Sunday, January 25, 2009

Developing a Culture

There was a fascinating article in the Sunday January 11th San Francisco Chronicle Business Section. Wells Fargo’s CEO John Stumpf was discussing how the bank planned to merge the assets of Wachovia which Wells had recently acquired with those of his bank.

He said that the similarities between the two companies were such that they were almost mirror images of each other. He went on to say that more importantly their cultures were very similar. “And culture is very, very important. Culture, I define it as knowing what to do and how to behave without having a rulebook. Both companies have a deep respect for their employees, a passion about serving customers, are very involved in their communities and want to provide above average to great returns for shareholders.”

He was then asked how he will measure whether or not he is successful. His answer follows: “It is really very simple. How well we do in four constituencies: Are we keeping customers; are we growing relationships in households? Are we retaining our team; is our team engaged, happy if you will? Are we investing in our communities? Are we providing great returns for shareholders?”

We think this is a fine blueprint for any swim organization. By changing the words to fit our group we can ask ourselves very similar questions and measure how effective we are.

Additionally, we really liked the phrase “how to behave without a rulebook.” Let us know what you think. Have a great week at the pool!

More on Dolphin Kicking

Much has been said about the value of the underwater dolphin kick as it applies to speed off the start and turns. We went to a meet this weekend and saw a number of youngsters who indeed had nice underwater dolphin kicking going on. Some were even in the magical 15 meter range. (The rule book states that you must break the surface of the water at a point no more than 15 meters from the wall from which you have just pushed off.)

Unfortunately for nearly all of these young swimmers by the time they had broken the surface they were going so slowly compared to their swimming speed that they actually did themselves a disservice by extending their underwater portion of the lap. So the lesson here is quite simple. Each swimmer has a breakout point that is correct for them based upon their own individual talent. That talent is measured by how fast they can swim to any given point in the lap. Some swimmers have such little ability when it comes to underwater dolphin kicking that it has no real value for them.

We suggest that you time yourself, or your swimmers, to 15 meters or some fixed point part way down the pool – like the lifeguard chair - and then figure out the best combination of swimming and kicking that gets you to that point the quickest. That way you will know how much or how little to kick underwater.

To be sure, the fastest swimmers in the world do know how to use the underwater portion of the swim to their own individual ability. It makes perfect sense to us that each of us does the same regardless of our overall speed. The goal is to swim efficiently. To be successful we need to know what is most effective for us personally. Play with the idea and let us know how it goes for you!

Monday, January 19, 2009

No End in Sight; No Let Up At All!

The link at the bottom of this page will take you to the Southern California Grand Prix meet held over last weekend. It certainly appears the entire competitive swimming community has gotten a huge "bounce" off of the Beijing Olympics.

Our team swam locally this last weekend and we can tell you that a very healthy percentage of our swimmers (and many of those at the meet from other teams as well) were on fire. We are in the midst of heavy training for our winter block and we still recorded several lifetime bests. Additionally many swimmers were within tenths of a second of their previous lifetime bests, all of which occurred in the "shave and taper" mode.

2009 indeed is shaping up to be a banner year in our sport. This is a very special time to be involved in swimming whether you are a competitor, enthusiast or supporter - or even a weekend warrior going to Masters' meets.

Southern California GrandPrix 2009

The Street Sweeper

If a man is called a street sweeper,
He should sweep streets
Even as Michelangelo painted,
Or Beethoven composed music,
Or Shakespeare wrote poetry.

He should sweep streets so well
That all the hosts of heaven and earth
Will pause to say,
Here lived a great street sweeper
Who did his job well.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Let each of us strive to do our best with the resources available to us, without excuses.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Value of Experience

Here in the San Francisco Bay Area we have two teams in the National Football League. Both the San Francisco 49ers and the Oakland Raiders have been experiencing growing pains the last few years. Some might argue our choice of words here. Each team had a common and unusual occurrence this season: both head coaches - Mike Nolan and Lane Kiffin - were fired mid season and replaced by interim coaches from the existing staff.

It has been interesting to watch these coaches, Mike Singletary for the 49ers and Tom Cable for the Raiders, adapt to their challenges. Through the sheer force of his will and storied personal history of experience and success, Hall of Fame member Singletary has reshaped the attitude and performance (in that order in our opinion) of his team.

