Brophy Prep Program by Pat O’Neil (2007)


The next speaker, is in a totally different situation than what we heard of with Pioneer High School and working within a large public high school. This is kind of interesting that I got to introduce this next speaker. This is Coach Pat O’Neill and Coach O’Neill is from the Phoenix area. As far as graduating, he was an undergrad at Arizona State. He got his Masters Degree at Northern Arizona University. He started out as an engineer and did a lot of world travel and I think then came back to some other loves and teaching, a math teacher. He was with a public high school and his high school coaching career started there.

He was nine years at Mountain View high school coaching both girls and guys and recently made a change. He changed to a different high school and he became a math teacher at Brophy College Preparatory in Phoenix and with that, became the new high school coach there at Brophy. For those of you that don’t know, Brophy is a very large Jesuit school. That means an all boys high school and I am very proud to say, with Coach O’Neill, that I am now his assistant coach. This was just kind of interesting when I was asked to step in and introduce him, so I am learning right along with all of you, about Pat and him starting his tradition here at Brophy. And Pat, I just wanted you to know that Speedo is sponsoring your talk and I have a nice gift bag for you and Coach Pat O’Neill.

Well, I just want to start off with a disclaimer that everything I am about to talk about and say, I have stolen from somebody: coaches that I know, coaches that I do not even know. My talk is going to be a little bit about high school swimming. I am not going to talk about going through energy systems. I am not going to talk about the different drill sets that I do. There are way too many experts in those fields here that you can go and listen to. I am going to talk about a lot of the things that are around high school swimming.

Let’s go to the next slide. First, let’s talk a little bit about where I am right now, Brophy Swimming. We are a Jesuit high school, a private Catholic all boys school. We were 2005 National Champions, US Swimming World and we were the first high school team in the Phoenix area. There were some high school swim teams down in Tucson, but at the time, Phoenix was a little bit smaller than Tucson, believe it or not, and they were the first high school team. They used to have to go down to Tucson to swim and then they would also have to swim a team from Williams Air Force Base which was the young airmen that were out there. They also had to swim against some of the YMCA swim teams. This year we are working on our 30th State Championship. We actually only started having State Championships 49 years ago, so in those 49 years Brophy has had 30 State Championships. We are looking at this year as our 20th State Championship in a row.

I think what they have done here and what I am going to continue to do is build a tradition of excellence with high expectations. Part of having high expectations is having everything that you need in place so that you can go to the deck and coach your kids and get the best out of them that you can. So the important thing is to set up conditions so you can have success and it does not come by accident. It is a lot of hard work and part of this is that no coach can be a superman and do everything. You cannot walk through and be the guy that orders the shirts. You cannot be the person that sets up and runs the meet. You cannot be that person so you need to set up all the conditions. You need to organize things so that you can have that success.

So get the basics in place. We are going to talk a little bit about that. Funding: funding is a big issue with a lot of programs. In fact, at Brophy, we are not allowed to raise funds. None of the individual teams are allowed to raise funds. All of our fund raising is done through a central office, through a couple of people that do all the fund raising for Brophy. I think part of the reason is that they do not want us trying to hit up a couple of our parents for $200.00 worth of equipment when they are working on a 1.2 million dollar endowment that they are going to give so that kind of makes sense in the public school. Administrative Support: what you can do, what we can do to get support from our higher ups. The very, very, very important parent involvement.

Something that I do not hear a lot of high school coaches talk about is club kids and club coaches, and how you deal with your club kids and your club coaches. In Arizona we are lucky that the kids can still talk to their club coaches and still have access to their club coaches during the high school season. There are a variety of different things that the different high school teams have done to coordinate with the club coaches and then building positive traditions. Building positive traditions is you want to create a family. You want to create things that kids want to do, that they want to be a part of and I think that is the basic building block for having a great program.
What is a great program? A great program may be a program that has 20 kids that are having a good time and finish 13th, 14th, 18th or 10th at States. It depends on what your perspective is and what kids you have as to what is a great program for you.

