Coaching at Age Group Travel Meets by Michael Brooks (2008)


[Introduction] I know many of us are inspired by the people that we are around – the people that we are influenced by – people that we would consider our mentors. Our next speaker really took this part of his future career very seriously – he surrounded himself by mentors that have proven themselves in swimming, the people that we all look up to – people that have been very successful. To illustrate, consider three areas of our next speaker’s career: The first period Coach Brooks believes is really significant are those five years he coached with North Baltimore Aquatic Club. He was in charge of their York site, and when you think about North Baltimore Aquatic Club (NBAC) you think about Murray Stephens and Bob Bowman. Our speaker said that what he learned there, without doubt, was discovering what “fast” really was all about, and the extent of what our swimmers – our kids – are really capable of doing; he learned how to push them – you know – to teach them tp break through those limits and set their sights higher than they ever thought possible. From NBAC he went to Phoenix. There, he spent four years at Brophy East Swim Team (BEST), learning from one of our former National Team Directors, Coach Dennis Pursley. I think if you have ever been around Denny or exposed to Denny, you really know what he stands for: a guy that you absolutely respect, because he is all about integrity, and he is about old school, and he is about knowing that it is hard work that gets you where you are going to be. Coach Brooks then moved on to the next – and current – phase of his career. He is head coach of York YMCA Swimming, in York, Pennsylvania, and his colleagues in the coaching profession describe him as a perfectionist who is extraordinarily knowledgeable about the sport of swimming and an individual who is committed to instilling in his swimmers a passion for the pursuit of excellence in all aspects of their lives. I asked Michael what he believes in or what he really thinks he stands for and he came up with three great, great, just very great ideas that really simplify, I think, why he does what he does. He says in working with kids, he absolutely wants them to be beautiful when they swim. Then, he absolutely wants them to be iron tough. And, then, he absolutely wants them kicking butt the second half of every race. I am very excited to introduce our speaker, Michael Brooks. I think you will really learn a lot. Just a little added note – kind of interesting – I have always wanted to work with Michael, and the closest I ever came was this: I am actually the person that replaced Michael at BEST, so every day I have experienced a little bit of Michael in what he has left in the swimmers he worked with, and the influence he has had on them. We still hear a lot about Michael, and it is absolutely amazing how much they looked up to him as a coach.

[Coach Brooks] Well, thank you very much. Can everyone in the back hear me? I am not sure how loud this is, okay – great. Most of the speakers so far have told a joke to break the ice, but I have never, ever told a good joke – ever – so I am not even going to try and inflict that upon you. So, I am just going to jump right on in.

First – in the interests of full disclosure – I am not actually talking about what I was supposed to be talking about. The original topic was “Travel Meets for Age-Groupers” and I hope I get to that, but the more I thought about the subject of meets and age-groupers – the more I realized that there were a lot of other really important things to talk about that rarely get discussed. So, what I am hoping to do today is talk about meets, age-groupers and how to engineer a program so that you stay happy at meets.

I will start off with a truism – meets are fun when kids swim fast and championship meets are the most fun of all when kids swim fast. I like to be happy – I like to be in a good mood when I am at a swim meet, especially a really long one, when I am going to be on deck forever. I try and engineer things so that it is not a matter of chance that kids swim fast. So, we must get to the point where I am in a good mood, and they are in a good mood. Really, I like to look at the big picture first. What I am trying to do with kids at meets is to think several steps down the road; essentially, I want to give them the tools to be successful at a higher level than the one they are at right now.

In terms of local swim meets, kids can get away with a lot if they are talented, if they are really big. Other factors are there of course, too, but kids can get away with a lot of sloppiness and imprecision on the local swim meet level. They can do fine. They can win races. They can, you know, just be happy as clams, but ultimately, they are practicing things and racing in ways that are going to get their heads handed to them at the next level up – and in particular, once they get up to the national level. If they want to succeed as seniors nationally, they can’t have those weaknesses. So, what I am trying to do is teach them the skills – providing them the tools when they are young – 10, 11, 12, 13 years old – so that when they are ready to make that jump up to a national level, they can do it, and they won’t have so many bad habits to try and break.

