Matt Webber directs Huntsville Swim Association on course to excellence

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – Matt Webber holds one of the most industrious positions in all of sports as head coach and program director of a USA Swimming club team.

The year-round mentor of the Huntsville Swim Association is currently in charge of more than 375 swimmers, ranging from ages 5 to 18.

HSA hosts the Fran Norris Invitational, Oct. 23-25, at the Natatorium on Drake Ave. The meet historically attracts many of the top swimmers in the South. Competition begins at 5:30 p.m. on Friday. Events start again at 8:30 a.m., Saturday and Sunday.

Matt Webber talks with HSA swimmers (Photo: Elizabeth Hinely)

Matt Webber talks with HSA swimmers (Photo: Elizabeth Hinely)

Most people only see the head coach at practices or meets. Since swimming is an exact sport, Webber is sometimes seen consoling an athlete who has missed a championship meet qualifying time by one-hundredth of a second. Other times, he’s sharing the joy of a swimmer he’s helped make an Olympic Trials cut.

“It’s a cruel sport in a lot of ways,” Webber said. “The nice thing is when the highs happen they are a better thing because of the lows. There are lessons to be learned in both. It is obviously more to deal with the lows because it is an emotional thing when a season’s worth of work doesn’t pan out and it’s so close. The coaches try to maintain evenness that allows the swimmers to maintain calmness and let them know there’s usually another swim meet right around the corner.”

Webber is in his seventh year as HSA’s head coach. Over the course of his 18-year coaching career, he has mentored swimmers to the highest level of the sport.

On occasion, he’s busier than a meteorologist during a tornado warning. His students and parents are definitely eager for him to attempt to predict the future.

“As a head coach, you have to figure out how to balance expectations for the swimmers and the parents and also keep the excitement there,” Webber said. “Every swimmer is capable of doing a lot in the sport, it’s just figuring out how to make it happen for them.”
Webber often sounds like a professor, or a cross between a philosopher and a visionary, as he guides his squad along a charted course toward excellence. He may look like a psychologist, physician, attorney, accountant or statistician, when he’s not busy as the team internet web designer.

“If they ever broke it down and made someone have the degrees, it would be a lengthy list,” said Webber, who graduated from Clemson University in 2001 with a Bachelor of Science degree in biological science. “There are times when it appears you need a master’s in business administration for many of the things that are done outside of just coaching.”

Matt Webber talks strategy with a swimmer. (Photo: Elizabeth Hinely)

Matt Webber talks strategy with a swimmer. (Photo: Elizabeth Hinely)

When all is said and done, Webber is the voice of the team and oversees all levels of swimming, designing short and long-term plans and goals for every group. He supervises the coaches and the swimmers. He sets the practice groups, schedules and meets. He manages the team website and team policies.

Webber also assists the board of directors. He helps form nominating committees and oversees fundraising. He sets office hours to communicate with swimmers and parents, manages communications, whether via web site, newsletters, meet information and publicity. He makes sure equipment and awards are purchased and parent education programs are run.

Webber has distributed many of these tasks, gaining help from his coaches and the parental volunteers. He always makes sure to say how much he appreciates all the assistance he receives. Ultimately, as head coach, he is responsible for the final results of all team functions.

“I have such quality people all around me,” Webber said. “We have outstanding assistant coaches, a competent board of directors and talented volunteers. There are many club head coaches in the country, but I doubt there are as many with the quality of coaches and volunteers we have here in Huntsville.”

At the pool, Webber assists all of the HSA groups, but is over the junior and senior level swimmers.

“I like working with the middle school and high school athletes. It’s a very important time in their lives. It’s great to get a chance to work with all of the groups, too.”

Every day, Webber is looking to create a fun and energetic environment for swimmers to thrive athletically and personally.

He even works with facility aquatic directors on scheduling practice and swim meet times. He makes sure the meets are run smoothly, from the Colorado electronic timing system to t-shirt sales.

There are also the team’s travel arrangements for away meets as well as putting the best team representatives in a position to flourish at the pools they visit.

Matt Webber reviews upcoming swim events on the pool deck. (Photo: Elizabeth Hinely)

Matt Webber reviews upcoming swim events on the pool deck. (Photo: Elizabeth Hinely)

The Lynchburg, Va., native began swimming in a summer league program at age 5. He swam year-round for the local YMCA at age 8. His parents, Clayton and Linda Webber, moved the family to Chattanooga, Tn., where Matt Webber played numerous sports, before returning to competitive swimming at age 12.

Webber says his parents are a great influence in his life. His mother recently retired from teaching and his father has just retired from TVA.

“My dad was also a high school teacher, plus a high school football and baseball coach. I’ve learned so much from my parents. Something they instilled in me, and also something I think I realized from seeing their love of helping kids, and it has sort of become a philosophy of mine, is there are not too many kids who hop in the pool and aren’t giving 100 percent. They sometimes just don’t understand how to do that 100 percent better. That’s our job as coaches to help them.”

Webber prepped at Baylor School in Chattanooga. He swam mainly distance freestyle and IM on the swim team. After college at Clemson, he coached at the Greater Chattanooga Aquatic Club in 2001. He then matriculated to the Birmingham Swim Association as an assistant coach, before being named head coach at HSA.

Webber and his wife, Jenell Eckert Webber, have two daughters, Hazel, 2, and Charlee, 8 months old.

“Jenell and I met on the pool deck when I was in Birmingham,” Webber said. “At first, she was coaching for the rival team. I pestered her and we became friends from there. I am so blessed to have her in my life.”

Webber just finished up serving a three-year stint as General Chairman for Southeastern Swimming. He also served as the Age Group Vice Chairman of Southeastern Swimming and held the finance chair position. He has coached seven Southeastern Swimming All-Star teams and was head coach twice. He’s been on the coaching staff for both the USA Swimming Southern Zone Select Camp and the NCSA Training Camp. He is currently a member of the National Club Development Committee for USA Swimming.

HSA is a member of both USA Swimming and Southeastern Swimming LSC. Team members have competed in championship meets all over the world.

Under Webber, HSA has earned Bronze Medal status. Webber’s squads have led the state numerous times and HSA is also one of the top teams in the entire South Region.

“It’s interesting that over the course of the last 10 years, you’ve seen a lot of sports adopt the swimming model to some degree for year-round club type dominance,” said Webber. “Our team is the largest it has ever been and it is exciting to see the athletes pushing each other to new levels.”