Building an Inner City High School Swim Program by Chris Van Slooten (2009)


It is definitely an honor to be here and I need to start off with a question – how many of you know of George Block? Know who he is – heard the name? When I interviewed for this position down at Holmes High School I had had no idea who George Block was or is – no clue. Our relationship and how I was hired over a year and a half – it was like an online dating service. We talked via internet – never saw a picture of him – I couldn’t pick him out in a crowd and when I got the call finally to come down and interview we talked and I still made no connection between George Block and swimming and the contributions he has made to the sport of swimming – absolutely no connections whatsoever. As a matter of fact – after working with him for about eight months and being invited to speak here I still had no idea of his contributions to swimming – whatsoever. It wasn’t until I started putting the presentation together that I started to list off the articles and some of the readings that I was really – has helped me get to this point that I looked at the author and it said George Block on five of the articles and the light went on much like an energy efficient light bulb – that I felt really ignorant that my boss had made this many contributions to swimming and I had no clue as to who this man is and now I coach at the pool which is named after him now – The George Block Natatorium and so coming to San Antonio Holmes High School.

What I am going to be talking about today is the vision and the importance of vision and what I have learned over 20 years of coaching high school – the importance of vision, building a strong foundation, parental involvement, making some really tough decisions and feeder programs. A little bit about San Antonio Holmes High School – if you were to ask me a few years ago – where do you want to go to coach? Inner-city swim program was not on my radar. I was happy at a private school. I did not have a problem with parents showing up to support. I had no problem with the kids being there on time and life was good. It was very comfortable and so I made a conscientious decision three years ago that I wanted to be a swim coach full-time. I needed to get my career in gear to do that and so I applied at North side Independent School District to coach and it took them some time to get a hold of me. They contacted me late – after I had already signed my contract. I mean – it was too late so George emailed me again. Again, I had never seen the man before and I get another email – are you still interested? So, I said yes. I had a phone interview and then – now my immediate boss – Derek Hayworth called me up and said – are you interested? I said yes and then I didn’t hear from Derek again for quite some time.

I am thinking there is something wrong here with the whole NISD hiring process. I asked my school that I was at for a two week extension before I was going to sign my contract and they were gracious enough to give it to me so I went from 6 pm to a 6 pm on a two week basis and at 5:30 the phone rings at home and it was Derek and he said, “are you interested in coaching”? Sorry I was gone. We had the whole roof replaced on the pool. Things have been a little crazy around here. I said, yes I am and we talked a little bit and it was 25 to 6 and I said well, I have got to be honest with you – I have been with this rigmarole with NISD for a year and a half now – I am going to sign my contract at 6 o’clock and if you have not called me back with answers to my questions – I am gone. I am just not going to take the position – I am sorry and so I got off the phone and talked to my wife and she said, how did it go? I said it is fine, but it is not going to happen. I mean – Derek has got to talk to George – whom I have never met. I have no idea where he is. He is an administrator – politician – he could be anywhere in the District – who knows where he is at so – I am not even going to get a call back and Derek called me back at 5 minutes to 6 and said, “I have got all the answers to your questions” and they exceeded my expectations and little did I know at the time, but George Block’s office was 10 feet away from Derek’s office when I was going through all this and went down to meet with George – stayed with George – met Derek and I was in a great position because I didn’t have to have the job.

My choices at the end of the week were stay at the Covenant School in Charlottesville, Virginia – to take the position at Holmes which was the bottom of the barrel in the District. As a matter of fact the floor was it’s ceiling or go to Churchill High School – one of the premiere programs in the state of Texas and in the Nation. Those were my three choices. What did I look for in the interview process were coaches who loved to learn – loved to read and whose family is very important to them and so I was interviewing through that process – interviewing Derek and George and the other coaches and what was so awesome about this – when I went into George’s house – he has just a library so I was like a little kid in a candy store – looking at all these books. We talked about family. We talked about books that we have read. When I spent time with Derek I observed how he treated – now his fiancé and I knew that this was the right decision for me. It was a very difficult decision and I will get to that towards the end when I talk about tough decisions, but Holmes High School – we have a very diverse student population – 48-49% Hispanic, African-American, American Indian and Caucasian and just to let you know – I come from – I was raised in a community that is like Mayonnaise on Wonder Bread.

You just don’t get much whiter than the communities I grew up in and so I was going from – into a complete diverse situation which has best decision I have ever made. We are a Title I School which means we get Federal Funds which has its – a lot of paperwork that goes with it and a lot of regulations that goes with it and a lot of regulations we have to follow. We have a high population of limited English proficient students. Some of my students do not speak much English and I do not reveal to them how much Spanish I can speak because once I do that I have tipped my hand to them as to how much I know and do not know, but I always can pick out a couple of little phrase words and I can tell when they are saying something very inappropriate. AT RISK: Our students – we have a very high at risk population because many of our students have to work to make their families income meet and just to make the bills each month and At Risk – I determine or define At Risk as any student is at risk at any time. You could take any high schooler from a well-to-do-program in a well family – they break up with their significant other and now that child is at risk for that day, but we have the factors of many of our children do not eat. A high percentage of pregnancies – teenage pregnancies – students – you know – I have a student right now I am working with who – her mom shows up once a week to give her money and then takes off and never sees her mom again until that student – until her child needs money and she says, Mom – she says I am not your mother – I brought you into this world, but I am not your mother and that is the situation at Holmes High School.

A little bit of the background – the program itself – there were no expectations of the students what so ever. As a matter of fact – when I met with some of the seniors – they are asking me about the program and what we are going to do. They said, do you like to play games? And I said – well – what do you mean – play games – well, do you like to play underwater musical chairs and wrestling under water and I said no. We are not here to play those games. We are here to swim and train and we lost a few kids over that because they wanted to play. That is what the previous coach was all about playing and not doing any work and so the program – it was at the bottom and it stayed at the bottom for a long time and that was the reputation of Holmes High School Swimming – a bunch of Hispanic low income kids who cant swim and they are never going to amount to anything and that was the attitude of Holmes Swimming. In one short year we went from that to 7th in the District with 8 regional qualifiers – just by changing the perspective and I am going to go over it with you how we changed that perspective. I hope you can see it well enough, but this is an amazing graph to me.

We have got about 900 freshmen and only about 300 graduate and when I was putting this together and I looked at the numbers and I went into class the next day and I have 30 students and I am thinking – only 10 of you are going to graduate. What are the other 20 of you going to do? Where are you going to be? I couldn’t get away from that and there were times when I would think – I would never have this at Churchill and then I would think – You are right. I would never have this at Churchill. I would never have the opportunities I have now at Churchill High School – that I have here at Holmes to make such a great difference and see these kids grow into fine young men and women. It started about vision and there is a great article that came out in the ASCA Newsletter a few weeks or a few months back – talking about vision and leadership and I really liked what John Maxwell said about leaders are navigators. They have a vision for getting to their destination and I never understood really what vision meant. Sure – when I coached high school when I was starting out at age 21 – coaching high school swimming and having some high powered teams – I thought I knew what vision was. I thought I understood this concept of vision. I have read enough about vision, but reflecting back – the vision was all about me and my own glory and what happened between 1991 to three years ago was that I took a break from swimming and coaching. I just said – I need to re-evaluate what I am all about and why am I doing this and in that interim time I got married and a friend of mine – one of the greatest things I have ever done was to get a marriage mentor and sat down – he sat me down and said – what is the vision that you have for your family?

I had no clue. I mean – I knew what vision was – I have read about vision enough, but I had no clue what vision really meant and how you apply vision to anything. Six months after I got married my wife came to me and said, “we have two pink lines – we are pregnant” and this idea like vision – what do I want my family to look like five years down the road – ten years down the road – fifty years down the road? And I started to put together this idea of vision for my family first. What does advanced ????? look like? How can you pick advanced ????? out in a crowd? In our family – advanced ?????? – we don’t whine and we do things all the way right away with a happy heart. We may not like what we are going, but we are going to do it and it is hard to get that concept around to a 3 year old and a 1 year old, but they pick up on it quickly because we, as the mother and father, we have to do that because this vision that my wife and I worked on for our family was we both come from different backgrounds and we had to sit down in the same boat and we have to row in the same direction and that is what a vision is. Where are we going to be in 50 years? What do we want our family to look like and I took the same idea and I brought it to the Holmes program. Where do I want Holmes Swimming to be 10 years down the road? 20 years down the road? 50 years down the road – where do I want it to be? It is more than just winning a State Title – more than winning a District Title – a Regional Title – those are great, but where do I want when you walk in to San Antonio – how can you pick out a Holmes swimmer?

What do they look like – act like? How do you know a Holmes graduate from our swim program? What do they look like? Act like – how do they talk? How they walk – how they hold themselves? That is what I am getting across to them and it is totally redefining who they are because a lot of our kids – their parents – attendance at swim meets – we have – you know – five or six parents show up and that is on a good day. Many of my parents have never seen their children swim. They drop them off – say, see you later – they pick them up after the meet, but there is really no contact whatsoever. Am I saying that they don’t love their kids? No – not so whatsoever, but it has been very difficult to get parent involvement and we made some positive changes this year for that. This is really – we are talking about building a strong foundation for Holmes Swimming – this is what I am going to focus on. I tackle behavior, academic, athletic in our feeder program. We are the Holmes Huskies so I didn’t want to have some little paw like I am wearing today – not that it is not cute – I cant determine the paw print – that comes from our Athletic Directors, but I like the intensity in the eyes of this Husky and so I am going to go through this information and if any of you want – it comes right from my packet – every swimmer – we go through it every year.

They have to sign it – they have to put their name and sign the top of this. There is a contract inside that they sign and read it and sign it that I put on file. The parents get one of these. They have to read it – sign it. They have to abide by it so if you want a copy and you want to see what we do I would be more than happy to email you a copy of this information. If you want my Power Point presentation I will send that to you as well. So, this is what I am going to focus on. It is really the packet – the heart of what our program is all about – starting with behavior. We took the first week of training – before all of our teams were in the water – we held a strategic planning committee meeting with our whole team. I don’t have assistant coaches – my parameters – it is just me. We have 8 hours of contact per week. Monday through Friday – we can do Saturdays – that does not count – it is only when we are in school. We only have 8 hours of contact time per week so we have to be very careful of what we do with our swim program and how I can be in contact with the swimmers. But, none the less, what is a swimmer? An athlete that comes through my program – what is it going to look like to be a Husky?

They will conduct themselves with honor, integrity, discipline and excellence. We want to conduct ourselves honorably and with integrity while being disciplined in our thoughts, in our words, our actions and our motives – particularly as we participate as a member of the Husky Swim and Dive Team – which we will produce excellence in all we do. This is our focus. This is the heart and so I am going to kind of break this down as to what we do. Our acronym is hide and a lot of other teams have a fun time with that – oh – do you hide from other people? No, we don’t. We don’t hide whatsoever, but honor, respect for yourself and others. The integrity we talk about decisions and how you make decisions and how they reflect you when you make a decision – good or bad and how it impacts the team because the team – when I took over – was all about me. It was all about the individual. It was never about the team concept. It was never about family. The discipline – these kids know very well about discipline – about being in trouble. They do not know the other side of discipline – about learning new skills so re-educating them – what does it mean to be disciplined in what you do and then excellence – producing outstanding qualities of superior merit and again – the marker for this is individual.

Some of these swimmers and some of the stories I will share with you – it is all about them in making their program fit for them and being successful in and of themselves. So, honor – as we break down the core of our program – they will demonstrate respect for family members, teammates, coaching staff and opponents. They are not allowed to talk rudely on the phone to their parents while I am around. They are not allowed to be disrespectful to their parents – their family members – aunts – uncles – anybody while we are around together swimming or on deck. If that happens there are consequences for that. It can be as simple as 50 pushups or it can be as simple as lets have a conference and we do not talk to your parents this way. A lot of these kids have very hard feeling towards their parents – who may not be around, but the parents are doing the best job they can and they still need to honor the fact that their parents love them deeply. I will not tolerate and we do not tolerate on our team – putting each other down. We don’t have jokes whatsoever because our team – we have 3 year around swimmers. It is now growing a little bit more. Most of our kids come into our program as sophomores learn-to swimmers.

Our first meeting last year – we had 54 kids in a room. I said, if you are coming into this program thinking we are going to play tidily-winks and under water wrestling you need to find someplace else to go and I lost 50% of the team right there on the spot. They immediately walked to the counselor and said, “we don’t want to do this”. We dropped down – over the course of the year – down to 22 swimmers so were a very, very small team, but all of our kids will demonstrate and they do demonstrate these behavior characteristics. Integrity – this was one of the biggest issues because a lot of our kids – we had an issue with cheating coming in – theft – our team was known as a team that went into other people’s lockers and stole things and this was all before I came in. There was no discipline on the team whatsoever. We had a very, very – there was a low opinion of Holmes Swimming. When anybody saw a Holmes swimmer walking in it was – this team is a joke – it is a rollover and lock your stuff down because it is probably going to walk off and that really was the impression of Holmes Swimming for many years and so we had a talk about how do your actions impact the team and yourself?

We had to take the focus off of themselves and start projecting on the team and this was a whole new concept for them because many of these kids are just fighting to help their family survive and they do not want to accept responsibility because they have never had to accept responsibility in many areas before because the previous coach would bail them out. Well, now we are going to turn the tables and totally reprogram them and get them thinking a totally different way and this has been an awesome thing to see. I had one swimmer – a senior – who had never swam before. He came up and he said, “coach, I feel really badly – I went into a locker and I stole somebody else’s shirt”. Really? He said, “coach, I cant get through the day. I knew – I have let the team down”. I said, “well Junior – what needs to be done”? He said, “coach, I don’t know. All I know is my dad would beat me if this happened and my dad is no longer around. He lives in Mexico so you are the only thing that I got as a dad, so I need advice”. I said, well you are going to go and find that coach. You are going to return that shirt. You are going to apologize and then you are going to be suspended for one meet”. “Yes Coach” and since then – the rest of the year – no problem and the other team respected us because he had to go and apologize in person and it was a T-shirt and it was an old ratty T-shirt and the kid didn’t even miss it, but that is not the point. The point is he violated somebody else’s stuff. He didn’t respect him.

He did not behave in a way that is filled with integrity and upholding our team. DISCIPLINE: This is a big one for me. There are a lot of books that I could recommend to read and one is “Making the Corps”. It is a great book – all about the Marine Corps. I love that book. I got it from George Block and again – he is like my personal library and it is a great book about organization and discipline, but the first week of practice we are in team meetings and these kids are coming in cussing and saying combinations of words that I think the paint was peeling off my walls and I said, “Time Out”. We are going to change this real quick. There is no swearing on our program. No off-color jokes. It is not happening and I said, “the rule is, if you would not say it in front of my wife or daughter or my son – you will not say it at all and I said – if you do say it – it is 50 pushups on the spot. If you say anything else like but or the or Coach – I add another 10 to 15. I mean – we can go up. I can keep counting up until you drop and give me 50.” – which is great because we play water polo in the spring and you know that is a game of controlling – self-control and the point of this and is part of discipline is not – please do not focus on the fact that I am punishing them and they can do 50 pushups – they have to have control of themselves. They have to exercise self-control in these little areas in order to control themselves in larger things when they are really going to be faced with larger challenges and so what we started off with – I said – okay – at least lets show that you have some intelligence on this. You name off Presidents – every time you feel like swearing you have got to say a President and they are like, Coach – are you serious? I said yes so the minor swear words were assigned George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams. So if it was a low level swear work I had a kid go George Washington and that was good. The mother of all was Richard Nixon so if a kid said Richard Nixon he was really mad. I don’t know why – that is what the team came up with. They just started saying Richard Nixon. It doesn’t …… oh my political beliefs – not going to – that was them, but after two weeks of doing that and saying the Presidents of the United States – we didn’t have a problem with swearing – none whatsoever – even when in water polo when they were being pulled and pushed and made fun of – they never lost their composure and that came from other coachers and the referees that came up and said – your team has never lost composure and that is because we discipline ourselves on the very small things.

#2) For some of you it might not be a big issue about being on time to practices, meetings and swim meets, but there is something in San Antonio known as Van Slooten Time and San Antonio Time. San Antonio Time is like 15 minutes after Van Slooten time so if I say practice starts at 6 – San Antonio time is 6:15 so I had to reprogram everybody to get back onto Van Slooten time. We get in the water at 6 – we start at 6 – we don’t go and you do not saunter in at 6:15. The kids – one of the goals they outlined every year is gaining respect and they realize that it cannot be just given – they have to earn it so we – I make them dress up for every meet and I am very specific – especially with our freshmen and our newbie’s – that means for gentlemen you wear socks, a belt and skivvies because if you don’t say those three things they wont wear them and so you got pants sagging and they look like a bunch of ragamuffins. If they do not dress up it is very simple – it is dismissal from the meet. Three dismissals from a meet will result in suspension from the team so we have had to do this and it hurts our team when we have to suspend a swimmer because we only had 22 total – that is males and females on the team so you take out one – I have just lost a relay and I will tell you we did not lose a dual meet last year – we are the smallest team in the district. We won every single dual meet because we had the discipline in all that we did – technically in the water and on the land.

EXCELLENCE: And again – if we do the honor, integrity and discipline – excellence falls in place and it is not just winning in the swimming pool, it is winning in life. Excellence in the classroom and this is what we were talking about – about being disciplined in the classroom and in the pool. A lot of questions came up when I took over this program the question was, Coach – I am the new swim captain – I just wanted to introduce myself and I had to pull the swimmer aside – I said, I am very honored to meet you, but I do not have Captains and she said, what? What do you mean we don’t have Captains – I am elected Captain and I said I am sorry – I don’t do Captains. Captains can hurt your program and they can greatly help your problem and just recently I came up with a way that I really feel confident that in selecting a Captain works for me because Captains – normally when we elect a Captain or teams elect Captains it is based on popularity or speed or some type of social function and a lot of times some of those kids do not want to be Captains. They do not want the added responsibility of being a Captain or they don’t have the leadership responsibility to do it. They do not know how to lead and so I have put in place a way of structuring that leadership. How do you lead effectively and so all swimmers start out as pups and we did this all on a Husky theme, but they are pups and so it doesn’t matter if you are a junior – you walk into my program for the first year you are a pup – a senior – you are a pup and they need to understand what it means to be a Husky. They learn the history of our program.

