Sun Devils Monster The Rest To Grant Arizona State & Coach Bowman Historic NCAA Firsts, Golden Rules On Show

2024-03-31 No comments Reading Time: 8 minutes
Bob Bowman Leon Marchand asu ncaa
Driving forces: coach Bob Bowman and Leon Marchand, mentor and supercharge at the helm of an historic first NCAA men's swimming title for Arizona State University (images: left, courtesy of World Aquatics; right, the winning team, courtesy of Bob Bowman)

In 2019, Bob Bowman sat in his commander-in-chief chair at Arizona State University (ASU) and spoke enthusiastically for about 20 minutes in answer to my simple question: what’s the mission?

Almost five years on, mission accomplished. And here is how Bowman looked back on the challenges of his own post-Phelps career last night as ASU claimed its first Men’s NCAA swimming title in history:

“In 2015, I knew that a very significant chapter in my life was ending and I was looking for a challenge to keep me moving forward professionally and personally. The journey has been frustrating, exhausting, exhilarating and deeply meaningful. Now we are at the end of the beginning. Couldn’t love this team more and I’m beyond grateful to our @sundevilswimdive community for the support and encouragement. Can’t wait to see what we can do in the next phase because we are just getting started! #doyourwork #leavenodoubt”

Bob Bowman. Image, the NCAA Champions 2024, ASU’s first such championship title in history

The mainstream media write-ups of how it all panned out at NCAA finals in Minnesota are few and far between and it won’t mean all that much when it Bowman stands on the burning deck in Paris at the home Games of Leon Marchand guiding the great French hope to the best he has to muster over nine days of hugely anticipated Olympic racing.

Marchand, of course, played a big role in the NCAA party in the pool, as the Sun Devils monstered their opposition and you can read more about how it flowed here and elsewhere, alongside a touch of deeper context from the sensational era of Michael Phelps.

Results in Full: Men / Women

Winning does not come easy, no matter how easy it looks. Here’s a hint of the struggle alone the way:

That 2019 interview is for another time and place, there being is no scope for regular writing about swim meets from this writer these days but watching from afar, the foundations of success were there for all to see.

Worth noting them this day with a reminder from our archive, below: The Golden Rules underpin much of what came to pass at NCAA men’s finals this week.

The same principles surely played a part in Virginia Swimming and Diving’s victory at NCAA women’s finals the week before, too. And worth noting that the women’s finals coincided with a legal challenge to the NCAA from Riley Gaines and Co plaintiffs as they took the obvious step the college sports organisation left them with when it allowed males to compete in female competition).  

On the back off the 2024 finals, Gretchen Walsh was named the College Swimming and Diving Coaches Association of America’s (CSCAA) Division I Women’s Swimmer of the Year and Todd DeSorbo the coach of the year, for self and team of coaches, including Tyler Fenwick.

There’ll be some significant nuance to add to The Golden Rules one day (such as what is to be learned in the seasonal preparation gap/difference/flow between Phelps, who never swam NCAAs) and Marchand. For now…

February 2016 – From the SwimVortex Archive

Bob Bowman: The Golden Rules Transcend Phelps & Swimming – A Book For All Seasons

Dust down a shelf, make room for a pride-of-place gem heading to the book store and tablet this May: The Golden Rules by Bob Bowman.

Yes, the foreword is written by the biggest ticket he help punch: Michael Phelps. Yes, it is well-written, the co-author Charles Butler, entertaining and instructive all at once. And you can get your hands on the works from May 17. NB: don’t think ‘swimming book’.

There’s a lot of swimming and Phelps in it, for sure, but the sub-title provides the clue when it comes to a guess that this book will not (and should not) be confined to the sports shelf: “10 Steps to World-Class Excellence in Your Life and Work“.

This review in three parts over the course of the week will not rattle out the Golden Rules one by one nor the sub-points within each of the 10, nor will it cite great chunks of the work. That’s not just out of respect for copyright but because the devil in the detail is something each should read for themselves and work out how to apply it to whatever skill, mission and goal in life they set out to master, dedicate themselves to and achieve.

