This was intended for parents, but the topic that I am starting with this morning is obviously relevant to both. If you are a coach, please identify where you coach and what level of athlete you coach. If you are a parent, please tell us how long your children have been involved in swimming, how old they are, and that kind of thing, so we can get to know each other a little bit. Please – if we could start here and go around quickly.
Thank you very much – I appreciate it. This is an honor for me because between Stew and Siga I am sure that both of them could teach this particular class far better than I can. And thank you for being here. I appreciate it and I will try and at least have something entertaining to say to the two of you. I appreciate both of you being here. Thank you.
I have been coaching since 1970. I have coached every level, and still coach every level, from international swimmers to learn-to-swim. The most important people in the world are the people who teach children to blow bubbles and breathe properly in the water. The rest of us who work up the line from that are just the beneficiaries of the great work of those folks. So let me just start out by saying that. And I am sure that parents recognize that as well. If we don’t get a great start with kids there is no possible way to go very far in this sport because it is a technique-limited sport and the coaching is absolutely critical.
What I am going to talk about today is lessons that are not involving technique and not involving things that we are necessarily teaching every day in the water, but they are critical lessons. The reason we are teaching this to a mixed group of parents and coaches is because we absolutely work together to do this. I am a swim parent. Between biological children and adopted children and various other species of children that have been in and out of my house – we have had seven of them – and like you, my most talented ones are the least interested – my least talented ones are the most interested and we had one that actually is talented and interested. So we have had every flavor – every variety — and I am sure you have all experienced the same sort of thing.
So, let me plunge in here and talk about lessons. It is not going to be 10. You could make this list probably hundreds of items long. I just picked the ones that I think are particularly important and I think that most coaches are going to see something in here that probably rings a bell with them and I am sure parents as well.
Part of the reason that we talk about this particular thing with coaches, and parents recognize this as well, is that we spend a huge percentage of the children’s time with the children. In most cases more time – especially as they get to be teenagers – than their parents do. For years I resisted coaching my own children. And I tried really hard not to do that because I think there are limitations, if you have a personality like mine – in terms of what happens when you do that – that are all negative. There are lots of other personalities that can make that work just beautifully. But what happens is that your coach winds up spending tremendous amounts of time with the child and as you become a teenager – they are trying to spend less and less time, especially with parents. So the coach has a huge influence. And what I care about with where my children swim is – if my child grows up to be just like that coach, are we good? Or are we not good? I want them to be a role model. I want them to be somebody where, if that is what they grow up like – I am happy. I think that is a really critical piece to recognize. Coaches have to teach lessons. Because, you know what? You are going to teach lessons whether you mean to or not. And parents need to recognize that teachers will teach lessons whether they mean to or not.
One of the things that certainly we want to teach as coaches is, we want to teach people the value – the importance – of learning to excel, and learning to commit. And what it takes to commit. And what it means to care about something, and then make that real – make that actually happen.
The first thing I want to make sure the children learn, and I want to make sure I express clearly to parents – the first message that I want to talk about, is the real meaning of competition. I spend a huge amount of time – as the gentleman from Mission Viejo said – coaching parents. That was hard when I was 25 and younger than the parents. But, as you lose hair, gain some weight, and the rest of the hair gets gray, it gets easier. By the time you are my age and you are literally coaching the children of the children that you used to coach, (and Stew is nodding his head up and down – I think he agrees with that) it gets a lot easier right? You can deliver the messages a lot more directly.
1. Learn the Meaning of Competition
The first message I want to talk about is the real meaning of the word competition: strive with. With – and what I always point out to children is, we have a little different sport than a lot of others. Because football, hockey, basketball – lots of other sports, it is strive against. What do we do? We line up in a parallel line, right? Next to each other. And we go down the pool – whether it is practice or it is competition – and we strive with each other. “With” is a cooperative word. A cooperative word. “Strive.” I love going back and talking about “What does strive mean?” It means try, right? So we are going to “try with,” or “in cooperation with” other people. That is the original meaning of the word competition, which occasionally gets perverted.