Tom Cable has done a remarkable job in the face of overwhelming odds against his success. But the point here today from our perspective was a quote from him in the SF Chronicle on Monday the 22nd of December following a winning game against the Texans on Sunday the 21st. Cable played a lot of younger players with very limited NFL experience. Keep in mind that nearly all NFL players get to the league because they are fine athletes. They have played countless number of games in high school and college. One of the things that make the NLF so different is that you have only the best of the best playing. Everyone is bigger, stronger and faster than they were in college.

The same is true in swimming for those who move up the ladder. Most college swimmers and certainly those at the international level are stronger, faster and smarter than they were in age group and high school swimming. But we digress...

In Cable's comments after the game he said regarding his young players, "You get explosiveness on the field, you get speed. You can't do anything about the inexperience; they just have to grow through that."

We don't know if Cable will get the label of "interim" removed this winter or not. What we do know is that here is a coach who clearly understands the limitations of inexperience and the corresponding value of experience. He demonstrates a level of patience that many coaches lack.

In swimming, coaches have many fast swimmers on their team. These kids go really fast in practice routinely. Yet when the day of the meet comes around they often don't have what the coach expected to see. And much of it has to do with experience. There is no substitute for racing to learn how to put your practice skills to good use. This is why racing is so important to the overall development of a swimmer. And at the same time they must feel the support of their coaches and parents to be able to make mistakes so they can grow.

Mark Twain is quoted on this subject. "Good judgment comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgment." Enough said.

Lessons to be Learned...

In sports we often see the type of actions and attitudes expressed below. Perhaps we even act this way ourselves occasionally - yikes! We at SwimCoachDirect believe all sports offer several common lessons to be learned: personal responsibility for actions, knowing your role as an athlete, coach or parent, supporting the rules of the game, playing by those rules, living with the outcome and using it to fuel our desire for the next race or game. The list is end list.

The following comes to us from Little League. We thought you'd enjoy it and the perspective it gives us all.

Donald Jenson was struck in the head by a thrown bat while umpiring a Little League game in Terre Haute, Indiana. He continued to work the game, but later that evening was placed in a hospital for observation by a doctor. While there, Jenson wrote the following letter.

Dear Little League Parent:

I am an umpire. I don't do it for a living, but on Saturdays and Sundays for fun. I played the game, coached it and watched it. But somehow, nothing takes the place of umpiring. Maybe it's because I feel that deep down, I'm providing a fair chance for all the kids to play the game without disagreements and arguments.

With all the fun I've had, there is still something that bothers me about my job ... Some of you folks don't understand why I'm there. Some of you think I'm there to exert authority over your son or daughter. For that reason, you often yell at me when I make a mistake, or encourage your son or daughter to say things that hurt my feelings. How many of you really understand that I try to be perfect? I try not to make a mistake. I don't want your child to feel that he got a bad deal from an umpire.

Yet no matter how hard I try, I can't be perfect. I counted the number of calls I made in a six inning game today. The total number of decisions, whether on balls or strikes or safes or outs was 146. I tried my best to get them all right, but I'm sure I missed some. When I figured out my percentage on paper, I could have missed eight calls today and still got about 95 percent of the calls right! In most occupations that percentage would be considered excellent. In school that grade would receive an "A" for sure.

But your demands are higher than that. Let me tell you more about my game today. There was one real close call that ended the game. A runner for the home team was trying to steal home on a passed ball. The catcher chased the ball down and threw it to the pitcher covering the plate. The pitcher made the tag and I called the runner out. As I was getting my equipment to leave, I overheard one of the parent's comments: "It's too bad the kids have to lose because of rotten umpires. That was one of the lousiest calls I've ever seen." Later at the concession stand a couple of kids were telling their friends, "Boy, the umpires were lousy today; they lost the game for us."

The purpose of Little League is to teach baseball skills to young people. Obviously, a team that does not play well in a given game, yet is given the opportunity to blame that loss on an umpire for one call or two, is being given the chance to take all responsibility for the loss from its shoulders.

A parent or Adult leader who permits the young player to blame his or her failures on an umpire, regardless of the quality of that umpire, is doing the worst kind of injustice to that youngster. Rather than learning responsibility, such an attitude fosters an improper outlook towards the ideals of the game itself. The irresponsibility is bound to carry over to future years.
As I sit here writing this letter, I am no longer as upset as I was this afternoon. I wanted to quit umpiring. But fortunately, my wife reminded me of another situation that occurred last week. I was behind the plate umpiring for a pitcher who pantomimed his displeasure at any call or borderline pitch that wasn't in his team's favor. One could sense that he wanted the crowd to realize that he was a fine, talented player who was doing his best to get along and that I was the villain working against him.
The kid proceeded in this vein for two innings, while at the same time also yelling at his own players who dared to make a mistake. For two innings the Manager watched this and when the boy returned to the dugout to bat in the top of the third, the manager called him aside.

