Sunday, January 29, 2012

Teaching Life Lessons

As coaches we often spend a lot of time teaching life lessons…perhaps a more accurate way to say this is that we allow swimming to teach the lessons and then we reinforce them. This weekend we were at a swim meet. In preparation for the meet we declared in our team meeting that we would all give our very best effort, in all events regardless of how we felt in the water. We are smack dab in the midst of heavy training and these meets are an important guide post for us as coaches and for the team as swimmers. They tell us if we are on the correct path – or not. But for us to be able to use the races as an indicator each swimmer needs to
“lay it out there” for us (we and them) to be able to evaluate where we are in the training cycle.

One of our swimmers didn’t do this. In fact the swimmer did the exact opposite in the 100 free. Part way through the race the swimmer pulled the plug and coasted the last 50. We were not pleased since this went in the exact opposite direction of our stated team goal for the meet. We asked the swimmer “Why” and the reply was “I don’t know” to which we replied “That’s not an answer; it’s a cop out”. A short somewhat intense conversation ensued. The result was the swimmer was suspended from the team until this issue could be resolved.

Later that evening we received the following email from the swimmer. We share it with you since we believe it demonstrates in no uncertain terms exactly how swimming teaches life lessons. We are very proud of our teammate for the response and the articulated lesson learned. Now of course we will hold this swimmer accountable for the last sentence in the reply.

Job well done – coaches and swimmer!

So I was thinking about what you both said today, and I realized that you were right. When I look back at a few hours ago, my behavior was unacceptable, and I was being obstinate. When I was swimming freestyle, my overall morale was a bit low, and (at) that point I had to ask myself why I was swimming. Why am I expending my energy on an event that is not my best event? Who cares if I go slow in an event in which I am not expected to go fast? At first, I thought I was swimming to get a time. I thought that, since I could not achieve a fast time, my efforts would be futile. There would be no point in trying. And so I did exactly that. I let my emotions control my actions, and I gave up. However, looking back on that swim, I realize my choice of actions was incorrect, and my past behavior was very infantile. Sure part of swimming is going fast and getting the time, but the other part is representing your team. I did a terrible job of upholding my end of the bargain, and I took too much from the team. I misrepresented both of you, and I denigrated the North Bay name. I failed all of my teammates, and for these things I am truly sorry. I acted as a terrible example to the team, and I fully accept the repercussions for my actions. I disrespected both of you, and I am truly sorry I dishonored the team. From now on, I give you my word that I will never do that again, and I will claim ownership to all of my actions, good or bad.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

TWO KEYS TO SUCCESS or possibly THE two keys to success

One of our high school boys was just offered a spot as a walk-on to a major Division I university swim team. As a result of this offer he was granted admission to the school and helped with a modest academic scholarship. He was told that if he swims fast enough he will also be granted some athletic scholarship assistance.
What a day for this young man!

Indeed what a day for our entire team...

What came with this offer was the following statement from one of the coaches at that university. "What he needs to do between now and this fall is show up every day and separate himself from the common Marin County boy."

Wherever you live there are "common" traits for youth in your area. Here in Marin County California some of the common traits include parents setting expectations very high for their kids; plenty of money to make life at the very least comfortable - some would say cushy; a car to drive when you hit 16; enough money to go to swim meets, buy new gear, not have to work a job (or even a summer job) and in general smooth out the bumps in the road. Parents here don't let their kids fail (at least not very often).

At the risk of generalizing you can drop a blanket over most of the population of the youth in any given area and not miss too many of them. They look and behave much like one another. Sociologists will tell you that the great enigma in any group of humans is that they simultaneously want to stand out from their peers while being a member of the group.

In our team meeting last week Ken put this challenge for our swimmer so beautifully, so succinctly. "Yes, it is important to show up every day. That, in and of itself is not enough. You must be willing to be uncommon." His call to action was for our team to look at what they are doing and figure out how their goals can be met. A very large part of their success will depend upon their willingness - individually and collectively - to separate themselves from the common Marin County youngster.

Be successful. Be uncommon.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Dry Land & Wet Land

Swim coaches know the value of dry land exercise. We all look for the routines and exercises that will help our athletes get stronger. The main goal of course is to build strength and stability while making those gains functional. To that end we also incorporate stretching and general flexibility making certain muscles are used in a full range of motion. Think of swimmers doing pull ups but only dropping down to the point where their arms are bent at 90 degrees as an example of limited range of motion. We want them to be strong throughout the entire length of the stroke so it is better to do fewer repetitions using your body weight or the same number of repetitions with free weights or machines using less resistance but going through the full range of motion of any particular exercise.

You can also incorporate your dry land routine into the pool creating another environment for training: wet land.

