Saturday, May 11, 2019

Eval – Debriefing


This from Kate Armstrong…: in thinking about the results of a game most of them fall into one of 4 categories.  1) Won and played well.  2) Won but played poorly.  3) Lost and played well.  4) Lost and played poorly.  Given the above four conditions, is there a constructive method when de-briefing a team so players will utilize the just-ended contest as a learning experience?
In our collective experience we find that after a few days of reflection it is valuable to revisit the race(s) now that the raw emotion is somewhat tempered by time. Perhaps we offer each swimmer the opportunity to rate their previous swim(s) as follows:
Give yourself a:
1 if you swam fast and constructed your race properly
2 if you swam slower than anticipated but still constructed your race correctly
3 if you swam fast but didn’t construct the swim properly
4 if you swam slower than wanted and put the race together incorrectly
The lower your score the more positive your performance. We think this achieves two important objectives.
First it takes the “higher the score the better the swim” factor out of the mix. And secondly it takes the “I didn’t do a best time” syndrome and eliminates it.
Face it, the more honest the evaluation BY THE ATHLETE the more valuable it is. This process also reinforces the “good race” versus the “fast race” notion. After all, the closer you get to your own personal zero the more unlikely it is that you will record a best time. Yet you can still have an enormously successful race.
We trade success for best times regularly…really simple: we are in the success business.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

The Value of Community


We went to a colleague’s Athletic Hall of Fame induction ceremony Saturday. It was an eye opener. It clearly exposed the value of and need for community in our lives that sports generate.
Craig Carson was honored at the 28th Annual Liberty Union High School District Athletic Hall of Fame for his decades of service to his community as a high school swim coach. Inducted with him were several athletes, supporters and community members who each in their own fashion helped make the high school sport experience one that had tremendous value for a variety of reasons.
None of these athletes eventually became professional players let alone Olympians. Yet each clearly discussed how much the process of learning and playing, coaching and supporting high school sports meant then and means now to them. We witnessed a few tears and lots of laughter and much gratitude. It was an entirely energizing experience to witness.
There are many such Hall of Fame institutions, often associated with schools and some with a variety of Associations and of course the professional Halls. What struck us were at the local level the impact sports and coaching had made. It reminded us that as swim coaches we still have value to add to people’s lives regardless of how fast they swim. Watching the festivities the other evening made us realize that in our sport times really don’t matter all that much…sure they do at various points in time. However, in our experience the real value comes from the team – the coaches and teammates and supporters (usually parents).
We think that while the record boards we all keep have their purpose perhaps an even better measure of our team’s growth and influence would be a HOF. Some teams have been around for decades; there surely are HOF candidates from those decades. When you recognize them you instantly give credit to the process of your team’s value…
And make no mistake; humans love recognition; we thrive on it. We treasure being a recognized member of our community.
Have a great day at the pool…a Hall of Fame Day!

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Flow – Alex Honnold – You, “Free Soloing”


