When John Leonard asked me to speak at this year’s clinic, this is the talk I requested to give, I requested it because I believe that each of you can benefit from hearing what I think about American Swimming, and the topic of discipline, in relation to today. You ought to be curious enough to give what I think some thought because of where I’ve been what I’ve been through; what I’d accomplished in the past, and what has happened since I’ve been back. It’s my hope that you will accept my words in the manner that they are intended. These are my opinions and my general views about the problems we all face. Not an attack on any one person or on those who control American Swimming. My wish is to not offend anyone, but rather to give you a slightly different prospective as to the problems. If this talk works, then you will give it some real thought as we go about solving our problems. If it doesn’t, then you will just come to dislike me, which merely means you get in the longer line.
To do this, first you need to know in a general way who I am. You need to meet some of the people who made me. Then, just maybe, you will understand why I say the things I do.
I was born in 1941 just prior to World War 11. I grew up in Berkeley, California until 1959, when I left to go to college. In 1955 at the age of 14, 1 started my swimming career. To be honest with you, until that day I had no idea that swimming was a sport let alone something I would give a huge part of my life to. However, at least by the age of twelve, all I ever wanted to do was coach. First, it was baseball, then basketball, Followed by football. I was a good athlete, played all these sports, Could dunk the basketball by the tenth grade, but my goal was always more than to merely play the sport. Never a night went by that I didn’t sit in bed, drawing and dreaming up plays and formations to meet the various situations involved in these different contests, My mom changed all this by getting my brothers and me into swimming. She did this to prevent me and my big mouth from getting me into anymore situations that I always seem to get into on the field.
My first coaching job was with a summer club in Bellevue, Washington in 1961 at the age of 19. 1 was a swimming coach from that day until the day in 1988 that I got fired, at 47 years of age. At the age of 54, 1 returned to coaching in my present position. The positions and people listed below are the influences that to a large degree have resulted in the person who stands before you today.
♦ Started swimming 1955 – Berkeley, Women City- Club – Coach Laurelbelle Bookstaver
♦ Graduated High School in December-r 1958 – Berkeley)- High School
♦ Graduated University, of Washington 1963 – BA degree – 1965 MS degree
♦ Swim Team – 1959 to 1962 – Coach Jack Torney
♦ Captain 1960 to 1963 – Coach John Tallman
♦ Assistant Coach 1965 to 1967 – Coach John Tallman
♦ Married Mara in 1966
♦ Graduated University of California, Berkeley 1971- PH.d.
♦ Assistant Coach 1967 to 1968 – Coach Pete Cutino
♦ Assistant Professor/Swim Coach – Cal State University, Hayward – 1968 to 1971
♦ Founded Concord Swim Club 1968
♦ Associate Professor/ Men’s Swim Coach – Cal State Long Beach – 1971 to 1978 also Beach Swim Club – Swim Coach – 1971 to 1978/ followed Don Gambril
♦ Associate Professor/ Swim Coach – University of Arizona – 1978 to 1988 also Tucson Swim Club – Swim Coach – 1978 to 1988
♦ Site Superintendent – Laguna Hills, CA – 1988 to 1990 – Zanderson Inc. 12.6 mil
♦ Project Manager – Rancho Bernardo, CA – 1990 to 1992 – Zanderson Inc. 15.3 mil
♦ Financial Planning – The New England, San Diego, CA – 1993 to present
♦ Swim Coach – Santa Clara Swim Club – September 1995 to present
Of the 56 years that I been in attendance on this planet, 217 the first 14 I knew or cared nothing about the sport of swimming. Then for the next 33 years, until the age of 47, the sport along with my family was central to my life. Then for the next three years I left the sport and didn’t look back. Toward the end of that third year, I noticed that some guy from the University of Florida, swimming for one of my ex-swimmers, Mitch Ivey, was smashing the backstroke world record for the two hundred. Since it was going to be on TV, I decided to watch, got out my old Minerva so I could split the race, and settled back to watch. He didn’t look all that fast; the split through the twenty-five meter mark was nothing exceptional; then that turn brought me up out of my chair. That’s the turn that I yell at Bobby Jackson everyday about. It was illegal. What the hell was going on’?
Through seeing that swim meet on TV and an even stranger set of circumstances within that twenty-four hour time period, I started to coach part time in San Diego in early 1992. This continued until I took the job with the Santa Clara Swim Club in late 1995, So, as I stand in front of you today, I’ve spent 39 years of my life tied to this sport, and 34 of the 39 as a swim coach. Thirty-four years as a coach, fourteen years as a child, five years as an athlete-child, six years in the real world (three in union with part time coaching). For me, the best were the six years out of the sport. I shut up, listened for the first time in my life to others, and grew up!
