Sunday, November 25, 2018

Artificial Maturity

This week’s title is inspired by Coach Richard Thornton (SRVLA) and NBA Masters swimmer Brenda Lein.
Richard told us one of the best recent books he is reading is “Chop Wood Carry Water” by Joshua Medcalf. Brenda is a bona fide trainer and racer on our massive NBA Masters team.
The book is brilliant in that the chapters are a mere 2-4 pages. We are actually reading one chapter a week with our team. They love it and look forward to it.
Brenda asked in workout today about a term she read in an online article. The term was “drive from (or maybe it was “with”) your shoulders”. She asked what that meant and we said we had no idea. Since the author of the piece didn’t elaborate she (nor we) had much to go on. All we could do was make an educated guess…not the same thing as actually knowing.
Chapter 4 in the book is entitled “Artificial Maturity”. The book is about a teenager, John, who enlists in a Samurai Warrior training camp after high school graduation. His goal is to become an archer as a samurai warrior.
In the 4th chapter John’s sensei Akira asks John to restring his bow after the bow string snaps. Akira asks him if he has done it before. John says “Not personally. But I’ve seen it done.” Akira says, “So you know how to restring it?”
John, “Of course! I’ve read about it dozens of times and I’ve watched a lot of videos on YouTube.”
Special note to parents: just because it is on the internet and YouTube doesn’t make it so. Be smarter than that – your swimmer and coach will be thankful.
Well, you can imagine John’s inability to re-string the bow based upon his knowledge BUT lack of personal experience. The message from Akira is simple: knowing what is to be done is vastly different from being able to do it yourself.
Said another way, “It is one thing to study war and another to live the warrior’s life” (this from the “Art of War”).
So our answer to Brenda was “we don’t know”. We do not know what the author was meaning when the words “drive from the shoulder” were used. We do know what those words mean but we do not know how they are being used to convey a teaching/coaching concept.
Swimmers and coaches – sensei and would be Samurai warriors – all need the same thing: clarity of purpose and clear understanding of the concept being coached/taught.
Much easier said than done. See you poolside!

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Accountability & Consequences

In the process oriented swim world these two concepts, when properly entwined, give an athlete so much power s/he can do pretty much whatever they seek.
In fact we would lobby strenuously that when accountability and consequences are linked the results oriented swim world benefits immensely.
Each swimmer needs to decide (and it is extremely helpful when parents and coaches encourage this decision) s/he will be accountable for what happens and then fully accept the consequences.
If there are no consequences then there is no reinforcement of accountability.
Case in point: Let’s say a swimmer needs a 55.19 to qualify for a meet. She goes a 55.36, missing by .17. How does the result sit? What are the expectations of the swimmer?
The consequence is clear; no trip to the meet. How’s the accountability hold up? If the swimmer says she is disappointed but will keep working and eventually get her time and EARN the trip then the process is working…and eventually the result will show. It has to.
If the swimmer tries any number of machinations to reconstruct the consequence – no trip to the bigger meet – with a plea for an exception (“I was sick, I couldn’t train the week before” the list is endless) and that plea is surrendered to by the coach or parent then nothing has been learned.
Well that’s not exactly true. What has been learned is that no matter what, you can always finagle your way to what you want, even though it hasn’t been earned legitimately…and that is not how the world works. Caution here, much of the political and corporate world teaches us otherwise. But we in swimming know that politicians and corporate heads in general couldn’t get a Jr. Olympic cut let alone a National one!

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Making Do

We are here in Northern California just above San Francisco which puts us about 200 miles south of the current raging fire – The Camp Fire. As of this morning the statistics are no less than very grim…and even much worse for those impacted.
We had a meet scheduled. We stopped Saturday after 90 minutes of racing due to poor and deteriorating air quality. Kids were coughing and running low on energy etc. Sunday’s events were scratched also.
Parents, swimmers and coaches were doing what they could to move past the immediate disappointment. And as we worked through that stage it became more a matter of what to do next…how to make do with what was available to us.
We said the time honored “blessed are the flexible, for they shall not be bent out of shape”. Jackson, a senior on our NBA team did himself proud and gave us another thought. He said he learned from the meditation master, Jack Kornfield – google him –
“You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.”
Everywhere in life it is time to learn…

Sunday, May 20, 2018

And What Today’s Youth Need is…

Definition of resilience
1: the capability of a strained body to recover its size and shape after deformation caused especially by compressive stress
2: an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change
(Also resiliency)


·       1The capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness.
·       2The ability of a substance or object to spring back into shape; elasticity.