Wet land means several different things but basically it revolves around doing strenuous movements that are very nearly the same as swimming but with an increased load. These exercises come in as many different forms as your imagination can contrive.

A simple one is kicking with tennis shoes on. You then have the three forms of kicking; 1- with fins, 2- regular, 3 – with tennis shoes. Add some ankle weights if you want even more resistance. Put on a parachute and kick. If your program has money to burn buy some power towers and kick against that resistance…talk about a work load. If you don’t have money to burn buy a bungee cord, kick out until you hit the resistance point and then kick like you mean it seeing how long you can hang there before succumbing.

Sound a little challenging? Get rid of the kick board and use a metal folding chair. That not tough enough? Open the chair up and see what happens.

We swim with all these things as well as 1 & 2 pound hand weights. We read where Elizabeth Beissel’s club coach gave his stronger kids landscape bricks to hold while they were swimming…the ones with holes in them. We haven’t yet tried that one but you can tell the next step in the progression – swimming with bowling balls…just kidding, sort of…

You can do all these types of things with swimming and pulling. Stretch your imagination. 5 gallon buckets are cheap at Home Depot etc. Look around at what you have poolside then go for it. The kids will love the challenge of something new. They are competitive. Turn up the heat a little and watch what happens. Have pool records for some of this stuff and you’ll see some very high levels of output.

The idea is to take your dry land component and add a wet land factor to it. Or you can substitute wet for dry. So long as you are getting resistance to the muscle and maintaining range of motion it is hard to go wrong.

As always, be sensible. Start small and progress carefully. An injured athlete cannot train let alone race.

Any more ideas out there? Let us know and we will share. Thanks and have an awesome week in the pool!

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Tom Jager

We are at the Pacific Swim Coaches Clinic this weekend. There have been several stimulating and energizing sessions. The lead off coach/speaker was Tom Jager. In addition to being one of the fastest sprinters of all time and a pioneer in the world of professional swimming he clearly learned the value of swimming in the greater sense that it prepares us for life. Tom is currently the Women’s Swim Coach at Washington State University. We really liked his philosophy.

Here are some of the highlights of his presentation.

  • We need to promote our sport. We are so much more than “just a swim coach”.
  • Expectations – we need to be great at more than just one thing…cannot be great just at swimming…find something in school that interests you and be great at that too.
  • Leadership succeeds in all areas and in all economic conditions.
  • The US Navy Seals have discovered that polo players and swimmers have a higher success rate than any other sport’s athletes.
  • College swimming is a game of attrition and attrition is the path to greatness. College swimming is not a participation sport. Club swimming is but once you hit college if you cannot or will not contribute you are done.
  • The recession is great for swimmers because swimmers know about attrition. Swimmers know the value of hard work. Swimming sets you up for success because it is brutally honest in the evaluation process…you are either “in” or you are not.
  • Straightforward honesty is always best.
  • And finally, when you drop the lower performing athletes from a team the upper end always gets faster…always.

We found this to be compelling information presented with an extremely positive outlook from a very dynamic guy. We will add his university to our list of places high school swimmers would be well advised to consider.

Thanks Tom. It was a pleasure to learn from you!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

The Coaching Conundrum

As one year ends it really doesn’t end so much as it runs smack dab into the next one. This is the reality of the swim coach; the season never really ends so much as it morphs into the beginning of the next one carrying with it the ups and downs of the one just finished.

We have been thinking about our team for this winter 2012. We look at the names on the roster. We then assign those names to "categories". Our team may look a lot like yours. We have several kids who are "on a mission" -- meaning they have their goal firmly in sight and they are working passionately toward it on a daily basis. We have a slightly larger group who are "on the bus" -- meaning they come to nearly every workout and really work diligently in pursuit of their success. Then we have an even larger group who seem uncommitted to their success. They write down goals but that process doesn't insure that they will act on them.

This whole exercise reminds us once again of how swim teams (maybe most teams) work and of their makeup.

We have people with ordinary talent who achieve extraordinary results; very rewarding for a coach.

We have people with extraordinary talent who achieve rather ordinary results; frustrating for a coach.

We have people with extraordinary talent who achieve extraordinary results; makes a coach look better than he/she really is. If you catch "lightning in a bottle" as it were, consider yourself very fortunate indeed.

The conundrum is how do we as a coach get the ones with extraordinary talent to pursue with a passion their craft without making it "our"swim? To "babysit" them actually does them a disservice. It is their swim, their career. Our job is to expose the opportunity to them but not enable them to "get away" with wasting their talent.

We know this much for certain ... we don’t know the answers to that question with certainty ... we suppose when we do we will have a waiting list to join our team!

Here's to our mutual (coaches and swimmers alike) success in 2012!