“A Reminder at Thanksgiving” with Thanks to Don Heidary

Swaziland Swimming

ASCA Level One Clinic - Foundations of Coaching

I had the recent opportunity and privilege to present the ASCA Level 1/Foundations of Coaching Course to the coaches (all of them) in Swaziland, Africa. For them, this was the first connection to ASCA (The American Swimming Coaches Association) or USA Swimming in the country's history. We spent two full days reviewing course material in Power Point and DVD format, watching videos from Olympians to Dr. G analysis, reading articles, and discussing safety and child protection.

The clinic was attended by twenty-five coaches and four parent council members. The coaches included those running small, humble club teams, teachers who offered swimming in schools, learn-to-swim instructors, and even some who run an orphanage (with motto, Orphans Today, Leaders Tomorrow) that offers swimming. Each coach received a USA Swimming pin, sticker, and pencil, and a glimpse into a world that they had only heard about; America and USA Swimming. Read More


Expand, Preserve and Protect Collegiate Swimming


Why Does It Matter To Club Swimmers and Coaches?

At the present moment, one of the most serious threats to the sport of swimming and its long term future, is the continual chipping away at the number of collegiate programs for men and for women, that has been going on now for close to two decades.

College is about the best and the brightest. We all preach to our children, "You need to go to college to have a good future." We all want our children to attend the best college/university that they can qualify for, and that we can afford. Middle class Americans see education and specifically a college education, as the key that opens the door to a financially secure future, an educated mate, and continued experiences in the middle and upper class economics of the USA.

Read More

Bleeding Orange – For The Last Time

Team Kuba assembled behind lane three. When Kuba Kotynia walked from the ready room the chants began, “Kuba! Kuba! Kuba!” This was the last swim for the ninety-two year Syracuse men’s and women’s swimming and diving team. There were “Team Kuba” swimmers from Syracuse, but also from Providence, Georgetown, Seton Hall, UConn, Pittsburgh and other team’s in the Big East Conference. Perhaps fittingly Team Kuba included the Rutgers women’s swimming team. Of course no men anymore, since they suffered the same fate. Termination. Although a rich past, death to their future. The cheering swimmers looked like a rainbow in their variety of Team Kuba uniforms chanting “Kuba!” and in unison, sharply giving the tomahawk sign normally saved for Florida State football games. One minute and fifty-eight seconds later, Syracuse’s last swim was done. But bleeding orange went on.

The awards for the 200 breastroke were fittingly given by Syracuse Coach Lou Walker, in his thirty-third year as coach for the Big East school. But before Walker could give one out he was an award recipient. The coach stood on the elevated balcony extension of the Tress Pool at the University of Pittsburgh, facing a jury of 750 parents, alums and fans packed in to watch the swimming competition. In the crowd was a Supreme Court judge, and other wonderful people from the sport who had supported their kids through age-group swimming clubs and high school programs to help facilitate their participation in Division I swimming. Many families reaped the rewards of their kid’s hard work with millions of dollars of scholarship money funding part or all of their child’s education while they learned lessons for life in the pool, supported by coaches, trainers, academic counselors and administrative staff. For some it meant the only way they could afford to send their kids to an outstanding university. For others it meant early retirement, glorious vacations and perhaps homes by the water. But would they walk away from the sport or sustain its future? The Big East coaches presented Walker with flowers, a bottle of bourbon, hugs, handshakes, gratitude and good wishes. As the coaches exited the cathedral like stage, the soon to be unemployed Coach Walker stood alone, and waved as the crowd gave him a long, thunderous ovation.

But the Orange bleeding goes on. It’s blended so much with the red from St. Johns, the scarlet from Rutgers, the navy from Washington, the black from Duquesne, the green from Miami, the blue from UCLA that it looks like mud. Statistics show that fencing and sailing have had more success growing their sport in the NCAA over the last twenty years than men’s swimming. So who is next?

We have calculated that if in 1975, perhaps the heyday of men’s NCAA swimming, each swimmer had joined their classmates to give back as a class just $1000 per year there would currently be 2.88 billion more dollars of endowed coaches positions, scholarships, or operating budgets. If you are a swimming or diving alum reading this document the question needs to be asked, “How did your collegiate swimming experience enhance the quality of your life and ability to earn a good living?” We like to say the best, most successful people come out of the sport of swimming. People of excellence such as doctors, attorneys, business owners, teachers and the like. That’s certainly true at Syracuse swimming and diving, with iconic swim Coach Frank Comfort a swimming grad, as well as one of the most influential people in the swimming world, ASCA executive director John Leonard. But after the announcement to cut was made even they couldn’t head up a group to change the decision. What if you acted now, before it’s too late to help underwrite the cost of your experience for someone else?