Only a stupid man doesn’t learn and grow from the circumstances that he puts himself into. There is only one lesson that any of us need understand, responsibility for any actions we take are ours and ours alone. Always wanting to be first at something, I became first at something that I didn’t want to be first at. I hurt all those who cared for me, some swimmers, but more importantly, my parents, my children, and especially my wife. When one of the best things you have ever done in your life is find and marry the right person, then to hurt that person is truly a sin. That is something I can’t change and must live with for the rest of my life.
What is, is! So you go to school on your problem, accept responsibility for your mistake, make sure you learn from these experiences, and you get on with your life in a positive direction. Because of all of this, I’m a better person than I was just a few years ago, finally approaching becoming the man I told myself I was. Those six plus years out of the mainstream were good for me, and because I faced them honestly, my family survives today.
Theodore Roosevelt said it best when he wrote the Following statement:
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, those face is marred by dust and sweat and blood,-who strives valiantly; who errs, and comes short again; because there is no effort without error and short coming……. His place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory or defeat.
My first presentation after returning to coaching was in Napa in 1996. My topic was Discipline in the 90’s. I guess that after being out of coaching for almost seven years, those who organized the clinic thought that the biggest difference I would notice would be a lack of discipline in my new swimmers. I wasn’t surprised by this request. What every coach during summer Nationals in 1995 (my first time back on the deck in six and a half years), told me was that kids have changed. No one wanted to work anymore. “Your going to wish you had never come back.”
I was just thrilled by all of you who were so glad to have me back in the sport and were so encouraging in welcoming me back. I gave what was said by you some real thought and in the process, once again for about the thousandth time, took a real look at were I had been and all that I had learned, My conclusion was that it wasn’t the kids, it was you who had changed.
What kind of question is this anyhow? Discipline in the 90’s? You mean to tell me that discipline has a new meaning this decade than the last decade, I had been taught that the meaning of real discipline hadn’t change over the decades or centuries. In fact, I’d been taught that discipline of self (self-discipline), was a truth for all ages. I was raised by a father and mother that never accepted from me anything less then the best I had to give. You wanted trouble in my home, just make an excuse. The rules were simple, you didn’t tell on people, you didn’t cheat, you accepted responsibility for actions, you didn’t make excuses, and you stood up to be counted! Hell, I still believe this is the way it should be. That’s why I still have the love of my family and can stand before you today and present to you this talk!
I was given the opportunity through my own stupidity, to live in the real world, out of coaching, for six plus years. What I learned out there was it makes no difference what era your talking about, those who truly make it in the real world are the one’s who have come to understand the need to determined what actions they will take for themselves. I was constantly amazed by the young people I met fresh from the protected world of our various educational institutions. Those who couldn’t motivate themselves soon become memories, and few had this ability until they had been knocked around for a while.
What really became evident was that the key to survival was much more than merely showing- up, but the ability to determine for yourself where you wanted to go, and then getting yourself there. Self-determination is a word that describes the behavior that we should all be advocating. It means, determination according to one’s own mind determination that leads to actions entered into freely by one’s own 218 choice with the understanding that with such determination comes the responsibility for the consequences of the actions. In fact, there are a whole set of “SELF” words that we need to understand in order to understand the real concept of what we should advocate as self-discipline:
self-assurance, confidence and trust in oneself
self-confident, belief in one’s own abilities
self-contained, I keeping one’s affairs to oneself 2 showing self-control 3 complete within itself
self-discovery, become aware of one’s true potential, character, motives
self-esteem, belief in oneself
self-fulfilling, bringing about one’s personal goals
self-image, one’s concept of self and one’s abilities
self-interest, one’s own interest or advantage
self-made, successful through one’s own efforts
self-propelled, source of power from within self
self-regulating, function without outside control
self-reliance, reliance upon one’s own judgment and abilities
self-respect, proper belief in one’s own judgments
self-restraint, restraint imposed upon oneself by oneself
In this the age of the politically correct, these words, because they speak to the individual, are bad words. How can you coach without using these word or at least the thoughts these words confer. How can a person coach and meet the extremes of the political correct crowd? The answer is, you can’t. One of the problems is that many of you sitting out there try. There was a place for the politically correct, but they have gone way to far. Now political correctness is just one more problem that we in coaching must take on for the sake of human development. In fact, you as a coach must first come to understand the meaning of these self- words, and then help your swimmers put them into practice.
Discipline is defined in a variety of ways to fit various operation systems of human behavior. The military defines discipline as strict control that enforces obedience and orderly conduct. You would expect this in an organizations whose sole goal is to break the other guy’s things. This is enforced control that is required by a group to both take and save life. There is no individual rights, the need to meet objectives of the group is the only controlling motive of such discipline. The lack of such control and unit performance gets the wrong people dead. Yet, to many people, a whole lot of coaches and even a larger number of parents, this type of discipline is their only definition. When we line-up kids to do dryland exercise at Santa Clara, and we have the young swimmers count out repeats by the numbers, sounding like the Marine Corps, both my young- coaches and parents just eat it up. So do the young kids, usually not so the older ones. During these sessions, I see my coaches striding through their ranks like Marine DI’s, with parents saying things about how good the program is for their child. “Some real discipline taking place here, my God!”
