Thursday, August 18, 2016

From Humble Beginnings

One of the compelling aspects of the Olympic Games is the human interest stories that emerge for both super stars and back in the pack athletes. We find it interesting to see that none have had any success handed to them. Everyone earns what they get.
Then we started thinking about how those athletes are supported by parents and coaches and teammates. This led us to thinking about the origins of those supportive members of any athlete’s circle.
My Dad, Guthrie Swartz, began his career as a minister in October of 1946 – age 20. He is still alive and well at 90, living independently and driving; he has a silver Honda Insight so you may want to give him a little space if you see him on the freeway!
He shared with me a handwritten letter from September 28, 1946 from H. Edward Hooper who was the Clerk of the Harwinton Congregational Church. In read in part, “It was voted unanimously to extend to you a call to serve as Pastor of our church at an annual salary of $1600 plus 5 tons of coal plus the electric bill at the parsonage.
That in my eyes is indeed a humble beginning. He has influenced thousands of church members at about ten churches over his career.
It made me think about my own beginnings in coaching in 1966, earning $4 per hour. Indeed every coach out there, regardless of your sport, has had a humble beginning. And for whatever reason you kept at it and collectively we have influenced millions of young people. Every now and then one ends up in an Olympic uniform. Those that don’t are just as valuable to the community they serve, be it local or global.
Smile and take a small bow. Sport has been good for all of us.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

This is How We Move

As we reflect on our successes and missteps of the season just ending we are undoubtedly like many of our swimmers. We are wondering about missed opportunities and marveling at transformations. This takes place both team wide and individually.
We are reminded while watching the Futures meet at Stanford that humans (and groups of humans – teams) are constantly in motion travelling toward that upon which they are focusing.
You must choose between that which you want and that which you want to avoid. The former will lead you to the promised land. The latter will lead you to the dark side.
The old adage comes to mind; winners see what they want while losers see what they want to avoid. Want to finish a race with power then focus on it. If you focus on not dying in a swim you are most assuredly going to fade, sometimes spectacularly so.
Teams move in the same direction. Want a team full of positive, supportive and trustworthy athletes? Then you must as a coach talk about that, recognize it and call into question those who don’t “fit” your desired model.
Want to be upbeat? Then go do it and dump negativity whenever and wherever you see it. Hold yourself and those around you to the standard which emulates your goal.
These are all conscious choices we make daily as we move through the often whimsical forces of life. When you evaluate your season be honest.
Choice is powerful. You are responsible for who you are and who you will become.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Season End Keeping It Simple

The end of season meet is upon us all, swimmers from Olympian to National to Age Grouper, parents and coaches of same.
Here is a basic primer of how to get what you have earned. Your “bank account” is as full as it is going to be this season. Now figure out how to spend it all…empty the bank.
Swimmers; all you need is equal parts of trust and courage…trust that you will do your best and courage to put aside any doubts and fears. When the moment comes – and it does in darn near every race – when you find yourself wondering if you can make it to the touchpad simply say “GO!”…as many times with as much emotion as you need. Keep it simple.
Parents; just love your swimmer…stay away from advice…feed them the same no matter the result…keep things light…let them get their own towel, snack bar and water. Keep it simple.
Coaches; you are the steady rock. Stay in character, be calm. Tell the truth. Most important perhaps is to use a teaching moment if it arises…know what to say to them if the swim doesn’t work out.
Keep it simple.
This is the time of year when less is actually more.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Planning vs. A Microwave

