Year-End Coaches' Letter to Team


Orinda Aquatics, USA Swimming


The most fitting way to recap the year and to say thank you is to highlight its conclusion - our morning workout on Christmas Eve.  The coaches were in their giving (and “caring”) mood, offering “The Ten Sets of the Holiday Season” workout, but the most significant aspect of the practice, and reflection on the team, was the nearly seventy swimmers who attended.  It was the largest number for a holiday workout in our twenty year history; a truly impressive number of high school and college athletes willing to train on a holiday, from a team of just 125 swimmers.  We had swimmers ranging from the junior group, to senior group, to college, to post-grad, and of course, the alumni and dear friends that never fail to stop by.

Our college contingent continues to achieve incredible success in swimming, in school, and in life.  But what is most impressive is not their performance, grades, or internships; it is the humility, maturity, and dedication that is imbedded in their character.  It is the role model that they were in high school and continue to be in college.  And it is not that we can point to one or two as role models, but to each one.  Colleges with OA swimmers competing currently in, or committed to in 2013, are: Cal (2), USC, UC Santa Barbara (3), Tufts (2), Emory (2), Pomona, Pitzer, Naval Academy, Notre Dame, San Diego State, Nevada Reno, Middlebury, Fordham, Claremont McKenna, Brown, Cal Poly (3), Williams, Lewis & Clark, Pacific Lutheran, Grinnell, Georgetown, Washington State (captain), Dartmouth (captain), Columbia (captain).

The senior group had its best year ever and performed well in national meets, high school Section Championships, in Clovis (above) where we traveled with sixty-two swimmers, and on the pool deck where they represent themselves impeccably every day.  At the recent USA Swimming Sectional Championship meet in Long Beach, a high-level official, who was staying at our hotel, made a point to tell us that “we have the nicest kids”.  She said, “I sat at a table with them for breakfast and it was apparent that they genuinely cared about one another.  But what was even more impressive, was that they genuinely cared about me, engaging in sincere conversation. I don’t usually see that.”  That afternoon, a coach from another team staying in the hotel (there were over ten teams there), made a point to tell us how polite and respectful our team was. 

So as we look back on a significant and successful year, we are first and foremost grateful for the extraordinary group of young adults and children that we have the privilege to work with (and partner with) everyday.   This is a truly unique group that has come to set a standard for clubs, travel, and culture. 

And we of course, would like to thank you, the parents, very much for your participation in, and support of, Orinda Aquatics.  As we have repeatedly stated, you are the foundation which allows (your) children to pursue ventures such as athletics and you are the backbone of support that allows organizations like this one to exist and thrive.

We founded Orinda Aquatics nearly twenty years ago, with the intent of creating something different, something better, and hopefully something special.  As the overt focus is on swimming and the inherent pursuit of success, our deepest pride is in the backdrop and foundation of this program that makes it, and these kids, special.  We could not be more proud of this organization and what it stands for, our commitment to the greater lessons of life through athletics, our commitment to putting character first, and our commitment to the community and to outreach.  We sincerely hope that we have either had, or at some point will have, a positive effect on your children outside of the pool.  Orinda Aquatics has truly blended success and culture in a powerful way.   

From a developmental perspective with young athletes, our focus and philosophy has been to develop well-balanced, efficient strokes that will support them as they grow, develop, and train and compete at higher levels.  After thirty-five years of coaching, we not only believe this is the best way to develop young athletes, but should be the only way.  From a personal perspective, we hope to develop true leaders in sports and in life, to foster an environment that would support kids of at all ages to rise about the social fray and pull to make positive decisions and life choices. 

As you and your children move on through the sport, we would encourage the emphasis to be on those things that promote a healthy, long-term swimming career.  The time that a swimmer achieves only provides a glimpse of what is really happening.  It does not reveal work ethic, efficiency, team commitment, humility, a desire to pursue the sport, or a willingness to persevere in challenging times (which there will be).  Be vigilant for these things and even be willing to abandon (early) success for the virtues and life lessons which can be obtained on a daily basis, with proper perspective.  In sum, keep the focus on effort and attitude, on teammates and team success, and your child will succeed on a level that will be much more profound than a swim, a meet, a season, or an award.  While many parents want early success, the real pursuit should be early growth.

I had a conversation with a high school coach about dedication.  I asked how many athletes on their team they would  characterizes as positive, dedicated, focused, and committed members.  The response was, “of the fifty,… zero.”  The path of least resistance seems too often the more common route.  In sharp contrast to recent stories about a decaying culture in our youth, we encounter extraordinarily humble, dedicated, highly respectful, compassionate young adults (and seventy of them) on a pool deck at 7:15 in the morning on Christmas Eve.


 “Today's teenagers are the future leaders in business and politics. People in such positions of authority encounter ethical dilemmas on an even grander scale. It is imperative for teens to learn about ethics and wise decision-making today in order to equip themselves for tomorrow.” Life in Perspective  


Keys to Success for the young athlete

§           Goal-setting should be “top-down”, beginning with effort, attitude, and attendance.

