Introduction: I have to tell you, I have had the great privilege to work with our next speaker in the club development setting as a member of the club development committee over the last three or four years. He has brought an incredible insight and more than that – creativity to his ideas at that committee level. We have shared some of those ideas over the years and I have got to tell you I stole more from him than he borrowed from me. It is a very unique situation when you can track and follow the development and progress of a great swimmer like Mary DeScenza from the age of 10, all the way up to the current day where he is still very involved in her development. Mary just came off of a very successful NCAA’s World Championships and Duel in the Pool. Bill is going to share with us some of the development stages, and a look at this from the very beginning. It was interesting – I asked him what is the subject of the talk and he goes – you know, I don’t really know. I asked him, what do you want me to call the talk and he said, “well, I haven’t figured it out yet” – that was five minutes ago. So, I am not sure where we are going, but I can tell you it will be entertaining and you will learn a lot – Bill Schalz.
Coach Bill Schalz: I didn’t have a chance to see Tammy Hopkin’s speech. I wish I would have because when I started the Academy Bullets Swim Club in 1994 my plan was to develop a club team. We wanted to start our own team and combine that with a lesson program. I felt that that was going to be a great model for us. Not only to build and develop great swimmers, but also to do it in a way that was going to be financially acceptable to me. When I hired my current head age group coach, one of the things that we talked about was developing a lesson program and creating that side of the program which I think is very lucrative so that we would be able to really pay our coaches what I think they need to be paid. We would do it using the swim lesson money more than the swim team money or a combination of both. Then I wrote an article about the De Anza.Cupertino Aquatics where Tammy is and I thought this is exactly what I was talking about. So, we have kind of modeled our club. Without even knowing I was modeling their club we actually did, so I wish I would have had a chance to see her speech, but I was nervously preparing for this one. I want to thank Rick for that kind introduction and I also want to thank John Leonard for inviting me to speak. He asked me to speak yesterday on owning your own club and I am going to touch on some of those things today because I think that that is important to what we have done in the development of Mary DeScenza.
Mary DeScenza, as Rick said, came to our club when she was ten years old. She was a JO level butterflyer. I don’t even know if she had won an age group state title at that point. What I want to talk about is – you know, Mary is a great butterflyer. She is currently – I think she is ranked #1 in the country and 4th, 5th or 6th in the world – somewhere in there. We have had Mary all the way from when she was ten years old through high school and now she is training at the University of Georgia with Jack, and she comes back and swims with us on vacations and usually in the spring after school gets out. We have stayed very involved – I have stayed in close contact with Mary and she with me. One of the struggles I had with this talk was, I didn’t want to just get up here and start going on about a bunch of fly sets and saying oh, we did this and we did that – we are doing a lot of the same things today that we did four years ago with Mary and we are just not getting a lot of World Championship qualifiers. So obviously a lot of the reason for Mary’s success were the traits that she brought to the table. I thought Eddie Reese made a great point yesterday when he said that you know, athletes are 90% of what we do and we are probably 10-15% and I certainly believe that. Mary is a pretty special person and I consider her like a daughter to me. We have had a great working relationship and I want to talk about the traits that I think made her a champion and then come back and talk about some of the things that we did in the club, and I think how we, as coaches, can help other athletes and perhaps accentuate some of those traits.
Some of the traits that I think made Mary DeScenza successful: 1. She is very passionate about swimming. Since she was three years old I am told she loved to be in the water. You know, everybody here in this room – we spend a lot of time in coaching and a lot of time in swimming and obviously, we are pretty passionate about what we do. Obviously if a swimmer is going to be staring at that black line day after day after day –to reach high levels you are going to have to really love what you do, and Mary just loves to swim. She loves to practice. She loves to compete and she loves the sport of swimming. Now that she has reached the world level she has had opportunities to travel around the world and meet swimmers from other countries. I think that just adds to that. Mary is also a great racer. I think we have all seen kids who you know, really work hard, maybe they are better practice swimmers than meet swimmers. Mary is a great racer. There was a moment when we were swimming – I coached Mary in the high school season and I also coached her in our club. We were at the high school state meet, and I do not remember if it was Mary’s junior or senior year and in prelims our 400 free relay had just gotten pretty well blown out by New Trier. They had some fast swimmers at the front end and we had Mary at the end of the relay and we got way behind, and we were swimming in the waves. So, at finals I decided to put Mary up front. Get us out in the fresh water and clean water and hopefully we would have a chance to beat New Trier in that relay. New Trier is up on the north side of Chicago, we are on the west side. There was a girl who led off New Trier’s relay – her name was Ashley. Ashley had swum for our club when she was younger and then over time she moved to the north side and she ended up swimming for New Trier. So, Mary and Ashley knew each other really well. Before the race Mary is sitting there just leaning against the block with her head down and just kind of thinking and getting ready for her race. Ashley is standing next to her and it did not dawn on her that she was going to have to race Mary today. You know, right before a race starts there is that hush and there was that quiet and Ashley looks over and realizes that it is Mary and she is like – what are you doing here? And you know, Mary started laughing – she looks at Ashley and she is laughing and giggling and they are kind of joking around a little bit and then Mary turned her face back down to the block and just stared at the block. There was a physical transformation on her face – you could just see she was ready to race. I looked at my assistant, I got goose bumps when I saw it and I looked at him and I said, did you see that? And he was like oh my God – this is going to be really good and she just missed the state record in the hundred free leading off our relay, and broke our school record. She got our relay out great even though we got caught in the last 50 yards. My anchor girl, I said you know, they will probably have caught us by then, but she had the lead and she was crying on the blocks and all nervous. The point is that you know, it really showed that Mary, when she gets up and when it is time to race she really gets ready to do it and did a great job with that.