So, let’s think about a couple of examples of that. There are some differences, obviously, between our sport and others. Children are going to naturally understand and implement real competition, left to their own devices. What do I mean? Let’s do a little thought experiment. Take ten children between the ages of 14 and 7. Put them out in the park. No parents, no coaches, no implements, no bats, no balls, no stuff. What are they going to do? Somebody is going to say, “let’s race.” And they are going to line up at one tree and they are going to race to another tree. First they are all going to line up and somebody is going to say, “ready – go” and they are all going to run once – and that will be fun. Somebody will win – somebody will be last. They are going to do that a couple of more times and then what will they do? And there is your thought experiment. I am going to predict that a lot of you are thinking exactly what they would really in reality do is they will say, “I will give you a head start. You go first, you go second, you go third and I was the fastest one – I will go last.” Why do they do that? Because it makes it interesting. It makes it fun. There is no fun whipping people who are slower than you are, unless you automatically create a challenge and that is what children naturally do. Children left to their own devices will make competition interesting.
Adult regulation regularly gets in the way. Now I know that you have all seen examples of this in overly-organized sports. One of the things we have to think about in creating practices, if we are coaches creating good competitions, is to understand that too much adult regulation just gets in the way of fun and play
One of the questions that you have to ask yourself is why are all the X-sports so incredibly popular? Let me suggest to you there are a couple of reasons. Number one, there is no or limited scoring. If there is scoring, it is scoring of a device that teenagers create for themselves and no one else can understand, okay? No one else can understand. Everyone knows who the best skateboarder in the park is, with or without the scoring system. The second thing that is critically important is that their parents by and large have absolutely no idea what that sport is about. Now that sounds funny, but it is critically important because athletes – young people – want to make something their own. They want to own it. They want it to belong to them. And that sends us a great message as swimming parents. Let the sport belong to the child, because that is what they want. They do not want an extension of you. They want sport to be a thing that they can do to establish their own identity. Does that make sense to everybody? It is critically important as coaches that we find ways to let them own the sport. It does not belong to us as coaches – we don’t want it to belong to parents – we want sport to belong to the children. That is two of the reasons why X-sports are so incredibly popular.
So, understand the meaning of competition. Understand that creating competition in practice is a great thing. Not cut-throat competition, but understand that if you are going to get better, you need people to strive with that have more skills than you do, more endurance than you do, more speed than you do. Understand how to create those things in practice. The people that are leading the lane need to understand that their biggest help is the person who is tickling their toes. (Grabbing their ankles in the boy’s lane – tickling their toes in the girl’s lane.) You know what happens when you turn a bunch of boys loose in a lane? Violence and mayhem, okay? Because that is what little boys like. Little boys like to create chaos, right? In the girl’s lane it is perfect circles up and back, you know? And God help you if you touch somebody else’s feet, right? It looks like two totally different species when they are in practice, okay? Recognize some of those things.
2. A Time to Lead, A Time to Follow
Okay, second lesson. And we do this every single day in practice. There is a time to lead and there is a time to follow. Just like in real life, we have the same situation happen. Every time we create lane situations in practice we have people in a lane – we have got a leader in a lane, and we have got a last person in a lane. Some teams will organize practice so you have parallel situations, so you’ve got two lanes that are similar. You’ve got the two fastest people up front and then the next two fastest people, next two fastest – all the way back, right? And part of your goal in life is just to go the back of that line to work your way up so that you are training well enough to be further up in the lane. But there is a time in your life when you have to learn to be in the back of the lane, and learn the lessons of that lane. The leaders in that lane have responsibility, which is called “encourage,” all right? Encourage.
I always tell coaches, young coaches especially, “The most important thing that happens in your practice every day is the lane talk – what goes on just below your hearing level, in most cases, where the athletes are talking to each other between sets.” It is either destructive or it is positive. You have to teach your athletes which is which. Saying, “We are going too hard. This is too difficult. Why is he or she giving us this set? We can’t do this. I am dying. It’s too hot. It’s to cold. It’s too wet. It’s too dry.” All those things are destructive of good practice. But people encouraging each other and the leader who is getting 30 seconds rest, encouraging the last person in the lane coming in who is getting 3 seconds rest, say “Come on, you can make this, alright? Six months ago I was where you are – you can make it.” That is good lane talk. That is what we want.
