1970 ASCA WORLD CLINIC, ORGANIZING A HIGH SCHOOL PROGRAM by Dick Hannula, Swim Coach Wilson High School and Tacoma Swim Club


By Dick Hannula, Swim Coach
Wilson High School and Tacoma Swim Club

Organizing a successful high school team is more than issuing a call for swimmers, teaching swimming strokes, and conducting training sessions. It took me quite a few years to realize that I had to be a little bit of everything. No job is too big, too small, or beneath my dignity. You have to be willing to give a great amount of time. If there is one thing that makes for a successful swimming coach in high school, college or AAU, it is the willingness to work. Work
long hours more than three months a year and more than five days a week. Too many high school coaches think that they can work just the three months of a high school season. Work, effort, dedication and time are the main ingredients of successful coaching. The irony of it all is that you may not even have to know anything special about swimming, at least to start.

The most important factor in the success of a high school team is an AAU club that can feed a substantial number of swimmers to you. Show me a strong high school team and it will be one loaded with former age group swimmers. The Tacoma Swim Club is this to my high school team. At one time my high school team was number one with me. I ·was a high school coach before becoming an AAU coach as well. I was happy to have our age group team feeding my high school team. In 1966 I attended my first national AAU meet with four swimmers. I am now happy to have a high school team that can help keep my AAU team going. The Tacoma Swim Club place seventh in the women, and eighth in the men at the 1970 AAU long course championship. This was a great thrill and we are very proud of our AAU club.

I coach Wilson High School and the Tacoma Swim Club. I organized Tacoma Swim Club and have coached in it since that time. I also organized the parent group that we have. Wilson High School is beginning its 13th year and I have coached at Wilson since the school was built. My high school coaching extends back another seven years at another Tacoma high school.

Wilson High School is a three year school with about 2300 students located in Tacoma, Washington. The school is a city school with some suburb characteristics. We have low income to high income families, with no particularly large percentage of high income families.

We have depended on at least part of our team to be made up of boys who are new to competitive swimming when they enter our high school as sophomores. Some of our boys have been members of the Tacoma Swim Club for a number of years and have come up through the age group swimming program. These experienced swimmers have numbered as low as one to as high as six or seven in one year.

We have developed from a team with no All American Swimmers to an occasional All American. This has steadily improved and in 1970 we had a peak of 14 All American positions, nine boys. This gave us the second most All American spots of any high school team in the United States. Hinsdale was first. Our team had developed from unranked to one of the top two or three high school teams last year.

Our best teams have ridden the crest of our best age group swimmers. We drop off any national pace in our off years. At the present time, Wilson High School has won 12 straight Washington Interscholastic Championship Meets and 145 consecutive high school meets.

The ideas that I will present on developing a high school program are ones that I have tried, or possibly plan to try. Many of them are adaptable to any team, not necessarily a high school team. I don’t think that they are necessarily new or even my own ideas. I am sure that I picked up most of my information from some other coach through a clinic, alert to techniques and methods that you can adapt to your program,

I believe that a high school swimming program must follow a total environment approach. You must surround a swimmer with swimming. You must take up his time, his thoughts, his need for approval, his friends, his attitudes, in short his high school years are directly and indirectly revolving around swimming.

You should be concerned with anything that might pollute a swimmer’s environment. Idle time, bad friends, cars, irresponsible parents, anti-swimming teachers and administrators are pollutants that can retard the progress of a swimmer.

Many steps in organizing a successful high school program are not direct coaching procedures but rather an indirect approach to do something about the high school swimming environment of your swimmers. I believe that these extras are necessary and will make your coaching more effective than if you consider them unnecessary or not your job. If you don’t do it, or at least direct it from behind the scenes, it will not be done.

1. Form a swimming booster club. At Wilson, it is the Wilson Swim Club. It is made up of boys and girls whose goal is to promote our competitive swimming team. This is an official school club of boys and girls, team members and non-team members, who hold regular meetings, plan social events, hold fund raising activities, and plan activities to promote the interest in swimming at our school.

