Coach Chasson is the Head Coach of the Harvard Men’s Swim Team. Prior to coming to Harvard, Coach Chasson was the Women’s Assistant Coach at Stanford University. He was an associate coach for the 1988 Olympic Team, Head Coach for the 1993 Macabean Team, and the Assistant Women’s Coach for the 1993 Pan Pac Team. His achievements include NCAA Champions, USS National Team Swimmers, and Olympic Swimmers.
The title of this talk is long and lengthy. It deals with trying to get athletes to not use school as an excuse not to have high goals, and not to try to reach the highest goals they can. That’s how I am looking at it; that’s going to be the background of the talk. I want to give you a little background about my exposure to athletes in academics. I’ve been coaching about 23 years. Seventeen of that is exclusively club coaching. I’ve had college swimmers in the spring and summer in communities where education was held in very high regard. Everybody would go to four year schools. A lot of them put school at least equal if not greater priority than swimming or they wanted to get the best education and still swim. I followed that with three years at Stanford as assistant coach to Richard Quick with the women’s’ team and the last three years at Harvard coaching the men’s team. I’ve been around academic environments that I consider real strong. Both at Stanford and Harvard I spent a lot of time talking to admissions people and working with admissions people on what kind of things they are looking for in students and I try to tell swimmers on our club team about getting ready for being successful in college. Hopefully they will go off prepared to get the most out of their college swimming experience. As a club coach I would like them to continue to improve in college but I don’t want them to make academics an excuse if they have high goals. It’s different if you are going to college and you have lowered your goals. In high school you had aspirations to be a senior national finalist or qualifier and you got to college and said “I just want to be a student first I’m going to just have fun. I want swimming to be fun. I’m not going to take it as seriously.” I’m trying to get kids to keep it on the same high level and I try to convince kids who come to college now both at Stanford and Harvard to get the most out of it.
I’ve worked in a couple of different environments. I’m talking about universities, but I think this can be applied to high school situations, prep-school situations. At the end I will be happy to answer questions.
Stanford is an environment where athletics are a big part of school life. Certainly academics are a big part of student life. Athletes are seen as important people. They are respected for the time and energy they put into their activities. They are respected for the success they have achieved and they get attention. Part of that is because football is very big. When you get 60,000 to 80,000 people watching football games that changes the emphasis of athletics at a campus.
At Harvard athletes are respected by their friends. The athletic department certainly respects them. But the community in general looks at them as just other students. They are not getting the same recognition. Certainly if we have a competition with one of our major Ivy League foes like Princeton, the place will be packed and there will be a lot of enthusiasm, but it’s probably more because it’s Princeton. If it wasn’t one of our major rivals it will be just our swimmers roommates that may be at the swim meet, not a big crowd. Many of their friends that aren’t their roommates do not even know they swim. They are perceived in a different way so it is a different set of pressures. If the swimmer wants to do something like get up early to go to practice the people around him are questioning whether that’s a good use of his time, or questioning why he needs to go to bed early. That might be different from a situation where athletics is perceived as a bigger deal. At Stanford where there are a lot more athletes, especially scholarship athletes, (because in the Ivy League we don’t have athletic scholarships whereas at Stanford they do), the perception and the feedback and the reinforcement they get is a lot different. These are some of the things you’re working with as a coach in trying to convince kids they can put in as much time as needed or required or demanded in swimming and still be a successful student.
Finding the right athlete for the environment. A college coach is trying to recruit athletes. It is a lot better if I can bring in athletes who have certain characteristics that they’ve learned from their high school or age-group pro gram. If you are in a high school situation or club situation maybe these are things that you can try to ingrain in your athletes so when they get to college they will be able to put academics and swimming together and be a lot more successful doing it. When you are at a school where academics is a high priority, a lot of people feel
“If I don’t put a hundred hours a week in school there is no way I can be successful.” Well, they were successful before they got there and they weren’t putting in a hundred hours a week in. Its peer pressure and things working on them to make them feel “more is better, more is better, more is better” and that’s not necessarily the case.
