Team unity is crucial to individual success of swimmers

Mark Remme

When Minnesota men’s swimming assistant coach Bill Tramel came to the Gophers in 2004, something struck him instantly.

Tramel spent years coaching at Georgia, North Carolina and Missouri. But as soon as he joined Minnesota’s program, he instantly realized there was certain camaraderie – a common goal – that helped each player become better.

“I wish I could pinpoint it, because I’d write a book and sell it to every coach in America,” Tramel joked. “I think it’s a mutual respect in one another, and it doesn’t matter if it’s an Olympic-caliber swimmer or a walk-on from Apple Valley.”

That family-like atmosphere the men’s swimming team possesses is contagious. Senior swimmer Jason Timmer said it’s something he hasn’t noticed out of other teams he’s competed against in his career.

Clearly swimming has less of a teamwork mentality to the general public than the likes of football or baseball. There are no pulling linemen, no center fielders bailing out a pitcher and no running backs waiting for a key block to spring him toward the end zone.

But there is strategy.

And when a fellow swimmer needs a bit of encouragement to help the team gain crucial points at the end of the meet, there’s a need to have teammates huddle around the block with encouraging words.

Perhaps that’s why coach Dennis Dale’s unit is a perennial Big Ten contender, having won the conference three out of the past four years and five times since 2000.

“The fact is that when you’re in competition, anyone can perform better with a little moral support,” Dale said. “It allows them to achieve, and their achievement can be greater.”

Dale is a firm believer in what the encouragement of the whole can do for an individual in competition. That’s why Timmer said it’s somewhat of a tradition to know incoming freshmen before they even become Gophers.

He said upperclassmen learn names and events prior to incoming freshmen arriving on campus so their new teammates feel welcome and ready to begin competition.

Such gestures don’t go unnoticed, according to Tramel.

“The one thing that was interesting to me was (incoming freshman Jared White’s) father said that when his son came back from a recruiting trip to Minnesota, he didn’t know who was who on our team,” Tramel said. “What that means is the seniors get along just as well with the freshmen as anyone else.

“We’re totally a team, which was one of the deciding factors for him coming here,” Tramel said.

From that point forward, the close bond among teammates flourishes into an intertwined relationship both inside and outside the Aquatic Center.

Timmer said he and his teammates do all the things other college students do, but they do it with each other as opposed to hanging out with individual crowds.

“When we have a party or a get-together, everyone’s invited,” he said. “We go to football and hockey games, but we do it as a group.”

In 2007, Dale’s squad has expectations of once again taking the conference title despite having “graduated a whole lot of points” from last year’s Big Ten title team.

But despite Dale’s assessment that many favor Michigan as the preseason favorite, he seems to like his odds.

Tramel seems to follow Dale’s notion, because he said when a team backs each other, the sky is the limit.

“When there are teams out there that have multiple groups with multiple goals, the ultimate team goal

can’t be as high as it could be with one common goal,” Tramel said. “We all have one common goal, regardless of talent or ability level.”

Timmer isn’t too worried either, considering the allegiance he has on his side.

There will be no surprises when competition rolls around. Team members are about as immersed in each others’ lives as they can get.

“We’re all teammates, we’re all roommates and we’re all friends,” Timmer said. “All of my closest friends at the University of Minnesota are on the swim team.”