Coach Busch began his coaching career at the age of 16 in his hometown of Edgewood, KY. He took his first full-time position as head coach of the Northern Kentucky Piranhas age group and senior programs from 1974-78. Busch was an assistant coach for the Cincinnati Marlins from 1979-80, where he instructed current Arizona assistant coach Greg Rhodenbaugh. The Marlins placed six swimmers on the 1980 Olympic team and broke three world records. In his 15th year as head coach of the Wildcats, Frank Busch has transformed University of Arizona swimming and diving into one of the nation’s most powerful programs. With the 2003-2004 season on the horizon, Busch enters the new year with a continued commitment to bringing honor to the University of Arizona through the success of its swimming and diving programs. Since taking over the Arizona program in 1989, Busch’s teams have maintained a steady presence in the nation’s top 10. His women’s team has had top 10 finishes in each of the last 13 years, including NCAA runner-up finishes in both 1998 and 2000. The Arizona men have been in the top 10 in 11 of the last 14 years, including a current streak of six straight top 10 finishes. The 2000 season saw the UA men grab a third-place finish at the NCAA Championships, the best in the program’s history.
Good morning everybody, I am your school teacher. I always say good morning. The coach looks at me and says yeah, it is really a great morning. I am going to start with a little story that I think is not necessarily appropriate to anything other than just to let you know that everybody is human and we all get to some place at some point in time and our journey is the most important thing. Thirty years ago I went to my first Junior Nationals. It was the first time that I really paid attention to anything that was going on because I was a coach there. I see all these massage tables, and everybody is giving a massage; I am kind of watching what is going on and I am thinking, (man, I need to be doing this with my athletes.) I am just kind of looking to see what kind of lotions, thinking I will just go to the drug store today and I will pick up something. I am going to make sure that I am ready to give these massages. I am just looking around, I don’t know exactly what to get, but I remember that everything smelled kind of like it had some sort of liniment of some kind in it, menthol or wintergreen, so I pick up this bottle of stuff. Now before I tell you what it is, you will understand it when I am finished, so I bring this stuff back to the pool and we are getting ready to swim the meet. So I ask the kids “okay who needs a rub-down?” This one girl goes “oh yeah, I will take one coach before the meet.” So I borrowed some table and I start rubbing her down with this white cream that I had purchased. The more I am rubbing I am watching her skin get redder and redder and the next thing I know she is kind of looking like this is burning. Then I noticed there was a tear running down her eye so I say, “oh my gosh quick get up go take a shower or something!” She came out she was absolutely lobster red! I had been putting something on kind of like a liquid Ben-Gay! I just bring that story up because I represented this Country on the Olympic team. I don’t want to embarrass anybody, but we all start some place. It is just kind of interesting how you do things with people and you hope that you grow from it you hope that you learn from it and you hope that you go to the next level.
I have a gentleman on my staff who is a volunteer assistant his name is Bill Behrens and this is his third year. Bill was my high school coach some of you know Bill he coached at Swim Atlanta for a long time. Anyway, a few years ago he had threatened to come out some day and just kind of visit because he is retired, so anyway Bill came out. One day I just see this figure walking across the deck in the afternoon, I look and I say I know that is Bill Behrens’ walk and sure enough he just appears on deck. He comes out about six months of every year now for the last three years and it is really interesting, Bill has made some great observations. He is the type of person that just kind of stands back and looks. He is a very, very smart guy and he just said, “I know that your kids, because I have been watching this for the last several years and now that I am a part of it, your kids do very well at big meets and obviously we all want that to happen,” he had said, “And I have been kind of keeping track of things and you have been here for 15 years which means that you have had 15 teams and coached men and women so that is 30 finishes and in 30 finishes we have had 27 in the top 10 and have had 15 in the top 5 and I think we have also had 14 consecutive years now that we have had an individual NCAA champion!” Now I only bring this up because I am going to try to point out to you some of the things that I think can help you develop your team into a championship team and help you get your kids to do well when they are at the big meets, we will touch on that in a minute.
We have a coach’s code with our staff and it goes like this, I will just kind of give you a few indications of it: the first is be open to everything and attached to nothing. Be open to everything and attached to nothing and I think it is real important that we are humble about our approach to what we do so we are always open minded to the opportunities that are out there and how much we can learn from each other and we can all learn so much from each other. We share offices, every coach in McHale, which is our office complex. We are all in this building together, close to us is track and field and the other day a young track and field coach came into our offices and we were just talking. He happens to be the jumps coach, the high jump and the pole vault coach, and we were just talking about some ideas and some things. We were just sharing ideas about kids and different techniques and because he was expressing some of the difficulties he was having with some of his jumpers he shared what Rick Demont said to him. Rick said, “Have you ever tried working with your kids without having a bar up?” The young coach just kind of looked at him and it almost made too much sense, the idea was just coming at it from a completely different angle. Go ahead and do your pole vault at your practice and go ahead and do your high jumping – just leave the bar off because a lot of times the bar is the limiting factor. It was just such a great concept! I bring that up because Rick always, without using the cliché, thinks outside of the box on a lot of things. It was just a great concept.
