Sunday, December 25, 2011

Musings on December 25, 2011

We begin “training camp mode” tomorrow. Lots of swimming after a few days of vacation if not physically and least mentally. Of course, we have had a few, well many! Who took our offer of a short break to the extreme...but that is a story for another day.

What has been running through our minds is how to forge a better more productive training block for the next 10 weeks or so such that our big meet in mid-March will be even more rewarding than our December racing.

We have been reading and thinking. We read to get new ideas. We think to see how we might apply those ideas to our situation. We continue to aspire to original thoughts but alas...

One of the things that have been a constant theme in our readings and therefore our thinking is the theme of “do more with less”.

It seems that as coaches we often lean toward more sophistication in our understanding of what works in our sport. Yet the things that work for improvement aren’t necessarily sophisticated. So while we take a certain measure of personal pride and professional satisfaction about our “advanced coaching”, when all is said and done the results come from rather basic ingredients.

Some if this comes from our recent reading; some comes from our observations (coaches are always observing at the pool); some comes from watching our returning swimmers who have been away at various college programs; some comes from, well we aren’t exactly sure but it does indeed come from somewhere...

  • Kicking: more than less is indeed good for speed
  • Underwaters: off the wall this is critical
  • Work works
  • Fun is A if not THE key ingredient
  • Make things -- sets, instruction, strategy, tactics – simpler, not more complex
  • Technique -- critical
  • Instruction of technique -- keep it simple, make sure you use visual, tactile and verbal cues since not everyone learns the same way
  • Mentor -- everyone needs one; find one and get on board
  • The Top -- not everyone at the top actually knows what they are doing...

Almost time for New Year resolutions... something on this list might be a good starting point... we would love to hear from you. We trust that all is well in your corner of the world, and if for some reason it isn’t, that you will work to make a change... one thing we are certain of,

is that work does indeed work.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Christmas Shopping

We realize that not everyone celebrates Christmas and therefore is not wound up in the whole shopping thing. But if you are or would simply like to indulge yourself here are two quick ideas.

Idea #1 – Get yourself the smart phone app called liveresults. On Android phones liveresults and on Apple iPhone or iPad search for liveresults and you can download and pay a very small amount and then load the app. You can get an amazing number of real time results from swim and track meets all around the world. The menu is particularly good for US meets. You can see splits of swims as well as relays plus if the blocks are wired for it you can see reaction times including relay takeoffs…very cool.

Idea #2 – Do this kick set to build your legs even stronger. It comes originally from Chris Davis via the “Workout Wednesday” menu at the American Swimming Coaches Association web site. It can be modified endlessly. We did it Friday and it was awesome…excellent team energy and great leg power development…nice!

1x5 minute wall kick: 30 seconds moderate 30 seconds fast right into

6x50/1:10 fast kicking right into

1x5 minute wall kick: 20 seconds moderate 40 seconds fast right into

6x50/1:10 fast kicking right into

1x5 minute wall kick: 10 seconds moderate 50 seconds fast right into

6x50/1:10 fast kicking

Rest 1 minute

6x100/2 kick fast time average

It is 50 minutes of leg burning fun…a perfect holiday gift for every swimmer on your list!!

Sunday, December 11, 2011


One of our Masters swimmers is a former fighter pilot. AB (as he is known to his friends) gave a valuable presentation to our Senior 1 training group months ago. He shared with us the pre and post flight briefings that were part of his profession. As obvious as the pre-flight sessions were to our group it was the post-flight ones that got our attention most. In these debriefing sessions a couple of things were prominent.

All ranks were disregarded, meaning the senior most pilot’s comments were no more valuable to the group discussion than the least ranked pilot’s. Additionally, nothing was presented personally so no comments were taken personally. If you made a mistake simply admit. If you saw a mistake simply state it; end of discussion.

He told us that the success of the next mission was mostly determined by the debriefing; it was the only real lasting way for members of the team to improve.

Keep in mind that failure in their profession often meant loss of life. It made everyone willing to fully engage in the process of getting better. Debriefings were extremely important.

With our swim team we do the same thing at the end of a training cycle. We have just concluded our fall training block with all swimmers having raced at an important meet in the last two weekends.

At our most recent team meeting we handed out the following questions asking everyone to be brutally honest with themselves. They answered each of the questions in writing and then kept the answers. We asked them to take the sheet home and put it somewhere so that it would be visible to them daily. Its purpose was to remind them of the things they did correctly and those that needed attention going forward.

When we meet with them about winter 2012 goals we will ask them about their own view of their fall season and see how our feedback might add to their awareness.

Below is our list of questions. Thanks again to AB for sharing so freely of his wisdom and experience!









Sunday, December 4, 2011

Train the Way You Race
Race the Way You Train

We are with our team – North Bay Aquatics – at the Husky Invitational in Federal Way, Washington. What a fabulous facility and a great place to go racing!

This is our “shave and taper” meet for the fall training block. Our eggs are in this basket. It is most instructional as coaches and swimmers alike to watch the swims unfold, witnessing – yet again – the basic concept that most of the time swimmers race the way they train. If you have put the time and effort in you can expect the results to reflect this.

The thing that confounds us is when a swimmer indeed doesn’t race the way they have trained. A small disclaimer here; when swimmers are younger, growing every month they often improve their times simply having time elapse. Today we are talking about the older more experienced swimmers whose gains are incrementally smaller.

We have a couple of swimmers (all coaches do!) who are working on bringing their training level to the racing pool such that the race will more accurately reflect their level of prowess.