Jessica Barnes, Penn State team captain 2007, recently became ‘class leader’ of her alumni class for her alma mater. Her task is to communicate with her fellow alums and keep track of giving levels for her class. Although never a swimmer with a large scholarship, she’s committed to endow a scholarship one day. What about you? Even if you are struggling to pay bills month to month, you can make a statement to your school by giving something every year and being counted among all of your fellow alums that are showing they care about their program and value the experience they had. Still better, become involved in your school’s alumnI organization and you may very well become head of your class group, which at many schools has as its next step being named to the school’s Board of Trustees. If you are sitting in a room when sports are discussed to be cut you may be the voice that saves your swimming and diving program and it won’t cost you a dime – just your time. Perhaps that’s where the bleeding stops, the mud clears and your kids or grandkids will have a sport to learn in, grow with and pass on to future generations for their benefit. Today isn’t too early to start. Put it off a bit and you may have the chance to join the next “Team Kuba” and bleed orange for the day.


Swazi Swimming: Vision and Reality

By Don Heidary,

Orinda Aquatics, USA Swimming

I recently learned that there is a swimming world outside of the one we know, that in small pockets around the globe there are kids with dreams, coaches with passion, and communities in need of the core benefits that this sport offers. There are challenges and triumphs that may not resemble our own, but they are equally significant and inspirational. And that the formula of pools, kids, and coaches equals the great sport of swimming, anywhere in the world and in all of life’s circumstances.


A former Orinda Aquatics swimmer went on a six-month church mission trip to Swaziland, Africa after her high school graduation. That was the first time I had heard of this small country. In early correspondence, she described her experience as invaluable and life changing. After a few months, I received an email from her saying that there was a local swim team and that she was excited to swim and compete with the group. She talked to her coach about our team, Orinda Aquatics, and asked if we would be willing to help their team. A plan was formed for the coach to travel to California to spend a few weeks with our staff and our broad summer-league network. At the last minute his visa was denied, and in his email he asked if I would consider coming there. After a few weeks of consideration, I thought that it was the right thing to do. I asked Christina Risso, a dear friend of twenty-five years and a learn-to swim guru, if she would have an interest in going. “Are you kidding me!? I am so in!” was her reply. The trip was planned for the last week in January.


As I mentioned, I had virtually no knowledge of Africa beyond what one would read in the newspaper or see on television. The country of Swaziland has a little over one million citizens and can be driven through in a day. It is comprised of breathtakingly beautiful green country side, rolling hills, and the most gracious people I have ever encountered. The purpose of our trip was to help educate this humble swimming community, and as is all too often the case, we were the ones educated.

Welcome Nhlabatsi (the coach)

Four pools, over seven hundred children, no staff, no parent support, no heat, no pace clock (one in the country), no lane lines, a coach with no home (he stays with a friend), no car, no split stop watch, no manuals, books, DVD’s, no computer, email/internet, no briefcase – and no stopping him.

Welcome to Welcome. He is a man on a mission. He seems to know everyone in the nation that has put their toe in a pool. It is almost like he is the “chief” (a reference to the head of the large family units in the rural areas) of this nation’s swimming family. You are one of his kids or are somehow related to him in a swimming sense. The main request he makes of his pupils has nothing do with dues or streamlining, but to just show up. He moves from pool to pool by foot, friend, or bus. He will arrive at a lesson two hours early because school bus transportation at 7:00 AM is the only way – so long as he, and they, are there. One morning he made or received at least ten calls trying to confirm lessons for first to third graders because it had been raining. He looked at us after each call and said he hopes they do not cancel. When it was confirmed, we drove an hour in the rain to the small pool. For this he is paid a modest hourly wage that I can image barely covers the gas and the prepaid phone minutes to confirm the session. He arrives, greets the teachers, gets in the pool, shuffles six groups from fifteen to fifty children in thirty to forty-five minute sessions. He directs the kids with motions and phrases, transitioning language from local SwazI to English, of which all kids are fluent. They move quickly and always obey. There is no discipline problem and no question as to who is in control. As for this man’s giving nature and moral code, it is rock solid and embedded in family and religion. He started a swim school at an orphanage and he plays the organ in church on Sunday (the one he grew up in, an hour and a half away). And with regard to the kids, he never turns a child away. He is here to teach, to promote swimming, to serve, and in a very real sense, to save lives.

Mdu Xaba

He was with Welcome when we were picked up from the airport. I soon found out that he was a swimmer. He was one of the finest young men I have ever met, anywhere. He is overwhelmingly impressive (in the sense of, is this guy for real?). I was immediately impressed by his maturity, humility, and gentle nature. He had handsome, chiseled features, was very muscular (with no weight lifting), looked you in the eye when he spoke, and seemed to always know the answer to questions before I could ask. You could feel the loyalty that he had to everything important in his life. As the trip went on I learned more. He is twenty years old. He lost his mother and his father to TB while in high school. In a later conversation about grades, he said, “I didn’t do as well as I would have hoped during that time.” What swimming means to him, “it has become my mother and my father,” he says. And who looks after him now? Of course, Welcome. He taught him how to swim at eight years old and has never left his side. This young man could represent the sport of swimming or the nation and anyone would be impressed. As a swimmer, he has smooth strokes, a beautiful butterfly, a relentless work ethic, and unwavering discipline. He speaks with purpose and clarity, whether talking about losing his parents, a better streamline, or his dream of swimming in the Olympics and then coming back to help swimming in Swaziland. This young man could be a team captain on any collegiate team in the United States, and I would hire him on the Orinda Aquatics staff today.