Since being at Olympic Trials we have been thinking about the direction of our program, defining it and then implementing a plan. We decided that it is in our team’s best interest to develop a 4 year cycle. The goal will be to put as many swimmers at Trials in 2020 and give any a shot at a second swim or making the team the best opportunity to achieve that goal.
We had four swimmers at this year’s event, 2 who are still at our club level and 2 who had dual representation with their universities and our club. None of them had cuts 4 years ago. 2 were not even on the team 4 years ago.
Point – a lot can happen in 4 years. Your promising 13 year old without cuts today can make them in 4 years. Any of the 4 who were there this summer can improve in 4 years.
We have to make the statement of intention publicly so all will know what the center of our target looks like. No one is excluded, though naturally many will exclude themselves due to training neglect or development of other interests.
We attempt to “coach” all swimmers on our team while acknowledging the reality that some only get “trained” while others actually ask for and are susceptible to being coached. Also, being willing to be coached doesn’t mean you will get to Trials. We are of the belief that if you only train you probably won’t make it to Trials. We talk about this openly; we play no favorites; we are an equal opportunity team…everyone has the opportunity and they must own it. We facilitate; they swim.
A couple of weeks ago we were listening to a radio interview being conducted at San Diego in conjunction with MLB’s All-Star game. Respected baseball authority Tom Verducci was asked why the San Diego Padres (host of the game this year) faired so poorly over such a long stretch of time. They have made the playoffs very infrequently yet reside in a baseball rich area of the country with excellent weather and great living conditions. His comment burned in our minds. “You cannot microwave a championship”. You must plan, build, invest and coach like crazy…over the long haul.
That’s exactly what we are doing…beginning yesterday.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

This One’s for the Coaches Out There

Paul Lundgren swims on our Masters team. He contributes mightily to our program. He is a deep thinker and highly respected distance athlete (he has attempted to swim across the Sea of Cortez twice). His book, “Where Mountains Come to Swim”, subtitled “A journey into the mind of a man training to swim across the Sea of Cortez” is available through He sent us the following which made us laugh instantly; reminding us that laughter is indeed the best medicine. You will appreciate Joe Namath’s quote.

"Gentlemen, it is better to have died a small boy than to fumble the football" - John Heisman  
"I make my practices real hard because if a player is a quitter, I want him to quit in practice, not in a game." – Bear Bryant / Alabama
"It isn't necessary to see a good tackle, you can hear it!” - Knute Rockne / Notre Dame  
"At Georgia Southern, we don't cheat. That costs money, and we don't have any." – Erik Russell / Georgia Southern
"The man who complains about the way the ball bounces is likely to be the one who dropped it."  -  Lou Holtz / Arkansas - Notre Dame
"When you win, nothing hurts."  -  Joe Namath / Alabama
"A school without football is in danger of deteriorating into a medieval study hall."  -  Frank Leahy / Notre Dame
"There's nothing that cleanses your soul like getting the hell kicked out of you."  -  Woody Hayes / Ohio State
"I don't expect to win enough games to be put on NCAA probation.  I just want to win enough to warrant an investigation."  -  Bob Devaney / Nebraska  

"In Alabama , an atheist is someone who doesn't believe in Bear Bryant."  -  Wally Butts / Georgia
"I never graduated from Iowa.  But I was only there for two terms - Truman's and Eisenhower's."  –  Alex Karras / Iowa
"My advice to defensive players is to take the shortest route to the ball, and arrive in a bad humor.”  -  Bowden Wyatt / Tennessee
"I could have been a Rhodes Scholar except for my grades."  - Duffy Daugherty / Michigan State
"Always remember Goliath was a 40 point favorite over David."  -  Shug Jordan / Auburn   
"I asked Darrell Royal, the coach of the Texas Longhorns, why he didn't recruit me ."   He said,"Well, Walt, we took a look at you, and you weren't any good."  -  Walt Garrison / Oklahoma State 

"Son, you've got a good engine, but your hands aren't on the steering wheel."  -  Bobby Bowden / Florida State

