In January of 1994, two-time Olympian, Bill Forrester embarked on a venture that proved to be educational for him as well as hundreds of young athletes over the past 21 years. He started Georgia Coastal Aquatic Team (GCAT) that year with a goal to teach swimmers how to be the best they can be in the water and out. With his history in swimming and the knowledge he obtained over his career as a world class athlete, he knows that he can help young children grow into great citizens and great athletes. As a former athlete himself, he knows what it takes to make it to the top. At the age of 18, he won a bronze medal in the 200 meter Butterfly at the 1976 Olympics in Montreal. Guiding others through the pitfalls of life to the end of their high school swimming career has taught him a lot as well.
When a swimmer begins at GCAT, part of the coach’s job is to help form good character traits during those years. Swimming, as with most sports, teaches them dedication, loyalty, trust, persistence, and honesty. Here a child gets to learn the meaning of failure and success. The importance of experiencing both will give them a better understanding of life. “A Champion is a winner who has lost a lot of races.”
As a novice coach in 1994 all Forrester had was his experience as an athlete. His coaching experience was limited to a few summers helping with his club team or summer league teams. He did have a rich history of coaches who mentored him through his swimming career. Starting with Kirt Meyers, his first coach was quite animated and enthusiastic. Kirt penned the phrase: HOW’S YOUR PMA? (Positive Mental Attitude). “Kirt inspired me to think big and set my goals very high. As a result I worked for the highest level”. Forrester’s next coach was quite different but just as inspiring. Randy Reese has a subdued personality with few words. His inspiration was from his very high expectations for every one of his swimmers. Daily excellence and dedication is what he expected and nothing less. As a collegiate athlete at Auburn University, Forrester was privileged to train under two of the most renowned coaches in the history of swimming. Five time Olympic Coach, Eddie Reese coached him during his Freshman and Sophomore years. Five time Olympic Coach Richard Quick was his coach during his Junior and Senior years. Both of these coaches were inspirational by creating a sense of team pride and team spirit! “In college it was more about team goals and success which led me to my own personal success!”
Using old techniques and training methods from his years of swimming Forrester began coaching. A relatively young novice group could only take so much of the very hard training. Words of encouragement and inspiration are just as important to help his new athletes to swimming success as they had been to him at a young age. Each year and each competition gave Forrester and his athletes more experience and education to swim smarter and faster. New technology and techniques are always available to incorporate into GCAT training. However, some of the old training concepts continue to provide success for his athletes. “I continually learn from other coaches, but I never forget the training that helped me get to the top. Each year I will try new things. I keep what works the best and get rid of anything that does not work.”
The most important ingredient is the athletes who have become a part of the GCAT family. Each child that comes through our program is as diverse in talent as they are in personality. It is what makes this team so special. Our team members find friendships that last throughout the years. As team members leave to go to college some continue training and some do not. Almost every year a new GCAT athlete attends college as a student/athlete. Athletics in college opens many doors. One of the best things about swimming is that it is a life skill they can continue as they grow older. “It is possibly the best exercise for most anyone.”
The philosophy at GCAT is a gradual progression to success in the sport. Most of our highest achieving athletes have come through our system as 8 and under swimmers and have gradually become some of the best in the country. Learning to love the sport is the first step while learning stroke technique and body awareness in the water. “I believe that swimming should be fun especially during early ages. A 10 year swimming career gives us plenty of time to work hard and get serious about the sport.” Each age group adds training sessions and work load as they get older. If a child begins a high volume of training sessions and yardage before the proper stroke technique is developed or more importantly the maturity to handle the work load, it will be detrimental later in their swimming career. By the time they are old enough to commit full time to the sport, they are at a full training schedule with mornings, afternoons and Saturday training sessions.
The GCAT philosophy has proven to be very successful over the years. Olympic Trials Qualifiers from GCAT have competed in each of the US Olympic Trials since 2000 and at least one already qualified to compete in Omaha, Nebraska in July of 2012. Performances on the state and local level are quite impressive as well. Each year GCAT swimmers are encouraged to go back and compete with their summer teams. Supporting summer teams is a significant part of promoting the sport of swimming in Savannah. Fall and winter swimming gives the athlete the physical conditioning that allows them to excel during the summer in the Coastal Swim League or in Long Course competition.
To accomplish this much success, Forrester has help to develop such an accomplished program. Walter Weed has been coaching the 11 and 12 year old swimmers. Coach Walt is primarily focused on teaching this group how to work, as well as fundamental skills like kickouts and breakouts. He is always drawing diagrams on the chalk board and showing pictures of Olympians to demonstrate correct technique for strokes, turns, and starts. Coach Ryan and Coach Heather are responsible for teaching the 9 and 10 year old swimmers skills such as how to read a pace clock or how to do a backstroke turn. The emphasis is on having fun while getting down the fundamentals. The 8 and under group is managed by Coach Roxy. She teaches the very basic skills to each of the children in this group. Each swimmer learns head position and body position in the water as well as rotation and timing for breathing. Backstroke and freestyle are the long axis strokes. For most children these two are easier to learn. As they master freestyle and backstroke skills the other two strokes are introduced. Breaststroke and Butterfly are the short axis strokes.
Finally the parent support and involvement are quite important to the success of the GCAT program. Parents bring their children to the pool for practice on a daily basis. As each swimmer ages up into a new training group, the commitment level increases for the swimmer and the parent. Nutrition and sleeping habits are discussed and stressed in practice, however, these habits are developed and perpetuated at home. Parents are the ones responsible for buying groceries, setting curfew and requiring high academic standards. It is a big job to keep an athlete on the cutting edge and parents are a vital link to the process.
“The process is what keeps me going. The swimmers learn; I learn. It is ongoing.” One thing that will always remain consistent is Forrester’s desire to help these athletes become the best person they can be in the water and out.
Head Coach Bill Forrester
1415 South Camden Circle Savannah, GA 31406