Well, if these kids are about to join the military, than I agree with all of this, but if they are going out into corporate America or on their own, then nothing but enforced order is being learned here. This is the type of discipline, if practiced in the real world, gets one posted!
Of course there has to be some of this kind of discipline in any organization or operation, but this type should only set up the boundaries. Within these boundaries, room should be made for the development of self-discipline that allows the individual to realize his/her full potential. Even War is won, not merely with the discipline of the organization but through the discipline of the individual’s within the organization. Without independent feats of the individual, no battle gets won and therefore no war would ever really end.
- Scott Peck in his book, The Road Less Traveled, has much to say about living a fulfilling, rewarding, and beneficial life. A book that is the most difficult read I’ve ever undertaken because each sentence has meaning for the next sentence, each paragraph to the next, each chapter to the next, until your done, and then each reader is left with the need to come to their own conclusions. It is a book all those who want to teach and coach should read and understand.
Dr. Peck states on page one, chapter one, paragraph one, that living is all about PAIN. The key to life is each person’s ability to deal with it honestly and effectively. BUDDHA says that the first of four noble truths is, “Life is suffering”. Both see life as one of consistently appearing- problems, painful ones, and its the solving of these problems that gives meaning to life. Discipline is the basic tool we require to solve Life’s problems. Problems that take time, work, sweat, and honest evaluation of self, to solve. Way to many people in this society don’t take the time necessary to solve many of life’s intellectual, social or spiritual problems. They’re way to painful or boring to be dealt with. Gratification takes time and is always tied to work. It never comes easy, that is why completion of the task should become gratification. Work, sweat, time, this just isn’t the modern American way.
Do any of you out there hear words we use in coaching. As I read this book, I had to make sure many times that Coach Peck, ,whoops I mean M. Scott Peck, MD wasn’t a witch doctor, there I go again, I meant to say a coach, but is actually a medical doctor with good academic credentials and scientific knowledge!
Peck recommends four steps to solving problems. First, delaying- gratification; second, acceptance of responsibility for one’s actions- third, dedication to reality (truth); and fourth, balancing the needs of self against those who you learn to love. These are simple tools that can be used to solve problems once a person has developed the discipline (will) necessary to use them. Developed the discipline necessary to make life really work!
Delaying gratification means a process of scheduling pain and pleasure. One must understand that everything takes time, that nothing is free, that everything has a cost, and that pain and pleasure are words and feelings without meaning until you understand and experience both. You can’t truly experience one without having the other to measure this feeling against. Problem avoidance doesn’t solve any human condition, merely puts it either into someone else’s hands to solve for you, or goes into your unconscious mind and revisits you over and over again. No action is in reality a conscious decision. A decision that like all decisions has consequences to both you and those close to you.
Acceptance of responsibility means your problems are your problems. One can’t solve problems except by solving them. They can’t be solved until one takes the appropriate responsibility for it — It’s your problem, only you can solve it! To solve it you must face it and the pain that goes with it, conquer the fear and pain, adjust your behavior so that this problem isn’t repeated. This is a choice that can only be made by the individual with the problem.
Dedication to truth starts with constant self-examination. Self-examination is a complex task that requires both flexibility and judgment.. It contains the ability and the capacity to accept responsibility for our actions and at the same time to reject responsibility that isn’t ours. This can be painful. It’s not easy to really look at yourself and not at the myth that each of wishes was oneself This describes the guy that has fears, is scared more times than he can admit, and wishes he hadn’t just done what he has done. The only chance one has to rise above any situation is to honestly see it as it is, not as one wishes it might be, “Only if’, never has solved a problem because it never happens. What happened, happened.
Finally, balancing refers to the fact that as important as you are as an individual, you must exist in a world made up of other people, some of whom you choose to care about deeply, people you love. Under the terms we have used, love is an activity and not a feeling. It demands attention, and this implies effort. It demands sacrifice, give up something to get something. Sacrifice means the one who you make the sacrifice for must be the only relevant consideration, not you the one making the sacrifice. Pretty basic stuff when you give these views a few minutes of thought.
What Coach Peck, I mean Dr. Peck’s book speaks to is a life of unselfish commitment to self and to the ones you love with no guaranteed returns expected. He understands and speaks to the real meaning of life. A life of being a person ,who, because they continuously develop themselves to the best in them, counts. A person who makes the world a better place because they worked at it while they were here. Coaches should be such people! As I speak to you, most of us aren’t.