Really, I do this by reverse engineering. Right now I am coaching everyone in our program, except for the novice group, so I can see everybody. All season, I see our eight-year-olds up through our eighteen-year-olds. From that, I can think several steps ahead from where the eight-year-olds are now; ultimately, I can know what I want my seniors to be able to do. I know what the perfect senior racer is – at least in my mind – and I am trying to work backwards from there. I’m trying as best I can to avoid the common nightmares, and then, in turn, provide them the tools necessary to produce what I want to see when they are 10 and 12 and 14 and 16.

I thought I would go about this talk – at least for the bulk of it – starting with a goal or an expectation that I have, and then talking about the common nightmare (which is really the anti-goal that you see a lot of the time), and then describe how I go about combating that and striving to reach the actual goal. Really, this is how I go about reverse engineering: figure out what you want in the end, identify the common nightmares you want to avoid, and then work backwards so that you create – somewhat systematically – the sort of age-group racers that you want.

Objective 1. We go to a meet to swim fast, to be players; we do not go to a meet for the T-shirt, and we don’t go to a meet for the experience. The common nightmare here – and I lived it a lot, and I am sure most age group coaches have experienced this also – is that once the swimmer has gotten a qualifying time for the next level up, whether that is JO’s or Far Westerns or Zones or Sectionals, or whatever, the swimmers feel that they have died and gone to heaven. They made their cut. They are happy. They get to go to the meet. They get the T-shirt that they can wear around their friends and say, “Hey, I am a sectional level swimmer.” Really, though, they have met their goals already. And, in actually going to the meet they get killed. It is not fun going to a championship meet where you are supposed to swim your best times for the whole season – whole life – and then end up doing really poorly. So, quite simply, we do not allow that.

We only go to a meet to swim fast. I think much of the problem can be alleviated through proper goal setting. If kids are aiming to make a cut, most likely they are going to be very happy when they make the cut and feel that their job is done. Like all other coaches, I distribute time standards or qualifying standards for the various meets from our YMCA District, all the way up through Olympic Trials. But – and this is really important – I also do more than that: In addition to the meet qualifying standards, I also distribute the times it takes to make finals at those meets. That means I go through all of the meet results – at least the prelims – and find out what it took to make the A final, what it took to make the B final, and then I write that all down for each age group. This way, when a swimmer gets a time standards packet, they get not only that it takes a 36.5 to make the cut in the 50 backstroke, but that if you want to make the B final you have to got to go a 35.1. If you want to make the A final you have got to go a 33.2. We use those goal sheets – especially the times to make finals – extensively, all year. And, we use those in practice.

Are you swimming fast enough so that at the championship meet you can make a finals time? Because we don’t want to get there – swim in the morning and then watch finals from the stands. We want to be there for real. We want to be a player. I think the goal-setting process is in two steps. The first is necessary, but definitely not sufficient – you have got to make the meet. You have got to get there, but that second step of identifying the finals cut is probably the more important. Generally kids are going to aim at the goals that you point out. If all you point out is making the cut, they are going to be satisfied with that. So we make sure that that is a first step, but that it is definitely not the last one.

I think also – as part of going to the meet and being a player – you need to make the cuts early. You can’t wait until the last chance meet that is 4 days before the championship meet, or a week before the championship meet. You can’t make your cut then and expect to turn it around and swim really fast. Generally, if the swimmer has been trying all season to make a cut and is unsuccessful again and again and again, the tension rises. The emotions rise, and sometimes at those last chance meets you can see people just explode in a really good way. This is their emotional high point of the entire season and they made their cut. A week later and the go to the championship meet and they get 97th place. They are 8 seconds off the time they just did in the 100 fly the week before. Why? Because they have already reached their peak.

We try and target a championship meet at least a month out – sometimes longer than that, so whatever meet a swimmer has qualified for – say six weeks out – that is the meet they are going to go to. If it happens that they make a qualifying time for a higher meet, we will probably still go to the lower meet. We will get to swim more. We will have an opportunity to be a player and we won’t have that performance meltdown. We will be able to really focus on swimming fast at a meet for a good period of time, a couple of training cycles, and all the while knowing what our goal is, and knowing where we are going, and going to try and really perform well.

Objective 2. Make cuts early; don’t wait until the last minute. I use incentive programs as ways of tricking them into qualifying early. I will give you an example – the Missouri Grand Prix this past year, in mid-February – and this applies to age groupers and seniors. Our terminal short course meet for our upper end age groupers and seniors for short YMCA Nationals, which is a really good meet. Well, my first year at York Y we had a whole bunch of people who swam slow – swam slow – swam slow – swam slow a week before the meet – and qualified for one event. They go to Y Nationals. They just squeaked into the meet. They are there for six days. It is a long meet. They swim one race. It is slow. Terrible experience. Got a T-shirt, but not the way we want to do it.

When we go to Y Nationals now, I want kids to have a full plate, which means 4 events. Well, you can tell them from the beginning of the season – I want you to qualify for four events and that might work with one out of a hundred. So, in addition, we set up the Missouri Grand Prix which is a couple of months before Y Nationals, and the qualifying times for both meets are comparable, and I made it a rule: If you want to go to the Missouri Grand Prix – if you want to be able to see Michael Phelps – Natalie Coughlin and watch Kirsty Coventry break the world record in the 200 backstroke – you are going to have to have four cuts period – or you stay home. Well, a lot of those 13 – 14 – 15 year old kids really wanted to go to that Missouri meet – had not been to a Grand Prix meet before – had not really been able to schmooze with the super-duper stars – they wanted to go to that meet and a lot of them really killed themselves to make four cuts. A couple of them only made three – some only made two, but a bunch of kids made four. Suddenly, they have already got four cuts for our championship meet.

I didn’t realize until after I had set that standard of four cuts to go to Missouri, just what a genius move it was. It was kind of in retrospect that I figured out – that was really smart because they were shooting for something and by getting there they had already gotten through step one for our terminal meet. From then on, it was pretty simple to proceed forward. We have already made the short course championship meet; now we need to train for the next three months, or whatever it is, to go to that meet and swim fast. With some of our kids it worked, and with some of them it didn’t, and that was totally my fault (so I did not make the same mistake this summer) but it was not their fault – they had done what I asked them to do. So, you sort of have to trick them into it sometimes.

I also put up a list of the championship meet qualifiers from the first meet of the season. I want kids thinking about that from the beginning. If they have qualified the previous season – so much the better. Then, I will be talking to kids as soon as they make a championship meet qualifying standard about what the next step is. Can we get down to a 2:05 in the 200 butterfly? What do we need to do so that we can swim that fast in early April? So I take what they have done, and I shout it up as soon as they make that standard. Then the next day at practice we are talking about what do we do to take the next step up.

Objective 3. Have Options: Be Versatile
You must have options. You want to be versatile so your whole swimming life doesn’t hinge on the results of one event. This is really more of a training program goal and since my program focuses on the IM and in particular, the 400 IM – it is not that hard a goal to meet for us. I come from the North Baltimore system, so we train like today is butterfly, tomorrow is backstroke, the next day is breaststroke, and then freestyle and then IM. We train everything. Kids are not allowed to specialize and that even goes for some of our 15–16 year olds. Now from time to time we get somebody who goes a 0:55 – a girl who say does a 0:55 in the 100 fly and a 1:27 in the 100 breaststroke. I think, well, maybe they are not going to be a breaststroker, so they might do dolphin breast during breaststroke sets, but they are doing what everybody else does, and that means we might give them options from time to time.

I think when you do that you spread the pressure out. I mean – if a kid really feels like their entire season depends on how they do in the 100 butterfly in the morning at the Y Nationals – that is a lot of pressure. Most kids are not Michael Phelps and they are not going to rise to that challenge. By having several options – by giving them several events to swim – you can spread that out and it is not so overwhelming for them.

Objective 4. Learn to and practice swimming fast in the mornings, so you can swim fast at night in the championship meets. Here, the nightmare is the problem of the local hero, and in most local invitational meets the top swimmers in the locale can swim miserably in the morning and still make it back with no problem – 5 seconds over their best time in the 100 backstroke and they are still going to qualify 2nd or 3rd. There is no sense of urgency whatsoever for them to give a full effort in the morning, and this type of mindset/performance works on the local level. Kids are pragmatists. They are going to do what works. They have got one championship meet where the rules are totally different, but they have got a whole bunch of local meets where they can swim slow, and they know it. You hear all the time from swimmers – “Well, I am not a morning person, but I will be there at night – don’t worry coach.” I think a lot of times coaches are complicit in this problem too, “Well, that was a good morning swim. That was good for a morning. Way to go – you got back for finals.”