Be patient. Be patient. I have a 24 hour rule. We all get angry at times and we want to deal with an issue or want to make a change but give yourself 24 hours to let your emotions subside so you can think about it without any emotional attachments. I just think that is a good rule for life to do that, also trying to individualize whatever is appropriate. There is nothing the matter with taking a kid that is not quite on board with the whole situation or a couple of them and trying to individualize things a little bit more. Whether it is in your workouts or in your approach to what you are trying to do with them. It is really important and it will give them a chance to grow. If you can get people to grow then they might become a part of the whole process with your whole group. And the last thing and probably what we underline the most is enjoy, enjoy the process! It is having fun every day, every day is new. Enjoy your staff and just enjoy being around the athletes that have dedicated themselves to your program. We have a swimmer’s code and I would just like to show you something here. We have a play book for lack of a better term, it’s not like we are going to run 36 slant left or something like that as they do in football, but in this play book we have a wild cat code which we call a swimmer’s code and it says: show up, pay attention, tell the truth and honor your team with your effort. I think when you are working with a group of people if you can have a basic concept and a basic code that they can relate to and it is something that you can refer to, it is a great way to motivate your kids and a great way to mold them together as a group.
If you think about our sport, our sport is such a repetitious thing, it can be, there are times when not only are you asleep on deck sometimes, but they seem to be asleep in the water. The part that we certainly point out a lot is paying attention because athletes are swimming up and down the pool all over the world. What makes kids better? Think about that for a minute. If all you are doing is just going up and down the pool and maybe you do that more than any other team in the world. Are you really getting what you want and are you getting the best out of your athletes? Now I am not saying there is a certain number you need to be doing, it’s paying attention to what is going on and what you are trying to accomplish that is the most important thing. I feel like if we are going to make a difference it is really important for our athletes to pay attention and we need to make sure that we give them stuff that they need to pay attention to.
My staff never stops talking about swimming, it is all we do. As a matter of fact, when I am here a few times during my marriage, my wife says, “If we are going out with any coaches or anything, we are not talking about swimming. I am sick and tired of going out and talking about swimming all the time.” So I learned at least after several years of marriage that is not a good thing to do. But it is what we enjoy doing and I think it is what has helped us progress and evolve as a group because we do that. We communicate. We talk about it. We think out of the box. We are always talking about different ideas and different things. Now some of you may not have a big staff that you can do that with but that doesn’t mean that you can’t pick up the phone and call one of your friends in the coaching profession once a week or once every couple of weeks, and just stimulate ideas amongst yourselves. If you are just an island out there with your own group then I think you are going to miss a lot. Because there is always something out there that can trigger an idea just as us sitting here, you sitting here today listening to some of the things that I am talking about, maybe one of the specific things that I am talking about just rings a bell and it makes you think about something a little bit differently. So stimulating ideas, you can do that just by picking up the phone if you don’t have a group of people that you can sit around and talk to and don’t ever underestimate anybody on your staff. I don’t care if they are the ones that are teaching swim lessons. You start talking about specific things and they can generate some interesting ideas.
I am going to talk a little bit about our training program now because the emphasis of today is about our training program and then about the psychological aspects of what we do too. I want to go through this and then I can answer specific questions. Usually the first six weeks of our program we spend a lot of time on dry land and a lot of time on technique, and we slowly build up our yardage. As I said yesterday with our dry land, we do all aspects, we do some running, we do weights, we do all sorts of different things just trying to get people fit and it can be done in lots of different ways. Some people play water polo, we don’t particularly do that, but I wish maybe we did a little bit more of that. We are just trying the first six weeks to kind of get things going, so we really put a big emphasis on technique. Making sure that we get off on the right foot in how we do things.
