Two states, two girls’ swim teams, one coach


Smartt hired as head coach for lady panther swim team

Bob Smartt has been coaching high school swimming for more than two decades, but he’ll soon be adding a new challenge: serving as the head coach of the Powell High School girls swim team while continuing to hold his head coaching position at Fairview High School in Boulder, Colorado.

“In my 22 years of coaching high school swimming, I have probably known hundreds of coaches that in a school year have done head coaching for both girls teams and boys teams at the same high [school], but I have never heard of someone who has done two different girls teams,” Smartt said. “Because to do that, you’d have to coach in two different states.”

And that’s exactly what Smartt is going to do.

In Wyoming, the high school girls’ swim season is in the fall, but in Colorado, the high school girls’ season is in the winter.

“I am 62 and getting close to the end of my career and I figured, what the heck, this would be an interesting challenge to have two different girls teams in one high school year,” said Smartt.

Smartt added that the program at Fairview — which he’s been coaching for the last 17 years — is “sort of on automatic pilot.”

“I’ve got five assistant swim coaches; I’ve got two assistant dive coaches; I’ve got a great parent group,” he said.

Smartt said the team had 115 athletes last year, the largest team in Colorado, and he expects the team to rank near the top again.

During Smartt’s tenure at Fairview, the girls’ team has finished first twice, second eight times, third four times, fourth twice and sixth once at the state championships.

“We have a system here that works very well,” Smartt said. “It’s interesting to take on a completely different challenge in a different state.”

Smartt said that he “started looking around at what was available and found that girls swimming [was] in the fall in Wyoming ... and then I started looking at openings and Powell was the first one I found.”

Smartt came to visit Powell, seeing the town and swimming at the Powell Aquatic Center.

“It’s a very nice facility for a small town,” Smartt said.

Smartt plans to reside in Powell during the four months of swim season, then move back to Boulder at the conclusion of the Wyoming State Swim Meet, on Nov. 2-3. He’ll then begin the swim season in Colorado around Nov. 12.

Smartt does not believe the swim team in Boulder will feel slighted because he doesn’t feel like his coaching style will be radically different. A recent summer swim camp in Boulder drew around 40 kids and was run by the assistant coaches, who will handle the preseason starting in September.

In Powell, Smartt said he wants his swimmers to make the goals for the team, especially the seniors.

“I want them to think about what they would like to accomplish during the year and then come up with a set of goals and I’ll inform those goals and support those goals and tell them what’s reasonable,” Smartt said. “But they will pick the goals and I will help them get there.”

He called swimming “a very difficult sport.”

“You have to really decide you want to do it and I’ll do my best to support the girls motivationally,” he said. “But hopefully I can show them a more efficient way to swim and how to get faster in a more scientific manner.”

Smartt said his coaching style involves academics.

“I try to follow what’s going on on the academic side and what that has to say about both physiology, which is the conditioning of the swimmer, and also the biomechanics, which is the technique side,” he explained. “In other words, I’m more of an academic or thoughtful orientation than I am just about rah rah rah.”

Smartt said he spends a lot of his time researching and learning about swimming by going to American Swim Coaches Association (ASCA) National Convention, reviewing new techniques and studies, watching videos on the web and having conversations with notable people in the swim industry, such as Joel Stager of the Counsilman Swim Institute at the University of Indiana.

One technique he’s used in Boulder that he wants to introduce is Ultra Short Race Pace Training.

“It’s based on a lot of good exercise physiology research that says that intensity is more important than yardage,” said Smartt. “In other words, if you are a swimmer or a runner, you will condition faster if you can do more intensive bouts of exercise rather than just long, slow distance.”

The training is somewhat controversial among swim coaches, as it’s not about how many yards you can swim, but how many yards you can swim close to your race pace.

Smartt said there’s been research showing that when you swim some strokes fast, “you’re swimming it very differently biomechanically than if you do it slow, swimming in those strokes.”

“... Slow swimming in the butterfly, for instance — some people might call it the butter-struggle — is patterning a different neuromuscular pathway than swimming it at race pace,” he explained.

Smartt prefers that swimmers practice the butterfly as close to their race pace as possibly for lengths of only 25 yards — but those 25 yards at race pace are swum over and over, versus having the swimmer perform the stroke for 100 yards six times.

“Part of what will be fun for me is I can have my team here in Boulder as a laboratory for learning what I can do in Powell and vice versa — try some techniques in Powell and see if they are working, and if [they’re] successful, then bring them back to the girls’ season here in the winter,” Smartt said in an interview from Colorado.

Smartt added, “I have a lot more flexibility in Powell with the smaller number of girls to try more innovative techniques.”

Smartt grew up in Knoxville, Tennessee, and was a high school state finalist; he later swam in college for the University of Chicago, becoming a captain for the swim team and setting team records in six individual events.

“I wished I knew when I was in college in the ‘70s what I know today about swim training; could have been a lot faster,” he said.

As for now being a coach, “I really enjoy helping kids improve — kids that are excited about picking something and mastering it, at getting better and doing personal best times and feeling good about achievement,” Smartt said.

Smartt added that as a swimmer, “a lot of hours [are spent] looking at a black line on the bottom on the pool, but it teaches good time management skills and can teach a lot about overall healthful living and nutrition and mind over matter.”

As for his motivation for taking on the challenge of coaching two teams in two states, “I do this cause I love it,” Smartt said.