Coaching Males from a Small Town by Peter Motekaitis (2000)


The goal of the talk today is to deal with concrete and positive ways to work with males. One of the things that I know right off the bat is that there are hundreds of ways to swim fast. There are hundreds of ways to work with males and so I’m just going to tell you a little bit about what I’ve done and what’s been successful for me to recruit them and retain them. I’m not going to spend a whole bunch of time talking about performance on any of the athletes cause I want to deal with more personal skills.


First of all our town is 50,000 people.  We have a large university, a major university in town, but there is only 20,000 people that are really community members, so I’ve got one high school, and at our peak I had six hundred people on our club swim team. The community, when I first started coaching in ’83, was right on the verge of being yuppies and let me tell you it was really highly and still is highly competitive.  The team had forty people when I started out so I wanted to have a good team and it was either compete with or make excuses why it can’t happen. So a lot of people now are saying I got to compete against soccer and fencing and art and science and so on and so forth and that’s the environment that I first started off.  There are hundreds of opportunities.


Why I’m staying is that I have three children, and it’s just a great place for children to grow up.  So I was in this very competitive environment which I hear now in ASCA and in a lot of the clinics, we are worried about soccer and we are worried about youth hockey and so on and so forth, well that was my environment right off from the start. One of the things that we did right off the bat was I started working with guys and I realized that we can connect with them and once the team started growing at one point I was 80% male to 20% females and then gradually over time it worked out to about a 50 – 50 ratio.


Now before I get into some of topics I want to discuss, there are two books that I have found that have been very helpful. One is a current book and it’s by Chuck Warner, it is Four Champions One Medal.  A question that I want to pose to you is, if you read that book and I think it’s one of the best books on swimming, I want you to think, could you coach Bobby Hackett?  He was a ridalin kid, he had attention deficit disorder.  Could you coach Tim Shaw?  He put Vaseline and bugs on everyone’s spoon, he put oral gel on the toothpaste. What would you do with those type of guys? What about Gary Hall Junior?  You have the talent out there, but can you work with that type of guy, cause guys are guys.


I work with the university team and there is not much difference folks between an eight year old and a 22 year old in a lot of ways. They are water babies, they want to be guys, they want to be part of something.  So also ask yourself, can I work with these great athletes? Because you know you might get something that you really want but are you going to work with the guys to make them great.


I have three categories that I want to talk about today, and the first one is the entry level male.  I listed that as 6 to 10 years old and in my town this was the real critical age.  I could hook these people, my wife could hook them, my assistant coaches can hook them, and we had lots and lots of boys.  One of the ways that we did it is that we want to establish bonding.  You know one of the great things as a professional swim coach is that you have an entire year, maybe ten months, but you are there every single day.  I’m an icon in the community.  My daughter says that I’m the most hated and the most loved man in the community and she is pretty much right but if you have some roots, or if you have just been at a place for a couple of years and you are going to establish bonding and that bonding with males is really, really important.


The other thing is show yourself to be an expert.  There are so many other sports, but guess what, if you really know your stuff, people will know, kids will know, and you establish yourself as an expert in the community. People will start looking up to you.


Now, these are the things that I would do, I would go out to make the mothers happy with the 6 to 10 year olds in my community.  Most of them are happy to be there.  So if you make mom happy you’re going to have the kid.  So one of the things that I did is I was flexible for family, and our community on our team. We would have 8 and under practice five days a week. It’s there, come when you want. We stress fitness in this town, and I would be an expert, and I would put up things on the bulletin board from U.S.A. Today: youth are obese, youth are out of shape, the worst shape in United States history.  I would stress to the mother fitness.


I would engage the young male swimmer.  When the swimmers come they are excited to be there. They would come with their suits on, they would leave with suits. We’d ask them in the summer, did you sleep in your suits and half the time on a warm day they would say yeah.  Once you are there with males, if you always got them doing something they are going to be ready to go.  Now in our program we did aerobic training early in practice, and I’m not talking about making them swim lots of laps, cause we did a lot of technique stuff, but when the 8 and under’s were coming to practice we would have them swim up and back and grab a kick board and then  they would kick, and then make them go over and under the lane lines, over and under the lane lines, and over and under the lane lines, and then under the lane lines and then over and overs.  It would burn up a lot of energy and for the guys it was real easy to work with.  I believe that those girls you could have talked to them two minutes into practice and they would listen, the guys they have always got too much energy and after they had gone for 20 minutes they were a lot calmer and then that is something that you can work with.


Technique. I would always walk over to the assistant coaches and I would ask them if they have seen Sesame Street.  I’m excited, I’ve got a five month old child and 14 and 10, but guys, girls, Sesame Street’s like this: everything is sound bites.  MTV, boom, boom, boom, boom, and when you have the kids come in there and you make them all sit in the corner and get all cold, you’re going to lose them. A lot of the boys are sitting there and they want to splash somebody. They can focus, but heck they are in the water, they want something and they want to get going, so I do the technique in sound bites.


Everyday I try to leave them smiling.  I have two young guys here and actually I’m going to do some teaching demonstrations on a combination of young and middle aged, but every single day I like to leave them with a smile.  We do crazy challenges, we do relays. One of the things that would be done at least half of the time, is they would end up a practice session of what we would call thumbs up, thumb down, and in my community everyone wants to be a perfectionist.  Thumb downs were a great way for people to learn how not to take not doing something so well, not so personally, so they wouldn’t cry. A thumb up means that you did well, thumb down not so well and the coach can judge. Maybe we had guys and we would be working on diving and we would tell all of the 8 and unders, 5 thumbs up and you’re out of here. So we would start diving and we would dive them four at a time and if I saw a little bit of improvement they get thumbs up and  if I saw somebody do something bad like this I’d say, (slapped hands) ham sandwich. Next time they would do that, even if they didn’t dive out very far, I’d give them a thumb up and I would say, O.K. dive out further. So the kid leaves practice on a positive. You’re not out so that’s out.  So right off the bat, they’re figuring that O.K. I’ve got to be more successful than not.


