Emily Snyder, of Dyersville, learned so much about her passion for swimming & diving after her first season as the head coach at Dubuque Wahlert.

As much as she enjoyed being an athlete herself, she absolutely loved the coaching side of the sport even more. And that has led to Snyder becoming a vocal advocate for the sport for parts of three decades.

“I have the benefit of seeing 25 girls improve their times — or their scores in diving — over the course of a season, which is so much more rewarding than having your own individual success,” said Snyder, who swam at Dubuque Senior and the University of Northern Iowa before becoming the Golden Eagles’ coach in 1999. “It’s amazing to be a part of that. You see your athletes work so hard throughout the year, and it’s priceless to see their reactions when it all pays off for them in the end.

“I love every aspect of it. Whether it’s the beginning swimmer basically improving every day or it’s the top varsity swimmer earning a chance to go to an (NCAA) Division I college. They’re all great things.”

Snyder’s commitment to the sport extends well beyond Wahlert, where she has coached state qualifiers every season since taking over and had a recent string of top-10 state finishes despite coaching at one of the smallest schools to sponsor the sport.

Recently, the National Federation of High School Associations selected Snyder as the Iowa Girls Swimming & Diving Coach of the Year, making her eligible for the same honor on a national level.

The NFHS awards recognize coaches for their performances during the 2019-20 season, lifetime community involvement, school involvement and philosophy of coaching. Jason Eslinger, the assistant director of the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union nominated Snyder to recognize her as someone who is leading her sport, shaping athletes and contributing in a positive way to her community.

“Emily is a terrific coach, she has so much passion for swimming and diving,” Eslinger said. “She always wants to do the right thing and always has the best interest of her athletes at heart. She epitomizes what we’re looking for in the award she received. I thought she was very fitting for the award this year.”

“The award is really intended for someone who has put in some time and has a lot of passion for the sport. It’s not necessarily about wins or losses or what place you received. It’s how you develop your program and what your athletes are learning outside of being in the pool. She epitomizes that.”

Snyder’s passion for the sport prompted her to dive into key roles in Iowa high school swimming leadership.

She served two four-year terms on the IGHSAU advisory board and helped the state expand its number of state qualifiers from 24 to 32 in each event — a move that helped more Iowa girls experience the big stage in Marshalltown. Snyder’s second term expired four years ago, and she likely would have signed up for a third if not for the IGHSAU’s preference to encourage coaches with newer ideas to serve on the board.

For the past 10 years, Snyder has served in a leadership role with the Iowa High School Swim Coaches Association and heads the program to recognize the Senior Scholastic winner and the academic all-state teams.

“The sport of swimming, I feel, really needs people who advocate for it,” Snyder said. “We’re not a sport that gets as much attention as some of the other sports, so you have to have passionate people who fight for it. You know me: I’m all about getting swimmers as many acknowledgements as I can, as long as they’re deserving.”

Eslinger considered Snyder a valuable resource when she worked directly with the IGHSAU for eight years.

“She was a really positive person to have in an advisory role,” Eslinger said. “She always had the best interest of the sport in mind. It wasn’t about doing just what was best for her own squad. She brought a lot of ideas that would make the sport as a whole a lot better. From an administrative role, getting advice from someone who is literally in the deep water with the kids is very, very helpful.”

The NFHS award comes during a special year for Snyder. Her oldest daughter — Kelly, a freshman at Beckman — competed for the Eagles this fall.

“It’s kind of neat to see everything come full circle, and it gives you a completely different perspective when you’ve been involved in the sport as an athlete, a coach and now a parent,” Emily Snyder said. “They’re all very rewarding in their own ways.

“Being named the coach of the year took me by surprise, to tell you the truth. It’s always neat when your colleagues vote you as coach of the year at a conference meet or a regional meet, because that’s a reflection of your athletes doing an amazing job. But it’s a different level when you have an administrator at the state level recognize the things you do away from the pool as well.”