Coach Spotlight: James Wood swimming coach Jessica Barr

The 2019-20 season was Jessica Barr’s first as head coach for the James Wood swimming team. Barr led the Colonels boys to second in the Class 4 Northwestern District meet and sixth in the Region 4C meet, and the girls to third in the district, fifth in the region and 12th in the Class 4 state meet.

Prior to James Wood, Barr coached for two summers while in college with Valley Swim Team Phoenix in Strasburg. Barr joined the Winchester Swim Team coaching staff in the fall of 2015.

Barr is a 2011 graduate of Central High School, where she swam for four years and ran cross country for one year. She is a 2015 graduate of the University of Virginia, where she did club swimming.

Q. What are your favorite memories as an athlete?

Barr: As a high school swimmer, we had a very small team that we took down to the Bristol Invitational meet my senior year in high school. My sister [Danielle] was a freshman, so I was happy to be able to share that experience with her with it being my last year on the team and it being her first year. We wanted to see what we could do against some of the other smaller schools in the state, and we ended up winning the meet on the girls’ side and the boys placed second. All around, it was a really great performance for our high school. We went with really no expectations [of winning]. None of us had ever swam in that pool before. We spent a lot of time together at the hotel. It was probably one of the most exciting times for me to be a part of a team and experience success with a team. At the same meet, my sister and I and a couple of other girls broke the school record in the 200 medley relay, and that was part of the excitement.

In a USA Swimming sweepstakes, I won a trip to New York City to go to the Golden Goggles, where they present awards to national team members. That was exciting. I sat at a table with [Olympic gold medalist] Cullen Jones. That happened in November of 2008.

Q. When did you know you wanted to be a coach?

Barr: For me, I had a lot of passion for the sport. I didn’t start swimming year-round until I was a teenager. I realized I’m not going to be one of the fastest swimmers and probably not going to be fast enough to go to some of these bigger meets. For me, the sport of swimming gave back to me in a lot of other ways other than just solely results in the pool.

I think when I got the opportunities as a high schooler to work with some of the younger kids, I realized my passion for the sport. Going into college, I knew I wanted to still be involved with the sport, but maybe not quite at the level of commitment I had in high school. Getting to work with some of the local teams in the Charlottesville area, then coming back [for the summer] and seeing some of the younger swimmers that I had swam with still looking up to me, even though I didn’t have a lot of accolades attached to my name, was really impressive. I realized this is something I want to consider more as I get older.

Q. Who are your biggest coaching influences?

Barr: Definitely my coaches when I was in high school. I learned a lot from the Winchester Swim Team coaches. Trey [Shafer] was my year-round coach. I learned a lot through him. Also, when I was at U.Va., I was a manager for the women’s basketball team. Just getting to know some of their coaching staff, even though it was in a different sport, just kind of the way they handled different situations when they came up and getting to see some of the athletes’ responses, I definitely looked up to those coaches and learned a lot from them as well.

Q. What’s the best coaching advice you’ve received?

Barr: Get to know each athlete on an individual level, get to know them as a swimmer but also as a student, and as a person. Try to take each person’s strengths individually and bring them together as a team. That’s what I’ve tried to do in my coaching experience. I’ve picked that up through all my experiences.

Q. What have been your most difficult coaching moments?

Barr: I think it’s when the kids who have worked really, really hard just come up short. Maybe they just missed placing in the top eight [to qualify for a championship race], or they just missed achieving a personal best, or just missed by a couple hundredths of a second for a specific goal time that would have allowed them to advance to a higher level meet. Those moments are tough.

Q. What have been your favorite coaching moments?

Barr: I would definitely say my favorite coaching moments, whether it’s been with James Wood or Winchester [Swim Team], involve watching a kid doing something for the first time ever. It could be swimming a certain event or doing something as simple as doing a flip turn for the first time. Watching them do something where you can look at their face and know that they didn’t expect to be able to do something this soon, it’s a special thing.

— Compiled by Robert Niedzwiecki

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