By Sharon Robb
GAINESVILLE, May 7, 2020—If anyone knows how to accomplish goals, take on challenges and overcome adversity, it’s Olympic coach Gregg Troy.
Troy has worked with some of the greatest swimmers in the world and has pretty much seen and heard everything a swimmer has gone through at the age group, high school, college and international level.
His resume speaks for itself. He was head coach of University of Florida men’s swimming and diving teams from 1999 to 2018, and head coach of the women’s team from 1998 to 2018. Before joining the Gators in 1998, he was head coach at Bolles for 20 years.
Under his guidance, UF athletes won 43 individual national championships, 177 SEC titles and earned 1,145 All-America honors. He also coached 47 Gator Olympians, who had 78 appearances at the last five Olympic Games. Those athletes won 23 medals, including 11 gold.
Troy served as head coach of Team USA at the 2012 London Olympic Games and Team Thailand in 1992, with his other two Olympic stints as assistant coach (1996, 2008).
He now works with individual swimmers for the 2021 Tokyo Olympics as high performance coach for the Gator Swim Club. And, of course, waiting patiently to get back on the pool deck with his swimmers.
Recently, Troy spent more than an hour talking with SOFLO swimmers and coaches on the Zoom platform. He covered a multitude of topics from staying in touch with people and reading Richard Bach’s inspiring Jonathan Livingston Seagull to doing various core workouts during the COVID-19 lockdown.
Troy talked about several of his swimmers including Ryan Lochte, Caleb Dressel, Gustavo Borges, Trina Jackson and Elizabeth Beisel and the common thread they shared in swimming.
“They had a tremendous ability to accept challenges through dedication and consistency,” Troy said. He pointed out that Lochte’s first national time standard was in the 1,650 freestyle.
“He made challenges for himself by racing other guys in practice,” Troy said. “He was always trying to look for ways to get better. He was finding ways of making practice exciting and would fall behind teammates five to seven seconds only to catch them. When he got really good the second part of his career, he was always great at the end of his races because of those challenges he gave himself.
“The really great athletes I worked with always liked challenges. ‘What do I need to be better?’ athletes would ask. Those challenges are an important part of what you are doing and right now is a gigantic challenge.
“Were they perfect or great every day at practice? No. But they found ways to make practice fun and stayed focused on what they were doing.
“The really good swimmers had a tremendous sense of resiliency. They took their ups and downs during their journey from age group to college and on. Every one of them had challenges.”
Whether it was distance or sprints, his swimmers shared a common bond.
“It didn’t matter what they worked on in practice, they would challenge themselves,” Troy said. “I told age groupers I work with, all these ingredients–sprinting, breath control, turns, strokes–those are all challenges.
“Everyone has the same ingredients. There are no miracles. The best swimmers in the world have bad swims and best coaches in world have bad swim meets. Every thing you do at practice is important, some things more than others, you choose what’s important.”
Troy talked about how swimmers can choose to communicate with their coach.
“All the great ones would communicate with me,” Troy said. “The more honest they became, the more we got out of practices. It wasn’t quite the same when they were younger. But the older ones gave me the ability to take practice and refine it more and tailor it to them. The time to go and talk to your coach is at the conclusion of a practice or better than that, make an appointment and sit down with your coach. ”
Troy emphasized the three key people in a swimmer’s life.
“Who is the most important person or most invested person in your life? Troy asked. “Some will say their coach or parents but the most important person is you. You are the one most invested in what you do at practice or anything extra you do.
“The next most invested are your parents. They love you immensely. They want the best for you. They don’t know nearly as much as your coach but they love you.
“The third most invested is your coach. Why would anyone want to fight with their coach is a mystery to me. Your coach wants you to do well. It’s his job. It makes no sense to argue with your coach.”
Troy had some suggestions for swimmers while they are in quarantine.
“No. 1, the most important is to get a routine,” Troy said. “Some are better than others but it keeps you from getting bored. The absolute tool of swimming fast is the mind. Mentally practice skills, visualization, where’s our next journey, your first meet back, go to old meets, re-rehearse those and be a better student of the sport. The mind is the most important tool.
“Ride a bike hard for 15 minutes, forcing your heart rate up is really good. Any exercise, dryland, stretching. Take them and make them your own.
“Reading is important. Read about the sport. Keep a log book. The importance of keeping a log book is that it’s a map of where you are going on this journey, where you’ve been and set up where you are going.
“Set two goals for yourself for the week. Your coaches will help with that. Two goals that will make you a better person that also relate to being a better athlete. I have found that what college coaches are looking for is changing more and more in today’s world–good attitude, coach’s recommendation and good grades. They are still looking for swim ability but they want that person who is the best to work with, that’s fun to be around. Those are the real priorities.”
Troy said when he was recruiting college prospects, he would watch to see who showed up early or on time to practice and who was there until the end of practice. On home visits, he would observe how recruits treated their parents. He would look for the most intrinsic values that made for better teammates.
The final subject Troy touched upon were hitting plateaus in swimming. He pointed out that even the great ones like Michael Phelps hit a plateau. From 2004 in Athens until January 2007, Phelps did not swim a best time in any of his best events.
“Then he had a tremendous meet at World Championships in Australia and everything took off again,” Troy said.
“The first thing you realize is that swimming is one of the hardest sports, it’s very unforgiving. The plateaus are part of the sport. You have got to find ways to get off that plateau which takes us back to challenging yourself in practice, what you do, how you do it, watch your nutrition. This is why it is important to keep a log book.
“It’s so important to do things right when you were instructed the first time. As you get older and faster the law of physics work against you. As you get faster, the mistakes you make will hold you back. That’s why people reach plateaus. They got so good doing the wrong things that as they got older they refused to make the necessary changes. It takes time, but stay after making that change.
“It goes back to talking to your coach,” Troy said. “There are very few things your coach tells you that you can not improve.
“When we come out of this (COVID-19), go back to practice and be so excited. Don’t be really good for two or three weeks and then become normal again. You don’t want to be normal. You want to challenge yourself. ”
Sharon Robb can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org