In positive psychology, a flow state, also known colloquially as being in the zone, is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one does, and a resulting loss in one's sense of space and time.
Csikszentmihalyi (often referred to as the modern day discoverer of Flow) has this to say about people who have high levels of achievement and fulfillment: “…what kept them motivated was the quality of the experience they felt when they were involved with the activity. The feeling didn’t come when they were relaxing, when they were taking drugs or alcohol, or when they were consuming the expensive privileges of wealth. Rather it often involved painful, risky, difficult activities that stretched the person’s capacity and involved an element of novelty and discovery”
FLOW was a term his subjects kept using. When everything was going right, the work was effortless, fluid and automatic – flowy. He defined the state as “being so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement and thought follows inevitably from the previous one.”
A couple of other significant items…in flow you do not judge yourself and you stay very present – engaged in the immediate task in front of you. In swimming, while you are aware of your goal, you are focused on the doing, not the end result. Flow is totally process oriented versus the usual result orientation our sport is famous for…did you get your cut, make the team, add or subtract time? You hear that constantly on the pool deck. Coaches are famous for saying a swim is a good one if it is fast…that only adds to the prejudice on results vs process.
Now to Alex Honnold…many of you have heard about him…his book “Alone on the Wall” is mesmerizing. His movie “Free Solo” will rivet you to the screen – his sub 4 hour free solo ascent of 3000’ El Capital in Yosemite Valley – yup, 3000’ of granite slab, no rope, just hands and feet.
His comments are right in line with Csikszentmihalyi’s findings. “There’s all the little things you have to think about, like left-right, which sequence you are doing, but there’s nothing I’m really thinking about – I’m just doing it. I love the simplicity of soloing. You never climb better when you are soloing. Doubt is the biggest danger in soloing. As soon as you hesitate you’re screwed.”…”Basically when I’m soloing, normally I have like a mental armor. You could say I’m in the zone. Something that’s protecting my head from thinking too much.”
And this about another part of climbing…”Had I stopped to think about it, I might have been nervous, or anxious that I was on the least secure part of the route. But that’s why I didn’t stop – I’d done all my thinking over the last six weeks as I worked on the route. I was fully prepared and knew exactly what to do. This wasn’t the time for apprehension. It was the time for execution. I’ve always felt slabs require a certain amount of momentum, for lack of a better word. Soloing slabs is similar to skiing or mountain biking. Once you get started, you just have to see it through to the end. You can’t stop and think about your position. Any hesitation could lead to disaster.”
In Alex’s world a mistake leads directly to death. In swimming a mistake leads to a slower time, a missed cut. In our sport it is critical to stay in the moment and be non-judgmental. Doubt has the same effect for swimmers as Alex…in his words, “you’re screwed”.
Have fun; go for it…train your buns off then “free solo” your event!

Sunday, March 31, 2019

No Plan B


We caught a fabulously entertaining interview this week with a person who is arguably the most successful radio personality of the last 40 years. He was discussing how he became so successful after so many initial failures. Cutting to the chase he said he never had a “Plan B”. He went on to talk about folks he knew or had met who had every intention of being successful in any number of ventures only to fall short and then “go to plan B.”
He said that when you ask someone what they want in/from life they will tell you all the stuff they have been taught to say – the grandiose dreams, the BHAG (big hairy ass goal). If you look at them skeptically they often confess that “Well, if I don’t get what I am after there is also Plan B.”
And he said, as a way to understand human behavior, if someone makes a bold statement he will then ask them “So what if it doesn’t work out?” Invariable they say, “Well I have a fallback position” (Called Plan B)
In our sport right this moment there are any number of swimmers who have their eye on Omaha and Tokyo June 2020. Some will make it; most will not. While 4 years may seem like an eternity to a 20 something year old, in the grand scheme of life it’s not that long. If you are 22 and miss in Omaha but you still fiercely cling to the ambition of being an Olympian, you have 4 more years to “get it right.”
Many college age athletes are figuring out how to “keep up” with their peers, educationally and professionally. Having said that, most if not all of those peers aren’t taking a serious crack at an Olympic berth.
We say, stop making excuses and go for it…unabashedly, unashamedly and unfettered by Plan B. You have the rest of your life to do all the other stuff. Seriously…

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Who Owes Whom, and What?


Saturday we were doing a kick set before we got rolling on a set of 200’s. We did a simple 4x150/2:30 kick with lap 3 being a buildup lap and lap 6 being a fast lap. On the fast lap we did our standard deal which is to kick all the way to the touch pad, no arm pull into the wall. We do this for the obvious reasons but primarily to get them accustomed to kicking all the way into the wall. When they get in a race they will do what they do in training so – kick to the touch pad.
Zev on #2 pulled the last stroke on lap 6. We reminded him of the “kick to the wall” goal/requirement. On # 3 he did the same thing. We said, “Ok Zev you can make that one up after workout. On # 4 he was fine, kicking all the wall in on lap #6.
After workout was over he reminded us, “I owe you a 150 kick”. We said go for it and he did, kicking all the way to the wall.
Case closed…but not exactly. Today we were thinking about that exchange and realized that Zev didn’t “owe us anything”. Zev owed himself another 150 kick. And this made it even clearer to us that Zev owes Zev, not us the coaches. And that is because Zev is in charge of his own bank account of skills, conditioning – the list is endless. He doesn’t kick FOR us. He kicks FOR HIMSELF…because it is his race, his training, his commitment…the list goes on – maybe forever.
So when we see Zev tomorrow we will reinforce that he is kicking for himself, not for us, and that he doesn’t actually owe us anything. However, he owes himself the very best that he can muster on any given day, on every given race, on every given set, on every given repeat.
What do you want? What are you willing to do to get it? The choice ultimately is yours and yours alone…very powerful concept if you can grasp it. The coach’s task is to get the swimmer/person to grasp that.
Have an awesome day at the pool – make a difference to someone (or two) today!

