Normally I spend a lot of time on weekend things, teaching and doing a little bit of team building. In this particular case the coach set me up with a little less time than I normally have. I thought I really need more than this. Whenever I leave I really feel good about all the things that we did. But my greatest frustration is all the things that we didn’t get to. We could work all day long everyday for months and months and not cover everything there is to cover.
We had a little less time than normal. I said, ‘coach I really need some more time.’ His name is Tom Johnson, who has been a Canadian Olympic coach five times now and is a great Olympic coach. Tom said to me that if I am bringing you in, this is not going to be a one-time thing, and I am not really worried about it. So I said ‘Great.’ We can relax and do some things. Naturally he is going to work me harder in these few days than anybody does. But I was really interested in that from the start because I learned and affirmed over and over again what his commitment to excellence was. He has this attitude, this is where we are going, now let’s find a way to get there. He is employing every resource that he can.
This will be a little foreign to some of you coaching age group teams, but he coaches an age group team as well as a college team. They employ a bunch of us. He comes in and he uses a chiropractor, massage therapist, biomechanist, psychologist, and I don’t know who else. There is always somebody coming in and helping him out, he is drawing on the resources, and is increasing all the time.
So he came in and I worked with this team. I sat them down and the first thing that I always say to a team is I ask them if any of them like to win when they race? Except for rare occasions all of them say yes. Once in awhile I get somebody who has some fears that isn’t afraid to admit it. I stop right then and if it takes us an hour or two, we get to a place where we’re getting this person to admit that he would rather win when he races. Then I ask them if they would like to swim fast or prefer to swim fast? All of them always let me know that that is what they prefer to do. Then I ask if they would like to have fun when they swim or if they would like it to be more enjoyable than it is? I inevitably get a confirmation that is what they like to do. Then I always tell them that is all that we do.
I think that is what sports psychology is about in terms of swimming, because I have to have some direction. I have to be directed at something. What behaviors I am directed at are swimming fast, winning and enjoying it more. I took this team and invited them, for our time together, let’s play this way. I asked them to agree to certain policies. I invited them to agree, just for time that we are in the room, that we were going to respect each other and accept everyone’s right to be there and everyone’s right to make a contribution. We were going to encourage each other. We were going to value what we were doing in that room. We were going to challenge each other, and I encouraged them to challenge me and to get more out of our time together than anybody has ever done with me and to make me work.
I suggested to them that they might consider doing that all the time with this team, but at least for right now, while we are in the room, that is the way I would like for them to treat each other. We got them to agree to do that. I put out to them, what I like for you to do is not to give anybody any grief. We have what is called a ‘No Grief Policy’. Not even good-natured grief, because good-natured grief is an oxymoron. There is no such thing a good-natured grief. Grief is never good-natured. It may sometimes be humorous and it may be sometimes be put out affectionately, but it is always at the expense of someone, and it hurts. It interferes with what we are doing.
I asked them, just for our time together, that we act as if, pretend if necessary, we really value what we are doing and we take care of our time together. We realize that we all had some common goals – we all wanted to swim faster, we all wanted to win, and we all wanted to enjoy it more. Then I insisted, because this is always mandatory, that we had fun, that we make whatever we do fun. I tell them what I always tell everyone -that some people will tell you not to do something unless it is fun. I don’t believe that. I think that there are good reasons for doing things, even if they are not fun.
I hold very dear to my heart the philosophy that if you can do anything, you might as well make it fun. I insist that when we do it together that we make it fun. I am pretty good at that and if you have any trouble, I will be glad to help them.
Then I came to the ultimate truth, and I always have to throw out the ultimate truth. I think that there are very few ultimate truths in the world, but I am totally convinced that one of them is that the responsibility is mine. I know that the responsibility is mine. I know when I work with a team, if it is going to work for anyone there and for everyone there that it is each of our responsibilities to see that that happens. That is the truth with anything. As long as we are getting onto ultimate truths, I might as well throw out other ultimate truths and I don’t know too many of them. I always have to throw the one out which is that ‘Opportunity is always limited.’ It is there and then it is gone. You can’t ever get it back. Any of you ever run makeup practices? There is no such thing as a makeup practice. You can’t makeup practice. You miss the opportunity, it is gone. When you miss the opportunity, you miss many, many, many, many more opportunities. Because if you miss one practice and I assume most of you plan and there is some flow to your practices. When a swimmer misses one practice they sort of miss the whole flow and whatever they would have gained in that practice now they don’t bring that to the next practice. Because they don’t bring that to the next practice, they don’t get as much out of the next practice. Because they don’t get as much out of the next one, well then they have less coming to the next one and so on and so on. So I always encourage them to grab that opportunity.