Mary is a dedicated swimmer and very hard worker. Like I said, she loves to train. I talked to my wife this morning on the phone. My wife was Mary’s coach for the first three years. We had a boy come to our team, and they did not get along. I think part of it was competition, and Robin said you gotta talk about this guy because man, Mary just – every time she got in the water she just wanted to beat this guy every single day and this guy really drove Mary. You know that goes with the racing, but it also goes to the workout and dedication. Mary is just – she was dedicated. She showed up every day. You didn’t have to call her and say “ Hey Mary – why weren’t you at practice the other day”, you know, she just came every day and I think that goes back to the passion too.She understood the concept that you have to work hard and you have to work hard every day if you are going to want to reach your goals and achieve your objectives. She was very goal oriented and I am going to talk more about setting goals and some of those things.
I had a swimmer, one of our high school guys, this summer. We do our goal sheets and he fills it out and I have the goal sheets and we go over them with the kids, especially if we are doing some race pace stuff. We want to make sure that they know what their goal pace is and what their splits are. I had a swimmer that wasn’t swimming well so I sat down with him and I said, “Tell me your goals.” 50 free etc., we go down the list and I write all his goals down on his goal sheet that he was reciting to me. I would say that out of every event he gave me, maybe one or two was close. Some of this guys goal’s were a second, two seconds off in a hundred. His 400 time was 8 or 9 seconds off. This guy had no idea what he wanted to do. I always say that your goals are your water and that is what steers your swimming. You know, if I ask Mary what her goals are she tells me her goals and she knows her times every single day and she is very focused on what she wants to accomplish. She has got that goal orientation which is very good. Mary’s parents and family are exceedingly supportive of Mary. Her parents – Mary has two sisters, both of who swam for us. She has a sister right now who is a senior and swimming on our high school and club team right now, and I keep trying to talk the DsScenza’s into having more kids, but they are having none of that. When you have a daughter who is at that level, you know your family vacations tend to be geared around, Indianapolis for world trials but you know, there are some good vacations, Long Beach, things like that. Seattle and other places, but you know when you go to a city for a vacation and you are spending 8 hours a day of that vacation in a swimming pool it would kind of be a little bit of a drag on your sisters. But even through all that stuff her sisters really understood that Mary was pretty special and her parents have been great for the club – supportive of the club.
Her parents work all the meets. Her dad was our meet director when we hosted the big LSC Championship meets and even beyond that is the support that I receive from their parents. I don’t hang out with a lot of swim team parents, mostly because if I do we end up talking about swimming and so I don’t do a lot of social things with swim team parents. Bob DeScenza and Margaret DeScenza were really an exception to that rule for me. In all the times that I went out socially with the DeScenza’s – not once did they ever bring up swimming or ever question something about that. I mean, there were times when they had questions and we did that outside of social interaction. They were supportive of me and the program and you know, if the girls would come home and complain, you know, they would say if you don’t want to do it – quit. I am thinking oh God no! not that. They have just been unbelievably supportive all the way through. Mary has had great relationships with all the coaches that I know she has been coached by. My wife Robin is a pretty tough coach and the very first day of swim practice, little scrawny Mary DeScenza, 10 years old doing handstands while my wife is giving a set. In the water doing hand stands, so obviously her head was in no position to hear the set or the drill or whatever they were doing so Mary pops her head up, Robin gets her out of the water and Mary is doing ten pushups. I walk over to Robin and I am like – honey, it is her first day – give her a break. No way she is going to learn to do this stuff right and we are going to get this stuff done today. I go, “her mom is in the stands, don’t you think, you maybe should just give her a little break?” Robin said, “I don’t care” and so after the practice, Mrs. DeScenza comes down to end of the balcony ,she leans over the balcony and I am like, “okay – here it comes” and her mom just looks at Robin and says, “That is exactly why we came to this club.” My daughter needs discipline. And I am like, “I am going to love this” so, I couldn’t wait to get Mary after that. Probably the reason I am standing here is just because Mary is very, very talented.
You know, I used to tell people that Mary fell out of a talent tree – she hit every branch on the way down and I mean, she has got a lot of talent. When you get talent and hard work as a combination you are in pretty good shape. Those are the main traits for Mary, and I think that all those things coming together really made a big impact on her success. I want to talk a little bit about the Academy Bullet Swim Club and some of the reasons why I think our club was well suited for her. I own my own swim team. I used to coach at a YMCA, and if you saw my talk yesterday I am going to delve into that a little bit right now. I worked for a parent’s board, an aquatic instructor and an executive director. All good people, but all had different goals. When we had a parent’s board that was made up of mostly 10 and unders they couldn’t understand the concept of spending any money on nationals. Also, they couldn’t understand why the head coach did not coach the little kids. When we had a parent’s board of older kids they couldn’t understand the concept of supporting age group teams. I am exaggerating, but you know, there was always that kind of ebb and flow of the team and that is why I decided to get out of working and being an employee. That is why I decided to work for myself. I wanted to have the control of the program and set the direction of it. That is what I have done with the Academy Bullet Swim Club.
I think there are advantages of being a coach on a team. I know a lot of people in this room work for a parent organization and I have no intention of painting with a broad brush about parent organizations. There are some really good ones out there, but I know when I go to Nationals and I look out at all the coaches and all the teams there, especially at the club level, most of the top club level teams are coach-owned or the coach is the CEO. I think even more are coach-owned than coach CEO. The other top teams are obviously the college teams where the college coaches are running their show. That is my personal opinion. You know, it is just the way I work and I think that has worked really well for us, so as I talk about being a coach on a team, if you are not one – please do not take offense. Our goal and our mission, our philosophy of the Academy Bullets is we want to get kids to the highest level that they can achieve and that they are willing to work for. We will do everything possible that we can, within reason obviously, to make that happen. As an advantage of owning my club, I do not have to cut through a lot of red tape. I don’t have to go to a board meeting and say okay, I am out to spend $5,000, going to the US Open, two national meets, our sectional meets and all these other things. I obviously have to set my budget and I have to run our team in a fiscally responsible manner, but I know that going in, how we want to do this. I think some clubs kind of say ”Well, here is our income so we have to make sure that our expenses are less than our income.” I kind of do it the other way around. This is how much money we need to run the program this year and we have to make sure that we generate that much money to do it. When you have an athlete like a Mary DeScenza and I think even if you are a small club team and you have one JO qualifier you know, it is like coaching another team. Especially when you get to the World level and things like that. The main example I have of that is when Mary was preparing for the World Championship trials four years ago. The meet was in – it was down here in late July or early August. We made the decision since Mary was swimming high school swimming and I was her coach that we would train her through that high school season, we would then rest and taper for the US Open. Then we would let her take Christmas break off. She took off about a week and a half over Christmas training. She trained up until Christmas after the Open so that we could kind of maintain some aerobic base on there and then we spent the next eight months just going straight to the World Trials. What happens in a situation like that is during Christmas time I am coaching and Mary is on vacation.
In the spring time I am coaching with Mary while the rest of the team is on vacation so in the spring time when the rest of my senior team is tapering for their sectional meet or whatever their team meet may be, Mary is working hard and she is in full training mode so it is coaching a different team. We have some pretty good other swimmers on our team that are qualified for Grand Prix meets so when we would go to Grand Prix meets we are not necessarily taking Mary by herself, but she was definitely on a different track than everybody else. I really equate that to coaching a separate swim team, so I was able to set that up and make that work and again. I just didn’t have to go to a board and I didn’t have to say well you know, we need extra pool time here or we need to do this or that and we are going to travel to these meets – it just got done and so we made it work. It is pretty expensive to coach an athlete at the national level and a lot more travel involved. I coached two swimmers that made the Lithuanian Olympic team last year. A couple of years ago they were going to the European Swimming Championships and I thought it was important for me to go to the European Championships to see what it was like. So I flew out to Madrid to the European Championships and again, I am 99% no I am 100% sure that my old club would not have let me do that. I felt that was important and I guarantee you I spent far more money on that trip than I got in fees from those guys that were swimming for me, but I just thought it was important to do it. I felt it was important to understand the European Championships and it was a great learning experience for me. But again, there was no bureaucracy and no red tape – we just got it done. My wife Robin, whom I have talked about a little bit is a phenomenal age group coach and she doesn’t coach anymore because our children have gotten to the point that, I have one son in college and I have another daughter who is a sophomore in high school and she is a three sport athlete in high school – swimming is not one of those three sports unfortunately, so she is in the middle of her very aerobic intense volleyball season right now. My wife with my daughter being so active is driving her all around. It just didn’t work to have both of us working after school and neither of us home for our kids so my wife dropped out of coaching when our kids got older. She coached Mary from when Mary was ten until she turned 13 and when Mary was 12 years old she qualified for her first event at Nationals in the hundred fly. It was at the North East Juniors at Miami of Ohio and Mary had been training with my wife that summer. They were training about an hour and 15 minutes to an hour and a half a day I think it was. Maybe two to three days a week of 30 minutes of dry land. That says a lot about Mary’s talent level and work level along with everything else, but my wife is the kind of coach that was, as I kind of call it, in your face. I don’t mean that negatively, but every single time a kid hits the wall, they are getting told something and my wife is very active on the deck. Far more active than I ever have been and I consider myself to be pretty active on the deck! My wife is constantly talking to these kids. Telling them what they need to do.
When Mary first came to our team whenever she swam freestyle, it looked like butterfly. When she swam backstroke it looked like butterfly. She would swim breaststroke it would look like butterfly. She had a dolphin action for everything and she was one of those swimmers that just put her head down and swam hard. My wife I think did two things. First, she taught her how to swim the other strokes correctly and that took a lot of work, and she also brought a lot of discipline into Mary’s swimming. You know, I guarantee you Mary does not do handstands anymore! During sets Mary was kind of a typical squirrelly little kid and Robin put a lot of discipline into that. I can promise you that a great deal of Mary’s success, even today in college, goes all the way back to when she was swimming for Robin. I have been truly blessed to have great age group coaches. I met my wife on a pool deck. She was coaching for another team, and we started dating because that team was always beating me! We ended up getting married so it works out pretty well for me. After Robin left, my new head age group coach is Todd Kapin. Todd swam for me. He swam for Northwestern and I think he was a school record holder there and I believe he was also a big 10 champion. Todd, when he swam for me was awesome. I have a women’s team and a boy’s team at the high school level and Todd was a great person to bring these guys and keep them focused. We really had a some great seasons with those guys and a lot of that has to do with Todd convincing our sprinters that you know – going a 3,000 yard set will actually help them get better. So, Todd is kind of a pied piper guy with the age group swimmers now and he has been tremendously successful. We won our first age group championship this summer and when I get kids from Todd, I get fast swimmers. The point of that is I absolutely believe 100% that age group swimmers, and a great age group coach is worth his or her weight in gold. My age group coaches have made me look like a genius and I am all for people making me look like a genius.
I talked yesterday that if you get all your coaches together and get all your advisors together in your business, or even in the business setting for me, even in my swim team and I can do that and I look around the room and I am the smartest person in the room, our team is in big trouble, and I have great people working for me. Todd has been very instrumental in the growth of our program too. So, those are some of the big things with the Bullets. I don’t want to spend a lot of time talking about our club, I really want to spend some time talking about Mary’s traits and how those are going to excel. I think there are big reasons that really helped support Mary and in her path. I want to talk about applying those traits and what we can do as coaches. I heard Mark Schubert’s talk two days ago and I kept thinking, oh, that is in my talk , that’s in my talk so I may reference Mark a few times, if nothing else, just to lend credence to my thoughts. I talked about Mary’s passion and dedication. We do not have attendance policies on our team. We tell kids how often we want them to come to practice a week, especially at the age group level. When parents say, “How many times do they have to come a week?” and I say, “We want them there and we want them to come but we offer practice every day. We understand kids are going to do other sports and I think that’s good for kids to do other sports when they are young.” One of the things I tell my coaches is that my philosophy is that we need to make our swim practices more appealing than any other thing that they would want to do. That doesn’t mean that we have to play water basketball or water polo every day and things like that. Have fun and games. We can work hard and challenge the swimmers, but I think we need to do it in a way that is fun and make it so that this is what they want to do. If we can do that, that is going to go a long way to motivating these kids to get better.
I am a firm believer that we need to challenge our kids in workouts. With Mary, one of the things, and I am sorry guys, but I talk a lot about her swimming. With Mary being a really strong butterflyer, her 100 fly time was faster than most of my 100 freestyler’s times on the girl’s side. So, she swam a lot of you know, if we were doing a lot of freestyle sets, she maybe would do a 2-3,000 yard freestyle set and she would have to do butterfly. She didn’t always like it, but she did it and that was a big reason why she was able to get better. We were able to get her racing against other kids. Todd Kapin was a really good 200 backstroker and we had another good 200 backstroker back when he was swimming for me. These guys were swimming against eventual NCAA finalists in freestyle and these guys were swimming backstroke sets with those guys and Steve ended up going 2:01 long course in the 200 backstroke and became very successful with that because we really challenged him by having him race against freestylers.
Change things up. I am always looking to do our sets differently and Rick said that he has taken more from me than I from him. I have taken from everybody so I don’t know if I have ever had a true original thought on a swim set that I have ever given, but I am always looking for different ways to do that and my head age group coach Todd is really good at that. He is great with coming up with different variances of sets. My very first head age group coach when I was coaching at the Y, a guy named Mike Lorik, was phenomenal at it. This guy had more creativity than any other coach I have ever met and you know, Mike coaches for another team in the Chicago area and we still communicate. I see him all the time on deck. I will talk to him about sets that we are doing and he will just say, off the top of his head, “Did you ever try doing this?” And I am like no, but I am going to do that tomorrow. He is just great at coming up with different ways to do sets and I encourage you to talk to other people. We are always looking for different ways to do sets and different ways to get the same result from kids. One thing we always try to do too in the springtime (the high school seasons in Illinois are in the fall and the winter) so the springtime we have everybody there. We always try to do something just a little bit different. We have gone to motivational courses where you go out and you do different activities and things and team building exercises. I have brought psychologists in. I brought a metaphysicist in one time. That was an interesting weekend, but it was actually very good. We have tried to do some different team things every spring. This is with our senior team and it is something that is mandatory. We are trying to bring in a big speaker again this spring. We are always trying to do something in the spring that is just unique and different where it is kind of a weekend retreat for the kids. We don’t get in the water that weekend. I think it is great to kind of get them stimulated at the beginning of the season.
Mark talked about this and I think it is very, very important. I think you need to be interested in your swimmer’s personal lives. Whenever I have a swimmer that is really struggling I try to make an additional effort to talk to that swimmer during the workout, and a lot of times, not all the time, but a lot of times we don’t talk about swimming. You know, we talk about what is going on at school. What is going on at home. I don’t think it works if once every three months I go and talk to that swimmer. I think we need to build relationships with our swimmers and I am definitely going to talk about that a little bit more, but it is important to build a rapport with your swimmers, build a relationship with your swimmers so that when things are tough they have confidence to come and talk to you. I think that is very, very important and I try to talk to all my swimmers every day. I think Mark Schubert said something the other day where he says you know, he tries to get his swimmers to smile every day and I think I do that subconsciously, but now when I go back I am actually going to be more active about doing that. I have a great relationship with Mary. We talk all the time and I have had other swimmers that have called me from Big 10’s or NCAA’s that I have had great relationships with and you know they are still calling me and for advice and things like that and so I cannot stress that enough. We always tell swimmers what they are doing wrong and I think it is important to tell swimmers what they are doing right and look for positive ways to motivate them.
Our girl’s school is Rosary High School and the school’s nickname is the Royals and before I got to the school the swim team’s nickname was the Beads. Rosary beads. One year the girls got these little black beads and they would put them on their goggle straps and we would kind of set this up where they would talk to each other, and if they caught somebody doing something right they would give them a bead. The only problem was those beads ended up all over the deck so we didn’t do it the next year, but we try to do something every year. I got the idea from Skip Kenney who was giving a talk at a clinic one time. This was a long time ago when his kids were young and he was talking about he went to his son’s second or third grade parent-teacher conference and you know, I really related to this because I got the impression that Skip and I, our experiences at parent-teachers conferences are pretty much the same. We both sit there and nod our heads and our wives did all the talking and took care of all of that side of it. People call our house for stuff, about stuff on the house I just tell them I am not qualified to make that decision and I hand the phone to my wife. But Skip was looking at the desk and there were these little yellow pieces of paper with suns on them. With a picture of a sun, a little smiley face on it and at the end of the conference Skip asked the teacher ”What is that?” And she goes well, “It is a sunshine gram” and he says, “Well what is a sunshine gram?” and she goes well, “If kids catch the other kids doing something well, they write their name on it and hand them a sunshine gram” and Skip goes, “ Can I take one of those? I would like to use this with my college team and she goes “It is really geared toward second and third graders” and he goes, “That is why it is going to work so well with the college team.” So, you know, fun stuff like that. Little stupid silly things, and just showing kids that you care and stuff like that I think are really important.
Like I said, Mary was goal-oriented. Let’s say we were doing a set and I would say, “On this hundred you need to be at half your 200 time.” I didn’t have to tell Mary what her 200 time was. Or, I would say half your goal time – I didn’t have to tell her what her goal time was. If I told her I wanted her to swim at the second hundred pace of her 200 time she knew what that was too. A lot of kids don’t and so we do a lot of work on goal setting with our club team and we have a goal meeting every year at the beginning of each season. I tell the kids the same thing every year and I have three rules that I think make a goal a goal: #1: the goal has got to be concrete. I cannot tell you how many times I ask a swimmer what their goal is and they go well, I want to get my best time and I go okay, what is your best time – “oh, I don’t know”. Not a lot of information there. They have to actually know, I want to go under a minute. I want to go a :58. It needs to be something that you can just really wrap your fingers around. It needs to be something you can put up there. I have had kids – I want to qualify for state – I want to qualify for sectionals – I want to qualify for nationals. Okay, what is the national cut? I don’t know. I want to make top 8 in sectionals – well, what is that cut? They need to get that information or they need to know those times. Some of that information is so readily available on the web sites now that you know, it is pretty easy for them to get that and I don’t go and get that information for them. I think it is important to teach them to be responsible. It is their goals. They need to go out there. If they are not willing to do the work to look up the information they need to set the goal, they probably are not going to be working hard enough to reach their goals anyway. It needs to be important for them to do that and we really stress that. I think goals need to be time limited and what I mean by time limited is that you have to have a deadline to achieve your goal and we always set the deadline to achieve the goal if you want to qualify for let’s say sectionals – then the meet right before sectionals is probably going to be the deadline to hit that goal. If you want to perform a certain time at your championship meet then that championship meet is obviously the deadline. Mark really touched on this a little bit too a couple of days ago when he talked about having a championship meet and having kids swim well at the end of the season. I think that is really important. We try to stress that in our goal setting. Finally, goals must be something that you are willing to work for – something that you are willing to sacrifice for and something that you are willing to do whatever is required to get the goal done. Winston Churchill said, “Sometimes it is not good enough to do your best, you have to do what is required” and I tell the kids that too and if you are going to set a goal – you are going to have to do what is required to achieve that goal and you have to be willing to do that and so we talk about – I think that is an important part of goal setting. Dreams I think are an important part of goal setting too. If you have a dream to make the Olympics and you make the world championship team, and you make the Pan-Pac team, you are finishing pretty high. I think if you set those dreams way out there it gives your goals a direction in which to move your goals toward and I really think that dreams are a great thing.
