Sunday, March 27, 2016

Keep It Simple

Today we are inspired by John Leonard’s recent article “Chop Wood, Haul Water.” To quote John, “Chop wood so you can stay warm and cook food. Haul water so you can drink and wash: the everyday things that make life possible. While they are not exciting always, they certainly get very exciting when we are cold, hungry, dirty and thirsty when we don’t do them.”
We are thinking about our swim team and our coaching…and the value of keeping it simple.
A swim team needs a culture to function and differentiate itself from competitors.
Question 1 – Has your team a written statement that accurately reflects your culture? If “yes”, is it posted prominently on your website; if “no”, then get together with leaders of your team and write one.
A swim team needs water to train.
Question 2 – Do you have enough time and lanes to get what you deem necessary done? If “yes”, how secure is your time/lanes; if “no” then what is your plan to remedy any shortcomings.
A swim team needs money to operate.
Question 3 – Do you have enough to pay your staff so you can attract and retain them; enough to rent the time and lanes you need; to pay for travel and the other basics your team needs to be competitive? If “yes”, how secure is your funding stream; if “no” what can be done to remedy any shortcomings. A word about money here…price is what you pay, value is what you get. When you are valuable enough to your members they will pay whatever is necessary to get what they value.
A training program needs both work and rest to have swimmers get faster.
Question 4 – Do you understand the value of each and do you plan for each? If “yes”, do you review it regularly to ensure you are allocating proper percentages for each component; if “no”, then make sure you are writing down what you do so you don’t have to remember the amount of work and rest you are giving your athletes…it is the only real way to measure the effectiveness of your programming.
Confidence is the most important muscle in the human body (might be Rick DeMont’s quote?).
Question 5 – Do you do something every day to build confidence? If “yes”, make certain you keep doing it; if “no”, then get with the program – a steady stream of negativity will make your swimmers/parents move to your competitors.
Chop wood, haul water…not glamorous yet so necessary for success…in the pool, in school, at home, with your friends and mates…everywhere.
Thanks John for reminding us of this basic powerful truism.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Observations from Orlando

We are on our way home following a weeklong of racing at the 2016 NCSA Junior National Championships in Orlando. This meet annually brings together many of the fastest 18 and unders in the country. This year was no exception. We saw several new stars, some from last year still in the mix and witnessed several top notch exciting races with 2016 Olympic Trial qualifying cuts.
This meet is like a full blown coaching clinic in many ways; watch and listen and you can learn. Sometimes things you already knew are validated while now and then you catch a new skill or mindset at work. In no particular order this is what we saw in action…
Underwater dolphin kicking isn’t all that important…underwater really fast dolphin kicking is a top of the line, must have skill…
Racers rule at the end of the day. When the swim is on the line you want a racer on your team, not merely a well-conditioned athlete with great skills
Relays are just about the best form of team bonding imaginable
There are some teams, large and small alike, that have figured out how to have a mindset that fosters total commitment to excellence and process with zero tolerance for lack of same
There are teams with a culture of high intensity and integrity blended which yields a consistent “brand” of excellence…no matter if that team’s swimmer is in the first heat or the A final
We watched hundreds of swimmers each night go absolutely all in for other fellow swimmers who attempted to make Olympic Trials  cuts…the bonding across teams demonstrated a passionate portrait of common bonds…too cool  for words
A five day meet means several of things:
1 -Your team needs no nonsense yet compassionate parental support
2 -Your coaching staff needs to be in shape
3-Your swimmers need to be in shape
4 -You must have your food delivery systems in order
5- Your transportation system must be well thought-out and executed
The team rises or falls on the shoulders of the entire team, not just the super-star(s)
Your team’s strength is built months before the first race begins…physical, mental and emotional…if you saw any weaknesses this week then begin now, as in today, so that the end of summer meet finds you and your team better prepared
Culture is defined when you have a down race or a down day…it is easy to be giddy when the races go great…it is better to be rock steady in your purpose when things don’t go as planned…there are a lot more of those moments than the “perfect” ones
We have a group of guys and gals who have found a common ground in terms of their racing speed…our goal is to get them together and challenge them to challenge each other to push out of the current “status quo”…for instance we have 7 girls who swim a 52+ 100 free…one or more of those girls need to breakout and push into the 50+ to lift themselves and the team to a higher level of performance
If you want to improve say 4 seconds in your race in the next year, all you need to do is improve .01 second per day…but you must make  the commitment for that to happen
We had several swimmers express frustration about their swims – silently we applauded this because a couple of years ago instead of being frustrated they would have cried – we’ve come a long way baby! …our message to them is to take the frustration and use it for motivation…the next time a challenging set comes their way,  lean into it…the next time they feel like giving up on a skill because it’s too difficult – NO  -hang in there working on your game…get that precious .01 each day…
There are going to be 52 swimmers on the USA Olympic Team this summer. They will come from 35 or more programs, each with its nuances. Several things will be common to each of those programs: no cutting corners in the pool; no negativity; excellent nutrition and sleep; lots of stretching so no training sessions get missed due to negligence.
All of those are daily, conscious choices. Make them and dreams become reality.
Quite a week in Orlando;  many thanks to all the coaches who organize this meet and the numerous officials who make this the best meet for the swimmers in the entire country.
One final  thought…we had several swimmers in our group of 20 who never got sick from December through this meet…each of those had a great week…figure out how to stay healthy for large chunks of time…it will do wonders for your swimming…in many cases health – or lack thereof – is a state of mind
See you poolside…very soon!