American swim coaches could learn much by first reading and understanding Peck’s book. A simple understanding of discipline and your potential in its development in young people would be a great step for both you and America. Second, much could be gained by you understanding about the many people who have handed each of you the future of the sport. You really should understand that ‘ some pretty good and well meaning people built this sport into what it was by the end of 1980. Only when you understand the events of 1976 and 1980, and how good we really were in 1980, can any one here today understand the truth about drugs in swimming, what hard work can really accomplish, and just how bad we are today in comparison.
American swimming has three major areas of conflict that have been and always will be areas of friction between those of us who participate in the sport.
- Parents/officials/swimmers versus coaches
- Speed versus yardage
- Science versus witch doctors
Parents/Officials/Swimmers Versus Coaches
I don’t separate parents, officials or swimmers from one another. Parents and officials are the same people with many officials being ex-swimmer parents who just learned to love the sport. Some, the minority, loved the power they have earned from their affiliation with the various US SwimmingInc. Associations, and these are the most dangerous. They have always and will always believe they know more than those who coach! Blood is thicker than water, and children will almost always back their parents in crisis. That is how the family is suppose to work. Think about this, come to understand that I’m telling you something that is the way it actually is, and you can come to understand just how far out on the edge you are when you coach.
The fading distinction between the coach and the others is the most striking difference I saw upon my return to coaching. This lost of distinction makes the control issue much worst than I’ve ever seen it. As a coach from the old school, what I see is a blending of the two into one. With the growth of club coaching as a full time job, coaches have become businessmen/women as much as coaches, and damn if we aren’t sounding just like the parents/officials and catering to the swimmers.
I listened to a well known, if not super respected coach, refer to swimmers as pieces of inventory. I shouldn’t be shocked, after all, club coaches have now become business person’s hired by business persons. We have learned the business terminology. We can now communicate with parents using their words, use proper scheduling procedure, describe our program using flow charts, illustrate performance through written performance reports tied to percentages of improvement both for the individual and for the team.
Well, a lot of you learned to do this in the School’s of Business Administration at your various institutions of higher education. After all, many of you were hired because you were pretty darn good swimmers. The business person or persons who hired you either wanted to start their own program or maintain one they already had an investment in. They believed they could mold you into the coach of their dreams. While at the same time many of you really didn’t want to go into the business world. For a whole lot of you, the degree in Business was a way, in reality, to keep mom and dad off your back. (Believe me, no parent desires their child to choose coaching for a profession.) Swimming was something you had always done, so why not. It worked for you, at least for a period of time, and it works for the parents because you will only last as long as you agree with their agenda.
What worries me is that many of you, a direct result of the above hiring practices, have become as much sheep herders as coaches. The way to maintain your job is to maintain your herd or even increase the size of the herd. The result, when you begin to count sheep for a living, is to do almost anything to maintain the herd. The sheep don’t like your herding style, then we will do it the way that the sheep want it done. When the herds control were we are going, you don’t really believe your going anywhere, do you?
You don’t like this evaluation? I know it’s not quite this bad, but doesn’t it strike a little to close to home, for some of you. If there is no truth to this then why so many club’s all of a sudden? Why so much parent involvement and control all of a sudden? Why twenty plus percent of every US Swim community made up of swimmers, who if your honest about it, don’t know a dam thing about coaching or developing swimmers. Go to a meeting and watch the parents/officials and the coaches this group controls defer to these athletes as they express their opinions. In fact, they use the athletes views to go against the coaches at almost every opportunity. “You guys just don’t get it, do you? We’re doing this for the kids! Didn’t you hear what they just said. Thank God, at least we’ll listen to them.”
You think I’m wrong on this? Then explain to me why the things age group parents have always wanted have become the things that the majority of coaches enthusiastically support. The last time I was here the majority of the best coaches were opposed to Junior National Championships. The move among coaches was to kill them, officials/ parents/ swimmers and the coaches this group controls wanted them. The result, we changed the name and added a section. Senior Nationals and Team Trials at one time stressed competitions between our best swimmers. Age group records, swimmers ages, special categories etc., were never considered let alone announced. Those in the press might do such things, parents might make big things out of this, but never us. Well, I’ve been back for four championships (Olympic Trials, Ft Lauderdale, Buffalo, Nashville), and that is all I’ve heard and seen. We even gave the same team awards for the National Team Champions in two categories. The teams that won and something called the eighteen and under division. If I could just go back to 1974, when I won my first team title with my sixteen year old kiddy core, I could have had at least three more team titles.
You know something? If your eighteen year old male in this country you can be called upon to defend and die for your country. There is a wall in Washington DC that has more than fifty-six thousand names on it. Many were eighteen year old boys! Many were older, some younger, but all got to compete in the most dangerous of all sports, WAR! They don’t hold separated divisions in war. Your country doesn’t lose but your eighteen year olds win. It just doesn’t work that way. We now have nineteen year old at Junior Championships, where is the nineteen year old team trophy? What about a team title for each age division represented at Nationals. Can’t happen, well in Nashville I heard people advocating it. This has all happened because parents/officials/swimmers and the coaches this group controls wanted it to happen.