I start this review with a memory of my own. It is late 2009. A Berlin pool up in the Gods with the Gods of swimming and coaching, Bowman to the left, Phelps to the right. A long string of questions prompt some of the very best answers I ever had from either, ever had from any coach or swimmer.

Transpose those on The Method described in The Golden Rules and the constellation takes on more beauty. Bowman’s Golden Rules were forged on the burning deck and in the water he watched over but they transcend swimming and sport: this is a book for all and for all seasons.

Back to Berlin, 2009. Phelps does not look to Bowman to answer his questions for him. He pauses, thinks and speaks in words that tell me I’m addressing a man with his own mind not the automaton who supposedly got great because he ‘followed Bowman’s orders’ (he doubtless did on many occasions but that misses the point backwards).

There is one question that Phelps does not answer. It is about loyalty and faith. He promises to think and get the answer to me. I’m still waiting, though the foreword to The Golden Rules provides part of the answer I was expecting:

“Without Bob, my story is different – 100 per cent different … I don’t believe any other coach could have brought me to where I am today. Bob is one of a kind. He made me see the value of pursuing excellence and what it could bring. And what was that? No, not medals or records, but memories born of dreams.”

Michael Phelps. Photo: Phelps (R) talks to his coach Bob Bowman (L) is pictured during a training session at the Susie O’Neill pool at the FINA Swimming World Championships in Melbourne, Australia, Friday 23 March 2007. (Photo by Patrick B. Kraemer / MAGICPBK)

One of a kind; one of several “somewhat unique” aspects that placed a success story in the outer orbit of sporting achievement. Among them is what Bowman calls “the Method”. The 10-step plan is what the book is about. It won’t turn you into Bowman nor Phelps but it could help you to achieve your goals in the way they did. That is what Bowman calls his “personal mission”.

As Bowman puts it:

Bob Bowman by Craig Lord

“… I believe it can work just as well in the boardroom, in a retail shop, in the family kitchen … Anywhere achievement and excellence are sought, the Method can work.” It is not, he adds, “intended simply to turn a good swimmer into a gold-medal winning one. “t’s meant to motivate a person to pull greatness – to get gold – out of every day.”

Bob Bowman – photo by Craig Lord

The Method is not an article, nor three – it is as the book lays it out – and for understanding, you will have to read it. Don’t imagine it all comes stress and argument free. “We butt heads. Lord knows we butt heads,” writes Bowman. The rich vein that runs through the work are the tips and guidance provided by a story of “staying focussed”, not just for a month, a year, an Olympic cycle and those phases of life played out under the spotlight of world-stage super troupers – from 11 to 30 in the case of the athlete, 20 and more formative years for the coach, too.

Underscoring the focus is this line that Bowman told a group of world-class salesman he was asked to speak to:

“Whatever you do, avoid complacency. If you’re already number one, set the bar higher, every day.”


Bowman did that with Phelps even beyond the eight gold medals – and the kick back from that taught the coach new lessons that whisper to his dislike of the term ‘review’. What he seeks is “preview”. It is what the Sun Devils working with him and under his guidance in Arizona can expect.

Explanation: in the midst of Rule No 4 – on the theme of long-term success – Bowman asks why people facing their “annual review” at work face the moment as though the grim reaper has come to call. He answers his own question by suggesting that the manager who waits for a year to point out the things that could and should be improved might be the one to reconsider his position. Writes Bowman:

“I’m a big believer in instant and constructive feedback … I don’t wait for a midyear review. I don’t like ‘review’. If I’m going to the trouble of planning time to meet with a swimmer or an employee, I’d rather do a performance ‘preview’, not a review’.”

Learn from the past, see how the lesson applies to the future; turn the moment into a way of looking forward, adjusting the “Game Plan” and make progress.

“History shows that adjusting the Game Plan can, in fact, lead to making history.”

