A Winning Attitude by Dr. Keith Bell (2000)


Attitude is something we talk a lot about, we sure seem to be able to recognize it and we want our swimmers to have good attitudes but, what exactly is it I’m not sure that we have really good clear concept of it and so what I like to do today is talk to you about what attitude really is and how a useful way to look at that and how to build a good winning attitude in your athletes.


The dictionary defines attitude as manner, disposition, feeling, position, etc. toward a person or thing, and I guess I capture some of the essence of it and as a psychologist I don’t find that really useful.  I think we get confused about attitude, I think we tend to attribute causality to something that is simply descriptive.  I think what happens is we caught up in, we watch some people act a certain way and we think they do that because they have a bad attitude.  You know watch Johnny and he’s not training well, he’s goofing around, interfering with other people, he’s not getting after it, and you know you think well, its cause he has a bad attitude, well, how do we know he has a bad attitude, well we know he has a bad attitude, because he’s not training well, he’s goofing around, he is interfering with other people.  All right, well why is he interfering with other people and goofing around, because he has a bad attitude, well, you know its circular reasoning its tautological and I don’t really think it helps us to do anything about it.


What we need to remember is attitude is merely descriptive, it’s not causal, its not something that exists independent from behavior.  It’s a description of a set of behaviors.  Now the dictionary talks about it being a disposition or a position toward a person or thing and I think a useful way of looking at that in terms of values.  Basically an attitude is a set of actions, that’s reflective of the kinds of values we hold for a person or thing or action.  So I think if we start thinking in terms of attitudes that facilitate the kinds of behaviors we want, then we are in the position to start changing them and building them.


I think the thing is, we gotta get specific about the kind of attitudes we want our athletes to have, so in order to do that I think you gotta get specific about the kind of values you want them to have, and we spent a lot of time in the last talk, talking about winning and I think, I hope I made it clear in the last talk that the object of the game is to win.  To my mind there is something about competitive swimming that is directed at the pursuit of excellence.  The whole idea is to go faster than anyone else, to consistently pursue excellence, I think that’s what you do as coaches, is you provide your athletes with the opportunity to pursue excellence in competitive swimming.  If in fact that’s consistent with what your mission is then that’s where your values ought to be and that is where you want their values to be.  And I think it’s pretty rare unless we teach them that they truly have a good consistent value for excellence.  I don’t think they necessarily value what their doing.


Now some of you have read some of my stuff or heard me talk before about having a positive attitude I want to talk a little differently, about a little different aspect today in terms of building a winning attitude, but, a combination of them, we talked about it in a couple of different ways, but, some of you may have heard me in the past, I define attitude as a set of behavior talk and thoughts that reflect our chosen values.  In swimming in particularly, what I think we are interested in when we talked about having a good attitude, is we are talking about a attitude that reflects a value for velocity that says swimming is good and more is better and that challenges are good and the tougher they are the better and I think its when we see people doing things that reflect a lack of value for swimming, or lack the value for more swimming, like coach can I go home now, or like can we do fewer of these, can we have more rest, lack of value for the challenges, oh my god this is too hard, then we tend to think that they have a poor attitude toward it.


We tend to think of attitude in some other ways to, and you can define attitude any way you want.  You can define a winning attitude, certainly any way you want, but I think that basically you might look at it in a couple of senses, one is in terms of a prized attitude, one that we value, one that works in competitive swimming, one that is pleasant to be around in a competitive swimming environment and one that is consistent with purpose which I would assume and hope is the pursuit of competitive swimming excellence, one that demonstrates confidence and expectation and victory and one that makes a contribution to the mission.  In essence one that consists of behavior that supports swimming excellence.  Another way of looking at that, not inconsistent with that, but, with that definition of a winning attitude, but would be an attitude that consists of behaviors that reflect the value for winning.  I think probably what you want to do is prompt both.


We want to be looking at positive attitude, you want to look at a winning attitude, we are interested in action, talk and thought, or self talk, I thought being self talked, that demonstrates high value for the act of swimming, for it’s feel, for the experience of the pursuit of excellence, I don’t think that is totally inconsistent with what others might call a work ethic, but, I like to think of it more in terms of a life style and that is consistent with the pursuit of excellence.  One that has chosen a high value for the benefits derived from competitive swimming for the pursuit of excellence in competitive swimming, that they get it, that they get what they get out of it and they like that a lot.  A high value for competition for racing, for the worthy opponent, acting as if those are good and valuable and of course for the pursuit of victory.


So that is the way I’m going to talk about attitude and that’s what I’m going to think about attitude and holding some value, acting as if, talking as if, thinking as if those kinds of things and worth while, that swimming is good and worth while, challenges are good and worth while, competition is good and worth while, the pursuit of excellence and the pursuit of victory are good and worth while.