Big Bend

I was told of the main swimming site at Big Bend – the Blue Whales. We drove an hour and half through rural countryside and came to a humble community that surrounds a Sugar corporation. The company provides modest housing and schooling for the employees. A part of the school is the community pool. There we met James. His schedule looked similar to Welcome’s – all day, all ages, over 800 kids in a week – one guy. Another salt-of-the-earth man, painfully humble, and appreciative of everything. We had brought one of the new TYR stop watches for James. When we gave it to him, he reacted as if he was just handed the keys to a new car. He was overwhelmed. He clutched it to his chest with both arms. He would not even let go of the plastic packaging.

I asked about equipment. He said they had some and were trying to obtain more. He took me to the equipment room. My eyes welled up as looked into a wooden structure that leaned to one side with a few kickboards and pull buoys scattered on the muddy floor. The lane lines were ropes that James explained were OK but the ends had frayed so much that they could not get them into the hooks on the deck. The pace clock was a small, older, worn, box, with a clock face with no motor or sweep hands. He said they were trying to find an old wall clock to use as a motor and paint some plastic strips for the arms. I asked where there is a pace clock. Mdu pointed up with one finger (for north), “Mbabane,” he said, “the capital.” I asked where you get a pace clock, “Durban, South Africa,” he replied. The black lines were completely worn out in part of the pool. With no lanes lines and faint black lines, swimmers spent most of the lap looking for their oncoming teammates. Backstroke was a challenge and even streamlining posed a risk. But as with every other group, these kids, from twelve to eighteen years old, were disciplined, talented, motivated, and appreciative. I ran the workout that afternoon.

The Pool Bar

There were several sessions at the public community center. Welcome explained that as well as a local center, the main aspect of the building was a community bar. This was the home pool for the government school program. The pool was located behind the bar. The patrons and music began at 10:00 AM. The grounds around the pool were littered with beer bottle caps and a resident chicken roamed the grounds and the pool deck. I felt a little uneasy as we waited for the kids. Soon, a stream of young students, ages 5-8, came running into the gate. School was a ten minute walk away. Here they came, in uniform, excited and adorable. There were over sixty. The pool is humble but good for teaching. Welcome has a brief meeting and the kids begin changing. Changing is actually not accurate because they have nothing to change into. The boys and girls remove their clothes to their underwear and again wait for instructions. No suits or goggles, but neither affects their eagerness or ability to learn. Welcome has them sit on the deck and wait their turn. No complaints. It was raining. They floated, did “bubble, bubbles, BIG breath” and “big kicks” with “Auntie Christina,” and finished with two minutes of pandemonium, AKA, “free time.” And as quickly as they were in and organized, they were out, dressed, and on their way back to school. The talent, enthusiasm, potential, and adorability overload would be any coach’s dream.

Visit Summary

The four of us, Welcome, Mdu, Christina, and myself spent each of the five days together. For some (not me), the day started at 5:30 with a morning run. My day started with a morning coffee. We met for breakfast and talked about the day ahead. We had extended meetings on Learn-to-Swim progressions and on the “bigger picture” of adding vision and structure to their challenging daily routines. We were at private schools which were beautiful and extremely nurturing, public pools, and a pool at a club that Welcome uses for the Dolphin team. Christina got in the pool with Welcome during each session. She did her patented “suit, circle, squeeze” for breaststroke kick (works every time), and Mdu followed her lead. By the end of the week, Mdu was a bona fide assistant and I believe a national role model. One night in our room, we watched the American Record breaking DVD by USA Swimming. They were mesmerized.

We also had the good fortune of meeting with Cobus Louw, the president of the Swaziland National Swimming Association. He is a volunteer in this position and he drove an hour and a half to meet with me. Another startling reminder of the real need, “resources, knowledge, and costumes (their term for swim suits).” “Don, it’s not money, we need costumes for these kids. We will take anything, no matter the condition. We will patch and sew.”

We did visit a beautiful Game Reserve nearby, coming within twenty feet of a lion that seemed more interest in a nap than an early lunch (us). And we spent the afternoon on Friday driving around the panoramic countryside, visiting the major cities of ManzinI and Mbabane, the King’s Palace, as well as a local marketplace. The drive had brief interruptions for unescorted cows, sheep, and donkeys crossing the road.

