HANOVER — The meet was only a tryout, but already Tim Mulvihill, newly appointed director of competitive swimming for the South Shore YMCA, had a plan.
This year, competing for the Strypers would not just be about coming to practice and swimming laps. This year it would be about structure, about developing the athlete as a person, about setting new standards.
Mulvihill gathered the older kids together as they climbed out of the pool after practice, each red-faced and panting, wide-eyed and attentive. With a slight drawl nurtured in his native Australia, he laid down the new rules.
“I explained to them that this tryout is about times, but it's also an opportunity for me to communicate with [them] about my level of expectations. Not in terms of [their] swimming performance, and attendance and punctuality — the givens — but posing questions to them: What kind of team, as seniors, are you going to create? What kind of culture are you going to create?’’ Mulvihill said.
That culture starts with the director himself, who, in a few weeks, has already revised a swimming schedule that avoids morning practices, scheduled opportunities for community service, and made plans to sit down with swimmers and their parents to discuss academic and athletic goals.
Although such readiness may come from Mulvihill's penchant for organization, and training swimmers for the Olympic trials in Australia, it is also due to his familiarity with the YMCA organization.
From 2007 through 2009, Mulvihill worked as aquatics director for the Hanover and Quincy branches. Eventually, he also transitioned into being head coach for the swim program.
When his wife became pregnant with their son in 2009, however, it became less feasible for Mulvihill to work two jobs for the salary of one.
Add in the difficulty of living on a visa in a foreign country, and when a job opportunity materialized in Australia, where all his family was located, Mulvihill and his wife decided to leave.
“I'd be lying to you if I said three months after being home, I didn't regret the decision,’’ Mulvihill said. “I really wanted to come back.’’
In mid-April, unexpectedly, the position opened up after three-year head coach Terri Phinney, a former assistant under Mulvihill, was abruptly let go.
Jim Bunnell, executive director of the Hanover Y, would not comment on the departure of the popular Phinney, saying that it was a “personnel issue.’’
Mulvihill said numbers in the program had dropped, from approximately 200 to 160. And the trend, he said, was continuing. (There were also departures of swimmers angered by the firing of Phinney.)
Learning of Phinney’s exit, Mulvihill saw an opportunity, though he and his family were half a world away in Australia. He was hired in July; the Y operated without an official head coach for its summer program.
In addition to developing the young athletes into more well-rounded individuals, he also wanted to restructure the management of the swim team, creating a director of competitive swimming position, which he holds.
Previously, because the entire program — from organizing swim practices to scheduling lifeguards to coaching — was run by one person, when that person left the entire program collapsed, Mulvihill said.
The 32-year-old Mulvihill hopes to bring on board coaches who would work underneath him. Although it will take time to establish the new system, the director’s position would eventually be more about managing the competitive swimming program than coaching kids directly.
Having more branches to the competitive swimming program would also mean that if any one person left, there would be other members to help facilitate that transition.
“You have a lot more stability structurally,’’ Mulvihill said. “So that . . . if you lose the director you still have head coaches that run the sites and you still have people that manage the [pool deck] side of things.”
His plans have staff and parents at the YMCA buzzing as the new swim season begins.
“Tim brings a very unique set of skills that combines not only his swimming and aquatics background, but life values, mentoring, and teaching kids the values the Y continues to spread amongst the community we work with,” Bunnell said. “It's just a real good timing, a real good match. We're excited to have him back on board and expand his responsibilities a bit.’’
Suzanne Hughes, swim team administrator for the Y and parent of two children on the swim team, sees improvement already.
“It's so much more organization and structure. Expectations. You know what the expectations are, which you didn't before,’’ Hughes said.
Vicky Spillane, from Norwell, whose 13-year-old daughter is in her second year on the team, agreed that excitement for this season was high.
“Tim is just coming on, but everyone has great expectations that it's going to be a bit more professional and a bit more challenging,’’ she said.
“I've talked to other people that had their children under him when he was here before, and they have said they have kids that are swimming somewhere else and they are thinking of bringing them back to the Y because of him.’’
Between the website and e-mails, communication has even improved between parents and the youngsters, according to Norwell resident John Shortall.
Olivia Mozoki, an 11-year-old swimmer who has been on the team for six years, said she too is looking forward to this upcoming year.
“Tim is more focused, and I know he will push me more than my last coach,’’ she said.
Mulvihill has high expectations, but said that he's confident that this year will set up the beginning of growth for the Strypers team.
“The program is bigger than the individual. It's bigger than me, the other coaches, the kids. What I'm trying to do is set up a structure that outlives all of us. At the end of the day that benefits the community,’’ he said.Jessica Barlett can be reached at email@example.com.