We were talking with a college coach 2 weeks ago advocating for one of our swimmers. After the usual conversation we asked what he thought the differences – if any – were in this generation of high schoolers compared to those that had come before. He replied that the main thing he sees is that kids today lack the resiliency of those even a decade ago, let alone several decades ago.

He observed that pretty much every person who comes in as a freshman will, over the course of 4 years, face any number of challenges as they adjust to life on their own…academically, socially, athletically…you name it and they will be challenged, multiple times. He said he thinks today’s young people lack resiliency, especially when compared to those who have come before.

We talked a bit about how this happens discussing all the usual things…parents who do too much, coaches who do too much, thus robbing the youngster of the opportunity to grow by becoming resilient while still relatively safe in their local environs.

Failure fixed by others leaves you weakened; mistakes you overcome on your own empower you.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Begin with a Sign

More thoughts on culture; how to create yours and sustain it over time. In a recent Thought of the Day from ASCA this idea from Coach Kinel resonated, very simple and yet profound.
Thought of the Day

"You begin with just a sign, "Chesterton Swimming and Diving," and talk about pride in that. Then you win a little... Districts, then states. Put the banner up, talk about pride in that. Then you have a former swimmer go to the Olympics. Talk about pride in that.

It's just step by step. No matter what level you are at, start with the sign. Take pride."

-Coach Kevin Kinel, Chesterton High School, Indiana
Developing a Culture of Hard Work and High Expectations For Your High School Team


Then we saw this sign at the pool at Drake High School in San Anselmo, CA. More than one person put some real thought into this. It ties into itself very nicely on several levels.
So what’s your sign look like? Does it accurately portray your message? Do you have it on bag tags or kick boards? Do you talk about it regularly with your team? All athletes, coaches and parents are affected by this type of cultural reminder. Make sure everyone can see it and knows the origins and recent examples.


Tuesday, April 24, 2018

What about Team Culture?

Daniel Coyle’s newest book, “The Culture Code” subtitled “The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups” is worth your time if you are involved in putting together any group of people with the stated intention of being successful.
He discusses the 3 skills needed: building safety, sharing vulnerability and establishing purpose. We won’t review it here today but offer this observation instead.
In our North Bay Aquatics Senior Training group we have about 45 athletes. Due to pool constraints we have 8th graders through seniors in high school. Normally we have maybe one or two 8th graders and the number in the group is more like 35. We have had several issues since the beginning of 2018 where it is apparent that as a group we currently do not have our culture working the way we would like it to be. Each of the 3 incidents were different but they all pointed to the fact that we weren’t taking very good care of each other.
As Coyle points out the word CULTURE comes from the Latin “cultus” which means “care”.
On Saturday at workout we had a group conversation and after some chatting and a really good real world training situation from Ken’s days on the University of Arizona collegiate swim team, we felt like the message had been sent. In this particular situation it was that each swimmer has different capacities for training and it will always be this way in any group. Therefore when someone is not “laying it all out there all the time” some care needs to be administered so that everyone in the group feels like they belong and have value.
Then we were flabbergasted. We asked them – teenagers all – do they have discussions at school, either formally or informally about team culture, working together, overcoming personal obstacles in a group setting…things like that. We have kids in 5 different middle schools, 4 different public high schools and 5 different private high schools. Only 2 hands went up. One from a junior who said as a freshman there were some issues in his school about inappropriate behavior centering around drug/drinking activities; one from a sophomore who said last week her school had a lecture (you can imagine how helpful that was) for 20 minutes on the general subject of group dynamics.
So, it is still reading, writing and ‘rythmatic. If you ever wondered how valuable your swim team is in the development of young people into fully functioning adults…we say wonder no more.
10x100 on the 1:10 is different from 10x100 on 3 minutes…but in both sets the team culture is critical to the outcome of each person…make no mistake about that.

