Five years of rebuilding produces successful swim club

Editor’s note: Coach Margot May in this story is the same Margot May who is co-publisher of this magazine. We normally shy away from featuring ourselves in articles, but the swim team kids at Greystone Country Club have a great story to tell, and it can’t be told without their coach.

In the summer of 2012, the Greystone Country Club swim team coach left in mid-season, and the Greystone staff began looking for a replacement. Eventually, a swim coach of an opposing team pointed out that while they were looking for a coach, one of their swim team parents who had coaching experience was right under their noses.

2017 Greystone Swim Team

2017 Greystone Swim Team

She was referring to Margot May who had two children on the team (and a newborn future swimmer in her arms) and years of experience as a competitive swimmer, lifeguard, swim teacher and coach.
So they called her at home and asked if she would take over the team. At first she declined because, she said, “I had just become the co-owner of the Journal, and had recently given birth to my third child, and I didn’t see how I would have the time.”
They continued to plead their case, and after a heart–to-heart talk with her husband Bryan, she relented since it would be only for the remainder of the season and because she didn’t want to let down the kids, including her own son and daughter. (Older son Laird, now 11, started swimming with the team at age 6,and daughter Berkley, now 9, started at 4. Tucker, the newborn when May became the coach, joined the team last year age at 5.)
She stepped in and finished out the last meets that year. Over the off-season, they promised her an assistant and everything she would need to build a team and were able to persuade her to come back as coach for the following summer.

2017 Greystone Girls 13-14

2017 Greystone Girls 13-14

She started that next season with just under 30 kids. At meets, the children would compete with other area swim clubs in the freestyle, backstroke, breaststroke and butterfly. The problem was, many of the kids did not know how to swim all the strokes. Several were weak swimmers, and some still were clinging to the side of the pool.
May, a New Orleans native who started swimming on a competitive swim team at the age of five, said, “I agreed to stay on one more season and began to coach the kids the way I had been coached. I didn’t know if I would still be good at it, but it all came back to me.”
She started the team with the basics, like having the kids stretch before swimming and learning how to dive and how to swim the various strokes correctly.
“From the beginning, it’s always been about improving their skills,” said May, “and getting them motivated to work hard. No one expected much of us that season, and I wasn’t concerned about winning; I knew that would come later.”
The kids did improve and had lots of fun along the way, and May’s commitment to “just one more season” extended to the next season… and the next… and the next…
The Greystone swim team in previous years swam in a league composed of other country club swim teams. About the time May became the coach, the country club league merged with a Baton Rouge league that now included YMCA and neighborhood clubs. This meant more teams and more competition which, in turn, she knew would push their team to be better.
The following season, Ron Menville sold Greystone to Derk Lockhart, and the decision was made to eliminate their half-summer memberships, a move that reduced the number of families eligible to join the swim team and caused the team to drop to 21 members. The swim coaches had to regroup and recruit and get parents and kids excited about the team again.
“But I didn’t want anyone joining the team expecting to be the next champion,” May added. “Besides improving their skills, I wanted the kids to learn how to be part of a team and enjoy the experience.”
Swimmers train by swimming against their previous performances, and all May and her assistants wanted was to see the kids beat their personal times each week.

2017 Greystone Girls and Boys 6 and under

2017 Greystone Girls and Boys 6 and under

“Finish Strong” became their motto – one that May borrowed from her days as a competitive swimmer. She and her assistants over the next few years drilled into the kids that you can’t finish strong if you don’t swim correctly.
Her assistant coaches have included Mackenzie Martone, Bridget Champagne and Dacia Cuellar, and her current assistants are Taylor Champagne who, at age 18, was also a member of the swim team, and, new this year, Vicki Christ, a former high school swim coach who heard they were doing great things at Greystone and brought her grandchildren over to swim and was invited by May to help with the six and under children.
“We knew that as the kids gained confidence their skills would improve, and as their skills improved, they would shave seconds off their swim times – which told us that they are getting stronger and moving more efficiently through the water,” May explained. “We record the kids’ times at practice meets so they can see that they are getting better. Our favorite stat is the team stat which compiles all the swimmers scores. As coaches, we are looking for improvement across the board. You can’t win a meet with one star swimmer. As you build a better team, and the team will start to win – even though that is not your primary goal.”
And get faster they did. After their first meet of 2017, 36% of the kids were faster than their entry times, and at the last meet, 91% swam faster than they had the week before. The team also grew in number, from 21 four years ago, to 68 in 2017.
The team this season took top honors in six separate meets in Baton Rouge against the YMCA, Fennwood Country Club, LSU U-Club, Lake Sherwood, Calloway’s Court Club, and, in Gonzales, Pelican Point. Then, against 16 teams in the end-of-season Baton Rouge City Swim Meet, Greystone swimmers bested their last year’s 14th overall finish by placing 7th overall. In their division, competing against Baton Rouge Country Club, Tara, Bocage, Seven Oaks and PARDS, they took 4th place.

Details:

Anyone interested in having their children ages 5-18 join the Greystone swim team next summer can call and leave their name to be contacted next March. They do not have to be residents of Greystone, but they do have to take out, at minimum, a Greystone summer swim membership which runs from Memorial Day through Labor Day daily and includes weekends in September. Swim practice starts in May as soon as it’s warm enough to get in the pool. Call 225-667-6744 for more information. You can see a video of the 2017 swim team having fun at www.youtube.com/watch?v=XLgP760ruuo&t=59s

The coaches are especially proud of their team’s low disqualification rate. Swimmers are disqualified if they don’t swim the stroke correctly during their heat. While other teams sometimes had frequent disqualifications, Greystone had only two swimmers disqualified. One child turned over on her back a few seconds too soon, and the other had just learned the breaststroke which she was swimming for the first time in competition. They are also justifiably proud that swim meet officials commented that they know which kids are from Greystone because they have such good strokes.
“This shows that if you believe in kids and give them the tools and techniques to swim faster, they can take it to the next level,” May said.
She shared that four of their team’s girls who are starting high school this fall swim every stroke proficiently and are going to try out for the Denham Springs High School swim team, and she believes they have a very good chance of making it.

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