Now I spent all this time talking to you about this because I am talking about setting it up. This is where we started with this team and it gradually evolved and we worked on things. All I play with in these teams is swimming faster, winning and make more fun. We do it by focusing on three things:
Responsibility – The responsibility is mine. . Values . Decisions.
If any of you have got a handle on responsibilities, values and decisions, you’ve got everything. That is what it is all about. We know whose responsibility it is to swim fast, to make swimming fun, to out perform the competition. It is a really nice model when the swimmers really understand that, it is so freeing for the coach. You are free to enjoy your coaching.
I talk to the athletes about the coach being an expert resource person -and that’s all. If the swimmer is smart, the swimmer will utilize that resource and will utilize it better than anyone else. But if all you are is an expert resource person, then you don’t have to swim every race for them. You don’t have to get freaked out when you go to meets. You don’t have to get mad at them when they are not doing it well. All you can do is give them the resources. Ultimately you don’t have any control anyway, ultimately they are going to make the decision. They are going to decide to take what you offer or not to take what you offer. They are going to show up at practice or not show up at practice. They are going to decide to swim well, technically sound or not to. To pay attention to that or not to, to get after it or not to, to give up or not to and on and on and on – Decisions.
I don’t know how to sort out which comes first – the value or the decision, the chicken or the egg. But is all about what values they hold and what values you hold. In my mind it is really easy. The only values that work in competitive swimming are valuing swimming, valuing excellence, valuing challenges, valuing really tough challenges, and valuing the joy of pursuing those challenges-making it fun. The easy thing about that is that they don’t have to do that, all they need to do is decide to do that. It doesn’t matter whether they value swimming or not as long as they decide to passionately value swimming -then it is done. Or at least act as if they do. You don’t even have to, as long as if you act as if you do. It doesn’t matter it is the same.
That is how I teach butterfly. I don’t know about you guys, but especially when I am coaching master swimmers. I love when I get a 64-year old master swimmer and I say ok let’s go 5-200 fly, and he looks at me and says ‘Coach, I don’t know how to swim fly’. It doesn’t matter, we’re going 5-200 fly in this lane, we’ll go maybe 5-200 fly in this lane, we’ll go every other lap fly and every other lap freestyle. You can go just 25 fly and 25 free no more than that. In this lane I will say, ok you can go only half a lap fly and half a lap free no more than that maybe next time. In this lane over here I’ll say I want to take at least 4 strokes fly, I don’t want you to take more than that, 4 on each lap. Then swim the last part free, but you will go the 5-200 fly that way. The guy says I don’t know how to do fly. Well I say, ‘Okay just fake it.’ ‘You can fake four strokes.’ I’ll tell you what, they swim those four strokes fly a heck of a lot better than if I tried to explain to them how to swim fly.
It is the same thing with values, attitudes and with any other psychology, if they fake it, it is okay. It doesn’t matter. It works. All they have to decide to do is value swimming, to decide to value challenges and decide that the tougher the challenge is the better it is and the more fun it is. They need to decide make this quest fun, no matter what. So I invited them the do all that.
It was a such a wonderful group on this particular team. They just lit up with some of the game. I said let’s just act that way now and it is okay if you want to take it to the pool. From there we took it to the pool. From there we took it away from the pool and formalized a lot of things.
I spent a lot of time working with them on attitude, and having a positive attitude. One of the first things I did with them was give them a gift. I told them that everyone is always telling them that they have to have a positive attitude and they never learn anything from that. All they ever learn is that somebody believes that they are doing something that is negative. They have a negative attitude and they must have a more positive one so they know what they are doing wrong, or at least wrong in your eyes or somebody else’s eyes and they don’t know how to do any better. So I figure I will give them a gift and help teach them how to have a positive attitude – which is extremely easy and extremely hard.
