Sunday, August 26, 2012

First the Questions

We are in a contemplative state this week and as such believe that in our quest to find the keys to the issues posed last week it is first necessary to ask the questions that are at the heart of our profession. And so here is our take on the core issues surrounding our coaching and perhaps by extension your own coaching. It would be awesome if a dialogue ensues as we know enough to say with certainty we haven't all the answers, or the definitive set of questions.

Why do we coach? - Money, fame, peer recognition, awesome T-shirts, trips, name in the newspaper, personal satisfaction...

How do we coach? - Authoritarian, open practices, closed practices, limited input from athletes and or parents or assistants, seat of the pants, sit and eat, pace the deck, write on a white board...

Are there gains to be made? - In what areas...

Have we changed what we believe to be true? - About technique, training systems, dry land approaches, team dynamics, parent interaction, social dynamics...

What would happen to us if we are wildly successful? - Can we handle those changes...
Conversely, what would happen if to us if we missed the mark significantly? - Loss of job, no more speaking at clinics, loss of membership, financial impacts...

Are we too young to excel or too old to be relevant? - do age barriers or gender barriers exist in our sport...

We believe that if we can answer most if not all of these questions - as well as others you may add to the discussion - we are better prepared for the season that awaits us.

We are thinking about this a lot and we thank those of you (you know who you are) for stimulating this line of thought...might be a good roundtable at a clinic near you someday...

We all know there is a difference between 10x100/1:10 and 10x100/2 given the same exact swimmer. We believe this other line of thought is actually more important. Here's to an awesome week and an even better start to your season!

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Searching for a Lift in Expectations

We just returned from an inspiring week of racing at the US Summer Junior Nationals in Indianapolis…the fastest 18 & unders in the country racing for their futures in the sport of competitive swimming.

One thing that was/is foremost on our minds was/is, “How do we get those on our team who are capable of swimming at this level to 1) realize it and 2) make their cuts?”

Every coach we spoke with had ideas and opinions. The one consensus was that we all had swimmers at home who could have been in this meet talent wise. The other main takeaway from the meet was that if you could achieve the time standard there was an excellent chance you could get a night time swim (top 24 places in the heats) providing you swam your entered time at the meet.

There are two basic forms of incentive: extrinsic and intrinsic.

The extrinsic ones can range from earning a different colored cap all the way to having your expenses paid up to 100% by the club. We will address those issues on our team this fall and beyond into 2013.

The intrinsic motivators are more challenging to pinpoint and then execute. In speaking with Terry Stoddard, the excellent coach and mentor at Swim Pasadena, we liked his explanation of his club’s approach to senior swimming. He described the goal statement that the club was going to do everything in its power to assist each swimmer in reaching their full potential.

We like this approach since it allows for the varying levels of talent to berecognized while holding everyone to the same high standard, namely giving the training and racing their very best. We tell our swimmers to, “Do your best each and every time. No one expects you to do more than your best, likewise make certain you do deliver your best on any given day.”

We think it is incumbent upon us as coaches to drive home the message of personal excellence. One of our swimmers, Theo St. Francis, said it best the other day; “If you are going to make the time to do the sport you might as well make the effort.” We will hone in on that sentiment a lot. And then there is this quote from one of Dave Salo’s swimmers about Coach Salo’s attitude expressed this way; “If you didn’t want to get better…McDonalds is always hiring!"

As we work in our club to create a culture shift from the Sectional level to the National level we will remember that each swimmer is different and as such needs a special eye from the coaching side. Simultaneously we are working even today towards making the group seek higher levels of performance from themselves. This striving for personal excellence is a life lesson that has implications for personal success well into adulthood.

We don’t think the answer to raising expectations is to do more. We believe it is a matter of doing more of the correct things – technique, training, dry land, nutrition, time management, teaching personal responsibility, excelling in the classroom, being a contributor to one’s community…the list is even longer but you get the point.
Not all swimmers have the talent to compete nationally and yet we saw several, indeed many that had very little natural talent holding their own in Indianapolis last week. Witnessing that was inspiring and motivating. This next season will be our best – you can count on it!

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Two Items of Interest

From time to time we are visited by swimmers who have been through our program, gone off to college and then are back in town for a family visit. Yesterday Shayan Sayadi stopped by the pool for a swim and visit. After practice we asked him how things were going. He has finished his undergrad work and is taking a year to work before determining exactly in what field he will pursue his master’s degree.

He said he was being fueled by the “twin pillars of persistence and patience.” He went on to explain that, “persistence cancels out the apathy that may come with patience while patience cancels out the anxiety that may come with persistence.”

We are impressed with his thoughtfulness.

The other item this week is one you may have already seen but in case you haven’t check out the article and especially the video of Dana Volmer’s butterfly stroke analysis on the link below. Gotta love the technology available today!

Dana Vollmer’s Butterfly Stroke Features Dolphinlike Moves

Have a great week. We will since we are in Indianapolis with 5 swimmers at the US Summer Junior National Championships!