I’m going to talk of looking at recruits but I think you can turn it around to what you can teach athletes. I’m looking for athletes that can have success in the classroom. They’re used to doing school work; they’re used to handing in their home work; they’re used to making that a priority already. They’re not just swimming and they’re very bright and they get great test scores like SAT, ACT. They have to have learned somewhere along the line that it’s important that you do work all during the year. It’s tough to teach that when you get to a university environment not to save everything for the end. When I talk to kids I try to find out how school’s going, how they spend their time, how much work they’re doing right now, how does doing their homework affect their going to morning workout as a club swimmer. I feel in a high school situation, (certainly a public high school situation and from my years as a club coach) a swimmer should never miss practice because of school. I never saw a program that was so demanding that they couldn’t do it if they were organized. There may be a time when they’re taking a final exam and it conflicts with practice in college. In high school there shouldn’t have been a conflict unless they were completely disorganized. So I certainly want to see if they can handle it as a high school student before I start convincing them to come to a place like Stanford or Harvard because it’s not going to get easier and I think it’s important they have that background (of being organized) already. Admission departments at places like Stanford and Harvard are looking for that kind of thing when they are looking for any student. They would rather have someone who is a high achiever in the classroom, supported by good test scores, than someone who just has great test scores, but their GPA and class rank is not very high. They want people who are used to working and having goals. Just doing well on a test doesn’t necessarily indicate that. So I’m trying to look for people who are used to doing work.
I’m looking for swimmers who can handle school who are used to doing something besides swimming and school as a high school student; they have some other interests. When they get to an academically demanding school, whether it’s a prep-school or a Harvard or a Stanford there are going to be things going on that they’re bombarded with that they’re going to be interested in. If they are going to pursue any of these other activities, they’re going to have to be used to handling other things and still being able to put in the amount of time that I would like as a swim coach and still be successful in their academic work. So if I find someone that I’m recruiting who is playing a musical instrument, they’re putting in a lot of hours at that, they’re putting in a lot of hours into swimming, and they’re putting a lot of hours into their school work, then I feel those people are probably going to have a pretty good chance of being successful at Harvard, and in any academically strong environment. I think if they’ve gotten that practice, then they’ve gotten used to handling something else. If they don’t have other things in life, and come to a place like Harvard where there are a lot of other choices offered, they’re jumping in and trying a whole bunch of other things, but don’t really have swimming in its proper place. They get excited about all the things that are there and pretty soon they’re making excuses why they cannot do something, whether it’s their school work, or swimming, or corning to practice, or being intense in practice.
I’m also looking for kids that understand from an early age that whatever workouts are required by the coach, whether its three workouts a week, six workouts a week, twelve workouts a week, -the number is not important-but that they’re meeting those expectations; they’re meeting them within the framework of the school they’re going to. I talk to a lot of kids, and their coach is offering ten practices a week and they tell me “I have not gone to any mornings this year, because I just have too much school work,” and they’re going to a public school. That sends an immediate message to me that somehow they have not been prepared to see that you can do more than just go to school, or that school shouldn’t be an excuse not to get up in the morning and go to practice. Certainly there may be extraordinary circumstances, like they’re two hours away from the pool, but I’m trying to talk about “normal” situations, where they’re used to meeting expectations. I find that the kids who come in to Stanford and Harvard are the kind of kids who are used to doing what the coach wants them to do. At Stanford where we’re getting a higher level kid in swimming because of the athletic scholarships, they’re used to doing whatever the coach has asked them to do. Some kids may have only gone to five workouts a week, but that was their program. They have no problem adapting to going nine workouts a week, or ten, from a mental standpoint. From a physical, that may be a different issue that has to be addressed. They are used to meeting those expectations. It’s important that coaches in club situations let kids know that you have expectations to meet a certain number of workouts, whatever you decide it is, and you can still fit in school work; there’s plenty of time in the day to get that school work in and still attend the practices. I think this makes it a lot easier when they get to college.
