?  Pluses and minuses of each.”


Increased staff as soon as we could pay for it.  Staff absorbed some Admin stuff (plus salary).  Always used a parent Board.  Parents have absorbed an incredible amount of work.  Occasionally get a non-supportive parent, use other parents (plus me) to bring them into line.  Decided early that I can never please everyone.  “Reasonable people will disagree from time to time.”  Try to establish a good/open relationship EARLY with parents who seem interested in getting involved.


  1. “How did the finances grow? How did the swimming become a viable business?”


Break even budgeting for many years when we were at 65-75 kids.  Rarely got substantial raises, tried to raise assistants first, my raises always came last.  Gobbled up every Salary Survey I could find.  Impressed upon the Board that they were getting a great service for less than 50% of what it was worth.  Loaded contracts with group/team size incentives while we were still small.  All coaches receive a retention bonus for holding over 20 kids in their group.  I also have a team size retention bonus in my contract.   Minor problems with a non-supportive President when they started to kick in, he left.  Dues, fundraising requirements remained unchanged from 65-75 kids up to 150+ kids.  This essentially doubles your income while your fixed costs only rise by 20-30%.  We are adding an additional training group this fall, and plan to get to 170 swimmers by January.


  1. “ What competitive level has your team and its individuals achieved? How was this excellence allowed, promoted, developed within the context of the program and how did your employment duality impact on this issue?  Who makes the “final decisions” in the organization?  How is that related to you financial decision making?”


Team formed in December of ‘82, took a college relay to Clovis Nationals summer of ‘83.  Had home grown kids make Juniors in ‘84 and first home grown Sr kid in ‘85.  First OT qualifier in ‘87.  Had kids at every Juniors every year since ‘84, at Seniors every year since ‘85, and at every Trials since ‘88.  Local performance levels have risen accordingly.  Far Westerns, local Senior meets, NAG’s, and PC Rankings.  Up until 8/97, this was all from one 6 lane 25 yard sub-standard pool.  This last summer (8/00) our team was 3rd in the Combined standings and our Women’s team won the Junior’s West in San Antonio, with one girl setting a new Meet Record in the 100 free.  We had four swimmers at Trials.  This track record has helped to reinforce my philosophy for the club.  We have a Travel Fund, separate from the team, for the Jr & Sr National kids.  I make all decisions regarding this money.  I will go to the Board if I need money for the entire program, so most of the time parents see the benefit to the less developed kids and vote to approve the idea/expenditures.  With an Acct’g background, I obviously know when we can afford new things and when we can’t.  I force them to remember I have a degree in acct’g every time we talk about  finances.  I understand our finances better than any board member.  I understand the financial impact of group movements, retirements, and High School graduations on the dues.   Ultimately the Board makes the “final decision” but when I feel strongly enough about an issue, I can usually get my point across and the idea approved.


  1. “What are your plans for the future of the club, for your personal future, and your future in the construction industry? How do these inter-relate?”


Continue with controlled growth, possibly expanding into some nearby pools. We still have some room “left” in the 50 meter pool, although our goal is to get all the kids out by 7:30 PM (we formerly had to go until 9:00).  We do have a 25 meter pool we can get into if necessary, we also have the Amador High pool (our former home) around the corner.  The more “political” power in the City, the better.  Jerry Thorne, our parent instrumental in getting the pool built, is now on the Park and Recreation Commission.  In our area, political power = bodies.  We routinely have a representative at City Council and Park & Rec meetings when we are advised that it will be in our best interest. (We are in a heavy soccer area.)   I am involved with the North Coast High School Meet Management Committee and I have also served as Senior Chair for Pacific Swimming the past two years. I have been downsizing my const business as the duties at the team grow.  I am no longer willing to maintain the schedule away from the pool that I worked 10 years ago.  I actually have the time to read the paper most days, now and do a better job with the “behind the scenes” work with my group.  I’ve been playing with HR monitors, towing machines, aquapacers and as many new things as possible lately.  I know that I can always get back to const (or acct’g) if something catastrophic were to happen to the team.


  1. “Looking backwards: what special skills did you have/develop that allowed you to be successful in this endeavor? What held you back in some way? What are your recommendations to someone else looking to build their own club in a similar way?”


In my experience, I find most Coaches are willing to work as hard or harder than 90% of the average population.  From the time I was 14, I have always had at least two jobs at the same time, sometimes three.  Time management & delegation skills are important, as are people skills.  I think I have the ability to “read” people and get them to want to help me help their kids.  I always stress to parents, that although not everyone can go to Jr’s or Sr’s, the lessons learned from participating are the true value of the sport, and those lessons are the same regardless of achievement level.  Those values include a positive self esteem, goal setting skills, a great work ethic, to name just a few.  I’m fortunate to have a number of former swimmers go into the Coaching profession. My advice to them is to start with an equitable salary, even if coaching is a “second” job.  I encourage them to make sure they are protected by a contract (ALWAYS include growth incentives), have a professional fall back position (or dual employment) and to ensure that their program offers something for every level athlete.


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