We find that if this type of swimmer will focus on the task rather than the result we often get the breakthrough we have seen daily/weekly in training sessions. And this is the biggest recommendation we have for those in this situation. Pick the one thing that will make a difference in the outcome and make that the goal of the swim; not the time swum.

Examples might include: integrating your kick into your stroke on the last half of a 200; staying low and tight on your fly or breast turns; pushing off into deeper water on fly, back or breast to get into calmer water; holding your breath on the breakout strokes on 50, 100 and 200 free and fly; the list is endless.

And at some point, the coach needs to challenge the swimmer to “get over herself” and do the swim the way they have practiced it. She must accept the fact that the outcome is in her hands and to “do it”…the “it” being the task.

So, while it is certainly important to train the way you want to race, once you have done that you need to then actually race the way you have trained. As a coach once you have mastered teaching this skill you will have a waiting list to get on your team!

Be well this week and have some fun at the pool!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Simple Truths

We receive regular updates from Mac Anderson’s company Simple Truths. The reference to 212 degrees is that at 211 degrees water is very hot; add 1 degree and you get boiling water and steam can power a locomotive. We felt this excerpt was a powerful follow up to our discussion last week about taper time. The connection is in the very last sentence, which drives home the concept of trust.

An excerpt from
212° Leadership
by Mac Anderson

Leaders lead by example, whether they intend to or not.

What example did you set today? When you lead by example, you engage your people to follow your vision...not by words, but by action. While you are measuring your employees' performance, they are measuring how well you follow through on both your words and your deeds.

Think leading by example is only for top management? Think again. Whatever your position in your organization, the way you do your job...and the attitude with which you do it...determines the impact that you have.

I recently read a story by Mark Brown in the Chicago Sun-Times that really drives this point home. Mark wrote about a Chicago-area mailman, Mike Martinez, who passed away at the age of 50, but left a lasting impression by the example he set:

"Mike was a heckuva nice guy who knew everyone on his route by name and always greeted them with a smile, a wave and some friendly chitchat.

"He was the kind of mailman who would warn them if they'd forgotten to move their cars on street-sweeping day, search the post office on his weekend day off for their missing package or stop by their homes after work for a beer or a barbecue."

The article goes on to describe other people that Mike touched as he delivered the mail, including Tom Lutz, who had suffered a stroke. Mike would call Tom and ask him to help deliver the mail to his neighbors as part of his rehab.

"He would encourage me to try a little harder each day, as my bad leg would get better little by little," said Tom.

"Martinez was such an unforgettable character, in fact, that some of those customers built a memorial garden in his honor.

"I've never seen anything quite like 'Mike's Corner,' certainly not for a mailman. The garden consists of an exquisitely landscaped corner parkway plot with a small stone monument topped by an old-fashioned flag mailbox and a plaque designed to look like a letter. The letter to Mike T. Martinez Jr. carries a return address of 'Rest in Peace 1959-2010.'

"You don't need to have a big-shot job to leave your mark in this world. All it takes is a warm smile, an upbeat attitude and a kind heart."

There's no doubt about it. Mike left some big shoes to fill along his route...but that challenge to achieve the same connection with those he served is part of his legacy.

"'It really makes you step up your game,' said mail carrier Tamme Price as she worked his old route."

That's the power of a living example. It can make those around you "step up their game,"...sometimes long after you are gone.

Jeff Gitomer, author of the Little Book of Leadership said it best, "Your people are a direct reflection of you. They watch you. They follow you. They measure you. They listen to you. If you want them to be dedicated to you, you have to be dedicated to them."

Through your words, actions and deeds, you set the foundation for building an environment of trust and respect.

Trust is the key to both managing people and building a high performance company. It is the foundation on which relationships are built. According to Tom Peters, "Technique and technology are important. But adding trust is the issue of the decade." Peters suggests that managers must take a "high-tech and high-trust" approach, putting the issue of trust at the top of the agenda and treating it like a "hard issue, not a soft issue." If employees feel you don't trust them to do their jobs correctly and well, they'll be reluctant to do much without your approval. On the other hand, when they feel trusted that you believe they'll do the right things well, they'll naturally want to do things to the best of their ability and be deserving of your trust.

In On Becoming a Leader, Warren Bennis outlines the four ingredients for leaders to generate and sustain trust:

1. Constancy. Whatever surprises leaders themselves may face, they don't create any for the group. Leaders stay the course.

2. Congruity. Leaders walk their talk. In true leaders, there is no gap between the theories they espouse and the life they practice.

3. Reliability. Leaders are there when it counts; they are ready to support their co-workers in the moments that matter.

4. Integrity. Leaders honor their commitments and promises.

While corporate scandals, terrorist threats, office politics, and broken relationships have created low trust on almost every front, I contend that the ability to establish, grow, extend, and restore trust is not only vital to our personal and interpersonal well-being, it is the key leadership competency of the new global economy.

I am also convinced in every situation, nothing is as fast as the speed of trust.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

A Word About Taper

It is December very soon and this means we are taking our team to a championship meet to reap the rewards of the last three months of training. And of course they love to taper; you know, less work, less yardage, more fun, out early, visualization practice at the end of a shortened dry land session.

There is another aspect to this time of year and it revolves around the most important muscle in the athlete’s body: confidence.

Without confidence there is no glory, personal or otherwise. No matter the amount of work, the stroke technique, the new muscles, the faster workout times, without very real and believable confidence the races just will not be there.