I had a swimmer who came to our team one time. She was a very talented swimmer and when she came to the team I asked her (she was national level), I said, “What are your dreams – what do you dream about when you think about swimming? What are your swimming dreams?” and she would go, well, “I don’t know” I had known her, but, she was new to our team so she was kind of apprehensive to talk about that. I said “Well, over the weekend I want you to think about it and come back to me. We are going to talk about this some more because I think it is important.” So, she came back and she was still a little apprehensive about it. I said “You know you are going to be going off to college, do you want to be an NCAA champion?” “Well, yeah.” “Do you want to make the Olympic team? Do you want to be an American record holder?” “Yeah” so we got her to at least talk about it. As our relationship grew she kind of trusted me more. I think a lot of kids think about their dreams and they think they are kind of silly, and they think, people will mock them. “Oh yeah right. You are never going to be an Olympian! forget about that!” So they are kind of protective of their dreams. As she got to trust me more she was more open about her dreams and she is a senior in high school right now so we will see how those dreams go, but I think it really helped her when you throw that out to her – to be a little bit more bold about her goals and she had a very successful season this year.
I said Mary had a supportive family and parents. I think the way we can make or help the parents be more supportive is to communicate with them. You don’t have to go out there and call every parent every night and things like that, but I think newsletters are important. Your web sites, emails, a paper newsletter, email newsletter or however you do it. With my senior level program a lot of the kids drive so I don’t see the parents as much, but when I am at swim meets or I am at a practice and when I see a parent pulling off or a parent comes to the balcony – I always try to make a point just to say hi. We don’t necessarily talk about swimming, but I always try to make a point to say hello to the parent and talk to the parent. I think one main reason I know that helps is that if the parent doesn’t know me and every day the swimmer goes home and tells the parent – tells his parent how much of a tyrannical bastard I am and how much of a jerk I am and how I hate her child and everything else like that and they don’t know me at all, they don’t have a reference point to judge that, and while those things may be true from time to time, I think it is important for the parents to know where I am coming from. I think it is important that they get to know me, what my philosophy is, and what I am all about. I am in this for the kids. I am in this for the kids to get better. I think if parents understand it then they realize when the kids are having a bad day that maybe they probably were not having a good day in practice and they needed some tyranny in their lives at that point. So, I think it just helps for me to talk to parents and just get to know them. Someone pointed this out to me years ago and you know, at the senior level certainly, when I have kids two to four hours a day I am probably spending more time with them than their fathers are and probably their mothers too. So that adds a level of, I think, responsibility in our lives, but you know, the parents want to know what is going on in their kids lives. I know I do with my children and so I think it is important that we keep those lines of communication open.
Great relationship with her coaches I have talked about. And Mary has certainly had that all the way through. Even now at Georgia and I think for Mary, trust was a big part of that. I mean she trusted us to do what we were doing. She trusted our program and she ran with it. We told her what to do and she has done that and I think that was a big part of her success. Just having that faith you know, to take risks and to get better. Those relationships I talked about a little bit earlier, but they need to be cultivated daily. You always hear about Dr. Phil and you know, you have got to work on your marital relationships every day. I think you have to work on your swimming relationships too. Like I said earlier, if a swimmer has a problem and I have never talked to that swimmer, they are not going to be real open and real likely to talk to me about it so you know, I try to talk to my kids every day and all of them every day. Some of the kids it is hard to talk to every day because they do not come to practice every day. We try to talk to them and encourage them to do better with that. Or even asking them where they were so that you know, kind of talk to them and tell them how important it is for them to be there. I think if you care about your athletes and you show it you are going to get a lot better results from them. They will trust you more and again. Going back to building those relationships every single day, a lot of people do not like to talk about love and stuff like that, but I think it is important and you know, I think you see it. I see a lot in coaches. I don’t think for a second that I am the smartest swim coach in this room. I think one of my biggest strengths in coaching is that I am able to form those relationships with my athlete and that I am able to talk to them and kind of find out what is going on in their lives. That really helps me to help make them better. I think my kids know that I care about them and that they are important in my life and that I wouldn’t spend as much time with them as I did if it wasn’t. I think that has gone a long way. I know a little bit about swimming, but I think really, it is how you handle your athletes that is every bit as important, if not more important, than what you know about the sport. So, and those need to be cultivated daily.