I think paramount in promoting a winning attitude is the value you exude.  If you act as if swimming is good and swimming is valuable and the tougher it is the better and that the quest is wonderful and that it’s fun to go after victory and its exciting to go after victory and the things your doing to build good stroke technique and to build stamina and to build power are exciting and wonderful things to do with great benefits and you show that enthusiasm and demonstrate those values that is a large part of building a good attitude, its huge.  You want to act as if swimming in your program is a great privilege and a wonderful opportunity.  Talk as if swimming is fun, that the challenges are exciting and difficult is good not bad.  If you act that way, if you talk that way, if you live that philosophy then your swimmers are going to have better attitudes.


In many ways you are the keeper of swimming values, to great extent if you act as if, if you talk as if and you assume swimming is a wonderful experience, that challenges are fun and exciting and the athletes will surely want to swim fast, will want to win, will want to do what it takes to win and will enjoy this great process, you make it so.  Much of your roll is to set standards, to define what is good and what is not, to define what is valuable and what is not, what’s fun and what is not, what promotes swimming excellence and what does not.  It is up to you to pronounce what is valuable in terms of stroke technique, in terms of speed and in terms of attitude.  It’s not any different, you want to treat it the same way, I think you promote a winning attitude by the way you talk about things, they need to hear your value for challenges, for the pursuit of excellence, for winning, for enjoyment.  You make the rules, you set the policies, you draw the road map and set the pace for the path to excellence, you say what’s good and what isn’t, you define the attitude, whether by default or by design, hopefully you do it by design.  Prompt the passion, the talk, the value you want for the pursuit of swimming excellence, accept only the behavior you want and the talk that you value.  And, hopefully you will have little tolerance for inefficient slow swimming.


Most of you, I imagine, quickly correct errant stroke technique, and insufficient get up and go, you just don’t let it go by and certainly if it catches your attention you have something to say about it.  I think in the same way, if you want to build winning attitudes, you teach and prompt the appropriate behaviors, and you have little tolerance for talk and action that reflects little or no value for the pursuit and enjoyment of swimming excellence.  Much of this is just a matter of keeping your swimmers on track, reminding them of their purpose, prompting them to act consistent with their purpose and keeping them attentive to making their swimming fun.


Monitor and correct what they say and how they act, just as you would how they swim.  Set policy and enforce it consistently.  What you say really matters, the way you say it really matters, what they say really matters, what their talking about it huge, they way they talk about sets, the way they talk about practice, the enthusiasm or lack thereof, the enjoyment or lack thereof, the value or lack thereof is huge in terms of their progress.  The way they say it matters.


I think you’d do well to set a policy of no complaints.  Complaining is cancerous and one of them starts and the rest, its social acceptable, we are really good at saying this is bad, we don’t like this, this is crummy, this stinks, instead of looking what is good about it, and a lot of times things aren’t even good or bad, we just make them so by how we label them.  The same set can be tremendously fun, really laborious, boring, exhausting, exhilarating depending on how you talk about it, depending on how they experience has a lot to do with how you talk about it and how they talk about it.  I think what you want to do, is prompt them, instruct them, to talk about it in a way that works, have a good attitude.


I’m standing up there coaching and the swimmer says to me, god it’s hard, and I say yeah it’s hard, it is, it’s hard, it supposed to be hard, it’s supposed to be difficult, I might talk to them about A League Of Their Own.  Anybody see that movie? A wonderful movie, a league of their own and there is this one part, Dorothy, the character played by Geena Davis, she is leaving the team and she is the star of the team, this is a baseball movie and she is the catcher and the star of the team and the attraction, and she is leaving and Tom Hanks who plays the coach looks at her and he says, why are you giving it up? I thought it was in your blood, and she looks at him and said it just got too hard.  He looks at her incrediously, and he says hard, it’s supposed to be hard, if it were easy, everyone would do it, that’s what makes it hard is what makes it great and it is one of the things that makes swimming great, it is hard.  It’s hard to swim faster than anybody else in the world. If it were easy everyone would do it.  That’s what makes it great, its hard.


I had one of my Masters, I coach masters swimming, I had masters the other day, we did a pretty good set, we did a set where we went, we started off with 100 on two minutes, 100 on one 55, 100 on one 50 then 100 one 50, one 45, one 50, 45, one 50, one 45, one 40, one 45, one 40, one 35, etc. until they missed and then when they missed they just kept going, then they did 75’s now so maybe it was the 75 on the 55 on 50 on the 45 until they missed they did 50’s and the stayed in the set, cause we’re popping back up and switching from 100’s to 75’s and 75’s to 50 when they missed they can catch up on the next one and then when they missed that we went to 25’s, well for most of them that was a 4000 set, and one of the swimmers looked up in the middle and said I’m dying, I’m dying and I thought, he didn’t die.  I told him you don’t die swimming, you can’t die swimming, you might die while swimming, but not from swimming and not from it being hard.  But, you know I sat him down afterwards at practice and I told him I didn’t want him talking that way.  You want to talk about being tired, that is O.K. but say it in a way like this is great, that’s what you here for.  If you’re not getting tired, this isn’t any fun.  If you’re not getting tired, you’re not making any progress.


