CHICAGO --With his best swimmer poised to go to the Beijing Olympics in four months and a stable of younger athletes in the pipeline for 2012 and beyond, Paul Yetter has an eye for talent and the ability to nurture it.
Yesterday, the Anne Arundel County native was honored by the U.S. Olympic Committee as its Developmental Coach of the Year. Yetter, 32, was selected over finalists from ice hockey, taekwondo, diving and women's basketball. The award was first issued in 1996.
His resume includes coaching the 2007 USOC Sportswoman of the Year, Towson's Katie Hoff, and guiding the U.S. women's squad at the Pan American Games last summer to 14 gold medals in 16 events. So far this year, 13 athletes he coaches have qualified for the U.S. Olympic trials being held in Omaha, Neb., beginning in late June.
"It's a tribute to these athletes," said Yetter, head coach at the North Baltimore Aquatic Club. "I'm not going to get any award like that unless the athletes swim fast."
Just last month at the Maryland State Championships, Hoff obliterated the U.S. women's 1,650-yard freestyle record with a time of 15 minutes, 24.35 seconds, slicing nearly five seconds from Kate Ziegler's mark set late last year. And at the FINA World Championships a year ago, Hoff broke the world record in the 400-meter individual medley and was a member of the 800 freestyle medley that set a world mark.
Yetter grew up near Gambrills in western Anne Arundel County and paddled around the community pool. He competed for Central Chesapeake Swimming (where he still holds club records in freestyle and individual medley) and the Bowie Aquatic Club before hooking up with coach Murray Stephens at Loyola High. He naturally gravitated toward the NBAC, which Stephens owns.
After graduating from the University of Wisconsin, Yetter coached boys and girls high school teams to Wisconsin state championships. Yetter moved back to Maryland for the 2000-01 season and guided the Bel Air Aquatic Club to 65 team records. The next season, Yetter gained experience on a larger stage as an assistant to Bob Bowman, Michael Phelps' coach.
"Paul is so enthusiastic every day when he comes to the pool," Bowman said. "When I think of him, in some ways, I think of an artist. He has a picture in his mind of how he wants Katie to swim, and he really knows how to shape it. But it's not just her. It's the whole group of kids he's working with."
Hoff said that since joining the NBAC, she has been drawn to Yetter's "attention to detail."
"We'll come in before practice, and he'll have splits and goals ready to go," she said. "For me, that's something that I always really valued, because I'm not someone who can have someone say, 'Just go fast.' I have to have guidelines and goals for every practice."
Felicia Lee, at 15 one of the next generation of NBAC swimmers, said Yetter's strength goes beyond organizational ability.
"He has the ability to take a swimmer, any swimmer, and know what they need individually," she said. "That makes him pretty much awesome."
Yetter said that while his focus is on the Olympic trials, he derives his satisfaction as a coach from a more basic level.
"I feel the best when they do the best that they can and when we have a great team effort, when I have a group of kids and we're working toward a goal," he said. "I like to see people smile after they swim fast."
To see Yetter and his swimmers discussing his honor, go to baltimoresun.com/yetter.