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Finish What You Start


One of the most impressive lessons our sport teaches all participants (swimmers, coaches and parents) is the value of finishing what you start. What you start is your goal. What you finish is your personal victory…measured by you based upon what you set out to achieve – your goal.
We are working with our high school seniors right now. They have a 2+ month window for their high school season (California has swimming as a spring sport). And then they need to decide what to do with their summer training and racing block. If they plan on pursuing swimming in college – and thankfully most do – then the most important thing they can do is train and race this summer. If they do that, then they set themselves up for a good shot at transitioning into their college team and that season. If they punt the summer away (“I need a break, I’ve been swimming my whole life. I want some summer fun” – sound familiar?) Then they enter the ranks of college swimming a couple of steps behind. And college swimming is much more demanding than most of them have done before…finish what you start.
Let’s say you swim a 200 free in 1:45+. Your goal is to go 1:42. How can you get those next 3+ seconds? (The GREAT coach Jon Urbanchek says that at the big meet you need to be thinking about a 1 second drop per 50) The way you get those 3+ seconds is to go 24.0 – 26.0 – 26.0 – 26.0…= 1:42.0. You need to really sharpen your focus on training so that you are physically prepared for the task. Then you need to sharpen your emotional skills so you are able to handle the challenges of the race itself…then you finish what you start.
As a coach, you have goals – yes, you need them just as your swimmers need them. Whatever your vision is for your team, your season, your career…define your path and then stay on it come hell or high water and finish what you start.
You are a parent and you want nothing but the best for your child. First define, as specifically as possible, what for you constitutes what the “best for your child” means. Then map out a path and stay on it. A coaching colleague of ours – who is also a parent – remarked the other day that once you have a child you have made a 20 year commitment; the child comes first. That means all the usual sacrifices but more than that it means at all times under all circumstances putting the young one first. Oh, both parents need to have the same mindset on this one…if that is possible.
Great ones – not simply Olympic medalists – finish what they start. We’ve been coaching for decades and we still have this mantra in mind…we finish what we start.
See you poolside…as Dave Krotiak says, “Have an awesome day!”

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Why We Coach


Hi Don,

I have been following what you guys have been doing at some of your meets and it seems like you have a lot of people doing some great stuff over in California! I was so impressed with how everyone swam at the Super League meet in Davis especially!

Just finished my first season of college swimming, which is crazy because I feel like I was just swimming at RESLs. I had some doubts about Dartmouth initially, but I am certain I am at the right place. I like my coaches (although full disclosure you and Ken were a little more fun) and I love my teammates. My season didn’t end as well as I had hoped; unfortunately I got very sick and was unable to swim for a lot of the month prior to my meet.

This reminded me of your Michael Phelps analogy with the thimble and the ocean where you build a cup during the season and during taper you fill the cup. I was really frustrated because I had worked really hard this season to build a cup, but was unable to fill it. Although I still had some fun at the meet and I loved watching my friends do so well, I didn’t go to the meet just to have fun.

College swimming is hard because not swimming well is no longer a personal problem, it also hurts your teammates and all the hard work they did. I was seeded in the top 8 for the 50 free, but instead placed 20th. We only beat Columbia by a few points, and the rest of the meet I couldn’t stop thinking that if we lost to Columbia, had I placed 8th instead of 20th we would have beaten them.

I was thinking about all this on the bus ride back from Princeton when I got a text from someone from my high school asking when I knew I wanted to swim in college. And to be completely honest, at that point I wasn’t sure if I was glad I was swimming in college. Staying up until one studying for midterms and writing papers (yes I actually do homework here, shocking I know), only to wake up at six to walk to practice in negative five degree weather is hard. Swimming/lifting four hours a day almost every day is exhausting. All of this to add 2 seconds in a 200?

