Monday, April 30, 2012

Tough One

This is for the coaches out there. If you are a swimmer it may give you insight into our profession and help you understand the coach with whom you work.

We find the biggest dilemma in our profession is how to reconcile the fact that many times as coaches we "want" it more than our athletes seem to "want" it. Most coaches spend a fair amount of their own personal time simply thinking about ways to get more from a training session, more from an athlete. Many of us have the luxury of a certain amount of time to devote to this "practice" of personal brainstorming. If we are lucky we can sometimes do it with a staff member or a colleague. In my own case I spend an hour or so a day walking for fitness, plus a bunch of time driving around doing different things. Nearly all of that time is spent thinking about swimming - training, racing, dry land, mental prep, pool time, scheduling, arranging groups, fund raising - the list is endless. However, the vast majority of time is spent on figuring out how to enlist more passion from our swimmers.

Many coaches can identify with this. The question that comes to the forefront, at least in our minds is this: how do we/you handle it when the athlete(s) doesn't match our own personal level of commitment? We think it is really important to find that sweet spot, the balance between conveying our personal passion while not getting overly disappointed when our athlete(s) doesn't buy in at the same level.

It is tempting to shrug our shoulders and simply say, "We cannot do it for you"...and yet if we take our foot off the pedal too much, the swimmer senses this immediately and they suffer from being led by someone who doesn't have the same level of enthusiasm for them that might previously have been exhibited.

The other challenge is that you may need to say the same thing, even if in a slightly different way, because as a coach you simply can never know when the message may be heard for literally the first time.

Club coaches at the development level - say through a senior in high school - have a different standard to consider than a college coach or a post grad coach. The latter two levels of coaching profit from the sport being a business more than a personal growth mechanism. Yet at these two levels, there is still the same issue in play. How do you get a pro to treat the pursuit with the passion necessary to achieve the desired goal?

At the end of the day, perhaps this is a question for each coach to answer in the manner that best suits her/his own level of involvement. What works for me may not work very well for you. We just believe strongly that each of us needs to find that proper balance that works for us so we can maintain some sanity. If not, then we are doomed to a career long on anguish, short on rewards...and that would indeed be a shame.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

A Fresh Perspective

We had our annual swim-a-thon event today where we raise money for our team by doing laps and having sponsors sign up with pledges. You probably know how this works so we won't go over it here.

One of our parents had a great idea. Let's have some parent relays and have each swimmer sponsor themselves for "$X" amount per relay. It was an idea that took off like wild fire. We set it up 10 days ago and ended up with four relays, 16 people, who were willing to swim a 50 from the blocks. Turns out that while some have actually been off a starting block years ago, for some it was the first time. And we can tell you that putting parents up there was an eye opener - for them and us!

Many of you think you know how a swimmer feels when they stand on a starting block but until you actually do it yourself you cannot fully comprehend the situation.

To begin with, the platform isn't all that big. And it is up in the air. And it is tilted downward. And there are people watching. And they are making noise. And they are calling your name. And suddenly you become aware of the increased level of expectation, yours and theirs...and, well you get the drift here.

We think every team needs to have a "Parent Night" if nothing else where the parents participate in a friendly relay competition. Today we did a 200 medley and then a 200 free relay. We actually did the 200 free relay as 8x25 since it came 5 minutes after the normal medley relay.

The kids had a hoot. One of our fathers actually held the American Record in the 200IM while at USC - many years ago. Some of the parents had never been off a block before. As we are fond of saying, racers come in all shapes and sizes. We made it all work and the place was going crazy. We raised a few extra dollars but equally important, we raised a few parents' eyebrows in regards to what their swimmer goes through up on the blocks.
And you should have heard all the disclaimers beforehand...could write a short book with those in hand!

Tons of fun had by all...some of the kids even got their parent's splits...and in case you are wondering, no, we don't keep team records for these events!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

A Good Lesson

Local San Francisco politico and former Mayor Willie Brown writes a column in the Chronicle every Sunday. Last week he made a note of interest regarding Tiger Woods. Say what you will about Woods the fact remains that for several years he was untouchable on the golf course. Here is the content from Brown's column.

"Tiger Woods' return to the Masters reminded me of the advice he gave to kids when he was here (San Francisco) as part of the First Tee program.

He had the kids out on the fairway and lined up a row of balls. He hit each and every one about 250 yards, and they all landed within 5 feet of each other. "Don't hit the ball any further than you can control it," he said. "The goal in golf is to get close enough to the hole to then putt in. I could have hit every one of these balls another 125 yards, but I would have no way of knowing where it's going. So hit the ball only as far as you can control it."

Willie then wrote, "Not a bad lesson for any move you make - be it business or political." To which we add, for any workout or race you swim or coach.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Two Things

We have a short message today. We hope you will find food for thought. We wish all of you a wonderful Easter weekend and a Happy Passover.

It seems to us that progress is made when you have a breakthrough. It seems to us that progress is made when you have a breakdown. We are not sure which comes first but we believe the key part of the equation is the first syllable in each of those words - "BREAK". When you have either a breakthrough or a breakdown you are changing what has been for what can be. This applies to all three aspects of improvement; body, mind and spirit.

In fact we contend it is entirely possible that a single incident, race, workout, thought
or feeling can be simultaneously a breakdown and a breakthrough.

The second thing comes from a source unknown to us but we liked it enough to believe it is true. Abe Lincoln said that if he were given 8 hours to chop down a tree he would spend 6 hours sharpening his axe.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

What Is Your Shape

We are in one of those reflective phases of our coaching career; one where we are working on the mental construct of how to approach getting our athletes to make necessary changes in their preparedness. We find it helpful to keep things simple as we work the process.

Without being too simplistic, we have boiled down the game to three phases: body, mind and spirit. Each athlete on our team knows what we mean by these three components. We have discussed it at some length over the recent week or so, in meetings and individually in some cases as time permits.

Sports often make reference to "being in shape". Yet it can (and indeed does) mean more than simply challenging yourself in workouts. The word "SHAPE" encompasses a great deal if you expand your mind to accept its implications.

For example, a highly respected coach stated after the ban on tech suits was instituted that each swimmer now needed to "build their own Blue 70". Talk about shape!

So we wonder:

What is your shape - in body, mind and spirit?

What would happen if you did something each day to improve the shape of your body?

What would happen to you, if you did something each day to improve the shape of your mind?

What would happen to your teammates (and by extension you) if you did something each day to improve the shape of your spirit?

The physical, the mental, the emotional...each has value. When you put them together you become unstoppable, quite literally.

This concept is clearly not for everyone, since there are an enormous number of people on the planet who are easily stopped.

Is there anything stopping you?


What is amazing and simultaneously energizing is that with a well-placed word or teaching moment, we coaches can actually make a difference in our athletes' lives. This is what makes our profession so riveting and compelling.