I have been at the Nova since 2000, it was just a little after the Olympics is when I got there. I have been good friends with Dave Salo for quite a while and wanted to be there. I always thought it would be a pretty nice place to coach, there in Irvine and Orange County, California. It’s a pretty good hot bed of swimming with Mission Viejo being there and others. There is just a lot of good programs, and pretty large teams down there.
I always kind of liked living by the beach myself. I grew up in Venice in Southern California. I surfed a lot as a kid growing up and wasn’t really your typical age group competitive swimmer. I was a little surf rat, then when I got to high school, I took swimming so I could be a little bit better surfer. I got the swimming bug and got pretty into it. I actually started coaching my senior year of high school with summer league. I still get carded when I have adult drinks as they call them around here, but I have actually been coaching for about 20 years now, which is kind of crazy for me to think that it’s more than half my life!
I have been at Nova for two years and one of the reasons I went there was for this awesome facility that we have in Irvine. It is a 50 meter pool, 25 yards wide, a separate 33 meter dive tank, deep water, and another pool for instruction. It was just an amazing setup. So I get there and a little while after, Dave tells me, they are actually going to close down our pool for a couple of years. So that is what we are going through. There are some pretty big changes with our program in that our main facility is closing for almost two years.
They are going to rebuild it all. It is going to be really nice when it is done, but it creates new challenges for us that we are going to be dealing with. Hopefully some of the things that we go through here today will show why we think we are going to be successful through them.
I got to the Clinic here and I met a new person right off the bat – my roommate, who was walking in late, he was probably eating lunch or something. This is Harvey – who just came in the front – he said, “What is your talk about? That nuts thing? Does that mean that you coach nuts or that you are a nut?”, and I started thinking, oh – it’s a little of both. Actually neither of those is actually what this talk is about.
This talk is actually based a book that I read that really hit the point for me and inspired me a lot. A book called “Nuts” by some people that really analyze the way Southwest Airlines learned their business. I fly a lot. I do a lot of Clinics. I go to a lot of races, either for Masters or age group or Triathlons. I fly a ton and I just thought it was kind of interesting that the people at Southwest were a little different than normal. When you deal with people in the airline industry, where it is not a real exciting or fun industry (you would think). Yet, whenever I flew, I would somehow end up laughing or having a good time or there would be a gate agent that was pretty nice or something. I noticed that, and somewhere along the line I heard of this book and I picked it up and I read it. It really blew me away and it brought a lot of points home for me that I could apply directly to swimming. It is one of the best books I have ever read that really wasn’t a swimming book, but it really applied well to the program that we run.
If you heard Rick Curl’s talk, some of this stuff is going to be a little repetitive to maybe what you heard in there. I thought it was pretty interesting that he gave his own talk that had nothing to do with this, but pretty much in describing his program, he hit pretty much every single one of these points that are here. It was quite interesting how much the Curl-Burke program and the Nova Aquatics Program are very similar in their setup of a lot of things.
The first concept here is to fly in the face of conformity, to have a vision, and to not settle for conventional standards; to really set your own standards. I think that is pretty important. Swimming can be kind of a mundane sport. It is not as exciting as other things, like playing Nintendo and stuff like that. We have to find ways to do things a little differently. Do things that are specific to your program. Do things that will work and be successful.
With these points that I am going to be going through, I am going to give you some examples of what Southwest does to do these things. Sometimes I will give examples of what we do at Nova. To do this, I am actually going to ask for a little bit of your participation. If any of you have an idea dealing with some of these topics I want to know what you guys do in your own programs to be successful. So share it. So I would like to make this a little more of a group atmosphere. At that talk of Rick’s we found out a lot about the Curl-Burke program. I always like hearing how other programs do it. I think that there are ideas out there that you guys should probably share with us as well.
Just a way of not settling for conventional standards as an example of something that I found to be different and I really loved, Jonty’s talk yesterday and some of the things that he was talking about. When I go to a swim meet as the coach, I am used to coaching adults more than kids. I do what we call our Bronze group which is like 7-11 year olds. I want them to learn how to think for themselves and to do things right and not have me as a babysitter. I really don’t like being a babysitter and that is one of the main reasons why I like to coach adults. I try to do my homework ahead of time in coaching the kids on what to do.
We have another coach who does this great thing. We found ourselves getting lost talking to our kids and they were missing the swim, so she said “Alright, 5 minutes before the event goes off I want every kid who swims the 50 breaststroke to be standing right there!” So they all come and stand right there and she gives the five things that they are going to work on or the three points they are going to work on or whatever. She tells all 15 of them at once and then they go off and they do the race and I go, this is great you know, instead of all doing it individually you are spending all this time and you just can’t see everything and do everything.
Well I do not take any splits for our kids at meets. I barely write down their time. I usually don’t write down their times. In fact a lot of times my swimmers can’t find me at a meet because I am standing in a corner up high somewhere videotaping them swim because you can get their splits off the web or off the result sheets later. They can do that stuff. They can learn what their splits are and how to get their times and I want them to write them down and learn them anyway.
