“If you’re going to come here, you’re going to be successful,” UNH swimming and diving associate head coach Jarrod Zwirko said.
It’s the attitude that the program preaches to its athletes, an attitude that for the past 23 seasons, has been the set standard for elite swimming under head coach Josh Willman.
Over that span, Willman has made UNH swimming a top program in the America East conference. He brought UNH numerous America East awards, and earned himself several America East Coach of the Year awards as well as ECAC Coach of the Year awards. But being a coach wasn’t always the plan. In fact, it was a secondary option.
“I had a big long list of all the things I wanted to do when I was a kid, coaching was one of them but it was below a bunch of other things,” Willman said.
Shortly after his time as a swimmer at the University of Miami, Willman was offered the interim head-coaching spot at UNH. Despite the change in scenery, Willman accepted the position as a foot-in-the-door oppurtunity. A year later, he was given the permanent head-coaching position.
Once Willman was given the job, he went straight to work building the program up. It took years of hard work and vigorous training, but Willman and UNH soon found themselves as one of the top schools in America East, due to what Zwirko would describe as a “technician”-like coaching style that Willman practiced.
“He knows how to write practices and he knows how to get the best out of everyone that comes here, which makes my job when I’m trying to recruit people that much easier,” Zwirko who serves as the recruiting coordinator for the program, said.
As a technician, there is a specific method to Willman’s coaching style. His success has been driven not only from his coaching ability, but from his teaching ability. Willman believes it is important to tell the athletes what they’re doing, but at the same time tell them why they are doing it.
“[Early in my career] I was a lot more kind of like, ‘Here’s what we’re doing, lets do it.’ And now I’m kind of like ‘Here’s what we’re doing this is why we’re doing it,’” Willman said. “[I want to] solve problems, and by problems, I mean a race that’s not coming along the way it needs to come [along] or time’s aren’t coming [along] or a stroke isn’t working just figuring out how to try and fix that problem,” he said.
It is a coaching style that is much more interactive, rather than just distinguishing right from wrong. It has an effect on everybody, even after their time as a student-athlete at UNH. Zwirko, a UNH alum and former Wildcat swimmer, returned to UNH as a graduate assistant and has served as the full-time assistant since 2008. Willman’s former athlete admires his blueprint of how the season works.
“There’s art in science to putting together a season and a practice plan,” Zwirko said. “[Willman] is really good at weaving those two and making sure everybody is successful throughout the season.”
“I try to bring out the best in each person that comes here I think a lot of it has to do with finding the right people to come into our program who are really motivated and want to see what they can do,” Willman said. “I try to make it interesting and hard and fun really kind of feed that fire that they have so I’ve been pretty fortunate that way.”
And as time has passed, Willman understands the importance of teaching while coaching. It’s what comes with the job and title of head coach, and Willman stresses his teaching is a regular part of his routine.
“Now that I look back on it all, the importance of teaching really comes around,” Willman said. “I understand that part of it more than being a coach, is being a teacher and I try to teach regularly.”
As the new season rapidly approaches, Zwirko hopes that Willman will continue to teach, coach and bring UNH success for years to come.
“I think that would be the best for all parties involved if he is able to continue to build on what [we have] been working towards,” Zwirko said.