It is extremely easy to have a positive attitude. What’s hard is be ing attentive to it all the time. In order to have a positive attitude all you have to do is fake it. All you need to do is act as if, talk as if, and hopefully think as if what you are doing is valuable. Just decide to value what you are doing, and if you value what you are doing then you have a positive attitude. If you are acting like you want to be there and you want to do it, you want to do it well, it is a great opportunity and it is fun – you have a great attitude. If you are talking that way you have a great attitude. I insist that they do that.
Now the hard part is to be consistently attentive. But we know who is responsible for that and we know who is responsible for helping everyone else do that. So we spend a lot of time keeping that going in the program. Those guys just really took to that and had a lot of fun with it. It is just a decision, and if you make the right decision things work really well.
We talked a little bit about commitment. Commitment, is defined by the dictionary, as a vow or a promise. That doesn’t work much for me, I like to think in terms of decisions. To me a commitment is just a big decision to make a lot of little decisions to take goal oriented action. Essentially it is making a decision in advance, as Yogi Bear would say, when you come to the fork in the road take it. But we have decided which fork we are going to take this time. It is the decision when things come up your way, you are going to take the goal-oriented action.
If you are smart, you think about what forks lie ahead, then you make those decisions and you never have to worry about them. We spent a lot of time talking about that and reminding each other. We had a lot of success with that.
I am coming in a few times a year, working with these guys and then talking on the phone with Tom more often. Tom is great. He is always thinking about what is going on. He is looking for every advantage. He has really taken to a game I call jump-start, where you have to jump on the competition. He calls me once in awhile and runs down every swimmer on the team. We talk about what is going on with every swimmer on the team and what we need. We are paying attention to it and you have to. You have to pay attention to what they are doing. You not only have to pay attention to where you want to go, and how you are going to get there in terms of stroke technique and planning out the season and planning out your training. But if you don’t know what is going on behaviorally with these athletes and the kinds of decisions they are making, and what they are valuing or not valuing, then you have lost them. Or you can hope, but you can’t do it.
It is like showing them a stroke film and then hoping that they do it, and not doing any drills, not doing any corrections with them, not giving them any feedback, it just doesn’t work. If you are not paying attention to what their values are, and you are not paying attention to what decisions they are making or failing to make or what is going into that in terms of values or what they are deciding to value, then you may get there but it is chance.
We took the next step and we have been playing with a lot of these policies that have been working really well with the team. Then we decide, and I tell Tom it is time that we write these down and give them to them. Now we have a mission statement and team policies that we give to everybody when they join the team. The mission statement is really simple, because it is the only mission statement any swimming team can have as far as I am concerned.
I don’t know everything; it is just my opinion, but this one I fell really strongly about. There is only one mission statement and there might be some addendums to that, but it is – ‘To provide the pursuit of opportunity for the pursuit of excellence in competitive swimming.’ The one that values excellence, and the one that values swimming. I think that there are some other things that go along with that. We want to make that fun.
I was working with the Canadian National Team the other day and we were talking about our mission there. I ask the national team coach to be explicit with them about their mission again and basically that is what he said. I suggested that maybe we have some other missions here too — to represent Canada, to represent the country. That was the case. That is important. So that when they go over the Commonwealth games they are not doing what some other countries have done in the past like stealing other people’s flags or hanging around with the snowboarders which doesn’t reflect well on their country.
Then we get explicit about our policies, which has something to do with:
Respecting and accepting team mates,
Acknowledge their presence,
Value swimming excellence,
Contribute to the team,
Contribute to the mission,
Support, and encourage, everyone’s actions for excellence,
Challenge everyone to take action for excellence
Compliment and applaud each other, this one really says love, which I think is real important.
We make it a policy to advocate the team and to be an advocate for the team, the staff, teammates and for each swimmer is to be an advocate for himself. I think it is tremendously important to make it fun and appreciate things that everyone does. We have some written guidelines that go along with the policies. One of the written guidelines is -To keep moving toward swimming excellence. It is my feeling that if you are not moving toward swimming excellence, you get in the way and you get walked on. In this particular program right now they do. They are just on the go and if you are not with the program, you get left behind or you get trampled. Not in any kind of mean way, you just miss the boat.
I am going to mix my metaphors here, but the train is going and if you are not on board, that is no grief, no excuses. I don’t think that we need any excuses. An excuse is just an attempt to protect your worth as a person. We have done a lot of work on that in getting away from worrying about that and just enjoying what we are doing and going for it.