§          Efficiency and technique will be more important in the long run than performance in the short run

§          Emphasize the race over the time

§           Make your child’s driving purpose to team commitment and to “making a difference


Resources on the OA website (

We have tried to offer a great deal of information that reflects our character mission and general swimming materials that may be helpful - things such as:

  •             Inspirational articles
  •           Parent-related information
  •           A wealth of information for the college bound swimmer/athlete
  •           Calendars
  •           The OA Parent Handbook (which has a great deal of information about development and growth)


College swimming

Academic focus remains prevalent at OA and an integral part of program’s overall strength and success.  Our swimmers do an extraordinary job of balancing academics and athletics, and as year-round athletes, are true role models in this regard. We continue to send a very high percentage of swimmers (ten to fifteen annually) to outstanding institutions and to swimming programs across the country, with an average graduating senior class GPA near 3.75.  As mentioned earlier, there is a plethora of information on the website about college swimming, including OA’s history.  It is a myth that one has to be “fast” to swim in college.  The reality is, there are hundreds of collegiate swimming programs in the country and they exist at all levels.  The keys to swimming in college are more about desire and commitment rather than performance, and about finding the right academic/athletic fit. 

Two excerpts from OA Philosophy and a parent’s perspective

On “Success”

Remember, whether or not you achieve a goal/time will have virtually nothing to do with your ultimate success as a swimmer and will pale in comparison to your ability to be successful in achieving the bigger picture goals.  The latter will earn the respect of your coaches and teammates, while the former may earn you a medal.  Stay focused on the big picture.  Do the things necessary to promote a positive, long-term career.   Learn the lessons of teamwork, hard work, focus, spirit, and enthusiasm.  Many swimmers have gotten lost in the pursuit of times and records and missed the extraordinary benefits of youth sports.  They focus on a random time, a time standard, a record, or another person.  Attitude and effort fuel your career, your team, the sport, and your life – not one swim, or even one record.  We, as coaches, have seen everything imaginable over the many years, national swimmers who weren’t swimming at 10 years of age, and county champions at 10 who weren’t swimming at 14.  There is no guarantee.


“The Big Picture”

As time and years go on, we become more convinced that what can and should be gained from sports is truly invaluable and can be life-changing.  For the countless hours committed, the physical, emotional, and financial commitment, and the sacrifices made, there has to be more than a time at the end of this process.  Every time we see a youth sports team, from t-ball to collegiate athletics, we wonder what will be the real reward from all of this.  After thirty years, we have no doubt that sports does have the ability to effect extraordinarily positive changes in an athlete’s life.  From a general youth perspective, you can walk through any mall, high school campus, or pool deck for that matter and see foundations of character and integrity slipping away.  In swimming, we see too many careers unravel from overzealous parents and kids obsessed with times or ego.  Both miss the big picture and they ultimately lose out in the broader areas of personal development and team environment.  Energy and effort seems to flow into areas that actually break down a career rather than support its longevity.  We see this all too often in rec swimming with the emotional overload and even in USA swimming with training overload.  Parents ask their kids who they beat in practice rather than who they helped in practice and seem to care more about their kid’s time and place rather than their effort and attitude.  The process is getting lost and with it, so are the virtues of team commitment, work ethic, sacrifice, and on and on.  Regarding respect and discipline, we talk to coaches regularly about how they are “losing the battle” with kids.  The pull of apathy, self-indulgement, drugs, alcohol, insecurity, and bravado seem to trump integrity, service, humility, and discipline.  Too many sports teams are dominated by ego over humility, selfishness over selflessness, disrespect over respect, and doing the minimum rather than embracing work ethic. It is not simply that there are a few problematic athletes on a team, but rather there sadly only too few true character leaders and role models.          


A Note from an OA Parent

The pressure that is put on kids in this area to perform both academically and athletically is overwhelming. I of course, want my kids to always be the best that they can be, but never at the expense of being happy. When adults ask my kids what they want to be when they grow up, I tell them to answer, "I want to be happy".


I could not be happier that my child made the decision to move from summer rec swimming to Orinda Aquatics.  She is so happy being in the water/swimming, and although she may never be a super-star in the swimming world, she is a super-star in my world, as I admire her dedication to something that helps to build her self-confidence.  I love the "Character First" philosophy of OA.  As a parent, it's nice to know that I have others supporting my daughter in such a positive way.


"Leadership is a potent combination of strategy and character. But if you must be without one, be without the strategy."
~Norman Schwarzkopf


2012 Recap


Team Grows to 150 Members

After fifteen years of pursuing growth in membership, we have this fall surpassed 150 members.  While smaller in relation to teams nationally, this is a significant milestone for the team and will give us a stronger base and foundation to move forward from.  We are very excited to work with the new swimmers from each group. 


As a result of this growth, we have added two coaches to the staff, both elite collegiate swimmers and highly motivated to pursue a career in coaching.