For years I used to go to the school pep club and get them behind a particular meet but we could never hold their interest for more than a very short time. They existed for football and basketball, and we couldn’t make a long term debt. Finally I wised up and for the last couple of years we have had our Swim club. Girls in particular have worked very hard. They make favors for the swimmers at all. of our meets (cookies, candy, cakes). They ti.me, score, record, and perform the clerical tasks at our home meets. They also conduct clinics each year to train new members for these jobs. They act as our rooting section for our away meets. They arrange the pep busses to the state meet. They even paid the transportation costs of our pep band to the state meet. They promote skits and announcements about swimming at our assemblies. They make signs for the meets. They make pep ribbons for some meets.

We are just now improving on the club idea and they are expanding their efforts. Just last week they cosponsored an Olympic Swimming and Track Movie that we showed in our new auditorium.
One of their big promotions is the yearly sale of Wilson Swimming T shirts. Two years ago our swim club planned the welcome home Kaye Hall program after the 1968 Olympics; Kaye was a Wilson student and club member at that time. She flew into the city baseball stadium by helicopter from the main airport. She was met on the field by our Wilson Swim Club members in their Wilson Swimming shirts. This didn’t hurt our image either.

2. Get to your school annual advisor. We started with a one half page for swimming in the school annual where I started coaching. Football had eight pages. How can you convince a swimmer that swimming is important with this type of school recognition? We are now up to six pages in the annual with individual pictures of every varsity swimmer.

3. Get the message to your school newspaper advisor and to the student sports editor. See that they get all the swimming news. Hany high school coaches consider any student reporters to be pests. I make a student reporter welcome and important. He gets an interview, even on class time and sometime I may throw in a free swim, and we get swimming in the school paper.

4. Encourage your swimmers to attend the Lettermen’s Club meetings. We try to keep our swimmers active in this club and usually one or more swimmers will hold an office. This contributes to cooperation and the respect between all sports, the athletes and the coaches. I also try to do this with those boys who are eligible for the honor society club.
5. Try to have some swim team members or swim club members on the student council. Again we try to foster cooperation arid to keep our ears open if student money becomes available for swimming pool improvements. We built our pool bleachers with student council appropriated funds. Student Council conducted a survey one year as to the school project that was the most needed. Acoustics for the swimming pool was voted as the most needed project to the surprise of many people. Student Council then approached
the school district to do the job, about $10,000, and were refused. The council then purchased about $800 worth of acoustical title and proceeded to install them with student and volunteer labor. The school district stopped this project, but by keeping the issue alive, our Student Council pushed the school district to complete the entire job within two years.

6. Attempt to maintain communication with the faculty. Stress good class work by your swimmers, and invite the faculty to alert you to substandard class work by team members. Invite them to assist in officiating, or just invite them to attend a meet. One faculty member who I taught to swim built our starting blocks and weight benches. Another shop teacher who has been swimming daily with me for a few years has made our swimming hand paddles and helped to make our water polo goals. A friendly faculty is a great morale boost to a swimmer. A teacher who recognizes a swimmer in class and says something about the great race he s m in the last meet in front of the class should be drawing coaches’ pay. He is making it possible for you to really coach. He have a few teachers who go out of their way to do this.

We have done more to develop this faculty cooperation through our annual faculty water show with almost one half of the faculty taking part. I didn’t believe that we could really get teachers into bathing suits for swimming and costumes for dry land skits, but we have. This is one of the best attended student parent functions of the year. We have raised enough money to purchase “flow through” lane lines and a duraflex diving board with an adjustable fulchrum through the faculty water show. In addition we have had an annual faculty cast party that has been the biggest and best blast of the year. Teachers and their husbands and wives have really enjoyed
this annual party.

7. Create a special swimming section in the trophy case. This is in addition to anything that you do in the pool. We keep team trophies, an All American swimming honor roll, and a varsity records board in the school trophy case.

8. Try to establish a 1 working rapport with the local newspaper, radio and TV. We have reached the local newspaper but, except for a couple of exceptions, we have not received much radio or T.V. support.

9, Organize the physical education classes around swimming. We divide our P.E. classes according to their swimming ability. He have four levels advanced, high intermediate, low intermediate, and beginning. A swimming group such as advanced will always stay together through each unit of physical education, (swimming, gymnastics, wrestling, or basketball), I always start the year with advanced boys (our school only has sophomores in P.E.). These boys are taught the competitive strokes; crawl, back, breast, butterfly, starts and turns, and a gradual endurance build up over four and one half weeks. We test these boys at, the end of the swimming unit for 50 free, back, breast, 25 butterfly and a 15 minute swim (the total number of
lengths in a 15 minute period). We keep P.E. class records in these events. He also post the best 15 of each event on our pool bulletin board. We then invite those boys with reasonably good records in these tests to turn out for the team. This year I followed up the personal invitation with a short letter just prior to the start of the season.

In Washington the swim season officially starts about the middle of November and goes to about the first week in March, It is illegal to hold team workouts prior to the official starting date.
We offer an intramural program that is open to all students after school from the opening of school in September to the start of the swimming season. The successful swimmers and almost anyone who wants a varsity position, knows that they had better take part in the intramural program or they can expect to be beaten out of a position.

We also make the program very attractive and a lot of fun by including an intramural water polo
program, complete with a league and games. Water polo, dryland training, and some endurance swimming are all part of the intramural program.

We accept all boys who want to turn out for the swimming team. I haven’t cut a boy in about 12 years. A boy will usually cut himself. In order to have adequate water time for our best swimmers we divide our team into A, B, and C groups. The A group is made up of experienced high school and AAU swimmers, all who are varsity potential. The B group would be a notch down about the reserve team level, The C group is made up of inexperienced swimmers who look like they will not cut it in their three years of high school or even in another 10 years. They will swim some in the reserve meets, and these kids need the swimming team experience. They usually have been losers, having already failed at another sport in elementary or junior high school.

Occasionally one of these boys will fool me and move all of the way to the varsity in one or two years. One of our inspirational award winners was a former member of the C group, and another year one of our team captains got his start in this group.

Pool time is the main difference between groups.
The A group has the most time, whatever is needed within reason to develop the better swimmers. The B group gets a couple of crowded lanes and less water time. The C group does a lot of dryland exercises and almost all of their swimming in the 35 foot diving section of the L shaped pool,

The season schedule allows for both a varsity and reserve schedule. This allows every boy to swim in meets someplace. We use our best reserves for some varsity meets and hold out our best swimmers. We are allowed to schedule AAU meets in our area. He schedule a number of these each year and more of our swimmers get to swim in these meets because of the unlimited entries per event. This also gives our swimmers stiffer competition.

We have a traditional meet each year just after Christmas and during the holiday vacation.
This meet is called the Ram Relays and is attended by the six best high school teams in our state that we can line up. For the past 13 years the winner of this meet has gone on to win our State Championship. We publicize it well, and it is traditional for the alums to return for this meet. This meet has been the school homecoming event, and it usually has a big all school dance following it. we usually pack in over 800 spectators and have netted close to $500 from the gate at this meet, This is a good way to keep the swimmers home during Christmas vacation for workouts, and to provide some excellent swimming competition.
We qualify for the state meet by placing first, second, or third in our district meet or hitting a time standard equal to the 12th place qualifying time in the previous year’s state meet. Our season is pointed toward the state championship. If a boy has not qualified by time prior to the district qualifying meet, we taper and shave him for the district qualifying meet.

Communication is very important. We send out a letter to all the parents of our swimmers about two weeks after the season starts. We include a schedule of the varsity and reserve meets, brief information letter welcoming parent visits or calls if questions come up, and an invitation to attend the meets. We also invite the parents to a parent coach meeting in the evening in about 10 days. At that meeting we serve coffee, and donuts, watch the state meet film from the previous year, and explain the events, strokes and some of the basic rules. We stress the importance of good health habits, sleep, food, vitamins, our team training standards and answer questions.