No complaints, I don’t believe in complaints. Suggestions are fine.
If there is something wrong you make a suggestion to someone on how to make it better. We don’t tolerate goal detracting or goal distracting behaviors. Anything that gets in the way, it is the swimmers, staff and everyone else’s responsibility to remind that person to get back on track. Then it is that person’s responsibility to appreciate the reminder.
It is really important to reduce those policies to writing talk about them frequently. Go over them and remind them. It is hard. It is like having a good attitude – it is really easy to do, the hard part is doing it consistently. It is a decision we make.
This is really a fun job for me. I am using language I don’t use – ‘job’. I just play sports psychologist and it is really fun to do. I really like what I do. I particularly like my employment with this team, it is one of many that I work with. They have just done so well and have brought into it so much and we are all having fun.
This is a little club team (I forget whether it is five or six guys now) under 16 minutes in the 1500. At the Canadian National and Commonwealth Game Trials recently they had 5 of the 8 finalists in the 200 backstroke. They had one guy, not quite rested go 2 minutes point and one guy 2.01, one guy, who has been 1.59 go 2.02 flat unshaved and un-rested 200 meters long course. One guy won the 200 fly. They are doing okay.
I really enjoy working with them because of the commitment they made and the variety of things that they get to do. I go with them to their meets and I’ve got all sorts of different roles with them. I pay attention as a social learning theorist. I pay attention to the personal environments, the physical environment, and the social environment.
We have been talking a lot this afternoon about the social environment, which is tremendously important. I was at a National Championship one time and I talked to the coach after one of the sessions and I said let’s sit somewhere else, paying attention to the physical environment. We just happened to be sitting in front of a competitor, between a team that was a competitor and the starting blocks. They were cheering, and they were cheering right through us. I said let’s go sit behind them and cheer through them. It was wonderful, just wonderful. It made a huge difference. It was just fun to do that kind of thing.
My role kind of evolves with the team. I started off teaching skills and creating an environment and then I go do some on-site competition. The team is evolving, they are going from learning some things and getting excited about trying some things and some of them resisting some things and fighting it, then working past it to where the train is just going. We are going through an evolution of goals from getting people to Nationals, to blowing them away at Nationals to thinking about excellence at an international level and maybe even dominance there by a team.
I look at the changing needs of athletes. I get to work with that as it evolves. I am thinking of one athlete, she is just a tremendous athlete who has had a tremendous amount of success – a National Champion, won the Olympic Trials and focused on winning and doing well. She is caught up in needing too, for her own feelings of self worth. We’re getting past that and working with her so that she is doing it because it was fun to win. Not wanting to win any less, but doing it because it was fun to win. We are working on this wonderful art form, which is deciding to value her goals passionately in pursuit, and deciding not value them much at all in retrospect, after the fact.
There is no law that says you have to value your goals equally from different points in time. It is tremendously important when you are preparing to compete and while you are competing to really value that goal of winning and excelling. As soon as it is over, the game is over and you can’t do anything about it anymore and it doesn’t make any sense to value it. You can beat yourself up pretty good if you didn’t quite do what you want. At a recent Commonwealth Game Trial I had this woman, who was just doing a great job. She was about 18-years old. Her lifetime best time -450 something in the 400-Meter IM. She went her lifetime best time by 2 seconds and was tremendously disappointed. She was just beating herself because her goals were much higher than that. It is great that her goals were much higher than that, but it wasn’t so great that she was beating herself up afterwards. So I get to go and work with them. Here I am helping them set really high standards, set really high goals and get excited about that and then I get to go do some other things at these competitions. Like make sure she doesn’t get in the way of anybody else and doesn’t show that disappointment and learns to handle it. In fact she swam great in her next race which was wonderful. It got her to the Olympics and got her to the B Finals in the Olympics, which wasn’t bad.
Somewhere along the line I did such a good job with her in getting to let go of investment of her self worth in what she was doing that she got to a point where she lost some of that passion for excellence. I needed to go back and rekindle that fire. We’re always evolving and always changing which made me take a look at my job and what I was doing with the team and where I wanted to go.