I think that a lot of times that coaches make the problem worse than it really needs to be. If we are trying to get kids from the local level up to the national level, they are not going to walk into their first nationals or Junior Nationals being a major league player. They are going to be squeaking in. So, because I like athletes to have second swims, they have to go a best time in the morning or they do not have a prayer. So – how do you get that to happen? You can ask them nicely, but generally that doesn’t seem to work very well, because that overriding sense of pragmatism is what matters more than anything. They can get away with it. What we do is – don’t let them do that and this is another of the absolutely wonderful ideas that I thought of way late in the game.

I call it “the Julia game” named after the swimmer that I first tried this with at the end of the summer. I wish I had thought of it earlier. She had gone to Nationals or Junior Nationals several times, and true to form – she swam too slow in the morning and either watched finals with me in the stands at night, or went in as the #16 and came out of the morning in 19th. Well, that is not satisfactory to me at all. If we are going to be a player, we need to step up in the morning and do it. I had been trying to emphasize to her– among others – over and over and over just how important it was to go fast in the morning – even if you don’t have to. And, over and over again she didn’t. If she made finals though, she would swim really fast at night. So everybody was happy except me – and I want to be happy.

So the Julia game is when you set your own standards for making finals. Say you are doing a 200 backstroke and it is only going to take a 2:25 to make it back at night. Well, if this swimmer wants to go a 2:16 at Nationals – it is not good enough to go a 2:24.9 locally if you are just going to go to Nationals and do the same thing, because you are going to finish last or close to it. So, if you want to come back for finals tonight – I don’t care what place you actually get – you need to go say a 2:20.50. You don’t do that – you scratch finals. Period. You don’t go a 2:20.51. You go 2:20.50 or better, and fortunately, this swimmer has really good parents who actually trust me. That is important. And it was interesting to hear the scuttle throughout our team when she went too slow and scratched even though she was the #1 qualifier. People thought, “Oh – she must be sick.” Or, “Oh – she must have hurt her ankle.” Or, whatever they say. Well, actually, no – they are all wrong. She’s not swimming because the coach scratched her. Fortunately her parents were backing me up about this, and I talked to them before I made the Draconian Rule, but it helped. She got to Junior Nationals and raced her best event – which is the 400 IM, this summer. In the morning, she went a second and a half faster than her best time. It was the first time that she had ever done that, and she qualified 8th by 1/10th of a second. Then she dropped another five seconds that night and got third.

But if you swim too slowly in the morning – it does not matter what your potential is – it doesn’t matter how fast you would have swum if you had gotten a second chance. And you know I care if you go a 4:41 in the IM and get 17th because you went too slow in the morning. If you have got the fastest time in that meet – I want you to get first. So, we started the “Julia game” this summer, and I think there are several more of my kids that it would be very helpful with, so I am definitely going to be experimenting with this game. I think it is really smart and I wish I hadn’t waited so long to figure it out, but if you let the local standards determine how fast swimmers need to go you are not really preparing them for what they are going to have to do if they want to break onto the national level and you have got to be setting the standard much higher than that.

Objective 5. Swim fast all season long and fastest at the end. I want frequent best times throughout the season with periodic and planned bumps. I used to be in the typical training mold – and this was before I went to North Baltimore Aquatic Club and learned that there is a better way. I used to just crush my kids – just crush them and they would swim absolutely terrible throughout the season and then we would have a really, really good taper – they would swim really fast and everybody was happy, but it just seemed to me that if you want kids to be training better and better and better – if you want them to be swimming faster – showing themselves and me that they are getting something out of this training – that they need to be making progress. You can’t just beat the living tar out of them all the time. So I expect them to go to meets, maybe not in October, but you know, by the time we are really getting up the momentum in November and December – and I want them swimming best times.

With age groupers it seems a little strange not to expect that to happen because a 10 year old or a 12 year old is presumably – if you know what you are doing – a whole lot better in October or November than they were back in April when they last swam short course. So you would expect that improvement. If they put in a pretty good summer they are ready to go. And expectations are everything. If I expect the kids to go best times, by and large – they are going to. If I tell them, “Oh – this is just an early season meet – it doesn’t really matter – we are just kind of getting into the season.” Then, what you are going to see is a lot of sloppy terrible swims, and I think that what you expect kids to do – generally, they will do.

In particular – if those expectations show them that you think they are good – that they are capable of a whole lot more than maybe they think they are capable of – then they can really step up. So, that’s what we expect. Now I expect best times all the time – every time they get up onto the block – I want to see something better. Once in a while I am not going to get a best time, but I want to see something better. You know, maybe better tactically – pacing – whatever – better walls – our walls were terrible this summer, so they can’t get any worse – they are going to get better. You know, just something – I want to see some positive steps forward every single time they swim. I think that is important, and I think it is important that they expect it of themselves. It is not always going to happen, but it will happen a whole lot more often if you are expecting it and you are letting them know that you expect it. And you tell them that you are expecting them to expect it. So – I want to see best times. I want to see progress that is continual where we are not just swimming terrible and then praying. Praying worked better at Brophy because that was owned by the Jesuits.

Planned periodic bumps: I think you can set up the swimming meets program in such a way that you manufacture improvements. An example of this is in short course season. Usually an early season meet – just in October and November, we will have lower key local invitationals – timed finals and generally our older kids will swim off events, but I will still expect best times, and they should be able to get that because this is an off event, and they probably haven’t swum it much. So they are getting best times there.

Then in early December we will have what I call a bump meet – that is a meet that is practically designed for swimming fast. Usually it is a prelim and final. Usually it is a multi-state invitational so you are not just racing the neighbors. Because you are racing people you have not seen before there is no pecking order, and you haven’t already decided that you are going to get 6th in the backstroke and 4th in the breaststroke, etc. And we usually will have a huge taper – we will go easy the day before – and that is a HUGE taper for most of my kids and they are ready to go. They have got good training behind them, where if I had been doing my job right, they have been getting better and better and better. Further, the atmosphere of the meet is one of expectation. People are there to swim fast and when you combine really good training with the sense of heightened expectation – you usually get some really nice things. So, we will have one of those meets in early December.

Then, we will have one in early to mid-January. I like it if we can have that as a long course meet because it gives them last summer’s performances to gauge against. Also, I think, it is very good at setting up the upcoming long course season, but sometimes that is not possible, but you do what you can. Then we will have another bump meet in early to mid-February, so that makes three bump meets in a row. That is why I like to have that long course in the middle – it kind of breaks it up a little bit. If we don’t have that I will just have them swim different programs so they are not getting hit with the same events three months in a row. So we will switch things around – again – to try and engineer good experiences and best times.

Then after our mid-February meet – we have got a good five or six weeks until our championship meet – whether that is the YMCA state meets, the Junior Olympics – Zones – Far Westerns – Y Nationals – whatever. But what we have really tried to do is design the season plan and the competition season plan around this idea of getting better in a planned progression, and it all culminates in the final championship meet. I think it works really, really well.

Objective 6. Give a consistent effort in quality of performance – especially throughout a long and hard meet. Objective 7. Create self-reliant kids who know how to think for and take care of themselves during a meet. The nightmares here are pretty obvious – your kids who are wildly inconsistent. In one event they will go CRAZY FAST – in the next event 45 minutes later – they will be so miserable you will be wondering if it’s even the same kid. I mean, the kids with the performances that are just all over the map. Related nightmare – and it probably goes a long way toward explaining the first – is kids that have absolutely no idea what they are doing during the meet.

“When is your next event?”
“I don’t know.”
“Aren’t you supposed to be on the blocks right this second?”
“Oh really? Oh my gosh!”
“Did you warm-up?”
“Huh? Umm, yeah.”
“How much did you warm-up with?”
“I went at least a 100.”
“Did you warm down?”
“Oh, um, yeah. I did a 50.”

Well – no, no, no, no, no – so our goal is to create consistency through planned meet management. I will talk about what meet management is in a second – it is not high tech. And the second part of that is to create self-reliance by teaching meet management. Very simply, “meet management” is planning ahead. Creating a mental and physical routine for consistent peak performance that is practiced at every meet, before and after every swim where kids make every decision during a meet, based on what is going to help them race their best. Maximizing the recovery after each race, so as to prepare for the next one. It means making good choices about how to act at a meet, so that every time they step on the block they are ready to give a good performance.