It is really important that everybody understands that there is a time to lead and a time to follow. You are not always going to lead. It is bad for you to always be leading. It is not going to help you develop. It is bad for you to always be following. Everybody has got to get a chance to shine. Everybody has got to get a chance to be good in practice – at something.
I had a 16 year old girl a couple of years ago. She couldn’t swim worth a darn. Nice hard worker, just a terrible athlete. I mean, absolutely terrible athlete. And I really couldn’t make her any better. One day I discovered something in dry-land training. We started doing a new thing call crawling, where we are literally crawling on our hands and feet across the concrete. Basically, it is a core exercise. What I discovered was, this girl could crawl like nobody’s business. And she was the leader at crawling in every crawling activity we did. We did crawling where we were going around on the outside of a 50 meter pool – all the way around the outside. When we had people starting out crawling, they were crawling 12 yards. We had crawling forwards, backwards, sideways – all kinds of crawling. She could lead everything.
Then we invented a new thing called gator crawl, because we live in Florida, right? Gator crawl is when you only have yourself off the ground by about an inch and you have got your elbows above your back. And you can picture that – with only hands and feet on the ground – gator crawling is a monster, okay? Anybody who tries it will discover immediately how hard it is. I always tell coaches, “Go back and try it in the privacy of your hotel room at night” so they don’t embarrass themselves. When you are doing that gator crawling you realize the core strength you are developing. And this girl was awesome.
So that was the one thing in our sport that she could do properly. We called her the “Queen of Crawling.” It was something that gave her tremendous self-esteem. A chance for her to lead. A chance for her to be incredibly important in the group. And you know what? Everybody was in awe of that. Because this is somebody who was the last person in the lane – it is hard for her ever to lead a lane. But when she was on dry-land doing crawling, everybody else was following her. That was a big deal. So, lots of opportunities to lead, lots of opportunities to follow.
3. Leadership is an Earned Privilege
I am going to skip through this one very quickly because this is the nature of George Block’s talk, which is going to be next in this room. And this is really George’s deal. I mean, George does a tremendous job with this.
Athletes and everybody else needs to understand that leadership is an earned privilege. It starts with confidence.
The second part is caring. If you don’t care – nobody cares how confident you are. You get to lead by example and then you get to lead by voice. George is going to talk about how we teach that so I am not going to get too far into that right now. We will get back to it – George will get back to it.
4. Be a Hero.
I feel really strongly about this. Most of our kids, 95% of our kids or more, lead lives that are far too easy. Probably we lead lives that are far too easy. I mean, physically we have easy lives. We are almost never at risk of any sort. And we don’t get opportunities, as young men and young women, to prove ourselves. That really has an incredibly negative effect on what happens to youth in this country.
One of the things that I think is great about swimming – absolutely great – is that every day you go to practice and you get to be a hero, within your world. You get to do something in practice, every day, that you have never done before. If you are doing the same 10/100’s kick on 1:30, you get an opportunity to do all ten, or maybe just one, of those kicks faster than you have ever done it before. More effort, more power, more sweat, more tears – you get to be a hero. And it is good to do things that are hard.
I talk to kids all the time and they say, “What are we doing next, coach?” I say, “10-400 IMs, upside down, backwards, under water, no breathing.” And sometimes kids will say, you know, “How many of these are we doing?” And I say, “The only thing that you have got to worry about is the next one. Because it really doesn’t matter whether we are doing 16 of these or 400 of these – the next one has got to be done right. And if you can do the next one right, you are a hero.” I tell kids that practice of swimming is easy, really easy. It is an easy sport to get better at. All you have to do is something better today than you have ever done it before. Just something – a turn under pressure, a start, a streamline off the wall, get your toe turned out (if you are a 7 year old) all the way down the pool, breaststroke. Do something that you haven’t done before.
I ask coaches all the time to try and set up opportunities where children can be tested. And just as important as being tested is to explain to children, because our educational system doesn’t get this across – that it is okay to fail. In fact – it is good to fail. You find out where your limits are. Failure isn’t fatal and it is not final. You are going to get another shot tomorrow and that will cover one of the other lessons we are about to learn. I think one of the things that we can do in swimming is we can give people the opportunities to be Olympian.
