National Fitness Hall of Fame Museum & Institute

Educate * Motivate * Inspire

James E. “Doc” Counsilman – 2017 NFHOF Inductee


(Born: 12/28/1920 – Died: 1/4/2004) – Doc is most noted for his 33-year coaching career with the men’s swimming team at Indiana University (1957-1990).  Basketball coach Bob Knight once said: "Doc's legacy is simply that he is one of the greatest coaches who ever coached any sport, anywhere, in any era."  Doc’s Indiana teams won six consecutive NCAA Championships and 23 Big Ten titles.  He served as the head coach for the 1964 and 1976 US men’s Olympic swimming teams.   His Indiana swimmers won 47 Olympic medals, including 27 gold. This amazing coaching career was the direct result of his life-long study of swimming, leading to innovations in training methods, the biomechanics of swimming, and sports psychology.  His laboratory was the pool, and he translated what he learned into enormous successes for his swimmers. 


In 1979, at age 58, Counsilman became the oldest person to swim the English Channel.  Doc emphasized that older people sell themselves short, both physically and intellectually.  He wanted to show that an older person is capable of accomplishing more than previously expected.  His accomplishment stimulated an interest in older people making the crossing that did not exist prior to his swim, an interest that continues to this day. 

Counsilman was an early advocate of weight training in swimming, demonstrating its effectiveness when he coached George Breen from beginning competitor to Olympic bronze medalist in just three years.  Doc also pioneered the use of underwater photography to study stroke mechanics.  His award-winning stroke analysis films have helped thousands of swimmers to improve their technique.  He also developed isometric, isokinetic, and bio-kinetic exercise machines to improve swimming performance.  Starting in his basement, he constructed the first commercially available pace clocks, now used by every competitive swimmer in the world. 


Doc had a huge influence on the evolution of fitness while becoming a worldwide icon in competitive swimming.  He was a consultant to the President’s Council on Physical Fitness, 1960-1980, member of the President’s Council on Physical Fitness during the Nixon administration, Hall of Fame Inductee of the American Association of Physical Education, Fellow in the American College of Sports Medicine, and member of the International Swimming Hall of Fame.  Counsilman published more than 120 articles, four books, and gave lectures and clinics throughout the world.  His 1968 The Science of Swimming is the Bible of swimming instruction and has been translated into over 20 languages.