"Football is NOT a contact sport, it is a collision sport.  Dancing IS a contact sport."  -  Duffy Daugherty / Michigan State
After USC lost 51-0 to Notre Dame, his post-game message to his team was, "All those who need showers, take them."  -  John McKay / USC
"If lessons are learned in defeat, our team is getting a great education.”  -  Murray Warmath / Minnesota
"The only qualifications for a lineman are to be big and dumb.  To be a back, you only have to be dumb."   -  Knute Rockne / Notre Dame
"We live one day at a time and scratch where it itches."   -  Darrell Royal / Texas   
"We didn't tackle well today, but we made up for it by not  blocking."   -  John McKay / USC
"I've found that prayers work best when you have big players."   -  Knute Rockne / Notre Dame
Ohio State’s Urban Meyer on one of his players: “He doesn't know the meaning of the word fear. In fact, I just saw his grades and he doesn't know the meaning of a lot of words.”
Why do Tennessee fans wear orange? So they can dress that way for the game on Saturday, go hunting on Sunday, and pick up trash on Monday.
What does the average Alabama player get on his SATs? Drool.
How many Michigan State freshmen football players does it take to change a light bulb? None. That's a sophomore course.
How did the Auburn football player die from drinking milk? The cow fell on him.
Two Texas A&M football players were walking in the woods. One of them said, "Look, a dead bird."The other looked up in the sky and said,"Where?"

What do you say to a Florida State University football player dressed in a three-piece suit? "Will the defendant please rise."
If three Rutgers football players are in the same car, who is driving? The police officer.
How can you tell if a Clemson football player has a girlfriend? There's tobacco juice on both sides of the pickup truck.
What do you get when you put 32 Arkansas cheerleaders in one room? A full set of teeth.
University of Michigan Coach Jim Harbaugh is only going to dress half of his players for the game this week; the other half will have to dress themselves.
How is the Kansas football team like an opossum? They play dead at home and get killed on the road.
Why did the Tennessee linebacker steal a police car? He saw "911" on the side and thought it was a Porsche.

How do you get a former Illinois football player off your porch? Pay him for the pizza.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Observations from Omaha

We are competing at the 2016 Olympic Team Trials in Omaha this week. This is the best clinic a coach could attend since in addition to conversations and information sharing among the coaches we are able to watch the fastest swimmers in the US ply their trade.
The following represents some of the highlights according to our point of view; yours of course will be different and feel free to share them as you wish:
Never underestimate the power of “NOW”…if this is your chance then you must go for it. You can never tell what will happen over the next 4 years and how that will affect your career. As Elvis said, “It’s now or never…”
Sometimes it takes a while to get where you want to go. Tom Shields was a high school phenom going into college at CAL. It took him 6 years but he is an Olympian today.
Tempos and stroke counts vary by individual. Your task is to find your sweet spot. The stop watch will help you find both.
Michael Phelps is the only one here who can put his hands in the water in fly without a splash. He does it with a slightly bent arm (almost looks like freestyle) supported by a powerful thrust from his kick moments before his hands enter. He is able to hold his body from shoulder to knee rather flat in the water.
If you want to go farther under water with your dolphin kicks you need to push off deeper…such a simple concept but it takes a while to master it…and be ok with less oxygen.
In long course if you over amp your first lap you will pay dearly for that indulgence. It’s the old “you cannot win a race on the first lap but you can lose it on the first lap.” We have seen it here in 100, 200, 400 races…all strokes…men and women. You must learn how to ride the enthusiasm curve without investing your energy stores. We have seen numerous swimmers who appear to be shot with a tranquillizer dart as close as 10 meters from the wall. Margins for error in this meet are measured in hundredths and tenths of a second. 
Elapsed time is not the only measure of progress.
Finally for today, develop your team with a 4 year cycle. Go back and look at your swimmers and determine who can be at this level in 4 years… but refrain from naming them aloud. Tell the team that you are implementing (if this is your first time at it) this program and then highlight some of the markers along the way. This is goal setting over a longer period than many use. When your swimmers know what you as a coach are aiming at it will give them clarity. The ones who want to be all in will make themselves visible. And there is no way for you as a coach to know today who can do the work and be available in 4 years. So open your doors wide and accept as many as are willing to do the work, make the sacrifices and get the big payoff.