I wrote a paper a while back that someone had asked me to do, and a mom came up to me and said, “You know, my child is not going to be an Olympian so why does any of this matter?” And I said to myself, “You know, only 52 people are going to be Olympians every four years. If that is success, we are in trouble.” George Block, who is going to follow me up here, told me about a young man in his program who was the worst swimmer on his high school team, but he was there at practice every single day. He worked hard, and he learned. Then he wound up going in the Marines. And, too long a story, there was an accident at sea. He goes overboard, he keeps somebody afloat who was overboard, saves their life. They come back in and they said, “Where did you learn? …why did you do that?” He said, “Well, I knew it was going to be really hard because the seas were rough and I knew this was a dangerous situation, but you know, I’ve had hard situations in swimming and I knew all I had to do was persevere and keep that person afloat until I got help.” And that was his Olympian moment.
All of our children are going to have moments in their lives where things are going to be hard. One of the things that we do as parents… And I have done it. You better believe me, every mistake you can make as a parent, I have made it already, alright? And I will make some more before I am done because I have two 16 year old boys. That is another story, but you can see where that is going. …Everything we ever do is try to make life better for them. Easier for them.
That is a huge disservice. It is a huge disservice. Any of you have an absolutely flawless life? No bumps? No bruises? No heartache? No pain? I have never ever asked that question and got a single hand go up. Things get rough, right? Don’t we want our kids prepared for when things get rough? So, they have got to have some opportunities in their life to learn how to deal with life when life gets tough. We do them a disservice when we make it too easy for them. So they get to be a hero.
Here is one of my favorites. I hear all the time, “You know, I really want my child’s self-esteem enhanced, so coach, please do not say anything negative to them, okay?” I almost never lose somebody out of my training group and I am the hardest guy that you will ever see at practice. But you know what? The kids know I care and the kids know that I am going to tell them the truth. I am not blowing any smoke up their butt, alright? In school, they get people telling them, “That is fine – that is okay – that’s good.” Kids know better than that. They are not stupid. They know when they are doing well, they know when they are not doing well. What they want is somebody to tell them, “You are not doing well and here is what you gotta do to change that. Keep doing this, change this, and get better.”
Self-esteem only comes from one place – real achievement. Not somebody telling you, “You are doing wonderfully well.” Kids are smart – probably emotionally they are way smarter than most adults. They know when somebody is bs-ing them. And they know when you are telling them the truth. I think it is really critical for children and coaches and parents to understand the issue of esteem. Is it important? Yes. But it only comes from falling on your face, failing, coming back the next day and learning you can conquer what beat you the day before. That is where you get self-esteem. But if you don’t ever get to fall on your face, you don’t ever get real self-esteem.
5. Accept Praise
Okay, I think this is an issue. Many kids have no idea how to accept praise. Why don’t they? I am not sure. I know that many of the kids that I grew up with or have watched grow up over the years are kids who are uncomfortable with people just saying, great job – well done. Because they have set really high standards for themselves. And they need to understand that when people are saying good things to them, if the praise is meaningful (and we will get to that in a second,) that that is something that they need to acknowledge and say thank you for. Because we all need meaningful praise.
What is meaningful praise? “Good swim” from somebody who was having a cup of coffee while you were swimming? Not terribly meaningful. From somebody who saw your swim? A little more meaningful. “I really like the way you are breathing every two the last 25 of your fly – kept your hips up every time your hands went in – that is a great job. Well done. Here is what you do next to get better.” And that is the last part, by the way, of meaningful praise – “Here is what you do to get better.”
So, we are praising them, but at the same time… What do coaches do? Parents, what is the role of the coach? Tell them [the swimmer] how they can improve. As parents we can’t do that. We may not know…probably don’t know. But as coaches we do. Is it praise when you tell somebody how to get better? Absolutely, because it is telling them, “I believe you can get better.” Does that make sense to everybody? If you don’t tell them how to get better, it is like, “Hmmm, you are an 11 year old girl. You just went 1:09 in the 100 breaststroke. That is as good as I could conceive of you getting. Congratulations. Your swimming career is over.” Right? So the last thing always has to be – the last bit of praise, meaningful praise – is, “Here is how you get better.”