Getting tired, shoot, I know when I thought I was done with swimming, and I never will be now, but when I was out of college and I thought my swimming career was over and before there was any masters swimming and stuff and I used to go out and I played every other sport I could think of, but I missed swimming, and what I missed about swimming, was I missed, you know what it’s like when you sit, those of you who are swimmers, when you sit in the locker room after practice, on the bench, your so tired, you can hardly move and you feel it in your bones, and you don’t get that doing anything else and it’s a wonderful feeling, its something really satisfying, especially if you are valuing the benefits, you know that adaptation is taking place, you know that you are building power, you’re getting fit, you’re building stamina, you’re getting healthier, you’re able to do things that you can’t do otherwise, you know I go out, hey heck this may seem like a little thing to you but I’m getting old here and if I go out and I go to the grocery store and I take my five gallon bottle of water and I shove it in the machine and I fill it up with water and I lift that sucker up and I take it with one arm and I open the car door and I put it in the car and I don’t need four people to help me do that.  Swimming it’s nice, you can do things like that in swimming.


The first time I ever went out for running in my life, I’d run and catch a ball and run to catch a pass and things like that but I’d never gone out for a run until I was thirty something years old, but one day I went out and somebody said come for a run with me and I thought, oh O.K. well my heart and lungs are in pretty good shape from swimming, I don’t have any running shoes, but I have tennis shoes and my legs, well I don’t know, but I’ll give it a go and I went out and I ran with them, so we ran five miles at eight minute mile pace, the first time I ever ran, yeah, my legs got a little sore, it was no big deal, it was kinda fun, so three days later I did it again, and a few days later I did it again, and a few months later after five miles, no more over, every third day or so, I went out and I ran a marathon.  At the eighteen mile mark I was averaging 6 thirty miles and was thinking about winning my age group.


Swimming is unbelievable and they need to know that, when they are tired, or they think it’s hard it’s just doing these wonderful things for them.  That’s good attitude, right.  Monitor and correct what they say, it’s too hard, yeah it’s hard, it’s exciting.


I think, I was talking in the group in the last talk, I’m a great believer in a policy of no grief, grief impairs confidence and camaraderie.  Grief suppresses risk taking behavior, which is really important if you want to win.  And it makes it less fun, even if it temporarily seems funny.  I want to have a good attitude about these things, and I want to value our team mates, value our team mates right to participate, value everybody’s right, you don’t want to ridicule anybody ever.  I think a good attitude, you build a good attitude by prompting modeling, instructing expression of enjoyment.  Remind them of the fun, get them talking about the fun, when I coach warm up, warm down is always something like, O.K. we might do, say 30 jumps, an easy 300 and one thanks Keith that was fun.  And I do, at the end of every practice, I always tell them one thanks Keith that was fun, and they do they come up and they say hey coach thanks that was fun, and you know what I really liked doing this set, and I like doing this and I like doing that, I’ve got them talking about it.  O.K. I told them to, but it doesn’t matter, you know their paying attention to it, I don’t think there is anything wrong with coaching them.


I always thing it’s important in at least one set to require a certain number of smiles.  Smiling makes a difference in how you feel about something, I might tell them on a kick I want to see at least three smiles and pass it on.  You know, prompt one in someone else, you might give them goals to talk about the fun.  I’ve done that with teams a lot.  You know, during this set I want you to do, during this practice I want you to notice at least three things that you enjoy and publicly comment on them, it something that is not socially acceptable and its something that we don’t usually do where it is much more acceptable to talk about the things we don’t like than to talk about the things that we like, but it is much more functional, its much more fun and much more productive, to talk about the fun, especially if you talk about the things that it takes to win in the pursuit of excellence.


I’ll look at them sometimes when they look like their having a hard time, I’ll look at them and I’ll say smile and say that was fun wasn’t it, and I’ll expect them to agree with me.  If they don’t then we need to talk about it, why they’re not doing a good job of making it fun, how or what can they do to make it fun.