Now our weekly plan changed last year for the first time in, maybe 20 years or 25 years of college coaching. We went from with our entire team 10 practices a week to 9 and I was very happy with the results. Now I did make some changes though with our distance kids, I would bring them in for ten workouts for six week periods, a six week period in the fall as we are now and then usually a six week period in the spring. They would come in and pick up an extra morning, and I did this because I think that sometimes swimming, if we are doing it so often it becomes a stale activity. Then their alertness isn’t as good and I wanted to see if making a change is going to make a difference and I can honestly say that I think the day in between for the majority of the team kept our kids a little bit fresher. It didn’t take us quite as long, we were not necessarily any better in any dual meets, we still got hammered, but it just seemed that their attentiveness was better so I like it. Then I was able to just pull the distance kids in for an extra morning and do the ten practices a week that we had been doing for all those years and I felt like they got what they needed to do as well.
Anyway, Monday mornings are kind of a general workout where we emphasize getting back into training, and we do some heart rate sets. I will tell you a little bit about heart rate sets and some of the things that we do trying to get back in the groove. The IM’ers always do some weak stroke work in the morning and you will hear me repeat that every morning because we do weak stroke work every morning. I found out that I am not one of these people that you put your kids in the water and say okay we are going to do recovery. I don’t know, maybe it is just because I can’t stand the word, but there is something about it, I just don’t want to get in the pool and do nothing. Swimming up and down the pool mindlessly does nothing for anybody. I would rather, if you are going to do that, let them sleep. Let them skip and they will be better.
So I started doing some heart rate sets and what I do on this is pick a heart rate target and see how fast we can swim with that limit on your heart rate. So we will start off doing something like ten 200s and I will say okay, heart rate is 150, nobody is going over 150, but let’s just see if we can descend and let’s see how fast we can get. Well the more I looked into this and the more I started playing with it, the more I really liked it. It is a great training tool and at the same time it makes them focus on something because you have to think about it. Take a guy swimming a 1500, for instance, I often wondered what a guy’s heart rate is like for instance what Larsen Jensen’s heart rate was when he was swimming in Athens? Now you probably figure maybe the first three or four hundred maybe Larsen’s heart rate is probably 150, maybe 160 and he is operating very relaxed. As you know, Larsen really built his race up and swam a great race at the end. The two people that I think made the big difference, John and Bill are sitting right here in the audience. So you get to that point in the swim and then all of a sudden the heart rate is going to be elevated because the effort has picked up and the heart rate moves into the 170’s and then the 180 range as you are going through the race it is getting higher usually. You often wonder what the peak of that is and how long can you hold that? Think about that, even with a sprinter the guys going a hundred. At some point in time they are not swimming as fast as they were in the middle of the race because their body cannot tolerate the heart rate, the lactic acid that is being built up. So if you can teach, catch where I am going with this, teach someone to swim fast at a low heart rate. If they can learn to do that, then you are teaching them not only technique about what you are trying to get them to do at a speed wise, but you are also training your heart muscle and I think the bottom line, that is what we are trying to do. If you want a kid to swim a great 100 you want him to be able to process a 200 heart rate for however length of time or even over a 200 heart rate. If you want a distance swimmer to be great, how long can they handle a 180 heart rate maintain their speed and their stroke technique. That is an area that I am kind of pursuing and in the last couple of years I have been doing something with it and I think in some ways we are making some progress. If nothing else, I am having fun with it I really don’t know what they are getting out of it.
We also do 20-30 minutes of the power tower work that I just call racks, different racks and we do that on Monday mornings. On Monday afternoon our emphasis is on a challenge set and this is why I do this. At least at the collegiate level I think kids like to have feedback. They want to know what they are doing, as if they have a biology test on Friday, they want to get the results back on Monday. They want to know how they did. Well, if you consider the fact that our last practice is Saturday in the morning and we have a day and a half off. We have no practice Saturday afternoon and we don’t have a practice on Sunday so we just kind of get back into the groove on Monday morning. We want to do something Monday afternoon where I challenge and they can sort of grade themselves as to where they are. That is the only time during the week that we can actually compare week to week. Because once the week starts and you start training hard, depending on how cumulative the effect of that training is I am not so sure you could have really any measurement, a true measurement anyway so that is what we do Monday afternoon. We do something to challenge them somehow, not always the same set obviously, but it is something that we can do and at least get an idea as to where they are and what they are doing.