Of course, coaches always know best when it comes to taper time; we reduce the total number of yards/meters swum and the ratio of work to cruising yards changes as well.

But if the athlete doesn’t believe then we are actually not right but indeed very wrong…and no coach worth her/his salt wants to be in that position. So, how to make sure we are right involves a ton of very close listening.

Just the other day one of our more highly visible athletes said “I trust you Don, but I am not sure that I am doing enough work.” Man that was very important to hear. We have all the graphs and charts with yardage and effort but it isn’t resonating with this swimmer.

Athletes at every level, rank beginner to top notch pro, are always “checking the oil” as Ken says. You know every few repeats they want you to look at their stroke, tell them if they look fast or quick or whatever…they are telling you they are getting nervous. So when they start checking their oil, we call them on it by saying, “Do you check the oil every time you get in your car?” Of course they don’t! But the car will not run without oil so why don’t you check it every time? The reason is that you trust it, and your engine warning light.

Same with our swimmers heading into December, getting on an airplane, travelling to a big meet, lots at risk here, so better check the oil…but not every day, several times a day! If they trust you AND it FEELS right then all is well…athletes and coaches need trust and the FEEL.

So what I am going to do with this particular athlete is have a frank conversation and listen very well. I believe the answer is to give this swimmer a slightly higher load of work, one that is more recognizable and familiar while still staying within acceptable boundaries of total yards and work to rest ratios.

Having said all of this, we can tell you for certain, that it is always better to be more confident than trained “properly”. We can also tell you that we will make whatever adjustment is necessary to make sure the athlete feels in the right groove when it counts the most.

It is, after all, about them; not us. Have a great week at the pool and we will do the same!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Difference Between Trials and Finals

We are at a final tune up meet this weekend in Concord, CA. It is a dress rehearsal if you will prior to our championship meet(s) in early and mid-December. This meet has lots of value to our swimmers since it marks the first competition since we have shifted our focus from base building to speed building. From now until we go to the big meets in December it is all about speed gathering. So at this meet we are checking to see where we are in the transition from “capacity to utilization” (to borrow from Bob Bowman – coach for Mr. Phelps).

This particular meet is very helpful because it has trials (prelims) and finals. If you are fast enough to be in the top 30 (it is a 10 lane pool with A, B, and C finals) in trials you get a second swim. It is of great value to have this second swim because rarely does everything go perfectly and so the swimmers get a chance to redo their swim and make necessary adjustments. (Wouldn’t it be nice to have a second chance on that last sales call that didn’t go perfectly; a chance to say things a little differently or perhaps to appear a little less eager?)

And this brings us to the point of goal setting and more importantly to goal resetting. Athletes and most high level performers in any walk of life have goals. Those goals set our level of expectation and give us something to strive for on a daily basis. They also keep our focus sharp when it comes time to deliver. Having said that, when an athlete reaches her goal then what? When the salesman closes the sale then what?

At this meet we have had numerous swims that exceeded expectations for this time of year. We can tell you that it has been a great opportunity for our swimmers to practice resetting their goals. If you do not yet possess this skill, what happens is that you flat line once you have reached your intended target. Then you miss out on the opportunity that gaining that night time swim affords.

Greg Troy is the coach of the US Men’s Team for 2012 London. At the recent ASCA Clinic he admonished all coaches who have swimmers planning on making the US Olympic Team to prepare for two meets. Many swimmers fall into the trap of wanting to make the Olympic Team and once they do they are so happy/relieved that their Olympic swims do not quite measure up.

Once a swimmer has a good race and “makes a final” as is happening here in Concord, we are encouraging/challenging them to reset their level of expectations. Doing so is a skill set unto itself…and a remarkable handy one to own. It is not for purchase anywhere; you simply need to decide you want it…and then go and earn it by practicing it.

And as Ken says, if all else fails, at least when you go out really fast in the finals, if the wheels come off then you will die a noble death. This is another reason he is the Head Coach of North Bay Aquatics!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Keep Your Ears Open

You know the old one about having two ears, two eyes and one mouth. Just the other morning at Masters we heard this one…a classic!

Maggie was leaving the pool a tad early…something about what we refer to as “employment issues”…Germana was still hanging in there gearing up for one last round of our main set. She was doing some of the usual stuff – you know, about how she might be a little tired… (We are smiling here as we recall the scene).

Then Maggie drops the quote of the day, week, month, year – you pick it – on Germana, “Are you getting over the fear of swimming fast?”

We then asked Maggie to clarify and she said, “We talk about not going out 95 percent because we fear the physical outcome. Is this common?”

Yes Maggie, Germana and everyone. It is one of the most common concerns any athlete faces. If you go out “hard” you probably will “die.” However, if you can figure out how to go out “fast” you then have a chance at doing something magical…reaching a new level of performance.

You have two months left in 2011. Perhaps discovering how to go out fast in a swim rather than hard is a worthwhile goal for the remainder of this year. Practice it in workouts; practice it in any meets you have; practice it in the season ending Tri; keep practicing the art of easy early speed and you will discover the magic and fun of super-fast times. (Coaching tip – save your legs for the second half…oh, and breathe)

It is a thrill worth pursuing. Have some fun!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Ken’s Magic Kick Set

If you have a team like ours, you have some really fast and capable kickers and some pretty fast and then some who are working on it but not there yet. Ken came up with a great kick set that generated excellent energy. One of the brilliant components is that the entire training group got to “get up and go” together. There was excellent team dynamics when we did this set. You can adjust the intervals to meet your needs. These were done in a 25 yard pool. Have fun and tell us what you think!