In a loud enough voice that I was able to overhear, the lecture went like this, "Listen, son, it's time you made a decision. You can be an umpire, or an actor, or a pitcher. But you can be only one at a time when you are playing for me. Right now it's your job to pitch and you are basically doing a lousy job. Leave the acting to the actors and the umpiring to the umpires. Now what's it going to be?"

The kid chose the pitching route and went on to win the game. When the game was over, the kid followed me to my car. Fighting his hardest to keep back the tears, he apologized for his actions and thanked me for umpiring his game. He said he had learned a lesson that he would never forget.

I cannot help but wonder; how many fine young men are missing their chance to develop into outstanding ballplayers because their parents encourage them to spend time umpiring, rather than working harder to play the game as it should be played.

The following morning, Donald Jenson died of a brain concussion....

Perhaps you know a parent, coach or athlete who would benefit be seeing this letter. Please share it with them. One of the greatest gifts in life is the ability to share your wisdom with others. In our sport of swimming coaches know the value of sharing ideas. Without it there would be no growth. In fact that is one of the cornerstones of SwimCoachDirect.

Have a great week. Let us know how we can help!

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Ideas for the New Year

It is often the New Year when we re-evaluate where we are and what we want to tackle in the months ahead. It is with this in mind that we offer the following excerpts from an article in the December issue of Ultra Running magazine from Editor Tia Bodington.

"On a casual basis, one might think that the words "hope", "dream" and "goal" signify pretty much the same thing: something you want." She goes on to say that she looked in her dictionary to see the differences in the words and found this.

"Hope - a feeling that what is wanted can be had.

Dream - an aspiration, a wild or vain fancy.

Goal - an achievement toward which effort is directed, purpose or intent"

To paraphrase Bodington, "hope is a passive emotion" while "dream is a bit more concrete...something you might muse about and wonder how you might turn it into reality if you were to take action."

We liked her choice of words here (remember she is an editor!)..."A goal, though - now, goals are different. A goal is something you decide is important enough to mold your life around. Something you sit down at your desk with pencil and paper...When you have a goal, you actually follow that plan." These are powerful distinctions to be sure.

We think of how important hopes and dreams are. They shape the direction in which we lean. Yet without goals we are not able to really harness all the resources life has to offer.

W.H. Murray wrote a brilliant paragraph on this subject.

Until one is committed there is hesitance, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that moment when one definitely commits oneself then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would otherwise never have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision raising in one's favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamt could have come his way. I have learned a deep respect for one of Goethe's couplets: "Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has a genius, power and magic in it".

Pretty powerful stuff here we admit; the same point from two different sources. The goal is something you make a plan for and then on which you take action. 2009 is a fine time to put those hopes and dreams into action. We will join you as well. Let us know how it goes for you!

The Case for Exercise

Not that we need to do so here since it would be like preaching to the choir but exercise really is a good thing! At this time of year there is always talk on the street and at the office about getting in shape, rededicating ourselves to a more fit way of life. As swimmers of some sort of regular regimen we know intuitively the benefits of our sport specifically and exercise in general.

Last week while reading Tom Stienstra's column in the Sunday December 28th San Francisco Chronicle we were impressed with a couple of facts. Stienstra writes an Outdoors column every Thursday and Sunday for the paper. He is nationally acclaimed as a writer and outdoorsman. We rarely miss the read.

According to research at Stanford University you spend about four or five hours per week exercising you can get enormous benefits. From his column there are as follows:

"Live Longer: you will live 14 years longer if you hike, bike or exercise 3 times per week (and generally cut out bad habits), according to"

"Benefits at any age: Exercise results in lower rates of death from all causes, even if activities are begun in middle or late life, according to the New England Journal of Medicine."

"Feel good: If you hike, bike (or exercise), you will have half the disabilities of those who do not, according to a study at Stanford."

"Feel really good: when you hike, bike or exercise, your mind is cleansed, your conflicts are simplified and all stress is relieved, according to a study at Cornell University."

We'll, that does it for us. We are through typing for now and heading out the door, to the pool! Let us know how it goes for you. Happy New Year!