Sometimes they would say when is fun day and I would say everyday is fun day and they would say well, what day do we do all of this. So we got a lot of people that are into video games and a lot of people just don’t know how to play and do all that kind of stuff.  And Babe Detrickson, one of the greatest female athletes of all times, she did a thing called follow the leader and I was reading her biography and I said you know what, we are going to do follow the leader in the water and I’m the leader, so I jump in with my speedo.  Follow the leader is pretty good.


After a while I come up with the idea, let’s have a live action video game so we call it jungle training. We go over in the diving pool and I think it’s important for males to see other males in the speedo. You know in the jungle the idea is to get points and if you die you go over into the big pool and you have to do some regeneration and you come back.  We start off real simple, you jump in with your hands in a streamline and you go to the bottom and you swim across the pool, and at that time, after I’ve talked to them, I’ve demonstrated once and then I become the grim reaper. Don’t talk to the grim reaper because you will die, but if you come across the pool and the grim reaper goes like that, you get a point and you try to get 15 or 18 points and then you are the king or the queen of the jungle.  Well they are all so excited and usually during the season only one or two people will eventually make king or queen of the jungle, but it’s fun, it’s challenging, it teaches them how to accept failure.


Giant laps are kind of an Iron Man Triathalon thing that we do. We would have them kick, get out, walk on the concrete and run around. During the summer I do this with a lot of summer kids and the boys would be like racing and then we would count how many they would do for their aerobic half hour and then we would like tally it and the next week we’d say, you have to do one more, but you could do more if you want, so we would never say, you only have to do 9 or 10.  A lot of the guys, you know the first time they do 8 the next time they have to do 9 but they are doing 11 and so we don’t really set a lot of limits for that.


Relays of course.  Noodles. Free play.  Kill the coach, I’m getting pretty old for that.  That would be essentially free for all in the dive tank where they come and they try to take my goggles off and I push them and everything and they like that, they like that a lot.

In this practice and the middle age group would always teach to the weakest and train to the strongest.  I think that’s a real important concept. I would not leave basic diving and maybe work on cool downs and butterfly until I had a basic freestyle front dive.  I would start off with like the six year olds, in my group we wouldn’t go on to breast stroke until the weakest person had a semi proficient dive.  What that meant was that the best people in our group had over learned it or had really learned it and they knew it forever, so I thought that was a real important concept.  That gives the guys the feeling, hey I know I can do it, I may not be the best but I can do it. I always will catch them doing something well.  Go through that and you really got to find something that they are doing well, and it might be real simple with the guys.  If one of the guys comes in there and they’re one of the first people in the water, and all of the sudden their heads are up and I’m going hey Sam you were one of the first people in the water today.  That is real simple but it’s one of those positive interactions that doesn’t take a lot of time and it makes them feel like hey I’m doing something. I keep it the same whether I teach adults or beginners.  Swimming is a do, do, do sport and so we are going do, do, do, do so that is a big thing with me.


At this level coaches organize socials. You know this is the time that we organize the Olympic parties. We have the popcorn and the punch and we control when and where we want to do it and that changes. Some of these things will be repeated but some of them as we go through the ages will be changed so I thought that was real important. Interaction with older team mates is so important for males. If you have a program that’s got older males, I got a guy who is a great swimmer and more importantly he is a great young man and he is like 6’6 and he is just a stud, and he does exactly what I did fifteen years ago, but now they have a seventeen year old boy that they look up to and he comes in maybe three times a year and he works with the kids and boy, they are just so, after a while they get tired of listening to me or the coach, but man when this kid comes in and they look at Ryan and they say oh my god, and Ryan says hey, that ham sandwich has gotta be tighter and their sandwich has been here all the time.  Guys like to look up to guys and my older athletes start to know their names and we go to local meets, not a lot but occasionally, they would be the pied piper, they would be walking, strutting.  I look and there are little 8 and unders and they are gonna watch him swim breaststroke and he is a sprint freestyler backstroker and they are like go Ryan, go Ryan and afterwards he doesn’t win and they say that’s O.K. Ryan I know you tried hard, and then when Ryan would get in the race or something and he would win they would say we knew you could do it Ryan.  So I think that is important.


Six to ten year olds, hey they get in the water, not everybody does it, but I think that is so important, when they are real little, I really like to work on streamlining and pushing them and you know, I’m the pied piper in the water.  I got two kids here, a kid here a kid around my neck, they like it, I like it.  You know, we talk about how kids are scared having speedo’s, not on my team, no one is scared the old coach is there, all the coaches get in the water and right off the bat you are kind of a nerd if you’re not wearing the proper equipment.


I work so hard for the hyper boys the ritalin boys, cause I know if we can get them, they are going to be Bobby Hackett maybe. And they might also turn out to be a good age group swimmer after we have toned him down a little bit.  So you gotta work hard for that.  The biggest thing, is that everybody has short attention spans. I know that during this talk some of you are going to wonder in and out but, you know, the biggest thing with coaching age groupers is making sure that they are engaged and that the coach is watching them.


I’m going to introduce now two guys, come on guys, we are gonna clap for these guys cause they had the courage to come here, this is Nathan and Trevor, age 11 and 12, and they are going to be kind of the group that we talk about next. I’ve never met this guy until yesterday, and it’s one of my things, guys begat guys.  How did we get Trevor, I asked him.  So we got another guy for this demonstration. Here is an important thing, you were on a swim team and what happened to the guys, they left because of the coaching.  How many guys left, almost everybody. So this is the first guy I’ve talked to, so he is on the swim team and so I kind of got a captive audience but his team has had a problem  — 10 to 15, he has had a huge drop of athletes, male athletes and he says it’s the coach.  I suppose it’s a big problem, but folks, I really, really believe that a huge part of the problem has to do with the coaching.  Guys like to be athletes, they want to be part of something and if you don’t do a job they quit.  And so I would take it personally in a lot of ways when some of my athletes left early on and we’ll talk about what happened later when I got a little wiser.  But I’m also going to do a little bit of how I would work with people in the sport.  Both of these guys have never really fenced, I’m also a fencing coach at the college and fenced competitively a long time ago, so I’m going to teach theses guys a little bit about fencing and we are going to do a little bit of training.


