Throughout his years as a swimmer and a coach in Southern California, Jeff Julian believes it’s all about the team. On the Rose Bowl Aquatics website, you can read his philosophy about the importance of the TEAM:
“TEAM – First and foremost, ever since I began my coaching career, I have believed that swimming is not an individual sport at all. In order to succeed to one’s potential; they must believe in the TEAM approach and learn to be supportive of their teammates.”
Julian was born in Weiss Baden, Germany, to a military family when his dad was near the end of his career. The Julian family returned to Southern California when Jeff was six months old. His brother and sister, ages nine and 11, swam with El Monte Aquatics which became Industry Hills and then La Mirada. He said he “literally grew up on the pool deck.”
Jeff’s love of swimming came from his mom who was an early open water swimmer and swam Lake Michigan twice. His aunt was fourth in the 100 fly with a photo finish at Olympic trials when they took three swimmers.
“I consider my mom an ideal swim mom although she liked to talk to me about swimming more than was ideal. She knew times, she was fully involved, but wouldn’t get involved with my swimming. She loved the sport overall, loved to support everyone, but she stayed away from the gossip.”
As a young swimmer growing up in Southern California, he swam with the Arcadia Riptides until age 12. “I feel very lucky with my coaches growing up and how they managed training philosophy. The teams that I was on, whether it was Arcadia Riptides under Ray Peterson and Ron Milich, or later Industry Hills, had unbelievable coaches. They taught me that you can really enjoy the sport and still work hard and reach for more.”
After age 12, Julian swam with Industry Hills with coaches Don Garman, Ed Spencer and Mike Gautreau. He said Gautreau, who now coaches at Covina Aquatics Association, “especially brought us together as a team. The group we had makes me want that for everyone—the experiences and the memories of all of us together. There was hard work and fast swimming, but there was so much more.”
As a high school swimmer, Julian was an eight-time CIF champion, All-American in multiple events and he achieved countless other accolades.
Julian was recruited by the University of Southern California, where he continued to excel. His many accomplishments included: U.S. national team, silver medalist at the World University Games, Pac-10 champion, NCAA silver medalist, eight-time All-American and Olympic trials finalist and Trojan Team Captain.
According to Julian, “At USC with Mark Schubert as a leader and the experience with the swimmers, it put the emphasis on the team above all else for me. When I started coaching, my number one goal and drive was team development. That was clearly from my experience at USC with my classmates and fellow swimmers. I believe the team aspect is not just an ideal, but crucial to get the most out of swimmers.”
After his many accomplishments in high school and at USC, Jeff had no intention of becoming a swim coach. He wanted to work in physical therapy but he “had one professor in anatomy or physiology that turned me off completely.” By the time he graduated, he was ready to try something away from the pool.
For about two years each, he worked as a financial advisor for Dean Witter, and although he loved the educational aspect of the job and learning, it wasn’t a good fit for him. He enjoyed working for a start-up tech company, but the company relocated to New York. With one-year-old Trenton and wife Kristine Quance, fellow Trojan and gold-medalist from the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, who was still training, he didn’t want to move the family. His next job was as a medical device salesperson. He said it was a good job, but he wasn’t passionate about it. He was responsible for a territory of 12 states and away from home most of the time. During these years away from the pool deck, he spent two years as Mr. Mom and he believes those years are partly responsible for the deep bond he shares with Trenton.
It was after a successful first interview with the FBI when he was offered a job with Rose Bowl Aquatics. He knew he needed to do something he was passionate about.
”Rose Bowl Swim Team is led by a philosophy that hard work is needed, good sportsmanship is essential & in order for great things to happen, swimmers, coaches & families must work & bond together as a TEAM.”
At Rose Bowl, he started at a combination job of age group and masters coach. He was marketing director and worked in the administrative side of the center as well as coaching. Within a year, he was launched into the position of head coach and continued with the marketing technology role for several more years. Fourteen years later, he is the head coach at Rose Bowl and an assistant coach at USC.
According to Julian, “the Rose Bowl team came after the center was redeveloped due to funds from LA84 Foundation, which is still a strong organization and was started from seed money from the 1984 Olympics.” The Rose Bowl Aquatic Center was built from 1984 to 1990. In 27 years, the team has grown and there have been only four head coaches: Brian Murphy, Terry Stoddard, Gary Anderson and Jeff Julian.
About his coaching philosophy, Julian said, “If I’m not trying to be a better coach than last year, then I’m not doing my job.” He said he’s always “trying to learn and improve and continually tweak what I do. What I do revolves around process–what my swimmers do on a daily basis. The experience and life lessons are more valuable than times. None of that takes away from my competitiveness. I’m competitive by nature, but I believe that being fully committed and competitive in swimming will teach you life lessons on a whole different scale.”
“I didn’t have a direct line of mentor coaches because I was at Rose Bowl for only one year and then head coach. But I have learned from a lot of individuals. I’ve learned more from my peer group. We have our group with Jeff Conwell from Canyons and now Piranhas, Ron Aitken, Sandpipers, and Joe Benjamin from Rancho San Dieguito in San Diego. We were young and upcoming coaches and we shared information and learned a lot from each other. That’s the biggest way I’ve learned through the years.”
According to Julian, he’s had a lot of amazing swimmers and a few who stand out to him are Emily Adamczyk, Jason Lezak, Mickey Mowry and his son Trenton.
“Early on, my first Olympic Trial qualifier was Emily Adamczyk, who later went on to win a DII NCAA Championship title.
“Coaching Jason Lezak was a privilege. He trained on his own and he represented our team for five years when he was a professional. He’d come out each month while he represented Rose Bowl, from 2007 to 2012 for those two Olympics, including his relay. It was fun to see and work with someone at that level who was open to feedback on his races.