Mary is talented. I don’t know what to do about that. I would say hard workers. I will take hard work over talent every day of the week, but if I get both, I am in great shape. I want to talk a little bit too about setbacks. Mary had a great swimming career all the way through age groups. She was multi-time age group state champion, she made nationals, she made the national junior team. She made the world championship teams when she was still in high school and things like that and then came the Olympic trials and to say that Mary had a horrible Olympic trials would be a major understatement. If she had gone within two seconds of her best time in the 200 fly she would have made the Olympic team and she was that far off. She just had a bad meet. Nervousness, you know. I think many things factored into it and so it was a big setback and it was a really, really tough situation for her and you can imagine – I have never seen her cry so hard in her entire life after that 200 fly at the trials when she did not make the team and finished 4th and it was a crushing blow. She was a favorite to make the team and a lot of people thought she would and she didn’t and so and she had to deal with that. Her parents had tickets to Greece. I think that added a little bit of the pressure to it and so they changed their tickets and went to Europe. I think they went to England and France during the Olympics. I know Mary watched some of the Olympics while she was on her vacation. I can guarantee you she didn’t watch the butterfly races, but – no offense to our butterflyers, but she just didn’t want to watch those races. When she came back we had lunch and we had a long talk about, “Where are you going to go from here?” And obviously she was going to keep on swimming. She still loved the sport and was passionate about it and we talked a lot about the set-back and things like that. I really believe that swimming is a journey and what I mean by that is that I think when, I always tell kids that the hard work, it is the accomplishments that you do great, those are the things that you are going to want to look back and remember. I said you are not necessarily going to count medals, but it is also going to be the relationships that you build during this time. I tell our swimmers all the time that when you really work hard for something, you know working hard for something doesn’t guarantee success, but man when you accomplish things that you have never accomplished in practice and you work harder than you have ever worked for something, there is such a level of you know, there is such a great feeling about that in that you have accomplished something. Now I tell the kids all the time when you look back on your life’s achievements you know, I don’t think – I mean if you win a lottery it might be cool to win the lottery and win a lot of money, but I don’t think you are going to look back at that as one of your life’s great achievements. You know you are going to look back at when you worked really hard in life and that you have had success or failures and how you reacted to those things. I also tell my athletes that you know, there are going to be failures and stuff and that is life and that you know, life is 10% what happens to you and 90% of how you react to it.
If you react to every set back as you know, poor, poor pitiful me and, everybody is giving me the shaft and everything, well you know that is how you can live your life that way. But on the other hand, if you get a set back and you go – what can I do to make this different? I am responsible for my life. I am not going to empower other people to be that responsible. Mary and I talked a lot about that, and as we had when she was younger, Mary took some time and I mean she took not a huge break, but she didn’t swim at all in August and didn’t swim for the Olympics or anything and when she went back to Georgia I know she and Jack talked a lot about that. She got back in there and Mary went right back to what she always did before. She loved swimming. She worked hard. She was dedicated. She reset her goals. She had faith in her coaches and won six of seven events at the NCAA championship this year. She qualified for – I think her and Katie Hoff had the most events on the women’s side of the qualifying events at the world championship trials. Then she went to worlds and didn’t have a great meet again. We talked a lot about that at the “Duel in the Pool.” She came back at the Duel and swam very, very well and she honestly was kind of doubting her confidence a little bit. I think the Duel and I think the NCAA’s helped that and everything. Now after this whole season she has had a chance to reflect on, she is more motivated now to work harder and to achieve her goals and she is definitely going to swim through the next OlympicTrials and beyond that. I don’t know what she is going to do. She has a serious boyfriend and I think she wants to get married after college and that kind of thing and perhaps pursue a career outside of swimming. But she is definitely going to stick through the next Trials and she is taking that last Olympic Trial and instead of saying, “Oh woe is me” which was probably her initial reaction, but she has turned that into okay. “Okay, what did I do right, and what did I do wrong, and how am I going to make this work the next time.”
