Interview with Washington & Jefferson College Swim Team Head Coach Mike Orstein.
Mike Orstein is no stranger to the world of aquatics, a sport that he has been a part of his entire life. His 447-187-2 record at W&J makes him the most successful swimming and diving coach in the college’s history. Read Mike’s full bio here.
Mike, you have had a very successful career at Washington & Jefferson College (27 + years and over 500 college swimming wins.) Why did you decide to make a career in swim coaching, and what keeps you energized to coach every day?
When I was young, I was introduced to many sports. I had the most success with swimming and gravitated to the sport. I was fortunate to have quality coaches who served as both role models and mentors. My passion for the sport grew as a result of these positive experiences. I made a lifelong commitment to this great sport. I am motivated to become a better coach each year and I find that I am constantly evolving even at this stage of my career. I also enjoy playing a significant role in developing student-athletes.
What do you consider to be your proudest achievement as a coach?
There is no question that my proudest achievement as a coach was to coach both my son, Jepthah, and my daughter, Kaitlyn, at Washington & Jefferson College. It was a dream come true to coach both of my children at the college level and is an experience I will treasure for life.
What lessons or guiding principles have you learned from mentor coaches? What advice would you like to pass along to developing coaches?
Your student-athletes are a reflection of you as a coach. Your reputation is everything. A successful leader should be an educator first and a coach second. Your mission should be to develop the whole person to maximize your student athlete’s potential both in and out of the classroom. Coaches should be caring and compassionate as student-athletes today thrive on praise versus negativity.
What are some of the most common weaknesses you see in swimmers these days? What tools or exercises do you use to correct these weaknesses?
A number of swimmers new to our program are not physically developed. Dryland training is a huge part of our program that is targeted to attack this weakness. I also focus on turns as they are another area where I see a lot of weaknesses. We specifically drill turns and do a significant amount of work with Zoomers to improve this area.
You’ve been using Vasa Trainers for many years and now have nine on your pool deck, which is essentially ‘Lane 9’. What advice would you have for other coaches and swimmers for ensuring they get the best results from using Vasa Trainers?
First of all, use them on a regular basis. Second, make sure you are supervising your athletes and promoting proper stroke mechanics on the Vasa machines. They play a critical role in our dryland program. It helps to have a few machines on deck and we are very fortunate to have nine of them at this time.
Why do you think swim-specific dryland training is so important for coaches & swimmers?
I really feel that it gives the coach and the athlete the opportunity to think about and focus on stroke mechanics. The concept of pulling your body past your hands is crucial. The machines enable you to be conscious of the body surface of your hands and forearms applying force backwards. This is the reason why Vasa machines are a staple of our dryland training.
Has your Vasa Trainer routine helped prevent common injuries in your swimmers? If yes, please explain how.
Definitely. The machines have placed our athletes in peak physical shape. We have largely been an injury-free program and I attribute a great deal of that success to the Vasa Trainers.