I would rather film them swimming, then we have a little show time later. The next day or the first day after the meet we watch the swims and we laugh our butts off because we see some pretty silly stuff going on in there. They see much better and understand why they died at the end of their 100 free. When you see that their legs were on full tilt the first 25. Splits do not always tell those stories. Video tells it very well. So that is just something that I do that is a little bit different from the norm.
I would prefer to train them ahead of time and teach them what they are trying to do. At a meet let them run. Let them go. Film it and then evaluate it after and get them to make some changes.
This is more program related and will not apply to all of you if you don’t have the power to hire people. The concept of hiring for attitude and training for skill is something really important that they feel at Southwest Airlines. I think it is important for your staff to stay light-hearted, to have a good sense of humor and be serious about having fun. I mean, my workouts are pretty tough, but not terribly tough. We try to have fun and laugh and do things that they consider to be fun through the practice. Do things that are not oppressive. I think our staff is amazing at this at the Nova. I think that is one of our strengths. I wouldn’t say any of our coaches are that much better technically in how we teach or that our workouts are better systematically set up than other programs.
We are a big dry land program because there are so many kids in our program they can not all be in the water at the same time. We rotate through doing stuff out in the fields, dry land stuff and then coming in and swimming. That is not three times a week, that is every day that they do dry land stuff. It gets mixed up what they do, but mostly they play games. We see that same problem, although I don’t see it to be too bad with our groups in terms of having more girls than boys in those younger age groups. Our boys are freaks out there on the field. We go out there and they just run around like maniacs and they have so much fun playing ultimate frisbee or tag or capture the flag or whatever. While we are doing that we are running their butts off and getting their aerobic systems working real well, but they do not know they are working, they are just having fun out there doing it. That is part of our daily routine. We have some coaches that just fire up those kids unbelievably and I think that is so great. It is a lot more important than if they can exactly teach them the right flip turn philosophy or something to come off the wall.
Think small and act fast. Bureaucracy exhausts the entrepreneurial spirit. I think this is a pretty common problem in volunteer-run organizations and board-run swim teams. When we see a problem we often identify the problem, then we have to go through some long process to try to get it changed. I would get really frustrated in the past working with boards sometimes because they come in there, I want to do a change and it was just this long ordeal to get it to go through. So try to find ways to act quickly on things that you see aren’t going well on a smaller scale and gradually get it to work up to a bigger scale.
Herb ——- was the President/CEO of Southwest Airlines, one of the main starters of this idea. He believed that if we think small we will grow big. If we think we are big, we will grow small. I think that is how we approach it with our program at Nova in that we have a bunch of little teams in our program. They all are part of the Novas and they each have their own little different problems. We each try to become problem solvers in making our little part better. That will make the overall big picture better in the long run. So just act on small things. The little details that you can make better help your program grow and be more successful.
Act like an owner. Owners do whatever it takes to get the job done. This is a really important thing. It bothers me when I see somebody… Life guards are good examples of this. They really don’t think like an owner. When I am out on the deck coaching and there is something not right with the facility I just go deal with it. I fix it. If the pace clock isn’t timed with the other one or there are a bunch of kickboards left on the deck or something that is messing up the environment a little bit, I will move it, I will change it. I will pick up the trash and throw it away. To me that is just part of how I like to do things. I like it to look good around the pool deck. It is not part of my job to pick up trash at the pool, but it is just something I do. I don’t see that very much. The lifeguard will walk by you know, and spill coke 20 times and just not do anything about it. It is just not part of their nature and that is what I look for in people that I work with and staff. I think it is important to have people to do whatever it takes to get a job done and that no job is too menial or mundane.
We do all kinds of stuff as Nova coaches. We will fold flyers and brochures for our learn to swim or our swim school stuff. We have some coaches that actually drive around to different schools and deliver these brochures and stuff like that, things that are not really in our normal coaching duty stuff. It is just projects and things that need to get done for the overall success of our club.
Learn like crazy. That was something that Rick talked about and also Jonty did as well. I think it is important for it to come from the top – from an ideal of your organization, to continue to learn and to improve; continually trying to help their employees learn.
How their individual contributions make a difference is what distinguishes Southwest from a lot of other companies. They have a lot of opportunity for their people to move around within the company and learn different tasks and different jobs within Southwest so that those people can become more successful and move up the ladder instead of cubbyholing them into one particular area. I think we want to do that with our programs as well. Expand the knowledge of the coaches to be able to do other skills than just coach the 7-9 year olds. Expand them out a little bit. Expose them to coaching other aged kids or doing other tasks that will help them become a more well-rounded coach and more successful in the future.