Bob Bowman
The outdoor pool at North Baltimore Aquatic Club
 The outdoor pool at North Baltimore Aquatic Club

Bowman explains with a story from the very beginning, when he had a meeting with Phelps, aged 11, and his parents,Debbie and Fred. The North Baltimore Aquatic Club coach tells them that the boy is bound to be an Olympian – most likely by 2004. Phelps blows the plan by making the Sydney 2000 Olympic at 15.

The need to adapt hardly stops there, Phelps’ trajectory leading to Peter Carlile as an agent from heaven (why is well described in the book), the million-dollar Speedo bonus that the swimmer fell shy of by a gold with six in 2004 but landed four years on – when he fell one gold shy again but this time only because he’d set a target of 9 golds and got eight at Beijing 2008, Bowman’s “Method” etched on every golden orb.

Bowman concludes Rule 4 with: “My advice: Expect stuff to happen. That way you’ll be ready to react to it – with a new Game Plan… to get to where you ultimately want to go.”

Expect stuff like “Roger”, too. That’s the name Bowman gives to a world-class athlete who joins the program in Baltimore but tows alongside his skills attitudes that just don’t fit.

When Bowman suggests a change to the swimmer’s stroke, he listens, waits and then, coach back turned, mutters within earshot of Phelps “It don’t matter.”

The words reach Bowman. He described the explosion in the book and how Phelps would tease him for weeks after by muttering “It don’t matter”, delivered with a ‘snicker’, every time he walked by.

Roger had to leave. He’s not forgotten. Often, after a great workout, Bowman will tweet his troops #itdoesmatter.

As does celebrating success. As we noted in our feature on coach burnout this week, Bowman writes:

“Over the years, I have become a firm believer in the value of celebration as part of the Method … in recent years I’ve started to celebrate the end of each year with a holiday party at my home …

“Achieving our dream vision requires plenty of sacrifice: we use hours we can never get back, we must propel ourselves through daily to-do lists, we need to find a way to fight through emotional and physical exhaustion. But once that moment of completion arrives, it’s imperative to stop, reflect, and consider what has been accomplished and discovered.”

“If you have found success … you have to revel in the spirit of achievement. If success has not found you, then still celebrate the road you have been on …”.

Bob Bowman. Image: The best ever – the term applied to Michael Phelps at London 2012 as he took his golden tally to 18 … but not to the Games, terrific as they were in many ways; not to any Games, in fact … they all had their merits and downsides – and Rio 2016 will be no different – Photo: Craig Lord

A Book For Everyone

Michael Phelps celebrates 200 'fly victory in the Susie O'Neill back in 2007 … eight years on he's racing remotely as world titles unfold - by Patrick B. Kraemer
 Michael Phelps – by Patrick B. Kraemer

By rippling out the success of self and Michael Phelps in the water to the wider world of all of us in whatever realm of personal or work life you care to name, Bob Bowman has punched himself a ticket to a bigger market and a shelf beyond the sports titles.

It would be easy to interpret that stretch from pool to wider pool of people as a sign of the salesman in Bowman. I have no doubt that the coach would answer ‘sure – you bet’ or something like that, if asked whether he wanted to sell the book to the largest audience possible. He has a brain, a keen one at that.

More importantly, he has a Method. he has a proven Method, he has a message to pass on that transcends Michael and 10x200m of whatever it was on a given day that constituted point 7,342 on a join-the-dots success story that left the canvas and wrote a soaring score many years ago.

The Golden Rules is a book for all of us, for all who, like Bowman and Phelps, have a goal in mind and understand that it will not be easy to achieve; it will not come without adversity; it will come with no guarantees; it will require daily dedication, devotion and discipline; it will require change and adaptation; it will be your life.

  • The Golden Rules
  • 10 Steps to World-Class Excellence in Your Life and Work
  • St Martin’s Press (May 2016)
  • ISBN #9781250059505
  • E Book – ISBN 9781466864573

Share this post

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *