Phil Scott, The Father of Circle Swimming

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Phil Scott with his medal-winning swimmers. Photo courtesy of Phil and Doris Scott.

Phil Scott, July 29, 1931 – July 16, 2015, from the San Pedro YMCA was called “the father of the circle pattern” by Peter Daland, Head Coach of the Los Angeles Athletic Club and USC.

Phil’s idea was built of necessity, swimming with more than 20 swimmers in the old YMCA pool in San Pedro in 1952. Phil called the 20-foot pool a “bathtub” and he had to figure out a way to “keep all the kids moving and swimming fast.”

“I think a few other people were coming up with circle swimming at the same time,” Phil said, “but I wrote an article about it for Swimming World. It got a lot of attention and coaches from all over the country wrote to me about my drills and circle pattern.”

He said to make it work he put kids in fast to slow lanes, and each swimmer was placed in order of their speed. “You had to be quick or someone would flip turn on you,” he said.

Phil’s San Pedro YMCA teams won 230 trophies and set 92 national records in every age division throughout his years as coach.

THE EARLY YEARS

Phil graduated high school and wanted to become an artist. But, after surviving the Great Depression he said, “I grew up in poverty, so I didn’t want more of it.” He applied to be a lifeguard at the Gaffey public pool and was told he was too young at 17. Instead, they asked if he knew how to teach swim lessons. “I said yes, even though I’d never taught swimming,” Phil said. “I caught on. I discovered I really enjoyed teaching—it was my bag. I was better than the other instructors because I was well organized and I kept them moving.” Teaching swim lessons led him to a teaching career of more than 30 years. He taught mathematics, art, health and physical education at Richard Henry Dana Junior High School in San Pedro.

“In 1951, I got the job at YMCA.The other coaches I knew at the time were Jim Montrella and Jerry LaBonte from the north Long Beach area YMCA. We became rival coaches. Jim Montrella was one of Jerry’s former swimmers. Jerry and I put in our 16 or 17 years and retired from coaching and we were also teachers. When Jerry retired, Jim took over his YMCA and club team. Jim went on and coached Ohio State University for many years and became head of the organization for all NCAA swimming coaches. Jim was a very successful coach. I remember a hall of fame ceremony for Peter Daland and Jim was emcee. I was best man at Jerry’s wedding, that’s my connection to both Jerry and Jim,” Phil said. Phil was the aquatics director at the San Pedro YMCA until 1968, taking two years off in 1954 to serve in the Army.

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Phil Scott in his Army uniform

According to Phil, Southern California Swimming got its start from several active parents of the Brentwood Swim Club. These parents were instrumental in local swim teams becoming part of the AAU, which then led to the LSC under USA Swimming.

THE WORKOUTS AND TEAM

About his workouts, he explained, “I never let my swimmers go slow. You can’t swim fast if you practice slow. They always practiced fast. They practiced at full capacity. With only three workouts a week, they could do it. I used a clock. If you weren’t on your time, you were on the bench. If you weren’t interested, I wasn’t either and you could sit it out.”

The other two things Phil incorporated into his practice were medicine balls and push-ups out of the pool.

“We had 45 minutes before workouts, so we did medicine balls, I had too many kids to do weights. I also had the kids pulling themselves out of the pool during sets. That uses the same muscles that you use swimming. They’d be so tired.”

Coach Phil Scott showed me photos from the ‘50s and ‘60s and recalled names of his swimmers and their personal stories. He was involved in his swimmers’ lives and said he was demanding and strict, but never mean. “High ideals and morals were as important to teach as swimming,” he said.

“We had top age group swimmers, we set the national 9-10 age group records in ’59. We set records in the 11-12, 13-14, 15-16 age groups all through the years, with the same kids.” Phil explained that it wasn’t until the early ‘60s that age group swimming included kids over 16. “Kids who were 17 years old couldn’t compete, yet they weren’t in college yet.”

Phil recalled his 1965 team as one of the highlights of his coaching career. “We went to the YMCA 1965 state championship in Tuscon, Arizona and won. Then on Sunday, we drove to the Jack Kramer Club in Rolling Hills for AAU relays. We stopped in El Centro at 1 a.m. and got back in the car after a couple hours sleep. I told the swimmers that maybe we wanted to skip the meet since we only got two hours of sleep. No, they wanted to go. We pulled in at 8 a.m. and they set three national records, the 200 medley, 400 medley and 400 free. They set Southern California records as well as National Age Group records.”

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Phil met his wife Doris (Lee) through teaching and was married for 55 years. They had four children, which led Phil to retire from coaching. “I loved coaching, but it was family first. I couldn’t be away for 48 weekends a year.”

You can read more about Phil Scott’s life from the San Pedro Daily Breeze obituary.

The San Pedro Branch of the Los Angeles Public Library named a meeting room in memory of Phil Scott. He and his wife volunteered weekly for more than 20 years with the Friends of the Library.

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