Friday, September 19, 2014

Influential Coaches #9: Lynn Seitz

Previous entries: Series Overview
January: Paul Westphal (basketball)
February: Tara Gallagher (basketball/softball)
March: Robert Joseph Ahola (rugby)
April: Rickey Perkins (swimming)
May: Bob Smith & Mike Craig (baseball)
June: Michael Minthorne (strength & conditioning)
July: Steve Radotich (football)
August: Tessa Paganini (volleyball)

I only swam for Lynn one year of my life, but it was a very important and tumultuous year in my development, both as a swimmer and as a person. My experience with Alaska Pacific Swim Club helped keep open the door to competitive swimming for me at a time when I would have been just as happy to drop it and spend those ten to fifteen hours a week on another sport (like, say, basketball). And it helped prepare me, eventually, for my own coaching style.

Back in April, I wrote about how many terrific swimmers developed under Rickey Perkins' tutelage at Northern Lights, and how several of them went on to compete at the Division I level. With that many ultra-competitive teenagers (particularly young teenagers) in one pool together, I suppose it was kind of inevitable that there would be some friction between teammates (especially in swimming, which is effectively an individual sport and doesn't require any of the mutual trust or cooperation of a team sport). So it was at Northern Lights, and I know that I personally had several relationships with teammates that could be categorized anywhere on the scale from "ice cold" to "extremely disruptive and antagonistic." I can even shamefully admit to my attitude being at least part of the reason another swimmer left Northern Lights for Alaska Pacific, and about a year or so later, with most of my contemporaries having advanced from NLSC's Silver team to its Gold team and me showing pretty much zero interest in joining them, I also switched teams.

Alaska Pacific was a relatively new club at the time in Anchorage (I joined at the end of the summer prior to my freshman year of high school), and if I recall correctly it had risen somewhat like the proverbial phoenix out of the ashes of another club based on the east side of Anchorage whose name I cannot remember. Lynn was the head coach and also provided much of the early depth for the squad with her five daughters, who ranged in age from about nine to eighteen. At the time that I joined, I was part of a mini-exodus from Northern Lights to Alaska Pacific that included at least eight swimmers I can think of off the top of my head, who all left NLSC for different reasons, and who all (I think) found a more comfortable home at APSC.

Being a mother as well as a coach to several of her swimmers, Lynn made the pool deck, in essence, an extension of the living room, with a very warm, family-style atmosphere that would have been unfamiliar (to say the least) at Northern Lights or Aurora, the two biggest clubs in town. As I had more than a few behavioral issues in my past, it was made clear to me early on that that kind of tomfoolery simply wouldn't fly with Lynn as the coach. She expected everyone on the team to treat everyone else with an appropriate degree of respect, not just in the water during practices and meets but on the decks and in the locker room and wherever else we interacted. This was especially important because a significant percentage of the team was in the twelve-to-fifteen range. I don't know how many of you know the saying "There's nothing dumber than a middle school boy, and nothing meaner than a middle school girl," but it contains a lot of truth, and had often been my experience at NLSC. Those tendencies were cut off short by Lynn's expectations, and it made for a pretty harmonious environment. In fact, while at APSC, the kid who had left NLSC at least in part thanks to my actions and I became friends and even hung out occasionally outside of swimming.

In addition to creating a wholesome and comfortable environment for her swimmers, Lynn also knew how to coach; her oldest daughter, Erika, was swimming in college that year, and her middle daughter, Greta, was the best swimmer on our team (she also went on to swim at Wheaton, as did Anna, the youngest; Amanda and Laura merely attended Wheaton - I feel like there should be a Seitz Hall at the school). We had other talented swimmers as well, and although I continued to make no secret of my greater love for basketball (to the point of zipping over to the Alaska Pacific University gym the second I was changed in order to get some shots in), I also definitely applied myself much more to my swimming technique than I had been doing in my last year or so at NLSC. For example, it was under her watch that I mastered my open turns to the point where I was teaching my high school teammates how to best perform them just two years later.

That work paid off later on, after I had left and gone to boarding school, when I was a role player on a pair of state champion teams in Virginia. But I think what left a more indelible impression on me was Lynn's handling of that often volatile species, the young teenager. During my third summer in Valdez (2003), I was not quite twenty years old and coaching a knockoff of the Bad News Bears (guys - and Crystal - if any of you are reading this, you know it's true). When the two other coaches, both dads, simply stopped showing up, I was left to fend for myself with a dozen boys (and one girl) who were not always well-behaved, whether on the field or off. I may have made some missteps here and there, but I certainly know that I tried to incorporate Lynn's approach into my coaching, and it worked well enough for the team to get better as the season went on (even if certain, shall we say, extra-curricular activities occasionally affected their ability on the field).

When I moved to Washington, DC in 2006, I soon found a job coaching middle school girls. Now, I had coached one or two girls before (in baseball and swimming), but I had never had a full team of them, and the prospect was a little unsettling. Once again, I thought of how Lynn might handle girls, and tried to incorporate that. As many readers know, that led to seven years of successfully coaching girls at two schools and one club in the Washington metro area.

I haven't kept in great touch with the Seitz family, but being a swimmer for APSC was an extension of Lynn's family, and it provided me with both a boost to my interest in swimming and many lessons for my life as a coach. I don't know if Lynn is still coaching in Anchorage, but I hope that she has inspired a new generation of capable, family-oriented coaches who promote and maintain a comfortable environment in which kids can succeed.