Less May Really Be More

The most significant thing that I have taken away from the country and my experience is not the rate of aids or TB, not economic strife and limited means, or the overwhelming challenges facing the swimming landscape, but the incredible kindness, sincerity, and humility of the people. From children to adults, men and women – there is an ironclad respect for everyone. We did not hear one word of profanity, see one altercation, see anyone lose their temper, intimidate anyone, or have an attitude about anything. There didn’t seem to be a presence or a psychology of crime, gangs, violence, theft, drugs, alcohol, or depression. When they receive a gift, they accept it with two hands and a subtle bow. When they shake your hand, the opposite hand supports the elbow of the shaking hand as a sign of respect, again with a subtle bow. The family unit is the country’s foundation. While they may live in the communities, there are homesteads in the rural areas. Everyone has an extended family unit which offers structure, authority, love, and support. You are connected. At the schools, the children all play games and sing songs – not typical playground activity but these have national and cultural significance. There is a true sense of pride. We watched several and it was a precious site. The children, to a person, were polite respectful, appreciative, and bursting with energy and excitement. All children wear a uniform to school (public and private). When I asked why, Mdu said that if a child has two shirts to wear to school for the year, they should not feel less of a person. And they don’t. In high school all students, men and women, wear a tie. On most roads you could see children (in uniform) walking for what I was told was one to three miles each way to and from school – no doubt a reason for the fitness and discipline of these children. But most significantly, these kids seemed content, if not happy. There didn’t seem to be a material chase that never ends or constant competition with each other. I feel that a lot can be learned from this humble country, their rich culture, and yes, even their swimming community.

The Reality

I went there to talk about club development, staff training, parent structure, training plans, stroke drills, race strategy, to stand on the deck and assist with training groups and to talk about the subtleties of swimming in the United States. The reality was that they had little or no exposure to the world of swimming and the vast and indomitable resource of United States Swimming. Our conversations quickly centered around club survival, getting kids into a used swim suit (as opposed to their underwear), getting kids to the pool as most families do not have cars, surviving financially as most cannot pay, and just keeping children from drowning. There was no staff, parents, or finances to manage.

I met with a woman who ran a team and who was very well versed in the community’s swimming. I started the conversation with the need to establish a parent committee, website, and a dues evaluation. She leaned toward me, looked me in the eye and said, “let me tell you about the swimming community, most can’t or won’t pay, most can’t or won’t transport their children, soccer is the national sport and it is free. Good luck.”

I replied with something I do know – great teams and great swimmers can be created with water, motivated kids, and passionate coaches. That they have. There is hope and I firmly believe that there is great potential. I would go as far as to say their future is exciting, and I would be honored to be a part of it.

Why help?

I know there are countless needs and causes in the world and they exist in our own communities as well. This is not a humanitarian effort and it is not monetary. To me this is about supporting children to enjoy the immeasurable benefits of our great sport. Here are my thoughts, recommendations, and vision.

A Vision for Swimming in Swaziland

    • There is extraordinary talent, potential, and opportunity.
    • The children are athletically fit, talented, disciplined, motivated, respectful, and love the water.
    • Although not heated, the pools are available at little or no cost.
    • The schools offer and support swimming./p>Support Recommendation
    • Establish a national marketing campaign and brand, “SWAZI SWIMMING”/p>-Free advertising, stickers, pencils; etc.
    • Create a strong organizational structure with facilities, staff, programs
    • Determine the Sports Council’s commitment and budget
    • Establish willingness and commitment of Boost (a willing sponsor)
    • Enhance and update the SWAZI SWIMMING website with links to each pool (see USA Swimming site)
    • Program Structure
      1. Create a “No Child Left Behind Policy” for All Children to Learn to Swim in:
        • “Government” Schools
        • Private Schools
        • Clinics in Rural Areas (Free of Charge)
      2. Create an Introduction to Competitive Swimming (Swazi Swimming)
        • Technique – Fundamentals and Progressions
        • Training – Principals and Education
        • Competition (Healthy)
      3. Incorporate the Education of Life Skills
        • Work Ethic/Discipline
        • Character/Integrity
        • Teamwork
      4. Create a National Development Group
        • Men – 14+, Women – 13+
        • Offer Year-Round Training (at separate sites and at the new athletic facility)
        • Create a Year-Round Dryland Program for this Group
        • Hold this Group as the Pinnacle of Swimming/Role Models for the Mation
        • All Swimmers Receive a “National Team” Jacket (Note: you have an excellent captain in Mdu)

      Vision: Five- Year Plan

      100,000 Children Taught to Swim

      Training Sites:

      • Seven to ten throughout the country
      • Progression plan (3-8 Learn-To-Swim, 8-13 develop technique/efficient training, 12+ increase training, race development)
      • Staff of five to ten (Head Coach, Assistant Head Coach, Assistants, LTS staff)
      • Staff is ASCA (American Swim Coaches Association) certified
      • Staff is outfitted (Jacket, stop watch; etc.)
      • Staff has email, internet access (communication and research)
      • Swimmers have caps and T-shirts
      • Standard pool equipment (pace clock, kick boards, paddles; etc.)
      • Lane lines at each site for training (makes technical development much more efficient)
      • Standardized teaching techniques, training principals
      • Parent support at each site (one to three: Membership, Treasurer, Misc.)