Monday, April 16, 2018

More about Parenting and College

“Over drinks one night with friends, a Palo Alto mother announced that her son just came home with a B and she said to him, “What are you thinking? You think you’re going to get into Stanford with a grade like that? You’re going to get into Arizona State and if you think I’m going to pay for Arizona State, I’m not!” This mother obviously doesn’t think highly of Arizona State. Apparently she didn’t know that it’s in the top ten U.S. producers of Fulbright Scholars, that one alumna is Susan Cartsonis, producer of the second-highest-grossing romantic comedy movie of all time, What women Want, or that the designer of her very own handbag – Kate Spade – went there.
The truth is that most of us have no idea how to judge a college’s suitability for our kids. We salivate over the U.S. News college rankings, even though the list mostly reflects how hard a school is to get into and what a group of other educators think about it, which is a function of how hard it is to get into.”
The entire Chapter 19 in Julie Lythcott-Haims book Howto Raise an Adult”, talks about having a wider mind-set about colleges. There are several different lists and actual discussions about how certain schools view test scores vs. grades vs. recommendations. There are even a few top notch schools that don’t even look at test scores.
If your swimmer is thinking about college this chapter is highly informative and up to date. If you are curious about the process we encourage you to check it out.

Friday, April 6, 2018

How To Raise An Adult

In her ground breaking book subtitled “Break free of the over parenting trap and prepare your kid for successJulie Lythcott-Haims writes clearly from an informed perspective. She is a recent Dean of Freshman at Stanford University and a parent of two growing teenagers.
She traces the change in the way parenting has evolved from the days before the baby boomers to present day. What began as a desire to keep your child safe in the early 80’s to play dates to supervised sports to present day practices in all areas where parents do everything possible for their kids to insure success it is easy to see how we have gotten to this place at this point in time.
She remarks that in the last couple of decades there are many more parents on campus at universities – including Stanford – than ever before. Instead of raising kids to be self-sufficient parents are increasingly making sure the kids are ok by being with them every step of the way.
And the instantaneously available information – thanks to the smart phone – makes it possible.
What to do then?
We haven’t finished reading the book yet but we can tell you one of the parts that resonated with us was this quote from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, “There are two things children should get from their parents: roots and wings.”
We need to give them basic life skills and then let them figure it out. Pretty simple yet challenging to do when most around you are doing everything for theirs. And we are led to believe that the college (yup, even the high school, middle school and kindergarten) our kids get into will make or break their future success. This of course is promoted in all sorts of ways, some subtle and some not so subtle, by those very schools. It is a business model folks.
Oh, there is plenty of over coaching as well from well- meaning coaches in all sports. We see it on pool decks wherever we go racing. Roots and wings; gotta remember that.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Nothing Really New Here

We returned a week ago from Orlando and the always stimulating, exciting and very fast NCSA Championships. The following are our observations in no particular order of those who swam up front:
Underwater dolphin kicks at quick tempo – being under isn’t fast in and of itself
Body position off walls
Body position in the turn itself
Fly and breaststroke release hands off the gutter
Back starts – we’re going to get a wedge even though most never race using them since the wedge gives a real sense of the explosiveness available off of the start
Streamlines underwater into breakouts
Kick power and kick size – if your kick is too far out of the water all you do is splash a lot
Entry of hands on free, fly and back – very precise
The shape of your breaststroke
Speed is needed for ALL events, ALL distances (Claire Tuggle 26.5 last 50 in her 500)
Leg power off walls
We’d be interested in observations from any of you who were just at any of the recent NCAA Championships.
The question remains what do you do in the following situation? You give a set of say 10x100/1:30 progressive (descending) 1-5, 6-10…if a swimmer will not kick an underwater dolphin or three do you let her continue since she is descending but not using the walls the way the fastest do in the big meets? Do you praise the result or do you start over since the big meet skill is being ignored?

