Given his dual role as the assistant swim coach at Whitman College and the head coach of age group swimmers at the local YMCA, Jay Coleman sees more than his share of swim workouts and meets.
Coleman began working as an assistant coach for both teams in September, 1992, and took over the head coaching position of the YMCA team in the fall of 1995. While swimming seems to be his forte right now, Coleman has also coached volleyball players, triathaletes and runners, and he teaches the swimming conditioning and triathalon classes at Whitman.
Coleman focuses much of his coaching time on refining the mechanics of his swimmers. "Technique is the key," he says. "I love it when people work hard, but they must have the mentality to keep their strokes together. If you don't master the mental aspect, the physical part becomes so much harder."
Whether coaching a 5-year-old in his first year of swimming or a veteran swimmer at the college level, Coleman's goal is helping athletes improve. He bases his coaching philosophy on development of self-esteem. "If an athlete doesn't have a generally positive view and outlook, the chances of accomplishment are significantly less," he says.
Coleman, the son of Whitman head swim coach Lee Coleman, enjoyed his own collegiate athletic career at Willamette University, where he graduated in 1991 with a degree in English. He qualified for national competitions in both track and cross country, and he continues to make his mark in triathlon events around the country. In recent years, he placed fourth in a large triathlon competition in Cleveland, Ohio, and he finished tenth in a field of 1,500 triathletes in Orange County, California.
But Coleman makes a point to separate his life as an athlete from the experiences of his swimmers. He tries to recognize and consider individual differences among athletes.
"I don't want to tell athletes that I know what they are going through," he says. "That attitude is dangerous because coaches shouldn't assume that athletes feel the same way they did. Too many coaches feel as if the best way is the way that worked for them."
For Coleman, the primary benefit of coaching is the sight of people, win or lose, taking pride in themselves and their accomplishments.
"You can learn from every experience, whether it's called success or failure," he says. "The value of each experience is determined by your reaction to it. I want athletes to get something more from swimming than just getting up and down the pool with fast times."