Building a High School Program by Mark Onstott (2007)


Introduction: For the crowd out here, I think this is going to be a great talk for you to hear on high school swimming. I know as an original mid-Westerner myself, in speaking about this program and knowing of this program and the reputation, this coach comes from New Trier high school, which is on the north shore of Chicago. If anybody knows anything about high school swimming in the mid-west, it is highly competitive. One of those places so highly competitive is in the state of Illinois. I know in Indiana, we always watched their finals on TV and find ourselves quite wrapped up into what is going on and the excitement that high school swimming generates there. Their state meets are like they are at Nationals. Coach Mark Onstott has done a phenomenal job leading that program. They have won 19 state championships and like I said, in the state of Illinois that is no small feat. Mark has been also very involved on the national level. I think that is a great credit to him! He is Past President of NISCA, involved in other programs kind of on the political scene, and really supporting high school swimming for everybody on a national level. I am sure we will all be very excited about what Mark has to tell us. Mark, thank you.

Before I get going, one of the things John Leonard wanted me to at least mention was kind of the NISCA connection. I guess maybe just a little bit about how I got started or involved in NISCA. I really got involved by sitting way back there in the back row. I did that for ten or twelve years just going to the NISCA meetings in March and going to see the swim meet and really being focused more on that. Sitting back there you know, with some of my buddies, just looking at the guys who were president and past president and president-elect. We have the president right here – Lanny Lantroop. We have the second past president and president elect, Dana Abbott, back there with Tom Wosolovitch and Orville McElroy the treasurer and secretary. We have Mel Roberts, who is with our All-American program and our education program chair. I was looking at guys like that twenty years ago and saying I am not going to be that guy. First off, I am not going bald and second off, I am not going gray and then third off, I am not gaining 20 pounds. Well, I gained 30 and eventually moved a little closer to the front of the room and it has truly been a very exciting time in my life to be involved as President, as President-Elect and now even as Past President.

I would just encourage you all, on your state level, and on the National level to come to our convention and support your state organization. There is so much good that comes from the organization, State and National. It is worth putting in some time. If you are as fortunate, as I have been, you get to sit around and hear stories from Tom about staying in the White House, even though it was a Democratic administration at the time. You hear from Orville about some great ideas and things from Kansas. Dana Abbott – you never know what you are going to get from Dana, but it is always just incredible stuff. Then to sit at the table with the great Lanny Lantroop is just amazing. I have learned so much from being in Texas around him and listening to him talk. Everything is meaningful. Everything is helpful! I would just encourage you to get involved. This is why I am a kinetic wellness manager; excuse me, a gym teacher. I don’t deal with this stuff a lot, but I actually thought I had this figured out.

First off I would like to say, I think Denny mentioned this and it is true of me as well. I am only the second best coach in my family. My wife is sitting right over here. She is a sales director with Mary Kay Cosmetics. Her job, her role, her mission is to actually coach folks who are a heck of a lot harder to coach than high school age guys. That would be adult women. I am not disparaging women at all, but you know there is a lot more independence with adult women that there is with high school guys. High school guys are trying to get the “it” factor but adult women have it She just does an incredible job. I use her as a resource and a sounding board. In about an hour she will be telling me how I should have had this all figured out before I got in front of people. She is truly amazing and is the better coach. There is no doubt about that.

The name of the program or the name of the talk is “Building a High School Program.” I look at program as different from team. It is not team building. It involves team building, but it is different than that in that it really transcends the season. A lot of high school coaches may and I think a lot of folks involved in club swimming think high school swimming is just three months and then it is over. We don’t think about what is going to happen next year. We don’t have a four year plan or a three year plan. At this point, I have about a nine or a ten year plan at least for teaching. After that we will see about coaching. You know, I am looking down the road that far as to what things are happening, specifically the next three years with the kids I already have in my program. The example I like to give is the pyramids. The folks who started building the pyramids never saw them finished. We have some guys in our program at the very beginning who you know were not state champions. There is one sitting right there actually. He is now senior coach of the New Trier Swim Club. He had a lot to do with us ultimately becoming state champions again. It does transcend the seasons and it transcends the personnel. It is a longer-term look at things and gives you that momentum from season to season.

I like the book by Sun Tzu, the Ancient Chinese Warrior, who basically wrote a handbook, “The Art of War,” on how to fight war. I read that and re-read it. One of the things he said is “You make your men powerful with momentum.” I think by thinking longer term than three months or fourteen weeks you make folks powerful. You make them better because they have already got that framework of what has come before. I knew I was going to do that. I am a big fan of the Eagles. For some of you, they are not birds or from Philadelphia. It is the musical group, The Eagles. The good news is they are going to be touring soon, so get your tickets. The last time they toured I was in Houston when they were in Chicago and I was in Chicago when they were in Houston. Well, life goes on. This is from a song, “Already Gone”. It is not a song about swimming. It is not a song about expectations, but there are some lines in there that I find very interesting. It is actually a song about a guy who I think got dumped by a girl. So oftentimes what happens is that we live our lives in chains and we never even know we have the key. Expectations, I think, move things out. They help people realize that things that are holding them back a lot of times is just their own thoughts and what they think reality is. “Just remember this, my girl. When you look up in the sky, you can see the stars and still not see the light.” That’s right. I love that song. This has to do with you seeing things. You can see it right in front of you, but you are not seeing what really is there. You are missing the details because you are just looking at this blank sky out there. That will be all the Eagles for today.

We need to challenge our swimmers! Mark Schubert said that Wednesday night at the keynote. We need to challenge our swimmers. I think expectations are really another way of challenging. That is another word for it. It is real easy to kind of just go to practice and get whatever they give you and then move on, but you do need to challenge them. You need to have expectations of what they are supposed to do and how they are supposed to do it. You get what you expect. You cannot logically think that you know that is not just the absolute truth. You know high expectations are the key to everything. Sam Walton, from the Northwest corner of Arkansas to the world, absolutely. Command your people in a way that gives them a higher shared purpose, okay? We are back to building pyramids. I like to tell the story about building a cathedral. A guy is walking by and he asked one of the workmen, “What are you doing?” The guy says, “I am laying bricks.” The guy asks “How often do you do it?” The brick layer says, “I do this 7 days a week.” He asks the next guy and the next guy says, “I am building a wall.” Then he asks another guy because those are not really good answers. The third guy says, “I am building a cathedral. It is going to be wonderful. It is going to be huge with great stained glass. It is going to be amazing.” I like to convince our guys we are building a cathedral. I like to convince the guys who are laying the bricks or the foundation that we are building a cathedral and that the cathedral is going to be amazing when it is done. They may not be there on the day when it is finished. They may not still be working and building, but they were part of building the cathedral. I think people get closer. It is more team-like when they have this higher shared purpose.

This quote is from the mini-series “Roots.” “If you tell a man that he is not a man and you say it often enough, after a while he will start believing it.” I am pretty sure that Kunta Kinte said that in the movie. For some of you younger folks that was on about 20 – 25 years ago. If you tell a man anything often enough, after a while they believe it. If you tell anybody anything enough, after a while they will believe it. I say tell your athletes what you want them to believe repeatedly and often. They will believe it. We have a lot of, for lack of a better term, huddles. The girls like to call them TM’s. For the boys we just call them “everybody get over here.” I kind of just came up with the name huddles, just so I could write something other than everybody come over here. We have huddles at practice, but not very often. I was an assistant coach for a guy for about three years in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. While I was an assistant coach with him, I realized that I did not want to run a program where I tried to literally, every day, have them come in, sit them down and talk them into being good swimmers. Not that I wouldn’t try to talk them into being good swimmers, but I wasn’t going to waste practice time to do it. If we have a meeting at the end of practice, it is short, it is fast, and it is usually because we need to have a meeting. We hit a topic and get it finished. We do have a meeting right before our first meet. We just go over a lot of stuff there. That is probably the longest one.

Then, we have pre-meet meetings. The guys, warm-up, then the captains kind of lead them in the locker room. They sit in the locker room for a while with the assistant coaches, too, and then I come in. We will have the coaches speak and then have the captains speak. Mack Guy was one of our captains, so he spoke before every meet. Now sometimes the coaches do not all have something to say. Yes, it is true, we have 8 coaches. Go ahead throw things at me. Do whatever you want, but it is true that we have 8 coaches. If I have time, I will talk about that a little later. If a coach wants to say something they say something. We have two diving coaches. They are diving coaches, but they are really just great coaches. We have 5 assistants and if they want to speak they speak. A lot of times they say I will pass. We have captains. Sometimes the captains’ speeches are just, well, interesting is the only way to describe them. I try to pick a different one to start each time because by the time you get to the 5th one they are saying what he said and what coach said. They actually get better at it as they go through the year. I try to coach them a little and they kind of hit some key points and come up with some incredible gems that really are important to what we are trying to do. What I try to do pre-meet is give them a focus for the meet. I try to tell them what it means to be a Trevian. We do that almost every meet.