Monday, March 19, 2018

Proactive vs. Reactive

All people, athletes, teams and organizations go through all sorts of things as life goes along. Indeed life is a never ending chain of events. These are linked together by time.
The interesting thing is that these events don’t shape us but rather our response to them that determines the outcome, thus defining our shape.
And it seems to us, through observation, that those people, athletes, teams and organizations that are proactive have a much higher, better and more effective level of outcome than those that are reactive.
Proactive seems ahead of the game; reactive seems to always play catchup.
Ohio State football program looks at it this way: E + R = O
Events + Response = Outcomes
The full story is below…has Dave Krotiak says, “Have an awesome day!”

Sunday, March 11, 2018

The Real Culture of American Swimming

by Don Heidary, February 26, 2018

As there has been a great deal in the media of late on the "culture of American Swimming", I am compelled to offer a vastly different perspective, and I believe with all my heart, a more accurate one. Over the past forty years, I have coached in the summer-leagues, at the high school level, and as a proud member of USA Swimming. What I have seen, and have been blessed to be a part of, is a culture that is anything but predatory, abusive, and certainly not profit-driven.

What lies beneath the surface of the sport of swimming are the greatest lessons of life, of relationships, of personal growth, and of athletic development. I have seen countless children learn invaluable social skills, overcome debilitating fear, develop profound self-esteem and self-awareness, build life-long friendships, and discover mentors and programs that changed the trajectory of their lives. I have seen swimmers find a home away from home and a second family, and often a respite from life's stresses and challenges. I have seen kids learn things they cannot learn in a classroom or at a dinner table, such as work ethic, resilience, sacrifice, humility and teamwork. I have seen young adults learn to celebrate the success of others, transcend pain thresholds, discover acts of courage within themselves, and begin to see life through the lens of team, service, and leadership. I have seen kids that never found "success" in athletic endeavors, find it their role as an inspiration and a role model.

I have seen teenagers contemplate the tipping point of their physical and mental capacity and discover a strength within that they never thought possible. I have seen kids' academic priority shift from indifference to mastery as a result of the transforming self-discipline learned through swimming. I have seen young student-athletes redefine their academic focus, social priorities, and their predisposition to work and challenge with the possibility and opportunity of being a collegiate athlete. I have witnessed countless swimming careers evolve from nervous children on the stairs of their learn-to-swim programs to high school seniors giving emotional farewell speeches to teams that changed their lives.

Against the backdrop of a culture of (un)social media, technological dependence, and false relevance, the sport of swimming and athletics in general, offers human interaction and relationship dynamics based on depth of character and contribution. Approval or acceptance comes only from earned respect and relationships developed. In swimming, a child's social life is real life, and it is developed and experienced in the challenge of training, in the unification of competition, and in daily team interaction.

And the culture of coaching has been nothing short of inspirational. I am talking about the ninety-nine percent that define it, that create the cultures described above, the real culture of American swimming. Coaches are individuals who do not refer to their vocation as "work", view it as a job, or track their hours. Coaches are by and large predisposed to enhancing the quality of the lives they serve: children and athletes. The coaches that I know define success not in pay or recognition but in a life made better, a goal achieved, a note of gratitude, or in a parent's acknowledgement that they have seen profound change in their child. The coaches that I know view their role as servants, as leaders, as mentors, and most significantly as privileged. They understand that few athletes will become Olympians but all can become leaders on the team, role models in their community, and "Olympian" in character. The coaches that I know went against the norms of professional pursuit to follow a passion and to make a difference. Most have sacrificed financial security for societal contribution.

An illustration of the role and relevance of many coaches came in a parent's comment many years ago, that has always resonated with me. It was made against the backdrop of the extreme social pressures that kids face, when a mother said, "Don't you understand, you (coaches) are the last line of defense."

Beyond coaching, as a volunteer, I have been a member of the Board of Directors of Pacific Swimming (Northern California), USA Swimming, and of the American Swimming Coaches Association. I have seen the inside of the volunteer culture of the sport, and it is driven first and foremost by service; countless individuals working behind the scenes to support children and the athletic process. These people are true servants and in my opinion, the silent hero's and profound examples of selfless support. They are volunteers who spend up to forty hours a week in support of the sport and its members, officials who give up weekends to officiate so that the opportunity to compete is never in question, and committees who work tirelessly to create opportunities outside of the pool to enhance the experience of the sport. They themselves become role model for our athletes.