I had, a guy came in and he was just kidding around, but I don’t have much patience for kidding around in that way, anymore than I would have patience for somebody doing stroke technique improperly, I want them to do it correctly.  A guy was kidding around in practice the other day, in the morning before I left, I had them go 5 x 200’s kick on a pretty tough interval and afterwards I wanted to loosen their arms up before the next set so I had them go a couple of easy 50’s or 25’s, I forget which, but something similar for what we do for warmdowns at the end of practice, so one of the guys on the team, pretty good athlete, looks up at me, and he was just kidding around, but he looks up at me and he says, I guess that’s it coach, that was warmdown, but to me that says swimming is bad and more is worse.  He is not looking for more, so I told him the truth, I told him that ever since I can remember when I started coaching I’ve always had the same policy which is an open door policy, the door is always open and no one makes you be here, if you want to go home there is the door it’s open and he says oh I’m just kidding, I’m just kidding, and I knew he was and a couple of the other people who had nothing to do with just standing next to him going, but coach we want to be here, we want to be here, we wanna do this, and I know they do, but I don’t want them talking about it as if they don’t, it’s subtle but it makes a huge difference in their attitude, because it becomes socially acceptable, it becomes contagious and we’re just not valuing what we’re doing, we want to value what we are doing we want it to be the most important thing in the world at least at this moment.


I told the people in the last talk here that it was a sales pitch but I held up a copy here of the Swim to Win Play Book which, I was going to say it was my latest book, I guess it is the other one is not out yet, but there are lots of really good games and exercises, if you want to take a look at that for helping them to do these kinds of things.


You want to expect them to value the challenges, to express appreciation for the challenges, wouldn’t it be nice if they thanked you when you gave them a really tough set, because they just enjoyed the challenge, that’s O.K., it’d be nice to, right, it’s O.K. to ask them to do that to, it’s O.K. to tell them to express their appreciation for it, tell them to talk about how much they liked that, to embrace the challenges to make it good.  If you want to build a winning attitude in them you need to value, make and progress and expect them to make progress.


One of the policies I have with one of the teams I work with, we wrote policies for them, is exactly that, you’re expected to move forward, cause we know if you are standing still you’re going to be in the way or you’re going to get run over, and you want to have some value for making progress, expect them to make a commitment to the pursuit of excellence.


In the play book we have a contract, a self contract, it’s part of making a commitment.  Give consistent attention to purpose and goals and you want them to give consistent attention to purpose and goals and one way you can do that is by having regular sessions where you talk about that kind of stuff.


We were talking earlier about when we have regular sessions once a week or playing the game in the play book, or doing goals each week.  I think it’s one of the best things any swimmer can do and one of the best things you can do coaching, is to have your swimmers write three goals every week for the up-coming week.  I mean write them, not just have them in mind, I mean write them and post them for everyone to see.  Swimmers can help each other out, if they don’t help each other out, that’s O.K. too, if they interfere with each other, that’s not O.K. it’s O.K. in the sense that you need that information, because they’re doing it anyway.  If they are not helping each other, if they are interfering with each other they can do it in all sorts of subtle ways that you might not notice, but if you know what the goal is and you’re seeing that they are interfering with each other’s goals, or kidding each other about it or belittling each other or failing to support each other and that’s information you want.  You want them working together to move forward, you want them challenging each other.


If you have the goals up it’s a lot of good information for you and it’s good information, when the teams I work with that post goals, the swimmers tend to go and read each other’s goals and they learn from each other’s goals, they get some good modeling and they get some good ideas and they tend to help each other out and remind each other and get each other back on track.


You want them to value consistent, superlative action for excellence.  A real key word there is consistent.  Cause its not about awakening that one good extraordinary effort right now.  It’s about consistently doing the things that it takes to win and most of them are little easy things that are easily obtainable, not that hard to do  — the hard part is being consistent..  It’s the hardest thing about having a good attitude, having a good attitude isn’t hard, all it requires is acting as if talking as if and hopefully thinking as if what your doing is good and worth while, the hard part is doing that consistently, being consistently attentive to that, being consistently attentive to it when you or they don’t feel well, are tired, hungry, cold, hot, distracted.  The consistently is huge.  Value consistency.  Then it just becomes habit anyway, you do some good things consistently, it becomes habit and you don’t have to think about it anymore.


I went over to the Y this morning to go for a swim.  I’m not a member of the Y here in Cincinnati cause I don’t live here in Cincinnati and also am not a member of the Y in Austin where I live, and I walked in, and I called last night and they told me that, you know I can come in and swim for the day and pay the guest fee, or whatever it was, so I went over there this morning and they didn’t want to let me in, and I told them I called the night before, but they said no, you have to be a member of the Y somewhere or you have to be with a member of the Y as a guest, so I looked the lady in the eye and I told her the truth, I told her I hadn’t missed a day of swimming since sometime in the 1980’s and I didn’t want to miss one today and she let me in which was nice.  But the point of that is, I don’t ever think about whether or not I’m going to swim — I know I’m going to swim everyday, just as there are certain things you do everyday, you eat, you sleep, you swim, it’s one of those things, or for me it is, it’s a habit, it’s a nice part of the day something I value very much, so the issue is when and where and how and what I’m going to do and all of that kind of stuff, but it’s not whether or not.


