By Dan Myckowiak
Watching Keith Havens demonstrate a flip-turn on the Dean Aquatic Center pool deck, it’s easy to see why athletes describe him as motivational, energetic, and enthusiastic.
“Curl your toes, but not too far or you will break them,” Havens shouts from a yoga mat, where lying flat on his back, his legs are extended and toes are curled.
After spending 27 years as head coach of the Albion College swimming and diving program, Havens is set to retire at the conclusion of 2011-2012 season. Havens’ unique, hands-on coaching style has been the hallmark of Albion’s program since he began coaching the Britons in 1985.
Under his tutelage, over 50 Albion College athletes have earned All-MIAA distinction. Both coaches and athletes alike admire Havens’ approach.
“He brings a different energy to coaching,” said swimmer Justin Wilson, Troy junior, who added, “He’s definitely helped me technique-wise.”
Dr. John Patnott, head coach of the Hope College swimming and diving program, has coached against Havens since he took over Albion’s program.
“For one, he’s (Havens) very knowledgeable, and two, the one thing I’ve learned to expect from his team is that when it came time for the conference championships, they were well prepared and they were going to swim well.” Patnott said.
Patnott added, “It’s been a pleasure to compete against his teams.”
Havens said his coaching philosophy is to put academics first, with swimming as a close second.
“Our team grade point average is always very high. We have lots of Academic All-Americans and the (team’s) G.P.A. just about every semester that I can remember has earned the team the distinction of Academic All-America.” Havens said.
Running Albion’s swimming and diving programs is a significant time commitment. In order to accommodate the teams large roster, Havens conducts three different practices each day.
“The swimmers and the coaches put an awful lot of time into practice,” Havens said. “Whereas most athletic teams at Albion practice approximately two and a half hours per day, the swim coaches are running workouts for five and half hours per day.”
Havens, who also coaches Albion’s championship winning canoe club, said he will retire from Albion College in all capacities. He plans to move with his wife to a cottage near Knoxville, Tenn., that rests along a white-water river.
“It’s an absolutely beautiful area,” Havens said. “It will be nice to have a white-water river right outside of my door.”
Albion College athletic director Matt Arend said a replacement coach will not be named until after January 1, 2012. However, they would not take over the position officially until August 1, 2012.
“Hopefully we will name a new coach after the first of the year to help recruiting, and so they can gain a feel for the program. But they won’t take over until August.” Arend said.