Tuesday mornings is when I bring the B people in. We usually do some pretty heavy pulling on a Tuesday morning and it is just the thing. It is filling in the area that I think is what we need to do that I can’t put everyone else into so it is usually extra pulling and it is usually some sort of a short rest type of set as well. Tuesday afternoons the majority of our team goes to the weight room and the ones that don’t are up on deck and we do a very strenuous dry land program with them, I have a dip bar up on deck. We do dips, and we do pull-ups as a team Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Monday, Wednesday and Friday in the afternoon for a half an hour before every afternoon practice we do dry land work which includes pull-ups, lots of med balls, lots of abs and it is very intense and it is for a half an hour. On Monday, Wednesday and Friday the distance people are not doing pull-ups on those days they do some dips, push-ups, some rope twisting, a lot of abs and a lot of stretch cords, we also do our arm exercises on deck with body weight mainly with our distance people. They never go in the weight room and when the distance people are finished doing their dry land they get in and we usually do a 4-5000 main set of some type with them. By that time the rest of the team has come up out of the weight room and we finish the workout with a major kick set, somewhere between 2500 and 3000.
So if you can follow my line of thinking which is not necessarily the line of thinking that you need to follow, but my line of thinking is that if we just spent a lot of time trying to get stronger in the upper body I doubt if I am going to get a whole lot out of them swimming so we just decide we are going to get a lot out of their legs. I think it has made a big difference in the performance of our athletes because there is something about kicking. You know, I look at kicking as 90% willpower. That is just what it is. There isn’t anything pretty about it. You can do it in all sorts of different positions and whether you use a kick board or anything else like that, but it is just 90% willpower and that is just what it is. There is a lot of peer pressure in kicking and I like that. Everybody if the majority of the team is kicking with a board they are looking around to see where people are and we kick, just about all of our kick sets are long course. I don’t think kicking short course is nearly as good as kicking long course.
On Wednesday mornings we usually do some sort of a descend set and again, the Imers do weak stroke work on this part of that. Again, we spend about 20-30 minutes on our racks in the morning and then we get to Wednesday afternoon, Wednesday afternoon is strictly come in, warm-up and then it is race pace stuff. Race pace or faster, so no matter what you do, whether you are a 50 person or you are a 1500 person it is race pace or faster. We have different sets that we do, not right away at the beginning of the year, but as we get into our dual meet season. We will start going off the blocks on Wednesdays and we just do a variety of different things, a variety of different sets trying to go at race pace or faster. Now, think about for instance the distance, we sort of get hung up with doing 100s because it is hard to swim at race pace or faster obviously as you go up in increments of distance.
But I am just trying to do some different things thinking about how we can get somebody to go a little bit faster and swim a little bit further. So some of the sets that I do, yes we still do 30 100’s on 1:30 trying to hold best average or mile pace or faster but we will do some 150’s where we will try and hold those at the same pace instead of doing 100’s. Then something else that I really like doing, is a set of 250’s short course on 4 minutes where it just kind of gives you gauges as to where they are maybe swimming a 500. For instance, we might do eight or ten 250’s on 4 minutes and I will ask them to descend either 1-4 or 1-5, but I make them start at a pretty fast time, someone like Reich or when Chad was in our program I would ask them to start to descend from 2:20 so if you double 2:20 that is 4:40 so you are starting your first 500 out at a 440 pace. You decide descent from there so it is a very specific and a very tight descend, I have seen some of the really good athletes get down to 2:08 on something like that, double that that is going a 4:16 in practice – that is moving pretty good. Now granted, that doesn’t mean you are going 4:16 but the idea is that you are trying to raise the yardage increments so you can swim a faster pace for a little bit further distance.
Thursdays are pretty much a repeat of Tuesdays and if you get to that point in the season where your kids are looking extremely tired you can throw in Thursday as recovery more, go back on some technique. Maybe put some fins on them or do something that just sort of allows them to maybe catch their breath toward the end of the week. Because if you lean on them all the way through and I am sure high school kids are the same, if you lean on them too long it gets to a point where they just get over a cumulative effect of a week and they just get really stale. Then you are beating a dead horse and I am not so sure that is the direction we want to be going in. Friday morning we try to do some speed stuff with short rest, this is for everybody. For instance, one thing that I like to do long course is to take the best kids and do a 100 on a minute and a 50 on a minute so they are recovering and do that maybe 15 times, but there is a little bit of active rest involved. Or short course sometimes we will just do 24 75’s where you go three fast and one easy on a minute. Sometimes we will go rounds of five 50’s on 40 seconds, best average with a minute break. We might go maybe six, seven or eight rounds with that and with our sprinters we will do the same thing, middle distance we will do the same thing, it is just swimming fast not with a lot of rest but the distance is usually a little bit shorter. We are also doing weak stroke work with our Imers and at the end we also work on our racks.