The first question I was asked in the interview at Santa Clara was if I did a lot of “start and turn work”. The number one question asked by almost all age group parents. The second was about the need to reward the Santa Clara swimmers. “You just have to reward them to keep their interest.” The result, if you will honestly look and interpret what has happened, is to make an age group national championship meet a reality within our Senior Nationals. Now this is something the age group parents, the one we all tell stories about, have striven for the entire time I’ve been involved in swimming. It took them a long time, but they are winning.
It is not the fact that these people don’t love the sport of swimming. They believe this will only help, no ego here my friends! It’s a fact that parents/officials/swimmers/controlled coaches don’t look at the sport in terms of tomorrow but rather in terms of today. I know, I’m a parent that had words right after my boys first football game with the coach on the fifty yard line when he didn’t play my boy. When it comes to those other sports and my own children, I’m one of worst of those people whom I knocking. Those who look at the long term are almost always more right that those who only care about the present. Parents, people whose emotions are controlled by today are almost always misdirected, while coaches whose have the long term perspective in mind are almost always right! Right beats wrong every time.
What changed? Where has all the discipline gone? I believe that this all got started in the 1960’s with the passage of the Ryan Bill in the State of California. Whether you like it or not, a lot of what starts in California eventually spreads across the country. The Ryan Bill did in one form or another. The bill simply declared what was an academic major and what wasn’t in the institutions of higher education. It started in the pre-college public education system because those who taught what today we call academic subjects (Math, Science, Language, Science, History, Social Science), hated the fact that a huge majority of the principal’s and vice-principal’s were ex-coaches with degrees in physical education. (Everyone knows that a PE major who carries a brief case is either carrying a whistle or his shoes in it.) This movement was soon championed by the academic faculties at UC Berkeley and Stanford University. The result was the passing of this bill that declared PE not to be academic and legislated that only those with academic majors could become administrators.
You never liked getting called to the principal’s office when I was growing up. When you got there you did a lot of listening and little talking. Today you get called to the principal’s office to talk to a person who “ just wants to get along.” In my day, fault was assigned, consequences for actions were played out fully, and you were held accountable for your actions. You get called to the principal’s office today, they bring a psychologist in for the visit to find out who caused you to be bad. If the psychologist tells them its them, they apologize to you for your behavior. Everyone is a victim today. Somebody else is always at fault, the other guy is the problem, and we never strive for confrontation but for understanding. Very politically correct, very corrupting, very self serving until the day you go out into the real world and then the whole thing doesn’t work. The real world demands discipline and without it, you are going to fail!
My point here is quite simple. You folks who have chosen coaching as a profession, are out on the far end of a ledge. There is no discipline being instilled into our children outside of their entrance into the real work world, unless coaches are doing it. Those academic teachers who wanted control sure as heck aren’t getting the job done. For all their so called credentials, schools have become a place of little if any discipline. Today, problems in schools are shifted to special schools for problem children through expulsion. This modem administrative procedure, for example has stopped the primitive fist fights that use to take place in schools through expulsion and suspension. Now the kids just shoot each other, don’t they!
By the way, it took over fifteen years, a lot of changes in curriculum, but now PE is once again an academic major. But the point here is that the person with an ability to move people, a coach, is the place, for the most part, were a young person comes into contact with discipline. AND this depends upon the coach doing their job the way it should be done. They teach discipline, they show discipline, and they give youth something to count on. When you coach you are on an island. People try to buy you, sell you, con you, screw you, go around you, but if you do the job right, the kids after they are long gone will come to appreciate you. Each of you, if you do the job the way it must be done, are in my opinion, America’s best hope to get society headed back in the right direction,
This is a revolutionary concept, the coach as the most important member of the school faculty. I believe this can and in a whole lot of cases, is true!
Please give my word here some real thought. The real world is meaner and leaner than ever before. The day a person worked for one company for his entire lifetime is history, The need for people to adjust, reeducate, reconcile, and adapt themselves to an ever changing world is only going to become more important, not less important. The ability to survive today and tomorrow is going to require more self-discipline, not less. This lacking element in today school’s curriculum or even in their statement of purpose is the reason schools are failing. It amazes me that no one, especially those in academic circles seems to understand this fact. In my opinion, they have no other problem than this. Solve this one, and American schools are still the best in the world. Don’t solve it, and they are among the worst. Just as Schools of Business in our colleges have had to but an ethic class back into the curriculum, self-discipline must become a major goal that schools aim to instill in each of their students.
Right now, only coaches are getting this job done! My question to each of you out there is are you one of those people doing the job, or are you one of the people out for the ride. If your one who is just riding, then you need to get off the cart because you are the problem. Those who built swimming into what is became by 1980, were not full time coaches. Coaching was a job they loved but was still a secondary means of income. They ran programs that they believed in, and a swimmer adjusted to the program, not the other way around. This was better for the participants, better for United States Swimming, and better for America.