Social chatter – I just covered that.
6. Learning from a Critique
Learning from a critique. This is a critical thing, and again, you have to teach children this because very few of them get regular critiques. As a parent, when I look at other parents, too much of the time I say, “too Pollyanna. Too easy going. Too relaxed.” Sometimes they just have to hear, “Here is what you are not doing well and here is how you are going to get it better. Here is what you are going to do.” They need to understand how to process information. Children need to be taught…
“Look, you just did this instead of doing your homework. Now you told me…” Let’s take my 16 year old boys because this is always fun, okay? One is a surfer dude, if you can consider somebody living in Florida a surfer dude, okay? I know you Californians don’t, but, okay? And the other is into life shortening things okay? So in the summer time, my wife, Diane says, “Well they share two brains.” Because as soon as school is out the two boys gotta walk around in tandem and there is only one brain functioning at any given moment. And sometimes it is a half a brain functioning at any given moment okay? So when we go in to watch, to see whether homework is being done, which Diane does four times a night and I do when she tells me to, okay? You know, we go in there and one has his head in a book, okay?, and actually has studying going on in front of him. The other one has the computer and the instant messages going at the same time that he has the I-Pod in the ear and he has the TV on mute and probably four other things I don’t know about, okay? So now we’ve got a situation where one needs to understand, “Unplug all that crap,” right? “And act like you are studying.” Does that make sense?
But they have got to understand that that is a critique that is actually for their own good, because they need to learn how to process information that is going to do them some good. One of the things that I always ask coaches to educate parents about is your role as a coach – my role as a coach, is to provide information that will help them get faster. That means when they go up to the block they have a singular – we will get to that in a second – singular objective for that swim. When they come back from the block they get evaluated on that singular objective and we make sure they understand that, and now they have had a critique, and they know how to get faster. But they need to be taught how to learn from that critique.
7. It’s Not How Many Times You Fail, It’s How Many Times You Get Up.
One of the most valuable lessons, I have already touched on. It is not how many times you fall, it is how many times you can get up. The quality of resilience. We have to start to teach it before they get to their teenage years where it really becomes critical. I mean, let’s face it, if you have adequate coaching and a normal 7 year old they are going to keep getting better, because they are going to keep getting bigger and stronger. As long as we keep them wet – in the water – they will continue to improve. That is basically what happens in the world of swimming. Some will improve faster than others based on maturation rate, based on genetics, based on their ability to pay attention, all those things. But, they will improve.
Now what happens? They get to be teenagers and all of a sudden all of that, in most cases, begins to have a more up and down pattern. By that time they need resiliency skills. They need to understand how, when something doesn’t go the way they want it to, to bounce back. They need to learn how to develop perspective, to see a situation over longer than their normal attention span. And most sub-teenagers attention span nowadays is about similar to that of a gnat, okay? They need to get a longer attention span and be able to focus on what they need to do to get better.
I talk to kids about the whole idea of Winston Churchill after World War II, going back to his elementary school, being asked to give an address, and they go on with this 15 minute flowery oration of how important Winston Churchill was during World War II, and they invite him up to the podium. He walks up to the podium, he stands there and stares out at the audience, and he says, “Never quit.” Then he goes and sits down. He sits down for 30 seconds. There is a little murmur in the audience. He comes back up and he says, “Never quit,” and he walks back. Now he is sitting for 60 seconds. Comes back up and says, “Never Ever Quit.” He walks back and sits down for three minutes. Comes back up. “Never Ever, Ever Quit.” This went on for 20 minutes. They got the message. And it is a pretty strong message. Kids need to learn it – kids need to learn it.
