Swimming Coach Ward Leads Patriots to Early Success
Posted: June 30, 2003 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am
By Adam Modzelesky
“The only way you’re going to get to throw me into the pool is if we win the conference.”
Lounging outside his office, legs crossed and his fingers laced atop his lap, third year George Mason men’s and women’s swimming and diving head coach Peter Ward remained matter-of-fact as he recalled saying this to his team after they had won their first match. According to Ward, a swimming coach being thrown into the pool is equivalent to a football coach getting doused with Gatorade after a championship win.
Initially, Ward’s two teams did not respond well to his challenge. “They all looked at me like I was an idiot,” Ward said. But who could blame the young Patriots? Who could expect brand-new teams to win their conference championships so soon? The doubtful athletes did not foresee it, but their “idiot” and future two-time women’s Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) Coach of the Year was about to do the unthinkable–lead his young teams to two women’s CAA championships and a men’s top-three finish in only three years.
Ward could not explain his teams’ successes. He solicited help from his assistant, Kristen Brown, and they finally came up with, “our willingness to take risks” as an answer.
“If we had gone about doing things the same way as other programs, we wouldn’t be nearly as successful,” Ward explained. “The point is to have the kids get better. It’s not only finding the kids, but them having to take care of themselves when they get here. We all have a common goal.”
Ward and his athletes’ common goal have made them one of most successful Patriots teams in recent memory. His coaching philosophy undoubtedly has something to do with it. Ward described himself as a mix between “a screamer” and “laissez-faire” coach, and said he is very attentive to the details surrounding competition.
“As an athlete, I worked with top coaches, and you learn from all of them,” Ward said. “You take what you agree with and incorporate it into your own program. You can’t copy a mold.”
Two coaches who have had the most influence on him are Paul Bergen and Jim Fowle. Bergen, a club coach in Oregon, and Fowle, a coach at the National Training Center in Canada, instructed Ward at the collegiate and international levels.
Ward is entering his fifth year as George Mason’s swimming and diving coach and has had the honor of coaching the program’s first and only All-American swimmer, Lauren Stinnett. “Stinnett is maintenance,” Ward said. “All the top swimmers I have had are hard work. It’s a matter of getting her into it. Once she is focused, she’s unstoppable.”
George Mason’s swimming and diving teams are expected to enter the upcoming 2003-04 season with approximately 60 athletes in the program. Three of the incoming freshmen are on academic scholarships. With Ward’s commitment to excellence and his proven record of exceptionally rapid success, there is no doubt next year’s team will be a force to be reckoned with.