Swim team promotes culture, Olympians

It’s not about winning for Tyson Pilling. Not completely. 

The 27-year-old coach of the Cottage Grove High School swim teams says it’s more about cultivating a culture of compassion and respect than strutting around the pool with medals. But, winning is nice too. 

“Last year we had a district champion and at least eight state qualifiers,” he said. 

Pilling has been the coach for both the boys and girls high school teams as well as the leader of the district’s swim club—a feeder for the competition teams—for approximately four years. It was the swim club, Pilling said, that brought back the girls’ water polo team after a four-year absence. Interest during the summer session of swim club ultimately funneled girls into the competition team during the winter term.

“If you have a good club program,” Pilling said, “then you will have a good program in the high school. It’s essential to have a good club program.” 

The swim club begins in August, just after Pilling mans swim camps. This year local swimmers were treated to a visit from two Olympians and according to Pilling, they reinforced the lessons he tries to instill in his teams. 

“We had Elizabeth Basile come and she didn’t talk about the years she won,” Pilling said. “She talked about the year she fractured her finger in practice, went to the ER where they buddy wrapped her fingers and when she got back for competition, she was disqualified because of that wrap,” he said. “And she said it was important for her to keep a positive attitude and have a good culture for the rest of the team.” 

A “good culture” is exactly what the Cottage Grove swimming Lions are expected to help create and maintain. 

“We don’t walk around with our chests out when we win,” Pilling said. “We don’t care how much our suits costs. We set goals and we focus on them and we try to achieve them.” 

And while it’s not quite swim season yet, Pilling keeps busy with swim camp and his duties as professional lifeguard and “toiler scrubber” at the Warren H. Daugherty Aquatic Center; a facility set to undergo a transformation over the next year.

In November, voters approved a bond measure aimed at improving school infrastructure and while the majority of the funds--$23 million—are scheduled for the new Harrison Elementary School, the pool is expected to pocket a few million for renovations. 

It will mean a new home for Pilling and adjusting to whatever decisions the school district and its yet-to-be-formed committee make but for now, he’s not looking too far into the future in regards to construction or the new season.

“It’s really too early to say what the next season will bring,” he said. “There’s always lots and lots of room for improvement and we’ll do the best with what we have. We’ll see when we start putting in the work and our good culture and we’ll go from there.”