·         Katie Kastes – Senior Group Assistant

§  Cal All-American under Olympic Coach Teri McKeever (transferred from Arkansas)

§  Arkansas school record in the 200 Fly – 1:55.66 (also swam 4:43 in the 500 Free)

§  Coaching experience with OCC and Steve Haufler, and OA Master’s


·         Hayley Peirsol – Junior Group Assistant

§  Auburn University (six-time) All-American and NCAA Champion

§  US Nationals Champion 800m Free

§  Pan Pacific Silver Medalist/World University Games Gold Medalist

§  Coaching experience at LMYA and Acalanes High School with Marc


Successes over the past year:

·         Won the Clovis Invitational – traveled with sixty-two swimmers with impeccable behavior

·         North Coast Section – Most successful NCS ever with OA swimmers breaking six records (and holding eight)

·         Junior Nationals

o    Summer (LC) - Men 3rd  with two OA swimmers (Steven and Sven) in the top three in scoring

o    A total of nine Junior National qualifiers

o    Winter (SC) – Steven Stumph sets Junior Nationals Record and Pacific Record in the 200 Breast with a time of 1:55.88

·         Western Zone Senior Meet in August – OA finishes in the top 10 (of western states)

·         Junior Olympics (LC) – second (OA site of dual venue)

·         Junior Olympics (SC) – seventh

·         Megan Liang – a multiple finalist at the Paralympic Trials

·         OA set four Pacific Swimming Records

·         Sectionals – Fifth overall in the five-LSC meet covering all of California part of Nevada

·         USA Swimming’s Club Excellence – Silver Medal Club

·         USA Swimming’s Virtual Club Championship (all age-groups) – current ranking is 66 of 3,000 teams in the US (and a top team under 150 swimmers)

·         USA Swimming’s Club Recognition – Level 4 (second team in Western U.S. to achieve)


“Try not to become a man of success, but rather try to become a man of value.”Albert Einstein


·         Don gave first seminar on “Life Lessons” for ASCA in San Diego

·         Ron spoke to the coaches associations in Oregon and Indiana

·         Don presented at ASCA in Las Vegas, and asked to join ASCA Board

·         OA coaches asked to speak at European Conference in 2013



·         Polar Bears – Soda Center with satellite programs at OCC and MCC

·         Character Camp - summer

·         Spring Lessons – March/April

·         Masters Year-round, directed by Steve Haufler.  We also hired new full-time coach, Tiffany Forbes.



A most sincere thank you to our coaches and life-long friends Matt and Marc who have been with Orinda Aquatics since inception (Matt as a coach and Marc as a swimmer).  Their dedication, professionalism, and expertise are second to none.  We would also like to thank Tony Ravnik for his selfless and positive support of every aspect of this organization.



·         The Soda Center and Andrew Morris

·         Nike Swim (Nicci Fusaro)

·         NorCal Swim Shop (Craig, Susan, and Lauri)

·         The American Swimming Coaches Association (ASCA) and John Leonard, Executive Director

·         Pacific Swimming – it’s Board and incredible officiating group

·         Margot Woodward – Webmaster and college planning (volunteer)

·         Jon Behnke – Dry Land (volunteer)

·         Katie Irwin – Mental Training (volunteer)

·         Elizabeth LaScala – Doing College (volunteer)

·         Rick Arnason – Open Water coach (volunteer)

·         Robin Bousquet – Walnut Creek Sport Medicine (volunteer)

·         Business Solutions, Inc. (Edi and Jodi)


Board of Directors (a sincere thank you!)

·         Cynthia Funai – President

·         Julie Carlson – Vice President

·         Jeff Jacobs - Treasurer

·         Matt Shieman – Business Development

·         Jim Lennon - Facility

·         Sharon Lee - Registration

·         Sarah Sivesind  – At Large


Things to look for in 2013 from Orinda Aquatics(previous year’s information can be found on the website):

·         Parent Q&A (January 9th)

·         Senior Team Building (January 12th)

·         Spring Clinics (March – Junior Group may attend)

·         Character Camp (June – Junior Group recommended)

·         Lake Del Valle Open Water (summer – Junior & Senior)

·         Team Banquet (summer)

·         NorCal Kids Triathlon (August – team event)

·         College Seminar TBD


Thank you!

Again, we truly hope that this team, this sport, and its lesson’s have had a positive influence on your life.  And we wish you all a very happy and healthy New Year.


Very sincerely, Donnie, Ronnie, and the Orinda Aquatics Board of Directors



Character is more important than success.

People are more important than athletes.

Life is more important than sports.


“Character is the only secure foundation of the state.”




A man found a cocoon of a butterfly

One day a small opening appeared

He sat and watched the butterfly for several hours as it struggled to squeeze its body through the tiny hole

Then it stopped as if it could go no further


So the man decided to help the butterfly

He took a pair of scissors and snipped the remaining bits of cocoon

The butterfly emerged easily but it had a swollen body and shriveled wings


The man continued to watch it expecting that at any minute the wings would

enlarge and expand enough to support the body.  Neither happened

In fact, the butterfly spent the rest of its life crawling around

It was never able to fly


What the man in his kindness and haste did not understand:

The restricting cocoon and the struggle required the butterfly to get through the opening was a way of forcing fluid from the body into the wings so that it would be ready for flight once that was achieved


Sometimes, struggles are exactly what we need in our lives

Going through life without obstacles would cripple us

We will not be as strong as we could have been and we would never learn to fly