They understand what it means to walk like a swimmer and a Husky swimmer with your head held high – how we conduct ourselves – how we treat our bodies nutritionally – sleeping patterns. You know – we go over all of this – the basic nuts and bolts of the program – again – to get everybody in the same boat – sitting down – rowing in the same direction – and this is kind of what we are talking about – equipment need – a lot of our kids have – you know – they come in the first time with their swim caps on and they are on sideways and you see the Husky right in the front and they have got their board shorts on and they are sagging half way down and before we even get in the water we have already covered what it means to be a Husky. How do you look? How do you conduct yourself on the school bus when we are traveling from the bus to the pool to swim meets? How do you conduct yourself at a swim meet? We will never leave a place – that is – we always want to leave the place where we have been in better condition than when we arrived. We treat the other teams with respect. Our attendance – what does that mean? How do you show up on time? What is Van Slooten time as opposed to San Antonio time? What are our traditions as a team? We go over all of this very extensively and everybody has got to go through this every year as a refresher. Level II is called Togo and this can be – you know – a freshman and the newbie swimmers are in the pup stage – then it starts to get a little bit more freedom.

Some kids are going to move up the ladder a little bit faster. They may be with me – you know – for the second year and some of them may still be pups because they haven’t figured out the dress codes and how we behave and how we compete and others have caught on and they move on and they are to Level II Togo and this is where they are going to start to practice – understanding team work – their role on the team – how to speak for the team – I learned this from Dean Smith at North Carolina – you know – having his players go and take public speaking classes and my kids need to do that because we get in the press – we do a lot of things to get our name out there and to change the perception of Holmes Swimming and it is not all me talking to the press. We have the kids get up there and talk to the press and they need to be articulate. They can’t be using slang terms and fumbling around. When we have our PEP assemblies and the swim team is introduced – the seniors or a senior will get up and introduce the team and they have to have it written out – it has to be approved by me because I do not want him or her to make up a name for a teammate – a nickname or say something that is now going to brand that child throughout their whole high school career so they are very – I do control what they are going to say and I am very careful on what they are going to say – how they are going to represent the team. Once they have made it through Level II – Level III is Balto – again – these are from Iditarod race dogs – Huskies – famous Huskies and we even have some kids that have named their new puppies Balto and Togo so they have really bought into this idea of the Husky way, but this is being a servant leader. We really focus on how do you be a servant leader – the warped perception of I am the Captain so you do everything for me.

I am the Captain so all freshmen have to go and refill my water bottles or take care of my stuff or put my stuff away – that doesn’t exist on our team. When you get to this level you are servicing others. You are helping others and so I take the time to teach these kids – you open the door for others. You open the door for ladies and they look at me like I am insane and I said, no and if some of you hold the door open until – if there is someone within 10 feet of the door – you hold the door open for them. They had never thought of that. How do you deal with – when you go to a prom? Do you ask two girls out to prom? No – you don’t, okay? You ask one and if you do not want to go to the prom with her – you asked her first – you go with her and I had one swimmer – he asked – he asked one and they got in a fight and he asked another one so he had two dates for the prom and he said Coach – I really screwed up and I said yeah, you did. You really screwed up because you are taking both. Coach – I said – you had better not say you can’t because you are. You made it. You deal with it and he took both. I said – did you learn anything from that and he said, I will never do that again. That was not fun because one was mad at me and the other one just wanted to dance and I wasn’t having a good time because the other one was miserable and it was not fun, but we learn. They have got to learn about being community oriented.

We do not do fund raisers for our team. We have – the budget we get – we are not given anything from the school. We can do fun raisers. I do not want to have the students do that. I think that they have enough on their plates with family responsibilities, but the bigger issue is I want them to think about the community so at the beginning of every year we list community – opportunities to be involved in the community. Last year was about men and women who are serving in our armed forces so last year they sold t-shirts with all the proceeds going to the War and Family Support Center so that is Holmes Swimming and Diving with a yellow ribbon and then American Atlanta – the free because of the brave – all proceeds went to this organization. They raised nearly a thousand dollars. They learned about the Warrior and Family Support Center. They learned the sacrifices that our men and women are making to protect our country and effects of war on them and it was a great sense of accomplishment to raise a thousand dollars – not for them, but for somebody else. This year, we are doing two Community Service Outreach Programs – one is a canned food drive for the first semester to our Community Foot Bank is running low in San Antonio so we are going to do a food drive and then the other one is Habitat for Humanity and this is what the team voted on – we will get team shirts made up, but they are becoming active members in the community so I contact the press – they get in the press – they love it because the kids have come up to me and said, Coach – Holmes has never been in the paper for anything positive – it is always about drive by shootings and gangs and drugs and drug busts – never for anything positive and this is the first year Holmes was in the Newspaper for doing something good for our community so how does that make you feel? Like this is awesome – this is great and they are learning to serve other people and representing our team well so when they go out in the community they are going to think of others and so that is the goal of leadership and so when we have Captains for every season you are with me playing water polo is a season – swimming is a season. If you swim with me in the summer that would be 3 seasons – you get a vote for each one of those so freshmen could have 3 votes by the end of their freshmen year and so when we have an election each one of those people will have a different amount of electoral votes and they can cast them for those candidates and how they choose to so we are not dealing with just the upper classmen that get to vote, but it is all the kids that get to vote in this program and have a say in how this program – the direction it is going to go.

This has been – at the end of last year – as I mentioned at the beginning – I came from a community and a private school in Charlottesville, Virginia where parental involvement was very high and was very easy to get parents involved. All I had to do was say we are going to have a parent meeting – all of them would show up. They would bring food and so I brought that same mindset down in San Antonio and I said we are going to have a team meeting and I had – you know – a third of the parents there and I never saw the other 2/3’s. The problem with that was that the 1/3 of those families – they had to bear the brunt and the weight of timers and food for our meets and all the other things that occur with our swim team so this year I sat down with George and I said George, this is one of my goals – getting parents involved – what do you suggest I do? He said, well – you may not like this idea, but you need to meet with every single parent. You need to remember that these parents – many of these parents have had a very bad taste of school and of education. The last place they want to go is back to the school. They do not want to go there, okay? So, I changed the venue – put it to the pool – it is the activity center right next to our pool and then I wrote a letter in summer to all swimmers telling them their responsibilities and telling them about our parent meeting and I gave them another letter two weeks before our parent meeting and I said, “Your attendance is mandatory parents – if you do not show up to this meeting, your child will not participate in a swim meet and it is amazing of how many parents showed up – 99% attendance. One parent did not show up – they came to me the next day because their son couldn’t be there because she doesn’t speak any English so her son had to interpret for me what we are all about – the program so we had 100% attendance. I met with the parents – again – getting them in the boat – sitting down and rowing in the same direction – they are all on board with me now.

They had a lot of questions – especially on a limited income. You know – other than learning about our program, but costs – what do they need? Swim suits. How much are they going to cost? And you say $30. – to some – that is nothing – to others – its like – I cannot afford it and so we have an agreement that if you are on free and reduced lunch you bring the Foreman to me under Title I – you can pay $5.00 or what not and that is by school – our school says that. I take it a step further – I do not believe in giving handouts. I think we do a great disservice to our kids when we just give them free handouts – especially our low-income kids – to think that somebody is going to constantly give them something for free so – I said – that is fine – if you can afford $5 we will put you on a payment plan so they bring in $5. and I said in the meantime you are going to work off the rest of that debt and I will keep a tally sheet and I pay X-amount, but for two months you are going to put away equipment – take equipment out – you are going to help set up for the swim meets – do whatever needs to be done on that other time so that you can pay off your debt. You know – it is amazing that after a week of doing that – the kids magically find the money. Somehow that money comes up. Maybe they are not buying as much candy as they used to or they are doing whatever it is, but they magically find the money and the parents – all of them – I said – don’t give anything away for free – all of them – I thank you – thank you coach.

Make my kid work for it – every single parent said “Thank-you” so we make them work for it and it is a great benefit because we have very few lost items. Shirts do not get lost – caps and goggles have not been lost – because they paid for it and they know exactly where they put it. They put their name on it and probably two or three different places throughout the shirt and their suit because they know – if they lose it they will get another one, but they are going to have to work off the entire amount. COLLEGE PREP: This is a new goal for us this year. When I took over the program my wife was 36 weeks pregnant so I didn’t have a lot of time to really dive into the whole vesture of the program and to find out that everything was what I needed to do so I am moving half way across the country with a 36 week pregnant wife and a 2 year old has its challenges and my commitment is to them first so this year I took the time – I took all of last year to look at college prep and ACT SAT classes. As I noted before – many of our students – we have one out of every three students that enter into Holmes High Schools Graduates. Many of these kids do not know where the counselor’s office is.

They do not know what a transcript is. ACT – SAT they have no clue and our counselors – as much hard work as they do and I admire them for their work – they have the impression that these kids are low income kids and the best they can do is you know – Junior College and there is nothing wrong with Junior College whatsoever – I am not slighting that, but a lot of these kids never get out of San Antonio because they are never expected to get out of San Antonio. They are not expected to go and travel. Those worlds are not open to them so this year we are doing college prep courses. Two of them this year talking about ACT SAT prep grades – getting transcripts. We walked them through the college prep and admissions process to get them going so they are not looking at – you know – the day before graduation and they have no idea where they want to go so we start this out with sophomores and juniors – many of my seniors came up and said Coach, can I go to the meeting since I don’t even know what this test is. YES – you need to be at that meeting. Their parents come to the meeting and so we are putting all this in place and again – to help them pass swimming, but to be participating citizens in our society. The tough decisions in our program – Character versus Resume: And this one was very hard for me. My decision after a week of interviews in San Antonio – I can stay at the Covenant School in Charlottesville, Virginia – I can go to Holmes High School which has no talent or didn’t at that time – now has talent or go to Churchill High School which has a great outstanding reputation for swimming and George Block pulled me aside and I said I just don’t know how to make this decision and this is a big decision. He said you are right. Not only do you have to make the decision on where to go, but you have a wife who is pregnant and you guys are not going to know anybody in San Antonio really – you are leaving your family – your comfort zone- everything and I said, thanks George – that was helpful – no pressure there and he said Chris – what do you want to do? I know you want to coach. Do you want to build character or do you want to build your resume? If you want to build your resume on a fast track go to Churchill and no hard feelings, but you will be on a fast track and you can build your resume in a heartbeat. You know – they have ten All Americans returning.

It was – that was one choice he said, or you can build character and the process to success is going to take a lot longer so I had some time to really think about that and weigh it and I went home and spoke to my wife and she said, I already know where you are going and I said where? And she said you are going to go to Holmes because you love those kids and you want a challenge. You love a challenge and I said yeah, that is where I am going and she said – alright – lets go and that was hard. Again, 36 weeks pregnant. Pressure hose – not attractive and she had to wear those in July – all the way down to Texas and she has been my greatest supporter. It is a lot she has to give up in order for me to fill my dreams as well. Then also – the tough decisions on discipline. Some of these kids make really bad decisions because – and their parents set them up for bad decisions. I had one swimmer that said Coach, I need to leave this meet early. Well, why is that? It is a family emergency – a family emergency. Well, is everything okay? Do you need help? Well – no – my dad is a D.J. and he wants me to help him. Son – that is not a family emergency – that is a job. Your dad can do that and he said, well – my dad just told me to tell you that it was an emergency. He told me to lie to you because he didn’t want me to get in trouble – like – your dad just set you up for failure because now you lied to me – now you broke honor and integrity in our program. You showed a lack of discipline and you have really put our program in jeopardy because we only have 11 guys and he looked at me and he knew exactly what was coming. I said, Thomas, you are suspended for three meets and if you are late for a practice we will have a meeting with your parents and you will be suspended from the team and he never missed another practice.

