Backstroke King: Peirsol takes a pause from watching the annual pentathlon to pose for a quick picture.
Newport Harbor High School

Olympian Aaron Peirsol Returns to Alma Mater as Coach

Backstroke King:  Peirsol takes a pause from watching the annual pentathlon to pose for a quick picture.
Backstroke King: Peirsol takes a pause from watching the annual pentathlon to pose for a quick picture.
Olympic Touch:  Peirsol sends off swimmers for a race in his first meet of the year.
Olympic Touch: Peirsol sends off swimmers for a race in his first meet of the year.

For any player, a new coach can be met with uncertainty or even fear. But for Newport Harbor boy’s swim this year it came with a familiar face. It was a Newport Harbor alumni famous enough to stir excitement on just about any pool deck, Aaron Peirsol.

From student- athlete to coach, Piersol, who replaces previous head coach Robert Lynn, swam for Newport while he himself was in high school. According to Peirsol, his teammates at the time would have considered him someone “fairly aloof and fairly goofy.” Overall he was just “someone who liked the water, ocean, just like they did.” His achievements reflect otherwise.

At Newport Harbor, he would go on to break several school records, many still unbroken, and even be among the first and only swim team for Newport Harbor to win a CIF D1 Championship. But his Newport Harbor achievements pale in comparison to his achievements in swimming as a whole, including a three time Olympian and seven time Olympic medalist.

The name Aaron Peirsol is known to just about any swimmer, and with good reason. His backstroke helped him break several world records and earn seven Olympic medals, five gold and two silver. His first silver medal was earned at just 17 at the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia. Yet despite all this, Peirsol remains incredibly humble.

“I went through the career I went through in swimming and I still love to do it and I still do it and I’m not burnt out and it’s something I’m quite happy with. I still love it.” Ironically this, not the medals, is what he considers his greatest achievement, and though it may seem odd to some, it certainly reflects his easy going nature. His enthusiasm for the sport has shown in his newfound enjoyment for coaching.

“Walking on the pool deck the first morning last week I just thought ‘I need to get my suit on this is weird.’ I’m so used to being the one who has to get in the water,” Peirsol joked. “So that was interesting but I have adjusted since then. It’s been fun. I’m enjoying seeing their reactions and helping them out. I think I’m learning just as much from them.”

Despite his stardom, Peirsol looks back fondly at the four years he swam for Harbor, naming it as a reason for why he decided to take up coaching this year. “I know the dynamics of the group. It’s different with a mixed group of polo players and swimmers. It was something I felt I’d really enjoy helping with.”

Though he has never coached before, Peirsol says he has enjoyed the time so far. “It’s so nice [during morning practice] all of a sudden the sun is coming up and it’s a beautiful morning, and the guys start laughing and it’s just such a nice way to start the day. I really enjoy it. It’s really funny. It’s nice to start the day with a few smiles. It’s incredible, they are wet and tired but they’re smiling anyways. I’m happy for them.”

His swimmers share his enthusiasm. A few always seem to circle him after practice, hoping to get a word in with their idol. Senior Zach Granoff fondly reflected on the Olympians coaching techniques. “It balances on intensity and integrity. He wants to push you to the limit, yet he wants you to do the workout right. It’s nice because he introduces these small little changes to your technique that can really benefit your stroke over time.

Many of Peirsol’s school records remain unbroken on the board, something he hopes may change this year.

His younger sister, Hayley Peirsol also holds several records on the girl’s board. “I think some of my favorite moments were watching her. Not even my own races, but watching her compete but just achieving something she wanted to achieve. We got to travel together. It was a neat way to grow up together. It made us close. We’re still very close.”

The family connection has followed him as a coach. He now coaches his own cousin, junior Ben Morrison, who admitted it that even though it was strange at first being coached by his a member of own family, he has since adjusted. Despite being more of a water polo player, the junior looks to his cousin for athletic inspiration. “I’ve consulted Aaron on everything from diet to mindset and he has always helped guide me in a healthy and ‘do it yourself’ direction.”

This do it yourself direction is reflected in Peirsol’s advice to anyone with Olympic dreams. “Really like what you do. The only way you can learn you can like it is by diving in to it seeing if you will or won’t like it… the more you learn generally the more it is you like it, the more nuances you see in it, the more you have a relationship with it. It pays to stick with something for a little but longer to try to really get to understand it. In time you will get to develop a relationship with it. Sometimes you just want to see how far you can take it. But you have to like it. It can’t just be for some end result for some reason that doesn’t mean much. That’s not very fulfilling or satisfying.”

This in many ways is a reflection of the Newport Harbor swimmer turned coach himself, a man much driven by his passion and love for the water.