Communication with the swimmers is a continuing thing through the season. We start the year with a meeting explaining our team goals, methods of training, and try to agree on what our;,. team standards will be. We try to avoid rules and we talk about our team standards. I don’t know if there is a real difference but the kids think so and we get good cooperation by this method. A few years ago we had rules but times change and now we have our team standards.

We have meetings during workouts whenever we seem to need them. We talk about something and try to get purpose back into our work. After about two weeks of turnout, we hold a second meeting. Each individual Sets his personal goals for the year in this meeting, and we elect our team captains for the season.

We also have a lot of written communication via the bulletin board and some handouts. I also schedule individual conferences with the varsity at the start and end of the season.
Your pool should have competitive qualities, it should stress the importance of the swimming team. At the starting end of our pool is a big 4 x 8 foot records board with the school records and the names of the record holders in two inch lettering. The walls of our pool feature three big pace clocks, at each end of our L shaped pool. Flow through lane lines, water polo goals starting blocks, and inclined benches are visibly stored when not in use. About 16 Exer­genies are attached to the walls of the pool. Ron Johnson’s wall charts are on the windows and walls.
We have several other items that create interest. The bulletin board in the pool entrance lobby will .soon have three new sections. One of my Wilson Swim Club girls is making a three section project for her art class that will go on this bulletin board area.

1. One section will contain a list of all the Wilson All American swimmers. Their names, the year, and the event.
2. This section will list all of the past Wilson State Champions, names, year and events.
J. The third section will list all of the team champions in the history of Washington State Interscholastic Swimming.

One of the things that we do, I stole from Don Watson, and he saw them on the wall of our pool when he was out to conduct a clinic. We have a permanent honor roll for each high school event. Any boy who goes under a certain time gets his name on that board, and the year and time.

The times that we established as the ones that a boy must beat to get his name on the board were 50 free 23.0, 100 free 50.0, 200 free 1:50.0, 400 free 4:00.0, 100 fly 55.0, 100 back 58.0, 100 breast l:04.0, and the 200 I.M. 2:05.0. When we started this, no one had gone under 1:50.0 for the 200, we now have four, no one had gone under 50.0 for the 100, and we now have three. We had one in the 400, and we now have six. This is in a two year period.

We also post records for kicking events, and plan to use a swimmer of the week award this year. “When it seems that we need a goal that is within reach we will drag out our sophomore records or something else and post these.

State qualifying standards, national qualifying standards and All American standards are posted when they become known.

We play a great number of games to maintain interest. The dedicated swimmer probably doesn’t need frequent mental boosts. The dedicated swimmer has a goal and that goal may keep him on the track with a full head of steam all the way thru a season. Unfortunately not all swimmers are totally dedicated. Some are damn tough when the meets roll around but drift a little during the season, others daydream most of the time.

One of the ways that we maintain interest is by a long range motivation chart that includes each varsity team member. He starts out the season with so many minus points, This is based on anything I might invent, A late start, poor grades, too many outside interests, overweight, no long course season and these are sure to put a boy into the hole on points. I usually give a few minus points for long hair, younger brother of former swimmers, good looks, big mouth, shyness, or for a father who was a former competitive swimmer. The greatest pride seems to be in who has the most minus points to start the season.
Swimmers can earn points by personal best kicking, pulling, or swimming practice times. A good practice series, good meet times, consistent work habits, or anything else that we want accomplished can earn points. I usually code and date the points so the swimmers know how and when they earn them. They can know how they stand at any time too. They can also lose points during the season.

We go along like this for a number of weeks. So many plus points equals one popcorn ball, and so many points equals a milkshake. Minus points equals having my car washed, garage cleaned, or floors scrubbed. We have a big get together at my house about a month before the end of the season and they collect their popcorn balls and milkshakes. We show the state meet film of the previous year and talk about the coming state meet. The last month is easy to maintain interest because they can see the end of the season, the approaching taper period, and the championship,

We also try to keep it interesting or at least different by posting notices everywhere. On the bulletin board, windows, doors, kickboards, and lane lines. I have one bulletin area that changes every day, the hint of the day, this is a stroke or turn tip that we practice for a few minutes at the end of the workout. I just started this season with this one and I am going to be hard pressed to remember to change the hint every day. Swimmers come in during the morning and want to know what the hint of the day is going to be. This year I have a corner of the bulletin board that we call the fortune cookie corner. One night after dinner in a Chinese restaurant, I was reading the fortune in the fortune cookie. The message, 11You stand at the crossroads, great hopes will be realized11 seemed to be appropriate for the first day of swim practice, so it went up on the board. I soon started putting some of the big poster slogans that we used last year on pieces of paper that were fortune cookie size. Next the team started making them and putting them up. Some years we have a cartoon corner or a poet I s nook.

In practice we use, in a more and often less degree, pull buoys, inner tubes, kickboards, swim fins, iso belts, hand paddles, resistance sponges and a mirror (in and out of the water), We have a big mirror that we waterproofed and have used it on the bottom of the pool and at an angle at the end of the pool. The swimmer wears goggles or face mask and gets a look at his strokes underwater. We use it out of the water most of’
the time. The resistance sponges might even be unique, at least I haven1 t heard of someone else using them. ·we cut pieces of sponge rubber of
varying sizes, most about 1 in thick and 3 x 511, wrapped them with plastic tape so that we could use safety pins to pin them to the bathing suit. We usually pin two, one on each side of the front sides of the bathing suit. We started out with the idea of handicap races or repeats in practice
He found that we could handicap each 50 by 1½ to three or more seconds, depending on the size of the sponges. I wanted to swim a team in a handicap meet, handicap each swimmer according to the best differences, but we haven1 t done it yet,

but I still hope to. One of the coaches said that his team would do it sometime with us. I did talk Kaye Hall into wearing them in a 100 free race once. She finished third, about three seconds off her time and she was pretty embarrassed wearing the things and losing. We did find that it can be a conversation piece at any meet though. I do believe that they are good occasionally in practice. You can weight a swimmer down without sinking a swimmer in the water.
Isa belts and clothing will sink a swimmer and effect stroke. The resistance sponges do not sink a Swimmer, One time I trained my senior team for about ten days wearing the sponges in almost all repeats. At the end of that time we had a meet in Portland, we removed the sponges and I thought that we would really go, something like a shave. We were as flat as could be and I
had really tired the team, much more than I expected.

I usually like to have at least one or two minor psych up meets during the season. We train for the one meet, the state championship, but I like to hit at least one or two more meets with a minor psych. If we have a tough dual meet, or a good AAU meet, that will be it. Sometime we talk up an opponent until he finally becomes a real challenge. I think your minor psych meet had better stay minor. I know one team that wanted to beat us so bad that they had a countdown calendar in their locker room for one full year. Beat Wilson 365 days, 364, 363, 362, etc., When we finally got there for the meet, they were really high and we finally eked out a win on the final relay after trailing the entire meet. This was it for them. They were brutal at the championship and we were great. I don’t think they even took second and they were good. Their swimmers were discouraged and I don I t know if they have recovered yet.

I believe in talking to the kids frequently, and watching the workouts. If I want something done well in a workout, I have to be close to the swimmer and establish eye contact frequently during the workout. I do this by sitting, standing and walking from lane to lane, from opposite sides of the pool, and from opposite ends. I sit on a high step ladder some of the time looking down on the swimmers, and sometime I lay on the bottom of the pool , with a face mask. The swimmers really don 1t know where I will show up next, and a kid can really get a start swimming along and suddenly see the coach staring up at him from the bottom of the pool, All of these things help to keep me from getting bored and the strokes look different from the different angles. I also watch some of the swimming with my head down (an upside down view).

I believe that a coach should get in the water occasionally. Get close to the swimmers, listen to what they have to say. Work strokes by twisting an arm, or raising an elbow. Maybe a race especially a handicap race with the coach can boost team morale.