Here we have a team that we are paying a lot of attention to all sorts of things, but mostly decisions and values. They have done such a wonderful job of valuing excellence and having fun with that. Valuing challenges and having fun going after those challenges. We’ve spent a lot of time talking about valuing each other and pushing the person next to you. Challenging that person, bringing them up, lifting them and really helping them, encouraging them, and getting them going.
If you are training with someone who is going 1450 in the 1500 and you want to beat them it is a little different than training with someone who is going 1721 in the 1500 and wanting to beat them by getting them to slow down. Right? We want to get them going. They have done a really good job of that. When you have 4, 5, or 6 guys who are under 16 minutes in the 1500 training in the same lane together you have an opportunity to do that. They are dragging other people with them and some of them are getting past.
We had one guy that finished 3 out of the top 4 in the Commonwealth Trials, one of the guys that snuck in for a place on the team and beat two of his teammates and dropped 20 seconds in that race to do it. I suspect he is going to do that again in the Commonwealth Trials, he is going to drop that much. I think it is wonderful, but we still got to stay on top of it everyday.
I am up there the other day and one of the guys threw in a 403 400-meter free in practice. They were doing 8-400’s and it was on number 8. The guy next to him is the guy who won the U.S. Open in the 1500 and defended National Champion. The guy who won the Commonwealth Trials in the 1500 got his butt kicked on that one by the guy who went 403. He also swam 150-points in the 200 trials, he is a good swimmer.
So Mark leans over to Brent after that and he is all excited about what he had done. He says. ‘Man, I went 403 in that one.’ Brent who had went 412, which is still a respectable swim on the 8th 400 Brent lost it. He starts screaming, ‘But what did you do on the rest of them. You stunk on the rest of that set and I am bust ing my buns on every one of these.’ I think whoa, wait a minute and I have to get them out of the water right then. It is like, this guy is your friend, and when he throws down that 403 that is a challenge, go after it. You need to get home faster in your race. I say to this guy over here, he is going every one of those and you need to be sensitive to how he is doing this set and helping each other out. It was instant, they got it because they had been playing with it and they were paying attention to it, but it is always continuous.
We have this policy called no grief and they are doing great on it, but they are so into it that the other day I had to remind them that it doesn’t work to give somebody grief about not giving grief. They are so proud of taking responsibility and seeing to it that the environment is good, that they are giving each other grief about that. I said to them that we are a little fuzzy on the concept here. It is a continuous process.
We have a train that is moving really well, people are trying to hop on board but it is going so fast that they can’t catch a ride. We also have some turnover. You may notice that sometimes the swimmers that come in that day are not the swimmers that were in the day before. You may have some swimmers at the beginning of the season that were not there last year. It keeps changing like that everyday, so what do we do. The train is moving so fast, the guys have these policies and these values and they are making good decision, but how do we get everybody to catch up?
I sat down and wrote this book called the “Swim to Win Play Book”. Basically I wrote it for two reasons. I wrote it for this particular team. One -everybody is not there everyday when they are doing some things, I’m not there except a couple of times a year so I can’t be doing it with them all of the time. So here is a tool they can use to do an ongoing structured sports psychology training program all the time. When somebody is trying to catch the train, they can catch up real quickly. They can go off and do on their own what they haven’t done before. Here is a tool that the coach, when I am not there, can sit down once a week and say we are going to play this game today and we can do some variations on this. It is structured to teach skills, to build policies, attitudes, values and all sorts of stuff in decisions. It is structured so that you can play with it and do some things.
For example, one of the games in there is called Decision. I give them a play sheet where they write down 25 decisions that they’ll face in their swimming career. It gives them the opportunity to think about what is coming up and to make some decisions in advance and to look at what is a real goal oriented decision. They can do it over and over on their own. I look at some swimmers, and I give the guys the books and ask them to get going on their own. Then I come in and did one with them. But some of them, from the first day, were zooming and I had to yell at them to slow down. I didn’t really yell at them, but I had to remind them to go through slowly, it is meant to be done slowly and to experience.
I watched this guy, Mark Johnston, who is just getting good. I expect it is possible that he might not have a good swim, but I am pretty confident that he will be 148, or 149 200-meter free and he is a baby, he is just learning a couple weeks from now at the Commonwealth Games. I watch him and he is so into that thing, he has studied each of them three times. When I see him the first time after he gets the book, he asks me what do I do in this?, What do you think of this one? Will you look at this? How do I do this? I am thinking no wonder this guy is swimming so well. He knows whose responsibility it is and he knows how to play the game in there called Jump Start, which is looking for ways to get ahead of the competition.