I’m gonna talk while they are going to do all of this stuff. So you guys are athletes and you are ready to try it, and at the end of this I’m going to teach you one of the three coolest things about fencing, so when you leave this you can say I trained for fencing and I learned something really cool. I want you guys to face me, and I want you to make an L with your feet. O.K. an L with your feet.  You’re on my cord, O.K. with this I want you to step out and I want you to bend down, O.K. there you are,  both guys are both there in a basic “en guard.”


We are going to have you do some aerobic stuff. Come over here.  You’re going to be the leader. O.K. you are going to do what is called the cross over, so we are going to be going here, look at me and you’re just going to walk like this, you’re going to walk all the way down to the wall and you’re going to do the reverse, and so I want you to go down about half way and I’ll watch you and when you turn around you’re gonna do this or that.  If it is this I want you to keep right on going and do it coming back.  Come over here Trevor, I’m gonna hold your feet, now spread out a little bit, bend a little bit, now cross one foot over the other, keep it a little lower.  Trevor, there you go, there you go, good come on back the other way.  Trevor look at me, you look at me, you look good, now stay low and keep going, all right cross over again this way.  Nathan why don’t you come down the center, it is a little wider.


O.K. 11 to 14 year olds, it is important to limit the loss.  You’re gonna lose people but this is also real important for your really hard core people.  This is where swimmers get self identification, this is where junior high school people all of the sudden, I get this all the time and the teacher’s in the junior high school come over to me and they say, I know your swimmers, well how do they do that, well I’m the English teacher, they have written 16 papers on swimming, they tell everybody, they wear Speedo shirts all of the time and it is very, very important for them.


(to the boys) Why don’t you stay right there. We are going to strengthen your arms, so once you get here, I want you to hold it with your dominant arm until it gets tired, put the mask over here and then go back around.  So keep your arm out straight, there you go, good athlete, good athlete, there you go, when it gets too tired put it down and then walk around.


Now this is an important age, that I still think that the most important person in whether a boy is going to swim is the mother. I think that you want to talk about them being well rounded, so make sure that swimming is not the total focus of their life, that you can do by being a well rounded person yourself. One, it is tough to be an 11 to 14 year old boy because the body changes. 11 to 14 year olds have a hard time because they are going through puberty or not going through puberty in my case, but what body images are out there for the guys right now? WWF, Comic Books, man they are inhuman, they’re as inhuman as the super models. So these guys are looking at themselves in their little scrawny body’s and speedos and they are going, do I have the muscles, am I strong enough am I fit enough.  So I stress fitness, and when those guys start getting a little bit better and they are stronger and fitter and they can do more pull ups or push ups, you know I stress that, hey you are getting better and they know it, so that is the important thing, again a positive role model.


Coaching a sport can be a bedrock for them.  If you are always there and you say hi, it’s great to see you again.


(to the boys) You guys are good, why don’t you, I don’t want your arms to fall off, why don’t you go back and do another length and then come back and grab those masks and go again.  So start right down there.


And then the other thing is that you create a positive external swimming environment, and by that I mean emphasize, best times, emphasize self improvement, emphasize a healthy lifestyle. What can mom say about that? When my children are in an environment like that, I’m a real happy guy, and mothers make the call so you really want to stress that.


Talent identification as a professional coach with positive remarks.  I have more athletes that I’ve worked with that have gone on to greater things other than swimming.  I’m from a small town. There are people starting in major colleges, football quarterback, a running back, two people that are in minor leagues.  I’ve got two girls that are on the national B teams for soccer and water polo, two guys that are on the national B team. One guy is on the national youth team all for water polo, so you know when that starts happening, you know, if a kid has some talent, I’ll let them know, if they want to be great in a couple of things, you know I want to be the professional that is working there with them.


11 to 14 year olds, that is when we start our dryland training.  What we do is that we do aerobic cross training, body weight, no flexibility. I know with guys being that age and everything, they are kind of hyper, but the professionals that I have worked with, that have had breaststroker knees and shoulder problems, I’ve always said that it’s because their shoulders or knees are to lax so they have told me that except in the exceptional case to not even do that, because as they get more stable, their joints should be better.


Team games are just being introduced at this stage.


We teach to the entire person. At this age which is different then when they get older and travel as an individual. If you are traveling with our team, (to the boys, good, I want you guys to count to ten and then start up again) you have to have certain attendance, maybe certain time standards but, it’s all individual, and I think when you are 11 to 14 year olds, that is the first part of being responsible, just for yourself, so we travel individually.  We also start to foster the courage to stand apart.