When you get consistent about some action, it really builds and builds easily.  Remind them of their goals and remind them that they value their goals, remind them of the goals they have set for this week and how they connect, with the goals they have for their career or for the end of the season or other long term and intermediate goals and monitor their progress on their goals.  If you truly value where they’re going you want to know what they are doing and you want them to just help them stay on track.  If they’re really valuing winning, if they have a winning attitude, then they value doing better doing things better than other people and they value getting ahead of the competition, so you look to see are they doing things that are helping them get ahead of the competition or are they looking to do what everybody else is doing, which is different, mediocre average.


I have a game in the play book called jump start, I like them to play jump start all the time.  It was way back in 1984, they had the first masters world championships, and I was trying to decide whether I was going to swim in the masters world championships.  I really wanted to swim in it but it was in Christ Church New Zealand which is a long way away.  The United States doesn’t support the team and mom and dad weren’t paying for it anymore and it meant time away from work and family and all those kinds of things, so you know I had some things to think about whether I was going.  But, I finally decided that I wanted to do it and I was going to do it.  An interesting thing happened to me when I decided that and the day I decided that I was going to do that, I set a goal to, if I’m going to go I decided I wanted to win at least one event at the world championship and that was the goal to win at least one of them.  That probably wasn’t a good goal I probably should have set a goal to win at least 4 or 5 events but I might have swam a little better and won one event, I might have won more.  But anyway I set a goal to win at least one event at the world championship.


The next day in practice I found myself thinking while I was swimming, it occurred to me that someone in the world, someone in my age group and masters is competed in age group, somewhere in the world, someone in my age group was training his butt off that day, and I thought what can I do to get ahead of him, and I decided I wanted to do at least one thing everyday to get ahead of those people in the world who were training their butt off.   I called that taking a jump start.  It is a game in the play book, jump start.


Value winning is valuing what it takes to win, it means being aware of the competition.  Some people are out there training really, and that if you want to win it means doing even better and doing extra and more in one area or the other.  Having a good winning attitude has to do with valuing the quest and in to do that they need to value the benefits and what they get out of that, to make it a wonderful trip.


I showed a film in the last talk and one of the guys they saw in the film was a guy named Mike Mentanco, I don’t know if you any of you know who Mike is, he is an up and coming swimmer.   He is from Canada, from a town of about 30,000 way up North in the boonies in Canada, he swam at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas and he swam pretty well and he is swimming a heck of a lot better now.  At Canadian Nationals he went 52:8 for 100 meter fly long course, but, Mike and I had long talks all year long in preparation for Olympic trials and the Olympics and I talked to him about making the trip so wonderful, that the destination was just the icing on the cake and I’ve never seen anybody get that concept better than Mike, he loved training everyday, he made it fun, he made it great, he knew what he was doing, working on this and paying attention to this everyday and feeling good about what he was accomplishing and enjoying the people he was with and making good for the people around him.  He had so much fun doing that and you know he came up to me at Olympic trials and I guess at one point he got a tiny bit nervous, but basically what he said to me was it hasn’t occurred to me recently that I wouldn’t make the Olympic team and he said I’m a little nervous about the thought today, but all along I’ve been thinking about, kind of assuming I’ve been making it but I’ve been thinking and telling myself over and over again, that, gosh if I do that is great, but, god it’s been so much fun anyway, I can’t lose.  He broke the Canadian record, won the Olympic trials and I think he is going to contend over there in Australia, but he was just such a great example of valuing the experience and valuing everything about training everyday and about racing and about racing and having a winning attitude.


You want to promote independence and responsibility.  Let them own their goals, their performance, their successes, their failures, mostly their successes is really important, you can help take some of that from the failures, but, expect them to take responsibility to make it fun, I was telling someone during the break, inevitably I’m asking kids all the time if they ever get bored at school and if they get bored at practice, and whenever they tell me yes I look at them incredulously and honestly and ask them why in the world would you do that, if you want to it’s O.K. but it sounds stupid to me.  It’s not any fun to be bored at practice or at school it’s not productive, it doesn’t feel good, it’s not useful in any way shape or form, now if you want to do it it’s O.K., your choice, but it doesn’t make much sense.  I really get that, I understand that as, it’s a matter of responsibility.


There is a game in the Swim to Win Play Back called responsibility, and it’s just a bunch of statements and questions, for which they’re supposed to fill in the answers.  The questions are things like whose responsibility is it to see that I win, whose responsibility to see that I bring my goggles to practice, whose responsibility to make swimming fun and I gave them a hint at the beginning of the exercise and the hint is that the answers are I am or mine.  Depending on which way that was worded.  That’s one part of the game.  It’s a tremendously valuable game to play.  Even knowing the answer having it given, to sit down to look at and read those sentences, and think about whose responsibility that is and to know that it is mine.  I know whose responsibility it is to see that your swimmers have a good attitude, have a winning attitude, to see that they train well, to see that they have fun doing it.


Let them take responsibility, you’re a resource, ultimately they’re going to do it, your role is an expert resource person, but you can’t do it for them, it’s like that old saying that says you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make them swim a 200 fly.  He’s gotta do it himself.  Expect them to value winning.  You get clear on the object, as the object of the game, winning is the object of the game, it’s what it is all about, and they ought to value it, and they can see that they can win.


I had a question earlier about what if they can’t see that they can win, well why not, draw them a map, show them what they need to do to get there.  Anyway it is just a game of star trek, it’s just fun, it’s an adventure, swimming is a game of star trek.  The whole idea is to boldly go where no man has gone before.  It’s all about finding a way to do that.  Those are a couple of phrases that I think work really well with swimmers, in helping them get the concept and helping them get whose responsibility it is and have fun doing it, is just find a way and make it happen, cause that’s what it is about.


I had a swimmer talk to me the other day about, he said he thought he was going fast, and I was talking to him and he said, I was talking to him about missing his catch and he is coming in and missing the catch and to ride it out and grab the water before he starts to pull and I said that he was turning over really well, but he was missing part of his pull and he said but I thought I was going fast, and I said you are, you’re moving your arms fast, but it’s not the idea, the idea is to get to the end of the pool faster, see how fast you can get to the end of the pool and that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re moving your body parts quickly and fast, sure stroke velocity matters but, combined with efficiency and such and they don’t get that necessarily.  So you want them to find a way to understand what the concept is, to understand that it’s all about finding a way to win, whether it’s moving faster or positioning your body in the water better, or building power, or building stamina or finding the vortex and all that stuff.  But, that’s exciting,  find a way.


And finding a way is real different then some of what they day.  It’s suppose to resign oneself to other goals, it’s easier to do if one embraces the challenges, values the benefits and enjoys the process.  Then they can think about winning instead of doing my best, instead of resigning themselves to, oh gee I can go for third, and there is nothing wrong with third, but the idea is to win, and if you get third that might be great, but while you’re swimming you swim to win, and while you’re preparing you prepare to win and when someone touches the wall before you, then you think about second and if someone gets to the wall before you and then you think about third and third might be damn good, but, not until two other people have touched the wall, the preparation is for winning.


Let them be free to value winning, by taking the fear of not winning.  I think you want to encourage them the value of winning differently from different temporal perspectives.  While their preparing for the race, practice, training, and as they approach the race and while their racing winning ought to be the most important thing in the world, cause that is what they are doing right then.  As soon as the race is over, it doesn’t have to matter at all, there is no law that says you have to value winning equally from different points and time, it makes sense to value it highly in pursuit, it doesn’t make much sense to value it highly in retrospect, sure if you won, great, celebrate, temporarily, enjoy it and then set another goal and get back into the game, if you didn’t do well or you got beat, O.K. it’s alright to be disappointed temporarily, but you can’t do anything about it so you set a goal and start doing something about it for the next game and get back into the game.  And if they can, it’s a hard form that is hard to get, and if they can let go of that value for that race, after the race is over, but they can still value it highly in preparation of the race, if they can get that it frees them up tremendously to really value winning and value doing the things it takes.


You help them to free themselves up to value winning when you criticize the act not the swimmer.  Your swimmers are going to screw up we all do, you screw up, I screw up, everybody messes up from time to time, and it’s useful to criticize performance.  If we don’t get the feedback, if we don’t get the instruction we don’t know how to improve, but that is different than criticizing the person.  Swimmers may swim poorly, but they’re not bad because they did, they may be disrupting practice, but they’re not bad because they did, disrupting practice is bad and they need to change that.  They need to act differently, that’s different then not being a good person.  Help them to divorce their self worth from their performance and you free them up to build a good attitude toward winning.


You build a winning attitude by the behaviors you promote.  Everything you say and do and everything your swimmer’s say and do should reflect the high value for swimming, for tough challenges, for the opportunity to pursue swimming excellence and for enjoyment of the process and you ought to value building winning attitudes, enjoy building winning attitudes, it’s fun and it’s productive to do so, and the rest of your job will be much more enjoyable.  When you leave today, on your way out, what you need to do is stop and thank me for this session and tell me how much you got out of it and how much fun it was thinking about all of the things that you’re going to do to build a good winning attitude.