Group 1 is going on a 1:20 per 100 send off

Group 2 is going on a 1:33 per 100 send off

Group 3 is going on a 1:40 per 100 send off

Each group begins together.

Group 1 goes 8x75 kick on the 1:00 interval.

Group 2 goes 7x75 kick (they start from the other end of the pool) on the 1:10 interval

Group 3 goes 6x75 kick on the 1:20 interval

After the 75’s the entire team rests for 30 seconds and then everyone goes 4 x 100 on the 2:00 interval, progressive (descending). The goal is to record your best 100 kick time on #4.

Then we went a second round of the entire set, both 75’s and 4 x 100 aiming for an even faster final 100 kick.

The beauty of this was that everyone was able to make their 75 send offs even though it was very challenging and the whole pool was alive with kicking energy no matter what your own interval was. Then the team came together on the 4 x 100 and really got involved in each other’s success. It was spectacular…which is why Ken is the Head Coach.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Which Ones and How Many?

It is a common thread of discussion among swimmers and parents concerning practices: which ones are really important and how many do I really need to attend?

Not surprisingly coaches do not ask these questions. They already know the answer: all of them!

Swim coaches get frustrated when athletes miss workouts. We have a plan for what we accomplish every day…or at least what we aim to accomplish. So why, we ask ourselves, would any swimmer miss a training session?

Let’s set aside the usual and very real reasons – illness, family emergency, unexpected school work and or tutoring.

If you play on the football team, soccer team or lacrosse team and miss every Thursday because you are getting tired from training you will not play in the game on Saturday. Why, because you have missed some important practice time that is relevant to the game itself.

When a swimmer misses a day here and there are they really prepared to race on the weekend? Well, yes and no. Yes - because they know how to swim and race and have entered the meet. No - because they have missed valuable practice time that affects their ability to race up to their current potential.

We are talking here about the senior swimmer or senior want-to-be. The younger age groupers have other sport activities and school interests (the school play) which are very valid things in which to participate.

At some point however, if the youngster really wants to see what she can do with the sport she needs to commit to it…and that means to going to every practice, not just the ones she wants to or can fit in due to her social schedule.

Every year we have seniors who miss out on a college opportunity due to being a second slower in their 100 free than what the college needs. Is this the end of the world? Of course not! Having said that, every time a swimmer misses a training session there is a cost to that absence.

Not terribly dissimilar to the fact that every day you don’t show up to work there is a cost. Or to put it into more precise terms, if a student missed a day once a week of math class then he doesn’t get to complain too loudly about his grade suffering…nor does his parent(s).

If you are older and swimming is important to you – get to the pool. If you are younger and swimming intrigues you – get to the pool. As one of our soon to be famous swimmers said a year or so ago, “You don’t get faster with your head on the pillow.” We couldn’t say it any better, so we won’t. See you at the pool soon – like today!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

2 Questions

We have been working on the importance of self-evaluation after races. Our new season has begun and we have had two rather low key one day meets. This brings us quickly back to the subject of times.

Swimmers, and we guess runners and golfers, are plagued by the value assigned to times and scorecards. Very often we tend to look first at the time, make an evaluation and then attempt to rationalize it. “That was a great time for early in the season.” “I can expect to go much faster when I get in better shape.” “I will certainly be able to do better when I get in shape and then shave and taper.” The list goes on…and on ad nauseam.

The real comeuppance happens later in the season when we do not “get what we want” or come up short of our expectations.

So how do we handle the results/outcomes of these early season races in such a way that they have a positive impact on the rest of the season?

We are suggesting to our team the following and we trust that it has some value to you as well…without getting preachy you can of course see how this applies to closing a sale with a new account or getting an existing customer to “buy into” your next offering.

If the swim doesn’t go the way you intended ask yourself, “What am I going to do about it?” This means on the technical and the physical level. Do I need to improve my technique and or my conditioning?

If the swim goes as planned or even exceeds current expectations ask, “What am I going to do with this?” This means how can I use this performance to leverage myself into a higher level of expectation for the next outing?

So, we are encouraging our team to use whatever outcome is realized in a positive forward thinking/moving manner. After all, we are in the business of progress!

Have a great week in and out of the pool…

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Some Really Good Insights

Here at North Bay Aquatics we are very fortunate to have David Winters leading the charge with our Pre-senior and Senior 2 groups. He is assisted by Simon and Greg. This is an exceptionally gifted group of coaches. They are mature adults who have a wide range of experience. They love working with developing youngsters and it shows both in the results and the smiles on the faces of the swimmers. Personally we think the latter is more important…but that is our bias.

Meets are a huge factor in the development of young swimmers. It gives them feedback on how they are progressing and what specific items they can focus on for the next round of training. The following four points went out in an email from David just after a recent meet. We share this with you in hopes it helps you with your team or young swimmer. We especially liked #3.

Have a great week in and out of the pool!