Friday, June 24, 2016

And The Winner Is…

2016 Olympic Trials begin this Sunday. Over the next 8 days swimmers will be selected to the 2016 US Olympic Team based upon their performance at the Trials. Times swum previously do not count in the selection process. In the individual events only the fastest two times – swum in the Finals – are considered. Prelim times and entry times are just that – history. Here is a look at the favorites based upon the psych sheet in the order these events will be contested at Trials.
At the end of the meet some of these names will be on the 2016 Team. Others will not, having been replaced by those not yet considered to be a favorite. And that is precisely why the meet is held…entry times are only a statement of previous behavior. While that can be viewed as an indicator, possibly even a predictor of future performance we know that it is not 100% a guarantee of anything. There are always a few who make the team that no one is seriously considering today. Conversely there are a few who are favored who will fall short…by a little or a lot.
Think for a moment about the lead the Warriors had after 4 games. They were up 3 games to 1. Cleveland was down 3 to 1 and had to swim 3 in a row, 2 of them on the road. No team had ever done that before…but now one team has done it.
Omaha will have several similar stories on Monday, July 4th.
(see the entire entry list on the USA Swimming website…great reading!)

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

This Is Your Swimming

So a horse walks into the bar, sits down and the bartender comes over and says, “So why the long face?”
Think about the challenge in this way; the distance between expectations and reality is disappointment. Our sport relies so heavily on personal responsibility. That is one of several things that make it so compelling. You don’t rely on anyone to throw you the ball so you can score. No one else’s fumble costs you the victory.
Your swimming is all about you and your willingness to accept this fact…it is you.
When your expectations don’t mesh with your reality the gap is measured in disappointment. Want less disappointment, then either change your expectations or your reality.
A word of caution…discouragement means literally lack of courage. Few competitive swimmers lack courage. What most lack, at some point in their development, is the understanding about the direct connection between input and output. This is the personal responsibility angle.
Our greatest power in life is the power to choose. And with that power comes the responsibility to be 100% accountable to ourselves for our progress or lack thereof.
The long face we see at swim meets comes more often than not from the gap between a swimmer’s expectation and her/his reality; the bigger the gap the longer the face.
So you decide what you want – expectations – and what your reality is – your training, it’s frequency and consistency; your racing, how often and intense; your maturity – how you roll with the ups and downs of this sport…and then you own your swimming.
The choice is yours. How wonderful that is. No winner would want it any other way. I choose. I work. I get the reward…sometimes sooner, other times later, but I get it.
Coaches, parents and teammates are here to assist…in the end it is you who gets the credit…and we like that relationship a whole lot.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Klay Thompson and Flow

All the great ones know about flow…and so do you. Every competitive swimmer has had the magical race. That race is characterized by how easy it feels and how fast it is; how when you finish you are aware of your effort but not devastated by it; and how it seems that you could go even faster.
It is a blessing and a curse. The blessing part is easy to understand. The curse is that many swimmers keep “looking” for that “magic” to show up and get very disappointed when it doesn’t happen.
But you have had the magic in workouts pretty often so long as you totally immerse yourself in the repeat, even just the lap you are on at that specific moment. That total “being present” is so critical…why? Specifically you are being non-judgmental and thus getting out of your own way. You are just doing, just being – in the moment.
Flow comes when the risk is great and the mind is empty, when you are simply focusing on the doing part.
Klay Thompson is an NBA All Star who plays for the Golden State Warriors. In Game 6 of the recent series against Oklahoma (which the Warriors won by winning 3 consecutive elimination games – talk about risk!) Thompson went “off” scoring at will essentially carrying his team into Game 7. This from Thompson about his performance in that 7 game series:
“Believe it or not, I really don’t think about our accomplishments. You’ve just got to go out there, and if you play focused and you play your hardest, that’s all you can do for yourself.”
When he takes a shot he is not thinking about whether or not it will go in and what happens if it does or doesn’t go in. He is simply shooting. And when he misses (they all miss more than they make!) he moves to the next play staying focused and playing his hardest…might be time for you to channel a little – or big – part of his game into yours.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