Speed Versus Yardage
This is nothing more than the age old argument between quality and quantity. I have always been a speed guy. I really don’t have much to say here except that I’m right and those who don’t see it my way are wrong,
Now this statement I just made is the thing that always gets me in trouble with all of you. “How can he say that?” “Who does he think he is?” “How arrogant can one man be?” “He really thinks he is better than us, doesn’t he?” First, its easy for me to say it, because I believe it. My education is as a nonacademic PE major, but from what I have read, learned, experienced and continued to observe over time, I believe I’m right. In America, that’s enough. I have a right to believe in myself I believe that there is no one way to accomplish anything, but I believe that there is a best way to do anything. After experiment, mistakes, and luck, I have developed my system. The first person that has to believe in my system is me. If I don’t believe in it, then who will. There are a whole lot of swimmers doing what I ask, therefore, I had better be right about what I’m asking them to do. If I didn’t believe I was doing it the best way possible, then I would change the way I do it!
Science Versus Witch Doctors
The age old question of who knows best, that has already been discussed and not only happens between parents/ officials/ swimmers and coaches, but also happens between those who practice science and coaches. This contest isn’t any worst than the last time I was here, but I had hoped it might get better, it hasn’t. When I left the sport at the end of 1988, this problems had really come full circle. When I stuck my head into the sports medicine committee at last year’s convention, the same word and arguments were taking place as the day I left eight years ago.
This really heated up after the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal. The East German Women had just handed us our lunch. To stand up and say that their performance was accomplished through drugs was considered poor sportsmanship. After all, we drugged tested and they all passed the tests, didn’t they? I ought to know how frowned upon any negative comments were as I was the one coach who expressed them, for this act of poor sportsmanship, I was booed and yelled off a stage and ridiculed as a cry baby. Not just by the medical people, not just by foreign coaches, but by whole lot of American Coaches. Our sports medicine people, many of whom I got lots of opportunity to share panel discussions with over the next eight years, continued to belittle me as I never backed away from my charges.
If you didn’t buy the FACT that drug enhancement was the cause; and we all knew it could not possibility be that we got out coached; then the only answer that was left – their scientist were better than our scientist. You want to start an argument between two groups, I don’t know a better way then to place no blame on yourself, and put it all on the other guy.
We demanded that science take a more active role in the sport. We demanded applied research, wanted answers now, and developed training camps and centers to tie science and training together. Within two years, 1978, in Berlin, Germany, at World Championships, we handed the East German Women back their lunch. That 1978 team, women and men, was in all probability the second best American team ever, only bettered, in my opinion, by the 1980 Olympic Team. You know the one Jimmy Carter punished the Russian’s with by not allowing them to compete.
What did science have to do with this turn around. In my opinion, nothing. They preached weight training, various physiological training systems, and biomechanical and psychological work-ups on swimmers. Nothing that they hadn’t been trying to sell to us before and something many of us were already doing. The fact of the matter is that we just worked harder after getting unfairly whipped, and whipped them back. That what American’s have always done. It’s the American way. But now, the scientist did to us what we had done to them, they claimed the credit.
The argument has almost always been over the word work and the meaning of this word. By the 1984 Olympics, just as they had previously done except we were now letting them say it directly to us, scientist were telling us all about work and overwork. At the 1984 Swimming Convention after the Olympics, they as a group took full credit for the results. You all remember the 1984 Olympics, the one just like the 1980 Olympics were half the world failed to compete. They claimed the credit because of the fact that the coaches listened to them about the overtrained athletes during both the lead up camp and the games themselves. In 1988 we experienced a so Olympics, which they quickly blamed upon the coaching staff for not listening to them. I heard the same things when I went to that meeting last year at convention. Obviously, they learned well from us in 1976.
I’m a major believer in the importance of science in the training of individuals. Everything I do with my program is based upon the scientific research that I have read over my coaching lifetime. I believe that my program is one of the most scientifically sound programs in world swimming history I believe that getting science more involved with us in 1976 was the right thing to do for American Swimming. However, both scientists and coaches must come to realize that they have different but complimentary roles in the process of swimmer development.
Scientist have the task to find out why and how things work. Coaches have the responsibility to use this information when it can truly make a difference in their training model. I don’t need, want or would I appreciate their help on my pool deck, but I do need information as to how and why things happen as they do. With this information, I form beliefs and training models that become mine for reasons that I can inform others about. I never wanted answers, I wanted information to base my decisions on. I don’t believe science has any answers to give us, but it can delve into areas 223 of concern and interest that can give us valuable information. Information that just might give us some insight into solving problems we face in the training of an individual.
