Sunday, September 29, 2013

Creatures of Habit

We took our Senior 1 training group to a 4 way meet on Saturday. We have been in the water for a mere 3 weeks. We have always found that as a competitive swim team we serve our team well by going to a meet of some sort early in the training cycle. It gives the team and the coaches a chance to see “how things are going”.

We have altered our cycle a bit. The swimmers seem to like it, meaning they understand it and are applying themselves well. We actually had many fast swims compared to the same meet one year ago.
Of course, we also had a chance to see if behavior patterns have altered – for the better. Ken made the brilliant – he is the smart one in his family! (No offense intended) – Observation that many of our swimmers are creatures of habit. Indeed, the human race is comprised of “creatures of habit.”

When we get in a stressful situation, such as a race, we tend to revert to what we do on a regular basis in training. This highlights the real value of training. We often say that we race the way we train.
Case in point, if a swimmer folds his/her tent when the exhaustion point looms in practice, then in a meet the same thing occurs. The process may be as simple as, “I am beat. I have pushed hard for “X” amount of time or repeats and now I am cooked. I will back off to survive then regroup for the next repeat, set or workout.”

When that swimmer gets in a race and the same moment occurs, he/she doesn’t even have a chance to evaluate. He/she simply goes to the “default” position. A normal back off occurs and the race is “forfeited” in lieu of “trying another time/day” when presumably I will feel “more up to it.”

As coaches it is our responsibility to get our swimmers “over the hump”…to allow them to seek and fail and not be judgmental about their results. Rather they need to be recognized for their effort in pursuit of the process. We believe that coaches need to empower their athletes to be willing to seek the edges of their abilities and to willingly fail in order that they may learn how to stretch themselves further.

We are actually using competitive swimming to teach about how life works. If you are a creature of habit, and don’t acknowledge this fact, you are doomed to repeat your frsutrations.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Nick & Jim

“We always look at the next game as being the most important game of the year.” –Jim Harbaugh 49ers Head Coach

Nick is one of the team leaders in our Senior 1 training group. His observations follow after listening to Harbaugh speak at a recent press session. We believe there is much merit in his comments.

In football, each NFL team only is guaranteed sixteen games throughout the season. By my count, in swimming, this block we only have eight days of competition before we have what is similar to the NFL’s super bowl. The only difference between us on North Bay and all of the players in the NFL is that we are guaranteed to go to our “super bowl.” Whether that is JO’s, Husky, or Junior Nationals, we get to go to our super bowl. So why is it that we don’t prepare for our super bowl with as much intention as the 49ers seem to be doing?

This is where I believe the team culture comes in. There is no doubt that we have an attitude at meets that the ones in which we do not shave or “rest” for are not as important. One thing that is unique about the NFL is that each week truly matters because if your team loses that really hurts your chances of making the playoffs (versus in baseball if you lose one game out of 162, there is not as much of an impact on the chances of making the playoffs, so they don’t put quite as much emphasis on each game). We, as swimmers, have less of an opportunity to prepare ourselves for the playoffs than football players do, as they have 16 games while we only have 8 days of racing before our big meet. To me this should be telling us that each day of our meets are at least twice as important as the football team’s game.

Going into the super league meet, I think we need to make a point to change our culture. I think we need to take a pointer from Jim Harbaugh and look at the next race as the most important race of the year. We can’t be wasting these opportunities that we are given, because they are what can make or break a race later on when we are “at the super bowl.” There are so few of them that it is truly important to be fully engaged for each one. I know both you and Ken have told us countless times how each meet really is important, but I think sometimes it takes something more for this to click for people. For me, hearing Jim Harbaugh talk about how they approach their games made the whole idea of how to approach our training meets click.

I would love it if you guys added this topic to the agenda on Saturday for the team meeting. I hope you enjoyed my thoughts, I know I am personally very ready to get back to racing and this time I plan to bring a new mindset to the early and mid-season meets. GO TUNA!

Sunday, September 15, 2013

This Would Be Fun to do with a Swim Team

Don’s wife Madeline is a musician. The article below comes from a source that teaches all kinds of things about how to get your music “out there”…as in front of other people either in the form of a hit song, a piece used in commercials or TV show or movies. Yes, there is definitely the “physical” part of writing music as well as the technical part. And then there is the even more important part – how the musician “sees” him/herself.  We think this applies to our swimmers as well.

What say you?

HOW DO YOU "SEE" YOURSELF?  An article by Chip Hardy

    There was an experiment done that has been documented and posted on many of the social networking sites that I find extremely interesting.  The experiment was facilitated by the company that produces Dove soap and products.

    The gist of the experiment was that women came in to an art studio.  Without the artist, who had been a forensic artist for the San Jose police department, ever seeing the women he sketched their pictures.  The pictures were created by responses the women gave to questions the artist asked.  Questions like "describe your hair", "describe your eyes". "Tell me about your chin", etc.  Using only the answers to those questions the artist sketched a picture of the subjects.  The subjects then left the art studio without the artist ever meeting or seeing them.