Now – that sounds like a pipe dream and I must admit it hasn’t worked perfectly yet, but it works pretty darn well and if you think about it, there are a whole bunch of things that are involved in swimming fast. It is not just “go – swim fast – finish.” And, I certainly learned this in Arizona – if you try and swim fast from start to finish of a 4 day long meet in 115 degrees – it is really hard. Most of the kids in a meet like that – a situation like that may be really good the first day, and their performances get progressively worse as the meet goes on. For the majority of kids, this happens because they are not drinking enough. You practically have to drink five gallons a day to stay hydrated in that situation. They are not recovering well between sessions. They are not recovering well between days. They are not warming down/warming up enough and there are a lot of things that go into it, but by and large the general tendency is to get worse as the meet goes on, because they are not making good decisions.

So we try – well – we don’t try – WE DO – we talk to the kids about all these aspects of swimming fast. Like what? They need to dress for the weather. If you go to a Far Western meet in April, it is going to be 40 degrees and raining for four straight days. This is one of the more miserable experiences you can have, and you need to know how to swim fast despite that. If it is 115 degrees – what do you need to do? If you are in a low humidity area where the temperature goes down to thirty or forty degrees after sunset, you need to know how to deal with that. You need to eat and drink the right things in the right amounts at the right time. And, of course, that varies tremendously depending on whether you have 20 minutes between events, 45 minutes between events, an hour and a half between events. The timing really matters, and if you don’t eat anything, you don’t drink anything, then you will run out of gas. You won’t be able to understand it, and I won’t be able to understand it when you get worse and worse – despite the fact that you have been training so well and your races have been going so well all summer. Suddenly, a few seemingly insignificant choices have scuttled your season. I don’t like that…so, we talk about it. We work on it.

We practice from the beginning. The local, less important, whatever meets – we practice doing these things right. Warming up: the right things here involve the right intensities at the right times. It drives me NUTS when a swimmer will come up to me – say 45 minutes before I know he is going to race – to talk to me about his upcoming swim. I will say, “Well, you getting ready to warm-up? The swimmer goes, “No – I already did, coach – come on, what are you thinking?” Well, if you don’t do the warm-up at the right time, it doesn’t do what a warm-up is supposed to do. I like to cut it close. Ideally, I want a swimmer walking out of that warm-down pool about 4 minutes before they are going to dive in and race. I want their heart rates up – I want them feeling like they are in a groove – I want their aerobic system turned on. Sometimes that means that I have older kids acting as sort of marshals for a swimmer – they know when to get the swimmer out and march them over to the blocks. Simply, doing a good enough warm-up at the right time is really important.

To figure out the timing, I teach kids how to use a heat sheet and backwards plan. I want them getting into that warm-up pool 23 minutes before the are going to dive in for their race, and then they swim until about five minutes before they are on. We have little warm-ups; some of it is based on the individual, and some of it is based on your event. Some of it is based on how long it has been since you last raced. You are going to want to do more if you have been sitting for a couple of hours, and maybe less if you raced a half hour ago. It depends on who and what, but essentially, all the kids learn how to use a heat sheet. I can’t stand it when somebody comes up to me – because it is never just one swimmer – and asks, “When do I warm-up for my event? When do I warm-up for my event? When do I warm-up for my event?” Well, I am trying to deal with the five swimmers I have in this heat, and I am certainly not going to go through my program one at a time and count backwards for every single athlete to determine exactly when each one should warm up. Even if I did have the time, that is their job.

It is the swimmers’ job – even the 10 year olds – to figure out when they are supposed to do these things. And, believe it or not, it is not that tough to get a ten year old to figure this out. Sometimes they need a little help. When they ask me, “Coach, when do I warm-up?” I always say – every single time, “When it is appropriate.” They don’t think that is helpful. So, I say, “Go ask Caleb – he will help you.” It is one of the jobs of the senior kids to help, if needed – with the 10 year olds, the 11 year olds, the newbies – to help the little ones figure out what to do and when to do it. I think that is good for the senior kids, because it helps them feel a much greater connection with the younger kids. I think it helps the younger kids too, because they are not expecting the coach to spoon feed them.