So let’s talk about the basics. Talk about what are the goals for the team. You have a bunch of different kinds of kids. You have different programs, have different access to equipment, different access to pools, so you need to figure out exactly what your goals are and part of that is talking to your kids and knowing who your kids are. Each individual kid is going to have his own individual reasons for being a part of your program. If the goal of your program is to just have kids come and participate that does not mean that it is a low goal or it is a weak goal or it is a bad goal. That means that it is a realistic goal. This is something that is going to work for you guys. Athletes: where are you going to get your athletes from? I have been very lucky at Brophy to where we actually get athletes from nine different clubs. The majority of our athletes come from the Brophy East Swim Team which back years ago used to be the Phoenix Swim Club and what transpired is that Brophy high school actually purchased the club and bought the facilities so we have a dedicated swim team facility with a 50 meter pool and a 25 meter warm-up/warm-down pool and about another 8 ½ acres of land that we use as our swimming facility. I believe that that is part of our continuing success is that we actually now, as a high school have in effect a farm team. We have our 6 and unders, 7 and 8’s, 9 and 10 kids that are coming through the Brophy East swim team and they see the Brophy swimmers. They see the tradition of Brophy and they of course want to be a part of that and that is invaluable.

Pool Time: Of course we are lucky at Brophy to have our own facilities, but that is mostly not the case. I came from a public school and pool time was always an issue with the six or seven different high schools that we had in Mesa. We actually were working in a 50 meter pool where we would have our girls team on the south end, our boy’s team working yards on the north end and then there would have to be another high school that would come in later and do a practice that was later than ours. I know that I have just talked with a young woman that is building a brand new swim team, down in a smaller community south of Phoenix and they have got a small YMCA pool that they are working out of. They have 20 kids and I think they have only 3 lanes in this pool and they have had to work staggering practice so you can get in the water. Getting pool time – getting the basic thing that you need – which is water – is very hard for some coaches. It is one of the basics that you have to get in line.

Assistant Coaches: Again – very lucky. My assistant coach Jennifer Gibson (and I kind of say assistant coach tongue in cheek) has got a couple of years more experience than I do coaching high school, but it was a great opportunity. I think that having an assistant coach with a club that has most of your kids on it is of great benefit. Some programs do not have money for assistant coaches, so what you have to get creative. You have to go out and tell your athletes that have graduated, that are still in college and are still around the area, that you need them to come back and help with some of the younger kids by doing a little developmental coaching. You have to get creative on what you are going to use and who you are going to use as an assistant coach.

Also, something that I think is getting to be more and more of an issue is a dive coach and dive facilities. I know that as a matter of fact, in the City of Phoenix , they don’t dive at their public high school. They took out all the diving boards so in effect they have gotten rid of diving at all of the summer rec. programs and that is taking away diving. Not having divers on your high school team even though it is just one small niche, one small chink in our armor, that we do not need swimming and diving to go backwards. We would like to have more high schools have the program and not have the program backing off, so I have gone on a program in our area to really get the swim coaches to support the diving aspect of it and understand that it is an important part of our high school program. Where do we get the facilities? Where do you get the dive coaches? Sometimes you have to be very creative. I know that in Tucson they have about 14 or 15 high school programs. It used to be 7 or 8, but now we are growing so fast. What they do for most of those programs is there is one dive coach for 7 or 8 of the swimming programs and they do all their diving at the University of Arizona at one time, once a week. That is how they get all their diving athletes to the one spot and then they have to later call their results in to the different swim coaches. I know that Tempe that has five schools (It is a suburb of Phoenix.) and they have one dive coach with the five high schools and they all dive in a central facility.

We went out and hired one of the local club coaches and we don’t have a dive facility at Brophy East Sports Campus that we practice at so she has our kids diving at a different time with her at a separate facility. I do not think that that is an ideal situation. An ideal situation is to have the divers as part of your team, have them on deck. So in this process we are actually trying to build a new pool. Our school just purchased 10 acres of land that is right adjacent to the school. We are going to put a new track in and they are going to do new locker rooms, new showers, an office for the club and then of course put in a 50 meter pool and a 25 meter warm-down, warm-up pool. I am fighting like heck for a dive tank so that we can get our divers on deck with us. I think that making sure that we keep the diving aspect of the program in mind is going to be helpful to us in the future because we do not want the swim and dive program to start going down, we want it to start rising.