I feel like if you got something and you believe in it you need to use it so we use our racks for sure at least three times a week. We use them for 20-30 minutes at the end of our practices on those mornings. Then Friday afternoon we have some pretty exhausted kids, both mentally and physically and so usually our practice is a little bit shorter on Friday afternoons. We usually do some sort of a descend set, trying to just send them out of the pool where they have done something that they feel pretty good about and because they are coming in the next day and they are going to get hammered. Saturday mornings we get in the water and we are in the water for two and one half hours. It is non-stop everybody is going 11,000 in two and one half hours and they know it and their main set is going to be at least 6,000 in length and everybody else is going to be doing the highest practice of the week yardage wise too.
As we are talking about our weekly plan and that sort of thing I just think it is always interesting to hear stories about people and what they do. There are some set things that we do in tapering, some set things that we do with kids and how we approach our season. During the training camp when we went from the trials to Stanford to you know Majorca and then eventually into Athens I saw some pretty amazing things done by all the athletes that were there. I watched Larsen push a 3:49 one day in practice. I saw Brendan Hansen push a 1:42 for a 150 breaststroke and I watched Peirsol do the same set and he went 1:26.9 and 1:27 flat when he was doing it, so I saw a lot of interesting things. Amanda did a couple of things right after trials everybody is still swimming, she had been finished for I guess a day and a half or maybe two days before trials were over so we started back. Getting in the water, doing some practices right away to get ready to go and then she had a couple of days to get everything together before we had to report up to the training camp up at Stanford. So that Saturday when we got back to Tucson I decided that we were going to do three sets of ten 50’s. We were going to do two sets of ten 50’s the next Saturday and then one set of ten 50’s the Saturday before we left Stanford and that was one thing in this outline that I had sort of put together that we were going to do and there are some other things. But her knee was bothering her a little bit and as a matter of fact I was really worried about it because I didn’t think we had done enough kicking for her to do what I thought she could do. So anyway we did these three sets of ten 50’s and here is the way we did them: we swam the first round, the first time we did it the first week which was just a few days after trials, we did ten of them breaststroke swimming it was actually more than ten 50’s, it was 14 50’s where you go one fast, one easy, two fast, one easy, three fast one easy, four fast one easy and then it gets a little bit easy. Then we came back and we did another set the same way except that it was breaststroke with a dolphin kick and then we swam a little bit easy and we came back and we did another set going freestyle, we did three sets of ten like that. The first time we did it we did breaststroke on a minute, we did the dolphin kick breaststroke on 55, we did the freestyle on 50 and then a week later at Stanford we knocked off the freestyle at the end and we just did a swim set of ten and a dolphin set of ten, that is dolphin kick with breaststroke pull and we lowered the interval five seconds so she went 55 on the first set and she went 50 on the next set. Then the last week we were at Stanford we did ten of them swimming on 50 seconds and that was just kind of a gauge and the reason I throw that up is because the last timed set of ten I don’t think Amanda had one over 36 seconds. I think she held 35’s or faster on everything that she did now that is going one fast, one easy, two fast one easy, three fast one easy, four fast one easy so that is four in a row on 50 seconds, holding them all under 36. She was holding up 35’s or faster, but I knew, I had seen her do things before, but when she was doing that I knew that obviously she was ready to go. It was just one day toward the end of the training camp up in Stanford she did three 200’s from a push and we take as much time as needed in between and she went 2:29, 2:29, 2:28.
We are going to make the transition from physical to psychological. I think one of the common threads of all the coaches, of all the Olympic coaches is that they have their own style, and that they are comfortable with their own style. They are confident with their own style. They don’t compare themselves to anyone else and I didn’t see any egos on that deck. Now why do I bring this up? Because I think as coaches if we are going to progress and we want to try and figure out why certain coaches are successful and what is maybe holding you back it is important that you become comfortable with yourself. That you are confident in what you are doing, that you see as you watch other athletes and other coaches that it is just about becoming passionate for what you are doing. That begins to eliminate all the distractions and all the things that are out there that will keep you from being the very best coach that you can be. It is a common thread as I watch these other coaches that I shared the deck with and have been with on some other trips, just watch them and see exactly what they do. They are confident in what they are doing. They really are not worried about what anyone else is doing or what anyone else is thinking at that particular time. They are focused on their athlete and what their task is at hand. As we talk a little bit more about this part, about psychological preparation of your athletes, it stems from the coach. The impact that the coach has on the athlete is not just physiological, it is psychological. And the psychological dimension of our program is directly related to our success and I really believe that, I really believe that.