I know a lot of times coaches, especially of younger swimmers, will smooth the way – you know, making sure all the bumps and pebbles are out of the way, so that there is no way that a swimmer can stub his toe on the road of life. Me? I believe in throwing rocks down the path, making them learn how to jump between them, and you know, not sprain an ankle or anything. I don’t think you need to make it easy for them. I think you need to challenge them – teach them how to figure out their way around these problems. And, when you do that, you are going to end up with self-reliant kids who are going to get on those blocks at Nationals and not need you to hold their hand every single second. I think you can create self-reliant kids. I think you can do that from a young age. It doesn’t mean you must be mean about it. You do not need to have the hammer in your hand all the time – that hammer that Bob Bowman and Gregg Troy have talked about. I think you can do it really nicely, by asking them when it is appropriate, or telling them – when it is appropriate and have Caleb help you figure out when that is. You must teach kids to be self-reliant – very, very important. You don’t mind if I talk for four hours, do you?

Objective 8. Obey the “Rules for Racing”
These are just simple expectations I have for my swimmers.

#1: RACE YOUR GUTS OUT. A lot of times when a swimmer comes up to me for a pre-race psych-up, that is all I will say: race your guts out. We have gone over the tactics – they know how to swim a race – I know they know it – they know they know it. So, I just say, “Race your guts out” and they say, “Okay, coach.” So, #1 rule – race your guts out.

#2: GET YOUR BEST TIME IN THE MORNING, AND MOVE UP SPOTS. And, by that I mean, if you are seeded coming into the meet at 16th – I want you to place better than 16th from your morning swim. You need to move up spots. Get your best time and move up. And sometimes it is really interesting if you are at a really big meet, where, if you get a best time then you get a second swim – just like that. Most people go into that national meet and swim slow in the morning. Some of them too slow. But if you are going in there, and you swim a best time, you are going to move up spots – sometimes dramatically.


#4: SWIM BETTER AS THE MEET PROGRESSES. Everybody else is going to get tired. By the end of the meet a lot of people – oh more – good gravy morning Sunday prelims – it is a joke, but it is always amazing that some kids, and sometimes whole teams, find a way to be ON come Sunday morning. Those teams just rack up the finalists. You can score amazing numbers of points on that last day, if you have got kids expecting to swim fast on Sunday morning, and if you have taught them how to manage their meet so that they still have pretty close to a full tank of gas by the end. It is possible, okay? And we expect that and I talk about it. Now it is lecture #24 – it’s the one I give to the kids on Sunday morning before warm-ups, and it is almost the same every time. One time a swimmer gave it for me – he said, “Coach, I know what you are going to say – here it is.”

That time, I was at a coaches meeting, or whatever, so one of our senior swimmers gave the “Michael talk” – and it was all how “Everybody else is dragging and you guys feel great and even if you do not feel great – who cares – we do the job because that is what we train for – blah, ba, blah, ba, blah.” Okay, all coaches have given a variation on that theme, but we talk about it from the beginning of the season. We focus on swimming better at the end of everything – whether it is the end of a repeat, end of a set, end of a practice, end of the week, end of the month – we practice this stuff. It doesn’t just happen. It is an attitude of always finishing everything strong. You can teach it – you can work on it with the kids, and if you do that they are going to go to a meet and it is not going to be anything special. “Of course we do that, coach,” the swimmers say, “That is what we practice.”

#5: IN ANY CLOSE RACE – GET YOUR HAND ON THE WALL FIRST. Simple. Easy. Happens every time. Right. I wish, but some teams manage to do it and some kids – Michael Phelps springs to mind – manage to do it. It doesn’t matter how much you think they are behind with a yard to go – they are going to find some way to get their hand on the wall first, and we practice this as well. We race – when we do 25s they will go side by side keeping score – loser does pushups. Okay? And they race. They are not afraid to lose – they don’t like it, I hope, but they are not afraid to lose. They want to race. I love kids who want to race. I love kids who want to figure out some way to beat you, and we practice it.