We talked earlier about, it needs to be okay to fail – as long as you learn from that failure. Everybody learns better from failure than they do from success. Success doesn’t tell you where your limits are – failure does. Failure instructs you on how to actually get better. Success just says, “Whoopee. We got there. I did what I knew I could do. And I did it.” You have to think about, in practice, setting things up occasionally where people will definitely fail and what do they do with it? Part of that is teaching them to understand that failure does not have to be a big emotional or emotionally devastating operation. It can be a very plain and simple thing where you say, “Oops, can’t do that today. All right. Next.” And setting up paradigms in practice so people come in and say, “When I fail on this set, what do I do next? Do I take 30 seconds, then get back into it? Do I swim halfway down a 50 meter pool, flip in the middle, get back with my group, try and stay with my group the rest of the time? What do I do? What is the paradigm?” Besides standing there on the end of the pool and say, “Oops. Can’t do it. Couldn’t do it.” and go into all that emotional garbage. Children need to be taught how to deal with that.
8. Learning to be in the Here and Now
Number eight. Critical skill for all of us. Learning to be in the here and now. All performance is in the here and now, because it is the only place you can improve your life. Eliminating constant future and past thinking. Monitoring your selftalk. How do you teach it?
Well, one of the things that I talk about with kids all the time is, “Do you ever have a day like this? You get up in the morning. (You are a teenage person and you can actually drive yourself to practice.) And you get up and you hit the snooze alarm and you don’t hear it. You wake up 15 minutes later and it is like panic time, right? So you hop in the car, right, and you may remember your school books and you may not – you may remember clothes to change into after practice and you may not. You drive like crazy to the pool. The whole time you are driving to the pool, as you are driving to the pool you are thinking, ‘Oh – Coach so and so is really going to be mad at me because here I am late. Now I am going to be 15-20 minutes late for practice.’ You get to the pool. You run in. You’ve got half your stuff together for swimming, for practice. You head out on the pool deck, and lo and behold, they are finished with warm-up. So now you are going directly into the main set, in which you swim like crap because you missed warm-up. Now, the coach is glaring at you, and you are berating yourself internally in your head with your self-talk about ‘How could I do this? How could I be so stupid? Everybody is mad at me. I have embarrassed myself. Now here is this girl I like in the next lane and now she thinks I am a moron, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah…’ And that goes on all the way through practice. You are always a day late and a dollar short – all the way through practice.
Now you get out of practice and you discover, ‘Oh my God. I was in such a rush I left two of the books I need for school back home.’ Can’t get back home. Got to hurry up and solve this problem. So you are in the shower, you get out of the shower, you hop back in your car. You head for McDonalds. ‘Oh – haven’t got time for breakfast. Can’t quite get to breakfast before I get to school.’ So you head to school. Get to school. You are sitting down. Your 1st period is math class. You barely walk in there before you sit down and you are thinking to yourself, ‘Man, this whole thing is totally screwed up – I got no breakfast – I don’t have my books for my next class and Coach so and so is mad at me – what is this afternoon going to be like? What is he or she going to do to me this afternoon?’ Then the teacher says your name and gives a question and you hear, ‘ Oh-oh.’ in your head. And now, all of a sudden, you are going to head for your second period class and say, ‘Man, I made a complete fool out of myself in that class, I messed up practice blah, blah, blah.’” Does everybody see where I am going with this? Anybody in here never done that? We have all done that, right? We have all done that. We are living in how we screwed up the past. We are living in how we screwed up the future and it totally messes up our day. But, the only place in your day that you can actually make your life better is right here, right now.
Now I point out to kids when I am giving this lecture that, two of them in my group of ten at that particular time, two of them are thinking about what they are going to have for dinner. Two of them are thinking about the horrible date they had last night. Three of them are actually listening to me. And three others are watching the really pretty guy or the really pretty girl on the other side of the pool. And I say, “That is the perfect example of not being in the here and now.” Make sense to everybody?
Okay. So they need to learn how to live in the here and now. I always have to go through it with them. That doesn’t mean that you don’t plan. It doesn’t mean you don’t think about the future. But, you have a time and a place to think about the future, a time and a place to reflect on the past. When something is going on right now – live in the here and now. Especially every day in practice. And you know what? When you leave the practice pool, leave your practice in the pool. And next, is study. Go home, get your books going – if you need to eat before that, eat first and enjoy your dinner, your 12 ½ seconds of dinner, right? – and then get on to the next thing, study. Forget about practice. Make sense to everybody? Here and now.