I just wrote a few thoughts down and I thought I would read them to you. The easy road or the no growth path is to use these phrases when describing one of your athletes. Now just let me read that one more time: the easy road or the no growth path is to use these phrases when you describe one of your athletes: She or he chokes. She or he is a head case. How many times, every single person in this room including myself, have we used these terms. They are not mentally tough. They are psycho. The kid is psycho, I cannot figure him out he is psycho. You are not helpless. Speaking of the coaches you are not helpless. You can’t sit back and say they are psycho. They are mental midgets. They freak out. They can’t handle the heat. You can’t do that. Everybody here has the power to make sure that doesn’t happen. It is time to let go of that thought, you are not helpless. Just as you have a daily repetition of physical skills in a workout, I found that a daily repetition from a verbal standpoint is just as important. It is just as important as the workout is, your verbal repetitions are just as important and they set the tone for the direction that your team is going to take mentally. I talk with my team every day, almost every day and it is just about the idea that you converse with them and it is not always just about swimming. It is about life. It can be related to swimming. It can be related to anything, but they get to know you a little bit better and the more they get to know you just as the more you get to know them you start reaching a comfort zone and that is certainly not and should never be a threat to you. You have complete control and don’t feel like if you let your guard down your team is going to run away with it. Your team is not going anywhere. They are there because of you and they are there because they want to be there. They want to be a swimmer.
So we talk about all sorts of things, we talk about all sorts of life situations and just kind of plant these seeds for the future. There was a time this summer that I was in a very uncomfortable position. I was one of the American coaches and I was watching three guys that I had coached for a long time on the South African freestyle relay win the gold medal and set a World Record. Inside I was incredibly proud of those guys. On the outside I was very sad in a lot of ways because I was one of the American coaches and I really wanted the American kids to do well because I know them. I know them very well and to have a chance to just share time with them and to be around them, I had a chance last summer in Barcelona and obviously I was very fortunate to have a chance in Athens. But with the South Africans three of the four in that relay I had brought into my office back in January and just planted the seed about what opportunity was in front of them, that they had a chance to make history. I was a coach on the South African staff in 2000 and this is not a slight to South African swimming but to compare the organization of the United States or USA Swimming the well oiled machine and compared to some of the other countries, it is not even close. You wonder whether or not you are going to have a room when you show up at the village. You wonder whether or not you are going to have an airplane ticket two days before you are supposed to leave for World Championships or the Olympics. You just kind of appreciate this so the reason I pulled them aside, starting back in January was not to just talk about swimming, but it was to talk about all the problems that were going to exist on the path to get there. All of these things that I just mentioned, whether or not they are going to get plane tickets, whether or not they are getting any per diem food. Will you have the right pass to get into the village, all of those things and all the politics that go along with it?
So we just started talking about it way back then, I brought them into the office usually every couple of weeks just to have the three of them sitting and talking because they were not the closest of friends at that time, but they all knew each other obviously. As time went on all of a sudden there became glue with those guys that really meant something because they began to believe, so it is just planting the seed. It doesn’t always come to fruition. I am not going to sit here and say well you start talking about it now, and in five months or six months they are going to be a world beater, that is not what I am talking about. But at least they have a chance if you just plant the seed a little bit and you just start talking, conversing about something.
Communication, we have beat that word into the ground, certainly I do, you’ve got to communicate and it is the truth, but it took me a long time in coaching to finally figure that out. We talk about repeating expectations and repeating the preparations for it. Your expectations for your athletes, you have to make sure that they are on the same page with you, so you talk to them about it. Let them know what some of your thoughts are and they may look at you and say you are crazy, you know, coach come on. Well, you can talk to them about it and you can let them know your dreams. Let them know what your thoughts are, let them know what you think is possible. The next thing you know they might start believing it, but it has to start some place. Now I am by nature a pretty low keyed person and I run a low key program and I think you need to follow what your personality is. Every person in here has a unique personality. I have watched, I have seen Bill coach, Jon coach, Richard coach, I have seen many of you coach and you are all very different but you all have a great outlook and by following your personality, living within and not trying to be someone else is the most important thing. I am kind of a low keyed person. Yeah, I get fired up on certain issues there is no question about it, and there are a lot of times when I get pretty agitated about my team, but for the most part on a day to day basis I feel like I am on a fairly even keel.
