By Rachael Ling
There are many phrases you will overhear instructor Jack Siebold spout out time and time again to his students as he coaches them from the pool deck. In fact, it is very possible months or years later students still hear Jack’s voice and common reminders in their heads as they steady themselves into the zone during each swim.
Coach John “Jack” Siebold grew up in the Philadelphia suburbs and swam year-round in winter and summer leagues from a very young age. He competed for Haverford High School and went on as a collegiate athlete in water polo and swimming for Slippery Rock University.
To this day, Jack is still a competitive swimmer. Although his training for nationals in Fort Lauderdale was derailed due to a bout with cancer, he recently qualified and swam for the Senior Olympics at nationals in Birmingham, Alabama.
How it started
Jack’s first experience as a coach figure was actually here at HAC as a member over a decade ago. Time and time again, he found himself being approached by other members asking for his advice on swimming. In fact, this was such a frequent occurrence that when HAC was looking for an adult swim instructor, he was encouraged by many, including existing staff, to apply for the position. Fast forward to 2022, Jack is a USMS certified ALTS (Adult Learn to Swim) instructor and a US Masters Swim Coach. In addition to private lessons, he has conducted numerous adult swim clinics and swim conditioning intensive programs for middle and high school students throughout his coaching career.
The US Masters (USMS) is a national membership-operated nonprofit that provides membership benefits to adults ages 18+. Members can compete locally and at a national level. To date, there are nearly 65,000 Masters swimmers across the country.
Throughout the years as a HAC swim instructor, Jack has had the pleasure of teaching hundreds of people how to swim or improve their overall swimming proficiency. In that time frame, he has given thousands of lessons. As a result, the scope of students that come to him is vast. Students range from individuals with a paralyzing fear of water, the average Joe or Jane looking to swim for fitness, and amateurs looking to compete, to a potential Navy Seal learning a particular stroke. Regardless of the reason an individual comes to Jack, he is honored to be a part of their journey and is quick to recount his many wonderful memories over the years.
How It’s Going
Jack’s first order of business and top priority is water safety. The first lesson any novice will learn is how to save themselves should they find themselves in a position of drowning. Jack likes to remind people they have a built-in life vest. “If you can relax and keep your lungs inflated with air, you cannot drown! You are buoyant.” This is an important lesson to master, and it also instills confidence in a new swimmer, especially for those who have a fear of water to begin with.
After a new student can exhibit proficiency in this skill, Jack moves on to coaching the fundamentals. As both an aerobic and anaerobic exercise, swimming is an incredible athletic feat, if we really think about it. Water offers substantially more resistance than air and burns hundreds of calories in a short period of time. “You utilize every muscle in your body to swim; but the most important part is your brain,” Jack declares. He goes on to explain, “The mind needs to be engaged since coordination plays a huge part in swimming. Arms, legs, head, and, of course, breath, all need to be in sync”. According to Jack, the most critical aspect of coordination would probably be “breathing.” Over his many years of swimming and coaching professionally, Jack is confident that synchronizing your breathing is the most challenging skill of all. “Breathing in a liquid environment takes practice and patience. Once you can master that skill, the rest usually follows suit.”
Some of Jack’s trademark aphorisms
“Swimming is all about increasing propulsion while diminishing drag!”
“Breathing opens the door to being able to swim in a liquid environment successfully…”
“Your head controls everything the body does…”
Jack goes on to describe the difficulty in learning (or improving) proper stroke technique. In the water, feedback is tricky. The swimmer cannot watch themselves perform a technique as they are doing it. Imagine trying to learn proper squat form without any mirror and looking forward the entire time while synchronizing your breath (and not to mention trying not to drown). Jack states, “Each stroke has its own nuances.” The individual must rely on real-time feedback from the coach, watch video footage in between sessions in the water, and rely on feel as time goes on. Eventually, speed and endurance are built as a result of reps and time with good technique. A student’s success is not just a product of the coaching they receive, but also their own personal dedication to assimilate and put to practice all they’ve been taught.
Jack’s passion for swimming and coaching is evident even as a bystander. Watching his interactions with his students leaves no doubt to his dedication and love for what he does. His mannerisms, methodology, and attention to detail are translated into tremendous passion and belief in his clients. His work most certainly speaks for itself.
Rahul shared his story about learning to swim in the January 2022 edition of Enhance. During their weekly lessons, Jack helped Rahul break his fear of the water and showed him how floating is natural to the body. As a result, Rahul now swims for forty-five minutes every day and has done so for the past three months (he’s also one of Jack’s biggest cheerleaders).
Rahul started swimming at the pace of ten laps in twenty minutes and has reached forty laps in twenty-four minutes! His current goal is to swim sixty laps in one hour–and he is well on his way to achieving that aim. In addition to improving his swim skills, his physique has toned up, and his general health has improved further.
“Jack is a super coach! His knowledge and expertise have helped me become a better swimmer! He truly cares about helping others achieve their goals.” – Pam D
“I could “swim” when I first met Jack over eight years ago. However, I am not sure that swimming really described what I was doing. I could splash a lot but not move forward much. Jack was patient with me, teaching me proper form, increasing my speed, and improving my confidence. He worked with me and got me to a point where I joined the US Masters swimming program and now swim competitively. He is an amazing coach and an even better human being.” – Barb A.
“We had not been swimming for many years and wanted to re-learn how to swim to go back to the pool. The clinic with Jack was fantastic! Jack has a hands-on approach which was key for us to learn the proper form and abandon old (bad) habits. We liked it so much that we decided to enroll in the US Masters team with him, and we’ve been swimming ever since. Not only is Jack a nice coach, but his training is effective. In 2021 we started doing triathlons, and we’ve achieved great results given our short training history with swimming.” – Regina & Tony C.
“Jack gave me access to a game-changer for improving my health and quality of life. More than a decade ago, I was a 35-year marathon runner with aching knees and hips, and I wondered about swimming. I could swim from drowning but didn’t know the basic swim styles. Within a few lessons, Jack had me competently swimming laps. And within a few months, I was known to identify as a swimmer. Swimming is easier on my body, a better overall workout than running, and best of all… it’s a phenomenal mental health therapy session. It’s more than an addiction; it’s a way of life now. Jack’s style is direct, fun, and consultative. No matter your experience level, you’ll gain value in booking time with Jack!” – Ryan H.