When exactly did I decide to do this?  Then I realized I never decided, the thought of not swimming in college just never even occurred to me.

I joined North Bay my sophomore year because I wanted to see where swimming would take me. Swimming has taken me to Clovis many, many times, Las Vegas, Seattle, and Orlando. It was like when Ken asked if I wanted to go Orlando for relays my junior year. It never crossed my mind to not go because I wanted to see what I could do in Orlando.

When swimming took me to Dartmouth, I didn’t go because I wanted to go to Dartmouth; I went because I wanted to see what I could do there. I’m not sure what else I want to get out of swimming, but I want to continue to see where it will take me. My team doesn’t have a competitive spring training program, but I have talked to some girls on my team and my coaches about doing some long course training with hopes of giving myself a chance of qualifying for Olympic trials in the next two years. I have no idea how realistic this is, but two years ago I would have never believed swimming would take me this far, so I am optimistic for what the next two years will bring.

Thank you to both you and Ken for all you have done to help me get here, and I wish you best of luck with your upcoming meets.

Thanks, Zoe


P.S. This is for Ken too but I don’t have his email for some reason.
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Sunday, February 24, 2019

Two really good sets for confidence


We trust that we all can agree that the most important muscle in the human body is confidence. As we prepare for the March Sectional meet here in California we are looking for some fast swims. After this meet the swimmers go into their high school season (which has already begun with some dual meets). They like to bounce off of the March club meet into HS meets and then the ever present, never ending, all powerful emotion, of the high school champs takes over.
We did the following 2 sets with our middle sprinters this last week…kids who think the 200 is the best race in the world…they don’t care what we think and we do care what they think!
After all the warmup and a short kick set we did this on Thursday:
4x200/3 rotating a fast 50…1st 200 the first 50 was fast, 2nd 200 the second 50 was fast
3x200/3 rotating a fast 100…1st was the 1st 100, then the middle 100 then the last 100
1x200 all fast
They were flying. We set benchmarks in terms of times to aim for. We used a recent meet we had and said swim the last 200 within 10 seconds of that race time. At that meet they had suits on in finals but no rest or shave…just to give you an idea.
When they saw how fast they were going the excitement was palpable = confidence.
On Saturday we did the same thing with 100’s.
4x100/1:30 rotating a fast lap
3x100/1:40 (so they could do strokes) rotating a fast 50
1x100 all fast…Again they swam fast = confidence
In the 200 set they had 1600 yards, 700 of which was fast.
In the 100 set they had 800 yards, 350 of which was fast.
We’ll let you know in a week how the Sectional meet goes. We anticipate fast swims.

Monday, February 4, 2019

The Power of Discouragement


Chapter 11 of Chop Wood Carry Water is all about the power of discouragement as it relates to human growth and developing potential.
The actual word “discouragement” means a lack of courage. We tell our team that to our knowledge no one on our team lacks courage…if nothing else than the simple act of getting up on a block and racing down the lane with no one to be held accountable except you. That, in our opinion, is exactly what courage looks like.
Disappointment is very understandable; discouragement is not.
Akira, the sensei at the samurai warrior training camp, is having this discussion with John – the young man who wants most of all to be an archer samurai warrior – about discouragement. John is learning about the process and dealing with ups and downs is paramount to his success.
Akira says there are six things you can do to fuel your heart with encouragement:
1 – What you watch
2 – What you read
3 – What you listen to
4 – Who you surround yourself with
5 – How you talk to yourself
6 – What you visualize
The very best part about this process is that these 6 items are all choices each person can make every day. Keep reminding your swimmers that their greatest power in life is the power to choose.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