I have read enough research to tell you that the witch doctors (coaches) and not scientist are leading the way. Research is trying to catch up to what we are doing, what we are making work, how we get swimmers to win, in an attempt to explain why it works. This is information we can all use. It’s information that will help each of us to adjust and retool our program. That is, if the research is relative to what we are doing. For, you see, not all research is relevant, justified, or is by itself enough information that would call for a change. Almost always, you as a coach must read the various research from a whole lot of different disciplines, interpret the results first by themselves and then in relation of how one discipline affects all the other disciplines that make up your program. Only then, in combination can you reasonably allow it to effect your program.
Remember, science is made up of a variety of disciplines. Each discipline studies it own field of study (interest). Very seldom do scientist from different disciplines do joint studies. Mainly due to the fact that controlling such research is almost always impossible. If research can’t be properly controlled, then it has no validity (meaning). You, the coach are then left with the task of reading the research from all the disciplines that affect your program for relevant information. You as the coach don’t have the luxury of only looking at one thing. You deal with a being that is complex and effected by all the different disciplines. For this reason, you the coach, not the scientist, must decide how to implement these findings into your program. Believe me, persons with good intentions and good advice become very scare when things don’t quite workout.
Science is a tool to be used by the coach to help him or her make good decisions. It isn’t there, as some of you believe, to show us an easier way. In fact, science has no simple or easy ways to get us where we’re going, unless your talking about the science of drug use tied to performance. I happen to believe that even here there are long term consequences , that will prove that this decision on the part of an athlete and coach wasn’t really simple or smart. Science does, however, provide information or is a tool to get information. That’s all it can do. All it should do. We need what they provide us, to be the best we can be. That could be a real contribution for us and for them. The credit that the two groups strives so fiercely for, really belongs to neither. I’ve yet to see the witch doctor or the scientist take a stroke during a race. Just maybe it’s time for both groups to remember just who all this work is being done for. Quite a concept, if you think about it.
Finally, let me try to put all these thoughts into some form of coherent statement that will give each of you some food for thought. I was told, upon my return to swim coaching that kids just wouldn’t do the work and the talent level was way down. America had changed, kids had changed, times had changed.
What I have observed upon my return, and once again this is my opinion only, is that the talent level is better than ever, but the fitness level isn’t close to where it was at our high point in 1980. If we were fit we would be better than ever. What I’ve experienced is that kids work every bit has hard if properly challenged. My kids at Santa Clara work as hard as any I’ve ever coached. It takes five years to get a program truly established and we aren’t close to be where I want them to be, but I believe it’s only a matter of time. Time will tell.
So, if it isn’t the kids and the talent pool, then what is it? In my view it’s twofold. First, today’s children are the kids of the kids of the 60’s. This was the group that when they were young, rebelled against authority and materialism. They didn’t like it in their parents and they sure as hell didn’t want to be like their parents. They really don’t want to lead because with leadership goes authority, so many of them have made a conscious decision to be their kids friend, not an authoritarian parent. Just what a kid needs, some old hippie being his pal. Secondly, a society that completely discarded discipline as a tool to be used in their educational system, has succeeded. The result, without discipline as a tool, one can’t really learn to lead, and because of this, leadership technique has really suffered.
Let me tell you a brief story about my short career in the world of construction. I worked for a firm that was run by a person who completed my education in motivation, management, and leadership. I owe him a debt of gratitude. As the project manager on his last project, and site superintendent on the other one I worked for him on, we had about five hundred men and women to supervise, schedule, and maintain working conditions for on a daily basis. All managers and foreman were hooked up by walkie talkies so we could maintain communications between each of us during the working day.
The general contractor, my boss came on the site at various times, always unannounced. You learned of his presence when the wireless on your hip came to life with the short statement that “the grass is brown”. All the managers and foreman were smarter than me and used this as a signal to first turn their wireless off, and then hide. Me, I went and found him. We would then walk the entire site, him pointing out every problem he saw by using the ‘T” word constantly, only changing to the ‘W” word to show some imagination.. These two words seemed to be the limit of his vocabulary, at least on site, and were used on everyone he could get a hold of.
You know what I didn’t like about the whole thing. I saw way to much of the way I use to coach in his performance on site. I remember making a point with him one day. I had observed that when he saw good things he noticed them, just never referred to them. We had mostly good people working for us and there was always a lot more good than bad, I recommended he might be better off and actually get better results by saying “nice job” when he observed good work. As he walked he might want to say “good”, “good”, “good”, “good”, and then when he saw something bad he could use the ‘T” word. Such behavior n-fight actually make the ‘T” word mean something. Better yet, he night have said all those nice things, and when he saw a bad thing he might have refused to accept this from the person who he was trying to manage by saying the following:
“You do all of these things so well, and then I find this garbage, your to good for this. This isn’t you! Get it fixed!”
How many of you hear yourself in my ex-boss. I saw me! I know I’m better today than I was before this professor got a hold of me.