      A National Development Group of 100 Swimmers.

    • With a Head Coach and site assistants
    • Mbabane Training Center is home pool
    • These athletes will be leaders in and out of the pool

Out of the Box Thought

Purchase or lease the “Bar/rec center” in Simunye for the home of Dolphin Swim Club.

      • Do some mild cosmetic upgrades
      • Add equipment to pool – lane lines, flags, equipment; etc.
      • Turn it into a positive youth center for swimming and the community
      • Develop it as a training/athletic center with a dry land facility, meeting room, day care, offices; etc.
      • Create a facility that would build champions and high-character athletes

Boost Request (one time for each site/ongoing annual support would be minimal):

    • Equipment – kickboards, paddles, fins; etc. ($1,000)
    • Pace clock ($350)
    • Used laptop ($100)
    • Coach outfitting – Jacket, brief case, watches ($500)
    • A team banner for team recognition ($100)
    • Team caps ($250)
    • Lane lines (needed for training) – $500
    • ASCA (USA Swimming ) clinic for one coach a year (flight $1,500 – OA would provide hotel)
    • Investment per pool ~ $3,000/E24,000 (covers 500-1,000 kids/four coaches at each site)
    • Total investment ~ $12,000/E96,000 to jumpstart National Program
    • Orinda Aquatics would consider supporting this process

Other Observations (misc.)

      • The coach to swimmer ratio challenges safety and productivity
      • Staff development is critical. Each site should have at least five. Current staff size and turnover cannot support swimming development on a broad/competitive scale.
      • SNSA should examine each site and help head coach with compensation to avoid turnover and to anchor a full-time coach.
      • Technical development should be standardized and will be the key to future long-term success
      • Training should be broadened (see USA Swimming guidelines) and include dry land
      • Emphasize more fin swimming, stroke drill progression, dives, turns, and streamlining
      • Build swimming library
      • Join ASCA and utilize resources

Our Offer

Donnie Heidary/Orinda Aquatics would volunteer as a Club Development Advisor

Christina Risso would volunteer a Learn-to-Swim Development Advisor

I will approach the following organizations for assistance:

      • USA Swimming for educational materials
      • ASCA for possible assistance to the World Clinic
      • NIKE – for possible help with suits; etc.

Additionally, we will begin a community campaign to collect 1,000 suits and goggles in our area (which we feel is possible). In December of 2010, we will consider returning for a Club Development/Staff Clinic (at our expense) at the National Sports Center.

      • Training/Workout Organization (1 Day)
      • Technical Development (1 Day)
      • LTS Progressions/Staff Training (1 Day)
      • Parent/Staff Support (1 Day)
      • And Spend 1 Day at Each Site

The following was donated by Orinda Aquatics (OA), NorCal Swim Shop, Moraga Country Club (MCC), or Don/Ron:

4 Nike Coach’s Jackets OA
50 (Dolphin Swim Club) Team T-Shirts OA (NorCal printed at cost)
4 Stop Watches OA
100 Youth Goggles and Caps Donated by NorCal Swim Shop in Napa
40 Nike Water Bottles Donated by Moraga Country Club
40 Nike Draw-Strip Bags MCC
40 Used Swim Suits MCC
4 Navy Polos OA
1 Snorkel OA
Temp Trainers MCC
10 new OA suits OA
DVD’s: USA Swimming American records, Dry land, Total Immersion DVDs OA
USA Swimming Program Development Manual USA Swimming
A Used Car for Welcome Paid for by Orinda Aquatics Staff
OA Handouts
A Cal Swimming T-shirt

Estimated value of donations/support: $7,000/E55,000

Financial commitment of trip (donations, support, and travel): $12,500/E100,000

Don Heidary,
Orinda Aquatics, USA Swimming


5 Critical Action Steps for Any College Coach TODAY

By John Leonard

Realize that your program and every program in the USA, need to be in “URGENT” mode, today and everyday, if you wish to Preserve, Protect, and Expand Collegiate Swimming.

  1. Build an effective, active, communicative group of Alumni and current parents of athletes. Keep them informed week by week. Get them INVOLVED in your program.
  2. Build a Fund to endow your program. Start NOW. “if its not important enough for you to ask for money, it won’t be important enough for someone to spontaneously write you a check.”
  3. Educate your athletic director on your successes. Direct copy your President or Chancellor. Make sure BOTH get everything you send out. Keep the administration informed about all you do that reflects well on the University.
  4. Become a force in your swim community. (local and regional/national.) Be involved and GIVE of your time and knowledge and energy. Become known all over campus. Faculty, staff, students. Be helpful and a great team player.
  5. Leadership is about Clarifying, Simplifying, and “Justifying.”