Season planning: We have a 12 – 14 week season and you have so much to get accomplished. We like to start out, (usually we are a fall swimming program for both boys and girls), the week right after Junior Nationals. That is when we are allowed to start practicing. So, we will get kids out two hours a day, five to six days a week that first week, and I call it pre-season. I don’t really like to call it try-outs because in most of the programs that I have been involved in, we don’t cut. Of course if you have pool size and pool time issues, then you have a program that you may have to cut, but we have been lucky enough to where we have enough pool to where we do not cut so we do a pre-season. We get them in and it is a great time for the team to get to know each other; maybe start with a name game, have favorite sets, have some fun sets. We do a nice fun snake and then you get out and you have to do some push-ups and pull-ups, then over to the diving board and off the diving board, across the pool, out and around and do different fun things in that we call it a triathlon and those kids are tired when they are done. But if I didn’t do it, they would be very, very upset.

Equipment: You also have to kind of walk through and figure out what equipment do you need. What equipment do you want? What equipment are you really going to use? When I am talking about equipment of course, fins, snorkels, kick boards, whether you even like to use kickboards or have them kick and streamline instead? You need to decide personally how you like to do things and how you want it done. I think something that I haven’t heard many people talk about is transportation. How are you going to get the kids to the practice and to the meets? A good majority of high schools do not have the pools actually right there. When I was at Mountain View our pool was at a Junior high school and our freshmen were also at other junior highs. Our transportation issues for practice every day were to get freshmen from two different junior highs to a third junior high, and then get all my sophomores, juniors and seniors from a high school to the junior high and sometimes we had to go back. Working out the transportation, just for daily practice, for a lot of schools is a logistic mess. So you really have to enlist whoever is in charge of that aspect, whether it is a district secretary that you have to call up, find out who she is and what kind of cookies she likes so you can send her cookies or something along those lines. You have to work that aspect of it. I know that in the past we have had bus contracts and haven’t used school busses because at the time we are starting practice is also the time that all the school busses are being used. Some of these bus companies are not as reliable as the school busses so we have had to deal with making sure we have the numbers to call to find out when they are going to be there and when they are not going to be there and who we can yell at if they are not there.

Also, I want to address funding and as things progress along it seems like swimming and athletics gets less and less funding. They are expecting you to do more of your own fund raising. I know that I mentioned at Brophy we are not allowed to do any fund raising, but when I was at Mountain View, in the public schools, that our budget was basically just our transportation budget. They budgeted money for us to get busses to get us to practice and then everything else was kind of beg, borrow or steal so what I did, I actually went out and got a job working for the city in the summertime and ran one of their pools. This started up a relationship with the aquatics director and that opened a bunch of doors for us. We were able to use their pace clocks which we didn’t have. We used their kickboards that they stored over the fall at the different pools. Part of this is figuring out who can you get to pay for it. The AD’s do not want to give you money, but of course you need money to run a program so how are you going to do this? Are you going to have the parents and the kids bear the brunt of all the costs? I know that some programs do that. You will sell a T-shirt, shorts, suit packet – something along those lines for a little bit more money than they cost and that helps defray some of the banquet costs at the end and things like that, but there are a variety of different solutions that you can do. I have heard of people selling programs, advertising in programs, sales, candy sales. We did candy sales one year and raised enough money to buy I think upwards of 80 or 90 sweats. That is great, but what you need to do is not be in charge of the candy sales. You need to make sure that either a parent or a kid is in charge of the candy sales and they help organize that for you. You can also do special events. We have done swim-a-thons, but again what you are doing is begging and asking the parents to give you extra money to help fund your program. Sometimes it is just easier and I know as a parent now that sometimes instead of doing the candy sales or the cookie sales, I would just as soon just give them the extra money, but there are other options. Commercial sponsorships, and I am not just talking about a Speedo sponsorship, although Brophy, because we are associated with the best swim team, is actually sponsored by Speedo. We get our sweats and our fast skins from Speedo, but we have to have them on the shoulder of our shirts, but that is not true with the majority of high school programs. The majority of high school programs you can go out and talk to the local pizza guy, to your father that owns the tire store, to any of the local merchants out there and find different ways to try to get them to give you tax deductible money.