Now you are saying what the heck is a Trevian? We are the New Trier Trevians. We were the New Trier Indians in 1966. New Trier West opened so we had two high schools. Yes, New Trier West was the Cowboys so we were the Cowboys and the Indians, which is very interesting. I think Rick Peterson was one of the coaches. He is right here. He is the club coach with New Trier. He was one of the guys who came back right after we kind of came back together and were named the Trevians. The rumor around New Trier is the Trevian was a made up word and really doesn’t mean anything. I have done a little research on it and really have two different takes on Trevians. The first take is that the city of Trier in Germany is a Celtic tribe around that area and their name was a derivative of Trevian. I think in 1980 they said, “let’s make this sound a little better. What I have been telling the guys in recent years is that actually the Trevians were the guards of the Port. That is the gate that surrounded the city of Trier in Germany. I tell them there were not just guards. They were like a combination of army rangers, navy seals, and Rambo. These were mean mothers, okay? So they were not just guards standing there. These were guys you didn’t want to mess with. The idea being that they would get the feeling that they were guys that people didn’t want to mess with. Now, I think we have some of them convinced. So we talk about who we are, meaning more than Trevians, but what we do, how we do it, and what is important to us. We try to repeat that.

This is how we act, which is very, very important. We had an incident this year at one of our dual meets. We had two guys that gave less than 100% effort on a 400 free relay. I had the relay split up so they were kind of even and to be honest with you I didn’t notice it. I was told about it afterwards and it was embarrassing. The other team was not happy about it. I don’t blame them. We had an interesting situation on the bus on the way home. I didn’t say anything until we got back. We had about 15 minutes of re-orientation on how we act and what it means to be a good sport and how you treat your opponents, no matter what. I had a little experience in that because I coached 12 years at Cy-Fair high school in Houston, Texas. At Cy-Fair, football was not the #1 sport. Rodeo was, yeah rodeo. They had a class to be a rodeo clown. You could be a rodeo clown. They had a rodeo every Saturday night in the summer. So I am aware of what it is like to get beat. I am aware of what it is like to get beat pretty bad, so it didn’t take much more than those 15 minutes I think to change some attitudes. We try to repeat, repeat, and repeat. It is a delayed effect. One of the great things that I have learned having kids, it impacts my coaching, is that you don’t stop saying something to them because they don’t seem to be getting it. You don’t stop saying it because their behavior indicates they are not getting it, okay?

Kids, whether they are your swimmers and divers or they are your kids, they pick up the greatest things. You know they don’t pick up just what you are saying to them. They pick up the things you are not saying, okay? We were riding in the car once. I was driving. My wife was with us. My kids were in the back seat. We were driving along and somebody didn’t drive as well as I thought they should, so I expressed myself. I don’t know if it was my son or my daughter, I can’t remember, as they both take credit for this. They said, “Mommy – how come the idiots are only out driving when daddy is driving”? At the time I didn’t get it. I was thinking they are going to hear what you say so watch what you say. Say what you mean and repeat it as often as you can. I never really brought the kids together during a meet, but there were times when I wanted to. We had 90 guys on the team and 95 guys in the recent years. They are spread out all over, so it is tough to gather them up. I saw a coach from another team pull his varsity in, so now we do have some huddles during meets. A lot of times it is like right after diving, before we get in to warm-up. We will get them together and either need to get this done or we have got to get going on this. Tell them this is the problem. Sometimes you have just got to tell them the score. You know, do you guys understand that this meet is a lot closer than you think it is? Sometimes I will bring in just the varsity and do that to make a point and try to get a focus. We always have a post-meet meeting. We pull the kids over in the corner and it can be good, bad or ugly you know? It depends on what happened at the meet. It is short. It is very short. I try to tell them what happened, how things went, what is going to happen, and tomorrow the bus leaves at this time. I may say you guys are practicing here, this group is going there, and this is what is happening. We will see you Monday. Then we also do celebrations and that would involve really just highlighting some great performances. Like I said we’ve got 90 guys. I basically run this post meeting. I try to pull out things that impress me and not just varsity guys and not just swimmers, but the divers as well. I recognize people in front of their peers and in front of their teammates.

One of the things that I have done is move around a lot. I was in Cedar Rapids, Iowa as I said. That is actually where I was born and raised. I coached at the high school that I went to and then I was in Texas. I have come in and taken over programs that were already going. Really, the first thing I did, the most important thing, is just raising expectations. When I went to Cy-Fair high school, there were several kids that did not wear goggles. It was not because they couldn’t afford them, not because they didn’t know what they were, but they just didn’t want to wear goggles. We had to change that. I mean that was just unbelievable. There was no morning practice the year before I got to New Trier. They only practiced once a day. Do not even smile about that Mack. I know what you are thinking, coaches. It was amazing. I didn’t know it. Ignorance was bliss. The one program I took over that I just kind of carried on what was already going on was the girl’s program at New Trier, which I took over I guess five or six years ago. I did almost exactly what they did the year before as far as expectations, etc. We went on to win two state championships in a row. We had a team that probably should have won it again, but got second place. I am much more inclined to just forget what is going on, whatever it is, and do not worry about it. Move on and do your own thing.

Practice amazed me, as an assistant coach, on how many head coaches I have been involved with who do not take attendance at practice. When I got to New Trier as an assistant coach with the girls team, there were 130 girls on the girl’s team. We had at that time, only an 8 lane pool. They all worked out at the same time. Now I am pretty good with my fingers and my toes and was never more than 80 girls in the water at one time. Now 80 girls is an incredible amount. I mean that is 10 in a lane. It is unbelievable, but nobody was taking attendance. Nobody knew who was there and who wasn’t there. Morning practices were optional, but after 3 years they got a new head coach. Morning practices were not optional. Attendance was taken. We went from two years out from that with nobody at the state meet. The year before we had one person who didn’t score points. The next year we were second in State with the new coach. You have to be at practice and have to attend. We also didn’t have 130 girls. It turns out we only had about 105. They were actually coming to practice. It is amazing. Accountability is a critical, critical factor and kids actually want that, I think. I don’t think they really enjoy doing things where there is not that expectation that they are supposed to be there. Also, we just raised the effort level. Practices were more difficult. Practices were longer. Practices were more often. It really made a difference. At meets the expectations of just going to a meet and the kind of swimming needed, and then going home on the bus. One of the things that I tried to reiterate wherever I have been is talk about racing. No matter what you are racing. We are not just going out there to go through the motions. It doesn’t matter who you are swimming against personally in your race. It doesn’t matter what team it is or what school it is, you are going out and you are racing. You learn to go fast by going fast. You learn to race by racing. You can’t do it if you are just floating through the motions. Never give up! That is just a critical aspect of what I think being on a team means being an athlete. Never give up.

Next, I talked to them about State Championships. Ignorance is bliss! I sat down with about 10 or 12 kids at Cy-Fair high school, well actually at Arnold Junior High where the pool was. I sat down there with them and looked them in the eye the very first time I met them. I said, we are going to be State Champions. They looked at me and I am sure they were thinking, “What planet did this guy come from?” After about a year, I was thinking I would need to go back to that planet, it was called Iowa. Seven years after I got there our girl’s team was second in states. I can remember standing on the bulkhead with Lanny Lantroop. I was just kind of thrilled to be standing on the bulkhead with Lanny. Lanny said something and I realized that he did not know and had not realized that Cy-Fair high school had just won the 400 free relay. I left a few years later. We had not won a state championship.

I made the same mistake at New Trier. I sat down with those kids and I told them we were going to be State Champions. Reaction was totally different. There was much more of an okay, what do we have to do? It wasn’t excitement when I made it clear to them that they may not be there when we were state champions. I said the same thing to the Cy-Fair kids. I always kind of make that clear as the pyramid we are building. Come back and see it when it is done, but you guys are laying the foundation. I run a country club pool and had a kid who actually came out of that country club pool and swam for me for four years. I think he started my second year there at New Trier. He was there and I said “hi, how are you doing, Trip? It is really exciting when we are National Champions.” He said, yeah, I heard that. Weren’t you State Champions last year too?” I said,” no Trip, we are the National Champions. He was standing looking down at this pool that he swam in, some little 25 yard races when he was growing up. He was a sprinter. He looked down there and it was like his eyes just glazed over. He said, “Coach, we laid the foundation for that.” I said, “Yes you did, you absolutely did. He was so excited that we had done that.

I want to get into the structure. God is in the details. I think structure and how you lay out your program is very important. We heard from Pat and from Denny how they do theirs. What we try to do is create an obvious path to success. We have four swimming practice groups. We have our freshman group which we have 14 lanes of water, which unfortunately are separated by about 2.5 miles. One is at our freshman campus and one is at our high school or 10-12 campus. Our freshman group swims over there. They have their own coach. His name is Bruce Burton. He is a legend! His father was coach at Evanston high school, New Trier’s arch rival. He is a legend in my mind and an incredible coach. He does talk them into going fast. He does it while they are swimming. You watch him coach and he never stops talking. He says the most outrageous things. He is not PC, just good. We have a Northfield JV. We call it Northfield JV because that is where they work out. That is the freshman campus. They have to come over from the main campus. They get about an hour and 40 minutes of practice. That is our lowest level guys. We have a Winnetka JV group which practices right after the varsity at the Winnetka campus, which is our big school. Then finally, we have the Varsity. The Winnetka JV group practices a couple of times a day, probably twice a week or they practice in the morning twice a week. Varsity times are 5 days a week morning and afternoon. If we have a meet on a Friday night then we practice that morning, but not that night. We will practice the next morning and then have a meet in the afternoon. We have one or two diving practices. We have two diving coaches because the superintendent of the schools about 8 or 9 years ago called me up and told me that I need a diving coach. I explained to him that I already had a diving coach. He is a 1957 graduate of New Trier high school. He is a jolly old good man, a wonderful person and an outstanding human being and coach. I don’t need another diving coach. He said, “It is Bruce Kimball.” I said, “When does he start?” So now I have two diving coaches and have for 10 years. It is an outstanding situation. The two of them work together just tremendously. They are incredibly talented.

Dry-land: Basically what we have here for coaches is I have a freshman coach – 1, I have a Northfield JV coach – 2. I have a Winnetka JV coach – 3. I have two diving coaches – 5. I have another guy who helps me with varsity – 6. I also have a guy who helps me with varsity and also does our JV. That is my 7 assistants. I have got to tell you I am really proud of my dry-land program. I say my program, because I thought of it, but I don’t run it. I didn’t design it. I do occasionally enjoy watching the guys go through the program. We do a whole lot of different things. I have a dry-land coach who is just tremendous. He is incredibly knowledgeable in martial arts, personal training, and yoga certification. He is a former track coach, strangely enough, back in I think 2000. I was looking to do something totally different with my dry-land program, so I wrote down all this stuff. Yoga was in there. Martial arts were in there. I wanted to really focus on the legs, so plyometrics was included. I wanted to get kids off the blocks. I wanted to get them off the walls. I wanted some core work. I wrote down this list and for the first time in the six years that I had been there at that point. It hasn’t happened again in the seven years since. The athletic director gave me two or three resumes of newly hired teachers. One of them was a guy named Larry Stigbar. Larry, strangely enough, was certified in yoga. He was martial arts. He was a track coach. He was very knowledgeable in plyometrics and actually had some training in relaxation and visualization. He was just an incredible guy so I called him up. I only want you to come two or three times a week. That is all you have to do. You will get a full stipend. It will be great. He said, “I don’t want to do it unless I can coach swimming, too.” I said “okay, I’ll let you coach swimming too.” He is an incredible guy. I actually had to talk the girl’s coach into hiring him as well, which took a little bit, but within the first week we knew we had it when the girls referred to him as Scary Larry.

This is some of the dry land stuff that we do. The red is kind of the things I like to highlight, plyometrics, stairs, etc. We have a 4 story staircase that actually juts into our pool area and the guys do all kinds of things on there. There is at least one day a year where they run the equivalent of the Sears Tower there. We do a lot of core training and shoulder stability. Plyometrics, why do we do it? We feel like it increases the vertical 4-6 inches. Rod jumped 12 to 19 inches and we really, really, really think it does great things for our starts and turns. Now we also do a lot of start and turn work. We do about 45 minutes a week where we are not swimming at all – we are just doing starts and turns and I think it has really, really helped us. Shoulder stability: Why shoulder stability? Everybody is convinced we run a distance program. I am not convinced of that. All I need to do is sit down with Denny Hill. I know we are not running a distance program. If I told my guys that you are going to go 10,000 yards a practice over winter break I can tell you right now the airlines would be full going to Florida because people would just leave. They would not go for that. We go 15,000 yards a couple of days, but we do not go 10,000. We have had some shoulder issues, but a lot of them come into our program, okay? Their shoulders hurt the first day. I had my sprinter, 6’ 10”; his shoulders were hurt when he walked in the door this year. We put him on a program of going underwater and blowing bubbles and he went 20.8. He actually finished the year with our JV where that is a little more acceptable. Why shoulder stability? Saying pro-active approach to shoulder situations is better than to say the work injury pre and post-season testing. We actually, with our trainer, worked out some research. We are the guinea pigs. They do, not actually pre-season and post-season, but it is early season and late season. Then we do testing. We see where we are to begin with. We also can identify some people who maybe have special issues and can work with those.

Chest stretching: We do a lot of chest stretching. A lot of this happens during our dry-land and back strengthening. This is the type of things we are trying to do to actually stabilize the shoulders. Here are some of the things that we do – we do hanging rows, wheelbarrows, plank variations, med ball throws, hand stands, pushup variations. That one in red, I have no idea what that is. I don’t know what it is, but I don’t have to know because my dry-land guy does it for me. I think it might be a yoga thing, but I don’t know. Upward bow: one of the things Larry had them doing was not just going up and down the stairs by running, but doing the wheelbarrow up the stairs and so they do the four stories wheelbarrow up the stairs. We got to where most of the guys could do it – all 4 stories. And you see results in about one week. It is a really, really good program.

Military style chants: Larry is great on this. The guy wanted to be a Navy Seal. He really wanted it. He has a hearing problem. He runs triathlons. He bikes all the time. You know, I will be sitting in my office eating lunch and he will come in carrying his bike. He just did a hundred miles in the middle of the day. He loves the military, so this is one of them; Superman, and they chant these. The girls chant them too and girls actually like chanting them a little better, I think. I am not sure if the girls actually do this one, but Superman and I got in a fight – I hit him on the head with some kryptonite – I hit him so hard I spilled his brains – now I am dating Lois Lane. I am motivated! I am dedicated! I like that one. Pain in my arms – we don’t care – we like it there. We will swim it out – we’ll swim it out. Pain in my legs – we don’t care – we like it there – we’ll run it out – we’ll run it out. Pain in my back – we don’t care – we like it there – we’ll swim it out – we’ll swim it out. They do these while they are running. They do these while they are going up and down the stairs. They do these while they are doing exercises. This is I think my actual favorite one. Saw an old lady walking down the street – sorry – I lost my head. She’s got goggles on her head and sandals on her feet – I said hey old lady – where are you going to – she said swim practice at New Trier high school. I said hey old lady, haven’t you been told? Swimming is for the young and the bold. She said hey sonny – sonny open up your eyes – I made the state cut in the hundred fly. Strangely enough we have been pretty successful in the 100 fly recently.

Meet Placement: Most of our dual meets are three level duals which means a dual meet takes about three hours. That means we have 90 guys on the side. We can’t take them all to pools that have six lanes. We don’t have enough room to swim them all, but when we have a home meet we have 90 guys on the sideline there. They can only swim one level. Specifically in our conference meet, they can only swim one level. We actually work out deals with folks. Dave Perry was here. We swam Fenwick. We work out different things with schools not in our conferences. Sometimes we can move them around. We don’t like doing that a lot. It gives us more flexibility, but I have got to tell you, it is just confusing. You know I have a freshman coach, Bruce who does my freshmen lineup. I have two JV guys who really work the JV lineup. I work with them as to who I am using. Then I do the varsity lineup, usually with a little help. It is very confusing to run 90 guys through. It is a good problem to have. The freshmen usually either swim varsity or freshmen. We usually don’t put them JV because we have so many guys who we have to fit in on that level. Our freshmen do short distances. Don’t ask me why. I spent about three years at our conference meetings saying let’s go regular distances. We didn’t do it so I quit trying. We focus on finding the best lineup for all levels and that is a backward thing. We have to know who our varsity line up is for the end of the year, before we can figure out who our JV lineup is, before we can figure out who our JV conference line up will be. Our next level down are kids in 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th and 12th grades. We want to find roles for folks. We have a freshman coach who does a great job with moving kids around, putting them in places, trying to find what they might be able to do, and then really emphasizing that. I am a big believer in you learn to swim races by swimming those races. I think there are kids, especially the real good club kids who need variety. They need to move around. Some of them, though, need to swim their races or they are just not going to do that well at them, not as well as they could. For the freshmen, we like to find them something they can do and really just go for it!

There is some research that has been done. Marcus Buckingham has a book. I think it is called “Go, Find Your Strengths.” It is a great book because what it says is that you actually have more room for improvement in an area of strength than you do in an area of weakness. That is a little backwards for what a lot of people think, but that is how I have been doing things for a long time, where I want to get a kid good at something. Give him a role. Give him something that he can hang his hat on. I think it really would help kids, especially boys, stay in swimming. I think boys want to be good at something. They don’t only want to be here. You get them good at something and then they get good at other things because they focused on that strength. I believe that! That is kind of how we run our program.

Then of course at duals, you focus on winning. We are trying to win. We do not go into a dual meet to move kids around to the point where we are going to get beat. That doesn’t mean that we do anything special workout-wise. We don’t slow down. We work out the morning of pretty much every meet right up to the sectional meet and our state qualifying meet. We have some kids in the water the morning of the conference meet. That is the way we do it. Like Denny said, they learn to swim fast. Now I have a saying, “you swim fast when you want to.” More often than not, kids do not swim fast at a dual meet because you know they are not motivated because they are not being pushed. They may be swimming an off event that they think doesn’t matter. You know it is not go time. I am not swimming my big event, so I am not. But I found that you put kids in situations where it is that way and they realize that there is not much there so they are not swimming fast, but all of a sudden they get squeezed and swim fast. The only difference is we had diving. You get a little behind in a meet and have a huddle to say, “We’ve got to get going.” All of a sudden, they can get going. You swim fast when you want to. I think our kids are convinced of that. It is a great thing for us.

Off season preparation – The kids have to swim off-season, if they want to walk in the door on the first day of practice, and be on our varsity team. We start out two practices. We start out pretty hard, so we expect them to be in shape. I talked to the college coaches and the high school coaches. I have a meeting with Bob Keiser, the coach of the New Trier Swim Club. I meet with him every week, which is a great thing for both of us I think. A lot of what I am doing is talking about the boys who are coming up, who can handle it, who can’t. He is a great resource. I also talk to our high school coaches of the JV swimmers. Is that kid ready or where is he at or what do you think? We do a 600 for time. We do it three times. That is our test set. It is based on cruise intervals. Dick Bower invented cruise intervals. I am kind of glad he is not here because I think he would probably be upset with me. I think I probably destroyed his concept, but it works for us. We do a 600. We do it, like I said, three times. This is the chart I made up so we know where to put kids. As you can see, I am an optimist. We have not had a kid go 5:45. We have had some 5:50’s. We have had kids finish under 6 minutes. There is a push-off swim in practice. The idea is that they are trying to go as fast as they can at a steady pace. Now I have had to change this several times because the kids don’t go as fast as they can at a steady pace. They go as fast as they can, for as long as they can, so they really do not do it right, so I have altered this a little, but you can see it. Wherever they are on that chart under the 600 time, then the middle there, the hundred, is their cruise interval for 100’s.

