Monday, March 24, 2014

Ken DeMont – Coach of the Year

Swimmers are first and foremost people. By and large as members of a US Swimming club team they are most often young people. This means they are in a constant state of flux. Older people – like Masters Swimmers and parents of younger swimmers – have pretty much figured out how the universe works, how it is shaped and how they fit into it. The young ones haven’t gotten there yet and so they are still figuring things out.
That is why coaches have a unique position in the order of the universe. How they work with teaching that order figures in quite heavily on how the young person grows into their own view of how the universe works. And thus the impact the coach makes on the swimmer’s life.
Children don’t get to choose their parents; they just get what they get. Parents don’t choose their kids either but – and this is a huge but – they do get to influence and shape them….especially for the most formative years – the years before the coach comes into the picture.
The coach is asked, or assumed, to take the swimmer and help shape him/her. At some point in the process it becomes about times. Parents say “all I want is for my kid to be happy. All she needs is faster times and she is good to go”…but herein lies the rub. What if faster times are harder to come by? What if a year or so goes by and the needle isn’t moving on the chart? Then what?
Then the coach is quizzed, often first by the parent at home wondering out loud, perhaps at the dinner table to a spouse while the swimmer is there as well and then finally to the coach. Parents, if you are reading this, go to the coach first and do not wonder out loud at the dinner table. When you do that the coach now is 2 strikes behind in a three strike count. Certainly the coach is quizzed by the swimmer.
The answer is usually very complicated. Why? Because young people are not old people yet. They do not know how the universe works. And it is all so confusing. Hard work usually helps but often the hardest workers aren’t the fastest. Usually it is the smartest workers but that is harder to do. Why? Because the younger you are the more challenging it is to be smart – in the ways of the universe. Why? Because you don’t know how it works yet. And some people are faster learners than others.
So you need patience. And that is not how our universe works today. We want it all and we want it now. We expect it that way because that is what we are told is needed and what everyone else has and why can we not have it too?
And; lost in all of this discourse and musing, aka my (Don Swartz) rambling, are two immutable facts about swimming: the stop watch never lies and the water is always right (thanks to Pete at UC Davis for that succinct capsule).
My personal view is that the second of those truths in the universe – the water is always right – is where everything about competitive swimming starts and ends.
And now we get – finally – to the crux of today’s piece. Connor has wanted; forever it seems, to go faster than he has ever gone before; nothing new there about a competitive swimmer. What he hasn’t understood is the value of patience and figuring out the process. And therein lays the value of his coach…Ken DeMont.
Ken has exhibited an otherworldly level of patience with Connor. Connor has sometimes willingly and other times not so much, put his trust in Ken. This is what coaching is all about…Ken has given Connor an invaluable lesson in how the universe works. Someday Connor will remember this week, these last several months, and pass this lesson on to his kids…the water is always right. Work with it and magic is readily apparent. Fight it and you always come in last.
The photo below is taken from the NCSA Junior National Championship just concluded in Orlando. Connor swam 55.3 and 25.5 for the 100 and 50 breaststroke, making the B and A final respectively in each swim. We have never seen the smile you see below, not in 4 years. It is priceless in the true meaning of that oft overused word.
The smile on Ken’s face is one of satisfaction, knowing he has once again performed a job well done. Connor’s smile is one for the ages.
This is why we coach. Well done Connor and Ken; well-done indeed!

No comments: