A Lifetime of Lessons Learned by Bill Sweetenham (2012)



[introduction, by Tim Welsh]

The Counsilman Lecture Series:  Thanks Doc, you were a great teacher.  We continue to love your legacy.

Our speaker tonight, 30 years younger than Dr. Counsilman, but still a man in the tradition and a coach who admires hard work, who admires achieving success through hard work.  Wherever Coach Sweetenham goes, hard work follows and so do result.  He has been speaking to us here at the ASCA World Clinic since 1987.  That is a 25-year period over which he has continued to come back to the World Clinic to teach us things we need to know about our sport.  He told me I could lie as much as I wanted, but these are not lies, these are true things.  Like Dr.  Counsilman, he is a great teacher and he teaches all over the world.  Let me share with you some of the topics that he has spoken to us about.  He has spoken about distance swimming; he has spoken about young distance swimmers; he has spoken about winning workouts; about un-complicating skills and un-complicating coaching—not to make them easy, to make them un-complicated.  He has talked about the psychology of a workout; he has talked about changing and challenging sport and culture.  His website says, he has a lecture called caterpillar to butterfly.  All of these lecturers are available from the ASCA website for $0.99 each.  For $11.88, when he finishes his twelfth lecture tonight, you can get one heck of an education in coaching swimming.  If you look at these titles, what’s common about these titles is that they challenge the status quo: do better, do more, work hard, work harder than that, achieve more, overcome obstacles, achieve success.  They’re all in the same theme and they’re all built on great organization, great effort, great drive, all leading to great success.


I will give you some of his numbers as well: 3, 5, 7, 9, 9, 2003.

  • 3 is the number of countries for which he has been the head Olympic coach: his own Australia, of course, Hong Kong, and most recently—through the 2008 Olympic Games—he was a head coach in Great Britain.
  • 5: He has been to 5 Olympic Games as a head coach.
  • 7: he has been to ASCA 7 times in 25 years.
  • 9 is a number of World Championships for which he has been the head coach.
  • 9 is also the number of the world record holders he has coached.
  • In 2003 his own book, Championship Swim Training, came out. It is about championship training, championship preparation and championship excellence.

So, coach, for your years of service and education and teaching, we might say, as you say in your country, “Good on you, Coach.”  Welcome back to ASCA.


[Sweetenham begins]

Firstly, I thank Tim for those kind words.  Also I thank John Leonard and ASCA for the invite to come here and talk to you guys.  I hope that I can honor with my delivery the memory of Doc Counsilman.  As a young coach I grew up reading and seeking Doc out for input and learning and transferring his great experience through to my own coaching.  Also I congratulate United States on a great Olympic Games, and the tremendous set of results that everybody from the United States should feel extremely proud of.  I sat in on a debate with coaches in Savannah recently at a conference; and the debate was: who is the greatest swimmer of all time.  There were many nominations; but for me, unquestionably, not only the greatest swimmer of all time but the greatest athlete of all time, has to be Michael Phelps.  I don’t think it can be questioned, but there were many other views put forward in the debate and I just can’t see how anyone can debate this subject.  But Tracy Caulkins, Ian Thorpe… many came up.  But the winning partnership between Michael and Bob Bowman is one that we should all learn from, and we should strive to achieve winning partnerships with our athletes as we move forward.  It’s not always easy; it’s a tension filled situation.


So, guys, I’m going to start my lecture.  I grew up in the country part of Australia, a place called Mount Isa, out in the boonies; and it had a hole similar in the ground to the Grand Canyon: it was a mining industry.  I grew up in poverty, I grew up in mining, and it was a tough environment.  I knew what I wanted to do and where I wanted to go very quickly in life, and I pursued that dream.  Growing up in poverty didn’t allow me to seek the education that I needed to coach.  So I took Mount Isa to #3 team in the country, in Australia, from the Outback.  I was appointed to coach in Brisbane.  But I soon realized that my education wasn’t what I wanted, and wasn’t what I needed, to move forward in coaching.


Last year, I hadn’t told anyone, but last year the story was told by a retiring dean of the University in Queensland.  He was asked who was the best student he ever failed.  Much to the delight of many of my friends, he came up with the name Bill Sweetenham.  When I first moved to Brisbane, one of my friends—who had more funding than I did—was going to university.  So I asked if I could come to university one day with him, when he came down from Mount Isa to live in Brisbane.  And I went to university with him, and I soon realized that no one checked at the door: whether you were registered or whether you weren’t, there were no checks on whether you were enrolled or not enrolled, and the professors delivering the lectures didn’t seem to care.


Three years later, I done full course hours in psychology, biology—I don’t know why—and physiology.  I’d been smart enough not to sit the annual exams, but brave enough on the final year to make an appointment with the professor to see what could happen.  I made the appointment to go and see him.  I walked in, and he said, “Bill, I know who you are.  I know you’re not enrolled, and no, you can’t sit the exam. ”  So I didn’t get to warm-the-chair-up very much; he answered all my questions without me asking any.  But he said: “Look, if you’re willing to wait a week after everybody else has sat the exams, I will let you sit the exams, give you a mark, and then realize that you’re not enrolled and have to fail you. ”  Which is what happened.  I was fortunate enough to top all three courses, and he gave me great advice.  He said, “Bill, the reason that you topped the courses is that you came to university to learn; everybody else came to pass. ”  I’m sure that helped me.


Anyway three years later, I still didn’t have the education that I wanted and I had to look for a free ride.  So there’s a thing called a Churchill Scholarship, which would allow me to study in the United States for one year with some significant support in terms of funding.  I went and applied.  There were five levels of entry; you have to go 5 through different levels; and the last level, you have to do a synopsis of how this was going to help Australian people—which I spent a lot of time on.  I went to the interview;  there were five people on the panel and the chair of the panel was the professor.  Who said, “Bill, great to see you again.  You don’t need your synopsis; I know who you are, I know how you study.  You’ve got your Churchill Scholarship. ”  I came to United States and spent a year working with Nort Thornton and Eddie Reese, and Don Gambril and George Haines; which was a tremendous opportunity for me to develop as a coach and as a character and as a person.  And I find it difficult today to see coaches who aren’t willing to do that, and they expect experience and education to be delivered to their home computer without going out and getting their hands dirty.  So, my advice is: go and find what you don’t know.  Know what you know, know what you don’t know, and then find someone who knows what you don’t know and get close to them so they can help you.


A lifetime of lessons learned.  I’m going to take you through a quick journey of how my life evolved and how my education as a coach moved forward.  Juan Fangio, great Formula 1 driver: “Never believe you are the best, but always believe you can be the best. ”


(And I suggest the buzzer is not working [to advance the slides].  The idiot-proof system is no match for the system-proof idiot.  [laughter]  My wife always says that behind my name in brackets should be the words computer virus—I can usually bugger-up systems pretty quickly.  It’s not me, thank god. )


The reason I wore a bow tie tonight is [because] the first time I met Doc, he had a bow tie on.  So I thought I’d honor his presence by wearing a bow tie.  I’ve spent the last two hours looking in the mirror, trying to tie it accurately.  My wife’s out looking at the Grand Canyon and wasn’t here to do it for me.  (And I have to find something to fill-in time while we try to get the slides organized).


Coaches, when you have someone like Doc to set standards for you and an education process that’s going to take you through experience and knowledge, take the opportunity to learn from absolutely the best people that are around you.  When I finished with British Swimming, I went home to Australia with the intent of retiring.  I’d been in a very good business—with 17 swim schools in Australia and 3 childcare centers and a couple of gyms—which we sold; and the need for work and self-funding were removed.  So I went home and decided that I’d go into retirement and have a nice time in retirement.  And my wife took me to see a movie called Atonement: three-and-a-half hours of the most boring film that was ever screened.  After thirty minutes of Atonement, I realized that the movies and retirement were not for me.  I went outside, told my wife I’d be outside and in three hours when the movie finishes I’ll be having a coffee (or two or three or four).  While I was out there I thought when was the last movie that I went to see at the theater, and it came up that 27 years ago I went to see Bette Midler in The Rose.  I’ve decided that in 27 more years I will go and see another film.  So that’ll give me something to work on.


Anyway what happened was while I sitting there thinking about why I don’t like movies and retirement is not a good thing, I thought: what do I want to do?  So there was a travel agent just down the road, so I went and asked the girl—the travel agent—to Google the ten-fastest roller coaster rides in the world.  And then I booked an around-the-world ticket stopping at those destinations, so that I could do the ten fastest roller coaster rides in the world.  [It] confirmed in my children’s mind that I was loopy.  I thought, well, I’ve got a make that a tax deduction.  So then I looked at the locations, and I said I want to visit ten visionary leaders at those locations.  So I did an around-the-world tour.  (Mic alright?  And just as I started this long story.  [laughter] I was trying to stretch it out. )  So away, the end of the story was I did the ten fastest roller coaster rides in the world, I visited ten visionary leaders, and it was a tremendous opportunity—I can’t wait to do it again.  It was fantastic, and it certainly beats movies and certainly beats retirement.  So the journey begins.


(I can put a mic in both hands, you hear me double—that’s a nightmare for ya. )


Great coaches, I believe, have to be great teachers.  If you can’t teach, chances are you can’t coach.  My passion in life is teaching, it is not coaching and it is not swimming.  My passion is teaching.


A family affair.  This [on screen] is a young family that I first taught to swim in Mount Isa.  Excellence in life produces excellence in sport.  If you think the other way, then it will be very difficult for you.  Excellence in life has its opportunity to present excellence in sport; excellence in sport very rarely delivers excellence in life.  That was a young family that I taught to swim: three Rhodes Scholars in that family; the father of that family, Kevin Rosengreen, was Father of the Year for Australia.  A tremendous family.  And you can see in the background a set of pulleys and weights there.  That pool was built totally out of equipment from Mount Isa Mines that I stole.  Everything had “MIM” on it; I told them it was “Made in Mexico”.  The whole pool—ended up with a roof over it, a good heating plant that was stolen from a boiler at Mount Isa Mines—it still sits there; it’s still in existence in Mount Isa Mines.  I build it without any knowledge of building a facility.  If there is ever a nuclear war, it will be a great place to go and hide: it will never move, that pool.


Needs create desires, and desires create motives; motives create drives, which create behaviors and create winning.  You have to understand that and you have to have winning from the beginning.  You teach winning at a very early age.  You have to teach winning at a very young age, and you have to teach self-belief.  So, teaching swimming is not enough.


In the water there, the guy in the left is myself—you can see I haven’t aged at all, still look very similar.  This was teaching in Mount Isa.  And I challenge all coaches and all teachers: you have to make a choice.  You have to have quality learn-to-swim.  You can either teach swimming, which is a very nice safety device prevents drowning and is very good and worthwhile.  Or, if you’re in high-performance, you can produce swimmers.  Make a choice: teach swimming or produce swimmers.  They are very different things.


Quality teaching, quality self-belief from the very young age.  When you teach, you always ask three questions:

  • Did the child have fun?
  • Did they learn something new? and
  • Do they want to come back?

If the answer to two of those three is right, then you’ve done a pretty good job.  If you got one out of three right, chances are you’ve done a pretty lousy job.  So, quality teaching from the beginning: we taught children to swim from face-in-the-water to 50-meters-legally-approved-swimming in six weeks; they learned every afternoon.


Sell the product and the brand name.  Make sure your brand name is superior to any of your opposition.  Invincible in attitude and superior in skill.  The six Ps: plan, prepare, present, perform, produce and produce again.  Rehearse and research: always look for a new method and a new way of doing things.


That [slide] was my first team.  You can see the pool now has a roof over it, also stolen from Mount Isa Mines.  The reason it was stolen from Mount Isa Mines: when I taught in Mount Isa, one of the families I taught were the Rafter family, of tennis fame.  Dad was the chief accountant at Mount Isa Mines.  I did accountancy as a young person, as a penalty from my father; the day I passed my accountancy exams, I resigned, and I’ve never done it since.  I found accountancy to be very unchallenging and boring.  And built a pretty good swim team that went on to do a great job.


Julie breaks a record: 40%-60% of all plans can change and you must be flexible.  Talent is the most precious commodity, in respect of personal growth.  There’s no such thing as an untalented athlete or an untalented person: everybody has talent.  Honor and respect character and attitude.  Everyone has talent; there is no such thing as untalented.  This little girl [Julie] was in the Guinness Book of Records at 4 years-of-age, swimming a 200 [individual] medley, legally approved.  Athletes have one life, coaches have many.  You have to make sure you get it right for the young, talented athlete.  Appreciate every moment and every person.  That’s in honor of the athletes that I coached who didn’t make it through—accidents took them.


Those two people you can see there are both in the Guinness Book of Records at 4 years old swimming a 200 medley.  Within a month of that photograph being taken, both were taken by fire in their homes in separate accidents.  I learnt then, and made a decision, that every young person that I taught I would honor and respect their talent, and would have a commitment to develop their full potential, because some people don’t get the opportunity to take their talent forward.  Those two people were very special to me, and they I drive my coaching and teaching forward every day.  People say, Bill’s a hard ass.  Well, the reason I’m a hard ass is because I see talent taken away like that, where it’s not allowed to grow to full-term; and then I see people who waste talent.  I have no tolerance for people who waste talent: coaches or swimmers—it’s too precious.


Build invincible teams with superior skills:  Make sure that when you go to a meet, coaches can look at your swimmers and say: “I bet that’s a Bill Sweetenham swimmer,” because they have superior skills and superior attitude.


Convert nerves into excitement:  It has to be taught at a young age.  Make sure you teach the athlete to have emotional energy in the back-end of Finals, in preference to the front-half of Heats [Prelims].  That’s the biggest fault in Olympic success: athletes use emotional energy in the front-half of the Heats instead of the back-half of the Final.  It has to be taught young; it can’t be taught later in life.


Judge and evaluate performance as a coach by the development improvement and achievement of the least-talented swimmer in your team.  Don’t judge by the most-talented athlete in the team; chances are they would have swam well regardless of whether you were the coach or not.  The journey-in-process must have an outcome and a reward.  We hear everybody talk about process, and some people just get totally wrapped-up in the process and forget the outcome.  Creates failure and it created failure for many teams at this Olympics, because they worked in the now and didn’t appreciate that the outcome has to be there and be honored as well.


Support and recognize performance; criticize and redirect the fault.  My role as a coach is to make the journey as difficult and as challenging as possible, but to ensure the athlete reaches the end.  I don’t want the athlete’s journey to be easy and soft; that’s a recipe for failure and it hurts the athlete at the final hurdle.  If you’ve done everything for them… I go to see coaches and programs where the coach fills a drink bottle: I cannot get away from that program quick enough, I want to run from the program.  Coaches wiping bums, blowing noses, filling drink bottles: it’s a recipe for failure.  Make the athlete independent, make them stand on their own two feet, and make them make decisions.


There is no right way or wrong way, success is conviction to your way.  Individual sports have to build teams.  Vern Gambetta gave me a skill; he said:  Skills, rank them S1-S10; Fitness, F1-F10; and Attitude, A1-A10.  Ask your athletes to measure and self-apprise where they fit. Are their skills, S1 to S10, their fitness, F1 to F10, and their attitude, A1 to A10.  Have them rank themselves where they sit.


Composed, flawless, unemotional, clinical and precision-based execution in Heats provides success in Finals.  Mistakes made in Heats usually results in failure in Finals.


If you look at that photo in the top-right-hand corner, the short guy in the back with the scruffy hair is one of the world’s leading coaches today: it’s Michael Bohl—who arguably is probably the best coach in Australia.  I was able to coach Michael for a long period of time as a young athlete and he went on to be a great coach.  In the middle of the field, you’ll find a string of girls there, behind the first two rows.  All of those girls made it on to the National Team; they were all national-level swimmers.  Great team.


Participation groups develop focus squads, and focus squads develop delivery teams.  You have to build groups into squads and squads into delivery teams.  Develop a “winning is the only considered option” culture.  Make sure your athletes have self-pride through vivid visualization: they see themselves as winners and they respect themselves as winners.  (Once again that was one of the great teams that I worked with as a young coach.)


3 at, 2 below, 1 above:

  • 3 at: My philosophy has always been: enter the athlete in three competitions at their level of competence. And they have an open mind then because they’re running in the top three, where you can coach the person and direct the skills.  So coach the person, train the event, and redirect the skills.
  • 2 below, where it’s easy to win, but ask the athlete to make mistakes: go out too hard/too easy and learn by making mistakes.
  • 1 above: is where you put the athlete in an unwinnable situation and ask them to win, but you don’t tell them how to do it. You say, you decide and you work out how you are going to win the event.  I’m not going to help you and I’m not going to tell you, but the facts are you’ve got to make the Final and you’ve got to get onto the podium and you rank-16 in the meet.  Work out how you’re going to get there, and don’t come to me for help. But when they do it, whatever they do, you put your arm around them, or you pat them on the back, and say: “That’s great.  You did a great job, Fantastic.”  You prepare them to go into battle against unbeatable odds and feel good about that challenge.


Every athlete is an experience of one; no two are the same.  (You can see this is way back in the early days.)  All of those athletes are athletes I coached. We individualize their starting skills.  We allow them to experiment and practice different starting positions.  Educate and apply the ability that each athlete has the ability to chase, they have the ability to fight when they get level, and they have the ability to lead and take the lead, and then they have the ability to defend that lead and then win.  If you don’t teach that at young age, you can’t be taught it later on in life.


You have to have a continuous campaign and performance audit every six months.  Always have skill perfection ahead of skill acquisition.  Don’t try to learn another skill if you haven’t perfected the skill that was last taught.  Too many people have a tool kit of half-taught skills.


Growth of the team.  The team must grow ahead of the highest-achieving athlete.  If you have a great athlete, you must make sure your team growth is in advance of your highest-achieving athlete.  Champion athletes are not normal nor are they average, and you should never expect them to be normal or average.  I asked Don Gambril, great American coach, great world coach, for some advice once.  He said: Love the girls and challenge the boys.  He was correct.  Have great training partners; and these training partners will enhance potential, share success and dilute the lows.


Make sure you prepare and perform above the facility you compete and training in.  The better the facility, the higher the expectation of performance.  If you’re Welsh Rugby—and I do a lot of work with Welsh Rugby—they have to train above the level of the stadium they’re going to compete in.  If you’re a British swimmer, you should have expected to perform above the level of the facility that was built for the Olympics.  That should be the mandate of your preparation.


Great training partners enhance potential.  The girl on the right is Wickham; the girl go on the left is Monique Rodahl.  Monique was a world-class 400 IM swimmer and 200 backstroke swimmer, and she was the training partner with Tracey Wickham.  She swam exceptionally well also.


Winning partnerships.  This is the key ingredient for world-level success.  The coach observes what the athlete cannot see, and the athlete feels what the coach can’t.  So you have to have a partnership.  The athlete’s trust in the coach and the coach’s unconditional faith in the athlete, creates winning partnerships.  If you don’t have that, you can’t succeed.


The first Olympics I went to was 1976.  I finished the Olympics in a shock wave.  And I asked myself what were the Olympics about, and it was very obvious.  The Olympics are about the presence of abnormal and the absence of normal; there is nothing normal about the Olympics.  The facts are: the Olympic event is asking the athletes to deliver a well-rehearsed, normal performance in an extraordinary point in time at an exceptional situation.  It’s not about asking for an exceptional performance; it has to be a normal, well-rehearsed performance.  If we watch—and I don’t know whether the coach is here—but it was very easy to see that Missy Franklin, over the Grand Prixs in America, practiced and rehearsed the 30-minute time interval that she was going to have to deliver at the Olympics between winning two gold medals.  It didn’t happen by chance or luck; it happened because of strategy and preparation.


Performing under pressure does not exist for winners—there is no such thing as performing under pressure.  The strategy is to remove pressure; take pressure away and make sure you’ve got good coping strategies.  (Girl on the right there is Ajuni Singh from Singapore, who was the training partner for Michelle Ford.  Both great world-level athletes.  Rather than have Michelle Ford and Tracey train together, we had training partners for them and only put them together infrequently.)


Coaches.  Coaching is accelerating rate of change; being able to have accelerated rate of change as a coach.  The greatest tool that you have as a coach is to ensure that you can learn faster than your opposition—that’s what coaching is about: learning faster than your opposition.  If you can do that, then what will happen is you’ll have a rate-of-change that can happen faster than your opposition.  Training is from the neck down, and coaching is from the neck up.  So avoid strategies of applying the same training protocols to genetically-gifted athletes to less-gifted athletes; that will kill athletes very quickly.


Attack versus defend attitude.  You’ve got to have an athlete and teach them the ability to attack, rather than defend.  Compromise is the cancer of achievement.  If it’s done in training, it can be done in competition, and in any conditions.  If you have an athlete ranked 7th-14th obviously their challenge to make it through to the Final is much more difficult [than] if you have an athlete ranked 1st-4th.


If you want to predict Olympic performances, it’s very easy—and totally reliable.  Look at the average ranking of each athlete on the team, and then do an average of the athletes on the team and see where they sit in the world stage and you will know what your outcome is.  America went into these Olympics with twelve #1-ranked athletes.  They were always going to be the #1 team, because the average ranking was 5th—they’re within three to four rankings of what their team objective was.  Other countries went in, some countries went in hoping to be 3rd or 4th of the Olympics and the average ranking of their team was between 16th and 18th; never a chance, was never going to happen.  70% of your team have to be within two rankings of what your desired outcome from a team performances is.


Make sure you can deliver Heats, Semifinals, and Final; and make sure that your athletes own the finish.  It must be practiced at training and rehearsed on a daily basis.


Males and females are extremely different.  While I was in London I worked with a guy called Vincent Walsh who was the lead professor of brain research in the United Kingdom, and next week I will work with John Medina who is the lead brain research professor in United States.  And they will tell you very clearly that men and women very, very different in how they adjust and how they adapt and how you have to coach them.  So, make sure that you understand the difference.


Superior skills, invincible attitude, and winning teams.  Eyes, ears and physical: make sure you observe, you listen, and you watch.  Talent is genetic, skills are taught.  Skills are taught, learned, rehearsed and coached.  You can be the least-talented swimmer, but you can be the best-skilled.  Skills are not genetic; skills are taught, rehearsed and researched—it’s about coaching.  .


“Whether it is your personal error or someone else’s, you pay the price.  Whether it is your winning the point of difference or someone else’s, the team must share the credit.”  Does anyone recognize that quote?  It was given to me by Michael Schumacher; a very important quote.


Physical, mental and emotional stress are exactly the same stress on the body.  The recovery from emotional, physical, and mental stress is exactly the same.  People think that physical stress is the only one that requires recovery.  In every lecture I hear about recovery, they talk about the physical recovery: it is the least important.  The most important recovery is mental and emotional.


Employ the 70% rule: look like a champion as well as being a champion.  (10 out of these 12 athletes were medalists, and we did not count heat swims in relays.)


My advantage in preparing athletes is that I knew, and know, poverty and adversity.  Long-term athlete development programs should be long-term attitude development programs.  More important.


Make sure that you have world-class coaching and performance in all aspects hourly/daily/weekly in preference to club-level coaching and performance.  We see at the Olympics coaches: come-in from different countries and continue to try to deliver club-level coaching on the international stage.  And failure is guaranteed.  It’s the coaches that go to the Olympics and take back and deliver international coaching on an hourly/daily basis at a club-level that are the winning coaches.


Appreciate the heart and mind of the athlete, and applaud the sponsor.  Have great knowledge of the product.  Gather your forces and harness your strengths, if you want to win against the tide.


Be a champion; look like a champion.


Important quote: “Character will always have talent, but talent doesn’t always have character”.  I spent several hours with Gregg Troy today and we talked about this.  If you had to choose between talent and character, always pick character.  You can upgrade talent with skill, but you can’t upgrade character.


In adversity it’s better to be hungry and poor, rather than comfortable and complacent.  Train the best with the best for 12 weeks annually.  Make sure you have intense training, head-to-head 12 weeks annually.  Have an open mind and applaud loyalty.


(One of the girls that came out and trained with me in Canberra, was a girl named Annemarie Verstappen, world champion in the 200 freestyle.)


Learn from your great athletes.  It’s about doing in the training pool what you hope to do in competition.  But once the athlete has done it in competition, take that and put it back in the training pool.  Very important.  Once your athlete has won at the World-level, take that competition performance and put it back into the training pool.


I know Noemi Zaharia lives in United States now, and Noemi came out and trained with me—tremendous athlete, 400m gold medalists and a World champion (if you’re hear Noemi, hi and it would be great to see you again).  And Jens-Peter Berndt, who was an East German athlete who defected and Mark Schubert sent him out to train at the AIS.  So it was interesting to have that situation.


Make sure you surround yourself with good and best people.  Good is not enough; best is not enough.  You have to have the best people around you, and they have to be good people.


The rules of coaching and training: progressive overload, specificity of stimulus, variation and flexibility, and repeatable excellence—that’s what coaching is about.  Everyday progressive overload; overload what you’ve done before.  Make sure specificity of stimulus relative to what you want in competition.  Have variation and flexibility.  And anything that’s done in the excellent category, repeat it.


It’s about committed conviction to frequency of exposure.  Better to train 10 times a week and do less, than 6 times a week and do a lot.  The more often you have frequency of exposure to perfection, the greater your athlete will perform.  Uncompromised attitude and skill execution in-preference to volume.


Complete technical knowledge is a given today.  Anything you want to know technically, you push a button on a computer and you’ve got the answer.  Why do we teach kids mathematics these days?  Waste of time; it’s not required, they can do it on a computer or a calculator.  Totally useless to the athlete, to the student.  Why math still exists in schools, I don’t know.  Why spelling?  Our education system hasn’t moved forward; hopefully our coaching will.


Coach the person, train the event, develop and redirect the skills.  It’s not about 10,000 hours; it’s about individual intent for consistent, optimal performance.  It might take 10,000 hours, but that’s not what it’s about.  It’s coming to the training pool every day, or the training environment, with the intent to learn and to learn faster than your opposition.


Fully-integrated, multi-dimensional programs: the guy on the pool deck, there, is a guy called David Pyne.  This was the early days of sport science at the AIS.  We used to call him Lactate Larry.  David would take lactates on lampposts, grandstands, spectators that happen to be standing around, grandmothers who had come to watch their kids swim, anyone at all.  He was lactate-happy.  We learned a lot through that process, and we wasted a lot.


Coaching will always be an art; and the addition of critical sport science is only valued, and certainly most valuable, when it makes the coach a better artist.  Employ the person and the character, develop and build the skills.  Never employ the skills and try to develop the character.  Employ the person; develop the skills.  Surround yourself with best and good people.


Does today really matter?  (The guy on the left, is a guy called Judge Ellicott: the best politician we had in Australia that I’ve ever met.  And the guy on the right was the assistant coach with a coach I work with, Bill Nelson.)  Visionary leadership is a lonely journey.  You cannot live a perfect day without doing something for somebody who will never say thank you.  I owe the politician on the left a great thank you: while everybody waffled-around in Australia talking about building sports facilities; this guy wasn’t the Minister for Sport, he was the Minister for Territories. He said, “Bill, we’re going to build the facility.”  And work started the very next day.  No government approval, he just went ahead and did it, and faced the consequences afterwards.  Everybody that plays sport in Australia owes the man on the left a deal of gratitude.


Systems are boundary fences.  Systems do not produce results.  Every government agency I work with, and I see, they talk systems.  Systems are boundary fences to herd cattle.  Winning partnerships, people, create success.  Performance models and people deliver; boundary fences and systems have never produced anything and will never produce anything in the near future.


If you want to fail in anything that you do in life, form a committee.  If you want to create failure, form a committee.  Guaranteed: self-interest, consensus, waffle.  Nothing works with committees.


No room for comfort zones… complacency while plateauing.  Take risks, dare to be different, take the un-trodden path.  When is the last time that you did something for the first time?  Guys, ask yourself that question.


