The Needham High School boys varsity swimming and diving team is ready to jump in the pool and defend their Bay State Conference crown this season. But how exactly will they do it? Well, according to head coach Adam Cole, the Rockets' trick to having a successful season is working hard and improving but also having fun, too.
“To me, it’s about attendance and effort, so if they’re here and working in practice, it’s going to be great. If the freshman follow the seniors' lead, they’re going to come along, and if everyone’s having a good time, having fun, we’re going to have a good season,” Cole said.
Needham Patch sat down with Cole recently to talk about the upcoming season and why the Rockets have become such a successful unit.
Looking back to last season, what were some highs, lows and things you’re hoping to carry over to this year? We had a very successful year last year, and we’ve been moving in that direction for a while now. We were in one last year, 7-1 before that and we had one loss to Reading, a very strong team. They had some guys finish at the top of the state meet in a bunch of different events. They have swimmers who swim year round and are very strong, so we had more numbers than them, but we were unable to beat them on depth. They were just top talent; they were just able to beat us. That is the one, I would say, low light, disappointment [from last year].
In our league, we won the conference meet last year and that was the first time since 1987. We’ve been close before; we’ve had losses to Framingham and Newton North and been second for a couple of years in a row, and we finally got that last year, so we’re very happy with that. The goal this year is going to be to put in the effort, to work hard in practice, to get faster, to do all the little things better than we did last year, and we only graduated four seniors. We have 10 new freshman, and we had a big freshman class last year that’s gotten older, stronger, so we believe if we do all those little things, we’ll be competing again at the top.
Talk about winning a championship. What does it take to accomplish that particular goal, and how do you think your team could do it this season? I swam for Needham High School in the late ‘90s, and we had six wins in those four years. What we had was a great camaraderie on the team, and everyone got along well, but our coach didn’t push us as hard as a high school coach could push us. I went on and swam at Williams College for four years—it was Division III and we had a competitive team, but we still had that same camaraderie. I saw both coaches instill those values of working hard and making sure everyone was getting along as a team because when the team is a tight team, everyone’s working and pushing each other to excel and it makes it much easier for the coach. The captains look out for each other.
When I came onto the team, the team had been down. The people had not won—we went 0-8 and 0-7 my first two years, so 0-15. And we finally started winning some in my third year and just kind of tried to do some team bonding activities. We’ll go out to dinner after some meets, movie night, we’ll do some activities with the girls team, girls-guys meet. It's high school, so it’s supposed to be participatory, and it’s supposed to be fun, so I wanted to make this a team where the kids are going to have a fun, but once they’re having fun, and they’re here, you can kind of grow the team.
I started with 21 kids and, this year, I’m going to have 42-44, somewhere in that range. It’s just been getting that word out that this is a fun team. We work hard, but through that hard work, we’re successful and support each other in the quest for that success. So first, it was kind of instilling that same team bonding, camaraderie, work ethic. It's also helpful to have the same coach. They’ve been through at least three coaches since the previous one retired [two or three years ago]. The consistency of that and being able to develop a longer term plan helps out. Also, I teach at the high school, so people know me from that and that adds to the recruiting.
What’s the team captain’s outlook on this upcoming season? What are you looking for them to do this season? This is the strongest senior class in terms of leadership that I’ve had. We’ve been very lucky with strong leaders and strong captains, and they’ve understood that the hard work pays off, so as they’ve gotten older they’ve seen that more and they made that connection.
They hear from the guys before them that we weren’t always winning. We weren’t winning like this because we had guys who were on teams that didn’t have any wins. So they’ve kind of pushed kids to start training earlier, so we have some more kids who are swimming on the fall team before coming into winter or we’ve had some kids join the cross country team to try to get in shape or the summer swim team. While some of the kids swim year round, we’re not really a year-round club team. We don’t have a lot of club swimmers, but a lot of it is building excitement, which builds numbers and then kind of directing that energy toward getting in shape, getting ready for the season.
It’s a short season. We only have about 12 weeks, so there’s not a lot that we can do if they’re not in shape and ready to go. But my captains are very strong leaders because they’ve watched some strong leaders ahead of them, and I hope that they can pass down their values to the classes behind them.
What are some of the meets that your team is excited to compete in? We love the Wellesley meet for the senior meet at the end. It's always the last Friday in January, so the guys look forward to that, and they get the biggest crowd of the year. Framingham is going to be our big meet. They beat us for the conference two years ago, we beat them last year, and we traditionally don’t swim as well at their pool in the afternoon as we do at Babson College because they have more energy at home, we have more energy when we’re at home. So we’ve got that one and for the first time that meet’s going to be before December break. I think that’s going to be one of the big conference meets.
We’re not swimming against Reading this year, but we have another non-conference strong team in Hopkinton, and they’ve had a lot of strong focuses at the sectional and state meets last year, so we’re looking forward to getting our fast indivdiuals to race their fast individuals and hoping that with depth at diving we can win that one.
Going back on your former swimming days at Needham High School, how have your past experiences helped you improve as coach for the Rockets? One of the biggest things was my high school coach. He wasn’t a traditional swim coach because he wasn’t initially a swimmer growing up, but what he did was he cared about all the kids. He made everyone feel like they were important to the team. We had a small team, we had 16, so everyone was important to the success of the team. He always highlighted everyone’s personal accomplishments after every meet. Every time anybody’s best time was recorded he would mention that and he was very good at being supportive, and creating a great sense of team camaraderie.
I still go out with him and my two co-captains about every three months. We all get together, ever since graduating in 1999. We still see each other and created lifelong friends through swimming. Some of my best college friends are swimmers because you’re working hard together, day after day, and that’s kind of what I want this to be. I want it to be a place where everyone can feel like they matter. Whether they’re in the water or out of the water, they’re cheering, and I believe that they can impact and make someone swim faster the louder they are. So that was one of the things I pushed. My college coach believed that, so we always had great levels of support. Win or lose, I want us to be winning in the terms of the loud decibel level.
It was really my high school coach who taught me about team and forming friendships and my college coach did the same thing but showed me that with harder work. So what I’ve tried to do is combine both of those by having us working hard, have us getting faster, but make sure the emphasis is still on the participation and people improving and doing better than they did last time.