The Student News Site of Punahou School

Ka Punahou

The Student News Site of Punahou School

Ka Punahou

The Student News Site of Punahou School

Ka Punahou

Punahou Swimming: A Program that Goes Beyond Chasing Championships

Sophia Hurd ’24

With 104 combined State Titles, the Punahou Swim Team is a major contributor to the school’s remarkable legacy in athletics. I have been fortunate to be a part of this team for four years, and have often asked myself, what is the key to the swim team’s success? How has the streak continued over not just years, but decades? To answer these questions, I interviewed the current Head Coach Jeff Meister. 


As Head Coach of both the girls’ and boys’ swim teams, Jeff Meister has been an integral part of their success. He has channeled years of experience into the pursuit of Punahou Swimming prestige. He began his coaching journey with Punahou in 1988 and has since led the program to 40 State Titles. Meister was inducted into the National High School Hall of Fame in 2018 and the Hawaiian Swimming Hall of Fame in 2021. He has also received multiple ILH Coach of the Year Awards.

When asked about what makes a successful team, he listed three ‘core principles’: “work hard, have fun, and be respectful.” He says his focus is to build a team not only consisting of “great swimmers but great people.” When student-athletes take these values to heart, “they will do well no matter what they attempt,” said Meister.


Like Meister, the rest of the Punahou Swimming staff also emphasize values. They work hard to channel the values of Punahou School into the swim program as well as share them with the larger sports community. For twelve years and counting, Punahou swim coaches have held leadership positions in local and national committees to learn from other programs and contribute the Punahou perspective to the broader world. 


Meister describes his role as “coach(ing) the coaches” and allowing that coaching to “trickle down” through day-to-day contact with the swimmers.


According to Meister, a coaching staff who encourages swimmers to strive toward these three core principles and the guiding mission of the school is the driving force behind a unique environment that has fostered many successful student-athletes. Work hard, and be respectful, but don’t forget to have fun. Meister adds that “this place is very supportive for us as coaches, [which] makes it easy for us to be good coaches because the school takes care of us and what we need to do. You don’t get that a lot.”


“Swimming can be really boring sometimes; you know, it’s not a fun sport,” Meister said. Quite often, coaches and swimmers “can’t get past the back and forth of [doing laps] all the time.” That being said, Meister hopes that he and other coaches can prioritize the development of student-athletes in a way that is “fun and enjoyable, and [then they will feel like] ‘ok, I’ll do the work too.’” 


Work is inevitable when chasing a championship, but Meister sees a greater value in the “common bond” formed from the combination of effort and fun; “we can control the process but never the outcome,” Meister said. He believes that if kids can feel satisfied with their hard work and fun over the course of the season, then they will become more deeply invested in representing the program and continuously striving for success.


In this program’s case, the biggest challenge also brings the most fun. At the start of each season, returning swimmers combine with new swimmers to form a different team. Each swimmer has different abilities and character traits, so every season comes with a different team dynamic. Before each season Coach Meister asks himself, “How do you mix all that stuff [character traits] to not only have a successful season in terms of the stopwatch but in our case [so] the swimmers have a good experience that they’ll look back on and say, ‘that was kinda fun, I would do that again.’”

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