I think it is important to have a philosophy and I think it is important to be able to explain it in one sentence. You can have different philosophies on different areas. Like I said, our club philosophy is that. Two basic philosophies. One is that within our coaches that we are going to do everything we can to help the swimmers achieve the highest possible level that they can. You know, what we put on our web site and what we put on our literature is that we want kids to work hard and have fun. We want to do it in a positive environment and we are going to have the kids work hard and we want to do it in a positive environment and we believe, if kids are working hard and having fun then winning is going to take care of itself. So we are not having to pound winning and stress winning and all those other things. So, those are a couple of our philosophies. I think it is important to capsulate those. I think it is important to be able to say what your philosophy is and I think it is important to have plans. I think it is important to have plans with your swimmers. One of the things that I tell my swimmers in our workouts is that – if I give you a set or I give you a workout and I can’t tell you what the point of the workout is, then we are probably all wasting our time. Fortunately, I have been able to always tell them a reason – it may not always have been a great one, but give them a reason, but we do and I think it is important to have a plan. I think it is important to prepare your workouts. I know that on days that I am super busy, and I don’t fully prepare my workouts, and I am driving to the workout thinking about what we are going to do, and I am running late that we tend to waste a lot of time on those days, and we don’t have a lot of great production. Another thing we do on days like that I always fall back on a time-tested set that we have done and I always go back to some old set that we have done and I always find that if I am not fully prepared I am less creative. Those workouts tend to be a little bit more boring because I tend to give longer sets to fill the gap so I can think of the next set during that set. I know those workouts are not as effective and so I think it is important to really plan. I think you really need to sell your plans and philosophies to your swimmers and I think that goes back to kind of what we were talking about with the coach relationships, and the athletes having trust in their coaches.
I think you have to communicate your plan with your parents and especially you need to do that with your higher level athletes. If I have a plan that involves three trips to California for Grand Prix meets and nationals and then we are going to fly down to Florida for another meet and I am going to hand that plan to the swimmers and the swimmer goes home to their parents and they look at a $10,000 travel bill – that may not work. So I think it is important like we work with our athletes, we you know, we discuss that with the parents. I want to know what they are willing to do and I would kind of give them a preliminary thought of what I thought our travel was going to be. We have a great Grand Prix meet in Indianapolis now that really helps us in the Midwest – it helps our travel budgets and things like that, but there is a big time commitment and financial commitment for parents at these higher levels. I think it is real important that you communicate with them before the kids think they are taking three trips to California. Finally, we tell parents our philosophy. If you ask me a question I am going to give you an answer. You may not like it, but you can rest assured that when the next parent asks me that question is going to get the same answer. I don’t try to please everybody and I don’t suggest that you do either. I think if you have a club philosophy I think it is important to stick to your philosophy and tell people this is what we are all about. I have had families that tried to challenge our philosophy and my recommendation to them is that there are 80 clubs in the Chicagoland area and find one that works for you because obviously this one isn’t. I am not in the business of turning swimmers away left and right, it very rarely happens, but you know, I own the team. You know, I am steering the ship. I have a head age group coach. He runs the age group program. I run the senior program. We are all obviously moving in the same direction. I think it is critical that your head age group coach – that your age group coaches are on the same page with your senior coach. I mean, if the guys aren’t, I think you guys need to get together and figure out what the problem is because obviously if your age group program is going this way and your senior program is going that way – it is going to be a little bit difficult for the kids and for success. It is going to create a lot of tension I think within the staff. I hire a lot of my coaches that used to swim for me and I think it just makes it easier – they know my philosophy – they know what I am all about so it kind of makes it easier for me.
I have had great coaches that didn’t swim for me. My wife never swam for me and she was one my best coaches, but we were definitely on the same page on how to train kids. I don’t try to please everyone and we have families that come onto our team and they think they are going to run the team – it is just not going to happen. If they are persistent enough about it we are going to really help them find another team. I will give them phone numbers. We have grown our program dramatically by having a philosophy, having a set of policies and our team has grown from 60 kids our first year to 140. This year we are opening up a new facility and we are probably going to be 170 – 180 this year. We have constantly turned kids away because of lack of pool space and so as we get more pools we can take more kids. It was kind of nice to have a try out where every kid who was good enough to make a swim team got on the team. It was kind of nice to have that situation, but you know, people know coming into our program what to expect. We had our family – a couple of families that came from another team and they said, wow man! we heard that you guys are just pounding yardage. pounding yardage. pounding yardage. and my head age group coach says you know, “You will probably find that this is harder work than where you were before and he said, but you know, your kids can handle it” and he goes “We are not going 100,000 yards a day” and he goes, “We are not pounding yardage. That is a rumor that is out there.” There are other people that spread those rumors because they want to discourage their kids from leaving their program into our program. “Yeah – we work hard, but I think once you get into it you will find most of those families that have those concerns they realize yeah – it is hard work and yeah we have discipline in our workouts and what we want to accomplish, but you know, we are not going to bend our philosophy. We are not going to tell these kids oh no – it is real easy – don’t worry about it – no – you are not going to have a problem at all and then have them sit there and feel like they got hit over the head with a 2×4 after their first practice, or that they got wrung through a wringer. Then they think we have lied to them so I think it is important to be honest with them and let them know what your philosophies are up front and let them decide. I think more times than not you are going to find that you have a niche in the market and that is how people are going to want to do that. That is our club. Thank you very much.