He never was late. He was always early and he has turned his life around. Even as painful as it is to tell the truth sometimes – he is exhibiting honor and integrity and discipline and excellence in what he does and I admire him for that, but these decisions – how are you going to handle this discipline? How are you going to do it to build the team and not deteriorate and break down the team? You want to win, yet is winning more important than building the character of the team? These are huge decisions that you have to make – especially as you are on that track to coach and you love to coach and we are all here because we love to coach. The decisions we make may bring us the quick fix to success, but what are we teaching that child? What are we doing to the program in the long haul? The Feeder Programs: This is something new. We started last year. George finally got me in position to do this. We have a grant under Title I to go into one of our feeder schools – our middle schools and have an 8th grade PE class and I teach that – it would be my 8th period. In second semester we switch all my afternoon practices to the morning and then I have 8th graders in the afternoon and it is building that relationship with the kids. Last year we had 14 kids come out. It really was – it took a lot of time with bussing and schedules and everything else we had to balance, but we are starting the feeder program at the middle school and we are starting it – also building it into the summer programs as well as I have been involved in building a summer program with learn-to-swim and Swim America.

So, the KEY POINTS: Think big. I had a great idea going at a parent meeting. I said, this is a hair brain idea – I just thought of this, but lets have an alumni meet and the parents are like what? I said – alumni meet – swim meet. The school was founded in 1965. There are a ton of alumni. These kids need to feel that they are a part of something big so lets have an alumni meet and I had a parent come up and said, I will research all the alumni from Holmes Swimming from 1965 onward and we can put this meet together. It may not be until the spring, but let’s do it. I said okay – well here is another idea. How about we will get shirts and they can be kind of like a – based on donation to help the program out and they are like – excellent idea. Let’s go for it. I had somebody else come up and said I would like to write a grant for your team under the Tiger Woods Foundation and lets get a grant – lets get some money to help your program out. I like where the program is going. I like what you stand for. I see the difference in these kids and so I want to get you guys some money because you do not go panhandling and you don’t go selling and doing all that sort of stuff and so our program – it is just amazing because the parents right now are not afraid. Our last parent meeting we had this year – we had all the parents there. I had a parent that stood up and said, “I just want all of you to know – I am the one that is not afraid to voice my opinion and parents – there are four of us in this room that did all the work last year and that has got to stop. We are all parents. You have got to support your kids.

Stop hiding behind that veil of doubt and being scared and step up to the plate. We will teach you how to do it – so let’s just go” and I was like – Okay – thank you for saying that – that is exactly what I wanted to say, but maybe not as rough, but okay good and it was great and the parents started signing up. I had a parent that I never thought would ask to be our booster rep – never saw her at a swim meet. She decided to – you know what? I am on board with what you are saying this year. I want to be your booster rep. I said, you understand – it is a little bit more work? She said, yeah. It is about time I do something in my son’s life – amen to that. DEVELOP THE PERSON: And that is what this whole program is about. It is about developing the person. The swimming is going to come and it has come. We average 80% best times in our meets and they have gained the respect of the teams around them because of how they behave and they train so we are developing the person and then maintaining balance and discipline. This is more for me and the coaches – balance between my family – my wife and teaching and coaching – make sure that my wife and my kids know that they are the #1 priority in my life. It is not about swimming. They need to know about balance. My wife brings our kids to every swim meet and it is a great thing. My daughter gets her little Husky stuff on and she is out there cheering and it is such a great thing to see and they are part of that with me and then discipline. I have to be disciplined in carving out my time – the weekends when we don’t have meets – that is family time.

It is not about doing practices and doing everything else – that is family time so it is about being diligent and being disciplined in my life because I have to exhibit that to these kids. I received a thank you letter from one of my seniors telling me that – you know – his dad left when he was 3 years old. He doesn’t ever talk to his dad and I am the only father figure he has. That made last season. Yeah, it was great going from the last place in the District for 5 years to go into 7th in the District. That was awesome. It was awesome going from you know – having 8 regional qualifiers – that was great, but it was awesome to know that a kid thought of me as his father and look at me as a role model to help him and that I was instrumental in his life – hat was the big deal for me. Some things that I would suggest to read besides making the core – John Wooden on Leadership – excellent book when it comes to the power pyramid and we are working through that right now with the team.

I went into the lockers of all the swimmers and posted this pyramid – posted the time standards – all the way up to All American Time Standards in everyone of their lockers and we are working through the base level of John Wooden’s Power Pyramid. The new book by Steve Forbes and John Previs – “Power, Ambition and Glory”. They look at 6 classical leaders from Caesar to Augustus to Hannibal and John Previs is a classical historian and Steve Forbes being an economist – businessman – they look at these six leaders and what are the lessons we can learn about leadership from these six men and how do we apply them? Just some great things I reflected a lot on you know – Hannibal and some things that I have in common and some things I have in common with Caesar and the ego factor and it is really humbling and I was reading in the book about the Romans – after they conquered and these generals were riding back in – they would always have a slave next to them whispering in their ear as they are getting all the praise and adulation – you are just a man – you are just a man – you are just a man – you are just a man – you are not a God and you know – after reading it I was like – I need to remind myself I am just a man. I make mistakes – I am just a man. I learn – I am just a man. All this success is great, but I am just a man because I do not want any of that to go to my head or my athlete’s heads. Any questions? Yes? Q.) I have about 10. OK. Well, first I wanted to ask – you said that you do not do fund raising, but you also are on and you are part of Title I which I am not quite sure what that is, but yeah – how is your team about this? Title I – basically we get funds for being economically disadvantaged in a population where 50% of your population being on free and reduced lunch so we are open up to a lot of money from the Federal Government to help which is a good thing.

We sustain ourselves by the parents have to pay for the kid’s ???????? We put it on installment plans if they cannot pay for a suit then they put it on a lay-away program with our bookkeeper for Quad A who does both the high school and the Quad A stuff. This year the kids want warm-ups and we said it in the parent meeting and the parents said okay. You know – and it was great because some of the parents came up to me and said if we have got to pay for other kids we will donate the money. Those other kids will still have to work it off. It is not going to be handed to them free, but we will get that taken care of because we do not want our team to go without – nobody on our team to go without so we take our time and the money comes. I did this at the Covenant School. We had the same philosophy and a parent came to me and said I love what you are doing with the program. As an anonymous donor and donated 35 Under Armor Swim Bags that had Covenant Swimming and Diving on it and had each one of their names on it. It was just an anonymous donation because they liked what the program is and my philosophy is that if you build a superior program – a superior product – people are going to come and want to be part of that because what you are doing in these kids lives so I do not worry about the fund raising because it will take care of itself. Q.) And so the funding from Title I actually goes to being able to pay you – A. I am paid from the School District. I should tell you what that is all about. We are – NISD – North side Independent School District – we have 90,000 students in our District.