Another thing that I figured out or had some help figuring out with some of the other coaches is that in Arizona they have a law that gives tax credit if you donate money to after school activities. We started a Swim and Dive Club and the parents were able to donate money through the district to our Swim and Dive Club and it was a tax credit. Every dollar that they donated was a dollar off their tax bill. If we mailed out our tax credit requests just about the first week in December people are starting to think about ending their fiscal year and taxes, and it worked out great. We could raise anywhere from 6-10,000 dollars in tax credit money and we used that. We hired two assistant coaches to help work with some of the younger kids and get them developed into reasonable swimmers so they have a shot at having some success later.

Administrative support: I know that I have talked to a lot of swim coaches that have said – well you know, my administrator does not even know that we exist. He has never been to a swim meet. My AD has never been to a swim meet. I am not even sure that they know where the pool is. Some things that we have done to get our AD involved is give him a coach’s shirt. Give him a team shirt, and make sure you get the right size. You don’t want to give him a large when he needs an extra large. Get them vested in your program somehow. We have been lucky enough in the past to have had district administrators and athletic directors at our school whose kids were involved in the younger summer program so they had some type of vested interest in the swim program. You have to go and get some face time with them and make them realize that you have a great program and not only do you have a great program, you have great kids in that program, and let’s face it, the majority of kids that are swimmers are also great students. These are the kids that are going to be in the top 5 of the graduating class. These are the kids that are going to go on and have successful academic careers and you need to make sure that the strong academic kids that are swimmers and divers, that they associate that they are truly a student-athlete and that they are not just a #1 student. Also, just a variety of little things that you can do to make sure that people at your school and the administration are with you and support you is school announcements. Make sure that after each dual meet that you get an announcement in there, that is just not you know, Billy took first in the hundred and then Sammy took second in the 200 IM and on and on. Get somebody who is creative. Get somebody who can put a little life into the announcements and ask them to help you out or get them vested in the team somehow to do your announcements. A lot of schools have video announcements once a week. Get them out there and get them to get a little film of some starts and some swims and that is great film for their video announcements. You have to kind of motivate these people to help you out and do this type thing.