You know these two young gentleman are an excellent example. I don’t know how many adults would come into a place like this with some crazy man and give an honest effort and be a little bit more athletic and maybe learn one cool thing in fencing, and so we applaud that. When I talk to my athletes, my swimmers whether they are male or female, I always use that word, athlete, and it separates them.  It’s the courage to stand a part. If somebody says well everyone’s going to the dance, and I say well athletes have tough choices to make and they know right there, they know right off the bat, that I’m talking about them being different. Winning is not only winning in first place, but winning is having different goals some of them might be in the process of trying your best, coming and doing something new, or, in the case of some of my 11 to 14 year old ritalin kids, not getting kicked out of practice or having an entire year where they don’t get kicked off a trip. You know winning changes.  And then also having the courage to say no to peer pressure.  We talk about that, I had a person come in from the California area, Alan Goldberg, and that is one of his big things and I think that you know, I’m not the professional, but having somebody like that come in and kind of reinforce that idea, I think is real important.  We focus on self improvement, time drops and technique improvement, just like when they were little kids.  I wait for them to catch them doing something good. I know in Warner’s book it said Bobby Hackett’s teacher said that every time they dealt with him they count to 20 and to take three aspirin.  If you were the only adult that says something positive on a continual basis, man you are so important in that young man’s life, young boy’s life.  I consciously go through the thing everyday, I walk down the lanes and I’m saying to myself did I say something to this person, and sometimes I have to be real creative, and I don’t bat 100% but it is one of those things that I do. And then I have a thing that I tell my assistant coach that I interact the minimum of three times a day at this level, I say hello to them by their name.  By this time sometimes they have a nickname, skinny, bug, scrawny, they have all kinds of nicknames, but I always say hello to them.  I try to add something positive and I say goodbye, you know sound bites.  They realize the coach recognizes they’re here, the coach was happy I was here, coach said goodbye. If you do that there is that type of interactions.


Coaches continue to organize the functions on a program for social instructional purpose.  You know at this time we would be talking about tapes, but what we like to do, (to the boys: count to 30 and then we will have you do one more thing and then we’ll go on to the next one) is have parent volunteers. We’ll say we are going to watch a video tape or we’ll say that we are going to watch the trials, and we go over to a parents house. It’s organized and there is a specific purpose by the coaches.  Upbeat practices. Just like the other groups we teach the weakness and train the strongest.


It’s co-ed, O.K. I have lots of guys and I have a 50 – 50 percent ratio, and I work really well with the guys, but in a club situation, my best team and my best individuals have been girls. I’m the highest placing at nationals, we one two public high schools national championships, all our records are all set by girls.  When I talk to this age there is a lot of Pete quotes, and here is one that they hear, to do well in swimming you have to be different and you have to be fanatically compulsive, and you have to be irrationally macho, and there is not a perfect formula for everybody.  At some points you are going to be fanatically compulsive about getting to practice, about having technique and doing all that. I don’t care who you are, at some point you are going to have to dig so deep in practice and in the swim meet that you are going to hurt.  One of the things that they hear is that they threw up on my shoes, they are out of practice, there is an unofficial team record that is kept by the senior group, five times, one guy has lost it in practice, alright you kind of have to be irrational and macho, so you know it’s all mixed up and I’m talking about boys and I’m working with the boys. The girls, when they’ve been with my program, all the way along I think it just makes them a lot tougher and we have had some really tough kids that have been female athletes and it is not for everybody.  The best breaststroker that ever was in the area, she eventually went 1:02.1 in the 100 breast and I had a couple of girls that went 1:04, she came with us and she tried out. (To the boys: you guys I’ll teach you something in just a second, sit down, thanks for getting going.)  She just couldn’t handle it and she just wasn’t into the program.  So it’s not for everybody and I don’t have a 100% success, but it’s definitely co-ed.


The teen years, that’s the 15 to 18 and this is when the key I think for them is that swimmers are part of something bigger then them.  Team, you got a senior’s group here, you have a national group at our place. It’s Pete’s group.  And we have world ranked swimmers with people that were not world ranked and they were all in the same pool and how we mixed them up would vary from day to day, but they were all part of the team and they all brought something hopefully great to the team.  And the big thing that I worked with everybody, was you know, eliminate no boundaries and breaking the A minus syndrome.  I keep telling them that too many of you guys have the A minus syndrome. Athletes don’t want that, right? Pablo Morales when he was training, he might have overtrained in ’88. I hear stories all the time, it was real simple he wanted to get his best time, his best time happened to be the world record, alright he didn’t settle for an A minus, he didn’t settle for hey, let’s just make the team.  Athletes want to be the best that they can be.  That is kind of a cliche.  So I thought the greatest thing that we had in the people that I work is that get rid of the boundaries, A minus isn’t good enough, see how well you can go and I teach, and swimming is easier for me to teach than social studies which I was originally trained for.  And the other thing is, I expand the team.  People lose people all the time, I have picked up some of the greatest athletes in town that have been 16, 17, 18 years old.  One guy came in when he was a senior and he had just won the CIF Championship which is our equivalent to a state championship in basketball, I think 17 free throws in a row and he swam on my high school team, and the high school team is mixed in with some younger girls and everything and they are training and everything and after the second or third day I know that he’d played water polo, I say to him, how can you do all this, he said well I want to learn to swim because I might play water polo in college. But all the time 15, 16, 17, 18 year people might start coming to me. Why? because I’m a bedrock. Guys begat guys.  I’ll teach you, I’ll make you fitter, and you know it is a real positive place and people come back.  When I lose 11 to 14 year olds I usually say what are you doing and they say I’m going to do roller hockey and I say well, you go and be the best roller hockey you can, but guess what, you are always welcome here and I want to read about you in the local newspaper, and I don’t get everybody back.


I give my athletes opportunities. I don’t guarantee anything, but all the people in there, I give the opportunity for them to learn and get fatigued and be part of something bigger than themselves.  For the first time I’m not coaching to the mother.  There are good things and bad things, make the swimmer happy, that is the kind of satisfaction where they’ve gotta get something out of it.  I tell them right off the bat and guys don’t hear often that they are an exceptional person and I say this all the time, if you want to be an athlete for me and be respected in my eyes, here is what I want you to do: it is 1,000 hours a year, only an exceptional person can do that, and some of my guys play water polo and some do soccer and I always challenge them. I say if you’re going to do stuff, think about it.  If you get 1,000 hours of competition and training in there that’s kinda the benchmark and if you are doing other sports or if you’re just swimming.


