This time in the Coach’s Corner is Coach Jesse Vassallo, head coach at Pompano Beach Piranhas. Jesse is the most accomplished swimmer in the Caribbean. At the age of seventeen, he set his first world record, unbroken for the next four years. At eighteen, he set his second world record, unbroken for the next three years. At the height of his career, President Jimmy Carter boycotted the 1980 Olympics to be held in Moscow and Jesse was unable to participate. He was inducted to the International Swimming Hall of Fame, in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and in Japan, an honor awarded to only 320 swimmers in the world. In 1979 Sports Illustrated also placed him in the list of the top 10 athletes in the world.
Nonetheless, Jesse is more than an accomplished swimmer; he is also a conscientious citizen who has served office for four years at the Municipal Assembly in Ponce, and five years as president of the Puerto Rican Swimming Federation. After 23 years back home in Puerto Rico working in the family business and his own swim school, Jesse moved back to south Florida to do what he loves to do… coach.
We got a chance to ask Jesse the following questions:
1. Tell us about one of your earliest memories as an age group swimmer.
It was 1972 The Puerto Rico Swimming Federation Championship, I was 10 years old, and the championship team title was up for grabs between us the Club Deportivo De Ponce versus Caparra Country Club a team that had been winning the championship for the last decade.
The meet was so close that all during the meet, after every race the team score position would change.
It was that way for three days and all the way till the end of the meet when it came down to the last relay.
I did not swim in the relay to win the team championship, but that moment and being part of that championship team during my early age group swimming career I will over treasure it and never forget.
By the way, I did have a pretty good meet, and I actually established my first PR national record in the 9-10 age group 50m Backstroke. (35.79)
2. What was the highlight of your personal swimming career?
There are many moments in my personal swimming career that I can call highlight:
Winning Championship and Breaking World record, those moments could definitely be considered my highlight, but it’s the whole package that I value.
I value every race that I wan and all the ones I loses, I enjoyed living the dreams and going through the nightmares, I treasure having great achievements and devastating failures, during my swimming career. I know those experiences build my character the person I’m today.
That is why I would have to say that my highlight during my swimming career it was the whole experiences everything from the friendships to reveries and everything else in between that goes with it.
Two thing I’m very proud of today is that I’m be consider to be the originator of the underwater kicks of the walls and that at 55 I still hold a 13-14 national age group record (1500 free the oldest national age group record in the books)
3. Why or how did you decide to get into coaching?
After I retire from swimming I did not want to do anything with swim, I did not want my kid to be involve with the sport of swimming I wanted then to do something else.
But as I mature and my kids where getting older I took then to play basketball, baseball, soccer, volleyball and other sports and the ambient in the courts, parks and field where definitely not the same as the pool and it was very discouraging to me.
Then I started to appreciate the value in swimming: the fare game, equal opportunity for everyone the person that this develops and character that it builds, that really the reason I got back in to swimming and coaching.
4. If your swimmers were to describe you as a coach, what would they say?
You know I gave this one a lot of thought but it came dawn to this… I don’t care what they say about me right now, I care more about what they will say about me in 20 to 30 years.
5. What makes you different or unique among all the other swim coaches out there?
My different experiences, I have been involved in swimming all my live: age group swimming in Puerto Rico, age group swimming in the US, high school swimming, college swimming, senior swimming, swimming coach in Puerto Rico, swimming school owner and operator, president of the Puertorrican Swimming Federation, swimming coach in the US.
I have gone from the bottom to the very top of the sport in all the different levels and seen the good the bad and the ugly of competitive swimming, and I’m still passionate about it, but I do have my own approached to it.
Coach Jesse Vassallo, and wife, Bethsy Vassallo
6. Who would you name as a role model? (Either in or out of swimming)
JFK, Steve Jobs,
7. What do you consider one of your favorite moments as a coach?
I love morning practice, and having a group swimmers there that want to work and achieve something.
I also enjoy to see the swimmers gain confidences in them self and seeing how it increases there self esteem.
8. What attributes to look for most in a swimmer?
I’m different here, I don’t look for a particular attribute in swimmers I try to look for the particular attribute that each one of the swimmers has.
You’ll have those swimmer who are extremely hard workers, some that are fear competitors, other that are uniquely talented in the water and they are all good swimmers that have some potential.
When you find your self with one of those swimmers that have all this attributes it is important to see his actions behaviors and attitude out side the water.
9. If you could go back and coach your younger self, what would you say?
First I don’t think I could coach my self but something I realize after swimming was, that your competitive swimming career is not for ever that theirs plenty of time after swimming to have a “real life”
10. Who is your favorite professional swimmer to watch swim today?
11. If you were not a swim coach, what would you be doing?
I worked with my family for many years manufacturing construction supplies, and I did some politics for a wile, I would have like to be a architect.
12. What super power do you wish you had?
The Power to Convince… how about that
13. What would be your ultimate theme song?
14. What is one thing nobody else really knows about you? (That you are willing to share)
No thanks, I’m a very private person that loves his family and treasures the time spend with them.
15. If you could change one thing about the state of swimming today, what would it be?
Swimming has fallen behind other sports, we have failed in finding a way to make a swimming event TV friendly.
I proposed at the most recent FINA meeting, a new type of event for swimming called “FINA’s World’s Greatest All-Around Swimmer.”
To select FINA’s World’s Greatest All around Swimmer we will use a different competition format that promises to bring excellent results, brilliant performances and lots of excitement. The competition formula requires that all swimmers participate in an individual 100mt race of each competitive strokes, backstroke, breaststroke, butterfly, and freestyle in order to be eligible for the overall ranking.
This simple but different competition program guaranties to create lots of emotions and excitement, as each swimmer must search to give the best of themselves in each of their individual events to improve their chances in the overall final ranking.
Thanks, Coach, for answering our questions!