Make sure that you call in the results to the paper, any paper that is willing to print your results. If they don’t do it as part of their program then maybe you need to start contacting some people at the paper and suggest, put the pressure on. It might not happen this year, it might not happen next year, but a couple of years down the line maybe that small local paper that never really printed your swim results after bugging them for two or three years they will finally start doing it. Also, establish a relationship with the guys that are covering high school swimming. We have two main newspapers in Phoenix and one of them does a tremendous job covering high school sports and the other one does a horrible job covering high school sports, but I have made sure that both of those reporters that cover high school swimming have my name and have my cell number and if they have a question about swimming, they know to call me (or they should know to call me) and I will tell them about our competitor across the town. I will tell them about the probably the first, second or third best swimmer in the state, that we just swam against at the last swim meet. They know that if they call me I am just not going to give them the Brophy swim line, that I will talk to them about swimming, and let’s face it, you get swim coaches talking about swimming and they can go on forever. So positive press and talk to your kids a little bit about it. If you have press at the regional meets and the state meets, make sure that the young men know or the young women know that when they talk to the press that, yes, be very polite. Do not sound like you sound when you are in the locker room saying that you know there is nobody that is going to be able to beat you today. Do not present that cocky persona. Be polite and understand that those words that they print are going to be there for a long time and not only is your mom going to read them, but all the other moms of the team are going to read them and that goes a long way. And seriously, do take advantage of NISCA’s scholar athlete program and also their team scholar program. We also, in Arizona, they have a program where they give out small awards if your team is over a certain GPA and then individual awards to the student athletes if their GPA is at a certain level. Make sure that your AD and your administration know this. I am sure many times that the difference between the golf team that only has about 5 or 6 members and the swim team that can be huge; that there is always a competition between some of those teams as having the highest GPA at your school. Take an interest in that and make sure that you know what it is, where you are with that and promote swimming with your administrators. You will get more support and hopefully more funding with that approach.
And then something that actually I haven’t seen around since I was in high school. We actually had a group of supporters, and I can’t remember what their official name was, but it was mostly girl friends of some of the swimmers that didn’t swim and we called them the water dogs. They were a group of young ladies that would come and time for our team. They would help supply snacks. They were a great support system and you also, and in the past, I have also given (and I am not sure that this is exactly legal in our district), but I would kids extra credit in math to come out to the swim meet, help us time and help with the score table. What that really did is that got some of the non-swimmers again vested in your team coming out and realizing that you know, that this is great competition. That you can have as much fun watching it, watching a great swim meet, as you can watching a great football game. What that actually helped us do is get some of the kids out timing and then the next thing you know, we were getting 40 – 50 at some of the big meets. At the big rival meets we were getting over 100 students out to just watch the swim meets and I was happy with that because it was at a site that wasn’t at the high school. They actually had to make plans and purposely travel to in order to watch the swim meet. So again, that all just helps get the administration of your school interested to help support your program.

Parent Involvement: Huge. A huge help and it can also be a Huge, Huge headache, depending on how your parents are involved. So basically what I tell parents is that this is your team, this is your child’s team. You need to come out and support your child and help your team and there are a variety of different ways of doing it and there are a variety of ways for the parent to have a negative impact. What you need to do is you need to make sure that you educate them on how are you going to help your kid in this program. How are you going to help the program itself? So part of that is educating the parents. We have had different sports teams on campus actually come out with a guideline for parents on what is good expected behavior and what is bad behavior, and of course, bad behavior, we are talking about calling you up and asking why isn’t, you know, why isn’t Ritchie swimming ahead of Tyler in the butterfly when I know that Tyler can swim faster than Ritchie even though he hasn’t done it yet this year and that you know, we want Ritchie to swim ahead of Tommy because you know, Tommy is kind of a troubling kid, you know, he has gotten in trouble in the past and Ritchie hasn’t so of course Ritchie should swim ahead of him and you know some of the parent comments and some of the parent involvement that you have had that hasn’t been exactly positive. Part of avoiding that is to educate them. Make sure that they know, whether it is through written guidelines or through parent meetings, that these are your expected behaviors. These are the limits and in past we have had many parents that are involved in swimming that are very knowledgeable in swimming, like one of my past parents who now is in his late 50’s and his last 7 and 8 year old age group record was broken like two years ago in Arizona, so he held that record for a good long time. He swam at Indiana and now he announces the ASU swim meets. He announces all our state meets and of course I have talked him into announcing our regional meets for us also. He would be a parent that I would love to sit around and talk with, different combinations about the different possibilities of who I am going to swim in what event, because he is very knowledgeable about every swimmer at the high school level in the state, but of course, that is the exception so you tell them if I ask you for input, please give me the input, but please do not approach me with how you think things should be run. What you can do is that you can help us run things.

So this past year, the best thing I ever did was put together a parent mass email list so I do not have to answer a hundred different questions, a hundred different times or they also do not really have to get their pertinent information from their kids because I know that when I give the kids a handout or when I tell the kids something about the meet next week that it is just like I am throwing it in this big dark hole and it never comes out. If you tell a parent that yeah, I gave them a handout and I watched them put it in their backpack, it probably is still in that backpack and never came out, so mass email. I actually had a parent that was in charge the first year of putting together the mass email and making sure that it was updated regularly and it has been my best form of communication with the parents so far.