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Intention and Levers

Give me a lever long enough and
a fulcrum on which to place it and I shall move the world.
Laura, an actual swimmer on our team, swam a 50 free in Santa Cruz February 14th this year. Her time was a 24.96 which tied her best time from 2015. This was a nice swim and put a small smile on her face…well maybe not that small after all! In finals that day she swam her 50 in 24.66 and that produce a big smile for sure.
Swimmers love to record best times and since as they get older it doesn’t happen all that frequently, when Laura, a 16 year old junior, cranked a 24.66 it was a nice breakthrough.
Two weeks later we raced in Clovis and what follows is her numerical progression along with a few short comments:
Day 1 Time Trials – 24.8 – fast but the meet is just getting underway
Day 2 Prelims     - 24.67 -  making progress
Day 2 Time Trials – 24.45 -  (Orlando NCSA cut is 24.39) more progress for sure
Day 2 Finals   -           24.29 – Orlando and Futures cuts
From day 1 through day 2 she said “well, I’ve been 24.8, 24.6 24.4 so I might as well go 24.2”…keep the synched times rolling, that type of thing.
After the 24.29 the smile was ever widening. Later in the week I asked her what happened physically over those 2 plus days from the 24.8 to the 24.2 and she correctly replied “nothing.”
What had been replaced by up front desire was a pure intention level necessary to induce flow. And of course when flow is injected into the body actual physical changes do occur…as a result of the neural chemicals the brain dumps into your system, you are allowed all sorts of access to previous work, belief patterns and neural muscular connections.
Laura had her confidence go up as a result of increasing evidence that she “could” keep the needle moving forward. This allowed her to race “lighthearted” which in turn allowed the 24.2 which has been in her for several months, to come to the surface.
Intention, when stated, especially out loud, acts as the proverbial lever Archimedes referenced above. Coaches see this phenomenon rather regularly. So do teams, when they state a goal then all sorts of resources become available to the team in its quest for success.
The key ingredient is the statement of intention. That acts as the lever. Give it a try…and then get out of your own way and watch your progress.
Interestingly, at Clovis last summer at Western Zones, Laura swam her 50 meter free in 28.00 down from 29.33 the previous summer. I mentioned to her that she might as well swim a second faster for each of the next 4 summers. She smiled at the thought. When she and I revisited that conversation a few days ago she remembered it. I said, “When you do that in 4 years you will own the AR, which currently stands at 24.01 by Dara Torres from 2009, in the era of rubber suits.” She said to me, “Really?” of course you know I said, “Really” back to her…smiles all around.
And so it goes…