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Ready Room Interview: Paul Bergen

Uploaded on July 2, 2010 by jeff
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Internationally-renowned coach Paul Bergen, currently working as a coach in Canada, began coaching in the 1950s, and drew inspiration from basketball, football and track coaches. He worked as a volunteer coach in his teenage years in football and baseball, but grew exasperated with the length of time it took for a coach to be successful in those sports. As a swimmer, he was attracted to the benefits of coaching swimmers. Bill Barrett, a future All-American at the University of Indiana, would become one of Bergen's first successful high school swimmers. Bergen talks about the lessons he learned from Indiana coach James "Doc" Counsilman, who taught Bergen how to speak to swimmers and how he describe stroke technique and used video photography. George Haines was another coach Bergen spent time watching. "I can remember paying my own tickets to go on the deck and watch him with his kids," Bergen said. That spirit of mentoring young coaches has come full circle. Bergen has been a mentor to some of the United States' best coaches, including Bob Bowman and Sean Hutchison. From 1968-1972, Bergen saw more success at the Cincinnati Marlins, where swimmers broke three world records under the leadership of Charles Keating. After bouncing around to a couple of coaching jobs in Wisconsin and Philadelphia, Bergen landed at the Nashville Aquatic Club, where he helped the team to a national title and put several swimmers on world championship teams. In 1980, Bergen was selected as a coach for the US Olympic team. "At the time we had five kids ranked No. 1 in the world," he said. Bergen sees similarities with the 1980 boycott and today's discussion of a possible American boycott of the Beijing Olympics. "The people that are paying the price are the young people," he said. "I kept collecting a check and kept going with my coaching career. It wasn't going to end with the 1980 Olympic boycott." Bergen said the world record is more important than the Olympic gold medal. "I don't want to downplay how important it is, but it gives you only one chance (to win Olympic gold) once every four years. Setting a world record can happen any year. Striving to do something no one else did was really neat." Some of the approaches Bergen used in the early years wouldn't apply today, including the way swimmers are trained. He believes coaches should take different approaches for each swimmer, using world record holder and Olympic champion Inge de Bruijn as an example. He had to modify his schedule to suit her needs, which he said "had us out of the water more than we were in the water." The result was 10 world records and three Olympic gold medals in 2000 for de Bruijn. He added that many other swimmers in his program in Oregon benefitted from this modification. Bergen said his work with horses helped him to better understand what he needed to do as a swim coach. Watching a horse's gait and its expressions helped him learn to read swimmers' emotions better and how they best perform in a workout situation. The key to finding potential talent lies in watching the fastest swimmers in the world. Molding swimmers toward the fastest swimmer in the world is an ideal solution, Bergen said. The interview concludes with Bergen reflecting on his coaching tactics in the 1960s and why he's changed his outlook drastically in the new century. "I'm a little more accurate at looking at what kind of effort are they putting in. If they can't go any harder, it's almost like beating a dead horse."
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