I also like to tell some stories, I do a lot of what my wife would call “down home story telling.” There are some coaches that are great at it, I don’t know if I am particularly good at it, but again, it is good to let your athletes see you in a setting where you are just you and not someone that is way above them. Because the more they can connect with you the more you can ask from them and the more they will give. I want to talk about big meets and how we prepare kids and I have a few stories to go along with this. Our expectations are high with big meets and we have been pretty fortunate over the years to have had some pretty good success at most of our big meets. You have got to trust that your training, the kids have to trust that their training has been as best they could do. I don’t think there can be any doubts when you go to a meet that I am not prepared enough physically to do my best time so it is important that you make sure that they are physically prepared. That is kind of a given, that is pretty obvious. There cannot be any emphasis on the past or the future. When you get to the big meet you can’t talk about what you did last time. What am I going to do this time? It cannot be on the past, you have got to be present in the now. Present in the moment. You have got to be ready to uncork your energy now at this time. When you think about that, well yes it is pretty obvious, but none of it is obvious if it doesn’t work. You have some kids on your team that you don’t need to say anything to and you have others on your team if you don’t say something to them then they don’t have a chance. So you just can’t herd them all together and say “well, you have got to be tough sons of bitches and you better get it done because that is the way it’s going to be!” and some of them are looking at you going ohhh, because not everybody is the same.
Did you ever notice when you are working with your athletes at a big meet or even if it is just a dual meet, or a low key meet I have noticed this, when you start talking to somebody at a big meet they are in tune with you. I mean you could tell them something and their eye contact is a lot different than it is when you are swimming the Southern Cal invitational or something like that when it is just another meet and I can’t wait to get out of here after the prelims are over. That high intense alertness is something that you need to see it is something that you notice and when you see that type of alertness obviously that is a really good thing. They are paying that type of attention as opposed to a deer in the headlights. I want to tell you a little story about deer in the headlights with a young lady that I was coaching last year at NCAA’s, she was seeded 52nd coming into the meet. We are getting ready for her event. The meet is going real well for us. We are getting ready for her event and I know it is not going to happen, I just know it. I can tell by the body language, but I can just tell by looking at her eyes. It is not going to happen. Okay, so what am I going to do? Am I just going to pull her aside and you know, just get in her face? Well I don’t know, I just don’t think that is going to work right now, but if I don’t do something, it is going to be ugly. It is not going to be good so I pulled her aside and emphasized the fact that competition is something that every kid in that pool has a need for, it fills a void. They wouldn’t be there if they were not going to be competitive so let’s make a game out of it. So I proceeded to talk about this being your chance to play your game. I went into a lot more detail which I don’t think I have time to talk about all the things that we talked about, but it was just the idea that you had to address the situation or it wasn’t going to work. We needed her to do well and by the Grace of God she qualified 8th and she was seeded 52nd. Now whatever I said to her I think made a difference, just the fact that I addressed it.
A lot of times we as coaches are like there goes psycho again and I don’t want to deal with that so you say “Bill, you take care of her you know, you go talk to her.” Somebody else take care of this. Well, you can’t do that. You can’t do that because that is not what you want to do, you have to address the situation so don’t be afraid. Address it, start somewhere and if you talk and it absolutely blows up in your face, give them a different talk the next time, that’s all. But, don’t just act like ah that person is going to fail and somebody else take them because I don’t want to deal with her or deal with him you can’t do that. I also think that there is way too much over-coaching done at meets, way too much over-coaching and I see it on the Olympic deck. I think what you want to do when you send your athlete up if they are pretty nervous or if they are not quite ready to go you just give them a little something to focus on. Let’s just build that first 50 or make sure that you set your turns up right just something to take the edge off. Not something to confuse them and not something to frustrate them and definitely not something to take their anxiety level which is here to even a higher level because what is that going to give them? I mean, they are already down their leg.
I think it is so important to enjoy the opportunity. So we talk about making sure that everyone of your athletes came and became involved in athletics because it is a competition that fills a void in their life and they like it somewhere they like that. I know that sometimes it is hard to look at them and say, how could they be enjoying this, they look so scared. They are so nervous. I mean, they have chewed their fingernails down to their knuckles, but there is something about this that they connect with and so why not give them the opportunity to be as successful as they can be? I am just going to wrap this up with a few entertaining stories. Every single one of you has had some interesting stories with your athletes. I have a young lady that swims for me, her name is Emily Mason and Emily is a great person a hard worker tough as nails but the first two years at NCAA’s we had some problems. Her freshman year she went in seeded #1 in the 500 didn’t make the big heat after prelims and then wound up getting second in the banana heat. Then the next couple of days didn’t make it in she was well seeded top 3 in the 400 IM I think or certainly top 3 or 4 didn’t make it into the big final. Didn’t make it into the 200 fly in which she was seeded the same way so it took me a year to get to know her a little bit and then her sophomore year she swims the 500 free doesn’t even make it into the top 16. So I am thinking, okay what are my options here, am I going to sit and watch a repeat of her freshman year? I have to address this issue. Well she touched the wall and man I was out of the stands I was right to her and I was saying, “this is crazy, you have done way too much this can be a much better situation and there is no way that this is going to happen again!” So the next day she came back in 400 IM, qualified second finished second I think, she finished second in the 400IM and went on and finished second in the 200 fly, and I believe that if I would have sat on my hands that wouldn’t have happened. I just decided she had worked way too long for this to happen.