Put yourself in my shoes without having to go through the painful experiences I put myself through, and learn the easy way what I learned the hard way. I’m a shinning example of both the good and the bad. Personally, I wouldn’t have changed any other way, but then I’ve admitted to you that I’m not the smartest guy to visit the planet. But I ‘in smart enough, and honest enough to see things as they are. If done smart and for the right reasons, coaching is a great way to earn a living. Here are my seven rules for a coach.
First, if your going to coach, then you must become professional by learning your trade. You must learn to read and understand research. You must constantly strive to keep abreast of all relevant information so you can adjust your program so it benefits your swimmers. You don’t need answers, but you do need to know how to get necessary information. Information is the key to keeping your program on the cutting edge.
Second, you must believe in your program or be changing it to something that you do believe in. You believe in it because it’s based upon the most current information and it works. In this way it will benefit the people in it. Forget those who don’t want to be in it, think they know more than you, or want special treatment, You don’t need them. Not enough kids in the program to earn a living, then get a job. Just don’t sacrifice your principles. Just as children need a parent to be their parent and not their friend, they need a coach to be their coach, not someone who caters to their or their parent’s every whim.
Third, kids need a foundations to grow there life on. Without discipline in their life there is no foundation. Schools aren’t providing it, and a whole lot of homes aren’t providing it. Guess who that leaves? Believe me folks, way to may times, your really are the only source of it in their daily life. Don’t ever underestimate this value that you can help instill in young people. It’s the most important value they can learn in a lifetime.
Fourth, get all the people between you and your swimmers out of the way. In my program I’m the stroke technique expert. We teach and correct stroke using my methods. I’m the team psychologists. No one plays with my kids heads but me. Why would I ever want to put a layer between me and my swimmers. That’s not delegation of authority, that’s transfer of authority. Delegate all the important things to your Board – fund raising, bill collecting, telephoning, recruiting, socials, etc… Coaching is so much more than reading a clock or watch. Don’t do for your swimmers what they can do for themselves. Your job is to coach, that is get out of their way when they’re going good and be there when they’re going bad. Your job is to see everything and then know what to have actually seen and not seen. Your job is to help them see the truth, to dream of great things and then help them see that they become more than dreams. Haven’t you noticed that everyone you give authority to wants a piece of your swimmer. Your program needs help only when you need help. You need help, you go, learn, take a course, get psychoanalyze, but don’t give the poor kid another boss.
Fifth, form partnerships with your swimmers. Its team work that gets the best from an individual, yours and theirs. You don’t drag anyone to were they really don’t want to go. Your job is to help them face truth, make positive decisions, and help them reach out for the best that is in them. Understand that it’s really their journey and you are just along for the ride. No coach has ever really made a swimmer, in fact it’s the exact opposite, swimmers make coaches. In reality, your job is to encourage them to dream, teach them how to work and sacrifice through the development of self-discipline, so that dreams become reality. Your role is to make them so self sufficient, they can live without you.
Sixth, learn to complement as well as criticize. There is a positive way to say anything, even when you criticize. Come to understand that all the things that have been said about this generation of swimmers aren’t true. Such thoughts have been expressed throughout human history by one generation observing the one behind it. It’s never been true in the past, and it isn’t today. If the younger generation fails, always look to the generation that proceeded it. It’s the role of the older to teach the young so they can be replaced by the young. This implies that the role of the older generation is leadership. History has many examples were one generation has failed the one coming. If repeated over a couple generations, the result has been the destruction of that society. Yet, through all of recorded history, the human race has continually improved upon their condition. Certain nations or empires just get left behind. Lets you and I see that this doesn’t happen to America.
Seventh and last, only work under a contract that gives you the time to succeed or fail. A contract that has a renewal clause, a clause that calls for a renewal prior to the old one running out. In this day and time, with parents the way they are, a contract allows you the freedom to do it your way or they are required to buy you out. Either way, you have a chance at winning. No agreement as to time, and it’s only a matter of time.
Coaching is a lifestyle that can consume you. It can’t be a couple hour-a-day thing. It just like life in general. To be good at it, you got to work at it all the time. There is never a day you can’t learn something or get better at what you do. The day you don’t learn something is a wasted day. It only ends when you don’t coach anymore. If you don’t want to work at it this way, you need to go find something else to do. If you don’t plan to work at anything like this, at least don’t coach. Especially, in America, the job is way too important for a person like you.
The reward is that you get to watch young people grow into those special people that they can all become. If you get lucky (preparation and opportunity colliding), you will get some great thrills as your swimmers make you look good. The best thing about kids is that most will share the glory, even though they did all the work.
Close your eyes for a moment and let your imagination go. Your swimmer has just finished his/her final in Olympic competition. They won and now they’re searching the grandstands for someone. Their eyes meet yours way up in the crowd and they have found the one they’re looking for. Up goes their arm with a clenched fist pumping in the air. For one brief moment it’s is just the two of you in the whole big complex. It’s one of the most special times in this person’s life and he/she has just included you in it. Can it get any better than this