(Inaudible question):  Are we talking about attitude, not necessarily, I don’t know without talking to her, but I can give you a bunch of ideas.  First of all I don’t think you want to think that she folds under pressure.  In the past maybe a number of times, maybe a number of times she swam a lot more poorly than you thought that she was prepared to swim, and that’s different, it may have been all sorts of things, maybe she doesn’t warm-up properly, maybe that her routine is different at the big meet than it was previously, maybe simple things like that, maybe not eating well, probably a lot of nonsense that is going on in her head, probably a lot of fear of failure, probably it is a lot of what we were just talking about which is equating her worth as a person with her performance.  That gets scary, and that gets to be instead of hey, I’ll race you to the ladder, it’s oh my god I gotta do well or I’m the worthless worm that I suspect that I probably am and should be buried in the back yard.  That can be tough to, when your self worth is on the line when you go to race.  I tell swimmers that it is a crap shoot, and I talk to them a lot about standard deviations.


I can talk to you a little bit about standard deviations real quickly.  But, I tell them that it is a crap shoot, that when you get to swim, you have one opportunity at that time, now if you swam that race a thousand times, you might have some nice distribution there. If you swam the race under the same conditions with the same state of preparation at the same exact same moment of time, if you could do that a thousand times, because of the nature of humanity, the performance would vary anyway, something called natural variance.  If we graph that performance we would get something we call a bell curve, which is named after me.  A bell shaped curve.


Somebody help me out here with standard deviations, something like, what is it 99% or 99.7% something I forget, 90 something high of the performances will fall within 3 standard deviations of the meet, and if we were scientists and we were doing an experiment, the only ones that we would say were significantly different then the other ones, would be the ones that were outside 3 standard deviations from the meet, very, very few, everything else would be thought to be insignificantly different would be the same.  But now when your talking about swimming, a 10th of a second here and there let alone a little more is huge.  It could be the difference between winning the Olympics and not winning the Olympics, making the Olympic team making the Olympic team not making the Olympic team.


There were a few people who missed making the Olympic team by 100th of a second, not a significant difference, but practically a huge significant difference in someone’s life.  Statistically insignificant, it’s a crap shoot.  There isn’t anything they can do about it, you remind them when they go up to race that all they can do is give it a go, under these conditions at this one moment and time and make it fun doing, they don’t have any control over it.  Part of it is a crap shoot, now the only thing they can do about it of course, is with really good preparation they can move the curve, and if you move it far enough, and even those lousy ones, those rare lousy ones are better than the really good ones before, and with good consistent preparation you can actually change the shape of the curve a little bit, make it a little more steep in the medium and perhaps skewed toward the faster times.  Some of it is just chance and all she can do is give it a go, so that helps a little bit if she gets that concept, relaxation helps, distracting them.


I had a sports psychologist for New Zealand for the Common Wealth games in 1990 and they had three swimmers that they expected to do really well.  When New Zealand, the press is really good, since they are way down in this far corner of the world and they kinda think that they are sorta lost there and insignificant there and the press loves to see people fail.  They put a lot of pressure on them, oh are you gonna win, you gonna win, you gonna win hoping they’ll fail, I think.


In fact Anthony Moss who is a great swimmer and swam for Stanford and was from New Zealand, one of the best 200 flyers in the world and he was one of the three guys they expected to do well, and he once took me aside when I first started working with the team down there, you need to understand about the culture, he said, and he said at the time, Japan was doing really well economically and he said the Japanese they look at things and they say this is going really, really well how do we make it better, and Americans, you tend to look at it and you tend to say, if it’s not broke don’t fix it, and in New Zealand, we tend to look at things and say well, gee they are not working but let’s give it a while. Anyway the three athletes had a tremendous amount of pressure on them and one of them was a woman named Ana Simsik, she was a 200 backstroke swimmer and 100 backstroke and in the 100 backstroke she went out and led the race from the start until when she put her hand on the wall, she was in front the whole time but another girl snuck her hand on the wall 100th of a second before she did and she didn’t get her hand on the wall well, it wasn’t bad, I mean she was second in the Common Wealth games at the time it was the second fastest time in the world.  The press said she choked and all this kind of stuff.