9. Chase One Rabbit
One of my favorites – chase one rabbit. It came from Coach Confucius quite a long time ago. The quote was, “He who chases two rabbits catches neither.” Young people today see this every single day in their life. Every single day, in multiple ways. People try to get two things done at one time.
How does it translate directly into swimming? “My goal is to win the race and swim a best time.” So if you are focusing on two of those, you are focusing on neither of those. Regularly, the strategy – or what you actually have to do when you get in the pool – is going to be different for those two things. Those are two goals, not one. You need to chase one rabbit. When they need a better illustration of this I send them down to the nearest fast food restaurant and tell them to just go sit in a chair at the back of the restaurant and watch how the people at the counter work, because they are all chasing two or three rabbits at the same time. The food is not getting delivered quickly. Nobody is getting service properly. Everybody is unhappy in the entire place because everybody is trying to do more than one thing at one time. They need to chase one rabbit. In practice, outside of practice, all the time.
10. Say Thank You
Simple thing. They all need to recognize and say thank you. Every day when my age group kids leave the pool, I have them get together in a huddle and we review that day. It takes 30 seconds. They give themselves grades. I give them grades. And the last thing I tell them is, “Make sure you leave here and go tell your parents thank you for bringing me to practice.” Some of the kids when they are first there and they are first in my group, I have to explain to them what that means. That they have a support system. Without that support system they couldn’t do anything interesting or fun in life, and they need to thank their support system every single day. You need to understand and appreciate, and one of the things that children gain from swimming, is they understand how difficult it is to achieve anything. Anything. And to appreciate how hard people work to get things done. And how few people actually achieve anything, and actually get anything done, because it is hard. So, when someone helps them to do that, they need to say thank-you.
They need to learn respect for other people’s achievements. I think one of the greatest things in 37 years of coaching that I have seen every single year is that young men understand that young women can outwork them. Lots of guys are brought up in cultures and in situations where they do not necessarily physically respect women’s ability to do that. Any swimming coach in the world will tell you that 99% of the women will outwork 99% of the men. They will simply work harder, do a better job, they are physiologically better equipped to do it, and they are psychologically far better equipped to do it.
With the teenagers I will say, “Boys, let’s see now. If you had to get pregnant and have babies, how long do you think the human race would last?” And the teenage boys gulp real hard, and cross their legs, and relate to that. They understand that situation. I think that is one of the things, that people learn to respect the effort that others put into things.
We have to ask ourselves, and I think lots of times, “How do we teach it? What do we do?” With our novice group I am teaching constantly. 99% of what I am doing is teaching, and I don’t take a 17 year old to demonstrate for a group of 7 or 8 year olds, because a 17 year old to a 7 or 8 year old looks like an adult. They don’t look like a bigger version of them. They look like an adult. One of the things that I like to do all the time is, I take somebody who learned the skill last year – who is maybe 8 or maybe 9 – and I have them come over in my group. And I had them with my group last year, and I will say, “Would you show everybody how to do a one arm fly drill properly, please?” They will do a couple of 12 ½’s one arm fly, perfectly done. And I will say to everybody. “On 3, thank you Suzy.” And it is simply, “1, 2, 3,” and everybody in my group better say, “Thank you Suzy.” – nice and loud. Appreciate the fact that someone has taken time out of their workout to come over for 30 seconds to teach them something. Does that make sense to everybody? Little tiny things. Is that a big thing? No, it is a tiny thing. But teaching children to say thank-you.
11. Learn to Pay Attention and Focus.
Learning to pay attention and focus. As everyone of you in this room know, most of our lives these days are multi-tasking, right? And yet there is a problem with multi-tasking. That is that, there is always something that actually requires our focus. And children need to be taught to focus.
