One-on-one with new swimming head coach James Holder
Dartmouth men’s and women’s swimming and diving recently hired James Holder as its new head coach. Holder comes to Hanover after he finished six seasons as the head coach of Georgetown University’s men’s and women’s swimming and diving teams. During his tenure, Georgetown swimmers broke 60 school records and racked up 56 All-Big East recognitions. In 2014-2015, Holder was named the Big East Men’s Co-Coach of the Year and Hoya swimmer Molly Fitzpatrick became the first swimmer in Georgetown history to make an Olympic trials cut.
Prior to coaching at Georgetown, Holder was an assistant coach at Princeton University, his alma mater, for five seasons. Holder graduated from Princeton in 2000 after recording two All-Ivy seasons as a swimmer. He set a school record in the 400-yard freestyle and captained the team as a senior.
How do you think your experiences as an Ivy League student athlete will help you now as a head coach in the league?
JH: It’s definitely a key element to my experience in terms of just knowing exactly what it’s like to be a student athlete in the Ivy League and perform at a high level in both the pool and the classroom. That’s the kind of balance that I really like to work with, and I think it’s kind of the key to my philosophy as a coach.
How do you think your time as head coach at Georgetown will influence your coaching at Dartmouth?
JH: I think the experience that I’ve had at Georgetown has been fantastic, just to be able to work with some of the great athletes there and work with kids who just want to have that balance [of academics and athletics]. It was a great place to really hone my head coaching skills [because] when I got there I had only been an assistant before, so the whole head coaching thing was new to me, and I didn’t even know if I’d be good at it. Six years later we improved a lot. The opportunity to be a head coach at Georgetown definitely puts me at where I’m at today I’d say in terms of trying to help build Dartmouth’s program and improve their standing in the Ivy League. It’s been a rewarding experience, and I definitely feel like I’m a much more prepared now [to be head coach] having done it for six years. I’m excited to work with a new group and rebuild and continue to make Dartmouth swimming a strong tradition.
What is your favorite part of being a coach?
JH: Just seeing the overall development of the athletes over four years — and when I say development I’m not just talking about athletically, I mean holistically in terms of them coming in as these sort of pre-adults from high school, and they think they’re adults, but over the four years just their transformation, maturation and education of them both in and out of the classroom is just a really fun thing to be a part of and to help participate in that development. It’s just really rewarding to see the types of people that we’re able to develop.
If you had to describe your coaching style in three words what would it be?
JH: Academic, athletic, flexibility.
What are you most excited for as a new member of the Dartmouth athletic department and, on a larger scale, the Dartmouth community?
JH: My wife and I are just really excited to be in a much different place than Washington, D.C. and embrace a new kind of lifestyle that is different and something that we’ve always kind of wanted to be a part of, so we’re really excited to be able to live up in that area and be a part of the community. From everything that I’ve heard there’s a really strong community around the Hanover/Dartmouth area, and it seems like it’s going to be a really nice place for us to be.
What challenges do you foresee in your first season?
JH: Certainly, we are going to be recruiting against some of the best teams in the league. I see recruiting as one of the keys to our success and improving quickly in the league. There’s a lot of great schools in the Ivy League, [but] Dartmouth is unique in a lot of ways, and that’s really attractive to a lot of people, so I just really want to focus on recruiting the people who want to be at Dartmouth. We’re certainly going to try to go for those people who are attracted to other schools in our league and elsewhere, but I see that as a fun challenge. The biggest thing is getting the word out there that Dartmouth is moving forward and that there is a new era. My sense is that the team has a strong work ethic from the people I’ve talked with, it’s just going to be a matter of getting everyone to buy in and focus on team improvement and team culture — things like that.
As an incoming coach, what is the recruit line-up looking like?
JH: We have two very strong girls coming in. One’s from Australia who’s going to have an immediate impact in the Ivy League, and we’re really excited about her. I’m just excited to start getting to work with the team, get to know them better and see where our strengths and weaknesses are. I think we have a good group to work with.
What do you think is the strongest part of the program currently?
JH: Probably distance freestyle at this point.
What is your vision for the program?
JH: I definitely see us improving in the Ivy League. I don’t want to make any predictions really concretely, but I definitely see us putting more kids up in the top 16 of the conference championships, and I certainly think that we have the ability to hopefully win a dual meet this year, but we may be a year or two away from that. We’re just going to try to focus on the things that we can control, and work on that and I think the results will come.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.