January 15, 1958

An Immediate Impact at IU

Doc’s swimming knowledge had a very fast impact on his swimmers. Doc's young swimmers quickly took the helm and posted impressive results: Stan Hurt, Dick Beaver, Frank McKinney Jr., and Bill Barton set a national freshman record in the 400-yard medley relay, clipping more than 20 seconds off the old mark in an exhibition record attempt after the Miami meet on January 15, 1958 [5].

Indiana University Archives Photograph Collection P0074567

Doc Counsilman with Stan Hurt, Dick Beaver, Frank McKinney Jr., and Bill Barton.

August 1958

Doc Begins 33-Year Head Coaching Career

After one year, Doc became the head coach at IU, giving him the resources needed to transform a languishing program. He realized the importance of diving when scoring points at meets and immediately hired a former teammate from Ohio State, Hobie Billingsley, to build up the IU diving program together with swimming [1].

Courtesy of the Counsilman Center

Doc inherited the 1957 team, along with the recruits he made from Indianapolis and the surrounding area, when he became head coach in 1958.

October 1958

Doc's Research #2: Vital Signs

As head coach, Doc emphasized proper health and wellness for his team. The individual care Doc gave each swimmer helped him develop strong personal relationships with each swimmer, which was especially helpful when new swimmers joined the team [4].

Courtesy of the Counsilman Center

Doc conducts tests on John Kelly's vitals after a workout.


Doc's Research #3: Pace Clocks

Counsilman popularized the use of interval pace clocks and began a business selling them to coaches around the world [6]. Now, these clocks are ubiquitous at competitive swimming pools and are central to the operation of a swim practice.

Courtesy of the Counsilman Center

Doc installing his pace clock creations in Royer Pool.


Doc's Research #4: Underwater Observation

After considerable urging by Doc, an underwater observation deck was built at IU's new Royer Pool to observe and videotape swimmers from a different vantage point [3]. This allowed Doc to make large strides in his research of lift and stroke technique. Doc also used the Royer Pool loudspeakers to give pointers on stroke technique to swimmers while they swam, as he could observe their stroke underwater in real time [7]. This helped advance his swim team to its first Big Ten Championship in the spring of 1961 [1].

Indiana University Archives Photograph Collection P0020756

Doc Counsilman views a swimmer through Royer Pool's underwater observation deck.


Taking Research Around the World

Doc's research quickly gained acclaim across the swimming world and he made several trips to Europe and Asia to spread the wealth of knowledge he had accumulated. While there, Doc would often avoid focusing solely on swimming; he took his swimmers to museums, restaurants, and tourist attractions to help them gain unique knowledge on the trip [2]. By the end of his life, Doc had visited no less than 28 countries to spread his knowledge and swimmers and coaches from 37 different countries had come to IU to learn about his discoveries first-hand [4].

Courtesy of the Counsilman Center

Doc and team in Japan at a conference.


Doc's Research #5: Isometrics

Doc's isometric weight machines helped push swimmers to work muscles that swimming may not naturally activate, thereby further strengthening swimmers in the water during their races. Doc continued to develop and implement different weight training regimens for his swimmers to help them strengthen muscles and core groups for faster swims [3].

Courtesy of the Counsilman Center

Doc developed an isometric pulley bench to help swimmers such as Lary Schulhof increase strength.


Goal-Setting as a Motivator for Swimmers

Doc would motivate swimmers by rewarding them with candy such as jelly beans during grueling workouts to give them a positive and tangible goal to work towards. Once a season, Doc would hold a "Jelly Bean Day" where swimmers would swim 800 meters of their preferred stroke; any swimmer who made their goal time standard would receive an entire pound of jelly beans [3]. This tradition became a staple of the program; the results would make the Bloomington newspaper.

Courtesy of the Counsilman Center


Doc's Research #6: Mirrors

Another of Doc's innovations was using mirrors to help his swimmers see with their own eyes how they were coming into the wall. This way, he could critique their stroke and offer a fix that they could see through their own perspective [3].