I’ve got some of the team which has done this stuff and some of them haven’t gotten to it yet. I say let’s do it a different way. We sit down and we’re all doing it again and let’s everybody write 25 decisions you will face in your swimming career between now and Commonwealth Trials. I want at least 5 of them to be related to training, at least 5 of them having to do with what is going to come up at the competition, and at least 5 of them having to do with things away from the pool, at least 3 of those having to do with lifestyle decisions. I let them write all that and I say let’s talk about them. We have a just wonderful discussion.
What you are doing is making them think about values, responsibility and decisions. You give everybody the opportunity to do it as a resource person. This is just one tool to do that.
It is great if everyone of you wants to go out and buy one of my books and buy one for everybody on the team and have everybody on the team use it. But if you want to do it other ways, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that you pay attention to these issues and you take control of them.
Coaching is a lot more than just writing practices. It doesn’t matter. If they don’t value their swimming and they haven’t decided to make it fun and then they have decided to make fun is not the pursuit of excellence in competitive swimming. If they are having fun at the expense of the pursuit of excellence instead of making the pursuit of excellence fun, it is not working.
If you are not paying attention to the decisions they are making. I have been talking to Brent Solei, who won the U.S. Open in the 1500, about making the decision to go earlier with the six speed kick and an all out sprint at the end of that 1500 and not waiting for the last length.
Sometimes when you are talking about racing and you are not just talking about swimming fast, but you are valuing excellence. Which means kicking other people’s butt as well as swimming fast. Sometimes you can’t just swim a good fast race. I will give you two examples of that. There are times in the 1500, now if we’re talking about a race, you have to start your sprint with 200 to go. It may be that you will go an all out sprint for that first 50 of that 200 to go and you’ll never finish the race. But at this point if it is the only way you can make the team in a trials meet or it is the only way you can win the race, yeah you would like to go a nice time, but we are racing here. Maybe, especially since you when you make that decision to sprint at that point in the race, you are kicking into a different energy system.
You can surprise yourself and handle that a heck of a lot better than you thought you could because it is a different energy system. You may just go a darn good 200 at the end and pull something out that you can. I am talking to this guy about doing that. The other day in training Brent was going this set that it was a really tough set. Short rest, high quality, lots of them and he was going. He was really going. He got to a point where he had to make a decision of slowing down or throwing up. That was it. That was the way he felt, he was going to throw up if he kept going. So he decided to throw up and he did. He threw up all over the deck and this is at a National team training camp. He finished the set unbelievably great. It was a tremendous breakthrough. He was embarrassed as anything. I didn’t get there until a couple of days later and he couldn’t wait to tell me about this set where he made the decision that now is going to be able to make that decision in the 1500. That is the way that he looked at it. It was practice for that 1500. So anyway, it is a matter of focusing on those decisions and focusing on those values.
That is the trouble with getting old. Three things happen to you when you get old. The first one is that you lose your memory and I forget what the other two are!
Let me invite you to take a look at the kinds of values that swimmers are holding and demonstrating. I invite you to take a look at the decisions they are making on a continual basis. You too, what you are valuing and what decisions you are making and build that into your program on a daily basis. It takes attention. You need to plan for that stuff as well as you plan for what sets you are going to do. You need to plan for what they are going to do with those sets. In fact, you want to devise sets that are nothing more than an opportunity for them to:
-Value the really tough challenges
-Make decisions about who is the first one in the water
-Make decisions about what kind of lifestyle they are going to lead -Make decisions about whether they going to get it or not -Make decisions about if they are going to do stroke technique right or sacrifice that for the pretense of going fast in practice.
Here is the bottom line. There is no getting around sports psychology, there is no getting around the psychology of racing, and there is no getting around the psychology of training. Individuals function as whole human beings. Everything they do is involved ultimately with what they value and the decisions they make – whether they do it, how to do it, when to do it, those kinds of decisions. If your don’t take control of that, then it is chance.