(Doc Counsilman: this was 1976. I was working with him—you can see I haven’t aged at all—I’m the one on the right.)  I asked Doc for some advice.  He said: “Bill, know what you know, know what you don’t know, and know someone who does.”  Learn from the best.  In sprinting and preparation, warm-up and prepare the muscles; do not warm-up and prepare the energy systems.  Warm-up and prepare the muscle and the brain in preference to the energy system.  I’ve worked athletes harder than anyone else in the world; I’ve never had a shoulder injury in any athlete that I’ve trained, because of the advice Doc Counsilman gave me.  Listen to those who profess to know little but have done it all, and ignore the rest.


Guys, you see the cap that Doc is wearing there?  [picture]  Well, when we parted company, Doc gave me that cap.  And I still have it [puts the cap on; applause]: tattered, torn, worn, beaten up, dogs chewed it, I’ve run over in the car.  But I’ve kept it.  Anyone who gives you advice, it is like being given a gift.  Doc gave me great advice and he gave me this hat as a gift; and I’ve kept it and honored it ever since.  So, Doc: thank you very much.


Attitude is everything.  The experience and knowledge of the coach must always be in advance of the talent of the individual and team.  That’s your job to be knowledgeable, ahead.


When I was in Britain, through a mutual friend, I was able to meet several times a guy called Angelo Dundee.  Angelo died at the start of this year, age 92 or 91.  I flew from Australia to Britain, arrived at six o’clock in the morning, went to his funeral, and caught the flight back-home that night—was such my respect for this man.  Angelo Dundee was the man who coached Muhammad Ali; he coached many Australia boxers.  I rang him about three years ago, and said Angelo, I need a couple of quotes for a book.  He said: “Bill, thank god you only need two, because that’s all I’ve got.”  Pretty good advice, but: “Never-ever accept second in anything you had the capability and capacity to win.”  Great advice: “Never fight unless your preparation has been superior, regardless of any talent differentials.”  Don’t rely on superior talent to win; rely on preparation.  So, great quotes from Angelo Dundee.


Have an open mind and think laterally.


(Guy on the left is Harold Kunneman, the girl on the right is Helga Pfiffer: masterminds of the East German drug program.)  I was in a situation I could offer them citizenship in Australia, if they spilled the beans.  Fortunately, they spilled the beans, but decided to go and live in China.


There is no such thing as fair or equal.  Be wary of misinformation.  Develop a personal winning point of difference, and have a return on the investment.  Don’t ever do anything unless there’s a return on investment.


Building and coaching diverse teams: I spent four years in Hong Kong.  This [picture] relay team won their first ever silver medal at the Asian Games.  And the girl on a far left won the first-ever silver medal at Asian Games.


Relay performances, the essential ingredient: make sure your slowest four can maintain the same position for qualifying in the final as your fastest four.  Many-a-coach has learnt harshly that cost.  In the Olympic year, Swimming is not the only thing, but performance must be the most important thing.  And performance without pressure, but performance in taught finishes.


“Good athletes know what great athletes don’t.  Good athletes and good coaches commit to competition; great athletes and coaches commit to winning. ” That’s a quote from Frank Dick.


It’s not about experience; it’s about winning experience.  Great minds don’t always think alike, but they get the job done.  It’s about a winning experience.   How many performances does it take to achieve a result?  An athlete can deliver a great performance but not get a result, because someone was better prepared, more talented, more rested.


(The guy on the left is me, the guy on the middle is Dennis Pursley, and the guy on the right is Gennadi Touretski: all three previous head coaches of the Australian Institute of Sport.)


Make sure that you develop a front-half speed gap for sprinting, and a back-end endurance capacity for distance events.  Athletic talent is a great investment, but make sure they’re on your side.


(The athlete riding on the deck there is a guy called Robert Gleria, who I coached to swim 1:46 way back in 1986.  He won the Commonwealth Games.  That year I took him on the tour of Italy, he was arrested by the police.  He had dual passports; I didn’t know it.  He was offered a chance to swim for Italy to get out of national service.  And the bastard beat us in Olympic Games the following year, swimming for Italy.  So, make sure you know if they’ve got two passports. [laughter] )


Measure the measurable; record the recordable.  In sprinting, develop the speed-gap efficiency at the front-end to improve the back-end.  You’re working the muscles in the brain.  For 200-up and 1500-down, hold the front-half and improve the back-end, and work energy systems—pretty simple.  Negative split, and never get passed in the last 50 in training and in competition.


(Once again, easily recognizable, my youthful good looks which I’ve maintained over these years.  That’s me on the left; Tracey Wickham in the middle.)


Senior athletes prepare speed to the future and endurance to the past.  If you want a simple thing to work on and play with: if you want to work speed to the future, try getting your athletes to swim 60% of race distance at 60% of goal-speed.  And do it heat in the morning; semifinal in the afternoon, and final the next afternoon.  60% of race distance at 60% of goal speed.  If you want to practice endurance, try practicing 125% of race distance at 115% of extrapolated race speed.  Do the last one several times and the first one only once.


Celebrate, recognize and explore success.  Ensure everyone feels part of success.


(It’s Tracy Wickham’s first world record.)


Individual horizons, team success.  Identify the perceived weaknesses of the team and make that your individual strength.  You’ll soon have the most important link in the chain, and the team will enjoy minimal weakness.  Team growth and individual growth:  Ask each person on your team to identify the perceived weakness in the team, and then say: I’m going to make that my personal strength.  Each athlete will see it differently, they keep it to themselves, and soon you’ll have a team without weakness.  Grow your strengths and grow team weaknesses.


No exit strategy: are you are in it for long haul?


(That’s the British team at the FINA World Championships in Japan.)


Be predatory in opportunity, focused in the now with a vision to the future.  Make sure the vision to the future is in the document.  Seize the moment; stay true to your conviction.  Optional to join, compulsory to attend, no part-time participation.  Run where others dare to walk, have great self-belief and conviction, know no boundaries and perform above potential, and manage chaos.


(That team swam extremely well in the first World Championships I was in Britain [for].)


