Bob Bowman: The Golden Rules Transcend Phelps & Swimming – A Book For All Seasons

Bob Bowman's Golden Rules were forged in the water but transcend swimming and sport - this is a book for all seasons - main image by Patrick B. Kraemer

Dust down a shelf, make room for a pride-of-place gem heading to the book store and tablet this May: The Golden Rules by Bob Bowman. Yes, the foreword is written by the biggest ticket he help punch: Michael Phelps. Yes, it is well-written, the co-author Charles Butler, entertaining and instructive all at once. And you can get your hands on the works from May 17. NB: don’t think ‘swimming book’. This is a book for all and for all seasons

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Is Phelps the only Bob Bowman’s success to be proud of? No doubts, it is a great achievement to be up to the challenge to coach the great athlete for so long. But we will have better picture of Bob Bowman’s methods and approaches if names of other swimmers (not Phelps only) are mentioned next to the name of this coach. I can be wrong and possibly am, but it looks to me that with Phelps’ retirement this coach is more gravitated toward administrative and political duties rather then focusing on active coaching. Thanks.

Bad Anon

Reference is often made to coaches in relation to their most successful athletes: Todd Schmitz & Missy Franklin, Bill Furniss &Becky Adlington, Michael Bohl & Steph Rice, Kim Brackin & Kirsty Coventry, Terri McKeever &Natalie Coughlin, Dave Salo & Reb Soni, Dave Marsh & Cullen Jones etc etc. Can give many other examples. Bowman has coached many Olympians at NBAC including Schmitt on her road to Olympic success in London. It’s often a matter of reference rather than to imply a particular coach was only successful in bringing the best in one particular athlete


@Bad Anon. Allison Schmitt is a very interesting case. Her performance in London was more impressive than Phelps’ one. Her achievements at 200 and 400 are of Ledecky’s level. That is something above elite. Nevertheless for some reason her name is rearly associated in the media with Bob Bowman. Why? Is it because there was a huge disappointment with her performance in post Olympic years?
Also I personally like more when a professional of any kind analyses thoroughly cases of failure and lessons learned from mistakes done. In my eyes it demonstrates deep understanding by such person the nature of his/her profession. It makes us to believe that the cases of success were not just lucky accidents. Will Bob Bowman’s book have such chapters? Or he was so good with his job that that the word ‘failure’ is not applicable.

John Lohn

Yozhik, I don’t think you can view Bob’s move toward administrative/political in any way. The man just accepted head-coaching duties at Arizona State University, a program that will require much coaching in order to raise its status to Pac-12 Conference power. This career move shows clearly that coaching remains a focal point.


John, I deeply respect your opinion and if you said so then that is how it is. But I am like a little boy with endless sequence of “WHY” questions.
Dad: This man is Great.
Child: Why?
Dad: Because he made Phelps.
Child: Why?
and so on, and so on.
You know more about head-coaching of college swimming programs than I do. But to me it sounds like being head coach of national swimming Olympic team. Also the main way of raising the status of Univercity’s sport achievement was always good recruiting program. Actual quality of coaching has always been secondary.
What puzzles me as well is switching from LCM coaching to SCY. We know that such move is a big deal for swimmers. Franklin was very successful freestyler in college. Her 200y record may stay unbroken for long years. And at the same time we see obvious step back at LCM. Her 500y time is comparable to Ledecky’s one. And she is nobody at 400 LCM. She was very successfully coached at Cal.
Does this example mean that coaching at LCM and SCY requires different coaching skills?


Yozhik, apart from the fact that most US school pools (and many public pools) are 25m pools; club coaches and schools (and especially college coaches) have somewhat different “job description documents”.

Whilst there is most certainly a sizeable competition element with club coaching; much of their job is swimmer development and this is where the vast majority of their skills/technique is developed.

The college coach comes in when the swimmer (as a product) is at least well advanced and their job is much less “swimmer development” but results driven; ie the best possible NCAA results. Therefore their work/training programs will be centred around race preparation for the NCAA season. NCAA completion IS SCY so training will be primarily SCY based.


@commonwombat. 25 yard pool.
That is exactly what I was thinking about. Switching between club coaching and HEAD-coaching at school is not a simple move in coaching career. As you mentioned it is different ‘job description’. Saying in simple English – different type of jobs, different type of environment, different type of relationships with swimmers and administration. Maybe different money. What is the motivation for someone to do such step. John thinks that it is still about coaching, swimming, all same stuff.
Because of my nasty character I suspect that that is more about making the university’s recruiting program more attractive – to have such big names like Phelps and Bowman around.


Yozhik, name coaches in any sport will inevitably add considerable lustre to any team’s recruiting prospects whether it be in professional sports or collegiate.

Coaching does not always have great “job security” and lucky is he/she who ends up in a “lifetime” position as much will depend on their employers capacity to pay ….. and whether that is sufficient for that coaches (and their families) requirements.

Many coaches have moved quite seamlessly from club positions to college positions and over a career there can be a good deal of back and forth. In some cases, they may even take on international postings if the offer is sufficiently attractive.

John Lohn

Yozhik, I definitely agree with your point that the draw of Bowman and Phelps is a boost for recruiting purposes, as you indicated. It surely makes the place enticing for recruits, doesn’t it? At the same time, I think there is development taking place in the athletes from their work with Bowman as a coach and technician.


@John Lohn: Let’s hope that Bowman-Phelps story is not unique and coach Bowman will be as much successful at ASU without Phelps as he was by coaching him. So much was written about this tandem that it creates an impression for people like me they cannot be successful independently and each of them has to answer the question how to proceed professionally.
I can easily imagine Bruce Gemmell’s life after Ledecky’s departure next year. This low-key person who gave up his master level education and experience in engineering for the coaching job he loves doesn’t depend on giant success of one of his swimmer. It could be the brightest chapter in his coaching career, but ledeckys come and go and he will stay with the job he loves and deeply understans. The job that brings him satisfaction regardless the level of achievements of his students.
Can I say the same about Bob Bowman? No, I cannot. I don’t know him neither personally nor professionally. But whatever I’m reading about him, especially at this site portraits him as an artist of coaching who already made a major painting of his life and now it is time to collect credits and recognition. Nothing wrong with that. At the end he is a professional and that is what he is doing for living. But sometimes I am getting tired of that much honey and phylosophy of this love story. Let’s close this chapter and wish this talented person new practical achievements with his new coaching job.

Craig Lord

Yozhik – I suggest you read the book before closing the chapter. And then I suggest not closing the chapter at all – but consider it to be a part of a movement. You can take one track from “Dark Side of..”, one from “Aerial”, a few pages from David Copperfield and on and on – the experience is much richer if you can reach for the perspective in the body of work they belong to. The narrative, like the process, is important.

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