I talk about the super level of fitness to them. I tell this to the parents but I also tell it to them. One of the things that I believe in, I’m not a sports scientist, but I believe in a lot of what they are saying about when you start getting aerobic base and everything and I keep talking about this thing work potential.  I have a man who got married five years ago, but he told me a story that he just did great in law school and that is because he had an incredible work potential and he was part of the law review and everything, and his brilliant people couldn’t keep up with him and in the end he did so much better because he had that work potential of swimming.  One time he got really mad at a buddy and he said, you have to suck it up just like that hell week when I was a swimmer, you know you just keep going if you’re tired.  But I also think that you talked about long term health benefits is real important, but when you start training three or four hours a day, and all of the sudden you’re an adult you have that base to go back on.


I put the swimmers in the position to be a good role model.  Everybody in my older group has to come and work with the younger kids, and again, that is a male thing.  Create a team environment. All of the sudden, this works well for some of the girls and some of the guys who hit a plateau, but if all of the sudden everybody is worried about how well the team does then they are not so worried about themselves and they are part of something bigger.  And again, you know, continue the talent identification in working with them.


Dryland becomes more important, at least in my program. I didn’t have morning water, this became real important to me and what it did was a whole bunch of things.  One was that I was aerobic cross training and then we had progressive age appropriate resistant training.  One of the boys they sent out to Texas as a freshman tested as the second strongest in the UT program. There was only a fifth year senior that was stronger.  Very limited flexibility program for a few select swimmers and then team games, becomes real important.  I’m going to date myself, I was born when Eisenhower was around, and I grew up with peanuts and a lot of young people don’t understand that Peanuts was awesome, but Peanuts was dated, one of the primary reasons why I liked Peanuts was because there were no adults. So you guys don’t know what it is like to play sandlot ball, and kids these days don’t know how to play. They don’t know how to go out and break a sweat and play.  I always get into fights, who wins and who doesn’t.  So we play these crazy games, so one of the things that I do is that I play with them and try to teach them how to play and how to get a good workout in. The roles change a whole bunch and it is co-ed, and it’s not one of these really super macho type things, everybody plays and everybody plays hard. The key to that, is that throw the number of balls that you out the window, so whether I’m working with, I’ve got some very good athletes and I’ve got younger males and younger females and all of the sudden instead of playing ultimate frisbee with one frisbee we will play with two or we will play with three. In the fall we play ultimate football and in the spring we play ultimate frisbee.  Two springs ago we had fifty to sixty people playing ultimate frisbee and I looked up there and I said, thirty of you guys don’t even belong on my swim team, what are you doing here?  Nate, you’re getting ready for the high school track meet and the mile.  He said, well this is the best thing that we do all day. But you know so many people don’t know how to play. I’m a big kid, so I was kind of the pied piper about that.


Teaching to the entire person. Everyday on the pool deck talking to the people, finding out how did you score on the verbal SAT, I didn’t do to well, start reading a book everyday, if their grammar is improper, I correct it all the time, I try to be a well rounded person myself and I’ll talk to them about things and I’m not fake about it. There are some things that I don’t understand, but they understand that there is more to life than just swimming.  We travel as a team. We always have travel meets and we go to ropes course, which is really good, but we always find one or two meets and we all go.  There is not requirements, you know when you were little you had requirements, really time standards were tough, or your attendance, and this level, you know I got people that are in and out, people that are there just really to be part of the team.  Some years we go to these meets and some of these people swim not so hot and then they come back a year or two later and they are swimming really well, but we all go and when we go to these meets and I tell everybody whether you are having the hottest meet or the meet that is in the gutter, you need to bring something to the table positive.


Again, we talk about foster the courage to stand a part, setting high goals for me in practice performance, continuing to win and winning in a variety of ways, saying no to peer pressure.  I coached the local high school team and I know I hit on these guys in some ways.  We had a great high school section, we won, this is our fifth year in a row, and I had just a super group of seniors, and I always give, you guys have done something and you’ll never forget it the rest of your life, seniors thank you for your leadership, you know you guys take care of yourself tonight, don’t go out and do something that you’ll regret for the rest of your life.  So I find out on Monday because it is a small town, what they did on Saturday night, they got a key from their mom and they went and played basketball at the high school gym from 9:00 p.m. to midnight and then they went to taco bell, and they blew away a lot of the teams because they thought they were going to have a beer bash.  I kinda made a big deal of it at our banquet, I said you guys, you liked to do that, you had a good time, you had the courage to be different then all the rest of the teams that won some local championship.  You did what you wanted to but you didn’t have to go out there and drink beer and be a bunch of bozo’s because that was the cool thing to do when you’re 17 years old.  So I caught them doing something well.


Interact with them. again those three times a day: hello, positive, goodbye.  Parents change. Remember how the coaches do all the social, no not anymore, the parents have been around the program, there is always a couple of people who organize all of the socials and I don’t do anything on the socials. Sometimes I don’t even show up, I’ll show up for all the little kids, but I’ve been so often with the big kids that I don’t do it.  And the parents are doing something really positive cause they no longer drive their children to a lot of the swim meets and the swim practices.  Organize your practice so that all swimmers know that you are the most knowledgeable talented adult that they interact with daily.  Be a good swim coach, be a great swim coach. You can’t fake kids, you can’t fake teenagers and you know I’ve told this all of the time, and my wife goes, she comes from a different program and she says I can’t believe you say that.  When they swim bad I say hey I messed the taper upper, I didn’t train you right and I’m not afraid to take some responsibility.  Sometimes my wife says maybe I take too much, but there is a lot of confidence. They know every day, there is a plan, it works.  I know what I’m talking about and I care.