  • Know the pace of a meet. Look at a program and see how many swimmers are competing in events prior to your event. Divide the number by “8” (if eight lanes are being used per heat) and that’s how many heats. Then multiple by 3 minutes for a 200 and one and a half to two minutes for a 100. For 500’s figure five and a half minutes to six minutes per heat. All this takes time and experience but it can ease your mind. Another way to know when to swim is to study the “time line” which I usually email to parents prior to a meet if available or find a time line posted at the meet. The coaches can also give some ideas of the pacing of the meet.
  • Prior to racing let’s warm-up. We warm-up at each practice so we need to warm-up prior to racing. My groups rehearse warm-ups prior to meets in practice. Many have specific warm-ups they need to accomplish at certain meets. The warm-up is to prepare your body and mind to race. It requires an elevated heart rate so there needs to be some fast swimming in warm-ups prior to the start of the meet. I also need to see everyone in our pace lanes and start lanes to practice off blocks and to rehearse our pacing for your events. Do not forget to swim down after pace and starts. Prior to your race please warm-up!!!. Some on our team have to swim a little faster than easy in this portion of warm-up because of pre-race anxiety. Some like to go from warm-up pool right to the blocks. Others like to warm-up and dry 5-10 minutes prior to their race. This takes several meets to figure out the best strategy for the swimmer and their racing.
  • Warming down after races: This is really important!!!!! After the swimmer races they can visit the coaches and then warm-down or warm-down and then visit the coaches. Ideally I want 15-20 minutes of warm-down or 8 x 100. While this seems like a lot to many consider this one: If I told your swimmer that the practice was going to be a fast 100 from the blocks, then 8 x 100 cooling down then a fast 200 from the blocks followed by 8 x 100 cool down, plus a fast 100 followed by 8 x100’s, the swimmer would think it was the easiest practice ever. One missed warmed down can affect all the other swims down the line that day.
  • Never breathe at the end of races. We work on holding our breath in fly and free the last 7.5 meters from the finish at practice. Holding your breath will allow for a faster time at the end.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Goal Setting at the Beginning of a New Season

The way our season is set up here in Northern California we have 4 training blocks. The Fall season is the most important in our eyes as it is the longest and therefore has the biggest chance for training our swimmers’ capacity for physiological change. It is also the beginning of the “Swim Year” 2011-2012 which is an Olympic Year which has a very significant impact on attention and focus. All coaches and swimmers, regardless of ability, can use this to boost their individual game, feeding upon the emotional charge of those aiming for London. Also, there are several swimmers who will make the US Team that no one is considering today here in early October. It happens every single time.

So, this is a perfect time to revisit the subject of goal setting. This is the handout that will go to our swimmers at North Bay Aquatics at tomorrow’s team meeting. See if there is something here that will help you; and as always, let us know how it is going for you!

Goal Setting Process

This is not the only way to work when setting your goals. It is, however, a proved process and we suggest you consider the steps before moving forward. You will need a paper and pencil and a little time. You can begin whenever you want, take a pause in the steps, and then return as time allows. We do know this for certain, no one in history has ever made a significant improvement – and retained it – without writing a goal down. Please, at the very least do that much.

Step One: Take Responsibility.

If you are not responsible for something you cannot change it so this is the first and most important step. For instance, if you want to break 2:00 in the 200 and to do so you will need to get into really good shape and have excellent technique, then you need to be responsible for that part of the process. No one is keeping you from doing that.

Step Two: Investigate and Eliminate.

You are going to ask yourself a few questions so here is where the paper and pencil come in handy.

1 – Ask yourself what it is you want. Write it down…sub 2 minutes for the 200.

2 – Ask, why I want this. Write it down…I want this because it will qualify me for the next big meet; it will improve my chances for being on the A relay; it will help my college prospects.

3 – This one may seem counterintuitive but it is very important. Ask yourself why you do NOT want this to happen. Now you may wonder about this one…but of course I want this, why wouldn’t I? Well, let’s consider this for a minute…Now the coaches will expect more from me; to really get this I will have to miss some social functions and those may actually be more fun; I’m not sure I want the pressure of competing at this faster level…

The point here is that there are going to be ramifications in your current life if you actually dig in and make a change – said another way, if you set a goal, work toward it and then achieve it your life will be different and you need to be ready for that difference.

The main purpose of this second step is to find what you want and to eliminate those things that will stand in your way.

Keep in mind that the number one thing people resist is change; even if it is for the better! This is not rocket science. The way to change anything in your life: 1 – eliminate what isn’t working for you and 2 – replace it with what you want.

If you know your stroke needs tuning up then simply do it…that is, work on the things you know need fixing. Ask one of us to help you. And then do it. Stop “trying” and start “doing”. Even if you are only able to do it correctly for a lap or two before you get tired. Start now and work forward from this point. Think about this sentence: It takes preparation and work to make a change, large or small, but it does not take time. It may take time for anyone to notice the change but it doesn’t take time to make the change.

So, get your pencil and paper out and start the process. Think about what you would like to have happen – short, mid and long term, as we discussed last week. Even you polo players can begin the process. And of course you can do this for your polo season as well.

Sooner than later we need you to turn in your goal sheets so we can look them over and share our feedback with you. This doesn’t need to happen today but it does need to happen. Spend some time thinking about why you want what you want and then some time why you may not want it. In the end, we need you to come up with a few goals that you are willing to work toward.

This season is going to be a very special one for our team, and that means for you. To capture the full opportunity we all need focus. Goals give us that focus; goals give each day meaning and purpose. Very few things match the satisfaction of a person who knows what she/he wants and is “willing and able” to execute the plan. We will help provide the “able”; you let us know about the “willing”.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Old Book and Its Cover Thing

On most Saturdays I get a nice long walk before our 10:00 AM long course workout. I go an hour or so with some hills involved. This past weekend I didn’t have time to go to Phoenix Lake so I began by climbing the 139 steps in downtown Larkspur. What a glorious morning it turned out to be. I met Zvi and heard a bit of his story first hand. He was coming down and I was going up and he said, “Good morning young man!” He declared he was 86. I walked a little more on the streets at the top of the stairs ending up down below, and then started up again. When I saw him coming down from yet another round of climbing I asked him if he was still 86. He then told me,” I am going to brag to you.” And he did, telling me the story below (he didn’t mention the parade part).