Always have an A plan and a B plan.  Implement the B plan and move-up to the A plan; don’t implement the A plan and have to move-down to a B plan.  It’s a much better feeling to have a B plan and then upgrade it to the A plan, than to do the opposite.


Think outside the box: it’s not what you do, it’s how you think.  Take risks.  Set a path that others who want to follow; don’t follow.


(The coach on the left there is Zhao Min, who worked at the Australia at Institute of Sport and was convicted for cheating.)


It’s not the size of the team, it’s the quality within it.  Recognize and applaud character.


Qualifying times are a minimal standard designed to manage the competition and are not a stamp of achievement.  Young coaches make the mistake: I’ve got 20 qualifiers for the National Championships—who gives a shit?  You’ve got 20 people who aren’t going to make the competition too big.  It’s where you do; you’ve got to make top-8 or top-4 or top-6 or top-12.  Making standard times is the minimal standard to manage the size of the competition; it’s not a stamp of achievement.


Manage emotion; handle distractions, and maintain focus in every competition you go into.  Not everything new is good, and not everything old is bad.


When I was young ,16, I came home drunk.  My father belted me.  We had nothing, we were in poverty; he worked in the mines.  I waited outside the next morning.  When he came out, I hit him with a pilling off the fence as he come out to go to work.  I put 17 stitches in his head.  He got up, dusted himself off, went to work, claimed worker’s compo.  And about two weeks later, we were sitting at the dinner table; he said, “We’ve got a score to settle.”  We went outside and he beat the crap out of me again.  I decided there and then that I wanted to leave home.  I told him; I said, “I want to leave home.  You can’t stand me.  I can’t stand you. ”  He said: “Think about it.”  I said: “I’ve thought it: I want to leave home. ”  He said: “There are three conditions: 1) you don’t come back; 2) if you do want to come back, there’ll be a huge penalty; and 3) you have to come and visit you mother every Sunday night for dinner and come sober.”  So, I went and packed everything come out and my father was standing against the door.  I said: “You said, I could leave.”  He said, “You can.  But everything you’re wearing, everything you’ve packed up, I paid for; they belong to me.  Because you’re my son, I don’t want you to go empty-handed, you can have the underpants you’re wearing and I’m going to give you $20.”  Much to my mates delight, that were waiting for me, he walked me to the car with $20 and my underpants on.  I lived in my mate’s garage for year, and decided I wanted to return.  Went and saw him.  He said, “You can return.  But I’ve got a man that works for the underground has a thalidomide child who has a foot where his knee should be and a knee halfway up his thigh.  If he can swim one length of the pool, referee approved, at the end of the school holidays, you get to come home.  If he can’t, you don’t.”  This young boy responded extremely well to bribery; I had no knowledge of teaching.  I learned to teach very quickly, and at the end of the school holidays, I got to come home.


I learned that a trophy cabinet is of little use.  I’ve won many awards for coaching, and I’ve won many awards for sport, both Football, Rugby League/Rugby Union and Swimming.  I’m only keep one beat-up, old trophy in my trophy cabinet—that’s it.  It will tell, if you read it, “runner-up in the under-12 competition.”  My father told me when I got runner-up that I was a failure.  I made a decision never to be runner-up in anything ever again and I kept the trophy.  And it’s the only trophy I’ve ever kept, to remind me what an asshole my father was.  So I only have one trophy in the cabinet, and I coach winning, and I want to get the job done; and every time I see that, it reminds me.


Teach winning, leadership, and decision-making.  If you teach decision-making, you can become a leader and a winner.  If you do it the other way round, it can’t happen.


In 1983, the first skins costume was developed at the AIS; that [picture] is it.  Luckily, my assistant coach kept it in her freezer.  It was made out of polystyrene.  We developed it in ‘83 to use in the ’84 Olympics.  Speedo wouldn’t allow us to use it, and all those plans were canceled.  Luckily, the assistant coach kept in a freezer, and I’ve been able to keep it since then.  A very ordinary costume, but it had a flotation device in it with the material.  I researched a flume in Tasmania where they tested torpedoes for the Navy and fishing nets and fishing boats.  I went down to the flume to test this costume, and many others like it.  And while I was there, the Navy was there practicing with torpedoes.  And they had this oil that they put on the torpedoes, a slick that got them to go through the water very quickly.  Innovative and creative.  I thought, “Well, if I soak these costumes in this slick, the athletes will move through the water very quickly.”  Because we’d read the story about how the East Germans at that stage were painting their costumes on—they actually painted the costume onto the body.  So, I soaked all these costumes in the slick the Navy gave me, big tubs of it.  And we experimented that afternoon with the athletes.  And it worked extremely well; except at about nine o’clock that night I had to rush eleven of them to hospital where all the skin had peeled off their body from where they had these costumes on.  The slick had burnt the skin off their body.  So, lateral thinking has limits.


(Anyway, there [on the slide] are the things that you read there that I felt that I’ve been visionary in my development over the years.)


The world’s best talent identification and development model.  This was the program put in place in Britain.  The program that was put in place was to identify initially female talent.  Neils Bouws from West Germany sat on one side of the pool, Peter Freney sat on the other.  They had their art to identify athletes that they felt were great talents, and then the next morning it was measured—everything that was measurable was measured.  Then cross checked.  Anyone that was on both lists—and the coaches couldn’t compare, we had an independent person compare—we then selected them to go on a high altitude camp.  It had nothing to do with high altitude: it was to remove them from their parent’s clutches and put them in an environment that was foreign to them, challenging and different.  We went to La Loma, where Jack Roach was coaching at that stage.  The athletes went for six weeks.  These girls were 14 years-of-age when they went.  We took three schoolteachers and three managers.  They did school every day, cooked their own meals, and trained at altitude.  And we train very hard.  Those girls (on the left hand side of the screen) came back and swam the U.S. Open at San Antonio, and all did lifetime bests.  And three times in the following year, we took them into China—to the worst places I could find in China—to expose them to difficulties and challenge.  And, of course, 9 of those girls were ranked top-3 in the world in 2008—quicker than what we thought.  The girls on the right: [Rebecca] Adlington, was put on the 2004 training camps as a training partner for Rebecca Cook; and Kerri-Anne Payne was also put on for Rebecca Cook—they weren’t part of the Olympic team.  And they learnt from that experience and performed very well: both those girls won medals, and gold metals, at the Olympics.  We had the world’s first offshore training concept, in the offshore centre in Southport [Australia].  We had a group of boys do their last two years of school there.  Both produced outstanding results for Britain.


