Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Willing vs. Able

There is a substantial difference in being willing and being able when it comes to
process driven progress. This difference is very clear when we challenge our swimmers
to make a change for more speed.

Keep it simple…raise your hand if you want to swim faster. If your hand is up you are in
the correct group.

In free and fly you swim faster when you don’t breathe. Backstrokers need to remember
that as they get faster due to underwater fly kicks they will be swimming less so they too
will have less oxygen available. Top backstrokers today swim less than ½ the distance
of the event.

So we have challenged our swimmers to breathe 2 times max on the last lap of all free
and IM swims, no matter the distance…with the obvious exception of the 50 free. We
are talking short course.

When you breathe only twice you have a much better body position and a faster, more
even tempo. The faster tempo is due to less time with your head turned (even slightly)
to the side and an urgent desire to hit the touch pad so you can breathe.

Everyone in our senior training group can do this. They are able to swim 25 yards in 15
seconds or less with 2 breaths. However, as of this writing more than a few are
unwilling. Fortunately we coaches have faith in their ultimate desire to swim faster.
When they miss a cut by a tenth or two we can simply smile.

When they discover for themselves the power of self-declaration on this small point they
will have a shift in their awareness about all the areas this distinction can impact. Small
incremental changes over time make a substantial difference…all the time, every time.

Saturday, August 31, 2019

The Twin Pillars of Success

Reading this title makes us feel a little presumptuous…really, can we be that smart or insightful? However, based upon the observations from the last couple of weeks we are confident when we say that inspiration and disappointment are both critical to moving forward.

We just finished our summer season of racing. We had trained pretty well, for the most part. We rested, shaved and suited up…and then went for all the marbles. And our swimmers were either inspired by their performances or they were disappointed. It was, after all, a swim meet.

The inspiration part is rather straightforward. You have an awesome swim and record a best time, maybe even make a cut for the next level meet – winters or summers or even a ticket to Omaha next summer. Perhaps you get fired up by a swim one of your teammates does or even better yet, a relay performance…still better is a relay you are on. We are sure you get the picture. One good swim triggers another and so it goes.

What about the other end of the scale? When things don’t go as planned or even worse, as hoped for? Yes hope is a dangerous platform. It almost always comes just before failure. If hope is your next to last emotion or feeling or statement…as in “I hope this works out for me”…you are pretty close to failure.

This next piece of wisdom comes directly from Ken. “The degree of disappointment can only be in direct proportion to the degree of your commitment.”

Yep; you cannot be greatly disappointed if you only prepared a little bit. One of our swimmers tried to claim major disappointment. Ken pointed out that the swimmer had worked up to the 80% effort level many times this summer. Often the swimmer was actually below 80%. When the best times didn’t materialize it was hard for that swimmer to be disappointed very much.

In fact, if you say “well man that was a bummer” but within minutes or maybe an hour the bad taste no longer lingers it is simply because you didn’t invest much in yourself. Therefore you had little reason to actually expect a return and so when you don’t get one you cannot be all that disappointed.
The more you invest the greater your odds of getting a decent return. The less invested you are, the less right you have to be disappointed.

Major commitment and then failure to get what you want? That is how life works more often than not. How you rebound from that marks your odds of successfully continuing on down the road. Swimming mirrors life…or maybe the other way around.

If you cannot handle failure swimming is not the sport for you. When you fail you are not a failure. Failure is a feedback mechanism. Take an honest evaluation and then go back to the drawing board. Sit with your coach and teammates and see if you can figure out where you can improve your approach…there are so many factors…from technique to racing experience to strategies to training to rest and sleep to nutrition to mindset…the list is endless.

And so is the opportunity for success…endless indeed.

Have a nice break and then get back to it…with a plan you can execute.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

For All the Parents – Dads and Moms

This is from Maureen who is an actively engaged parent and swimmer on our Masters team. She contributes mightily on many fronts. As coaches and parents we never can really know what impacts the young ones most significantly; but as the following tells us, we certainly do make a lasting impression.

Way back 4 years ago when I started with North Bay I did a 100 free at a swim meet out in Pleasanton.  I had to pick a time to register, and let’s just say it was off by 30 seconds or so.  When I got to the blocks Ms. Stanford and Ms. Cal Berkeley were in my heat in their Olympic like suits. They were 3/4 of the way down the pool before I dove in.  I finished.  Looked over at my kids with their go mom sign and they were cheering for my last place finish. My daughter found my ribbon from the race in the garage 2 weeks ago.  Wrapped it up for Mother’s Day with a card that said she thinks of that race all the time and how hard I tried…And how hard I try every day to be a good mom.

Best parenting lesson ever.

Thanks NBA

Saturday, June 8, 2019

A Teaching Tool

In our quest to figure out how to coach our swimmers to new levels of performance we always look for keys from the world of education and science. This 6 minute video is very significant because you can use it to inform your team on how to make change. 

Growth mindset is a huge key. You already know that. Consider this input: 

Monday, May 20, 2019

The Value of Team

If you are looking for a good new book we encourage you to read “Eddie Reese” by Chuck Warner with Dana Abbott (a portion of each book sold is donated to the UT Legacy campaign). Coach Reese has demonstrated over decades of swimming excellence that when the team comes first good things come to those on that team.
He recalls from 2013 that he had a few guys who were not making good decisions outside the pool and as a result were bringing the whole team down. He sat down with one of them (who happened to be one of the fastest guys on the team) and told him that he needed to grow up. And then he said, “And you are not going to grow up at Texas”. He was kicked off the team. Eddie had tried unsuccessfully using other methods to change the team problem. So he took the ultimate route.
On our club team we always are looking for ways to improve team culture. Our specific challenge is that we have teenagers who go to 14 different high schools and thus don’t have the “culture” reinforced all day every day. So we continue to work at it during our 2-3 hours a day 6 days a week. And it is work, no doubt about that. It is also continuous since our kids matriculate annually and new ones are added.
We talk about and reinforce the fact that each teammate must give as well as take. We ask ourselves when a new swimmer wants to be included, what will NBA get? Then we ask the swimmer the same question. We have a pretty good idea about what you will get from us; we want to know what we will get from you? This gives them an idea about the process we have.
Truth be known – sometimes we are better at it than others…such is life.
And another fun thing is watching the pro NBA teams. All 32 of them have millionaires who can shoot and pass and even defend now and then. Yet over the last 5+ years one team – Golden State Warriors (team motto is Strength in Numbers) – seems to have the “team” thing going on more often than not. The more they pass the better they shoot. There are basketball reasons for that correlation but it is the attitude that drives the entire organization. They all have egos; they wouldn’t be successful if they didn’t. Yet their operation, especially visible on the court, personifies the old adage “it is amazing how much gets accomplished when no one cares who gets the credit.”
What have you done for your team this week? What has it done for you? Is there a correlation?

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.