Carmel Swim Club Head Coach Chris Plumb: On Creating a Culture of Excellence
Editors Note: Since this story was published, the Carmel Girls’ Swimming team and the Boys’ Swimming Team have each been named the 2021 No.1 teams in the nation by World Swimming magazine.
Carmel Swim Club and Carmel High School (CHS) head coach Chris Plumb has been with the CHS swim program since 2003 and has been with the Carmel Swim Club since 2006. Plumb oversees all aspects of the club and coaches the High-Performance Group. Since stepping into these roles as head coach and CEO of Carmel Swim Club, Plumb, his staff and his swimmers have continued to build upon an iconic foundation of success and excellence.
We spoke with Plumb about how these programs have been able to produce state champions, national champions and Olympians. Additionally, we spoke about what the secret is behind developing and sustaining a legacy club, such as the one the boys and girls swimming and diving teams and their coaches have established over the last decades.
Destined to Be a Great Coach
Plumb, an accomplished swimmer himself, was a four-year letter winner at Indiana University. He earned six All-American honors and was an Academic All-Big Ten selection each year from 1994–97. He was also awarded team MVP in 1996 and captained the team as a senior. Prior to joining the Carmel staff, Plumb worked toward his master’s degree and served as assistant coach at the University of Miami (Florida) for four years, where he was involved in all aspects of a program that ranked among the nation’s top 20 every year. Plumb began his coaching career as head coach of the Bloomington South High School boys swimming and diving team. Plumb lives in Carmel with his wife, Emily, who is a teacher at CCS. The couple has two sons, William and Nicholas.
“I grew up around the water—in the Lake Erie/Buffalo area,” Plumb shared. “Swimming has always been a part of my life. I wanted to create a program in Carmel that I wish I had growing up and to provide a safe place that inspired people to be their best, to be ambitious and to take this sport to the highest level possible; at the same time, teaching the lessons that are necessary to be successful in life. And I think swimming teaches you so much from time management to discipline, building relationships and being able to push through tough times.”
Throughout Plumb’s tenure as CHS head coach, the girls teams have won every state championship, continuing their high school record streak, and the boys have won seven state championships, making him the winningest coach in IHSAA swimming and diving history.
To add to these extraordinary accomplishments, the Carmel High School girls team was named “Public High School National Champions” by Swimming World Magazine eight times (2009–11 and 2013–17), and the boys earned the same honor for the first time in 2017. In addition to other accolades, Plumb was voted as the 2008 IHSAA Girls High School Coach of the Year and the 2008 Indiana Swimming Senior Coach of the year. Under his helm, the Carmel High School girls teams have broken the National Public High School Record in the 400 freestyle relay twice, the 200 freestyle relay three times and the 200 medley relay five times.
Perpetually Raising the Bar
In case you missed all the excitement over the last 30 days, the Carmel Swim Club had eight athletes and alumni compete in this year’s Olympic trials. For decades, the CHS swim teams and Carmel Swim Club have dominated the state competition but never had an athlete make an Olympic team—until Drew Kibler and Jake Mitchell qualified and competed, representing not only the U.S. but Carmel in the 2021 Tokyo Olympic Games.
Drew Kibler was a member of the U.S. men’s 4×200-meter freestyle relay that finished fourth in the finals. Kibler is a 2018 CHS graduate and swims at the University of Texas. Jake Mitchell finished eighth in the men’s 400-meter freestyle in Tokyo. Mitchell graduated from CHS in 2020 and swims for the University of Michigan.
Plumb spoke about the value of the community’s unwavering support of its young athletes as publicly demonstrated by the public viewing parties that took place at Carmel’s Midtown during the Olympic swim finals.
“The support [from the community] is just unparalleled and unmatched,” Plumb said. “The community understands that they’re not just great athletes, but they’re great people. Kibler and Mitchell were not just representing themselves and the U.S.A., they were representing Carmel, and they did it with class and with their abilities.”
In addition to several other talented athletes in the Carmel Swim Club, Alex Shackell is also making news, having made her No. 3 performer all-time for 13–14 girls at the 2021 Speedo Summer Championships in Greensboro, North Carolina.
“The future is so bright with Alex and the younger people that we have coming up in the program,” Plumb expressed. “They see the success of the other athletes, and there’s something really powerful about seeing people in your own pool and community doing it. It’s been proven that it [success] can happen here, and I think the sky’s the limit. Alex is energetic and ambitious—I’m excited for her future.”
The Secret to Carmel Swim Club’s Success
When asked “What’s the secret behind your success?” Plumb replied, “The secret is that there are no secrets. There’s nothing revolutionary about what we’re doing. But there are four important things: hold people to a high standard, hire people that care about the sport and about other people they’re working with, create a culture that is about the daily expectations that are expected when you walk in the door and continue to ask, ‘How can we get better?’”
Plumb concluded, “I ask myself and our coaches, ‘How can we improve upon this?’ We’re never satisfied, and we’re always trying to push the envelope in terms of what we can do to improve our product, to improve our customer service, and we’re always looking for ways to identify different pockets to improve. Do this every day and hold yourself to those standards every day. My goal has been to make this the best program in the Midwest and one of the best in the country, and then to compete against the best in the world. We’ve done that by taking it step by step.”
For more information on the Carmel Swim Academy, please visit carmelswimacademy.org. And be sure to follow Carmel Swim Academy on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for club updates!