PSU’s Coach Tim Murphy on Strokes, Strategies, and Self-Sufficiency

PSU Swim Coach Tim Murphy

“I’ll be sure to be careful with my words now,” laughs Tim Murphy when told that his conversation is being recorded.

Yes, Murphy is known for his outspoken demeanor, but it's never overshadowed his skill and effectiveness as a swim coach – not at Penn State University, where he’s headed up the men’s and women’s teams for two seasons now, and not at Harvard, where he led the men’s team for the 15 seasons prior. In 2012, he also served as Head Coach for the U.S. Olympic men’s open water swimming team, including his Harvard protégé, Alex Meyer.

At all three institutions, Murphy has trained his swimmers in a commercial Elite Endless Pool®. He recently discussed with us some of his coaching strategies.

On how he uses the Elite Endless Pool at Penn State
“The Endless Pool can teach you efficiency, and it can teach you how you create speed.

“Going from the Endless Pool into the regular pool, going back and forth, creates a different sensation and awareness, which I think is good. The Endless Pool gives you a different texture to your stroke, and then when you get back in the regular pool, you usually have a better sense of what you’re doing, how you’re moving through the water, if you’re moving out of alignment when you’re breathing, little things like that.

“It’s a tremendous tool to heighten their kinesthetic awareness of what they’re actually doing in the water. Most swimmers are used to a certain stroke, but it’s not always exactly what you’d like. The Endless Pool has a way of heightening their awareness both through the mirrors and through the [swim current’s] flow and not having the distractions of what’s going on around them.”

Swimming coach Tim Murphy training a swimmer in the Elite Endless Pool at Penn State
Penn State’s Elite Endless Pool “heightens their sense of awareness,” according to Head Coach Tim Murphy. He finds that the Elite’s “enhanced learning environment” helps him meet his goal of developing self-sufficiency among the Nittany Lions swimmers. He calls the pool a “tremendous tool” for the quality of its swim current, its underwater mirrors, and the lack of distractions found in a traditional pool.

On the feedback from the Nittany Lion swimmers he trains in the Elite
“It heightens their sense of awareness. I don’t want to tell them what to do; I want them to get to the point where they’re doing what I want them to do by figuring it out. That way, when they’re starting to drift [or] getting sloppy with their mechanics, they know what to go back to as opposed to me just telling them.

“So it’s really just a back-and-forth conversation – do this, try this, what are you feeling, what are you thinking – and developing an understanding with each individual athlete on what they know about what they’re doing, figuring out how they learn. They don’t all learn the same way.”

On finding an Endless Pool at Penn State when he arrived from Harvard in 2013
“I was delighted when I found out there’d be one here. It can be a very effective tool if used in a progressive manner.

“It also makes it one-on-one, so it helps to create a more enhanced learning environment. A lot of them want to be told, ‘what do I need to do,’ but I want them to be able to understand and feel the difference between when they’re actually ‘holding the water’ and when they’re not [or] what they’re doing with their legs.

“So that enhanced learning environment – the Endless Pool, the varying speeds that you can work with – it just all relates back to the effectiveness of teaching stroke mechanics at this level.”

On helping to bring an Endless Pool to the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs.
“I thought it was a win-win for the USOTC. It was relevant for any swimmers they had and relevant for any other athletes.

“I think it sets a foundation for learning. If I were a basketball coach, I’d have my people in the pool doing something. If I were a boxing coach, I’d have my people in the pool. There are some basic conditioning components of swimming. And being able to control the degree of difficulty [as you can in the Endless Pool], then obviously, it’s a good tool.”

Swim coach Tim Murphy training Alex Meyer in the Elite Endless Pool at Harvard
“I had a lot of fun with Alex,” Tim Murphy fondly recalls. Murphy coached Alex Meyer first at Harvard (pictured here), then on the U.S. Olympic men’s open water swim team. The Elite Endless Pool’s top speed of 0:51/100 yards let him challenge Meyer, while the indoor pool’s year-round accessibility proved ideal for bitter Boston winters and the OTC’s 6,000-foot elevation.

On training Olympic open water swimmer Alex Meyer
“I had a lot of fun with Alex -- really challenging him with a lot of different speeds, which is a lot of what open water is; it’s continually changing paces or holding certain paces for a long time. So I think it was a very valuable tool for him in his conditioning.

“[Plus] we were in Boston in the winter; you can’t really go out and swim in Walden Pond! So I put him in there for a couple of hours, and we got our work done.”

On early-season training versus prep for the NCAAs and the Big 10
“The beginning of each season, we’re trying to narrow down from the alignment standpoint what they’re doing with their kick and what they’re doing with their catch, then the things that surround that. [For] those teaching objectives, I feel like I can really get a lot done in the Endless Pool.

“If you’re going to create any kind of change with their stroke, ideally you’re doing it at the beginning of the cycle because obviously it’s a lot of high repetition. If you’re doing one thing and you’re going to change it, you have more time to get them to focus on that.

“Near the end of the season, you’re just trying to clean things up. You’re not trying to do any major changes, just help them get a rhythm, an efficiency, help them figure out what they’re doing with their legs and their catch, and simplify it. They need to raise their skill set in terms of the way they’re moving through the water, and the Endless Pool has always been a real good tool for that.”


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