Wheaton College Norton, Massachusetts

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Roberts dives into Wheaton again—as swim coach

Barrett Roberts '07, head coach of the Wheaton swimming and diving program

Division III swimming and diving is a small world. When a position opens, word travels fast. So it was not suprising that, when Wheaton swimming and diving head coach Jean-Paul Gowdy announced that he was leaving Wheaton last May, Barrett Roberts ’07 heard about it.

Roberts, who was a graduate assistant swimming coach at Springfield College at the time, said his initial reaction was sadness. “I swam for J.P Gowdy. Coach Gowdy is an incredible coach who did some amazing things with this program over the past eight seasons. I was sad to see him leave, not only because of all he did for me during my time as an athlete, but because of what he meant to the program in general.”

But then Roberts realized the opportunity staring him in the face. He had often thought about coming back to Wheaton to coach; now, he had a chance.

He was hired as the new head coach of Wheaton’s swimming and diving program this fall. “As a young coach, I couldn’t ask for a better situation,” he says. “I am so grateful for the opportunity to coach a program comprised of student-athletes who are committed to excellence in all areas of student life.”

Roberts returns to Norton after spending the 2010–2011 season as a graduate assistant coach at New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference (NEWMAC) rival Springfield College. With his assistance, the Pride established nine school records and three NEWMAC records this past season. Roberts also saw seven of his student-athletes post national qualifying performances, four All-America performances, and one All-America honorable mention performance.

Wheaton Interim Director of Athletics John Sutyak ’00 says the college is thrilled to welcome Roberts back home. “Barrett was the epitome of a scholar-athlete, one who was equally impressive in the classroom as he was in the pool. He helped put our swimming and diving teams on the map both in New England and nationally, and I look forward to him continuing that tradition as the leader of our programs,” said Sutyak.

Prior to his appointment at Springfield, Roberts spent two seasons as an assistant coach at Tufts University (2008–2010), helping the Jumbos score nine All-America performances during that span. He also spent two years as a waterfront and aquatics director at Camp All-Star (2005–2007).

As an undergraduate at Wheaton, he was a standout swimmer for the Lyons, earning All-America honors three times (2005–2007) and NEWMAC Swimmer of the Year accolades in 2006. He was a three-year co-captain who earned College Swimming Coaches Association of America (CSCAA) Scholar All-America honors in 2004 and 2005.

Funny thing: Roberts didn’t set out to be a coach. He graduated magna cum laude from Wheaton with a double major in economics and political science, mainly because he found the subjects interesting and engaging and respected the professors in those departments.

After graduation he interviewed in several fields, including finance, but didn’t have any specific career in mind. After working in client services for a financial firm for about a year, he began coaching a couple of nights a week at Tufts University.

“Despite the extra long working days, I quickly found a great passion for working with college student-athletes,” he says. “It wasn’t long before I realized that it was time for a career shift.” So he enrolled in graduate school at Springfield College, where he currently is working toward earning his master’s degree in physical education, concentrating on athletics administration.

Since he has been in the position of the student-athletes he now coaches, he knows the importance of balance.

“Our student-athletes are here to earn a degree before anything else. And I believe that a healthy balance between academics, athletics and one’s social life not only leads to better grades, but faster swimming as well,” Roberts says. “I try to remind the swimmers I coach that there are thousands of great swimmers out there, but very few are able to match their performance in the pool with an even better performance in the classroom. Wheaton’s swimmers and divers have done just that over the past decade and we will continue to do so.”

Confidence is the main quality he seeks to encourage in his swimmers for success.

“Work ethic and determination are very important. However, the one factor that I believe has the biggest impact on a swimmer’s performance is confidence. At championship meets, the difference between winning your race and finishing out of scoring position can be less than a second in some races. I have seen highly talented athletes lose races they should easily have won, and I’ve seen lesser athletes win races they had no business winning. Some coaches call it the “X factor,” or having “it,” but to me it is all about self-confidence,” he says. “I believe building confidence in athletes is one of my greatest strengths as a coach.”