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Another Side of Michael Phelps

We have enjoyed immensely the races and stories that have unfolded in London. Ken found this one that is very insightful. Our team found it motivating, to say the least. We trust you will enjoy it as well.

Le Close Example of Phelps Effect

LONDON -- Chad le Clos had waited for this moment nearly all his life. As a 12-year-old boy in South Africa, he had watched the 2004 Athens Olympics on television, saw an American man named Michael Phelps win six gold medals, and decided right then and there that he would dedicate his life to becoming the greatest swimmer his body would allow.

In the years that followed, he worshipped the American swimmer. He read every article he could get his hands on. He cut out pictures of Phelps. He recorded and watched all of his idol's races, and then he'd watch them again.

So you can imagine the emotion Friday night -- le Clos walked onto the pool deck for the final swim of his 2012 Olympics, and the man walking in front of him was none other than Phelps, who was about to swim the last individual event of his career.

Two nights earlier, le Clos had shockingly out-touched Phelps to beat him in the 200-meter butterfly, a race he hadn't lost at a major international meet since le Clos was 8 years old. After the race, he mentioned how excited he was to beat his idol. The next morning, when Phelps relayed the story to coach Bob Bowman, the two of them got emotional.

"It means Michael has done what he wanted to do, affect the sport of swimming," a watery-eyed Bowman said. "When he described that to me, he got choked up about it. So did I."

When he was just 15, Phelps stated his goals to agent Peter Carlisle. They had nothing to do with gold medals, world records or becoming the greatest swimmer ever. Instead, Phelps said he wanted to change the sport of swimming; he wanted to motivate, inspire and push people to chase their dreams.

The blond-haired, 20-year-old le Clos was the result of that goal. On Friday night, as he walked onto the pool deck with his idol for the last time, le Clos couldn't stop thinking about his place in this special moment.

"I just kept thinking I wanted to be up there on that podium," he said. "I wanted to be in that race with him. I wanted to give him a run for his money. I wanted to make him proud."

At the halfway point of the 100 butterfly, Phelps was seventh and le Clos eighth. It didn't look good. But then, Phelps came charging, and the boy followed his idol. Le Clos had watched Phelpsian comebacks such as this for more than a decade, but now he was in the middle of it. He thought of the lessons he had learned from all the races he watched.

Keep his arms long. Push his chest out as far as he could.

Phelps had done the same and sped out to the lead. With about 20 meters left, le Clos looked to his left and realized he, too, had a shot.

"It was just like the 200," le Clos said. "I was thinking, 'I'm catching him. I'm catching him.'"

But that changed in the last 5 meters.

"I took one last look, one quick look," he said. "I thought maybe if he finished badly again I might get it, but no way. He got it tonight."

The final times: Phelps, 51.21 seconds; le Clos, 51.44. Less than one-quarter of a second between them. In a way, that's how it was supposed to end, with Phelps offering one last in-person lesson to a protegee.

"Michael got to pay him back for the other night, which was nice," Bowman said. "This is a tough game. You've gotta learn. The kids have to learn, right?"

For le Clos, the night had only begun. He promised himself that no matter what happened, whether he finished in first or eighth, he would walk over to Phelps and tell him something when he climbed out of the pool and his Olympics were over.

"I told myself I would tell him he was my hero," le Clos said. "So that's what I did."

Phelps responded by softly tapping le Clos on the shoulder and briefly putting his arm around him.

"I think he knew already," le Clos said. "He told me he would wish me luck for the future and said he really wanted to watch me do great things."

The moment touched le Clos' father, Bert, who looked on from the front row of the second deck of the Aquatics Centre.

"It's like Larry Holmes and Muhammad Ali," he said. "I mean, this is my son's hero. When [Phelps] put his arm around Chad, it's unbelievable. Michael is the most gentlemanly person in sport. From the le Clos family to the Phelps family, I want them to know how much we appreciate everything Michael did for us. He changed my family's life."

Before the night ended, le Clos and Phelps spent even more time together, arguing over who would win in a "FIFA" video game battle and discussing getting together someday to go cage diving in South Africa.

"He said he plays on PlayStation. I play on Xbox," Phelps said. "He says he could still take me. It's that competitiveness we both have. It's cool to see. It's been great getting to know him."

What a week it had been. Three years ago, when he made his first South African senior team for the world championships in Rome, all le Clos cared about was being in the same pool with Phelps. But the two were in different preliminary heats then, and le Clos missed a spot in the semis by .10 seconds.

Now he is a footnote to history: the last man to ever beat Michael Phelps.

"I never thought this would happen," he said. "From watching him in Athens to sitting here ... it's absolutely fantastic."

But perhaps no one was moved more than Phelps. On the second-to-last night of his illustrious career, he was the one who got to witness firsthand the results of a dream he had 13 years ago.

"It just goes to show that anything you want and anything you want to achieve, if you put your mind to it, you're going to achieve it," Phelps said. "I've said that so many times, and it's true. Chad is showing that. He has a lot more goals he wants to achieve, and I'm excited to see him continue in the sport and see what he does."