To not feel fear of failure. That we play to win and we don’t play not to lose. In swimming I think it is important to be willing to try things differently. I loved Mike Bottom’s talk about his diver – he says that some days they go out there and they try to create a new dive. I don’t know if you guys heard that, but he was saying how if a guy creates something that no one has ever done before they are going to name it after him. I think that is pretty cool. They are going out there and most of the stuff doesn’t work. It is a failure, but sometimes you do find something that does work.
He was also mentioning one guy that wasn’t willing to change his starts, because he was already pretty good at a certain one and he didn’t want to change it and somebody else ends up beating him. Some of our swimmers are afraid to try things differently because they are already pretty successful with the way they are doing it, but they are really going to hit that ceiling of their ability if they don’t have that ability to try it differently. We have to create that environment a lot within practice of having them try things differently and try it more than just once or twice, but try it for a little while and evaluate if the change is working, if it doesn’t work, you can still go back to what you were doing. The more you test their limits and have them try things differently than they have done it before, the more they are going to be able to still do that further down the line. They are not going to be afraid of the failure of it.
Another example is that kid that always finishes his races really good. He can just really come back the last 50, but he is afraid to take it out. He is going to have to go out fast and die a few times in order to find how to do it right, but he has to be willing to take that risk. We have to force them to take that risk and not be upset if their time was slower because they did it. They have to learn different racing strategies. We have to bring that point across to our athletes and not jump on them for failure. Know that Failure is part of the process of what we do and that it is something to welcome. To try something new, and it is not going to work a lot of the time.
Create a legendary culture. In an organizational culture where values are shared and enthusiastically embraced, employees can make decisions that positively affect the organization. That is another thing that I found to be a very positive thing about Southwest Airlines. The people there are very loyal to that organization. You find that at many swim teams. The members are extremely loyal to that organization because it is really a culture. It goes so far beyond just swimming and swimming fast.
In Rick Curl’s talk he was talking about a lady that does their travel for them and she had a son that swam on the team for several years and now the guy is 35 to 37 years old. He hasn’t been in the program for 15 years and this lady still does all the travel for them. That is really commitment and loyalty to a culture, to their system, to what they are about, what they represent and that is what I think is important if you are going to be a real successful team. You really do build that loyalty and total picture that bonds everyone together and that it is not just the swimming that counts.
In our Nova culture this is kind of the basis of what we are about and I think Curl-Burke was saying this exactly the same way – their program – with just slightly different terminology. At Novas, our main thing is creating a positive environment where excellence is inevitable and that is at all levels of our program. Whenever you do anything in our program, you are thinking, “Is what I am doing creating a positive environment that is going to lead towards excellence?” Not necessarily to the Olympics or something like that – every group has different individual set goals and things they are going to do, but this is the big picture of what we are about. They called it womb-tomb at Curl. We call it cradle to grave, it’s kind of the same thing.
This isn’t how every team should run or what their goal should be, this is just how we look at it. We want to be a full-service swimming program from birth basically to death and how somewhere in there for every person that they can have that same positive environment where excellence is inevitable. From when they are at a learn to swim level, pre-competitive or age group team or senior level team, which is hitting the heights right now and then beyond.
We take that concept even to Masters. I really look at the Masters as just being 8 and unders who are allowed to drink. You know they still want to improve. A lot of people say, “Masters is not competitive, you just have a Masters team so that you can have additional revenue or income.” The people who say that aren’t from programs that have good Masters programs that have that attitude. Masters swimmers want to learn and get better and get faster.
When I went to Nova there were about 60 master swimmers and they would have maybe two or three that would show up to a meet. They only had a few pretty good people and everybody was telling me, “Well this isn’t really a competitive group that you are coaching so I am not sure it is what you are used to.” I was told the same story at other places where I came from. Well, we had 60+ swimmers swim in our Zone Championship a month ago and they were not really what I would consider competitive swimmers, but they came to the meet to be a part of the Nova program. They were going to a meet and winning the Championship and they weren’t setting any records or anything. A lot of them never dove off the blocks. They wanted to be a part of that team atmosphere that went to the meet and won. We won the meet last year by the skin of our teeth – like 100 points – and we were outnumbered. We had 25 people in the meet and the local team had about 35 in the mee. I swam them to death. We entered every relay to get the points and ended up just barely squeaking by and taking it. I said “Man, I hope we don’t have to do that next year because, I don’t want to swim my swimmers to death with having to be in the water so many times.” So I did a little more of a push to get more people to go and to be a part of it.
I started keeping track of Master’s team records. It was pretty much blank sheets in every age group so every time someone fell in the water and got to the wall first from our team, it was a team record. I think I created a culture. I didn’t make all these competitive swimmers. All of these people that are great swimmers came to swim for me because we are the Novas. I just took regular people and gave them more of a culture and a reason to be there and to be a part of something. These are just our different levels. Learn to swim is where we really want to cultivate it. The idea where it is all the way up from the bottom, all the way through to Masters.