We base a lot of things off that chart both going down to 50’s, going up to 100’s, doing 75’s, or doing 200’s, and then a six minute distance. This is kind of an aerobic thing. You can see that the 6 minute distance might be the same interval, say 1:15, but the faster 1:15’s are 5:25. We do that basically on a 6 minute interval, but 90% of the time the interval is actually 6:30. We try to get about a 150 to 170 heart rate on those 6 minute distances. We try to get about somewhere between 10 and 30 seconds rest. We do it three times. The kids see that they are improving. A kid wants to be on varsity. The red would be the varsity this past year. If a kid was going you know 7:15 or 7:14. I don’t have a cruise interval for that on my varsity team, so I have a hard time putting him there. The middle, the black, would be our JV, and then the red at the bottom would be what we call our Northfield JV or our most novice group. I have got to be honest; we couldn’t fit it all in here. We have kids in our Northfield group who are a lot slower than this. We use that for a lot of things. We use it to move kids around as we do varsity, JV, JV Northfield, and freshman. We are very flexible on if kids don’t make one team; you are not there for the rest of your life, but just for the rest of the season. We move freshmen up who are not swimming with the varsity. If they do not swim with the JV, they are either freshman or varsity. We move them up by having them come in a couple of mornings a week or we transition them at winter break when there is no school. We have them come in with us a couple of mornings or swim with their freshman group in the morning and come in with us in the afternoon, maybe two or three times. We do that with JV swimmers, as well, at the end of Christmas break or winter break. We have transitioned maybe three or four or five more kids onto our varsity team. That is a good way for us. Kids know that if they are suddenly in our top six in an event, they have a shot at moving up to the varsity team. That is why we do that test three times. If they give a great effort the next time, then they have a shot at moving up.

Leadership: I use the model George Block has talked about several times. I have heard the talk. I will go over it real quick here. Basically it is different classes have different jobs. The freshmen’s only job is basically orientation and figuring out which end is up. Which end of them, which end of the pool, and overall operations is their job. How does the team work? Even the best ones do not have any leadership role. They are there to learn. Sophomores are cooperation. That means the sophomores are paying attention to what the juniors and seniors are doing and saying and are following. They are becoming good followers, which is the first step to being a good leader, in my opinion. The juniors lead by example. They are the ones leading sets. They are the ones out there actually doing the right thing, but maybe not talking about it. The seniors are the ones who actually talk. As I said, we have our captains talk at all the meets.

Here is our New Trier swimming organization which goes back to 1936 when we built the big pool. The big pool is just a 25 yard X 20 yard pool, but back in 1936, it was a pretty big deal. We have a Saturday swim school. That is where our New Trier guard which are students, mostly swimmers and divers that volunteer to teach lessons to the children of the New Trier Township. We have about 200 kids go through there every Saturday during the school year, so it is not unusual for us to have swim school. We will have kids teaching in the water, get out of the water, dry off, grab something to eat, and then are on a bus going somewhere or having a swim meet right there. The guard is just a great organization. Dave Robertson didn’t start it, but he really tweaked it. Saturday Swim School is a station program. I think Dave Robertson had a lot of input into Swim America. There are some similarities, at least there was at the beginning. We have several of the coaches in the New Trier swim club right here. They are a great group. They do a super job for us. We would not be state champions, nor would we be National Champions without what those guys do and the development that they achieve with the swimmers. There are I believe around 400 kids in the winter. We have to cut about 100 because we have the two pools and use another pool as well. We just don’t have enough time to put everybody in.

When I got to New Trier, the New Trier Swim Club did not have a senior program. At 14, boom, they are out the door. It is like they are going to college with no support. The kids were gone. They had to find a club that had a senior program. It took me about 4 years with some great help from the parents on the club that were resistant at first. I convinced them that that is actually how swimming clubs work. We had the senior club over here not part of everyone else, but in the last 7 or 8 years, we are now one club. It is seamless. We hold onto a lot of our kids. They get great coaching. It is just super! We are getting the benefit at the high school level. Just real briefly on tradition. I think a mistake people make when they go into a program that has a lot of tradition, even a program that just has you know a little tradition, is that they kind of push away from it. I guess that might be an easy thing to do if you are going into New Trier. My feeling was that the tradition was like putting on jet packs. Whatever I could do when I had that tradition behind me, I was just ten times better. It didn’t matter that most of the tradition was back in the 60’s, the 50’s, and the 40’s. New Trier had not won a state championship for 38 years when we won in 2004. In 1966, strangely enough, that is the year when the new high school opened. The next year we got smaller, but still had about probably 12-15 years of good swimming; you know 2nd, and 3rd place. Rick Peterson coached them and did a great job for a couple of years where they had super records. They placed well. About ten years before I got there things went a little south. It wasn’t quite as good. We had a lot of work to do.

