Sunday, October 25, 2015

A Great Coach is a Great Leader; A Great Leader is a Great Communicator

Coach and Leader George Kennedy (Johns Hopkins University) is great. This copy of his recent letter to his student/athletes’ parents demonstrates this so clearly. Thanks to Cynthia for forwarding it to us and to George who gave us permission to share with you. Having our club swimmers find their way into a program with high standards makes us even more appreciative of the opportunities we have every day. A special “Thank You” here to all North Bay Aquatics parents for trusting us with your family’s well-being.

To all parents—We are 6 weeks into our practices and thought I would give you all an update of my perceptions.  (fun to hear from a perspective other than your sons or daughters).  Actually I think the connection I feel to this group is strong, and so the perspective will probably be similar.  To me, that is very important.  At the age of 60, I could be viewed as “old Coach” but would much rather try to be in tune with how the athletes feel about certain things……

Thought #1---the swimmers love our new assistant coach Nick, and I do too.  He is working very hard as our recruiting coordinator, and as a young coach who can answer tough questions in a mature way. He creates cutting edge practices focusing on walls, underwater work, speed, all the while helping athletes to relate to why they are doing what they are doing.  Simply, Nick’s philosophy is very practical—we have to get to race speed in practice in order to be able to race in meets.  It has been a joy for me to work with Nick and I see it every day.  WOW!

Thought #2—the freshmen always catch the colds before the other students.  Part of this is getting accustomed to dorm life, eating cafeteria food where everyone touches all of the utensils as much of it is self -serve, and living in the same room as someone who they did not know until two months ago.  Many are getting sick and the most important practice for them each day is finding a way to get healthy.

Thought #3—the athletes in our program who do not party heavily are more connected to the coaches than those who do.  Gradually, we are seeing that our top swimmers are not the big partiers….most likely because they cannot accomplish what they do at such a high level in the classroom and the pool.  Years ago the message to the team was there are five things you can do here that encompass your journey in college, but you can only do 4 of the five and be successful:
1)      Your academia
2)      Your spirit and spiritual life (ranges from religious beliefs to deep soul searching)
3)      Your passion for swimming
4)      Your friendships and social settings
5)      Excessive Partying
BUT—if you pick #5 as one of your top 4, then you will not swim very well.  You can still get good grades, you can still have your spiritual life, but your social life becomes a partying life…….and your SWIMMING is the first thing that suffers.  Seriously, I know I just sound like a typical coach trying to be sure that the sport is protected, but this is exactly what I have seen during the past 30 years here.  When I ask the alums who come back, all they say is YUP!

3A—all of the above will impact your sleep, your health and wellness.  At JHU, the academics never go away… you can be great in the classroom, and great in the pool, and comfortable with your spiritual choice and what that means to you.  The key to all of the above is which path of social life they choose.…..AND SO, their health and wellness is totally impacted by picking either #4 or #5.

Thought #4—some of the athletes demand more than 1/53 rd (there are 53 team members)  of the time we have for each one of them and may not begin to even look at it that way.  In other words, the coaches must give our all of our energy to 53 people.  If we have someone who is particularly needy, they could take up 10-15/53 of our time and that leaves less for the others.  So this is an area where I believe being a great teammate is knowing that their teammates need the time from the coach as well.    My philosophy has always been to be there for someone during their toughest days, but ultimately the goal is for each of the swimmers to communicate and seek help in a way so that we prevent many of the toughest days.  The way to best do this is to create an environment where the athletes get to understand the differences between problems and inconveniences

Thought 4a—I have beaten cancer. ( I would rather look at it that way than as a cancer survivor).  My attitude is at an entirely different wavelength than many of the swimmers.  When they complain that they have a tough test or have had a tough day, I try to understand….but I end up talking a lot to the team about the difference between a problem and an inconvenience. 

Thought 5—the “dump” phone call.  It is about that time where the newness of the year or the newness of our program wears off.  Swimmers are tired at this time of the season and so are parents .  But realize what happens during this time---The kids will call home with what we call the “ dump” phone call.  That is the call that “this isn’t going well or the coach did this or the asst coach did that. We all did it too when we were younger.  A big difference today is that back then my dad just said well son,  “it is up to you to go in and speak your mind to someone who can do something about it”.  See, the dump phone call is not new.  What happens is that the team members will stop listening to complaints, because that is what this generation does….they get caught up in it, and then all of a sudden stop listening…. so the person has no one to listen other than to their parents. (Now, Back to the 1/53 of time, I want you to know that Nick and I care about every one of these kids but can possibly only give each one but so much time) -----fast forward to the dump phone call---   as a parent of a former athlete I know the pain you feel when you get the call….here is a suggestion:

1)      Listen to them until they are finished
2)      Ask if that is definitely the whole story
3)      If so ask them to come in and speak  with the coaches about it
4)      If it involves your swimmers health, or academic best interests feel free to contact me.  If it is about swimming, please do not contact me.  It is what we are paid to do—connect with your son or daughter.
5)      There is no way to be objective when feeling for your son or daughter.  Try to be the one that provides a sense of calm

Thought 5a—It is really hard to be at home when your kid is struggling here.  But rest assured there are people who care here.  We just do it in a way for growth to take place.  There were so many times when I received dump phone calls…..funny, the next day things seemed a lot better.

