Pursley brings original coaching style to swimming and diving program

Kevin Connell

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Dennis Pursley knows what it takes to build an elite program. His plan to build a solid foundation for the future is here, and now it’s time to start putting it into place.

Pursley, head coach of the Alabama swimming and diving team, enters his second season in charge of the program, but this is far from his first time around the block.

The Louisville, Ky., native, who graduated from Alabama 40 years ago, spent his entire career by the pool before returning to his alma mater.

“Last year, the primary focus was to bring a stronger team concept to the program and to develop the culture,” Pursley said. “A culture we establish with what we call our three core values: attitude, character and commitment.

“This year, the talent level is going to be significantly beyond last year’s in terms of depth.”

Over the course of his 40-year career, Pursley has been the director of the United States National Team as well as the head coach of both the Australian Institute of Sport and Great Britain’s 2012 Olympic squad.

But while Pursley’s eye for talent has helped him stay in the sport all these years, it’s his unique coaching philosophy that has brought him success.

Rather than making swimming and diving a sport of individuals, Pursley said it’s more important to build a strong, bonded team to ultimately find success.

“Too often in our sport, I think the focus is exclusively on the individual,” he said. “The team concept is missing. You’re not going to achieve your team potential in that respect. The individual focus, I think, is still an important part of it, but within the parameters of that team concept.”

The team concept alone, however, is not the only approach Pursley uses as head coach.

“I’m a little bit different from a lot of my colleagues in the sense that we put all our eggs in the championship competition basket at the end of the season,” Pursley said. “Every day, our focus is on preparing for the best possible results and the championships at the end of the season, where that difference from some is that we really don’t deviate from that in order to prepare for the dual meets along the way.

“As a result, we take the risk of maybe not performing quite as well as we might have, had we kind of set aside our championship focus and focused more on the short term performance results. But we’re willing to take that risk.”

The risks have proven to work out for Pursley in the past. In 2006, he was inducted into the American Swimming Coaches Hall of Fame.

Despite the higher profile jobs he has held over the years, Pursley said he feels “unbelievably fortunate” about his current position.

“I started my coaching career here 40 years ago as a graduate assistant, and it’s kind of come full circle,” he said. “I fully intend for this to be my last coaching job; I hope it’s not a short one. I feel more energized than I have in years, and I’m enjoying it and hope to be coaching here for years to come. I don’t have a crystal ball to know how long that’s gonna be, but there’s no place I’d rather be right now.”