Celebrate. This is the next thing that is really big in Southwest. They hold a lot of parties and things like that. You will see that some of their airplanes are painted kind of funny. They have painted one like Shamoo and they have one like the state of Arizona and I think one of Texas. They just party every once in a while and do some crazy stuff. I think that that is really important that you make a big deal about the success of your program and its members and to honor those you love and everyone in your program is people that you should love.
Does anyone know what the stock symbol is for Southwest Airlines? LUV, yes – love. So that kind of shows what they were really looking at in creating that organization. That is a lot of what they are about. I think that we feel that same way – that our swim teams are our family. They are people that are really important to us and so we need to honor those people that we love. Making a big deal about your successes and that goes at all levels.
Here are some examples. This is where I would like to maybe hear some help from the audience. After I get done going through these I would like to hear examples of things that you guys do within your program that celebrate the success of your team.
One of our first Level I’s that we do is for any 8 and under kid in our program that finishes their first 100 IM legally we give them a T-shirt and it says, “I am legal”. You know, that they can do an IM legally. That is a big goal for us. That is a good first level goal, that they can do 100 IM legal – so they get their IM legal T-shirts.
Now I have Masters swimmers who want these T-shirts for doing their first 100 IM in Masters. We had one coach who thought that we should give it out when they turned 18, but that is another story.
We have parties with goody bags for championship meets. When you get up to high level swimming, like you are going to Senior Nationals– what happens? Ohhh, you get your new Speedo sweats, you get a new backpack, you get all this cool stuff to go to Nationals – well that is pretty exciting and motivating stuff – it is actually some of the reasons why some kids want to go and improve is they like the cool stuff you can get when it says National Team on your cap and stuff like that.
Well, we took that same concept and we brought it down to our lower levels. They are not as good a goody bags, but when we go to our B-C Championships we have a party before the B-C Championships and every kid gets a bag and it has a bunch of junk in it that we get donated. Which includes anything from a toothbrush to some gum to anything. This last time we had somebody from Roxy donate a bunch of stuff. We had little wallets and the guys got a little quicksilver stuff and these kids were going ape over this. They were so excited.
The other thing that they get is a pretty inexpensive item, a luggage tag. One that says Novaquatics B-C Championships. The tags say the meet that it is and has their name on the other side. When you see a big pile of Nova bags in a corner, it is hard to figure out which one is yours, so now they have these name tags on their bag and this started at the higher level, you know with the National Team getting it. We brought this gradually down so that our J.O. team – gets T-shirts and they get the luggage tag and they get the bag of goodies.
At the B-C level sometimes we do T-shirts – sometimes not, but it is just building that team atmosphere. They go there and they have this packet of stuff that they got for being part of that championship team – whether it is a B-C championship which is just as big or bigger than the Olympic Trials when you are 8 years old or 9 years old. It is your second or third meet and you drop from a B time to an A time – that is pretty motivating.
We have an end-of-season water park workout. I know some other clubs do this too. We go to a place called Wild Rivers, and they’ve got this meandering river pool that has jets that kind of shoot the water one way. It is kind of like a river and mostly what it is used for is floating around on an inner tube. We go in the park about an hour and a half before it opens and they have lifeguards there. We do a workout in the river pool. We go with the current and I send them off in waves, first the 8 and unders go, or I start with older kids so they don’t run down with it. 13 and ups go and then the 11-12’s go. As they do a lap around, I would tell them what stroke to do. We will do an IM where they swim fly from one bridge to the next bridge and then they switch strokes. They swim around this thing and they get back and they regroup and we rest a bit and I throw them some Starburst candies. Then we would go against the current a little bit, you just really wear them out in about an hour or less. Then the park opens up and we all go in and play. It is a really fun thing that they look forward to doing and we do it at the end of the year.
I would actually like to make it a little more often than that. I would like to have dual meets against like Mission or something like that. I think it would be pretty fun, to have little water park races or something. Most groups just do a banquet. Banquets are another place where you can really honor those in your program that have done great things over the year. Have special awards that go beyond just performance, recognize people that added to that outstanding culture of your program.
I think one of the coolest things that we do at our banquet is to have the seniors give speeches. I was sitting next to Dave when we were listening to Rick talk and he said he has about 42 people graduate a year or something like that. I just said to Dave, oh man, that would take forever to get through those senior speeches! We seem to have about 8 or 10 and maybe they don’t all show up, but Dave has each kid get up and just give a little talk to the group on you know what it has kind of meant to them swimming with the Novas. You hear some pretty amazing stuff from these kids. Things that seemed far beyond their years. You really find out some stuff that you never knew. Like how important the program is to them. Rick was saying, it kind of creates that lead-in of all those little kids that are there and that are hearing it. They want to become a part of that. They want to be up there some day telling their story at the Senior Banquet.
We also give out team record certificates in Novas for the age group program. It is quite an honor to get a record, because they have got some pretty solid records in all of their age group. For Masters I am just getting it started so it is pretty easy to get one. In fact if any of you still swim, come on by! You might get a team record.