I’m also looking for athletes who have handled adversity. Something hasn’t gone right for them. That could be that they had been in a long plateau in their swimming career and they overcame it and started swimming well again, or they had some school setbacks. They have had to deal with those kinds of things before, so it’s not a surprise when they come to a university where competition in the classroom is very tough, where they’re expected to be at all the practices, they had to work for it, they’re a real committed swimmer, and then something goes wrong. How do they deal with that? I think if they’ve had some experience in that area, or they’ve been taught how to deal with it, then they are just that much more prepared. I think it starts at a younger age and hopefully by the time they get to college they know that, but it’s not always the case.
I’m also looking for swimmers who have goals after college. I find that the most successful people we’ve had at Stanford and Harvard, school was their number one priority; swimming was no worse than 1-A. They had something else out there they were doing, that they were looking for. A job goal, some professional goal they were looking towards. They are the people who can handle school, they can handle swimming, the use their time wisely and they can handle the environment.
Finally, I find that athletes that have the best relationships with their coaches, where the coaches really sat down and talked to them about these issues, about handling school, handling swimming while in high school, when they get to university level it just works out that much better. If they had a good relationship with a coach as far as their swimming is concerned, if they sat down with the coach to talk about their life away from the pool, swimming, or whatever, if they’ve had that kind of experience when they go to an environment like I’m in at Harvard it’s a lot easier to communicate and talk to them about these issues. The biggest problem we have at a place like Harvard is getting the guys to come in and talk about the problems they’re having in terms of dealing with school, or swimming, or things other than swimming that are affecting their ability to do what you want them to do in the pool. I think guys in particular will keep a lot more to themselves. I’ve found that at Stanford that the women were a lot more willing to talk, but you still have to really draw it out. When they’ve had an experience in their past where they’ve talked to their coach or some other mentor about those things, it just made it a lot easier. That can be built from a young age, where they feel comfortable coming and talking to you and establishing that rapport. Then it can continue throughout the rest of the swimming career.
Using weekends wisely is real important in an academic environment. They’ve got to get a lot out of Saturday and Sunday depending on what the workout schedule is. They cannot waste away Saturday and Sunday or they won’t get their work done. They get behind the rest of the week and then it’s a lot tougher to get to morning practice or that’s their excuse for not getting to morning practice, having to come late, get out early or whatever it may be. One thing I did at Harvard this year, I gave them an afternoon to get out during the week, then we had Sunday practices and it gave them some class options. Sunday is a wasted day for most of them. They’re used to getting up early in the morning and they’re up, even if they tried to sleep in, by nine o’clock and that’s late. So they’re probably up by seven or eight. They didn’t start serving brunch until 11 :30 or 12 o’clock. They wouldn’t get up and start studying. They just sort of lounge around. After talking to a bunch of the team at the beginning of the year, I said “let’s try getting up, swim Sunday morning, eat brunch, and study in the afternoon”. I think it uses time more effectively on Sunday. The people who are most serious about swimming on our team enjoyed it the most because it was real efficient for them. Wake up, practice, breakfast, study. They had another option in the afternoon, especially because I have ten pre-meds on my team this year, and those labs were in the afternoon from one to five. They are going to miss an afternoon practice somewhere. This way we still got all our workouts in, got the work done, and made more use of the weekend time. We try to also plan our workout times so it induces them to use their time wisely . program, when practices are going to be, etc. get it to them as early as you can. The more in advance they know what is going on, the more they have time to deal with it. During the summer I sent out a letter, and I told them what our practice schedule was going to be. Before they sign up for classes they know that. If there are conflicts (I tell them), “this is how I want you to deal with them. If you have a lab, try to take it on this day. If you cannot do this, these are practices that might be available for a makeup.” They know about it ahead of time. Its printed. Everyone on the team knows about it when they first get to school. Then we talk about it. They have had it in their hand for two months before I ever see them. They know what’s going on, they know the schedule, they know how we’re going to run workouts, and Maximizing the situation that you’re in. From a coaching standpoint, try to help them deal with these pressures and time constraints. I have not talked a lot about using your time, setting goals, time management. These things are important and they should be talked about from when you’re a little kid·. If you’re going to end up in a good academic school, you’ve probably done a number of those things right already or you wouldn’t be there. But now as a coach, what can you do to make this situation better in your environment? These are the things that I do to help the athletes get organized, get going. I started doing this when I was a club coach to help get them going, and it carried into Stanford when I was there, and at Harvard we do it at the beginning of the year, and carry it through the year. Any time we do something in terms of