Men's and Women's Swimming and Diving Team Dynamics

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By Chelsea Howard, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Walking onto the pool deck of McCoy Natatorium on any given day, there will be five coaches and two managers standing over the lanes of the men's and women's teams. Some programs have separate practice times and schedules for the men and women, but the program at Penn State benefits from having a combined team where they all train and travel together.

Head Coach John Hargis has designed a program that can manage a team of 66 swimmers - 35 men and 31 women. Everyone starts out together at the beginning of the year, but later into the season, Hargis assigns everyone to a group based on their individual events and the style of training that works best for them. He manages such large numbers by having sprint, short-middle distance, long-middle distance, and distance groups. This allows for the coaches to have a chance to make a more individualized training environment.

"I only see positives out of having a combined team," Hargis said. "There's obviously a difference in males and females work load and the training styles can be different, but it's up to the coaches to recognize that and make those changes. We do have more staff that allows us to spread the work out."

Combining the two teams creates a variable of competition that otherwise would not be as strong.

"It ups the intensity of practice," Hargis said. "Girls go faster to catch the guys and the guys go faster because they don't want to get beat by the girls. Anytime you put athletes together they're going to push each other and make a better environment."

Since most club teams across the country have teams with men and women, the recruits that visit are used to this aspect of the sport. Having a combined team makes the adjustment into college easier because it is something they are already familiar with.

"The recruits come from age group programs that have combined teams so they are used to the environment," Hargis said. "Occasionally you will get an athlete who is looking for a single-sex program, but it's very rare. I always tell recruits - the swimmers can tell you this too - that we are a big family and that you always have big brothers and big sisters to push you through."

Although the men and the women train together and travel together throughout the year, when it comes time for championship season, there are two separate Big Ten Championship meets. The women's championship is one week before the men's and usually at separate locations.

"The way it is now gives both teams an individual championship and they don't have to share that focus," Hargis said. "With the numbers we have of 12 women's teams and 10 men's teams a combined championship would be too big. It could be fun to combine but it would be very long, very crowded and lots of heats. They would have to reduce the travel squad and I'm not in favor of that."

When Junior Mackenzie Powers would compete during her high school season, she had separate teams and would only be around women. She has had the opportunity to experience both types of atmospheres. Since coming to Penn State, she has enjoyed being in a combined team setting.

"I do like having a combined team because it gives you more opportunities to push yourself and creates more competition since there are more people to race," Powers said. "The boys balance out the girls well and keep the environment fun."

When it comes to how well the coaches manage all of the swimmers and their different needs, Powers feels that the coaches do a really good job of handling it all.

"They have the same expectations for the girls and the boys," Powers said. "Being able to have five coaches and four different groups creates an atmosphere that gives the swimmers more attention and allows the coaches and swimmers to get to know each other better."

Freshman Jon Seiferth has only been around the team for a month, but can already tell the strong bond that the two teams share.  He also notices that despite having two different rosters, the school theme "One Team" describes Penn State swimming and diving well.

"Training together brings the team together as a whole," Seiferth said. "You can build new relationships, you have more training buddies, and you push each other. The guys don't want to lose to the girls and everyone is cheering for each other."

A major difference between club swimming and swimming at Penn State is the amount of coaches that are on deck. Seiferth has enjoyed having the extra coaches, allowing the team to split up into different groups.

"When we split up into groups, the coaches help to make it much more individualized and they know what you can do," Seiferth said. "It's a big motivator knowing that they are at the end of your lane and cheering you on during sets."          

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