Swimmers of the month in a newsletter. I stopped doing a newsletter – it was just a lot of man hours to do. I tend to do it more as an email version of sending out press releases. More often, I know a lot of places do this. If you do have a newsletter and you don’t have a swimmer of the month, you really should add it in. Delegate it out to somebody that is always the person that writes it up and just get a standard number of question. Recognizing different people within your program with the swimmer of the month is a great way to celebrate and recognize people in your program.
I do something called a meet results highlights email. After major meets I will often write up what happened and send it out to the team. We have such a large team that is spread out all over the place and of different abilities. I want to keep them informed of what is going on at the highest level in our program. This isn’t part of my job at Nova it is just something I do because I see that the importance of it.
Dave doesn’t have time to do this kind of stuff. When Dave was away at the PAN-PACs with about six or seven people on the US National Team over there and they were going off. They had a great meet. He is lucky to get to a computer or whatever. In Ft. Lauderdale the same thing. He is busy coaching. He doesn’t have time to send out these press releases so I just go on to USA Swimming; I look at the results, copy out all the Nova swimmers, put it in one email and say here’s how the team did on Day 2 of Senior Nationals. This guy made the Olympic Trial cut, this guy broke the World Record, you know. We just had two Nova kids on the 400 medley relay – World Record Team; Erin Pearson and Jason Lezak – backstroke and freestyle.
I want the whole team to take ownership and celebration of that – from the lowest level kid because you know what, I bet there are kids on our team that still do not even know who Jason Lezak is and they probably wouldn’t even recognize him. Why not get them to know who they are. Send out that information and pump them up. It doesn’t have to be a record, but just a few great performances. People do like to see their name in places. The more you can do that and just pump it out quickly and timely, that really means a lot.
What are some examples? Do any of you guys have ones that you guys do with your programs that celebrate success or excellence within your program? Nobody has any? Right here we have an award which is named after a really good swimmer who came out of our program, Kate Wilson. Way back – she won several National titles, But this award is different, for this award they are voted on as the best role model in the eyes of their teammates. The kids get together up to the senior group and they get to pick each year. That person gets their name on a plaque on the wall in the office and their picture placed on a plaque to go underneath them. My advice is if you are doing an award like that is don’t tell anybody the day you are going to do it. As you start, you know, you might be running a dry land workout – just bring each kid off by themselves and make them fill it out and hand it to you right then, otherwise they will try and come up with somebody they think would be really funny to have on there. You gotta outsmart them. Have them write them down individually one at a time and then hand them back. That is something that everybody looks forward to, seeing who is going to win that award. Whoever trains with us at Christmas time tries to get a Santa award. They are on a plaque in the office. They get a trophy with a Santa Claus on it, which we do in April, which always comes over real good.
It doesn’t have to be expensive. These things, these ideas can be pretty inexpensive, but it does create that culture and that excitement and the celebration that builds your culture.
Yes, getting your older kids to work with your younger kids – that is a great idea to build that culture in your program.
Yes we have a B-C Championship Meet and same type of thing – they get stars or stickers or we have hair coloring – our staff coaches – some of them – all of this great stuff to bring in – these kids are running over here and they have paint all over them, like idiots, but mainly they were having fun and that is what is about.
Those are some good ideas to think about doing, but if you don’t have it, look at ways to celebrate through the year, not just at the end of the year. Have more immediate feedback for your swimmers to show that excellence and the excitement and celebrate the fun you are having along the way. Compassion for the community; to give back is the right thing to do. This just helps build moral character within your program and your group. A lot of kids out there are little spoiled brats as far as I am concerned. You know, they need to be taught a little bit about what it is like to give back and that it is not all just about them. I think we are so blessed to live in Southern California in nearly perfect weather and have these great 50 meter pools to swim in with the lanes that are so wide. These little kids come to practice and complain. I just want to wring their neck sometimes. They have it so good, I think it is important for us to teach them the importance of giving back to the community and doing special projects and things like that.
That is part of Southwest, they do a lot of things along that line, promoting events and races and charities and that kind of stuff. So find something that your team can do to kind of give back to your local community and to instill that – that type of spirit in your athletes. One thing is I do a little free clinics for the summer leagues, just a way to kind of get people to offer something back.
What I do with my Masters group around Thanksgiving is we collect canned food over the course of the Thanksgiving weekend. I usually like to run holiday workouts because I am in town anyway – it is one of the few times that I don’t travel. So I will run a Thanksgiving Day workout in the morning where we workout before we pig out. Then usually a workout the next day and they are usually pretty solid workouts too, but I ask everyone to bring a couple cans of food for the workout. Then by the end of the weekend we have had a couple of hundred people bring in two cans each. That is a lot of donation to give away from just one weekend of collection.
Those that forget to bring it, they get to swim workout holding two of those cans through the workout. He made us do some swimming with coke cans in our hands once because he was having us do some flywheel kind of sets so that was pretty cool so they get kind of tired – sometimes we do a double or nothing. They can either swim with the cans or they can bring twice as much the next day so a lot of them take that option.