The Value of Observing

Some say that if you look at the human body there are more organs designed for sensing what goes on around us than for sharing that information. Said more simply, we have 2 ears, 2 eyes and 1 mouth. We also know it to be true that when your lips are moving your ears and eyes don’t work quite as well as intended.
We had the California State High School Championships this past week in Clovis. Thanks to Meet Mobile it is no longer necessary to take splits the old fashioned way. So we spent our time simply watching and listening. Sometimes we were looking for specific things like stroke count and tempo and at other times we were just watching to see what we could observe.
We believe that coaches learn more about faster swimming by watching the faster swimmers than by making a lot of noise about one thing or another. The faster swimmers intuitively demonstrate subtleties. They may have learned initially from a coach but then they further refine it by figuring out what works and what doesn’t through the time honored and tested process of trial and error.
And so we watched to see what we could. There were obvious things like the speed underwater and breath holding. Some less obvious ones were relay takeoffs…at the high school level (even with club kids) they were mostly very conservative – slow. We wonder exactly how much time is spent in training sessions on this skill, one that earns double points no less.
What about starts? Many events are decided by razor thin margins, tenths or even hundredths of a second. The fastest part of the race is the start…we think but are not scientifically certain…not sure if any study has been done to measure this velocity quotient. If this is true then how come so many swimmers do not know how to enter the water cleanly? How much training time is spent on this critical element?
Let’s say you have 2 hours to train each day. First you need the conditioning; no wait first you need the skill set; oops, you actually need both. If this is true (a big if) then how do you allocate your time? How much of the 2 hours is spent doing what…and is it possible to accomplish more than one task simultaneously?
These and other thoughts kept us awake for the 3+ hour drive home…that and satellite radio!

Monday, May 16, 2016

The Week in Review

One of the best things about our profession is the willingness to share openly with each other. There are actually no secrets as it were. There are however many different ways to achieve the desired result.
The first thing is to understand the desired result – that’s your goal. Next in line is the development of a plan aimed at achieving that goal. Then when feedback becomes available you can assess how far along the path of success you have traveled.
Meets are an excellent assessment tool. However, the willing and able coach can make the call on a daily basis about the progress, or lack thereof, without waiting for confirmation at the meet.
As we were doing our assessment after the North Coast Section finals Saturday while driving home we called our trusted and true colleague Coach Dave Krotiak of Fox Valley in Illinois. We chatted about all things coaching sharing tips and foibles and then asked him “So what are you doing that is moving the needle; give us something to work with”.
He paused a few moments then said he was at practice and after 20 minutes of observation didn’t like what he saw so he wrote the following on the board poolside. He then stopped everyone and asked them to read it. He said they and he had an awesome 2 hours after the message was digested.
“You’re guaranteed failure if you practice it every day.”

Sunday, May 8, 2016

A Rough and Tumble Week

It has been a crazy week in the swimming world; just like so many weeks in our sport. We are in the middle of High School Championships here in California with tales of glory and lessons taught (and hopefully learned). We now know that our sport can only be clean if High Throughput Testing is in place. Apparently it will not be in Rio…sad but true. We learned that the fall from grace in our profession is so tragic; that any response falls woefully short. While making sense of all these variables seems problematic at best we are reminded by Gary Zukav of the following…

Reality is what we take to be true

What we take to be true is what we believe

What we believe is based upon our perceptions

What we perceive depends upon what we look for

What we look for depends upon what we think

What we think depends upon what we perceive

What we perceive determines what we believe

What we believe determines what we take to be true

What we take to be true is our reality

From The Dancing Wu Li Masters by Gary Zukav