Peer teaching whenever possible. I also have a 16 or 17 year old basketball player in there, and maybe I’m having a guy that is not having a good practice and I’ll say hey, you take this other person and you go teach him how to dive.  Or, we have a problem, I’ve got this guy who is not very good, why don’t you guys come ten minutes early, stay ten minutes late. Peer teaching works really, really well, so I use it whenever possible.  And I started teaching about the big world of swimming.  A lot of times they will try to get me, hey tell a story about the over seas or tell a story about ancient history and our team and I’ll say nope it’s time to get going.


Before I get back to my two young buddies over there, two young athletes, in kind of a summary.  First of all there is a crisis in U.S. Swimming. How big is variable and depending upon what program you’re at but I really believe it’s very serious because we are not getting the athletes.  They are not staying. John Leonard said a long time ago, team records are real important because locally they push everybody, well local guys at your local A plus meets, you see these are real important because all of the sudden the guys will get an inflated sense of how good they are.  Guy races another guy and they just have an upward spiral. Guys on your team beget guys, you start losing guys, they start dropping.  You start gaining guys, you get there, so guys begat guys.  A long time ago I read this from an ASCA thing, Jack Nelson a guy from Fort Lauderdale, he said challenge them, challenge the men, love the women. Challenge them all the time and try to make it abut 80% positive and I find that to be the right amount of success.  Role modeling for guys are very important, and I don’t know if you can do it with stories or if you can do it with yourself.  I’m at university team right now, I went out with a couple of my buddies coaching and I have a rule that I told my university guys, whenever we travel even if you are 21 years old you don’t drink.  Since that time I’ve never had an alcoholic beverage.  There is beer in my refrigerator, but I’ve never had an alcoholic beverage ever as a coach on a professional level and they know that.  And I think that’s important.  When guys look at me and they say, oh man, look at that healthy lunch, right, this tray comes by with hospitality, do I grab the cookies, no, I love ice cream and there is ice cream every night at my house for desert, but role modeling is real important. You know I get the fruit and everything, you know I don’t want to be fanatic and I don’t spend a lot of time preaching, but guys watch every move that you do.


Guys need to know that they’re special.  Everybody is special in their own way, so they need to know that. The thing about do, do, do and I think this is a real thing that is very important is a lot of people want to teach, get everything done, and I’ve seen some really top notch coaches who are teaching boys and girls where they go over the entire stroke and the boys are crying that they are cold and everything, and they have been lost 10 seconds into it and the girls are sitting there and they are all ready to go so I just keep it real simple and I add layers of complexity over time.  You know I do that with racing I do that with pacing.  When I ‘m coaching the little kids I don’t even use a stop watch, I don’t even use a stop watch.  You have to be nationally, you would have to be the equivalent of a AA swimmer before I would worry about your splits.  All the rest of the time I watch them and I find something that they did well, something that they need to improve on and I sandwich it.  I see people taking 25’s and 50 splits for all of these people.  You know it is real simple, an 8 year old comes to me and I say hey, I want big legs in the last 25 of that 100, or I want no breathing from the flags in and I want you to touch with the finger tips, that is it, go race do your best, the 8 unders know how to race.


Guys want to be part of something bigger than themselves, they want to be an athlete and be part of the team.  Rules, simple I had 600 swimmers and we had two team rules, one was athletes don’t use ladders, athletes pull themselves up, so every time, where ever you’re at you can never use a ladder. The other rule that we have on all levels, is that you can’t get the coach wet. The only time that you get a coach wet is after you win a championship and they can push you in so it’s simple.  Then I let the coaches in each group have their own other rules.  And then if guys mess up, right now my assistant coach is running my university team and he is my best friend, but he has coached club elsewhere and this is like our second or third year together and I kicked off a boy for breaking one of our three rules on the university team, and he is back and he looks at me and he says, Pete, what’s this guy doing, and I said Rick, he is a young man, he messed up (snapped fingers) clean slate.  He might get kicked off the team again, but, people make mistakes, so let’s start off with a clean slate.


Rules I think are important and no favoritism.  I had a girl who was really talented and she was getting ready for Olympic trials in ‘96 and my older group has a rule, if you are late and you have a good reason, you do 20, push ups, 20 situps and 20 dips and if you talk to me and give me any type of reason other than the fact I tend to give you 40/40/40 and she walks over to me and says well, I’m getting ready to make the Olympic team and I said that isn’t good enough you can do 40/40/40.  All my guys who are swimming said, yeah, she got it, she got it and she thought she could get out of it.  So if you have a rule you gotta do that. Favoritism is just poison.  Team communication by stories, past swimmers, world class swimmers, other sports. I have a swimmer who is now a navy seal, a lieutenant and went to the naval academy, what do you think happens when he comes back and he tells my high school guys.  He goes, I went through seal training twice, he had some problems with his eyes so they dropped him two weeks ago, but that is a long story, so when he went back he was more successful and he graduated higher.  One guy said how hard is it, he said not as hard as Coach Motekaitis, he killed me, seal training was nothing, it was long but it wasn’t hard but I never puked in seal training and everything, and the guys are going, man we must be really cool and really special.  So when you have been around for a while that really helps and so I got past stories with guys dealing with Mono and all this other stuff and we keep records and everything and the guys are like I’m part of something, I’m part of something.


World class swimmers, you know we tell stories about Ian Thorpe and you know Goodell and Hackett.  Other sports, one of my favorite story of 11 and 14 year olds a few years ago, and it’s getting dated, my Michael Jordan story.  Michael Jordan was cut by his high school basketball team. How many of you would be playing a sport after the freshman coach said you weren’t good enough to be on the team? A little bit of adversity, yeah, what do you do? He turned around and developed to be the greatest basketball player of all times.  Knowing other kids they can touch them.  Communicate personally, daily touch base.  Guys are different.  Sometimes girls will talk and they just want you to listen, but when I’m on a trip or I’m somewhere and a guy starts talking to me man, all of the sudden it will come from the heart, but I just never ever pressed.  All of the sudden a guy will tell me some stuff that he has been buried or something is bad in his life and it’s always initiated and there are some good books out there.  A lot of times guys talk better in a car or when you’re walking, so if you are having a problem with a guy just don’t sit down and ask for eye contact, maybe go for a walk or go play catch, you know, give them a chance to start that.  Straight shooter.  My guys know, one time I looked at them and said you guys didn’t look like a swim team.  The first day of practice I said you guys are pathetic, this is my university team my first year there.  Four months later we had a great unit, and I said you guys look like a great swim team and I said, and they said yeah. I keep saying not bubbles up the speedo. I’m not gonna tell you things just that you like, I’m going to be positive but you know, I’m going to be a straight shooter.


