Call it the Cake Baking Theory of Excellence.
Dan Greaves, longtime coach of the Santa Rosa Neptunes swim club, has found the right recipe to help produce more than a dozen swimmers in the past five years who have gone to the U.S. Olympic trials — and this year, two who will compete for their country in the Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games.
Greaves doesn’t take credit for creating these world-class athletes. He barely acknowledges he had a hand in their success at all.
He says they became great mostly on their own.
“It’s like baking a cake,” he explains. “If you’re missing one ingredient, it doesn’t turn out. But if you spend your whole career trying to master the 12 ingredients, then your cake will be amazing. But if you only want the cake, you’re not going to survive.”
“You gotta master all the skills before the end product is right.”
At Neptunes swim practice, they don’t talk about the cake much. They don’t talk times, winning races — and certainly not the Olympics.
“We talk about the skills, the process of it,” Greaves said.
As his two Olympians, Maya DiRado and Molly Hannis, prepare for the games in Rio next month, Greaves, 39, reflected on his club’s success and what it means to have such accomplished swimmers trace their beginnings to a small swim club in semirural Northern California.
A Neptunes coach for 20 years, the past 12 as head coach, Greaves acts as a gentle guiding hand, not a hard-driving, pacing-the-sidelines screamer.
He doesn’t hound his athletes to work harder.
He doesn’t yell at them.
He doesn’t punish them.
He doesn’t push them to their limits.
He doesn’t feel the need to break them down to build them up.
He doesn’t guilt-trip them if they’re not living up to expectations.
It’s technique over anything, quality over quantity.
“We’re always painting a picture of, ‘Where do you want to go and is your behavior getting you there?’ ” Greaves said. “ ‘If it’s not getting you there, do you really want to go there? If you don’t really want to go there, then why are we doing what we’re doing?’ ”
From those questions — for which Greaves doesn’t require answers — kids are forced to look inward. Some decide they don’t want to compete at a high level.
“It’s all good,” he said, no judgments. There are swimmers of all ability levels among the 330 Neptunes, from kindergarteners to teenagers.
“We get to dabble in high-level athletics. I don’t think we expect anything else,” Greaves said.
Still, the club, in existence since 1955, has consistently produced some of the country’s top swimmers.
That includes junior and senior national finalists, a U.S. Open champion, two NCAA champions, a Senior National Champion and 1984 Olympic gold medalist Jenna Johnson.
In the 2012 Olympic trials, seven Neptune swimmers competed, including DiRado and Hannis.
This year, six qualified for trials: Hannis, DiRado, Rebecca Baxley, Piper Brockley, Allie Davis and Riley Scott.
In the June 26-July 3 trials in Omaha, Neb., DiRado qualified for three Olympic events — the 200-meter backstroke and the 200 and 400 individual medleys. Hannis will race the 200 breaststroke.