Zvi Danenberg – The Lord of the Steps

July 7, 2010

Ki exercise, By Dov Michaeli

Every year on the fourth of July, my wife and fellow blogger, Pat Salber and I follow a routine that is, by now, one of our hallowed traditions. At 12 noon sharp, we walk down the hill from our house to the main street of our small Marin County town, Larkspur, California, to watch what must be at once the funkiest and most heart-warming parade in America.

The Larkspur mayor rides in a 1950’s white convertible, our representative in the California Assembly (what’s his name?) sits on the back seat of another fancy-dancy car, waving affably to a crowd as uncertain of who he is as we are. Next come vehicles bearing various local heroes (volunteer of the year, presidents of local chapters of national organizations, and local politicians holding offices we don’t remember voting for). Each of these local luminaries makes great contributions to our quality of life and we are happy to applaud them as they revel in their 15 minutes of fame.

There are also lots of vintage military vehicles (tanks, trucks, jeeps, etc.) courtesy of a local Military Vehicle museum. The liveliest parts of the parade take place when flat-bed trucks carrying high school bands and local wanna-be rockers stop and share their music. For some reason, not clear to me, there are also two bagpipe bands (loud applause ) -in kilts – enchanting the crowd with traditional Scottish music. A gay band with baton twirler, moms marching with their kids, the SPCA and a health care group advocating a single payer health care system, and, well you get the picture: a uniquely Northern California celebration.

This year, one parading vehicle caught my eye. It was a blue-grey convertible carrying an “older” guy sitting on the top of the back seat, hat tilted at a tantalizing angle, smiling and waving to everyone. What compelled me to lift my eyes from reading the news on my Kindle was the enthusiastic applause (as opposed to the politely tepid hand-clapping the local pillars of the community received) , the shout-outs from the people around us , and the throngs of folks running up to him to try shake his hand. A sign on the side of the car proclaimed “Zvi Dannenberg is 85. He has climbed 2 million stairs since 2009″. Clearly, we were in the presence of a local celebrity.

Once we got back home, I started to investigate “just who is Zvi Danenberg?” Here is what I learned. Zvi Danenberg is an 85 year old local (Marin County) legend. Since January 2009, he has climbed more than 2 million stairs, usually bounding two stairs at a time. Now, these are not just any run of the mill office building stairs, rather they are concrete stairs built into a steep Larkspur hillside to provide a “short cut” from the main street to the hillside homes. Everyone in Larkspur knows Zvi. He is a local work-out hero. A fellow stair-climber from the UK, in true British fashion, anointed him “The Lord of the Steps.” Even the City Council took time off from their weighty issues of sewers and planning commission variances to issue a proclamation in his honor.

So, I asked myself, just what compels Zvi to do what he does? I could not contain my curiosity, so I looked him up in the local phone book and gave him a call. I was expecting an amusing story; instead I was rewarded with an inspiration. Here is what he told me:

He started suffering from a nagging low back pain in his late 50’s. His doctor recommended he take up walking. Dutifully, he walked every street and trail in the area before becoming terribly bored with the whole thing. One day, when some young women jogged by, he decided to join them. He told me that he was utterly winded after 100 yards, but he was also totally sold on the sport.

Gradually Zvi increased his running distance to 8 miles, which he ran every morning, seven days a week. When “my boy Clinton”, as he put it, was elected in 1992, he celebrated by running an additional eight miles that afternoon. He continued to “celebrate” for next 15 years: 8 miles in the morning and 8 in most afternoons.

In April of 2007, one of his knees gave out and, on his doctor’s advice; he had knee replacement surgery and ended his running career. However, nothing can keep a good man down for too long. Soon after his surgery, Zvi took up stair climbing and the rest as they say is (local) history. BTW, did I mention that he also does 100 pushups and 100 sit ups every morning?

As I was listening to Zvi’s story, I asked myself, “Is that all”? (As if it wasn’t enough). But, no, I learned as we continued to talk, there is so much more. He is also a classical music aficionado; he owns a collection of 18,000 CDs and vinyl records of every conceivable classical work. And he is attends over 40 classical music concerts every year.

In the recent studies about the genetic study of extreme longevity, we made the point that even with the ideal genetic makeup; the wrong lifestyle can do you in before your longevity genes kick in. Genes are not destiny. Lifestyle makes significant contributions to your ability to live a long and healthy life. What better proof is there than Zvi Danenberg, the Lord of the Steps?

I love it when I meet people that push what most of us think are the limits of human accomplishment. They are role models for the rest of us. I salute you – and thank you – Zvi Danenberg. You are an inspiration for the rest of us.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Keep The Love-Light On

John Caughlin

C/o The Dorsey's

1210 Green Orchard Place

Encinitas, CA 92024

Every now and then we MUST look to a greater power for strength.

Today that power is John Caughlin.

On Saturday September 3rd John participated in the Annual Maui Channel Swim. Instead of being a part of the numerous relays he decided this year he would give it a go solo. He made all the usual sacrifices to get himself ready. And was he ready! Many of his friends and fellow swimmers were going with him – spiritually. Some of you who read this blog are already open water compatriots of John’s – even though you perhaps have never met him. Some of you have swum the English Channel. Some of you have swum in the Sea of Cortez, or the Gulf of the Farallons.

