Evaluation Results – A Follow-up from Jim Richardson


The following is from Jim Richardson, Women’s swim coach at University of Michigan. I have had the pleasure of working with Jim in an advisory capacity for the last six years as he has evolved and fine tuned his total program. It has been a great educational experience for me to work with a coach like this who is a true professional, willing to share and keep innovating. I know if I were a young coach I would be hanging out in his office every free moment I had, eager to learn.

Jim’s response to the post from a member of the Michigan S&C staff disparaging his swim program and my involvement:

Well I guess it would be appropriate for me to have some comment here, even though I have more important things to do than to defend my program and philosophy.

While I appreciate the statistical analysis of our Big Ten performances through the years, my primary goal was always to perform our best at the NCAA Championships. Most years we have a number of swimmers who do not peak for the conference championship and that certainly has an effect on our conference placing, especially in years when we are not as talent laden (i.e. 2006). If you look closely at our NCAA placings we were trending down beginning in 2000 and bottoming out at 27th in 2002. During the 2002-03 season I began to reassess every aspect of our program. At the end of that year I asked Vern if he would consider working with us because what we were doing was not working – over 60% of our swimmers had recurring shoulder problems and we were not improving at the rate I thought we should. We began a basic functionally-based program designed by Vern in the fall of 2003. That program ensured that we would have a logical progression from basic strength to strength endurance to event oriented power. Within 3 months our shoulder problems all but disappeared. We swam faster in practice, in meets, and we had almost universal breakthrough peak performance swims. From 2004-2008 our NCAA performances were very solid based on our talent level (excepting 2006 when I screwed up our parametric progression, and 2009 when we were without our top 2 swimmers). In 2007 and 2008 we were the highest placing Big Ten team (9th) at the NCAA championships, which was one of our goals for each of those teams. In addition, in that time period we were the only Big Ten team to have an NCAA and USA Swimming individual champion – a swimmer who developed within the program.

While I am not naive enough to believe that a team’s performance depends totally on any single variable, I do believe that the selection and integration of those variables is the key to improved performance. Each of us (sport coaches) has to determine what we believe and why we believe it. Having a formal education background in exercise physiology and biomechanics I believe I have a fair grip on what we are trying to accomplish in the developmental process. Nonetheless, I have tried to remain open to different methodologies and philosophies. However, in the end there is only so much time and I need to ensure that we are getting the biggest bang for our buck – need to do versus nice to do, as Vern often says.

I have tried a number of approaches to dryland performance development in my 39 years of coaching swimming at the international level. I have been influenced by many people in my career. All I can say is that I have great confidence in the things that Vern and I have implemented. I also understand that many others have contributed to this knowledge base and that it continues to be a work in progress.

A final word on success. Some of us are blessed to work with highly talented individuals. I’ve never believed that the performances of the most talented or placings at championships are the best criteria to use to evaluate the “success” of a program. Talent has a way of forgiving a number of mistakes in the training process (not to mention the recovery process). I look at the slower, less talented swimmers in our program and ask – Are they getting faster? To me, they are the most accurate measure of whether what we are doing is working or not. So when we have swimmers who have never placed in the top 24 at the US Junior Championships prior to coming to Michigan, now placing in the top 16 at the US World Championship Trials or qualifying for the NCAA Championships – well, they are getting faster. In swimming, at the end of the day, that is the only performance measure that really matters to me.
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Vern Gambetta

Vern Gambetta

Director at Gambetta Sports Training Systems
Vern is the Director of Gambetta Sports Training Systems. He has been the a conditioning coach for several MLS teams as well as the conditioning consultant to the US Men's World Cup Soccer team. Vern is the former Director of Conditioning for the Chicago White Sox and New York Mets. He has lectured and conducted clinics in Canada, Japan, Australia and Europe and has authored six books and over one hundred articles related to coaching and sport performance in a variety of sports. He has a BA in teaching with a coaching minor and an MA in Education with an emphasis in physical education from Stanford University.
Vern Gambetta


Athletic Development Coach & Consultant. Founder of GAIN Network. Proud dad. Love to read everything.
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