Courtesy of the Counsilman Center

Doc set up mirrors at the end of lanes so swimmers could directly see what stroke changes they needed to make.


"Hurt, Pain, Agony"

Doc was known to put his swimmers to the test and push them to new lifetime best swims throughout the season. Every practice was vital, and Doc often spoke to swimmers about the various levels of pain they could endure during practice as long as they did not give up; to him, IU was not a place for casual or goalless "comfort swimming." Swimmers considered the "Hurt, Pain, Agony" credo sacred, believing it was the reason that they would continually strive for more success under Doc's coaching [6]. It was calculated that Doc's motivated swimmers could have beat the entire rest of the world in a head-to-head meet due to the depth of quality the entire team possessed through their world-class training [3].

Courtesy of the Counsilman Center

Doc's coaching philosophy encouraged his swimmers to push through their pain during grueling practices.

October 10, 1964 – August 1, 1976

Doc Named Head Men's Olympic Swim Coach

Due to his success at IU, Doc was chosen as the head coach of the 1964 USA Olympic Men's Swim Team. This team captured over half of the available medals at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics and won 7 of 10 gold medals [8]. He also coached the men’s team during the 1976 Montreal Olympics, where the team captured over three-fourths of all available medals and won 12 of the 13 events [9]. The 1976 performance was one of the most dominant ever seen, owing to Counsilman's motivating tactics; IU swimmer Jim Montgomery remembers Counsilman saying the goal at those Olympics was not to win medals, but to win all the medals [10]. Gary Hall later remarked that the USA men's team success in 1976 was due to Doc's ability to create camaraderie amongst any group of people [10].

Courtesy of the Counsilman Center

Doc was named the head coach of the men's Olympic team in 1964 after recognition of his coaching talents at IU.


Doc's Research #7: Lane Lines

After viewing filters in water channels in Europe and America, Doc made a smaller version for swimming pools that would minimize the effect of waves on swimmers, while still having small holes that allowed water to flow around the pool [7]. These anti-turbulence lane lines are now standard across virtually all pools and swimming competitions.

Courtesy of the Counsilman Center

Doc explains to swimmer John Eisel how his new lane lines will reduce water turbulence between swimmers.


Swimming Education for All Ages

In the 1960s, Doc began hosting swim camps and demonstrations for younger swimmers, rather than just teaching college swimmers at IU. This way, his knowledge of good stroke technique could be instilled in swimmers from an early age, both Bloomington and around the country [3].

Courtesy of the Counsilman Center

Doc hosted swim camps and clubs at IU's Royer Pool to begin teaching swimmers better technique from a young age.

March 1968

Doc's Team Wins First NCAA Championship

The 1967-1968 swimming season ended with Doc's biggest achievement to date: winning the NCAA Men's Swimming Championship. Doc's swimmers beat rival Big Ten schools as well as traditional swimming schools out of California through a combination of depth from many great swimmers. Doc was seen continuing his leadership role, focusing on covering his swimmers' accomplishments while they celebrated [3].

Courtesy of the Counsilman Center

Doc is interviewed poolside after IU won the 1968 NCAA Men's Swimming Championship.

June 1, 1968

Doc's Research #8: Publishing Findings

In 1968, Doc finished his writing and published "The Science of Swimming," a collection of his findings from two decades of swimming research. His book was a hit in the swimming world, changing how coaches treated strokes and their swimmers. The book has since been published in 22 languages and been updated multiple times [3]. This book is still considered an outstanding manual for swim coaches.

Courtesy of the Counsilman Center

Published in 1968 by Prentice Hall, Doc's famous swim manual, "The Science of Swimming," has since been republished 22 times.