Suffice it to say that all long distance open water swimmers share many bonds.

John was about 200 yards from shore and the finish when he made a defensive move to protect himself from a power boat, raising his arms to protect his head. As a result of the collision John suffered life changing injuries to both arms. His right arm was amputated above his elbow and he lost the thumb and forefinger on his left hand.

The lingering image from that tragedy is seen in his picture…what a smile of inspiration! Make certain that smile is indelibly etched in your memory forever. Next time you think you are having a tough day remember John’s smile. That’s all you need to keep moving forward. It is actually that simple.

John and his sister Jennifer (at his side in the picture) arrived in Southern California on Saturday the 17th of September. John is spending some time with his family at the address above.

His words…”I had my swim and then I had an accident. I will come back sooner than later and finish the swim.” Awesome attitude doesn’t really capture the power of John Caughlin.

Before email, text and twitter there was snail mail. It still works today. Maybe send John a note, card, flowers, something…let him know you are with him…we are certain you will make a difference in his life just as he has in yours.

Be grateful when you go in the water this week…

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Good Ideas from Two Different Venues

Last weekend we went to the Sausalito Art and Music Festival. There was an enormous amount of creativity on display and it was obvious talking with many of the artists that no matter their medium they all were engaged in some personal pursuit, using their art to express themselves.

Richard Starks who does Hand Crafted Metal Sculptures has this to say:

WISDOM is knowing what to do.

SKILL is knowing how to do it well.

VIRTUE is doing it well.

We will remember that the next time we walk onto the pool deck!

This weekend we attended the 42nd Annual World Swimming Coaches Clinic sponsored by the American Swimming Coaches Association. Coaches from all over the world attended sharing ideas and information about this fabulous sport. One of the recurring themes was that this sport of ours is a vehicle for teaching life lessons…that we all seek the “Aha” moment both in the pool and in life.

John Casadia is an ASCA Level 5 (the highest level) coach and former teacher from Vineland School District in New Jersey. He had this to say:

“If you always do what you always did you will always get what you already got.”

We will remember this when we plan our next workout and then walk on the deck to deliver it to our athletes.

Have an awesome week!

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Looking for the Elusive 1%

Ken was talking to the team (Ken DeMont, Head Coach, North Bay Aquatics) last week about our successes of the last season. It was a great way to begin the fall training block…how we can build off of our recent swims, that sort of thing. Then he led a particularly effect discussion. He asked the team “What if we swam just 1% faster, what would that have done for us?”

He used specific examples of many of our swimmers and some of their fastest swims, ending each example with the specific result of a 1% improvement. Numerous kids would have made finals at Sectionals or Jr. Nationals or gotten their Jr. National or Sr. National cuts or even Olympic Trial’s cuts.

It was a real eye opener for the team…and a stroke of coaching genius by Ken. We only trained 3 days last week, giving everyone the 4 day weekend. Next week will be a 4 day training week and then we get rolling into the normal flow of things.

Each day this week we have posed the 1% question to them, almost in passing sometimes. It is the kind of thing that the ones who have a passion will latch onto for sure. It is also very possible that it will reach some of the others who are deciding (maybe even subconsciously) whether to jump in with both feet and explore the possibilities.

Try this exercise with your team or for yourself…then let us know how it goes. Have a great week at the pool!

Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Real Power of College Swimming

Madison just left our team to swim at Rice University. She texted last week the following, “I’m really excited about the swimming here. I think it’s the perfect fit and I love working out. On the other hand I am getting less and less confident about having success in my classes. All these people are Alan Jabri (a teammate of hers here at North Bay Aquatics who was a recent National Merit Scholar – now at Princeton) and know what they want! Ahg…

This was our reply.

“The team will get you through school. Be honest about your concerns, so they can help you. That’s part of why they are there – to help. I (Don Swartz) nearly flunked out in the fall of my freshman year (Middlebury College). Everyone was so smart and competitive in the classroom. But I hung in there and actually figured out how to do it. The process of figuring it out was the biggest thing college did for me – easily the biggest. You are a successful person. You proved that in your swimming. Success crosses many fields, including academics.”

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Lao Tzu

A stone sculpture of Laozi, located north of Quanzhou at the foot of Mount Qingyuan

As we begin our new season, the one leading up to the Olympic Trials in Omaha in 2012 where the Olympic Team for London will be chosen we consider this quote attributed to Lao Tzu,

“When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.”

Every time we begin anew, it is imperative to give ourselves a chance to really grow into what we can become. A certain part of that process requires that we let go of the past paradigms such that we can find new “truths” about what is “real” for us.

This applies to coaches as well as swimmers and includes parents. We encourage each of you to carefully assess what is “true” about your role in the process of helping others attain their goals, fulfill their dreams.

There are swimmers today that no one is considering who will make the 2012 Olympic Team. It happens every four years. Likewise, there are swimmers and coaches and parents who will leap ahead in their respective roles this year making a tremendous difference in the lives they touch.

Be one of them.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Training vs. Racing

Every now and then we ponder the question of what is more important for a competitive swimmer, training or racing?

At first glance it seems obvious that each is very important and that without one the other has very little meaning. Upon further reflection we believe that racing is actually much more important than training.

