November 1973

Relationships with Swimmers

Doc made sure to keep his swimmers loose and relaxed during workouts and tried to lighten their moods during grueling workouts. It was important to Doc to be a fair coach and earn his swimmers respect. Although Doc pushed swimmers as much as possible, he maintained a belief that the sport was, above all, focused on keeping a healthy mind and body [2].

Courtesy of the Counsilman Center

During tough practices, Doc often made wisecracks to keep his swimmers relaxed.

December 1973

Unorthodox Methods

Some of Doc's motivational methods were not exactly conventional. Swimmers often were hesitant to enter the water, not wanting to start practice. Doc would generally solve this with the threat of using his belt on them, although he never made good on his threat [7].

Courtesy of the Counsilman Center

April 19, 1976

Doc Inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame

In 1976, Doc's accomplishments as a coach along with recognition of his immense impact on the sport were honored with his inclusion in the 1976 inductee class of the International Swimming Hall of Fame. Ten years prior, Doc had been a founder of the organization, Swimming Hall of Fame, Inc., which functioned as a non-profit educational corporation [11]. He served as the organization's first president from 1965 until 1969 [3]. In 1990, Doc received the Golden Medallion Award, the organization's highest honor, for his service as a "coach of coaches" and for transforming the art of swimming [12].

Courtesy of the Counsilman Center

Doc is presented his induction plaque by radio and TV personality Art Linkletter.

July 17, 1978

Doc's Research #14: A Manual for the Coach

On July 17, 1978, Doc published a manual for coaches and high-level swimmers to be used in training and in the pursuit of greater speed. The "Competitive Swimming Manual for Coaches and Swimmers" is a guide for coaches around the world to help teach their swimmers the details of swim mechanics. This manual contained underwater action sequences of renowned IU swimmers such as Mark Spitz, Gary Hall, and others, and is one of the finest photographic records of great swimmers' stroke mechanics [4].

Courtesy of the Counsilman Center

March 1, 1979

Doc's Research #15: A Book for Every Swimmer

Doc published "The Complete Book of Swimming" on March 1, 1979. The book outlines the basic mechanics of swimming and how to progress from a beginner learning how to swim into a master of the sport. The book is simply explained, understandable to any reader, and offers many diagrams, exercises, and tips to help a novice swimmer progress in the sport.

Courtesy of the Counsilman Center

September 17, 1979

Doc Becomes the Oldest Swimmer to Cross the English Channel

On September 17, 1979, Doc fulfilled his yearlong goal of crossing the English Channel unaided. His 13-hour swim was a record, because at 58, he was the oldest person to have swum the distance of the English Channel at that time. Doc had begun training for this swim by joining the Masters Swim movement in the mid-1970s, and was regularly swimming long distances in nearby Lake Monroe. His training was monitored by psychologist and Channel swim coach Tom Hetzel [3]. On the day of the swim, Doc set out from Shakespeare Beach in England and landed 13 hours and 7 minutes later in Wissant, France.

Courtesy of the Counsilman Center

Doc approaches the finish near the cliffs of Wissant, France.

January 22, 1980

Doc's Research #16: The Programmable Acceleration Exerciser

Together with Evan R. Flavell and the company Isokinetics, Inc., Doc designed and developed a programmable acceleration exerciser. This device was designed to allow a user to regulate his or her movement through assigning a program that controls speed. Doc's device was especially helpful when attached to existing isokinetic machines that swimmers would use during dryland training, enabling them to have a controlled workout that enhanced training and muscle building.

United States Patent and Trademark Office

Doc's patent for his programmable acceleration exerciser, officially patented with partner Evan R. Flavell in January 1980.

November 24, 1981

Doc's Research #17: The Swimmer's Drag Producing Belt

Doc worked with George Oprean to develop a drag producing swim belt for the swimmer to be used in resistance training. Doc first introduced the drag suit and drag belt to swimmers in 1977, filed for a patent in 1979, and received the patent in November of 1981 [1]. The belt contains pockets that can be filled with weights and have water caught in them, increasing the drag on a swimmer and helping them develop swimming muscles more efficiently. Doc's drag-producing belt served as the early stages of the now-popular dragsuit, which is used by all levels of swimmers around the world.

Courtesy of the United States Patent and Trademark Office

The patent for Doc's 1981 invention, the drag producing swim belt, that was officially patented in November 1981.


Doc's Research #18: Poolside Lectures

Throughout his career, Doc was prolific in his presentation of research and swimming knowledge to a wide range of audiences. From coaches in foreign countries, to his swimmers at IU, to local children at clubs across the United States, many swimmers listened attentively to the wisdom Doc possessed. Poolside lectures occurred regularly, as Doc would often have something on his mind when he was watching his swimmers progress [3]. He developed charts and diagrams to help his swimmers easily visualize and understand the stroke mechanics they should follow.