“One of my great stories is Mickey Mowry. He started on our team in our pre-competitive group. His mom signed him up because he was a little overweight. She wanted him to work out and be fit. He is ‘start to finish’ Rose Bowl, ended up fourth at Junior Nationals in 100 fly and went on to swim for UC Santa Barbara. Those are stories I love—coming in and starting at the bottom and working all the way up.
“My son Trenton has been a lot of fun. People always ask me how can I coach my son. When your son is the hardest working, most focused and driven person you have in the water, it’s kind of fun to coach your son. He’s having a lot of success and will be swimming at Cal next year.”
INNOVATIONS IN SWIMMING
Julian said there have been huge innovations in swimming since he was a swimmer. He said it’s more than the things that exist now that didn’t before–like the suits. “After going to NCAAs this year, my first time in 20 years (as a coach with USC) it was unbelievable on the men’s side with records being broken right and left. It dawned on me that I have to forget about what times used to mean. The times are so fast now, they are at a whole different level. It’s just where we are now. If a bunch of swimmers are going these times, then we need to coach kids to get there. It’s a mindset.”
He believes the process of swimming and knowledge has improved through the years.
“I think the process idea isn’t individual to me, but it’s a big piece that is more involved than when I was a swimmer. Back then, we’d touch on sports psychology, we’d touch on nutrition. But the main thing we did was swim, swim, swim. Now, in the college environment, and I try to take it to the public environment as well, there are services like sports psychology available to everyone. You have strength training that’s truly supplemental to swimming. Today strength training isn’t about beating up kids in the gym and pool. It’s driven to help them swim fast not just get stronger. There is a focus on nutrition, healthier foods, rest, sleep and taking care of yourself.
“Volume is down in yardage, it’s more about quality. It goes beyond how far you swim, it goes to how well you swim and how well your stroke technique is. If each one of these things is one percent better, combine it all and you see people swimming faster and faster.
“Part of the hardest job of coaching is the group mentality, someone swims fast and everyone thinks they can swim that time right away. There are no major barriers in swimming anymore. It’s an amazing time in swimming. Records used to stand for a while, now we see them broken in a day and it’s pretty good if a record lasts a year. It’s a whole different era. I credit this to coaches and swimmers who are more focused and know so much more than in my day as a swimmer. And it wasn’t that long ago.”
From USC NEWS: “Swimmers pool their resources to help a friend in need. Olympians rally around one time Trojan swim standout Jeff Julian as he fights stage 4 cancer.
To have the biggest fundraising impact, Lezak decided to throw an “Olympians for #TEAMJeff” event. The 10 on deck: Lezak (four gold medals, two silver medals, two bronze medals), Lenny Krayzelburg ’99 (four gold), Rebecca Soni ’09 (three gold, three silver), Haley Anderson ’13 (one silver), John Naber ’77 (four gold, one silver), Kristine Quance-Julian ’97 (one gold), Ariana Kukors, Jessica Hardy (one gold, one bronze), Kim Vandenberg (one bronze) and Betsy Mitchell (two silver).”
In 2015, Julian faced his biggest challenge. A healthy young man who had never smoked, Julian was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer. The swim community rallied around him and throughout the country, swimmers have been wearing #TEAMjeff shirts.
“There wasn’t a big ‘Aha moment’ of needing to change,” Julian said. “It was much more of the opposite. I love my life and I need to remember to enjoy it more, even the coaching, professional side. I had a lot of people close to me, their first reaction was to tell me to relax and take time off and do something I’ve always wanted to do. That’s not me. I don’t want to sit around. I like what I’m doing. I love coaching. I enjoy it.”
“There will always be ups and downs, there will always be struggles. But if you can remember what life really means to you, then it’s much easier to get through the day-to-day stuff.”
“It was an interesting time for me when I evaluated how I was feeling prior to my diagnosis. Before I was diagnosed in January 2015, six months before, I started to get pain in my back and neck. I was much more on edge. I think it’s a symptom of cancer and I’ve talked to a number of people who agree. I was testy. I don’t like to yell at my swimmers, so when I’m frustrated, I walk around the pool deck. I found myself walking around more and more during a practice. So again, not knowing anything was wrong, I was putting too much stress on myself and on my swimmers. I was no longer coaching the way I wanted to.”
Julian said that as a coach he’s pretty laid back, similar to how he fathers. “I’m there to help the swimmers, it’s not life and death. It needs to be fun along the way if I’m asking them to work as hard as I ask them to.”
He said there was a realization that he wasn’t having fun and he needed “to get back to how I used to coach, which is how we got to this level. I purposefully tried to keep the demeanor I normally had.”
Then came the diagnosis in January 2015. “I needed to take a step back. Yes, I am going to have to push my swimmers and I need to get on them from time to time. But I need to enjoy this. This is not something I’m just going to do. Like I tell our coaches, this is a job of passion. If this becomes just a job then it’s going to be too difficult to do it well.”
The biggest lesson for me,” Julian said, “was keeping that reminder to enjoy life and the little things along the way. There will always be ups and downs, there will always be struggles. But if you can remember what life really means to you, then it’s much easier to get through the day-to-day stuff.”
“On March 7, 2015, three generations of Jeff’s club swim team Industry Hills Aquatics (IHAC) traveled from around the US to join Jeff in a #TEAMjeff IHAC workout and 22-year reunion! They also raised funds for Jeff with the IHAC #TEAMjeff shirt with his mantra on the back. Way to go IHAC! #IHACforever #TEAMjeff #”
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You can read more from Jeff Julian on his blog: TEAMjeff–Hope, Optimism and Process.
Jeff Julian’s “Best of Club Swimming: Butterfly Foundations DVD” was released last week. To read more about this project, click on the link from Championship Productions.