#6: GET TOUGHER THE TOUGHER THE CONDITIONS. ENJOY THE CHALLENGE. NO WHINING. I don’t care how you feel – do the job. I stole that from “”, by the way, but it is really smart, okay? It doesn’t matter how you feel – you have trained to be able to do the job. If you know that everybody else is going to be dragging by the end of a long meet – if you are smart – you can see the opportunity there. I have had kids move up sixty places by swimming really well in the morning – you get these kids coming out of nowhere – because they took that Sunday morning seriously. They were tired too, but they decided that they were going to swim fast.

#7: EXPECT TO SWIM FAST; DECIDE TO SWIM FAST – EVERY TIME. A lot of times you will see kids who – in their favorite races – will put out a full effort and then the races they really don’t care two hoots about – different swimmer. We really emphasize the IMX program through USA Swimming, and that has helped a lot in getting kids to see that every event is important. If you improve on your best event – you might improve 50 points. If you improve on the one you are just awful at – you are probably going to move 400 points. You may jump 400 spots nationally just by getting off your bum and working on your breaststroke – just caring about it a little bit. If you can get kids to realize that every event is important – whether because it is going to help your IMX score, or you can, you know, explain it more philosophically – but if you can get them to care about each one, you are going to see a lot more consistency Michael Phelps cares about every race. Katie Hoff cares about every race. And we expect that.

#8: LEARN FROM YOUR MISTAKES; FIX THEM. LEARN FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES; AVOID THEM. We have watched – and now we will have a different race to watch – the 1988 men’s 100 butterfly Olympic final – a hundred times: here is how Matt Biondi loses a sure gold medal. And there are other examples, but that is such a brilliant one. Well, through the Beijing Olympics we have a few more, but here is what he did and it cost him a Gold Medal, okay? Every single meet we have got kids who are falling just short – missed a cut that matters to them by 100th of a second – missed the finals by a 100th of a second – falling just short – well you can manage to fall just short almost every time if you try hard enough. You practice these things that are going to leave you just short OR you can realize – look – if I keep gliding in and picking my head up I am pulling my legs up – I am going to go slow into that wall. So here is what cost him a gold medal – I need to make sure that I don’t do that. It drives me nuts how I will see a swimmer make the same mistake every single meet.

Even good swimmers – national level swimmers who should know better and who tell me that their goals are way up here and yet, they keep practicing things that are going to leave them way below that level. You know, sometimes – you can lead a horse to water, but can’t make him drink. “” didn’t say that – somebody did – but it is really smart also. You can tell them over and over and over and over, but sometimes you know, it is just up to the kids. But still, you teach them as best you can – fix your mistakes. Talk about it with them. Try as hard as you can not to get frustrated, and it is hard not to when you have seen the same mistake 400 straight meets, but try and get them to fix it. And try to get them to avoid the things that have cost other people gold medals – world records – final places, etc. And then, the last rule of racing…

#9: CHERISH BEING ON RELAYS; SWIM EVEN FASTER ON RELAYS (OR WE ARE JUST NOT GOING TO DO THEM). Relays in our area at least, tend to be the last event of finals. You have been there the entire day – been there for 14 hours – you want to go home, and you will get your kids up there on the blocks and they will swim and add an average of 4 seconds. You think, “Maybe that was a sign from God that I am done?” Anyway, they will swim an average of 4 seconds slower per hundred – and you think, “Why did we just stay here? So we could do that?” So, we have a rule: if we are going to do a relay I want to see 4 best times. Again – it might sound kind of brutal or ridiculous, but you let them know – we are here to swim fast and we have goals when we do relays. It is usually to be National Top 10, or top 5, or you know, whatever it is; but, if we are going to do a relay, we are going to do it well, because I can’t handle watching slop – especially when I am already dead tired and I want to go home.

You have got to keep me interested. And I want to see a really good relay. I would love to spend even an extra hour to watch you do a great relay, but I am not going to sit here for one second if you are not going to give your very, very best effort and the kids know that. They know that if they want to do a relay, they better step up and make it important. And if I have a swimmer who has not followed the relay rule of life, well then, that swimmer is going to find themselves off the relays. I am going to put in someone who is maybe a little slower officially, but who is going to do a really, really good job for those other three kids.

So anyway, I have got about five hours more to talk about things, but I think that is probably enough, so, thank you very much.

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