There are 10 high schools. They are going to be opening up #11 so we are all under that banner. They have two athletic complexes and two 50 meter pools and we rotate you know – four teams can practice at a time – short course there. Swimming is my first period of the day and my last period of the day so it is part of my contract for teaching. Q.) It goes into their school day – they do not have like 5:45 or after school? A.) No – we have 6 o’clock practice in the morning because of juggling a time so this year I have 6 o’clock practice – 6-8 because we have four 2 hour practices each day. Next year I will go back to 7:30 to 9 o’clock practice or I may go from 7 to 9 so I can get my two hours in. So that is how I do it so I am paid – I am an employee of the School District itself and that is where the swim funds come from to pay me. Q.) And is that possible for your fulltime job or do you also do something else? A.) We are working on it. Derek knows that I want to be out of the classroom – not that I don’t love the classroom and love teaching, but I love teaching in the aquatics position a lot better and so that is why I took the position down in North Side so perfect situation – which we are working on is for me to coach year around which I am doing right now with Quad A – it is my first year – working into doing that and so I can still coach the high school team which I still should be able to do that and make the same amount that I am making now.

We have to tweak and make the position fit. I could be the safety coordinator for the pool. I mean – those things we make it fit so I am just going to be doing that. United States History – 11th grade. I taught freshmen my first year and that was interesting. Many of them thought that Texas was in Europe and that was difficult to get them to think – you know – we are not in Europe, but we had attrition rate and by the time they are juniors a lot of the kids have dropped out – unfortunately – but that United States History course – they have to pass in order to graduate and so I have got teeth – if they do not do the work they don’t graduate – that is their issue so that is what I teach now. Yes sir? Q.) Ever had any kids that were cut from the team one year coming back? A.) I don’t cut. No they left – once we go through it and it is that first week. That is why I stay out of the water for the first week so that when we outline the program – where we are going – if they want to switch out – they switch out. This year we lost three kids to that, but we gained five so we are up to 35 kids. Last year we were done – we were down to 22 – now this year we are up to 35 because they want to be part of this program and a lot of them are juniors and they are like – I played all these other sports. I don’t like where this program is going.

I want to be where you are going because I see what your athletes do. A clear present signal of that – just to give you an example – one of my seniors last year said to me, “Coach – you know that when I was in my Junior year I only completed 4 practices? Really – four? And how did that work? Oh pretty good – I was a 1:12 hundred flyer. Well alright – what did you go this year? A minute point. So, which program works better for you? But he was in his art class and he was screwing around and I said to his art teacher – how is he doing? He said, he just won’t sit still. He is done with his art project. He is being just really disruptive so I brought him out in the hallway and talked to him and he said – that is true – I am being rude. I said, okay – give me 50 pushups and then you are going to go inside, apologize to the teacher and then you are going to clean that room – Yes Sir and that was it. But no kids have chosen to walk away. As a matter of fact – we are gaining kids because of the discipline. They crave that discipline and that attitude of “You are expected to do better than the floor” and I dare say that a swim program is the only program – one of the few programs – the volleyball program in our school is very solid, but we expect more of our athletes. The floor is not the ceiling in our program and that is really the attitude in a lot of our other programs and kids are flocking to us for that.

Yes sir? Q.) So you don’t have a try out? A.) No – not right now. I am slowly bringing that in and that is why I had to gauge very carefully – last year I said to George – I said – try out – you know – we just had a child and we moved to San Antonio and two weeks later our son was born. I said – timing here is bad. He said, just ask the kids if they know what a 200 IM is. If they know what a 200 IM is and they can identify the proper order of the four strokes let them practice in the morning and so I did and it actually worked really well. This year we had spring try-outs and it was getting them accustomed to a standard. Ten 50’s kick on the minute. Running a mile under 10 minutes. I mean – just pushup holds – sit-up holds – how many pushups and sit-ups can you do in a certain amount of time and that – I had one in the spring and I am having another one in the fall so if they didn’t make that – we call Bar C status and all that really means is you are not swimming for points. You may still be practicing in the morning because of your scheduling issues, but you are not swimming for points. They will be able to redo that next week and a lot of the kids trained all summer. We had some kids that had never been out for swimming and came to tryouts and worked all summer long. I had one girl – her name is Sidney – who came out for swimming and her stroke count for a 25 was 23 last year, okay? So, a lot of kids I get have never – I am teaching them how to swim. They have never had a swim lesson before so I had to teach her to put her face in the water and all that. This year she got out – it was after two days of practice and I said – Sidney – have you been working out a little bit this summer and she said yeah Coach. I said, what was your stroke count on those four 25’s and she said 16 and I am like yeah – that is awesome – that is that victory. Another girl has a rod in her back and her previous coach said that you know – you are never going to be a swimmer and never spent any time with her whatsoever and I had to put her in a medley relay for our District Meet and she was the anchor that brought it home and got us to – you know – to come back for finals because she was finally – you know – I treated her with respect and she knew she was an important part of the team and so I don’t cut. I have tryouts, but it is a slow process building in because I have got to get them to think different and not be scared.

Q.) Do you conduct practice outside the high school season? A.) We have water polo – we have it all year long, okay? So, swimming is the aquatics course is a regular course all day long. So what we do is – how they conduct themselves in swimming will determine either if they ride the bench in water polo so I am looking at their character which also determines do I hire them for a summer position so I look at how they are progressing in their character. Some of the kids are great water polo players and they sit on the bench for 5 games because they did not get it during swim season so we do 3,000 yards still – before we do anything with water polo – we do 3,000 yards of training to keep in shape and then I encourage them in the summer to continue to swim and that goes like this in many of them until the first practice and then they realize I should have trained because now I am really sore so we are changing the culture, but it can’t be fast.