One of the greatest sayings I have seen in a long time is on the back of a T-shirt. “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing”. One of the other gentlemen working at this clinic has worked with me for 37 years, both on-deck coaching and also in offices. His name is Guy Edson and he talks about Greek architecture when describing this. He talks about Greek architecture as Doric, Ionic and Corinthian and he relates it to people’s garages. When you first move into a house you have a nice new garage. You’ve got a two car garage and, you know, you think, “This is really cool. I can park my car in here.” Now, in Southern California you may not worry about that, but when you live in Chicago, you need that nice 2 car garage to drive into at night. Dry, warm, no ice, and you think, “This is fabulous!” okay? And then summer comes in Chicago. The lawn chairs have to go somewhere, and, “Oops – we have a lawnmower?” And the lawnmower has to go somewhere. And the garden tools have to go somewhere, right? By the end of the first summer you are in the house, what have you got? You’ve got a 1 car garage. And by the end of the second summer you’ve got a no car garage, and you are out chipping ice at 4:15 in the morning when you are heading for practice, okay?
All of our lives go from Doric, or plain and simple – functional, – to Ionic, which is supposedly the best, the greatest Greek architecture form with a little ornamentation. A little bit extra that makes it beautiful and useful. To Corinthian. All of your jobs go from Doric, to Ionic, to Corinthian, because it is hard to keep the main thing the main thing. Part of the secret to doing a great job of coaching, and I think, to doing a great job of parenting, is to keep the main thing the main thing. I think for coaches, and for parents, that the main thing is the same thing. That is – talk to children. Coaches, get your nose out of your computer. It is a nice thing, but computers do not ever talk back to you. They may fail to function, but they do not talk back to you. Children do. And swimming, like every other sport, is high touch, low tech. The biggest impact you are going to have is talking to children. Talking to young people. And that basically is where this is going, right? Keep the main thing the main thing. That’s 11 of my ten.
12. Learn to Make an Effort
Number 12 of my ten is, too many young people do not have to make an effort. I regularly have young children – 6, 7, 8 years of age – who are in our lesson program or in our novice program, and the first time they actually do something that is hard they will say, “Coach John – Coach John – my heart is beating so fast.” And I say, “That is great, Jose! That is what we want! Let that little sucker rip. How hard can it beat?” Alright, fantastic. But, they have to learn that that is okay, because they do not necessarily do a lot of hard challenging things, physically, growing up. Learn to make an effort.
13. Three Immutable Rules of Improvement
Number 13 of ten. This is a beautiful thing that I stole partially from Frank Busch at the University of Arizona. I always tell children and adults that this is both simple and absolutely philosophically profound. The rules of improvement… and it is really cool explaining to a 7 year old what immutable means, okay? Getting them to understand immutable, but they can get it. …The first thing is: Show Up. If you don’t show up to practice you have no chance to get better. If you don’t show up to school you have no chance to become a better student. If you don’t show up at your homework desk, you will not get your homework done. Later on in life, if you don’t show up at your job you won’t have one very long. If you don’t show up in your marriage – you won’t have one very long. And show up means a lot more than just walk in the door. It is, bring your heart. Bring your brains, Bring your guts. Bring the whole package. But, you have to show up. First rule of improvement.
Second: Honor your teammates with your effort. Honor your teammates with your effort. I ask children, very young children right up through teenagers and college students and members of the USA National Team, “What would it be like if everybody came to practice and was a slug? What if they came to practice and they didn’t want to work? What if they came to practice and they said, ‘Well, let’s just goof through this today. We won’t really do anything really very hard today.’ Would you like to be there?” What about if everybody in your office in your working life said, “Let’s just do as little as we can and get by. We will still collect a paycheck.” What if your husband or your wife said, “We will just do whatever. They will still be here.” Honor your teammates with your effort. Every small child can understand that immediately. If you continue with that discussion on a long-term version I guarantee you, you will see great effort in practice. I guarantee you.
The 3rd one: Do things correctly. There is a right way and a wrong way, in swimming, to do everything. Now, there might be twenty ways to do it correctly, but when the coach teaches you the way to do it correctly – do it correctly. It is not a sport or an activity – just like the rest of life isn’t – that you can slop through and do it any old way. You have got to figure out the correct way to do it and you have got to do things correctly. Simple things – three simple things.
14. When In Doubt, Change.
Last one. You all know people who can’t figure out why something doesn’t change in their life. But they keep doing the same thing over and over and over. Not just swimmers – adults, coaches, everybody. When in doubt – change.
All right. That part is for coaches and for parents both. You can come up with hundreds of them, but you know what? If you don’t teach lessons – they are never going to learn.
Thank you very much everybody.