As in “just do this.” Make sure you clarify, simplify and justify the importance of your swim program to your University and Community.


Time (and Impetus) to Move Outside Our Comfort Box

By John Leonard

The latest and greatest Game Plan devised by the USA Swimming Staff under the wonderful leadership of Executive Director Chuck Wielgus sets an ambitious goal……”Build…Increase Membership. Goal: We seek to increase membership by at least 20% by 2012.”

Two key strategies under this umbrella goal are “Create a Centralized online Registration System” and “Develop bridge programs that seek to transition youngsters from learn to swim programs to competitive teams”

Lawdy, Lawdy, I AM A BELIEVER!

If we want to grow the sport, lets stop yakin’ and GROW THE SPORT! Great goal. Great strategies.

Now allow me to stop cheerleading and think of what this will mean in terms of needs:

  1. Some more pool time for most clubs. (start getting creative…you may not need even a 25 yard pool for a bridge program from lessons to team. I teach my novices in a 12 yard area of the pool. Better control. Better focus. Better teaching results.
  2. Capable, exciting, child-loving (as opposed to just “sport-loving”) new coaches. Don’t need to be young. Don’t need to be old. Just need to be dedicated to helping young and new swimmers improve. Start thinking who might fit that mold for your club.
  3. More swim meets. More SHORT swim meets. More Swim Meets that are great opening experiences to our sport. Since 20% bigger registration immediately implies 20% “new” swimmers, the chances are they will be “B” and below level athletes when they start out.
  4. More entry level swim meets raises the next issue…..more entry level OFFICIALS.

And therein lies our next great challenge in raising our numbers. Because volunteerism is down. Number of new LSC officials are down. Getting parents to volunteer to do officiating is down as the economy demands a greater and greater premium on compensated employment. Many LSC’s cannot today, appropriately field officials to run the number of swim meets we already need.

So, whither the future?

In exploring this, I went to a man who doesn’t “ask to be asked,” the redoubtable John Wilson of Athens, Georgia, USA Swimming Vice President and himself a world class elite meet official, who came up through the officiating ranks in Ohio, where, in those days, one just became “an official” and not all the fancy titles we have today. His reply to my question was immediate and fair. “how hard is it to officiate a novice meet?”

Clearly, not too hard. Know the strokes. Know what is legal. Understand it. Watch the water. Be fair. Be reasonable. Be aware of the philosophical concept of “if its giving someone an advantage not allowed in the rules, it deserves a disqualification”

So, John, we make it easier for parents to be officials?

Well, not so fast. We have no evidence now that the “difficulty” of becoming an official is the key problem. It may be, because how long does the average parent officiate?

Well, the average child is probably in USA Swimming for about four years….so the average parent probably officiates about 3 years, at best. Not enough time to climb the big meet pyramid. Or any pyramid.

So, what’s the answer?

Use a different population.

Who, like Martians?

No, worse. Or better. Teenagers.

Huh? Teenagers?

Yes, teenagers. In one of our fastest growing and most significant competitors, soccer, kids officiate for kids. Bigger kids for little kids. Teenagers officiate soccer matches between little kids. All the time. As a matter of course.

They have energy, knowledge of the sport, a keen sense of fairness, and oh, did I mention….energy?

Also, they are more familiar with the internet than most of us are with our own face. So an online course and test to certify teenage officials who have either left the sport on a daily basis, or are summer only swimmers, or “high school only swimmers,” make a GREAT source of new officials for our coming expansion.

They know swimming. They love swimming. They already know most of the rules. (especially how to swim the strokes) and they do the concept of “Fair” a lot better than some adults.

And, they need part time employment. Whether they volunteer at officiating novice and “B” level meets, or whether we pay them a minimum wage, they are the best possible help we can recruit to help fuel our growth.

And it will put a young, fresh, “cool” face on our officiating at the entry level meets….not the very serious, very formal face of adult officials…and in case you haven’t noticed, the coolest “sports” for kids are skateboarding, wakeboarding, snowboarding, etc. where no parents are around, no parents know anything about the sport, and no parents interfere.

It’s a fantastic idea. I hope our USA Swimming Officials group will set about creating an entry level “swim official” test that we can use as we grow to our new “raise you 20%” goal. Its the way to go. Back to the future.

Kudos to John Wilson. Our “out of the box thinking” award of the year.


NCAA Swimming

A Dose of Preventative Medicine

In this current era of NCAA Swimming Programs at risk, its important to have widespread community support for your collegiate program, and just as important to have a plan in place to make sure the movers and shakers at your College or University know that your program has that widespread support.

The relevant question to ask is, what is your University or College doing to build swimming (and support for swimming) in your local community and in your state? Every university that has lost a swim program wished for and sought “community support” when it was threatened. In almost every case, that support was too little too late to help save the swim program.