schedule, information about our right at the beginning we try to stress communication with the coaching staff. At Stanford swimmers were always much more comfortable talking to me than Richard. Now my swimmers are much more comfortable talking to my assistant than talking to me. I think the main thing to stress is that you’ve got to talk to your coach, and be willing to come in and talk about what’s going on in your life. The coach has to be willing to make that easier. If you know that there is an athlete who is reluctant to do that, then you’ve got to go out of your way more to get them to come in and talk to you and open up. Topics that need to be talked about are time conflicts. Especially if you’ve got incoming fresh men and they’re deciding what classes to take, you’ve got to make them understand from the beginning that they need to be at practice. So many times they say “I’ve got this class I’ve got to take. Its right in the middle of Wednesday afternoon practice.” Then I say “is that the only time that class is offered? Or is there another class that you could take this semester and take this next semester?” The answer: “I don’t know.” They just opened up their class book, and saw, there is the class and someone said “this class is great”. They never looked beyond that. I think you really have to get into “what are the options here?” At Harvard there are a number of classes offered in the evening. This class was offered at 7 PM. That would have been an option on a non-morning workout day. Get them to talk about time conflicts and other conflicts, so they are really planning. Try to get inside their head. Their personal concern, especially when they first get there might be home sickness. That could affect the whole academic environment and the swimming environment. Talk in terms of what their goals are as a swimmer and how those are fitting in with their peers. They may be getting in with a group of friends who aren’t athletes at all. At academic schools like Stanford and Harvard, you don’t room with swimmers when you come in as a freshman. You are with assigned roommates. After your freshman year you can room with whoever you want. But freshman year you could have swimmers on your team that room with people who could care less about athletics. They have different hours. They put on different pressures on your athlete about how to spend time. You have to talk about that and explain how to possibly deal with it. Spend more time with people on the team. Keep reassuring themselves. Go off by themselves and say “these are my goals. I’m a swimmer. I need to go to bed at 10 o’clock. I cannot stay up till one o’clock like everybody else in my suite. How can I do that?” Go to an upperclassman’s dorm for a while, and study, or do something else. Discuss the options. When you are talking to them about outside interests, you know what’s pulling on them time-wise. And you know when it’s going to be pulling on them. They have other activities. I think they can do school and swimming and have another somewhat major activity if they’re organized. It’s good if you know what that is as a coach right at the beginning of the year. Talk about it right from the very beginning rather than get into the season and it gets to be ” I’m going to have to miss this, this, this, and this” and you have not even talked about it. You don’t even know about it as a coach. The sooner you deal with these issues the better. Right at the very beginning in this meeting we’re talking about communication. You’ve got to talk to somebody. Try to get them early on, at this meeting to talk about talking to professors bout swimming and how much time it takes. “You’re going to miss some days. You will be gone to some away swim meets. Make sure they’re (professors) are aware of it. In some cases the professor will say ‘I don ‘t care.’ At least you know where your professor stands right from the beginning, rather than get down to the end of the semester and you’re trying to talk to him about a final exam and you have a swim meet or an away trip, something like that. At least you know where the professors is coming from. If it’s someone who is more sympathetic with what you’re doing then you can get some valuable information right at the very beginning of the semester.” So we really encourage them to go talk to their professors about what they’re doing, how they spend their time. But not to go in and say “I’m not going to spend as much time on your class because I’ve got to go to swim practice”. That’s not going to go over real well. They’re going to be putting time into a lot of things. This is the schedule. “I might be missing this and this, and how can I make up for that? What can I do to get ahead.” Really emphasize talking about meet schedule conflict. This is truer the second semester when we have championship meets in a college environment that might mean missing a week of class going to that conference championship. Then they (professors) know about it ahead of time. Also encourage them, if they have input into the final exam schedule to plan as early as possible. “If you’re deciding between a couple of classes and you’re not sure and you know the final exam schedule, look at that compared to the meet schedule. “Can I make this work? Maybe I have to take this other class this semester because the final exam schedule is going to really restrict workout at that particular time. I need this other class, but I’ll take it second semester when I can miss a workout or two more easily than in the first semester.” These things have to be discussed with the coach. It’s going to depend on your philosophy and your program, but try to get that squared away as early as possible in the year, try to see how to use advanced scheduling that fits final exams around the swimming schedule as much as possible. At both Stanford and Harvard we had excellent attendance during the final exam period. And this really starts in high school. As a club coach, or a high school coach, kids come to you and say “I cannot be at practice this week because I have final exams.” I’m sure you’ve all heard that at some point and a lot of