Lastly.   On 60 minutes, one of the segments was on the “Make a Wish Foundation”.  It was powerful.  It inspired me to write to each of you and reach out.  It is hard to be away from your kids….and in the 60 minute segment, young boys and girls with cancer or other diseases, were granted one wish. Like, if there is one thing I can do right now it would be ____________.  And one was granted a trip to Australia and another being a policeman for a day, and another riding in the care of his favorite car racer.   They were saying to us all  to truly live life, do so one day at a time.   I watch 60 minutes every Sunday, as my way to “read the Newspaper”.  This segment was powerful.  Essentially it said to me that we all need to smile more, we need to value every day, and the best way to do that is by connecting our brains (at a place like JHU) with our hearts (having compassion)……..there is not a day that goes by that we do not want each of your sons or daughters to feel that there is compassion here at JHU and in this world.  

Go Hop 

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Being Comfortable Being Uncomfortable

This comes from Stephanie in response to last week’s comments about Learning to Dance. Thanks for sharing your insights. We are all beginners at something. To prosper we must move into new realms, both in our thoughts and our actions.

“I really enjoyed your last blog post and it got me thinking about my own experiences with this. For me, and almost all of the girls on my team at UCLA, weight lifting was a huge area where we felt uncomfortable and unwilling to commit. We felt out of place in the weight room with huge football players and rap music; we were afraid of getting "bulky" or looking silly in front of teammates and other athletes; we were afraid of acting too "manly" by lifting heavy and committing athletically; we were uncomfortable learning something new that wasn't swimming. In retrospect, my times of greatest success in the pool were times when I was also excelling in the weight room. I know that girls always struggle with image and identity as athletes, especially in a co-ed sport in high school. Maybe this insight will help you communicate to the girls on North Bay that being strong out of the pool doesn't mean they are "manly" or bulky; it just means they are better, stronger athletes.”

Excellent insight from one who has been there, done that. Get fitter; get stronger; get faster!
Thanks Stephanie!

Monday, October 12, 2015

Learning to Dance

Sunday we went to the Presidio Yacht Club to watch the Blue Angles scream around San Francisco Bay. Very impressive display of tight teamwork at high speeds right there in front of us. When people of high stature do anything in their chosen field they make it look so easy. Yet at some level we onlookers know that it isn’t easy at all; rather it is incredibly complex and takes years to perfect.
Then we went inside to the bar where the band Lonestar Retrobates was jammin’ up a swing storm. And there were several couples on the floor doing the same. Man, those folks could dance! Their footwork and teamwork was impressive. They had obviously been doing it for a long time. We watched their feet and arms and bodies move with certainty as they went through a never ending series of moves…Dancing with the Stars right in front of us! We were tempted to give it a whirl but declined, thinking maybe this was not the place to practice…HaHa.
They and those pilots before them had clarity of vision, many hours of practice and a willingness to “go for it.”
We then wondered how many swimmers never reach their potential because they are unwilling to “give it a whirl” thinking that this is neither the time nor the place to “look out of place” among those so obviously superior to themselves?
Yet, this begs the question, “If not now, then when?” Tomorrow when the perceived stakes aren’t so high? When I get in better shape? When no one is really looking?
Before you know it the big meet is here and you are not prepared; all because you decided at some point that “now” was not the time. Getting in shape and learning new athletic skills is easy…all you need to do is take one step at a time and absolutely not care about success or failure; rather care about personal improvement, doing something new each day, perfecting a stroke or a turn or a race strategy. In an alarming short number of days you will be making it “look easy” for someone else…then you are on your way to the top.
Olympians hurt just the same as you do; the difference is that they don’t care.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

A Winner Gets His Due

Last year when Yaroslav went to Cal Poly as a freshman he was denied a spot as a walk on. He was not deemed fast enough by the coach. He could have quit; could have made the excuse his shoulder was bothering him and thus he wasn’t fast enough. He persevered however. He swam on the club team and came home for the summer and trained and raced. Here is his story of the outcome.

“This is your favorite Russian, also known as Russian Rocket Scientist.
I was about to send you text, but I figure text is not enough - I have a lot to tell. Last year, when I was about to leave for college, you ask us to write about our experience with swimming. Well, consider this a late assignment. I had some unfinished business to do in world of pre-college swimming.

And I managed to succeed. Yesterday I had my first dual meet as Cal Poly Mustang; we had a lot of fun racing USC.

I am going to be honest, I am not one of the top boys on the team; I do not get spots in relays very often. Yet, there is a lot of work to be done. But the hardest part is over, I have made the team.

(The loud roar you hear is us erupting in joy and congratulations for a hard fought victory!)

I want to tell a little about last year, probably hardest year in my life. I never understood how much I loved swimming and how much I wanted to be part of the team before. Only when I was rejected the opportunity to try out for the team I fully understood how badly I want to make it. I had to become a normal person for some time - and that was not easy. But I decided to give myself a second chance. Not an easy decision, there were many times when I was not sure if I really want to keep going. I recall at least four times when I almost made a decision to stop. The hardest part was uncertainty, until almost the first day of classes I did not know for sure if I make the team or not. It is incredibly hard to work as hard as competitive swimmers do and know that it could be for nothing.

It helps to consider different outcomes; I have made two grand plans for this year: one with me being on the team, and one without swimming. In both cases I have decided to make this year as fun as it can be. I was not sure about swimming, but I was sure I am about to have some great time.

Now, when I made the team, I have to deal with responsibilities of student-athlete. And I am looking forward to the challenge. I love a good challenge.

And I would not be able to face all of that without all the great preparation I got while working with you. Work ethics and dedication are key components of college swimming, and I am glad I had a chance to learn it from you and Ken. Thanks a lot for that.”