Sunday, August 24, 2014

“When the Game Stands Tall”

This is the title of a new movie about the legendary De La Salle (Concord, CA) football coach Bob Ladouceur and his remarkable success on the field and in the development of outstanding young men. The text below is from SF Chronicle Sports Editor Al Saracevic. We find it compelling as we continue our work to find ways to explain to our swimmers how teams come together and stay together; basically how a top notch team works. Enjoy…

Ladouceur's story might not have made it to the big screen if not for Warriors co-owner Peter Guber, who is also the founder and CEO of Mandalay Entertainment, the studio that made the film.

Guber knows a good story when he sees it, and the Spartans' script certainly fits that description. The movie champions the ideals of teamwork and sacrifice as the driving force behind success. And it doesn't shy away from human flaws.

"It was the aspirational concept," said Guber, at a Bay Area screening of the event this week. "It can't be a collection of stars of players. It has to be a team."

Guber sat with new Warriors head coach Steve Kerr after the movie played, discussing the elements of a successful team.

"What is the secret sauce that makes a team bond together?" Guber asked his new employee.
"It's the connection between human beings," Kerr answered.

The newly minted coach talked about meeting Guber over the summer, recalling one conversation in which the movie mogul told him to "find a way to start the engine."

"I love that line," said Kerr. "I played for two greats in Gregg Popovich and Phil Jackson. They found a way to start the engine. And that's what I've been doing this summer. Making those connections."

Sunday, August 17, 2014


The one thing we know about humans is that we all resist change, even if it is for the better. We are creatures of habit. As coaches and swimmers this time of year is ripe for change. The competitive season is over – for most, or soon will be…Pan Pacs!
Many are changing programs as they head off to college or perhaps on your team you are moving into a new training group. Things will be different. Our club team changes every year at this time as swimmers head off to college. Many of our swimmers will come to that first workout and what will be most noticeable is who isn’t there. Many of our faster swimmers, some of whom had leadership roles on the team will be gone. And those that move on will go to a team where they are now the newbie, the freshman…and that makes the perspective different for sure.
And the cycle goes on. As coaches we look for the new patterns to develop. It is a fun time of the year for us. We, of course, have the perspective of seeing this annual metamorphose take place, secure in the knowledge that it will all work itself out in due time. As the training begins and the patterns develop a sense of calm eventually prevails…and all is “right” in the universe again.
Except that it really isn’t.
Every swimmer, when asked, raises her/his hand when we ask, “How many of you want to get faster this season?”
And therein lays the impetus for change. If you swam 10x100 on the 1:30 averaging 1:20 last year, if you do the same thing this year you will not get faster. More of the same doesn’t make for change. We tell our college bound kids that they won’t likely be doing 100’s on the 55 now that they are in college. They can handle the work they will be given. The question is, “Can they handle the change in intensity, on a daily basis?”
Most often we already know that answer; “yes” they can handle it. The more important question to ask is “will they handle it?” And only they know the answer to that one. We have encouraged them to answer it before it is asked since that is perhaps the most important turning point for them.
We do the same thing when new swimmers join any more advanced group on our team. Can they do the work; certainly, it is just work. Will they do the work? That requires intention. Stated intention drives the human condition.
September is almost here…let the games – Games – begin!

Friday, August 15, 2014

Indy Takeaways

We just returned from the NCSA Championship meet at the “Nat” in Indianapolis. As is the case with nearly every swim meet, we had some stellar success swims and some that we would love to do over. The good news for us was that when a swimmer had a successful swim it didn’t go to his/her head; when the swim was “not so much” there were no pity parties happening.

Jim Fannin says the most important word in sports is the four letter word “NEXT”. When you have a great race, awesome, next; when you are less than thrilled, too bad, next. Our team is getting good at this.

Don’t mess with a good thing. Our guys won the 200 Free Relay. I (Don) switched the personnel for the 400 Free Relay. I over thought the whole situation. I had my reasons and believed them to be accurate. We finished a very close 2nd…should have left things the way they were…not the smartest coaching at the meet, let alone in the world; I actually strive for that daily.

Forget about the watch/scoreboard. If you are swimming with one eye on the scoreboard (figuratively of course) then you are not in the present. When you are not in the present you are guaranteed a less than satisfying result. In the game of “task vs. result”, task masters always win…always. You can take that to the bank.

Pace yourself. It is a 4.5 day meet. If you go full tilt boogie from the opening swim you will not finish the meet. We spoke about this every day at our team meetings. We swam very well every session. We had 7 girls and 10 guys. We had nighttime swims from 2 of our girls and 5 of our guys. We had almost everyone help score (top 24) either individually or on relays. We were strong all the days. We certainly had a few busts but we were in the meet every day; pace matters.

Logistics: our Moms made everything happen. We had really good food when and where we needed it. We had vans crisscrossing town on schedule. We could easily have competed in the “Drum & Bugle” competition that was happening in Lucas Stadium (home of the Indianapolis Colts)…our precision was inspiring. Oh, wait, we cannot play any instruments…

NCSA…what a crew…maybe equaled but not ever surpassed. These folks know how to run a meet for the swimmers. Some (not all to be sure) of our local officials could take lessons from these folks. When it comes to running a meet with lots of swimmers, coaches who need a nudge now and then and parent volunteers, the NCSA crew is superlative.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Pain Or

“If I could just figure out how to avoid the pain of exercise then I would be the greatest”
This is indeed the lament of so many athletes and swimmers that it amazes us that we as coaches haven’t yet been successful at “selling” the notion – yet…or we would have many more really fast ones.
Back to “The Rise of Superman” (pages 66-68)…we find that the state of flow has two defining characteristics: flow is always a positive experience and it always functions as a performance enhancer.
Our body produces dopamine, norepinephrine, endorphins, anandamide and serotonin. It makes these chemicals available to us when we are in the state of flow. You get in the state of flow by being 100% present, non-judgmental, some would say “all in”. It happens in workouts and races. Get rid of the conscious thoughts about what is happening and just “do it”. Once in flow these chemicals are released into the bloodstream making for significant gains in performance.
So who wouldn’t want to have 1) a positive experience and 2) a natural performance enhancer? Well, anyone who wants to find the “easy” way is the answer to that question.
All scientific and empirical evidence suggests that “Superman/Superwoman” is not born with any special gifts. Rather they have a very supportive environment – often of their own creation, but occasionally they are birthed into one; and they don’t just work harder than the rest of the population. They don’t even work much harder. They actually work much, much harder at their craft than the rest of the population. And finally, they are really good at delaying gratification. They are totally ok with waiting for the breakthrough vs. giving up when one doesn’t occur.
One of the guys on our North Bay Aquatics Senior 1 training group made an interesting observation. Cameron said that it “hurts more to go slow than to go fast in workout because you’re in just as much pain either way, plus you feel bad when you give up and go slow”. Pretty smart, that Cameron…works the same in races too, especially because the stakes are usually higher.
So…become a flow junkie and become the next Superwoman/Superman…see you poolside sooner than later. In the meantime, work on being 100% present at whatever you are doing: making a salad, mowing the lawn, working in the weight room.