The Results Are In…


And the winners are, to no one’s surprise, the ones who did the work. From a coaching perspective this is so refreshing. Shortcuts do not work. From an athlete’s perspective it is equally reassuring…do the work and get the prize. Don’t do the work, no payoff.
We think our last post had to do with the preparation for the December shave meets and what would the impact be of not being able to train regularly for 10 days in mid-November due to the bad air quality in Northern California.
Ken had texted workouts to each of the swimmers encouraging them to find indoor water and do their best at keeping training going. We could not find a pool with enough available space to bring all 35 kids at one time. It would be piecemeal and up to them.
Each of them admitted at the debriefing session after the meet that they had done some of the work but not all and even some was not done with the same level of intensity as if the group had been together. All of this information was to be expected.
As we watched the racing unfold both in Federal Way at the Husky Invite and in Austin at Winter Juniors one clear cut impression was made. To a person, all those who had trained diligently from September, before the bad air, had an excellent meet. One young man even made his Winter cut at Husky in the 200 breast. Even 1650 distances were not affected. Our sample size was small (2) but both guys had solid swims, one 15 year old dropped to 16:38…he was 10:03 at the 1000 so he had a bit of a fade but still very solid.
Work works. In this era of quick fixes and short attention spans little is as satisfying as a reward hard sought and won.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Artificial Maturity


This week’s title is inspired by Coach Richard Thornton (SRVLA) and NBA Masters swimmer Brenda Lein.
Richard told us one of the best recent books he is reading is “Chop Wood Carry Water” by Joshua Medcalf. Brenda is a bona fide trainer and racer on our massive NBA Masters team.
The book is brilliant in that the chapters are a mere 2-4 pages. We are actually reading one chapter a week with our team. They love it and look forward to it.
Brenda asked in workout today about a term she read in an online article. The term was “drive from (or maybe it was “with”) your shoulders”. She asked what that meant and we said we had no idea. Since the author of the piece didn’t elaborate she (nor we) had much to go on. All we could do was make an educated guess…not the same thing as actually knowing.
Chapter 4 in the book is entitled “Artificial Maturity”. The book is about a teenager, John, who enlists in a Samurai Warrior training camp after high school graduation. His goal is to become an archer as a samurai warrior.
In the 4th chapter John’s sensei Akira asks John to restring his bow after the bow string snaps. Akira asks him if he has done it before. John says “Not personally. But I’ve seen it done.” Akira says, “So you know how to restring it?”
John, “Of course! I’ve read about it dozens of times and I’ve watched a lot of videos on YouTube.”
Special note to parents: just because it is on the internet and YouTube doesn’t make it so. Be smarter than that – your swimmer and coach will be thankful.
Well, you can imagine John’s inability to re-string the bow based upon his knowledge BUT lack of personal experience. The message from Akira is simple: knowing what is to be done is vastly different from being able to do it yourself.
Said another way, “It is one thing to study war and another to live the warrior’s life” (this from the “Art of War”).
So our answer to Brenda was “we don’t know”. We do not know what the author was meaning when the words “drive from the shoulder” were used. We do know what those words mean but we do not know how they are being used to convey a teaching/coaching concept.
Swimmers and coaches – sensei and would be Samurai warriors – all need the same thing: clarity of purpose and clear understanding of the concept being coached/taught.
Much easier said than done. See you poolside!

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Accountability & Consequences


In the process oriented swim world these two concepts, when properly entwined, give an athlete so much power s/he can do pretty much whatever they seek.
In fact we would lobby strenuously that when accountability and consequences are linked the results oriented swim world benefits immensely.
Each swimmer needs to decide (and it is extremely helpful when parents and coaches encourage this decision) s/he will be accountable for what happens and then fully accept the consequences.
If there are no consequences then there is no reinforcement of accountability.
Case in point: Let’s say a swimmer needs a 55.19 to qualify for a meet. She goes a 55.36, missing by .17. How does the result sit? What are the expectations of the swimmer?
The consequence is clear; no trip to the meet. How’s the accountability hold up? If the swimmer says she is disappointed but will keep working and eventually get her time and EARN the trip then the process is working…and eventually the result will show. It has to.
If the swimmer tries any number of machinations to reconstruct the consequence – no trip to the bigger meet – with a plea for an exception (“I was sick, I couldn’t train the week before” the list is endless) and that plea is surrendered to by the coach or parent then nothing has been learned.
Well that’s not exactly true. What has been learned is that no matter what, you can always finagle your way to what you want, even though it hasn’t been earned legitimately…and that is not how the world works. Caution here, much of the political and corporate world teaches us otherwise. But we in swimming know that politicians and corporate heads in general couldn’t get a Jr. Olympic cut let alone a National one!