Brandon's Blog: A Blue Cloud Behind Men's Swimming Success
Mike Bottom

March 26, 2013

University of Michigan director of athletics Dave Brandon will regularly offer his view on a variety of topics related to U-M and intercollegiate sports. All his posts, along with links to related content, will be available on his page,, and he is also on Twitter at @DaveBrandonAD.

Behind the laid-back, casual look of Michigan men's and women's head swimming coach Mike Bottom is an extremely competitive individual. Bottom is not afraid to set lofty goals and then work as hard as necessary to make sure those goals can be accomplished.

This Thursday (March 28), our men's swimming team will be competing in Indianapolis at the NCAA Championships. The U-M head coach knows he needs each individual swimmer to have his best performance if Michigan has a chance of winning the team title.

Many of Mike's coaching techniques and philosophies were born out of his work as a coach in international swimming, and he has found a way to take what he has learned and then put it all into practice in intercollegiate athletics in the United States. And even though he has applied those techniques and philosophies at other schools prior to coming to Michigan, he has found that the perfect fit for what he teaches is right here in Ann Arbor.

A few weeks ago, the Wolverine men's swimming and diving team won its third consecutive Big Ten championship. The U-M team scored 899 points and led from wire-to-wire in the four-day competition.

Bottom will tell you the team "just wanted to win," but when you look at the dominating performance, more went into winning this championship than just swimming well. It was a team effort that started on day one when the Wolverines won the first two relays in convincing fashion.

The 200-yard medley relay team and the 800-yard freestyle relay both set Big Ten and Big Ten Championships meet records. In the 200, U-M beat second-place Ohio State by one and a half seconds, and in the 800, U-M was six seconds ahead of runner-up Indiana.

From that point on everyone performed better. The Wolverines captured the title on skill, preparation and momentum. Michigan won 12 of 18 events and pulled off an amazing sweep of all five relays for the first time in our program history.

These records will be noted by the sport's historians for years to come, but Bottom will talk just as enthusiastically about his 200-yard backstrokers.

At the start of the season, the 200 backstroke was U-M's weak area. At the conference meet, Reid Elliott broke his personal best by seven seconds in the prelims and Ryutaro Kamiya swam well enough in the final to make an NCAA cut. According to Bottom, that's the kind of thing that happens when you swim as a team. Everyone can improve and achieve their lofty goals.

So how does one instill the team concept in a sport in which the majority of events are based on individual times?

It starts by building a culture, a culture where everyone is connected and everyone swims fast for Michigan. It is an idea the old masters of sports have used for years. However, Bottom has changed the tone to help bring this program along.

When a swimmer takes to the starting block, the team doesn't yell the individual's name; they say, "Let's go Blue." It is not about the individual, it is about the team.

Bottom calls this technique the "Blue Cloud," and it is based on the mission statement of our athletic department: Relentlessly striving to make Michigan Athletics the Leaders and the Best in every way.

This statement is on the T-shirts all Michigan swimmers wear on the pool deck. It is something Bottom takes one step further. He explains that the mission statement doesn't just mean for an individual to be a "Leader" but for the entire team to be "Leaders," working together to make everyone around them the "best in every way."

According to Bottom, when he and his staff talk to their swimmers about the "Blue Cloud," swimming is only a small portion of the philosophy. It is about taking what one has learned through sports and applying it to the outside world. It is about "relentlessly striving" to improve the world we live in.

In fact, the men's swimming and diving team was honored with the 2012 Rachael Townsend Community Service Award given to the top men's and women's varsity teams that are most involved in community service.

The "Blue Cloud" is the staff's communication tool with a new generation of young adults. They have fun. They use terms like "the burgers and fries relay" to describe the 100-yard freestyle at the Big Ten Championships, in which U-M had "Five Guys" qualify for the final heat!

It is a way to help teach this team how more can be accomplished when they all work together. It is all about "The Team, The Team, The Team."

This week, Coach Bottom will remind his team that it was because of their collective effort that they won the Big Ten title this year, not just the efforts of a few individuals.

Now, the team must step it up even more to compete with the best in the nation!

There is no guarantee the Wolverines will return to Ann Arbor with an NCAA championship, but Bottom's mindset and his "Blue Cloud" message have instilled a team spirit and a special confidence that could lift this talented team to the number one spot in Indy -- the site of Michigan's last NCAA swimming title in 1995.

What is guaranteed is that Mike Bottom, his coaching staff, and his swimming and diving team are a perfect example of the type of growth and improvement Michigan Athletics strives to achieve in all of our endeavors.

Good luck this week! Go Blue!

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