We also have a fund raiser meet that we do with the kids and we bring in the Olympians from our team and they will sign autographs and hang out with the kids and it is the same type of thing – I think they have to – the entry fee to the swim meet is to bring some canned food. Then they get to take pictures and they do some wacky relays. We actually divide our team up into 4 teams – we just randomly switch the coaches onto different teams and we draft the kids and have this big 4-way meet of Nova swimmers. It is like big bragging rights as to which team wins for that year. The team that wins gets to carry that all through to next year. Aaron Piersol is there, Jason Lezak is there and those guys are pumping up the kids. It is a good team builder, but it is also where we do promote something where we are giving back to our community.
Unconventional advertising. At Southwest they try to do three things in their advertising: Intrigue the audience, entertain the audience and persuade the audience. I kind of just look at this in terms of advertising, but also just in terms of the way I sell myself on the deck with sets and things like that. I really want to sell the workouts and intrigue my swimmers, entertain them and really convince them that what they are doing is the right thing.
One example at Southwest which I thought was kind of cool was an ad that they had that was a coloring book page of a dinosaur. It was colored in and it was just a wreck – the lines – the coloring was all scratchy around the edge – it looked like a 6 year old who just tried to color it. It just looked like a mess. Their caption was something like at Southwest Airlines we don’t mind if you color outside the lines. They were trying to get people as employees that don’t just fall right within the lines of doing everything right, that it is okay to be a little bit different and to have creativity.
Customers come second and still get great service. I think this is a pretty important concept that sometimes you try so hard to please your customers that it is at the sacrifice of really doing things right. That certainly can happen easily within a swim program where a parent or kid gets really upset when you do not want to do what they think is in their best interest or if you have assistant coaches get challenged by parents and things like that. We really need to stay true to our purpose and really have a tight bond of the staff and of the team first. Then you are much stronger in dealing with parents or situations that you run into.
That the customer is not always right and that we have that ability to look more at the big picture of what is in the best interest of the overall program and not just whether Johnny gets on a relay because he is faster than Tommy. Sometimes it is better to put Tommy on that relay. We know because Tommy earned that spot. He came and did his warm-up. He has been hanging out with the team. He has been doing everything right and Johnny hasn’t. We have to be able to be strong about that. We will give great service, but we are doing what is in the best interest of the program, not necessarily each individual swimmer or family out there.
Leadership is the practice of helping people envision and then participate in creating a better world than the world they came into. It means raising individuals, organizations and communities to higher levels of moral development. That is pretty heavy, but it is what we want to do in our program and what I know a lot of you guys want to do with your program. You want to bring people along for the betterment of everyone.
We are so lucky to be in such an awesome field to teach swimming and to swim fast. It is such a healthy activity – such a good thing. I feel good about what I do every day when I go to coach and when I go to work. I would hate being a traffic cop or writing tickets to someone parking in the wrong spot. I would just have such bad karma feeling all the time for doing that.
I feel that I want people to go on our ship. That we are going somewhere and that it is a good place that we are going to. That is what a good leader does. He gets everyone to buy into that and go along for the rid. You are all going to be better people further down the line because of it.
How to influence others: I heard Rick talk about this in his talk. I really believe in walking the talk, in leading by example, in (end of tape side #1) having a good attitude and not using foul language in front of athletes, in being fit myself and working out. I think that is really important. It goes a lot further with your athletes than if you are not being held by the same standards that you are asking them to be.
Focus on things that you can control. I think this is an important thing. People often complain to each other about stuff and they complain to people that really have no control over changing anything. Just focus on things that you can make a difference at and if you can’t make a difference, but you see a problem, go to someone make the difference, that can make a change. Do that instead of just creating some cancerous talk within your program like complaining about some problem or issue that really that person has no better way of helping it to be fixed either. Being prepared is a great way to influence others. If you are a coach that has a goal for your program and you are not communicating that and you are not prepared – both in your workouts and how you get them to buy into it, you are not going to influence others. When a parent walks on the deck and they see a coach out there that doesn’t look very organized and doesn’t look like they have their act together they are not going to have a lot of respect for you. They are not going to go to bat for you. They are not going to really feel like you know what you are doing so make sure that you are well prepared on all levels when you get to meets and things like that.
One of our assistant coaches who coaches the 8 and unders does a great job with being prepared I think because she has to. You would go nuts – I go nuts coaching little kids because you have 50 million questions coming up all the time from them all and from their parents too, all the time. It is non-stop. I mean, you have to learn how to filter it out or something. When you can stop a lot of those when they happen, it really makes your life a lot easier.
She sends out or gives them a piece of paper, every single meet she does this almost, the warm-up procedure of exactly what time they need to be there, which group is in the water at which time, exactly what they need to bring to the meet, the extra towel, the warm clothes, the hat, the sunscreen, whatever it is. She uses the same email pretty much every time, she changes a few of the little details, but she just keeps banging it into their head and re-sending it so that every time the new people come into the program they start learning the system and knowing what to do. It takes several times to get it to sink in, but it works. Being prepared can really help you influence others.