Of course, you need to start off and have a parent meeting to make sure that you give them those expectations and lay out the team rules because it seems like after school, when you are practicing, seems like a pretty good time to go to the orthodontist or to make some of these elective doctor and dentist appointments. They have to understand that there is a certain commitment that they do have to give to the team, as a parent, and scheduling elective type appointments at those times is going to be counter productive to what you are trying to do on deck.

And then, the last couple of years I have really tried to lighten my work load as far as running the meets, running invitationals, doing all the setting up the banquet, setting up the regional dinner, some of those type of things so I started in setting up the timers and setting up the starter. I have tried to talk some of my more vocal and active parents into doing some of this for me so at this point, I have got 8 different committees. I have committees for the scorer’s table and it is the moms, I have two or three moms that do the scorer’s tables. They copy all the the sheets at the different lanes. They do all that for me. They come in and they set up. They score. They have even got a program of bringing in new moms and training them how to score so this is an ongoing perpetual committee. We hold an invite where we have 30 or 40 high school teams that we have at our facility and one of the biggest headaches is hospitality. I do not even think about hospitality during the invite because we have a group of moms that have been doing it off and on for seven or eight years and they are bringing in new moms to train them to do that. It is great and that committee actually doesn’t have just moms, it has some of the dads.

We have a group of dads that have come in and learned the “Swimmer 5,” that have learned how to set everything up, that have gotten involved and we just recently had a certification meeting for USA officials and we had three of our new dads go and figure out how they can get certified to be officials so we have official starters at all our meets and at the invitational. We have enough stroke and turn to make it a meet to where we can have our Q-times for state. We also have a committee where the moms get together for all the meets, whether they are away meets or home meets. We have committees for the banquet. We have two moms in charge of doing, when we do a regional dinner we go to somebody’s house, get all the kids there and have a nice dinner the night before regions, kind of keep an eye on the kids. Parents bring them home so they can get some rest so they are all set and ready to go for regions.

Fund Raising Committee: We do not have one at Brophy, but we have had one at the public schools. It just takes a lot of the work off of you and puts it onto the parents whose kids are the program. I do want to talk (I know my time is up.), about working with club programs and I think that for success at the high school level, that this is probably one of the most critical moments. You need to be able to communicate and work with your local club coaches and like I mentioned, we have got nine different clubs around the Phoenix area that we get our kids from and the key to that is communication. Of course, if you have club coaches that are on deck with you, you cannot help but communicate with them. In the past and in the present we have actually hired or had the club coaches come and work with us as high school coaches so we can be on the same page. I am not talking about bringing their athletes in and trying to change their strokes or some of that, but as a high school coach you can augment what the clubs do by working on their turns, working on their push offs, their starts, their underwater so you are actually complementing and putting more time into some of the technical aspects of the different swims of the different kids without the kid being conflicted: well, my club coach said this about stroke technique and you said that. If you do come across that, talk to the kid and tell him there are hundreds of different coaches that would tell him hundreds of slightly different ways to do many things. What you need to do, as an athlete, is to be a thinking, processing athlete and listen to what they say, take what they say, take what your other coach has said and see what works best for you. See what makes more sense to you. I see that my time is up. I just wanted to finish with some motivational stuff. Have fun. That is what this is about. These kids have fun and swim fast. Those are two things that you need to do in high school swimming and there are easy ways to do this that are team building. We just got back last weekend from a retreat. We took the kids up to Sedona in Arizona. We have a little retreat facility. We had volleyball tournaments, we had them sit together. We had discussion groups about leadership, about victory with honor. We had a great time and those kids came away from this retreat feeling – knowing each other – knowing each other better – having the new kids on the team – they know their names – they know where they are from – with a definitely much bigger, better team feeling. These kids by the end of this season are going to really care about each other, whether they are the 18 year old senior or the 14 year old 80 pound freshman. They are going to feel a part of each others lives and I think that that is a very important piece. I would just like to end things with saying make sure that your kids have fun and swim fast. Thank you.

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