Winning is the greatest tradition of all. We have all-American certificates in the pool balcony. I just did some research finding out we have about 300+ in the pool balcony. We had to take down all of our academic all-Americans. We are going to have to find somewhere else to put them, so we have room. We have 66 all-Americans that are not up on the wall. We have got to get them up there. We have five bulletin boards in the pool balcony. They have been untouched since I got there. They were untouched because I touched the New Trier guard bulletin board, which is out in the staircase and about six months later I ran into Dave Robertson, who was the coach at New Trier. He just put his hand on my shoulder and said. “Mark, I heard somebody took down the guard list from the bulletin board. Do you know who did that?” I told him that a janitor did it and went on, but I haven’t touched those. I do think we are going to have to take a bulletin board. They are about this wide. We are going to have to give a little space to the girls who have won ten State Championships and a little space to the more modern part of the boy’s situations. We have trophies on the wall dating back to the early 1900’s. I think 1903 is the earliest one. Swimming started at New Trier, as officially as we can determine, in the 1912-1913 season. That is when we opened the first indoor pool in a high school in the country, so we are coming up on a hundred years.

We have a wall where the staircase juts in and on that wall we have 29 State Championship plaques – 10 girls and 19 boys. Actually, I think we have got to put one more up for the boys. 17 is one of our great traditions. We started that by about mid-90. I saw a picture of a New Trier guard who had a 17 t-shirt. New Trier Swimming 17 and it had the green ringlets. I thought that was the coolest T-shirt in the world, so I realized that it was the year after New Trier won their 16th State Championship. I thought what this guy is trying to say with that T-shirt is we should win another one. So I got an exact duplicate of the T-shirt and that was our T-shirt for the year. From that point on we put 17 somewhere on our T-shirt. They were on there for around 8 years. Someone along that time said, “When are you going to take that 17 off?” I said, “When it is 18 we will take the 17 off. It happened in 2004. Now we put the year of the next state championship on our T-shirts. How much time do I have? Anybody know? Oh okay, got to go faster.

Confidence is the most important thing. I am going to do this real quick. Confidence migrates from the coach to the swimmer. Mark Schubert said that the other night. My job was to give kids the confidence for when they get on the blocks at the state meet. This is not the exact quote, but this is Mr. Lantroop, who said, “That is just two days ago as we are sitting around in our NISCA meetings.” He was talking about it in relationship to coach’s education and giving coaches confidence to perform. Same thing we deal with for the kids. Every person is capable of high achievement, not just the fastest and most confident. This is in our handbook. It is our first core value. I really think I am going to have to skip all of this. We try to do a lot of work putting the tough and the weak together, basically the fastest and the not yet fast. We do that in our varsity practice by dividing up distance, IM, middle distance, sprinters or strokers. I don’t call them sprinters. I call them strokers. A lot of times we make that freshman kid get out front and lead. If I don’t make them, the kids in the lane will. You know, if they are a good breaststroker and really have trouble with other things, then they are going to bump up into the upper-classmen. They are going to get ahead. They are going to get behind. They are there knocking heads with guys who are better than them all the time. The tough make the weak tougher, in my opinion. Again that is Tzu Suh, Art of War.

We do a lot of things. I do a lot of things to convince people that they are good. One is in team settings. We gave a lot of routines. I think routines take the worry out of things. We do a lot of routines during our taper so kids do not worry about what is going to happen. They have only one thing to think about. I am going to do all this stuff, and I am going to go fast. You do not have to worry about what your warm-up is. We do the same warm-up every meet. We do the same warm-up for the last week of our taper and at the meet. Kids who need a little more, then we give it to them. Huddles, I talked about. I love talking to the newspaper because I can say things there that the kid reads and goes, oh. I can give props to different kids, who maybe do not always get it. Our newspaper guy is very knowledgeable. It is just our little weekly thing. Very knowledgeable to help, but sometimes I have got to twist his arm to mention the kids I want to mention, rather than the kids he wants. You know he wants to mention the top 5 kids all the time. Nothing succeeds like success. Winning is better than losing! That is Nuke LaRouche from Bull Durham. I am telling you, there is nothing like winning and tradition to help you along your way, alright? When building a high school program with expectations, structure, and confidence, I think those are the key things. Thank you for your attention. I apologize for running over.

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