Instead, ask yourself what you can do to support and help grow swimming in your community and state? Even simple things, like emailing a college meet schedule to every club in your area so the club coaches can encourage club swimmers to come to your college meets is important. Can you host swimmers clinics? Can you host coaches clinics? Can you show up to hand out medals at local swim meets? Can you sponsor “High School Swimmers of the Week” in your state on your collegiate website? Can you meet with club parents to help educate them on the process and needs of college admission for swimmers far before the parents face it firsthand?

The question is, what are you willing to contribute?
If you are willing to contribute a lot, you can reasonably expect a lot of help in letting your administration know how important your collegiate swim program is to the community and state. If you are “too busy” to contribute anything except the built-in opportunity to swim at your university or college, then understand that calling for “broad based community support” when your program is under threat of being dropped, is likely to fall on deaf ears.

Be a contributor, or be lonely when it comes to needing a contribution.

And if you read this and say to yourself “it can’t happen to us,” I’d only ask you to discuss with your out of work colleagues how many of them saw the “end of program” train coming down the tracks?

John Leonard, ASCA.
Jim Wood, Berkeley Aquatic Club, USA Swimming President.


Recreating America’s Club Swimming System

Since 1985, the ASCA and the ASCA Office have been actively involved in trying to help the American Swim Club. Our credentials for the following discussion include:

  1. 1137 days spent with clubs ranging from National Championship teams to teams run by part time coaches with 50 swimmers.
  2. Operation of the ASCA Job Service for 16 years. Approximately 1,120 jobs evaluated, rated and reconfigured through the Job Service. They are typically full time positions and some of the highest profile club jobs in America. In the course of operation of the Job Service, we spend many hours a week on the phone with both coaches and club representatives discussing club employment issues.
  3. Endless series of USA Swimming committee meetings at 16 conventions and at least 20 other meetings where club concerns are foremost.
  4. Read More

USWP Interview with Randall Burgess of Coronado Peninsula Water Polo Club


Randall Burgess of Coronado Peninsula Water Polo Club took the time to answer questions for USA Water Polo. Coronado Peninsula Water Polo Club was established in the summer of 1982 (Coronado Islander Polo) as an immediate response to the need to work with interested high school-aged player in from Coronado and a few other schools in the San Diego County. Within a few years, players from throughout San Diego were heavily involved with the program, and CPWPC was a strong catalyst for the great number of present clubs in the Pacific Southwest Zone (Zone 9). Today, the club is predominantly Coronado residents, but the team is available to any player wishing to make the summertime commitment.

USA WATER POLO: Is Coronado’s club program made up exclusively of Coronado players?

Randall Burgess: We play as a local team in the USWP season, as opposed to the many “All-Star” groups competing in the larger tournaments, and although it is somewhat tough at times to compete with those great programs, we take pride in training together as a community, and hope to see some of the payoff during the upcoming CIF season. Our best finish in JOs has been a silver medal in 14-Under Boys two years ago in So Cal, but have had several advancements to the Final Four in our history. We have also enjoyed the Hawaiian Invitational (in both setting and in success) with many Final Four and gold medal games in an assortment of boys and girls teams.

USA WATER POLO: With that in mind, what is the most effective means to get players developed during the summer – the conglomerate “all-star” team: or a club made primarily of your individual high school players?

Randall Burgess: As mentioned earlier, we encourage players from anywhere in the county to train with us, but our club is about 95 percent Coronado residents. Summer training at 4:45 a.m. is probably not the most attractive item on the agenda during a teenager’s summer holiday. I have to say that keeping the future high schoolers together training with teammates is positive, but I personally enjoy coaching other teams’ players as I find it both refreshing and interesting to see and hear what they think about our training compared to what they might be doing with their school team. We enjoy winning any time we can, but the priority is playing against strong (well-coached) opponents. Anytime you play against a quality program such as a Newport, El Toro or Foothill, you are going to learn a tremendous amount about yourself.

USA WATER POLO: What role has summer water polo played in your incredible success at Coronado during the high school seasons?

Randall Burgess: Ultimately, summer water has become a necessity for the boys programs throughout the state. By September, you are already in the heart of a fairly short CIF season. The girls will continue to train as a club program, but the intensity drops down quite a bit due to the fact the school has kicked back in and a lot of the female athletes are involved in other activities.

USA WATER POLO: For those others who play girls water polo in the fall, tell us what the girls do for training during the fall boys water polo season? When does the girls season run – has moving girls to winter been beneficial?

Randall Burgess: Our girls season, starting in mid-November and continuing up to the start of swimming in March, has been a major success. In San Diego, for example, girls water polo will probably have larger numbers than their male counterparts by the 2001 season. Having a separate season not only gives the females equal opportunity for quality, experienced coaching, but it avoids the problems dealing with facilities and transportation. Referees can also work two consecutive seasons and avoid doubling up in the fall. Ultimately, the girls do not have to compete in the recognition that they can receive that might be lost or diluted if seasons had overlapped. It also seems to help out if the boys and girls can participate at the same time collegiate men and women play.