Sharpen your political skills. It is pretty common that coaches say this and I have heard it a few times over the course of this week-end already, how many of us coaches like to avoid talking to parents? You know, you try to act busy or do something or you don’t have time to do it, but still you need to learn to do it, to talk to parents, to talk to facility staff type of people. That is a real good place to have good political skills. If you are in constant battle and argument with either the facility manager or even worse – the guy that cleans your pool or whatever – they can make your life miserable. Go out of your way to make their life great and give them team T-shirts or you know a Christmas card. You can to make them say Wow – this person is nice and they care about me and they are going to go a little out of their way for you.
You have to kind of start that, that process yourself. You can’t expect it just to happen to you. I think we need to be the ones proactive in building those political skills with the parents and with just about anybody, for example -meet officials. There are just so many areas that we kind of just go in our own little world and ignore about all these other things that are going on that are affected by us. We need to create that good relationship with those different people. The other ones that I really like to build a good political relationships with—– are those – the ladies that do the data entry and meet stuff, so that when you sneak over there to try to get them to change the time on your kid, if they were entered wrong, they don’t bite your head off. If you can be nice to them and tell them you enjoyed their – what they do, they are going to be more lenient and likely to let you turn in that relay card two minutes late or something like that than if you just blow by them every time and they don’t know you from anyone except when you are yelling at them because something is wrong.
Love people into action . I know this is probably hard to do sometimes when you are really upset with someone, but it really is more powerful when you really show that you care about someone. They are more willing to work for you than if you are just biting their head off. Listen for more than you hear. This is kind of interesting. You know, most people will not naturally come to you when they have an issue with you, when they have a problem with you. They tell other people and talk starts to happen so you have to listen and be aware of what is going on in your program and ask people how things are going. Ask some of the parents how things are going. Ask what they see going and they will often give you a little bit different perspective than what you thought was going on. That might be different than how you think it is. That is pretty valuable information to have. Sometimes you can find some things that are not quite how they should be and you can make the changes before it becomes a real big issue. It is important to ask people what they are thinking and how they see it. What is their perspective?
There are people in your program that know a lot of people in the program. They listen. They have a good awareness of what your team is about and they can often give you a very interesting perspective that you would not have if you didn’t ask them and listen for more than you just hear people telling you.
There are some miscellaneous quotes from the book that I enjoyed: “The company has learned that fashion, not techniques is the key to legendary service. It is not exactly how you do it that matters. That goes for the way Todd here teaches turn. It is different maybe than how I teach turns, but man we sure get into it when we do it. We want the kids to buy into it and really try to do it right and maybe they will do it a little differently, but they know that it is important. Southwest is known for saturating people with information that will help them better understand the company and its mission. That is a really important thing that I think is not done enough, as well. How many programs have like a new member handbook – something like that? That is a good start, but it is not enough just to have that. You have to continue to push what your team is about and what its missions are and where you are going and all that stuff.
I loved that example that Jonty gave yesterday about the monkeys getting thrown in the cage – the five monkeys in a cage and whenever they went up to try to get bananas off the ladder they shot them with cold water. Pretty soon they started beating up the monkey that would try to go and get the banana. They would be pulling those monkeys out so there were no original monkeys left and they still beat each other up so they wouldn’t go get the bananas and none of them had ever been shot with the water. They didn’t really know what the program was about – they just kind of did it, but they didn’t really have a good understanding of why they do it and I think that sometimes happens in our program. We think we have told everyone and we really haven’t .
We haven’t continued to develop what we are about and why we are doing things the way we do it because you do have a turnover of kids and we forget that that group is gone now. You just think that the next group knows what those kids did and they don’t and the parents as well. You are continually bringing in what you are about and why you are doing things the way you do it.
Here are some of the things that we use as information in our program. New Member handbook is one that you know. I am not so sure about in some respects because it can often be a pretty big document. The parents barely go through it, but it should be available. Have most of your policies and things in there so that if a parent does have a question, you can refer them to that. I think what is a little better is that we have a group specific goals handbook which is a lot less pages – it is only about four pages or something like that. Dave started this with the senior group and it was just kind of the season layout that he handed out to them. It had the big meets we are going to, a few of the key details of our training time and our season plan. I think they sign some sort of consent or agreement to buy into that program for that season. I said man, this is a great idea so I just took the same thing and I modified it for my little bronze group. I put down what our training times were, what the meets we were going to be going to were, the important ones and the skills that they needed to be able to do to get into my group and the skills that they should be able to do to move up to the next group. That’s what is in my little handbook and there are not very many pages – its only like two pages, but it is good information so that when somebody is upset because somebody else got to move up a group and they didn’t, it is right there. You can’t do all these skills yet so it is real plain for them and their parents. They know what the meets are pretty far in advance so that they can start planning their vacations and things like that.