But, lastly I think that you want to be yourself.  My wife is a great coach, she coaches guys really well, she uses 90% of this, she does different things, she sends out little Christmas cards, she draws a superman. I got this really good 14 year that went 1:54 in the 200 IM and he was talking to me, Karin is here and this will be, I was coaching him now, and in high school you can’t draw things on your body and he goes I’m nervous I wish could draw me a super swimmer on my back because I would feel better, and I said you know you can’t do that it’s time to grow up.  So there is lots of ways to touch guys, but you know, be yourself, and know that guys are a little bit different.


(to the boys) I’m gonna work with these people just for like two or three more minutes and then I’m going to teach them one of the three coolest things, so that they can go away feeling really happy.  O.K. come over here, you are going to get a sword.  Now swimming is dangerous and fencing is dangerous so what I want you to do is to put that on your toe and I want you to walk like that back over there, O.K. go in front of everybody, so you got yourself a sword.  These are called foils, fencing is one of those great sports along with swimming that started in the Olympics right away.


I neglected you guys but see now they’re 12 year old boys who did their little aerobic work and now they are ready for some technical stuff, as I said they have listened so now we are going to move further, we are going to move right against the wall and we are going to make an L with our feet, now make an L with your feet.  Now what I want you to do is take your fingers like this and pinch your sword, right here.  O.K. pinch it and then lift it up like this.  Get it off of your foot.  Now we are going to stick the tip of the sword out like this. Now you guys have a basic en guard.  Now that is how you start off the fencing. Nathan I want you to put your sword tip down.  Trevor, you’re going to be the first guy that gets to do this, this is going to be one of the three coolest things we do in fencing, the coolest thing is to win a great bout.  This is how you start off all of your bouts, so, this is called the salute and everybody gets to have your own. There is just a general thing that you need to do, you have to wear your mask because you are facing somebody with a weapon and it’s dangerous. I don’t know if they can hear me, so anyway let’s go to an en guard and at the beginning of every bout you do a salute, and so the salute, you bring your sword up and then you can tap it here, you can tap it here, you can tap it here, or you can just simply go down.  Why don’t you practice doing this one, make a salute and bring it back.


O.K. you want to try it the other way, O.K. now go back to your en guard. O.K. so we are going to salute like we would at the start of a bout, O.K. ready, O.K. that was good.  So now you learned how to salute in fencing.  Now we are going to try to go a little faster so we don’t bore the adults, O.K. make an en guard up here, you got a salute that you are going to do, I’m going to do this, ah come on make a better sound, there you go, do it again try it the other way.  O.K. I want to thank both of you guys for helping me, it was really nice meeting you I think that you are going to have a good athletic career.  I know that it’s kind of boring but hopefully it helped some of the adults so then some of the swimmers won’t leave the sport.  Thanks Trevor, thanks Nathan.  So if I had more time and didn’t spend so much time with you I would leave them happy, they learned how to salute. Were they perfect? No, but you also have to think that when the kids come into the program, I mean how many age groupers do you have that can do ten pull ups and that have great natural flexibility and everything, I believe, you know with guys, you do and perfection comes later.


Celebrate success incrementally as it goes up a little bit at a time and be very positive.


(Inaudible question) If I had two athletes that were friends and both had a bad attitude, I would make a call which one can I connect to first, then split them apart, you know, get a chance to work one on one and go with the personality that you think you can influence the easiest, and if you don’t think that you can influence one or the other easier then go with the harder one. At that age, if you can have a team focus, focus in on the team, but I would go with the one that I could influence, if I was like a sure thing and if they are both really bad, I go with the most powerful one and then I would work with that.


(Question inaudible) We have bronze, silver, and gold 8 and unders. We have three silver groups, which silver group is better, and I would always, and they would never be the same, all the best swimmers weren’t there. I never believed in grouping them like that, so we’d have three groups and if we had a dual meet between these groups and there might be 20 kids in each group, they would be fairly close.  So I’m totally of the belief that they all stay together, cause when I’m working with that group, whether there is three boys and maybe ten girls I’m training the strongest. That means with that group, one of the things that we do, is before we start with the technical part, we do 200 swim 100 kick or something like that, we would go 15 minutes of 50’s and they would kick that way and they would swim this way and then I would say you take three breaths and rest, come in and take your three breaths and then you would go, then the next set is that we would do 100’s, we would do 50 kick 50 swim and then you stay on here until you get a thumb up or until you get a thumb down. So I’m walking around and I’ve  eyed everybody, I’ve got good swimmers and weak swimmers, but there really is not send offs, and if we ever go to send offs, or if we ever make it in swimming distance what I would do in that in one, two and three, in our program you worry about yourself, lane one is doing 10 50’s on 45, lane 2 over here is doing 8 on 50 and over here they are doing 6 on 110. What happens is they’re done, they get a lot more rest and my best swimmers are being pushed.  These people might be not so pushed and they’re going to have to rest for two or three minutes, but I’m training to the strongest in the group.