Courtesy of the Counsilman Center

Doc gives IU swimmers a detailed explanation of breaststroke mechanics during an early season practice.


Doc's Research #19: The Weight Room

Doc's use of weights at Indiana University was a movement quickly adopted around the world for swimmers. Weight training and dryland exercises were previously unheard of, but with Doc's research and development of multiple exercise machines that targeted muscles necessary for swimmers, weight training became a staple in all swimming programs [3]. Many of the machines found in the IU swimming weight room in the 1980s were either created or influenced by Doc's inquisitive and tireless brand of research.

Courtesy of the Counsilman Center

Doc sits in his updated 1980s training room, reserved for IU swimmers. Many of the machines were crafted by Doc.


Doc and Hobie

Doc and Hobie Billingsley announced that the 1989 season would be their final season coaching together. Billingsley would retire from his head diving coach position in 1989, after 30 years coaching next to Doc. Doc later announced that the 1990 season would be his last. The two coaches were famous in their fields; both were inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame and each helped establish the coaching associations for his respective sport. Their partnership created a swimming and diving dynasty that cemented Indiana as one of the premier aquatic programs in the nation [3].

Courtesy of the Counsilman Center

Famous IU coaches Doc and Hobie Billingsley in 1989, their final season coaching together after 30 years.

February 3, 1990

Doc Retires

After 40 years of coaching and 33 years spent as head coach of the IU men's swim team, Doc finally announced that he was retiring. His final home meet, where IU took on Doc's alma mater, Ohio State University, was packed with fans and IU students alike, celebrating Doc's achievements and contributions to IU and the swimming world. Doc had taken a small, mediocre program and transformed it into a swimming powerhouse through the application of science to swimming. By the end of his career, Doc was one of the winningest coaches in swimming history, with a record of 281-36-1, along with 18 undefeated seasons, 23 Big Ten titles (20 of which were consecutive), and 6 straight NCAA championships [3]. Doc would remain involved in swimming by lecturing and publishing articles long past his final day of coaching. The IU swimming program and the sport of swimming were impacted immensely by Doc, and his contributions were tantamount to the progression of the sport.

Courtesy of the Counsilman Center

Doc receives a standing ovation from the crowd as he enters what would be his final meet at Indiana University.

April 14, 1994

Doc's Research #20: Updated Findings

With the assistance of his son, Brian Counsilman, Doc published a second edition of his first book, titled "The New Science of Swimming," which contains updated research from the last 25 years of Doc's work at IU. The book covers swimming topics from psychology to physiology and technique [3].

Courtesy of the Counsilman Center


New IU Pool Honors Doc

Both Doc and Hobie Billingsley's contributions to IU aquatics were honored with the development of a new, state-of-the-art aquatic center, to be named after the duo that built the IU swimming dynasty [1]. The Counsilman-Billingsley Aquatic Center, attached to the Student Recreational Sports Facility, was opened in 1996, and features a 50-meter competition pool and one of the nation's few indoor diving towers. The pool has regularly been utilized for large competitions such as NCAA regional meets and several Big Ten swimming championships [13].

Courtesy of the Counsilman Center

Doc oversees the building of his eponymous state-of-the-art pool before its 1996 opening.

January 4, 2004

"A Giant Has Fallen;" Doc Passes Away

After a nearly 30-year battle with Parkinson's Disease, Doc passed away aged 83 on the morning of January 4, 2004. He was survived by his wife of 60 years, Marge, and his children Cathy, Jill, and Brian [14]. Doc's death shook the swimming world, as its most famous coach, the so-called colossus of swimming, was gone, with Swimming World Magazine writing "a giant has fallen" [3]. Doc was heavily eulogized and praised by many former swimmers and coaches who recognized him for his contributions to science, sport, and swimming. The United States Olympic Committee created the Doc Counsilman Science Award in honor of his scientific techniques; the award recognizes coaches who utilize scientific techniques in their coaching or have used science in sports innovatively [15]. Doc's innovations led to over 120 publications of articles and writings about the technical and psychological aspects of swimming, which were shared with the world [3]. Doc's life was dedicated to the sport of swimming, and his scientific inquiry and psychological knowledge pushed his swimmers to unmatchable success. His research and coaching at IU left an immeasurable benefit on the sport.

Doc was laid to rest in Clear Creek Cemetery in Bloomington, Indiana next to son James Counsilman, Jr.


"[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. -- [7] Tanner, D. (2018, June 7). Personal Interview. -- [11] History of Swimming in Fort Lauderdale and the International Swimming Hall of Fame. (n.d.). -- [12] Gold Medallion, 1990: Dr. James E. Counsilman. (n.d.). -- [13] Counsilman-Billingsley Aquatics Center. (n.d.). -- [14] Bohn, J. (2011, September 3). James Edward “Doc” Counsilman. -- [15] Doc Counsilman Science Award. (n.d.)."