“Life is what our thoughts make us.”  Think about that quote.  Pretty modern-day quote; it was from Marcus Aurelius, many centuries ago.


Lord help me do the better right than the easier wrong.  If you go to West Point academy in the United States, that is the sign that’ll meet you on the door.  A pretty important sign.


I do some volunteer work for repatriation of troops in Britain, in Cyprus.  Commander Rich Harris, permanent joint-headquarters staff in UK, told me: “Bill, self-belief in winning before the battle is the reason why they’re returned safe.  Knowing you’re the best prepared will keep you alive.”  It applies to sport.


(The coaches standing around me there at the Rome World Championships, 12 of my ex-swimmers were on-staff of that team.  It was a pretty good feeling to know that 12 of you swimmers were on the staff of the Australian World Championships team.)


Corporate model integration with performance model.  Personal friends, corporate athletes and sporting entrepreneurs.  I’ve been lucky, that since 1976 I’ve had an Olympic medal winner that I’ve worked with in every Olympics since then.  Chances are 2016 that will come to an end.  Guy on the left there [photo] is Tim Ford who I coached Commonwealth medals in the 1500 and 400.  The young man beside him is Michael Bohl, who I coached and now coaches at the very highest level.  Susie Baumer, I coached to Commonwealth Games gold medal and an Olympic medal, in the middle.  Robyn Lamsam, the girl beside me, I coached to first-ever Hong Kong silver medal.  And today, Timmy Ford, the man on the left, is a mentor to me in the business world; works for Heidrick & Struggles.  Michael Bohl coached Robyn—the girl beside me—when she came to Australia.  Susie’s married to Tim.  And quite a very close-knit group that work together even today.  So they are important friends to me, and very great corporate athletes and sporting entrepreneurs.


Some of the unwritten ground rules for international coaching:

  • Family first. Put your family first.
  • Coach and teach everyday with the enthusiasm that it’s your first day of coaching, not your last day.
  • Know the heart and mind of the athlete, staff, opposition, and competition. Competition are the people you’re going to come up and compete against.  Opposition are the people within your own team that are trying to bring you down.  Be as ruthless as you like in removing them; don’t tolerate or accept them.
  • It’s not what you know, but it’s how you think.
  • Maximum time at task.
  • Skill perfection always before skill acquisition.
  • Build teams with the athletes and staff you coach and mentor are identifiable due to superior skill and attitudes.
  • Learn from the best, and set a path where others will want to follow. Don’t follow.
  • Win every day. Get up every morning with the attitude that you’re going to win every day.
  • Make all those who work with you feel special, enthused, appreciated and valued, without pampering or indulging.
  • Systems do not deliver; athletes and people do.
  • Create models with great flexibility and ones that will deliver under all circumstances.
  • “Compromise” is the cancer for achievement. Train at and coach above.
  • One or two great athletes, does not make a great coach. Formula 1 cars do not come off an assembly line.


We had a scheme in Britain where athletes who could do 10 chin-ups 10 times in 10 minutes would get a t-shirt with “ ‘t ” on it.  In all teams:

  • 20% are can do people in “can’t do” situations. People will refute that, but it’s the fact.
  • 40% can do, if the leadership organization and management is good, but they will ask will I win?. The first 20% will say I can win, the next 40% will ask will I win?
  • And the last 40% are can’t do people in “can-do” situations and they ask: why am I here?

Champions know the difference; winners live the difference.  Make sure you understand the ‘t.  When you do an apostrophe-t, the vertical is written first and that represents your knowledge, experience, education.  The t-across represents capacity and capability.  Don’t put the horizontal part in first; you have to have the knowledge, experience, and education that goes in.  The apostrophe-t represent the difference between can and can’t; and also represents the depth and breadth of your capability and capacity and knowledge to win.


The cycle starts again: the girl on the left [of photo] is an Olympic silver medalist I coached in the 200 butterfly; Commonwealth champion in 200 butterfly.  And I work with her daughter today, who is one of the champion paddlers in Australian Canoeing.  The learn-to-swim the cycle continues.


A lifetime of lessons learned, valued, applauded, and appreciated.  I always tell the athletes: I will never be your best friend, but I will always be your greatest supporter. Make sure there is a line between friend and supporter.


All the names there [slide], and I see Ron McKeon in the audience, are people that I coached who are now coaching.  They honored my time with them by taking-up a coaching profession, so I appreciate that.


The cycle continues: great organizations and with great visionary thinking very rarely, if ever, repeat the same cycle.  It’s always different.  Education is learning and learning is change.  The organization and the leadership must be well-aware of where it is going and what the future looks like in order to stay ahead of the field in competition.  They have a market advantage on the field.  What will the Olympic champion of 2020 look like?  Have you thought about it?  Have you planned it?  Do you have people preparing for it.


If you ever run a 2024 coaching clinic, make sure you invite me; because I think that’s where we should be working and looking forward to today.  That’s what I want.  Mercedes Benz’s vision for the future.  Formula 1 cars, like great athletes and great coaches, do not come off in assembly line.


And… that’s all folks.



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