Q.) Do they take bad habits from home or……………….. A.) I have not just because I take my philosophy – what I am going to do in swimming I am going to put it in water polo and vice versa so I make sure that those habits – we do technique in the beginning – same …….. I just take my plan and I shift it so I am going to do it for 3,000 yards. Water polo gives them the break and they love it. It is a great diversion for them. Yes sir?

Q.) Do you do anything with a……….? A.) Right now – I have just started this year with North side Independent School District and under George you have to coach one year in the high school before you can be considered to go to Quad A – that is so you can adjust – I am sorry – Elmo area aquatics – which is the year around club program and so this year I made a decision that I want to be part of that. It is time for me to get involved more in swimming and my wife said it is good planning because you need to do it now before our next child is born – I don’t want you doing this and starting this schedule off of 14 hour days with an infant, a 3 year old and a 1 year old and I am like – gotcha ya so now I am coaching with a Quad A – the 14 and under group. The rules with UIL which is the governing body of Texas is very careful – that is that contact time so I cannot – anybody who lives in the zip code of Holmes High School – I cannot coach in that 14 and under age group A group. If I do that can be seen as recruiting and everything else and I violate the rules so we are very, very careful on where we put those kids and who I can work with so now I am doing that. We have had some home schoolers who moved into our program which has been great for us. You know – 1:49 200 freestyler that loves – hey I love where your program is going and the parents have always home schooled and he wants to be right there with you and I was like great – we will take him, but he is a club swimmer and the club swimmers have had to reprogram because last year or the years before I came it was all about them. They had to get the points and they finally realized – everybody else is doing the work and they are getting the points and it is not all on us as year around swimmers which there were only three of them at that time. So, it has been great. Anything else? Yes sir?

Q.) You said ethnically diverse – what was the breakdown again? A.) We are about 48-50% Hispanic, about 20% evenly divided between black and white and then we have some Indian – Native American mix and some Asian mix that makes up the last 5-6%.

Q.) Do you have any issues between the cultures – racial issues that come up? A.) No and that was a big issue with Holmes and why it kind of took a nosedive. That was the school to go to. It was on the suburb of San Antonio at the time and so Holmes in 1965 up to Hurricane Katrina – was the school to go to and they brought in the refugees from Hurricane Katrina – most of them went to Holmes High School and they – a lot of the gangs from New Orleans came into that school and the Hispanic culture rose up and that is where you had a lot of Hispanic gangs that really formed at that time and we had an administration that looked at all these kids as low income – never going to achieve – don’t give them any attention so with a new administration they came and cleaned house with all the other administrations and got rid of a lot of the counselors – just really – in cleaning house with teachers who have that attitude that these kids cannot achieve and turning it around and so the tension between the races now is really not there. Many of my kids did not even realize that I was white until I told them. They were like – what does that mean? I am from the mid-West and when I talk in Spanish you know I am from the mid-West and they are like oh – we just thought you talked funny. They just didn’t – it doesn’t mean anything because the idea of family is so huge down there and it is a great atmosphere to coach in, but it is bringing everybody along into a higher standard now, but we have not had any issues. A lot of the basketball players and football players want to join the swim team, but they are getting a lot of repercussions from their coaches – a lot. I mean – harassing them, making fun of them and so we deal with it and when they want to come out – they had to finish that year with the football or basketball program and then they will come out, but when they join our team they are part of the team from Day I. There is no making fun of – it is all help and support those kids. Yes?

Q.) I am on my 3rd question out of 10 – A lot of these people you said you played a fairly strong father figure and there is also a pretty predominant male population in the coaching industry – the type of thing that you are talking about is something that I see myself doing, but looking at that situation do you think it is easier to be effective as a man or do you think it is more based on what you have done? A.) Both – actually, it is more of what you have done, but do not limit that. I came from Charlottesville where it was all about – it was very presumptuous and what you do and all the initials behind you is what you are going to get hired based on and that is the criteria and not how effective you are with those kids, but having a plan. Having that vision for the program #1 – getting everybody in the same boat – sitting down and rowing in the same direction – whether you are male or female doesn’t matter if you can effectively communicate that plan the parents are going to sit along and go with you. The other smart thing that I did though – we cannot pay for any assistant coaches. I do not have a budget for that. Our school does not have a budget for that – unless you are football or basketball and which you know – Texas football is King, but I have had some coaches that have – I had a woman that came up to me and she said I want to get into high school coaching and I would like to volunteer all my time and she is right now in her second season of volunteering for me which has helped on the female side so I can have that – you know – build those relationships with the girls team because they have different needs as well and so there is a balance so you are the lead – if you need a male assistant coach – bring in a male assistant coach, but know that you are the lead because it is your program and get everybody on board. If you can get everybody on board – whether it is male or female – it doesn’t matter – just get them on board –

Q.)Yeah – it is the getting on board part that you wonder how much it is affected by others – A.) But I think you can do it if it is a clear plan and you are putting that program down in a clear way that is fair to those kids and those parents – they will get on board because they know that you care about them.

Q.) What do you think of Texas? A). HOT – I am originally from Michigan and then we moved to Virginia and now we go to – it is flat and no mountains – no seasons. You know – love it because I love the culture. I am excited for my kids to grow up and it is such a diverse culture. I love the food – no greater food on earth – in my opinion. Our son loves Hispanic food. He loves beans and rice and he loves ……………… beans. He loves those things, but we also love our own space. We have a house in Virginia which is being rented out. It was on a third of an acre – 200 yards from the lake. No thumping bases from cars. Heard crickets – saw deer – it was wonderful and now if I sneeze – my neighbor hands me a handkerchief through the window and says, God Bless you. That is hard for all of us to get used to. When our house sells maybe we will move out a little bit further and my wife also knows that hey – coaching could take you – you know – to South Dakota – it can take you back to Virginia. My home is where the family is and that goes back to what I said in the beginning – the vision of my wife and I going in the same path . It doesn’t matter where we have our physical home as long as we are together so. We can see a lot of the country. It is kind of like my military tour of duty – I love it. Thank you very much. Please contact me if you want any of this stuff – if you want a packet – if you want to pick my brain – if you have any suggestions – do not hesitate – please email or call me – I would love to hear from you. Thank you – You are welcome.

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