that comes from parents, and they need to be educated too, that an hour and a half high school exam should. not be the reason someone has to miss workout for a week. And if they have three or four of those, if they’ve been organized and planned all year, I think in high school in most cases even kids who weren’t very organized and let things go, can still get to practice and do a fine job on their finals. That’s something you’ve got to tell them from day one. We had excellence attendance at both Stanford and Harvard by telling them at the beginning of the year that final exams weren’t going to be excuses to not be at workout. One thing we did at both places was offer more workouts. At Harvard this year we offered a double practice every day and say “you’ve got to make this many workouts, whatever the number of hours we were looking for from that swimmer. As coaches we had to put in extra time. We divided it up among the assistants for the extra practices. But everybody made the number of workouts they would’ve made if it wasn’t finals during that two week period. At Harvard we have finals over two weeks, this is tougher. Most places have them over one week, so we have to do it a little differently. It involved in the beginning of the year, talking to them about it and saying “Hey, this is what you have to do and plan ahead for it and we’re going to expect just as much. If you want to be a part of our travel team, or if you’re going to go to the championship meet, or you’re going to hit your goals, you cannot just shut it down for a week, ten days, finals?” And I just say “because I ask for it.” A lot of coaches, where academics are concerned, are afraid to ask their athletes to come to practice, and to expect as much during final exams. I think that’s a cop-out. But you’ve got to tell them how they’re going to deal with these issues. You cannot just say “show up or else!” We talk about it, explain why it’s important, and we help them try to deal with it. In this case we offer extra practice, and everybody is able to come.whatever it is. You’ve got to keep going.” I think that there are coaches at other universities who don’t talk about that. I’ve had coaches from other sports come up and say “how do you get such great attendance during Now they come to a place like Stanford or Harvard. At our first meeting the first day of classes the first thing I talk about is time management. How to get the most out of swimming and school at a place like Harvard. I tell them right from the beginning “I want you to have the highest goals possible as a swimmer. I don’t want those goals to be compromised. We’re going to offer every hour of training that’s legal. Anything you want is going to be available.” We tell them when we’re recruiting “don’t compromise you goals as a swimmer when you come here. If your goals when you came in here were to go to NCAAs or senior nationals, don’t compromise because of the other influences in this environment that will try to get you off track. These influences may include school, because you see all these other people just doing study, study, study, and if I don’t study more I’m not going to be better. Influences may include other things that may be offered to you; things that were not offered in high school.” We talk about time management. Try to get your classes more in the morning, as close to morning workout as possible or early afternoon so you don’t have class conflicts. At a place like Harvard that’s a little tougher, because of the environment. At Stanford there are more morning classes. Part of that might be east coast versus west coast. It’s a lot tougher (at Harvard) for people to avoid class conflicts. We talk about planning your schedule wisely. If you are coming in as a freshman, plan for classes that won’t take as much time. You still have to take a minimum number of classes to be eligible, but there are enough choices out there that you have some options. Try to put the tougher classes you have to take, the introductory classes that take more time, in the second semester. If you’re in a situation where your main swimming season is in the first semester then you’d reverse that. For an incoming freshman, I think it’s better if they kind of ease into it, get used to the environment, take the least number of units they’re required to take, don’t feel they have to load up right away just because some other people who don’t have swimming as an activity have five classes. They don’t have to take five classes. There is plenty of time to take those classes. If there are options about taking tougher classes in their major, tougher requirement classes, and you can put them off until sophomore year or junior year. Try to do that as long as it doesn’t get in the way of progress toward the major. I think that getting a good start, handling your time well, handling the routine of going to practice (is important). This is especially true if you’re coming from a program where they’re working out five or six practices a week and are now being offered nine or ten practices a week. Making that adjustment they’re going to get tired. In a university environment, certainly at Harvard, students are used to staying up past midnight. Swimmers have to be disciplined enough to say “I have to go to bed. I can’t be doing that every night and getting up at five o’clock and going to practice and be effective. They need to be sold on that. It has to be explained to them. Don’t just assume that they know all these pitfalls, or that some else is going to tell them. Each year I find that they know less and less than I think they do as far as dealing with these problems. We have to be more and more explicit about what we expect and about what’s going to happen out there. I think the main thing for them to believe is to keep true to their goals.These are things I’m looking for in recruits, these are things hopefully coaches can talk about with their athletes before they get to college, before they get to an academic environment. If a kid is going to go away to a prep school where it is academically challenging, these are issues that I think are real important.
