Get to know Duquesne University's David Sheets

by Josh Huger (MrUtopia)

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Created November 3rd, 2011 08:36:21 PM

Modified November 3rd, 2011 09:21:57 PM

Duquesne University’s David Sheets is this month’s Featured Coach. Coach Sheets, who is in his 11th season at Duquesne, has enjoyed many successes while with the Dukes.

During his career at Duquesne, his swimmers have broken every school record and established a rich tradition of academic success, with either the men's or women's teams being ranked in the top 15 in the country each season for team GPA.

In this SwimUtopia interview Coach Sheets tells us about the number one thing he looks for in a recruit and what he does to help keep his swimmers motivated.

Let’s get started!


What team do you currently coach for?  

Duquesne University

How many years have you been with the team?

2 years as the women’s coach then 7 years as both the men’s and women’s coach and now 2 years as the women’s coach (11 years total).

What made you choose to take the coaching position?  

I was living in Ithaca, NY working as an assistant at Cornell University.  The position at Duquesne became open and I applied for it.  My fiancé at the time (now my wife) was living and working in Clarion.  I felt that Duquesne had the potential to improve, become better and from a personal stand-point it was a good fit.

What do you do to keep everyone focused on the “big picture” throughout the season?

We have short little meetings every once in a while as a team when I can see the rigors of academics and athletics catching up with the ladies.  The meetings are a chance to step back, take a breath, look at what we are doing, why we are choosing to do it and the rewards that come with the commitment to oneself, teammates and the program.

What is the number one thing you look for in a recruit, other than times?  

One of the most important factors to me is the “fit” with the program.  Fast swimmers are great, but if they don’t fit with the philosophy of the program, of the team and the university it becomes a recipe for disaster.  Good people make the team better.  The better the fit the better the results.

What is your favorite set to give your swimmers?

Other than anything IM oriented, one of my favorite sets is what I call the yo-yo set.  We start at a particular interval and do five reps,  I then drop the interval by one second and one rep until we get down to one rep.  Then, like a yo-yo the time and reps shoots back up but now it is one second less then where we started.  For example (50’s) 5 @ 40, 4 @ 39, 3 @ 38, 2 @ 37, 1 @ 36, 5 @ 39, 4 @ 38…..Eventually, we begin a slow descent to see how long the swimmers can go.

What other teams or schools did you coach at before coming to Duquesne University?

Prior to Duquesne I was the women’s assistant at Cornell University for a year.  Before Cornell I was the Head Coach at Butler High School for four years.  I coached at Brookville High School for a season and prior to Brookville I coached age group and high school in San Antonio, TX.  After my swimming career was done I also volunteered as a coach at Clarion University.

What would you say your biggest accomplishment has been in coaching?  

I think the biggest accomplishment is watching the young people I coach develop into great contributors in our society, watching them mature from young adolescence into responsible adults and knowing that along the way I played a role in their development.

Is there any particular moment that stands out in your mind from coaching?

I think all the benchmarks we have accomplished here at Duquesne are great moments.  Getting our first individual conference champion was great!  Our first NCAA I “B” cut.  Also watching the program develop from the bottom of the conference to near the top…I am very proud of all of that.

What motivates you as a coach?  

My family……The challenges of getting better; getting better as a coach, as a person.  Helping the swimmers get better (as athletes and as people).  Watching the progression from freshmen to senior.   

Knowing that I am fortunate enough to come to work every day and do something I love.

What do you do to motivate your swimmers?

I feel I am a very involved coach.  I love being on deck and the swimmers can see that.  We talk about expectations, why they are important and try to make it fun getting to those expectations. We establish individual and team goals and each swimmer is accountable for both. I praise them but also let them know when they can do better.  I tell anecdotal stories that help the team relate to what is going on within the season and in their lives.  We talk about what greatness is and what it means for each person to reach their own personal greatness.  I think if the athlete feels they are part of the process it is easier to keep them motivated.

Do you have any personal routines before the start of a swim meet?

I like to get to the pool early, get a cup of coffee, take a walk and think about the upcoming meet and everything else that’s going on in my life.  That helps me clear my mind.  After the walk, the early warm-up, I’ll take a nice hot shower, shave and eat breakfast with the team.

What caused you to go into coaching?

I found at a younger age (my 20’s) I could actually have a job that I loved doing.  I loved interacting with the swimmers and enjoyed watching them progress and have success.  I could not imagine myself doing anything else!

What are some things that people may not know about you?  

I am a huge Star Trek fan (the original series).  I love to fish.  My former assistant and I try to go as much as possible in the spring.  One of my indulgences is Double Stuffed Oreos dipped in Peanut Butter.  

Do you have any advice for up and coming coaches?  

Keep learning and never be afraid to ask questions.  Stick with it if you are passionate about it.  Sooner or later the break you are looking for will come.  Never sell yourself short and always believe in yourself.  

Please provide any additional information about yourself or your team that you might want us to include!

I have been married for close to 10 years to Christina (Tillotson) Sheets.  We have three wonderful children (Ben, 6, Libby and Lainey, 4).  

The women’s swimming program had the highest GPA of all athletic teams at Duquesne last year.  In the last five years our program was able to establish twelve NCAA “B” qualifying standards, nine Collegeswimming.com All-America Honorable Mention, thirty-five Atlantic 10 Conference champions, six conference record holders, two Atlantic 10 Conference Championship “Outstanding Male Performer,” an Atlantic 10 Conference Championship “Rookie Male Performer,” three Atlantic 10 “Student Athlete of the Year” Awards