David Rodriguez’s job comes with a unique pressure most people cannot relate to. As the Senior Director of Aquatics at Asphalt Green, Rodriguez oversees all of the organization’s water programs, from adult swim to free lessons to the city’s public school students. But part of that job is serving as the head coach of AGUA, Asphalt Green’s highly competitive swim team that in the past has produced Olympic medalists.
This year, Rodriguez has three swimmers who have qualified to compete at the Olympic trials, which will determine whether or not they make it onto Team USA for the Olympics in Tokyo this July. Figuring out how to navigate that pressure with his athletes as they prepare for the trials is a big part of his job.
“They're not naive to the pressure of the situation,” Rodriguez said of his athletes. “And a lot of what we try to do is create a scenario where they're very matter of fact about their performance. They do their process of preparing to race the same way that they would do it at a meet that's here. We try to keep everything almost on autopilot.”
Although he’s now playing a major role in shaping top caliber athletes, Rodriguez said he stumbled into coaching.
Originally from Miami, Rodriguez began swimming competitively at the age of eight. He continued through college, swimming at the University of Nevada. Upon graduation, he returned to south Florida, unsure of what his next step would be in life. That’s when his former coach reached out looking for someone to help out at some practices.
A three-month stint turned into four years. He was recruited to coach at an elite high school in Fort Lauderdale where he worked for another three years, before ambition took him to Manhattan.
“I understood the South Florida swimming scene,” said Rodriguez. “And I was like, let me see if I can do it somewhere else. It was supposed to be, in my mind, a three or four year ordeal — it’ll be eight years in October.”
Rodriguez was promoted to head coach of AGUA after working with the team as an assistant coach for three years. In 2017, Rodriguez was made director of all of Asphalt Green’s aquatics programming.
In his leadership role, Rodriguez has tried to put his mark on the elite program, both with his swimmers’ training and their mentality. Two years ago, the team did away with early morning workouts, which Rodriguez said is rare for the sport. With their academic workloads, his swimmers weren’t getting enough sleep. As a result, it’s been two of his team’s most successful years.
With such great expectations for the program, Rodriguez also tries to manage the pressure put on his swimmers’ shoulders.
“I tell my athletes that failure is part of the process,” said Rodriguez. “I think being able to understand that failure isn’t a negative thing allows us to really push the envelope and try new things.”
Looking to the Olympic trials, Rodriguez and his team are looking forward to the challenge. In 2016, he had a 13-year-old swimmer compete for a spot on the team going to Rio, but she fell short. Now 17, she’s preparing for another shot.
“We were absolute tourists last time we were there,” Rodriguez said. “Obviously, the expectations are different this time around.”
But no matter the results, Rodriguez is going to relish the opportunity.
“It's a really noble pursuit, right? It's something that not a lot of people get an opportunity to do,” Rodriguez said of his team’s Olympic dreams. “We should have fun getting ready to be the best version of ourselves as possible.”
"Being able to understand that failure isn’t a negative thing allows us to really push the envelope."