While the sport has been profoundly successful, its achievement has not been manufactured in board rooms or through corporate sponsors. It has been fostered in learn-to-swim programs, summer-league teams, YMCA's, club teams, and collegiate programs throughout the country. It has been nurtured by caring, professional, and driven coaches, supported by selfless volunteers, and it has been given structure by organizations grounded in methodical plans of athlete development, teambuilding, and coach-swimmer partnerships.

The real culture of swimming and the sport itself is a gift to our children and to our society. The benefits are immeasurable and invaluable. Over 500,000 children and young adults enter a swimming pool each year, some from the shallow end to learn a life skill, some from the deep end to achieve at a high level, with the vast majority falling somewhere in the middle. They choose the sport and the commitment because of the dedication of coaches and because of the culture of their team, not in spite of them. And every day, tens of thousands of coaches step onto a pool deck to help develop an athlete to his or her potential, to build a team and a team culture, and to help shape lives.

This is what lies beneath the surface of our sport.

The following is an excerpt from a letter written many years ago by a graduating athlete. It poignantly reveals the impact the sport can make far beyond the competitive process. While this is one letter, it may very well represent hundreds of thousands of teenagers who have benefitted from the sport of swimming. This is the culture of swimming that too few see or read about.

"I can only imagine where I would be today, right now, if I had never joined this team back in seventh grade. In middle school, I found myself, like so many others do, at a crossroads of sorts. My best friends were making choices that made me uncomfortable on many levels, and I could feel myself slipping down with them. Looking back, I can see just how far I was about to fall. In joining this team, my life went from slipping downwards, and slipping fast, to something entirely different and profoundly positive. This team, its coaches and teammates, has changed my life in countless ways. It has not only shaped me into the person I am today, but it has made me realize who that person is. Because of this team, I know my values, and I'm standing by them.

I have so much gratitude for everything the team has done for me over the past seven years. To the coaches, I owe not only my career in the pool, but also relationships that I consider some of the most important in my life. I know that there are very few people in the world that would do for me what you would in a heartbeat, and I cannot express how thankful I am to have you in my life. And to my teammates and amazing friends, well, I love you and I could not be more grateful. Thank you all from the bottom of my heart."

So, I acknowledge and thank the thousands of coaches, administrators, and volunteers who work every day tirelessly, unselfishly, and with the highest character. They create, not only a wonderfully positive sport, but a sport that changes lives, a sport that I believe is the finest and most important sport in the world.

Don Heidary

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Pushing Limits

Craig Carson, Brentwood Seawolves, sent us a WSJ article from the Sat/Sun Feb 3-4 edition in the Review Section titled Head Games (if you want the full storycheck it out). The article chronicled the history of our understanding of human limits, how we test for them and how we might overcome previously interpreted limitations.

A loose summary is that the brain physiologically is wired to keep us from killing ourselves, literally. When it perceives we are doing damage to ourselves through feedback it receives during exertion, it “makes” us ease off. But the science today tells us that “the feeling that you can go no further is just that – a feeling.”
In a 2014 experiment researchers “showed cyclists images of smiling faces in imperceptible 16-millisecond flashes. The exposure boosted cycling performance by 12% over the level recorded with frowning faces projected in the same way. The sight of the smile didn’t lower the subjects’ heartrates or lactate levels. Instead it subtly altered how their brains interpreted those signals, evoking feelings of ease that bled into their perception of how hard they were pedaling.”
That is very powerful science and armed with this knowledge we believe that our athletes can do more work at higher levels of discomfort thus achieving better physiological adaptation…and correspondingly find higher levels of confidence that ultimately fuel performance.
The simplest and perhaps most effective tool is the ability to train yourself using motivational self-talk. There are many who will poo-hoo this calling it hokey. However, there is an ever growing body of scientific research that shows it is very real. It is pretty simple; you replace negative self-talk “man I am cooked” with “keep pushing, you’re doing well.”
Thanks Craig for the eye opener!