how much time it’s going to take, when our meets are. When they’re looking over that class schedule and they go in to register for their classes at the beginning of the year they know what’s going on. The sooner you can do that, the more organized you are as a coach, that’s going to help them. It takes away their using that as an excuse to say “I didn’t know about that in time to do anything.” Each year I hope I can go into our season and say that there is no excuse, that they knew everything that I knew. Obviously there is going to be something that changes at the last minute, you have to deal with it. But get everything into your hands that you can.
Explain everything to them as clearly as possible, including why. Why are you doing this. Why you need not to miss practice. Why do you have to be at morning workout. Information. Why are you saying that if you miss these workouts, you’re not going on the next three meets. Whatever you’re going to use, it’s important to you and you program. Especially if you’re dealing with kids that are smart, you just cannot assume those things are going to happen. They want to know what’s going on, why they’re doing it. Sometimes it’s tough . You don’t feel like going over it every year. But you’ve got to, because you have new kids coming in, and you have kids that have to be reinforced. You’ve got to keep talking about it. It takes time. It may take time away from a workout. These are things you want to set up at the beginning of the year and get them on the right track. If something comes along during the year, you want to explain it, such as “this is why we’ re going on training trip to that location. This is why we’re going there” Make sure they know what’s going on and are fully informed. One thing I decided when I started coaching at Harvard was not to accept any excuse I wouldn’t accept from any other swimmer. People said academics are a lot more important at Harvard than at Stanford and that there is no way you can get people to come to this many workouts or work this hard. I just scoffed at that because I didn’t believe it was true, and I still don’t. You have to decide what you want out of your program whether that’s two workouts a week, or whatever you’re allowed, you have to say “this is what I want, this is what it takes to be good, ” and don’t start compromising yourself as a coach just to fit in to what you think is happening. That happens a lot, not so much at Stanford, but certainly there are coaches who are doing that. At Harvard where it’s easy just to say “school’s more important here. I won’t offer as many practices. If I offer this, they won’t come, so I won’t do it. I won’t set something up in the spring, because they won’t do this.” I think you have to decide what you want, follow through with it, and if I start planning on making those excuses, I probably shouldn’t be doing it anymore. You have to say this is the plan. You have goals as a coach, no matter what the academic environment.
I really try to avoid last minute changes to anything. If I can avoid that, things run more smoothly, staying within the swimmers schedule. They don’t have reasons why they cannot do something. Every time I’ve had toDon’t try to fool the athlete. I think this is true with any athlete. I just tell them straight how it is. This is why we’re doing it, and not sugar coat it. The same way with the women at Stanford. They will see through if you don’t talk to them straight. Whatever it is, just get straight to the point. I don’t waste a lot of time. Say “this is why we’re doing this. This is why we have to do it. Deal with it”. Change a practice, it’s because of something I didn’t. know. It’s out of my hands; an extra water polo game or something like that. Practice has to be changed. I might lose a number of my team because they were planning ahead. They can’t be there now. So really try to avoid that stuff if at all possible. Stay on top of things.