Doc's Research #9: Light Tracings

Doc developed a system of underwater strobe light photography to analyze a swimmer's stroke path and understand how stroke mechanics affected propulsive and lift forces. Doc attached a battery-powered flashing light to a swimmer's fingers on both hands. The lights in the pool were then turned off and Doc took one long photo with the shutter open from the underwater observation desk to capture one entire cycle of a swimmer's stroke. In the middle of the stroke cycle, a single strobe light was turned on to show where the swimmer's body was placed, as a frame of reference. Through this method, Doc could work out where the hands were at multiple points throughout the stroke cycle. This research completely revised his understanding of a swimmer's stroke mechanics in every stroke [3].

Courtesy of the Counsilman Center

Light tracings of Charlie Hickcox showed how the backstroke operates mechanically.


Doc's Research #10: Biokinetics

The biokinetic swim bench and mini gym were developed by Doc as well. His innovative mind was constantly working and while walking with Marge in a European marketplace on a swimming trip, Doc found a flashlight that could be powered by squeezing the handle. This concept was used by Doc to adjust his current isometric pulley bench into a biokinetic bench that let swimmers exert more power through squeezing. This machine became a staple of dryland training for swimmers throughout the late 20th century [6].

Courtesy of the Counsilman Center

John Kinsella uses dryland weight training mandated by Doc to continue strengthening leg muscles for his long-distance freestyle swim events.


Doc's Research #11: Swimmer Psychology and the "X" Factor

An important facet of Doc's coaching philosophy and practice was understanding how a swimmer's mind worked. Often, a swimmer's mental state can influence a race more than his or her swimming skills. Doc spoke many times about the "X" Factor, a quality that every good coach must possess—the ability to know what is important with a swimmer and what is not [4]. Essentially, a coach needs to pick their battles, and know how to motivate swimmers in a simple, organized, and understanding way.

Swimming World Magazine, Edition 2014, Issue 6

Excerpts from a talk given at the 1975 ASCA World Clinic.


Doc's Research #12: Bernoulli's Principle

Perhaps one of the most important subjects Doc covered in his research was the application of Bernoulli's Principle to how swimmers used propulsion for lift. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the common swimming convention was to pull with a straight arm [2]. By conducting underwater observation experiments, Doc learned that a bent arm achieved better propulsion and lift, leading to a stronger pull. This finding quickly changed the swimming world's belief in straight-arm stroke and Doc's bent-arm pulling method became the norm [3].

Courtesy of the Counsilman Center

Doc showed the application of Bernoulli's Principle to Human Propulsion in Water.

April 13, 1973

Doc's Research #13: Recognition

After a sixth consecutive NCAA championship, Doc and Gary Hall were featured on the cover of a 1973 issue of Medical World News magazine, with an article inside discussing the rigorous and exact training of college athletes like IU swimmers. The sports world applied a lot of Doc's psychological methods and training regimens to the coaching of young athletes, resulting in a more complete working knowledge on how a college athlete operates and the best way to coach them to success [3].

Courtesy of the Counsilman Center

Doc and his rigorous training of IU swimmers was highlighted in the magazine Medical World News, with Gary Hall featured.


"[1] Doc Counsilman: Making Waves; Biography. (2004, January 5). -- [2] Tyrrell, R. E., Jr. (2004, January 14). Requiem for a Swim Coach. -- [3] Colwin, C. (2014, July 25). A Giant Has Fallen. -- [4] Colwin, C. (2014, July 25). Doc Counsilman Eulogized. -- [5] IU Athletics Department. (n.d.). Freshman Swimmers [Photograph]. Archives Photograph Collection, The IU Digital Library Program, Bloomington. (Originally photographed 1958, January 15). -- [6] Hunsaker, J. (2015, January 12). Doc Counsilman: As I Knew Him. -- [7] Tanner, D. (2018, June 7). Personal Interview. -- [8] Tokyo 1964: Swimming. (2017, November 18). -- [9] Swimming at the 1976 Montreal Summer Games. (n.d.). -- [10] Woods, D. (2016, July 31). Doc's boys: The story of dominant U.S. swim team from 1976."