Emails with specific details – I like to send out notes warning of meet entry deadlines, when Nationals are goring to be on TV or NCAA swimming is going to be on TV or something like that – I will bump out an email to our group or to our team saying watch the meet on TV tomorrow at 3 pm. Watch PAN-PAC’s, there are really good meet results on swiminfo.com and on USA Swimming. I give the hyperlink right to it. I want to keep them informed of what is going on in swimming and keep them in the know so that they get excited about it as well. Anything I find that I think is good information that they might be able to use I will put together a short email and send it off to them and remind them.
We will send out the email ahead of time saying how many timing chairs we have to cover at meets. At Nova man, it is like half the dang pool is our chairs for our parents because we have a lot of kids at meets. We will put down you know, that we have 12 chairs we have to cover at the meet for timing. Here is the process parents – when you get there go to the coach’s area and sign up for your hour of timing. We have to define that for them and continue to define it for them and tell them where to go to do it and all that stuff. We tell them things like we will be swimming relays at this meet and we expect your child to swim the relays, if not, make sure that you do this, that you let us know right at warm-up so that we don’t make the relay happen and then it doesn’t get in the water because your kid left early – things like that. We can’t just yell at a parent after the fact if you didn’t really tell them that up front because some meets you do relays, some meets you don’t, be real specific with them and give them that information in advance. Again, it makes you look well prepared and organized which means you have more influence.
We do calendars for each group. I have a little – I am going to get out of here for a second and see if I can find it – I think I had it here. That’s our home site. We have several different locations that we train at and a lot of different groups. That means a lot of questions, so we created a calendar section on our website. We have a different calendar for each group so the coaches can just go in and modify the calendar for their group, put in important meet dates and things like that. Some of our coaches haven’t been so good at doing this.
This is an example of a calendar. I can just go in there and edit what time workout is at, or if there are any meets coming up. You look at like the 8th over here – it says entry information is actually a hyperlink to the website for that swim meet or for that open water swim. It is kind of a one stop place that our swimmers can go in and look and see everything that is happening for the month and they can go right to the meet information and stuff like that. It is a really good source of information for them and it cuts down on the questions.
The link to this calendar is at the bottom of every single email I send so that I do not have to keep answering, well what time is practice on Saturday? Are we having practice this Saturday, you know, it is a holiday next week, you know, it is right there. I will send out update emails as well, but I really am trying to get them used to using the calendar to get their information.
Parent meetings are another useful tool – again – some of us are afraid to talk to parents. This is a great way to kind of get used to it or get in that system. We do it more with the younger groups than with the older groups, but we have a couple a year. We do parent meetings that come right before or right after practice. We just kind of review our group goals for that particular group – it is only for one group – it is not for the whole team so it might be for 20 or 30 swimmers. Sometimes it is just the parents, it might be the kids. I like to have the kids and the swimmer’s parents there and I will just briefly review what the next few months are going to be. What are our big meets? What is going on?
If we have had any issues or problems or a lot of questions like recently we got the pool closure going on – just to kind of tell everyone what is going on and let them know that everything is alright and that we are on track and remind them about any problems. If we had been having a lot of problems with kids leaving early and missing relays, that would be a topic we might cover in a parent’s meeting. That is a good place where you can sometimes ask for help from your parents. If you need someone to update your calendar or to do some other specific tasks when you get that group of parents together you can sometimes get them to commit to doing things for your group. So these are several different examples of information that we put out to our swimmers. You have to realize that no one way works and just one by itself is not enough. You have to have a whole group of sources of information to get out to your athletes.
Another one that I forgot to put down, probably the main one, is we have the boxes at the pool with every family’s name in it and we put in flyers and sheets and things like that of upcoming events. That is where their meet forms go and all that kind of stuff so they know to go and check their box on the way to or from practice.
The reason why I like to also back that up with email is half the time that gets picked up and left in the locker room or it just goes to the bottom of the swim bag and it never really makes it home to the parents. If we put the sheet in there and we send that same information out on email the parent is at work and they read it and they might cause a little more remembrance.
A few more quotes: “A company has integrity when it has a reputation for keeping its promises and doing what it says it is going to do”. So you know, keeping your word is important. “To serve and be kind, to entertain and have fun defines the kind of personality Southwest looks for” so I think that is a great one to end on.
We like to have fun at Nova. We like to swim fast, but we really have a good time doing it. The staff has a great time. It is not work to us. You know, we like to be at the pool. The only work part I think is pulling those damn covers at the end of the night. We have this Coach —– and he can even make that pretty fun. We will have little races as to who can get their half of the pool covered the fastest. Try to make every little task still pretty fun.
I hope you all have a great time here at the Clinic. I hope maybe you got an idea or two that you can use in your own program. I would love to hear some more of yours, but I think I exceeded my time limit here so thank you very much.