When I run workouts, I have a certain amount of time stick to it. If it’s 2 o’clock to 4 o’clock, and everyone is on time, you’re done at four o’clock, not 4:15, 4:20.
You’re asking them to use their time wisely, you have to use your time wisely. At Harvard we stick to it. They’re ready to go at the time, we stick to it. If I didn’t get everything in a workout time, then that’s my problem. I may have to figure out another way to deal with it. So we stick to what we say in terms of time. There may be something I’m in the middle of and I say “I told you guys we’d be done at 5” say we’re having a meeting and its taking longer, “does anyone have a problem ? ” If they do, we continue tomorrow. If I tell them it’s over at 5, it’s my job to stick to that. I try, club or college, to use their time more wisely. I try to minimize trips to the pool. I’d rather have one longer practice in terms of time management than three shorter ones. Every time they come down to the pool even at Harvard, its twenty minutes by the time you get down and back. By the time you do that two times a day its forty minutes or more. Those things add up during the day. I’ll try to say “OK, we really need to have this second workout. Can we do everything in one workout and add an hour to it?” Try to really plan you workouts the most efficient way possible.
When we’re planning our meets, I want them to be in situations where they can use that time to study. I don’t want to come back from a swim meet and everyone says “didn’t get any work done this week. I can’t be at morning workout Monday”. The same thing can happen in club situations. How can we travel? If we can afford it, I want to get in and out of there (a meet) as quickly as possible. Go at the last minute, leave at the first possible minute. We do that for everything but our championship meets, our conference or NCAA’s. This last year we swam Michigan State and Michigan in the same weekend. We left on Friday late morning, late as we could. We got to Detroit, drove straight to Michigan State, got there a little later than I would have liked to because of traffic, so we got about a 45 minute warm up, swam Michigan State, left. Went to Ann Arbor, spent the night, swam them the next day at noon. We were out of there at 2:30 and went back to Boston. That was an early season meet. The competition was important. We didn’t need to be perfect. We didn’t need to have tons of rest. I wanted them to race some different swimmers, some better swimmers, and luckily I looked far ahead and found a fare that didn’t need a Saturday night stay over that was cheap, and we were out of there. A lot of times we have to take a bus to some places we compete in the Ivy League where its prohibitive to fly into, we’ll go and come back in the same day in the bus. I try to time it so they can be studying on that bus. They’ve got lights, daylight, whatever it takes so they can be reading. Not just falling asleep. I find if we travel more in daylight hours, then they will study more than if its dark and they just fall asleep and not get something done. It takes more discipline when we’re back from a meet and its dark outside, to get your studying done. Try to plan the trips, minimum amount of time. Try to travel in such a way that they can maximize studying and get something done so it doesn’t affect what’s going on when they get back.
In some academic environments it’s easy to say “well, when the college season, or school season is over, I’m just going to shut it down and I’m just going to concentrate on school.” The thing that I make clear to our recruits is that you have got to swim year round if you want to get better. One season leads into the next. We have to tell them that year one so they are planning and it’s in their head from the beginning that OK, you’re a student first, and you’re a swimmer. You’ve got to keep going. Plan for that from day one. And not all of a sudden, last college meet, I’m done; or last prep school meet I’m done and I’ll start up again in the summer or next fall or whatever. Convince them right from the beginning its a year round commitment. Those are the kind of kids we want to have in the program. Year round commitment may not mean the same kind of time all year. That’s an individual program choice and an individual swimmer choice. You’ve got to look at your swimmers and you’ve communicated with them and it depends on what their goals are, but not to shut it down for two or three months.