    The next part of the experiment involved another person just sitting and talking with the original subject.  Basically, just getting to know the person.  The artist was not privy to the conversation nor did he meet the second person "face to face".

    After the two people had talked the artist then asked the second subject the same series of questions he had asked the original subject and created a new sketch--from the answers he received questioning the second subject.  Same questions, same person described--just one from a personal perspective the other from an outside perspective.  The sketches should have been fairly close--wouldn't you think?

    The original subjects were then brought back to the art studio where they were shown their "self-portrait" then the sketch the second person had caused the artist to create.  The results, in most cases, were stunning.  Most of the time the pictures drawn by the responses of the second subjects were "happier", "prettier", "more open" and  "more vibrant" than the sketches created by the women's personal responses.  Why?

    We all have a tendency to be "hard on ourselves".  We look in the mirror and, instead of noticing the beautiful "Child of God", see all of what we perceive as flaws.  Our "noses are too big", "our eyes are too squinty and small", "our chins are protruding" or "our foreheads are too high".  All things that seem to be wiped away when someone else meets us and describes us!!!

    Our judgments of ourselves many times are harsh and unforgiving when it comes to our physical characteristics.  We very seldom "see the real us"!!!  Others see us for who we are--not only physically but on a different, most probably, "Spiritual" kind of level.  The old saying "beauty is in the eye of the beholder" is a true one.  What we hardly ever see in ourselves is the lovely smile, or the friendly, loving eyes.  We seldom notice the jubilant, fun-loving laugh that we give others when we meet or interact with them.

Monday, September 9, 2013


We just returned from the American Swimming Coaches Association’s annual World Clinic - What a fabulous way to gather information while being inspired to return with passion for our sport!

Bob Bowman who is perhaps best known for his work with Michael Phelps gave an even more important presentation titled “Shallow Water Black Out”. Unfortunately the inspiration for the session came from an all too real life experience for the staff at his pool several months ago. The lessons learned are painful but the information below is critical to the safety of all our swimmers.

SHALLOW WATER BLACK OUT occurs in 15 feet of water or less. The three most likely candidates are US Navy Seals, deep free divers and elite competitive swimmers.

The event happens when a swimmer hyperventilates forcefully several times in preparation for an underwater swim. In our case a long stretch of underwater dolphin kicks or breaststroke swims. A long stretch is relative but the consensus is 25 yards is fine, after that things get uncertain. 50 meters is definitely in the very dangerous/fatal zone.

When a swimmer hyperventilates in an effort to increase the amount of oxygen that can be stored in the lungs what happens is the amount of carbon dioxide in the bloodstream is reduced to dangerously low levels. Carbon dioxide is the ingredient that causes the urge to breathe. Without the urge the swimmer simply passes out, loses consciousness. The body’s natural response after this happens is to open the mouth and take a deep breath. But the swimmer gets water instead.

You have no more – often less – than 2.5 minutes to see that the event has occurred, get the swimmer out, empty the lungs of water, get oxygen to the brain or the swimmer dies…in shallow water regardless of the fact the she/he is in top physical condition.

You must have a safety plan for the operation of your practices and what happens in the event of a SHALLOW WATER BLACK OUT.

Obviously, the best plan is to limit the amount of distance under water to 25 yards and to avoid those competitive urges at the end of practice. Also, if you do not have multiple back to back underwaters and do not allow hyperventilation you greatly decrease the risk.

We will have some more information on this deadly situation as it becomes available.

This may have been the most important blog we have ever written. Bob Bowman is an intensely competitive person and coach. He made it very clear that this incident shook him to his core and sharing the information with us was more important than any discussion he has ever led in the world of swimming.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

The Boys in the Boat

Since last week we have read 278 pages. We are mesmerized. Every coach, teacher, manager and leader is well advised to pick up a copy. Chapter 7 begins with another quote from George Yeoman Pocock. Pocock was THE premier builder of racing shells in the world in the 1930’s. He was a student of the sport and a master of his craft. He reminds us of our own James “Doc” Counsilman, another GREAT student and master. We consider ourselves fortunate to have known the latter. We know it would have been an honor to know Pocock.

“Rowing a race is an art, not a frantic scramble. It must be rowed with head power as well as hand power. From the first stroke all thoughts of the other crew must be blocked out. Your thoughts must be directed to you and your own boat, always positive, never negative.”

Author Daniel James Brown recounts Joe Rantz’s observation of a CAL- Washington varsity race. Joe was a freshman at Washington but was being taught the lessons that would serve him well in coming years. The lesson was this. Writes Brown, “To defeat an adversary who was your equal, maybe even your superior, it wasn’t necessary enough just to give your all from the start to finish. You had to master your opponent mentally. When the critical moment in a close race was upon you, you had to know something he did not – that down in your core you still had something reserve, something you had not yet shown, something that once revealed would make him doubt himself, make him falter just when it counted the most. Like so much in life, crew was partly about confidence, partly about knowing your own heart.”

At the end of the day, competitive swimming isn’t about times. It is about what we learn about ourselves when we race with/against others. Learn those lessons and all the laps will have been worth it.