I told them in our preparation, I have this nice soft, boring monotonic voice, and it’s pretty calming, and I told them if you get really nervous or anything you know you can just come sit by me.  Before the 200 backstroke after just missing the victory, in the 100 backstroke, which is rather the way I would like to say it rather than the way the press said it, but she came up to me about a half hour before she swam the 200 backstroke on the last day of the meet and she looked at me and she said Keith you remember how you said if you got really nervous and to just come sit by you and I said, oh yeah, and she said I’m shitting in my pants.  I told her to sit down, and I talked with her for a while and she got up and went to the ready room and won the 200 meter backstroke and she thinks she won because she sat with me and I like that she thinks that, but I know it’s not true.  All I did with her is I talked with her about her boyfriend and I got with her about school and I got her mind off of the consequences of the race and I had some fun talking with her about some fun things and we just relaxed.


I showed a video in my last talk with some preparation we did, practicing with some world class swimmers, practicing the ready room, practicing the march up to the blocks, practicing waiving to the crowd, practicing being introduced, practicing having the camera in your face and all that kind of stuff.  One of the reasons why we did it is to get them prepared for all that kind of stuff.  Another reason why we did it is so that they could have something else to focus on when they were doing all that stuff, instead of worrying about if they were going to make the Olympic team or not, so distraction helps, putting it in perspective helps, relaxation training will help.  Of course, giving her some success experiences in practice.


I remember working with a swimmer who needed to go 58:00 to make cuts a couple of years back in the 100 meter freestyle, couldn’t do it, couldn’t do it, she had no concept of how she was going to be able to do it, so one day in practice I threw her some fins, I said here go 100 with some fins, and I don’t want you to go any faster 58:00 but, go 58:00 and just go58:00 it doesn’t have to be any faster than that, but not 59:00, 58:00 and she went and pushed off with her fins and went 58:00 and said oh yeah, and yeah she knew it was with fins and stuff, but it wasn’t with a dive, it wasn’t shaved, she didn’t have any trouble going 58:00.  There are other ways of doing that, you can do it with broken swims, but if you give them some kind of experience, that gives them the confidence to do it.


I watched Eddie Reese do that a long time ago, but this guy named William Paulace, who was 100 butterfly swimmer and 200 IM’er, and he swam for the University of Texas and won NCAA’s in the 100 fly and he was swimming crummy, just couldn’t feel it, and he had this big meet coming up and he just couldn’t, he was complaining, they were doing a 50 time trial, he did not want to do it, and anyhow, I was watching Eddie, he looks over at me and he said look I don’t want you going any faster than 22:00 and 22:00 is pretty fast for a 50 yard fly, but he said I don’t want you going any faster than 22:00 and then he got up there and he did 22 something and then the next week he broke the world record in the 100 meter fly.  He thought he didn’t have it, Eddie gave him some freedom to not have to really, blast, blast, blast or whatever, but he still gave him a pretty fast time to go, but he said that’s O.K. just do that, and demonstrated to him that hey he wasn’t swimming that bad after all, he could do that, it didn’t matter.


Question:  What is she complains that she is ranked first, that she is seated first in the race?


Answer:  First of all, you need to know, she needs to know that the psych sheets are just that, and all they are good for is lane assignment, nobody gets a head start, nobody is expected to win, it’s not decided, it’s not decided on paper, you have to go out and race, so that is one thing.  It doesn’t matter has done before and it doesn’t matter what she has done before, it gives no one an advantage, it starts all over again, each time.  I was working with the Canadian National team this last year and a half, I had a swimmer come up and qualified for his first international trip and we were in preparation camp for the meet and he comes up to me and says god, I’m swimming with all of these guys I’ve been reading about, and I’m intimidated, essentially is what he said to me, and French is his native language and the way he said it is a little different than someone else might have said, but what he was outright telling me is that he was intimidated by these names that he heard, and so we were heading out for these Common Wealth games and I said to him, you know Michele, when you get to the meet they are going to do a really nice thing for you, it’s all set just for you, they have gone out and they bought these two lane lines and they are going to stretch them out the length of the 50 meter pool and anchor them at each end and you get that whole lane to yourself, no one else is going to be allowed to swim in that lane with you when you race, none of these other guys can touch you, they can’t come in there, they can’t do anything, whatever they do has nothing to do with what you do, it’s really nice of them to go out and do that for you, and he got it, it’s different.  None of those things is automatically going to help her, but a lot of those things may help, the other things is laugh with her and maybe you laugh at her, not in a demeaning way, but at the kinds of things she is saying.  All this is, is a bunch of people getting together to see who can go up and down the pool together and that’s it.  It’s not any different then hey, I’ll race you to the ladder, which she enjoys doing.  So you get out there and you don’t have to buy into it and make it so serious.  If she wants to that she can do it, but don’t let her show that to the other swimmers, don’t let her show it to the competitors, keep it to herself, and if you want to do it and if you want to suffer that way, and you refuse to have fun and stuff that is O.K., but you don’t have to do that, and I’m not interested in that.  It’s an option.



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