As a coach, try to put in as much time as you would expect of them, or more. The biggest complaints I get from swimmers at Stanford or Harvard are that they felt someone else wasn’t putting in as much time: A coach or another swimmer. They complain about the coaches and athletes on other teams. You’ve got to be committed enough. If I’m asking for a year round commitment, I’ve got to be committed in some way year round. Hold them accountable.Could they have done this reading a week ago, or on the weekend. Probably the first question I ask when some one misses a practice is what did you do last Saturday and Sunday? Were you out partying? Were you sleeping, running around, and staying in bed late? Why wasn’t this done before? Sometimes professors give last minute work and you’ve got to deal with that. I’m going to hold morning workout is the thing that is easiest to blow off, and say “I’ve got to stay up late. I can’t get up.” If you’ve really made it important right from the beginning, you will be at those practices. You’re accountable. We expect you to be there.”
I try to provide a practice if possible where there will be a makeup workout in our schedule. I’II be around, and maybe an afternoon practice that most people took off for a lab, (and as I said we did Sundays instead of one of the afternoons), and if someone needed that time and there was someone available to give them a workout, but that was worked out ahead of time.
To conclude these are the things that I think are important in an academically challenging environment. Maybe there is more pressure for school, but I think these things are important in any environment.
Set high goals for the team, and for the individuals on that team. Don’t compromise them. Whatever your goals are, demand as much as you would from anyone in any situation.
Challenge the team right from the beginning to use their time efficiently. Make it a priority. I really stress with recruits that swimming should be your number two priority, after school. If school is number one priority, I’m not going to tell anyone different. That’s why they’re there. But after that swimming should be as close to that as possible, if you’re a serious swimmer and have high goals. Now, if you have other goals, that’s something different. But you probably wouldn’t have been recruited if the coach had known that to begin with. Don’t let them say, “swimming is really important, but I’m doing these ten other things before I think about swim practice.” Stress that swimming should be the number two priority at the worst.
If you’re in a situation where you recruit athletes, the more you talk to them, find out how they spend their time, how they use their time, I think it will be a lot easier later on in terms of dealing with your team. It just avoids problems. You don’t find out everything recruiting. You’re just trying to minimize those problems, and hopefully you can educate them when they first get to school. Coming into a new situation like I did at Harvard, this is the first year I’ll have all people I’ve recruited. That’s different than when I got there and I had three classes of people who had been coached by someone else with a totally different philosophy about school, swimming, training, everything else. That was quite a challenge. But now I’ll have myself to blame if something doesn’t work out in terms of how they approach swimming.
In the course of a high school career, or a college career student’s goals change and you have to deal with that as a coach. Hopefully coming in they have the goals they talked about when you recruited them and when they first came to school as far as swimming and school.
I want to open it up to any questions anyone may have. Question: You talked about responsibility and accountability for practices, especially morning practices (unintelligible) Answer: It will depend on the individual and what I think kind of pushes their button. I had a boy when I first got there, NCAA-level flier. He wasn’t at the time, but he turned out to be by the time he graduated. Before I got there for his first two years he had never gone to a morning practice. I said “You’re going to morning practices.” Well, he figured, other coaches had told him he would have to go to morning practices, and I said “you didn’t show up.” I Warned him twice and said “if you’re not here you’re not swimming in the next three dual meets.” We were going on a trip that had three meets. He didn’t show up and I left him at home, and it was a big travel trip. It’s always been a kind of team tradition to go on this trip before I had gotten there, and he couldn’t believe it. He came in “how could you do this?” and I said “! told you about it. It’s not like I dropped it as a surprise.” He said “Other coaches have told me that and they’ve never kept me from a meet.” I said “Well, that’s other coaches.” He stormed out of my office and I said, “Well either he’ll quit, or who knows what will happen.” I didn’t expect to see him. The meet was about a five hour drive from where we were and I look up in the stands and he’s up there. He’d driven himself down, and was there. He didn’t miss any more morning workouts the last two years he was at Harvard, and he ended up making NCAA’s. Making a point, you have to decide what’s important and stick to it. That’s one example. It would depend on the situation. If they talk to me about it I would say “here’s where you can make up that other workout. If I’d expected eight workouts from them and we’re offering ten, there’s other options to make it up. But somehow they have to be held accountable in terms of making it up, missing a meet. If they say “well, I can’t make those work outs” then I say “then you won’t be at those meets.” That might be the price they pay.
Okay, Thank you very much for your time. I appreciate it.