USA WATER POLO: Overall, how do you structure the development process based on the year? (e.g. summer=fundamentals, shooting, passing; etc./fall=strategy; etc.)

Randall Burgess: We stress fundamentals through the year, and depending on the specific group of athletes (and their experience), CPWPC coaches will adjust to the athletes in the water. We spend very little time with swimming as a chief conditioner during the water polo season out of necessity due to the overall lack of available pool time. During the spring, we stress training and competing on the high school swimming team because valuable technique work is always reinforced. Athletes that do not swim really hurt their opportunity for making advancements in the sport of water polo. I also like the fact that swimming is an individual sport, one in which the athlete is solely accountable for his or her own successes or setbacks. Young people today seem to shy away from the individual sports and that accountability that will show up again and again throughout one’s life.

USA WATER POLO: How early do kids start playing in your program?

Randall Burgess: I recommend that players start to enjoy any form of water polo (Wetball) as soon as they are strong and comfortable in the water, maybe around 7-9 years of age. I also recommend that you keep the Little League parents off the pool deck for a few more years so their kids can have some fun. The priorities at the initial level are sculling, breaststroke legs, and general body position. Using the Junior (small) balls are important, but key are the concepts such as passing and advancing the ball down the court. Smaller courses (width of pool) and small numbers (4 x 4) make the overall picture easier to start with.

USA WATER POLO: Are workouts different for the boys and girls?

Randall Burgess: The boys and girls receive the same type of training, be it skill development, cardiovascular or strategy. It will be even easier in the next few years when girls come into the programs with a background of playing organized sport at a young age such as soccer, volleyball, softball, or even baseball – all with great carryover into the sport of water polo.

USA WATER POLO: What about weightlifting?

Randall Burgess: The key point to weight training is that the focus is on injury prevention rather than strength development. I would bet there are more injuries due to unbalanced strength programs than to anything else in regards to musculoskeletal setbacks. For example, we spend way too much time and effort focusing on the pecs, forgetting to spend equal time on the major back structure. Any shoulder injuries out there? Training specificity is also a crucial focus in terms of how young players address a weight training program.

USA WATER POLO: Comment on the tremendous growth of Junior Olympics. What do you think we need to do better with regards to this tournament?

Randall Burgess: In terms of the Junior Olympics, I am concerned that the focus may be diluted with the incredible growth of the sport unless we look at the possibilities of regionalizing this event. It is becoming too big to manage and too expensive to travel and to lodge the players and families necessary for the event, not to mention the costs of competing in the tournament if you are entering a few teams from your club.

USA WATER POLO: How important has the Speedo Cup been for Junior Development?

Randall Burgess: The Speedo Cup has been a brilliant addition to USWP. In San Diego alone, the Shore club has really been instrumental in initiating the pre-high school player development, and everyone is benefiting from the development. We will of course need to handle this event as it continues to expand, and begin to find solutions that can encourage the continued growth and enthusiasm that is presently in place.

USA WATER POLO: Are we as a whole developing water polo effectively in this country? From your overseas travels what have you seen done better?

Randall Burgess: As Bruce Wigo has continually addressed, we need to keep marketing our sport to the general public. Media such as television and cable networks are vital to the success of water polo in the United States. I personally would like to see our overall sport develop and maintain a positive, wholesome image for all people in our society. We need to take the lead from what women’s soccer has recently done with an incredible image that we can all look at and admire. I believe that our product is as every bit as high quality as their’s is. On the other hand, issues in other sports have not been real positive (drugs, sex, arrests and other scandals), and I don’t’ think that athletes such as Ryan Leaf are particularly the type of role model youth needs to see on the front page of the sports section (more Lance Armstrong’s).

USA WATER POLO: What about the rules – I have tried to ask every coach this – is the game watchable to the uninformed but interested fan? Is there anything we can do to “tweak” the rules to make the game better?

Randall Burgess: The rule variations are receiving good looks by the international community, and I know that the likes of Bret Bernard are working hard to make changes that might just excite fans. As I look at the nature of the sport and the great athletes involved, I feel strongly that we have a top-notch product to sell. In-house cleaning is really going to be a priority before we venture too far out into corporate America.


Phases of Athlete Development in an Age Group Program

By Pat Hogan, Mecklenburg Aquatic Club, North Carolina

The Mecklenburg Aquatic Club program has been structured on the premise that there are four basic phases of athlete development in age group swimming. At each level of the program, we continually try to evaluate and adapt to the multitude of factors, both scientific and sociological, that impact the growth and development of young athletes. Experience has taught us that the perfect age group program is a moving target that changes as the population we serve changes and as we learn more and more about the development of young people.

The following is an outline description of the four phases of development and the basic premises that currently guide our thinking at each of these levels. The final page of this packet is a chart, which provides an overview of the entire MAC program.

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