Another gimmick is to use girl members of the swim club, especially the best looking girls, to record times on pressure days. If you want some good efforts in practice, then try this. Warning you can’t use them too often though. You may wipe out your team. 2. The swimmers and girls become too familiar and the coach loses control of the situation.

I think nicknames can be important, and on our squad it is a prestige or lesson item. Host of our kids pick them up. Last year one of our graduating seniors carried the nickname “Wuck” through three years of high school swimming and at the present time, he is stuck with it in college, and I believe that he has a 50/50 chance
of ending up with it on his tombstone. Certain nicknames fit the occasion. “Turkey” and “Punker” are two that have been deadly on our team, Turkey was reserved for a swimming jerk. A boy who swims stupid, forgets the time of the workout, or showboats at a meet is a turkey. He used to have swimmers play for the sympathy of parents and friends at meets. Lay on the lane lines, cough and spit in the gutter, or show great facial pain at the end of the race. These boys will hear a “gobble, gobble, gobble” from their teammates and me.

Our greatest all time turkey swam a 400 once and he was the state record holder at that time and unbeaten that year. His teammate who was usually close each meet, got out in front and went on to win in a new state record. The turkey saw that he wasn’t going to win on his last length so he conveniently lost count and flipped at the finish and swam two half-hearted extra lengths. It was so obvious that it hurt and he was greeted with “gobble, gobble” This has a way of discouraging some of the phony moves in swimming.

I guess that Punker came from the Matt Mann slogan card, “Every Punker has a good excuse” and last year to be a punker was the big crime on our squad. One of the fortunes in the fortune cookie corner reads, “Anyone who hates a punker, can’t be all bad,”

The championship period becomes a major psych and we stress a great amount of swimmer coach communication again during this time. He also send a flyer to the parents this time, After state we usually have something to celebrate.
He have our big team banquet. We show the state meet film, award the letters and the inspirational award. We give every varsity letter winner a good size pat on the back. We let him and his teammates know what a great job he has done. He also start talking about the long course season and our hopes for the next year in high school swimming.

Most of our team joins the Tacoma Swim Club after the state meet and goes to the Regional A.AU Championship and possibly one other meet, The National qualifiers go on to the short course National Championship and then a short break of two or three weeks. I then attempt to get all of the swimmers started in the long course training season.

I think the delegation of authority or responsibility is another area to consider in organizing a program. You cannot do everything yourself.
Who is going to help you coach? I consider my assistants to be co-coaches.

I have two examples to offer:

(1) Diving: We have it in the high school program and it has to be coached. I didn’t like it and I couldn’t coach it, I like it now probably because I don I t coach it. I have an assistant high school coach, Jim Boettcher, who is our diving coach. He swam a little, and played football, He is an art teacher, and knew nothing about diving. He has an artist’s eye and is a great teacher. He is now a great diving coach. Each year I have to talk him into coaching one more year because he has a great number of outside interests. The last two years, his divers with no pre-high school experience, placed two, three and five in one year, and one, two and six last year at our state meet. Look for a good art teacher and you have a potential diving coach.

(2) The second example would be the assistant swimming coach on the Tacoma Swim Club. I am lucky again to have a great coach. He is a personable, young elementary school teacher. He loves kids, he loves swimming and he doesn’t bug easily. He has a great number of original motivational ideas, and he is totally directed to senior swimming. Dan Wolfrom is our age group coach, and assistant senior team coach. If he is married, his wife has to feel the same way about swimming, his does. If he is single, keep him that way or arrange a computer swimming marriage. You need a special type of person or your program ·will fail. A good head, a good teacher, and a great personality these are necessary for the coach in your age group program.

My final bit of advice is to pray, I pray a lot, the less you know the more you should pray. If you don’t win some swimming meets in this life, at least you won’t be living in hell in the next life too.

Comments are closed.

Sponsorship & Partnerships

Official Sponsors and Partners of the American Swimming Coaches Association

Join Our Mailing List

Subscribe and get the latest Swimming Coach news