LRT Sports sat down with Dave Durden, the Head Coach for the men’s swim team at the University of California, Berkeley. Durden is diving into his 13th season with Cal in 2019-2020 and was also on the coaching staff for the 2016 Olympic team in Rio de Janeiro. Since the 2009-10 season, Cal has not placed lower than top two at NCAA’s under his leadership.
In 2016 he was named the Coach of the Meet at the 2016 Olympic Team Trials. Durden will lead Team USA as the Head Coach for the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan, this summer.
What was your initial reaction when you found out you were chosen as part of the US Olympic Team coaching staff?
My initial reaction was, “About time they asked me to do this!” and relaxed. I did feel somewhat slighted in 2012 based upon the medal impact the athletes I was coaching at the time could make on the 2012 team, so the goal moving through the 2016 quadrennial was to leave no doubt that our athletes would be impactful on the podium in Rio. A very close second reaction was, “How can I get Yuri on staff?” That took a little longer to get worked out.
What did you learn from coaching at the Olympics that you were able to bring back to the swim team at University of California?
At every major meet, it comes down to planning as the overarching theme that gets taken away from the end of the meet. There is always a wrinkle that you figure out along the way to incorporate into your success as a program – whether it is nutritional protocol, how someone warms-up or utilizing the massage therapists. The one thing I liked that I am taking back to Cal is the team area environment. It is not a tangible thing, but it is something that I will have to tweak heading into NCAA’s.
After seeing the Olympic swim team’s success in Rio and having some of the athletes in the NCAA or that have gone through the NCAA, how do you think competing in the NCAA sets them up for success?
The pressure and the schedule of the NCAA meet sets them up well for Olympic success. Competing for a team is a nice benefit that the NCAA meet environment provides that translates really well to the Olympic Games.
You’ve surrounded yourself with successful athletes over the years. What traits or characteristics do they all have in common that you can point out?
They are thoughtful and really comfortable at being uncomfortable. From the thoughtful side, when we were in Atlanta for Olympic Training Camp, I went down to the workout room to get a little workout in, and Nathan Adrian was on the treadmill, walking, getting some steps in. At the Games, you have to do a lot of walking and we were not doing that in training camp, so he took upon himself to get on a treadmill and walk.
What are the key characteristics you look for in a recruit?
Primarily, Do they get along with our current team? Our current team has had a lot of success, and they are great judges of character and fit, so if they pass that litmus test, then they have the traits we are looking for.
What do you enjoy most about the recruiting process?
Getting to know the families of the kids we are recruiting. They have raised great kids, so just listening to their stories of parenting is always so very interesting for me.
What do you have to say to the recruit that might be discouraged because they may not be as talented but is someone who works extremely hard?
That it may not be a great fit for their continued success and confidence in the sport. If you get thrown into an advanced class in school, and if you work extremely hard in studying that particular subject, you still will not have the success of the other students that are already at that advanced level in their studies.
How important is it for the recruit to have a solid academic background?
It is extremely important for a recruit to have a strong academic background in attending Cal. If a student-athlete is not comfortable, confident or happy in every aspect of their life (swimming, school, social aspect, family, etc), that unhappiness or lack of confidence spreads into the other areas. It is important to have great balance in what they do.
What advice would you give for high school athletes on their recruiting trips?
The advice I would give would be to visit on a Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday and to ask the same questions to different athletes, coaches, and support staff to see if you get the same answer.
How was your recruiting process as a student-athlete?
I was not a good swimmer, so I had to recruit myself to the schools I had an interest in.
What motivated you to become a coach?
The main piece that motivated me as a coach is that I did not have a good experience as a student-athlete, and I do not want our current student-athletes to have the same experience as me.
What do you enjoy most about being a college coach?
I love the day-to-day of college coaching. I could do without the travel or the championship meets: relaxed: but I love coaching a good practice.
Is there a pump up song or ritual that you have your team do before a meet?
Nothing specific, it changes from year to year.
How do you think Locker Room Talk can help recruits?
It can add a piece for them to evaluate. Like most anonymous reviews, it can be skewed based upon a singular event or experience, but I do think it can provide contextual information for recruiting purposes.
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