It is just as important, maybe more important than writing our practices. It needs ongoing attention, patching up, praise, spur ring, encouragement and all those kind of things. I would encourage you to have some policies for your team. I would also encourage you to pay as much attention to that kind of stuff as you do with anything else. For me, for example, a warm down when I am coaching, I don’t know how you think of warm down. You might think of warm down as 8-200’s. I know the Australians, after a met, they will warm down for 35-400’s to 4,000 after a meet because they want to prepare the body. You might have a set like that or something that you use for a warm down. When I think of warm down, at least at practice, maybe or maybe not in the meets, we might be doing something like 8-200’s on some interval and at a certain speed or heart rate. They say, ‘Thanks Keith, that was fun.’ I think that is important part of warm-down practice. I think it is important that they come to me and appreciate what was going on as a resource right there and that I spur them with the opportunity to notice what was fun about practice.
They do, even if they start off sarcastically, and they come up to me and say ‘Thanks Keith, that was fun.’ But it was because I made them. But then it will be, ‘Boy in that one set that we did there, boy that was really fun, and really like this about it.’ They are paying attention to it and they are deciding to value it.
It is little the things like that that are so easy to do. What’s not easy to do is to be consistently attentive to it, especially if you don’t decide in advance to make those decisions and then the plan for it.
Q-What age do you start helping them make the kind of decisions we’re talking about? A-Kids are going to make decisions from the time they are alive. Now can they understand in abstract thinking the importance of making decisions in advance and practicing it? I don’t know. But I start talking to my own kids about that stuff as soon as they can talk. And you do it in a little different way. I teach in sports psychology to my own kids by telling them bedtime stories with animals. I don’t talk to my 16-year old that way now, but when he was 2 that was important. They are going to make a decision whether they are going to come and play swimming or they are going to play during swimming practice. That’s different. They are going to come and decide to value stroke technique or just decide to value whether I can beat that guy next to me right now here. It is not the same. They are going to make decisions whether they are going to get in everybody else’s way or whether they are going to respect everyone else. They make those decisions whether they actually do or not. If you teach them the value of the program and the value of excellence and they don’t have a clue, they can’t value excellence left on their own. They just cannot do it, because it is not valued in our society.
What I was talking to about in the last 45-minutes to an hour was creating an environment that is very special. I talk to the teams that I work with about that a lot. We are looking at doing something that is extremely different and unique and special. Very few people in the world have any value for doing anything better than anyone else does in the world. Or even good for that matter. Mostly we are focused on mediocre. The same as everyone else, fitting in. That is what the peer pressure is – to do things the same as everyone else, to act like everyone else, normal, average, mediocre.
Then we ask them to come in and we say the whole idea is to swim fastest. Which means faster than anyone else in the world. Or ultimately at least faster than everyone else around and stuff like that. We don’t have an environment that supports that. Their friends don’t support that. It is not supported in school, it is not supported anywhere.
The more distinct and unique that you can make this environment on your team so that they can make the transition from habits.
Where mediocrity and fitting in is what counts to building habits within this environment that signal by this environment where doing things better than anyone else is what counts and having a great deal of fun doing that. Getting excited about the challenges and the really tough ones and the pursuit of excellence, that is different. It has to start early and it has to start all the time. It is never too late to start, but the earlier you start the better.
To constantly make decisions about that – am I going to go along with the crowd or am I going to do things better than the crowd? Even within an environment where they are doing things really well. Are they valuing can I get ahead of everybody else? I want to go back to one thing really quickly building off of that. In this program that I am talking about they spend a lot of money. The swimmers spend a lot of money, the team spends a lot of money. They spend a lot of money because they don’t think in terms of the money. They think of terms of where are we going, how are we going to get there and how do we make that happen?
All of you have the opportunity to do that. I cost them a lot of money, but what Tom tells me each year when he is budgeting, he says, tell me what we got to do, tell me how much it is going to cost and I’ll go find the money. He doesn’t think about whether he has the money to do this, he thinks about this is what we need to do now, I am going to make it happen. The swimmers are faced with that. They went to Nationals and it cost them in Canadian dollars, it cost them $1400 each to go. That is a lot of money, in U.S. dollars that is about $1.32 right now. It is still $1400 for them and yeah it is a big commitment but that is what it costs if you want to do something great. They put 12 people on the Commonwealth Games Trial Teams. They won Nationals – men, women, and overall. It is not easy, but you just have to find a way.