Then when I teach I make sure that everybody is proficient, and when my kids go off to the zone meet and I watch them, and I watch their dives and everything comes out of this type of program and they have over learned the skill because they have done it so many times, so many times.  So I don’t like to have groups based, and I never have lanes assigned.  I never assign lanes.  It’s incredibly fluid and so the parents are always upset because they can’t understand, you know in soccer we’ve got level 1, 2, 3, 4.  Here we watch them and people are going up and down.  They’re smiling but I don’t know what is going on.


(Question inaudible) What is wrong with being beat by an athlete? We have a great high school weight room and so I have this girl who just got married and she is a very good breaststroker she went off to the University of Oregon and she was so strong and she was in her own program, she would do three sets of 15 repetitions of 90 degree squats with 225 pounds. One boy said that I can do that and unbeknownst to me he got in there and he dropped the thing and there is big hole there where he dropped them. Now when I go through the weight room I said Tom Bridge did something really stupid, hey what’s wrong with losing to an athlete whether it is male or female? Worry about yourself, and the longer you are in the sport the more you come to appreciate whether they are male or female, young or old, it’s the effort, you know that is the winning, don’t be so concerned about all that.


I do all kinds of stuff, when we have our summer city championships, which we exclude people with AAA times, we run 7 and under, 8 to 9, 10 to 11 and 12 and over. Everybody just wants to be labeled something.  I’m going to label all of my people as athletes and good people you know and so if you lose to an athlete that is a good person there is no shame in that. You as a coach, if they are interested can help them to get better, but we are giving them an opportunity. I’m not guaranteeing anything, if somebody says I want to beat that girl, I’ll say I don’t know if that is going to happen because you guys have the same opportunity.  I’m going to be giving the best workouts I can in the entire group. I’m going to be teaching everybody the best I can and you know work is hard, but I’m not going to guarantee that you are ever going to beat her.  All you can do is better yourself.


Outline from Coach Motekaitis:

Thoughts of coaching Males. Ideas from a small town:


The goal of the talk is to deal with concrete and positive ways to: coach males, improve retention, recruit males and improve performance.


All of my coaching career was done in the community of Davis.


Town features:

50,000 people in a small “Large University” town

1 High School – 2,000 students

1 USA team swim team

UCD Men’s Division B swim Wm (non to limited scholarship)

“A great place to raise children” Yuppie, highly educated, incredible opportunities


My goal is to have a great swim team made me compete or whither.  After a while I came to believe basic swim coaching patterns are not “boy” friendly.


Think about your program today- What type of male swimmers can thrive in your program?  Could you have coached a Tim Shaw, Bobby Hackett, or a Gary Hall Jr?


Entry level male swimmers 6-10 years:

Hook while you can

Establish bonding

Show yourself as an expert in youth sports

Concrete coaching patterns:

  1. Coaching to make mother happy

Flexible for family

Fitness stressed

Engaging young male swimmer

  1. Aerobic training early in practice
  2. Technique follows aerobic-technique in sound bite
  3. Leave them smiling, races, thumbs up, relays, crazy challenges
  4. Rotating fun day (i.e. every day fun day)

Jungle training

Giant laps




Kill the coach

  1. Sandwich criticism
  2. Teach to the weakest, train to the strongest
  3. Catch them doing something well
  4. Upbeat practice….Swimming a DO, DO, DO sport
  5. Coaches organize socials
  6. Interaction with older teammates
  7. Coaches in water often, with Speedos
  8. Work hard for the high energy boys “hypee’
  9. Keep them engaged:

Thumb ups

Sound bites

Middle years 11-14 years:

Limit your loss

Swimmer self identification

Coach and the sport as a bedrock of stability

Concrete coaching patterns:

1)  Coaching to, make mother happy

Well rounded person

Fitness stressed

Positive role model

Positive external-swimming environment

2)  Talent identification as a professional coach with positive remarks.

3) Dryland

Aerobic cross training

Body weight strength

NO flexibility

Team games

4)  Teaching to the entire person

Travel as individual effort

Foster the courage to stand apart


Saying NO to peer pressure.

5)  Focus on self improvement

Time drops

Technique improvement

6)  Catch them doing something well.

7)  Interact three times a day (minimum 45 seconds per swimmer)




8)  Coach organizes functions for social and instructional purposes

9)  Upbeat practice….Swimming a DO, DO DO sport

10)  Teach to the weakest, train to the strongest


Teen years 15-18 years:

Swimmers part of something bigger than them.

No boundaries breaking the A- minus syndrome.

Expand the team


Concrete coaching patterns:

1)  Coaching to make the swimmer “happy”

Exceptional person

Super level of fitness stress

Put the swimmer in position to be a role model

Create a team environment

2)  Talent identification as a professional coach with positive remarks.

3)  Dryland to change the roles of the team

Aerobic cross training

Progressive age apropriate resistant training

Very limited flexibility programs for a few select swimmers

Team games (Ultimate football, speedball, dodge-ball, Ultimate frisbee)

4)  Teaching to the entire person

5)  Travel as a team.

6)  Foster the courage to stand apart

Setting high goals for meet and practice performances


Saying NO to peer pressure.

7)  Focus on team improvement and team goals

8)  Catch them doing something well.

9)  Interact three times a day (minimum 45 seconds per day per swimmer)




10)  Parents organizes functions for social purposes

11)  Organize your practice so that all swimmers know that your are the most knowledgeable talented adult that they interact with daily.

12)  Peer teaching whenever possible

13)  Start teaching about the big world of swimming

Guys will be guys

Guys beget guys

Challenge them-Jack Nelson

Role modeling for guys is very important

Guys need to know they are special

Keep it simple.  Add layers of complexity systematically, over time

Guys want to be part of something bigger than themselves


1) Simple

2)  Clean slate everyday

3) Few

4) NO favoritism

Team Communication by stories

  1. Past swimmers
  2. World Class swimmers
  3. Other sports

Communication personally

  1. Daily touch base
  2. Deeply when initiated by the swimmer
  3. Straight shooter, no bubbles up the speedo
  4. Be yourself


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