Kaiserslautern swim coach making a splash
BAUMHOLDER, Germany — Kaiserslautern Kingfish swim coach Beth Stohlmann always knew she loved swimming.
It was coaching she wasn’t sure about.
“I never saw myself as a coach,” Stohlmann, a former Air Force Academy swimmer, said as her Kingfish battled other European Forces Swim League teams at a recent meet at the Baumholder pool.
“I kind of stumbled onto the team, saw how enthusiastic they were and agreed to sign on.”
In that respect, Stohlmann is like the thousands of European Forces Swim League parents and volunteers who in the 28-year history of the league have created an opportunity for swimmers aged 6 to 19 years to pursue their sport and in the process, as the league motto puts it, “tour Europe pool-by-pool.”
The commitment of time and energy is enormous. Practice time is part of it — Stohlmann’s team spends 2½ hours a day, four days a week in the pool. But that pales in comparison to the travel time the 18 league teams routinely invest in their sport. For example, at the two-day Baumholder meet, teams from as far away as Britain, Spain and Sicily competed, arriving by car, bus, van and plane.
Add to that the hours Stohlmann, 27, spends as a new mother caring for her 5-month-old son, Chase, and it is easy to see how the time commitment involved explains her initial reluctance to coach.
She’s glad however that she decided to take the plunge.
“I love it,” Stohlmann said of coaching. “To see [the swimmers’] faces as they see improvement — dropping their times 10, 20 or even 30 seconds — and knowing you’re a small part of that is so rewarding.”
It helps that Stohlmann can include Chase in the process.
“He sits in a little chair beside the pool,” she said. “He loves it and the kids love him.”
It also helps that Stohlmann and the Kingfish are supported by parents and volunteers just as dedicated as she is.
Stohlmann cited a case in point.
“This meet, for example, is run entirely by volunteers,” she said. The EFSL “is really a family commitment — getting the swimmers to and from practice and the meets requires a lot of dedication.”
Then there are her fellow, equally dedicated Kingfish coaches.
“There are five of us,” said Stohlmann, who still holds Air Force Academy records in the 50- and 100-meter freestyle and specializes in coaching the sprints. “It allows us to give as much individual attention as possible.”
This year, some 930 EFSL swimmers, more than 60 of them Kingfish, will benefit from all that effort, all pointed toward the league’s annual championship meet at the Olympic pool in Munich on Feb. 15.
“It’s exciting for the kids to think, ‘Mark Spitz swam in that very lane,’ ” Stohlmann said.
But swimming in the wake of history isn’t the only perk the youngsters get. Stohlmann said that the discipline required to pursue swimming helps in other aspects of life.
“It’s not a glamour sport, but you develop a real sense of responsibility,” she said. “There’s a lot of incentive to improve. You can see your effort paying off.”
It’s no coincidence, she added, that all her swimmers do well in school. Their self-discipline carries over into academic areas.
Stohlmann’s swimmers say their coach’s efforts have yielded dividends, too.
“She’s a great coach,” said 16-year-old Elizabeth Howe, who’ll earn a Ramstein High School letter for her swimming this season.
“She has lots of racing experience and really helps me with technique in freestyle and butterfly.”
Fourteen-year-old Rebecca Yantis, who is home-schooled, said there’s more than technique to Stohlmann’s magic.
“She’s really nice. She encourages us,” Rebecca said. “She’s always ready to help us.”
Come April, however, the Stohlmann family rotates to McChord Air Force Base, Wash.
Where will that leave the Kingfish?
“[Assistant coach] Sara Adams will take over,” Stohlmann said. “I’ll miss the kids a lot, but I know she’s deserving of my team.”
And as for the formerly reluctant coach?
“I’d love to continue with a small club there,” she said.