In terms of competitive sports we cannot think of a sport where this is not the case. Games, matches, races – it matters not what the sport is, what counts in competitive action is the competition.

Without competition, there is no feedback on the training being performed. An athlete might be in excellent condition but without the race or game she doesn’t have any way to measure the effectiveness of her training.

He might be training wonderfully but his skills may not be useful for the competition. How often can a quarterback throw passes in practice but when in the game, the speed of the action confuses him and his passes are no longer accurate.

We just finished our summer of swim racing and had many excellent competitive efforts. We also had some that fell short of the mark, especially when compared to the training we had seen. So obviously we as coaches and they as swimmers missed something. Without the meet at the end when everything was “on the line”, we would have not known that we were missing our target.

This is not a bad thing by any means. It is very valuable since none of the swimmers in question had their final career swim last week. The learning continues and the opportunities for redemption are there for the taking. It is up to the coaches and the athletes to work together with honest assessment on both sides with the common goal being resolution of the shortcomings.

There is a continuous loop running; training, race, evaluate. You can step into the cycle at either the training or racing step but evaluation cannot take place without the racing.

One could almost make the case that a swimmer would be better served racing 20 days a month and training 2 or 3 days a month…though we don’t think that will ever happen. What we did learn this summer from some of our college swimmers was that they believe they didn’t race nearly enough after their college season ended, in either February or March. Many waited until late June to race and they all said it was a mistake.

Maybe a better cycle would be to train for 3 or 4 days, rest a day, then race for a day…sounds like the NFL. The NBA plays 82 games without half as many practices once the season begins. MLB plays 162 games with virtually no workouts.

So, what do you think? How often should a swimmer race? What kind of ratio would be most beneficial when you consider training vs. racing?

And, do you think a non-competitive swimmer would benefit by entering a race now and then, either in the pool or open water? Let us know and have a great finish to your summer!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

The Value of One More Race

Here’s a little snap shot from the end of this summer’s racing season that tells a big story. It comes from JD who is a breaststroker from our North Bay Aquatics club team who also swims at the University of Arizona.

JD had knee surgery this last college season which meant he red-shirted his most recent season. It is tough to sit on the sidelines watching your teammates move forward while you wait for your body to heal. Ask anyone who has had to go through this process and they will tell you it is far more difficult than any training regimen they have had to endure. Athletes love to work out and compete. It is in their “blood” and when they must sit they tend to go a little crazy.

And then they must get back into the flow. The reactions to re-entry are as varied as the individuals themselves. We can tell you that JD was grateful to be back training. This summer he had a few races but nothing compared to the normal cycle he would have had but for the injury.

He figured he would go to a couple of meets then qualify for Summer Nationals and everything would be back to normal. Except that it didn’t go exactly like that.

He struggled with his racing, trying to find rhythm, pacing, tempo and his place in the pool in general. He was unsuccessful in getting his qualifying time. He went to an extra meet, our California Sectional meet, for another chance but still fell short. But the maddening part wasn’t so much the time he swam but the lack of “feel” in the races.

So…he went to one more meet. This one was the same weekend as Nationals so the level of competition was not as high as the previous meets. But it was still a chance to get up on the blocks and go racing, to work out the kinks.

The following are his texts after swimming his final 100 breaststroke of the summer.

“1:06 at night (in the finals). Came back much better - in terms of time, flow- than I did any other meet this summer. (We said we knew racing this one last time in a meet of no real significance would pay big dividends down the road) Yeah, I agree. Tonight was the first time this summer that I hit a second gear. I think what was most lacking in my summer was racing before I had to shave. Tonight was extremely valuable in setting me up for the fall season (meaning his collegiate season).”

So we say big CONGRATULATIONS to JD for sticking to it, working through it and having the inner strength to keep his resolve. This is an obvious life lesson we all would do well to remember. Thanks for sharing JD. We appreciate you a ton!

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Courage & Brains

Last week we took our Senior Team to Clovis to race at Sectionals. Our theme was to race with courage and brains. In essence we said to get after the swims with some energy, stick your neck out a little – courage, giving yourself a chance for a breakthrough. If this was done with some brains, as opposed to reckless abandon, then you could get home and have a great swim. Almost to a swim, everyone should courage. Every now and then the brains got left at the block and the swim turned south somewhat. Yet for the most part we were hugely successful. We had 23 swimmers turn in a collective 78 best times, including relay splits.

Now comes the task of regrouping for Junior Nationals in two weeks at Stanford. We’d like to share with you our approach as we build back up, readying ourselves for another round of high level racing.

We are looking at the process (this whole game is process driven!) from a slightly different angle: the difference between being able and being willing. We are challenging our swimmers to be able one more time. They certainly have the confidence from Sectionals. We want them to simultaneously be willing.

We went to the dictionary and shared with them the information below.

Definition of Able




Fit; adapted; suitable.


Having sufficient power, strength, force, skill, means, or resources of any kind to accomplish the object; competent; qualified; capable; as, an able workman, soldier, seaman, a woman able to work; a mind able to reason; able to endure pain;


Specially: Having intellectual qualifications, or strong mental powers; showing ability or skill; talented; clever; powerful;

Definition of Willing




Free to do; having the mind inclined; disposed; not averse; desirous; consenting; complying; ready.


Received of choice, or without reluctance; submitted to voluntarily; chosen; desired.


Spontaneous; self-moved.

As coaches, we know – and they know – they are able. The key to racing well again is the willing part of the equation. That will be our focus for the next two weeks.

We expect it to go very well. We’ll let you know!