Coming into his 39th year overall in the Montgomery County Swim League, Clay Miller has certainly seen it all from the pool deck. In 1970, he started working for Connecticut Belair, then moved to Montgomery Square, and finally settled at Woodley Gardens, where he has remained as head coach for 29 years. In addition to coaching, he has taught junior high in the Montgomery County school system for 36 years, working at Herbert Hoover and Ridgeview Middle Schools. He has also coached for the Magruder High School swim team and for RMSC. He gives his take on coaching summer league, a favorite job of many young swimmers in the area.
1. What has been the most rewarding part of being a summer league coach?
I think working with the kids and seeing their enjoyment. Over the years you see them go from six years old to 16 years old. It’s fun to watch that maturation. I was a teacher and I continue to be a teacher in this role. It’s fun to see how they grow.
2. In what ways is coaching summer league different from club or winter swimming?
I guess it’s a shorter season so you don’t have the luxury of a slow teaching process. You may only see your kids a couple weeks before the first meet. It also takes extra patience because you have kids who aren’t fully committed and maybe do several other sports or activities. You can’t expect the same intensity as in winter swimming.
3. In all your years of coaching, is there any one moment that you especially look back on fondly today?
Well, I guess truly when you’ve had a couple years when your team goes undefeated and puts everything together.
4. What is the most challenging part of being a summer league coach?
For me, right now, I’ve got 230 kids on the team, which is a lot of managing of young coaches and swimmers. We operate under a lesson swim program – starting with four-year olds – so it’s a lot of managing and getting parents to buy into the program and also have a successful season with the A team.
5. What do you hope your athletes will learn most from summer league swimming?
That hard work and dedication will pay off, a lifelong lesson. And to not shy away from competition.
6. Winning streaks are always fun but tough seasons are just as common. What can you say to parents, coaches, and athletes who may not see their teams win many meets this year?
The great thing about MCSL is that you get to move down a division to better suit your team’s ability. But a lot of good things still happen if you don’t win, especially if you have a good family [good team].
7. What was the funniest eight and under race you have watched? Or what was the best incentive you gave an eight and under to finish or swim a race?
They are always a riot! I guess when everyone is cheering for someone to just finish a race and then seeing a big beam on their face when they do. I can’t think of a story in summer league. But, in winter swimming, we used to promise younger kids team jackets at Rockville. One time, I pulled a certain young swimmer’s arm and told him he wasn’t allowed to get one. But he swam fast and got it! He was so shocked.
8. What is your favorite cheer?
I generally give the cheers to the older swimmers and younger coaches. I’m a quiet person, not really a cheerleader. But at Woodley Gardens it’s our tradition to do the Woodley Freeze cheer where we make a big circle and each age group gets to jumps around in the middle.
9. What is the best theme you’ve ever seen?
We do a different theme every week. Some of the favorites are Hawaiian, Macho Man, and Cowboys & Indians. The kids get really into it, sometimes even shaving their heads with a “WG.” I don’t think I could choose just one.
10. You started working for Connecticut Belair in 1970. How has the Montgomery County swim league changed since then?
Many things have changed since then. They have done a good job of being more inclusive: getting that second heat of freestyle, adding the breaststroke and butterfly for eight and unders, and adding in more distance like the 50s for 11-12 year olds. There are also a lot more divisions. The size is just amazing, with a pool in every neighborhood. It used to not be amazing to get an All-Star cut. But, now, because you are racing hundreds of people, it’s an impressive distinction. There is really just more intensity, more relays, and more good things. It gets a lot more people involved.
11. How has technology changed swimming?
We still are using watches on the wall but we used to also have place judges at the ends of lanes. Coaches also used to have to go over to the opponent’s pool and copy down times. Now, they are sent to us every week on Sunday or Monday. It certainly helps at all-stars and relay carnival to have electronic timers and computers. It organizes and speeds up information. You used to only know your own division’s times but now you can see everything.
12. What’s your view on hi–tech suits?
It was good to outlaw the suits. They were getting a little out of control in summer league, especially when people bought those suits for dual meets. Obviously the fast suits have helped swimmers but you still see some suits that are “old fashioned.”
13. Do you have any advice/tips for new coaches?
I think it’s really important to find two people to help you out: a coach on another team to bounce ideas off of and also a pool president or team representative, an adult, to help you through the season. There are always controversies so it’s important to have somebody to go to and get support, help, or maybe the right answer.
14. Athlete you admire the most?
Dirk Nowitzki of the Dallas Mavericks. They told him that he wasn’t up to winning and that he was a wimp. He just kept doing his job and finally he won it. I admire someone like that. I like people who put in the time and effort, and don’t give up.
15. Favorite sports movie?
Hoosiers. It’s about a high school basketball team from a small school who ended up winning the Indiana state championships.
16. Is basketball your “other” sport?
Actually, I’d say tennis is my other sport. I really do enjoy a lot of sports.
17. What goals do you have for this summer?
Going into the first meet is a complete mystery. You don’t know which teams are strong or weak. You just don’t have any idea. I’m not sure if many parents and kids realize that until you see the times. There are just so many ifs. After the first meet, a lot of questions will be answered. In the beginning, it’s important to work on strokes and endurance. Right now, I have hundreds of goals and am starting to get the program off the ground. We will see whether it’s a productive season. Winning or not, we will find out soon!
18. Which meet are you looking forward to the most this summer?
I really don’t have one! I wouldn’t even rank the teams right now, in some years you have age groups that all move up. It will be fun to race against Potomac Woods again and Westleigh Swim Club. We’ve also never swum against Potomac Glen. They are all going to be exciting meets.
19. What is the most exciting race you’ve ever seen?
Many of the freestyle relays at the ends of meets are great when people come from behind and I’ve seen a lot of relays. It’s really exciting with your own team to see swimmers catching someone in the last leg or holding someone off. Everything comes together. In particular, the WG 13-14 boys won relay carnival last year, which was exciting.
20. Do you ever look forward to having Saturday mornings free?
Sure! Yes! [laughs] You have to be on call for anything that comes your way 24/7 during the season. It’s nice when you finally get to All Stars. It’s a fun type of season but your adrenaline is flowing constantly for about seven weeks.