Monday, February 12, 2018

A Closer Look at the Sprint 500

We came back from Iowa (Winter Juniors) frustrated with our 500 swims. We either got out and were unable to bring it home, or we went out too slow and looked good at the end but were out of the race. Ken took the time (huge help!) to provide the stats below. The 250 is the split for the first 10 laps, the 500 the time for the total and the delta is the difference. The fastest swim was Zane Grothe’s 4:07.2…out in a 2:03.1 back in a 2:04.1 – a 1.0 delta. In that swim 2nd place was out in 2:03.5 and finished with a 2:07.2 for a 3.7 delta.

The one common denominator in all 1st place swims was the get out speed. This coupled with an ability to get home made the difference. So that much is obvious after looking at the data. The stopwatch never lies.

The question is what goes into the make-up of a swim like that? Our thinking today is fairly simple. You must have enough speed to be at the front or very close to the front. Then you must be able to finish faster than your competition. Duh...

How do you train for that?  The 500 is a long sprint. You must have the physiology to do both the front and back halves. You must train for speed and plain old fashioned toughness. You must be able to withstand the agony (real and imagined) caused by early speed and the accompanying buildup of fatigue; physiologically, mentally, and emotionally.

Everyone has their own interpretation of how to do that. There are no shortcuts around the preparation for this extended effort. Anyone who is unable or unwilling (two different things) to put forth the effort is just kidding him/herself about a top level 500.


Sunday, January 21, 2018

Here's a Couple of Sets

This first one comes from Gordy Westerberg out of Albuquerque, New Mexico. He shares sets regularly. We liked this one because we are referring to our 200 gang as middle sprinters and our 500 gang as long sprinters. This set seemed to give both groups something they could sink their teeth into…as Ken likes to say, “They buy into it…more likely to own it”.

10x400s done as 4-3-2-1

at 5:30 (keep it relaxed), 1 at 4:30 strong
at 5:30 (keep it relaxed), 1 at 4:30 stronger

at 5:30 (keep it relaxed), 1 at 4:30 fast

at 5:30 (keep it relaxed)

We saw some really fast 400s on #9! THANKS GORDY, keep them coming.

Then we plagiarized his set into one that gave us some pulling then swimming using Gordy’s rest reduction. We then added in some fast 50’s with increasing rest. We have stress days 3 times per week and like to have them go for speed each of those days after some more aerobic based capacity work.

70 mins of work = 5000 yards total: all pulling with ankle straps and pull buoys; all stronger, getting faster 400’s were swim as were the 50’s.

[3x400 pull - straps and PB – keep it smooth and even paced - intervals are 5:30 or 6
Then 1x400 swim/4:30 or 5 make it strong
Then 8x50 on .35 or .40 time average] rest interval +/- .60 get pull gear back on

[2x400 pull As Above then 1x400 stronger then 6x50 time ave on .40 or .45] RI +/- .60

[1x400 pull AA then 1x400 super strong – fast oh yeah! Then 4x50 time ave .45 or .50] RI @.60

{{1x400 swim; get up and rock the pool then 2x50 time ave on .50 or .60; be thinking I am finishing my 400IM or 500 free}}

Monday, January 1, 2018

Team Culture

Looking ahead to the New Year with great anticipation we have been spending a fair amount of time discussing our team’s culture. We are talking about what it is we want to emphasize and how to choose the words to describe the path. Culture defines that path; the clearer the culture, the brighter the light on the path.

Pete Carroll is the Head Coach for the Seattle Seahawks of the NFL. He has a record of success that is admirable. The NFL according to the players stands for Not For Long; it is very challenging to maintain a playing or coaching career. Coach Carroll has always been careful about how he defines his team’s culture.

“Always protect your team. Have peoples back; it is not about you, it's about figuring out who another person is and celebrating them. Always take care of each other no matter where you are. Show love.

No whining, complaining or excuses. Own it; is your responsibility to bring the very best.

Be early, not on time but early; show that you care about the other people and their time by organizing your life. When people are waiting on you, you are slowing down the entire system.  

How do you deal with failure? First you need to feel the pain. Change does not happen without pain. Get after it and put yourself in an emotional state of mind every day so that you get used to it. Forget the noise. Focus on great attitude, great action, great effort; those are things that you can control.”

Thanks to Coach Craig Carson, Brentwood Seawolves, for sharing this one.