Last year, before the 400 freestyle the past has this woman absolutely paralyzed. So, I just did the best job I could to try and get her semi-calmed down and fortunately she makes it into the final. Well you could just see the weight of the world was taken off her back and that night she wound up winning the 400 freestyle. My point about Emily is that I had to address the issue. I had to. I couldn’t just sit there and watch a kid self-destruct because I had to figure out a way to talk to her. I owed her that as her coach and more importantly we need Emily to do well for our team to do well, but it is just about addressing the issue. When Ted Carbon was a sophomore he set a couple of American records in the 500 and the mile at NCAA’S and he beat Tom Dolan. Tom Dolan turned around the next year and broke his records, but anyway I will never forget Ted swam the 500 and he won it. The next day he swam the 400IM and did real well and I am warming him up for the mile two days later and I am thinking I have to make sure that I got this guy right, and he just looked up to me and he said, “coach, it is alright, I know I got a good one in me.” I just put my watch in my pocket and I got away from him because I knew it was over. It was going to happen in spite of me it was going to happen.
Amanda at Barcelona last summer I was warming her up and if there was ever a time that I saw an athlete being one with the water it was warming her up. I just knew something special was going to come. Amanda’s best time was 225 and she went 2:22.9 to tie the World Record and I just knew watching her warm-up that the best thing for me to do was to not say anything. I just watched her and watched her rhythm and her flow and you just get some moments like that where you just watch somebody and you are just wow that is it what a gift! Someone said to me the other day coaches’ think they are great, you are doing really great. Some of the coaches heard this before, I said talent makes you look good and I know how to wear it well.
I will tell you one more story this is about another girl, Sara Tolar and she had swum the first couple of years and did well at NCAA’S. She had really some great swims but unfortunately I think she had qualified third in Olympic trials and wound up getting 7th and missed the team. Boy talk about a deer in the headlights and boy I wish I had that moment back because I know I could have made a difference with her. But it is just like anything else you kind of grow and you kind of figure things out in time. Anyway Sara was a great 500 swimmer in college. I mean, her freshman year she just went crazy and went a 4:42 in a meet in the middle of the year. Then struggled with that, struggled with the 500 and in college just the way the events are set up you have to try and jockey people around and figure things out. At the same time, don’t take them out of what they need to be doing their best in and what is going to help them and help your team at the same time. Well, we never had enough sprinters when she was in college so she always had to swim the 200 freestyle relay which was the very first event and the 500 is right after that so trying to sprint a 50 and then come back and try to figure out pace within about ten minutes time showed some great coaching on my part. I screwed her up for a couple of years, real good, but anyways, she swam the 500 her junior year and swam the relay, swam the 500 and she was one of the top three seeds and she didn’t even make the top 16. So boy I am out of my seat I am down on the pool deck and I just start talking about what was going on and how this meet was going and there is no way it could continue going in that direction. I have learned from addressing the issues and the next day she won the 200 freestyle.
I have learned that we cannot stick our head in the sand as coaches. We cannot do that and it doesn’t matter what you do physically with your athletes, I don’t care how prepared they are physically, if they are not prepared mentally they are not going to do as well as they can do. As a matter of fact, I will take a kid that has it together emotionally and psychologically over a physically trained athlete any day. Now, if they are both physically trained and they have it together psychologically, obviously you have the whole package, but as coaches we cannot stick our head in the sand. We cannot avoid the issues and not any of us here wants to just go and sit down and talk about psychological issues with anybody let alone our self. If you start having a heart-to-heart talk to someone about your personality and some of your personality flaws come up, that is not something we all want to sign up for, yeah, just tell me how weak I am in those areas and your athletes don’t either. But if you don’t take the time to address those issues and you use the terms they are psycho, they freak out, they are a mental midget, they cannot handle depression, and they choke what is that going to give us? It is not going to get us anywhere and we are certainly not going to progress.
So if there is any message I leave with you today it is just to take the time to get into the heads of your athletes by nothing else but communicating with them and sharing parts of your life and different things that they can relate to. They are much easier to give up some of the things, some of the ghosts in their closets that they have accumulated over a period of time. So then you get a chance where they can be the best that they can be and by them being the best that they can be it is pretty obvious that you will be the best that you can be.