Distance Training of Eric Vendt by Josh Stern (1999)


Published


Can everybody hear me? I’m not used to being miked up, so if I start screaming, let me know. Thank you Tim. Tim is one of the coaches who has helped me tremendously over the last six or seven years. Always there for advice, support, and I think the world of him. He’s had a tremendous influence on my coaching, and it was an honor to be introduced by him, but one thing I want to do is add a little thing that Tim forgot to mention, that is that I am ASCA Level Zero, and I will be speaking to you, today, about Eric Vendt. I want to thank ASCA sincerely for letting me talk. I am incredible excited about doing this talk, and I want to try and slow down, not try to go on too many tangents, but the way I figure it, I was going to get all organized and talk about Eric’s development and then talk about the way I train him. The way I look at  it is, there are probably two types of coaches in this room. What I mean by types coaches looking for two things out of this talk. You’re either here trying to figure out how to take young kids 10, 11, 12, 13 and develop them along the line so they can have success typical to, you know, like Eric Vent. Or, you’re here with kids at a real high level, and you’re just seeing if you can learn anything about how Eric trains, what he does on a consistent basis. So, what I’m going to try and do I realize that I’ve been coaching for seven years, which is obviously a very short time. Six of those years, I’ve been coaching Eric Vendt. I never really sat down and figured that out until a couple days ago, but I think it’s important to explain his development to probably explain where I’m coming from. Explain my background a little bit, and show how I developed, and how that influenced his development. I’m going to try and give you as much information as I possibly can, not only on what he does now, what he’s done over the last couple of years, the things I feel are instrumental in his training, and in his approach to swimming, but also to give you some background on what he was doing when he was 11, 12 years old.

 

If you can learn anything from it, a lot of people here are a hell of a lot smarter than I am. I figure you can use this kind of information and figure stuff out, but I’m lucky to have been involved with this kid and before I go any further, I want to say a couple of words about Eric. This is a great kid. Any of you, and I do mean any of you, if you care at all about swimming, would love coaching this kid. Works his butt off. Incredible positive, there is not anything about him that I would term as arrogant. I mean, he’s one of those kids I think when you have someone real successful, especially real young, you have people all over the place that get jealous of him, or they think he’s stuck up, or stuff like that. There isn’t a kid in New England that feels that way about Eric Vent. He’s the most popular kid on my team because of his work ethic and because he’s incredibly supportive, and if you have a kid like that in your program, who’s not just your fastest kid, but a kid who’s willing to work, or outwork, everybody else, it’s a wonderful example. And I have learned as much from Eric as a coach, and probably more, than he’s learned from me. It’s been a pleasure knowing this young man. I’m going to miss him tremendously look forward to see him grow up into an adult, and I hope you all get a chance to meet him. I could go on for hours about that kid. Instead, I’m going to talk about myself a little bit, which is another thing I love to do.

 

I was coached by two guys who had the most influence over me as a swimmer. I swam for Chris Martin at the Petty School. And those of you that know Chris an incredible, top coach. And when I swam for Chris, he showed up at the Petty School and turned that place into a national power. Did it through hard work, attitude, approaching the sport with an intensity. And whenever I think of Chris, the first word that comes up is “intensity.” After that, I went to college, and I swam for a guy named Bill Boomer, who is probably on the other end of the spectrum of Chris Martin. He’s a technique guy a huge technique guru. Started talking to me when I was a 17-year old freshman in college, and did not understand a word he said nothing. But, I was raised, luckily, to adjust to my coaches, and he had a profound effect on me. But I think the one thing he really raised up that influenced me as a coach, they both had an incredible effect on me growing up. They were very interested in not just how fast I swam, they took a huge amount of time and effort in slapping me around. Teaching me how to grow up emphasizing it, had a profound effect on my life, and I came out of those relationships with a huge amount of respect for coaching. Not so much because, well, they coached me, and I swam fast, but because they helped me grow up. And both of them really focused on that.

 

So, I came out of coaching in a situation where I had both of these guys that I thought were incredible coaches, and they were absolutely different. Absolutely. I swam for Chris for two years, and it’s probably a good thing because if I swam for him for four or five years, then I’d probably be just Chris Martin, Chris Martin, Chris Martin. Which some people do, and that’s great. Instead, I swam for him for two years, and I don’t remember doing one single thing about my technique, and I think it’s because I wasn’t fast enough. I think it was basically just survival. Boomer, used to pull me out of the water and tell me to calm down. And that used to drive me nuts because all he wanted was perfect swimming. And I came out of both of those relationships and got really lucky.

 

In fact if you told me I was going to be coaching seven years before this, I’d laugh at you. I just didn’t think I was good enough to be a coach. I put coaches on pedestals. I didn’t feel like I could possibly walk into that situation, and I started coaching ten and under kids at the New England Barracudas. At the same time I coached at Wellesley College. It’s a division three school at Boston all women. incredible luck that that started with me because what I ended up doing in that situation, was I got to coach absolute blank slates, and if any of you ever get the opportunity to coach 10 and unders, I think it’s a huge deal.

 

I think one of the lucky things that’s happened with my coaching is, I’ve been able to coach every step along the way. What I mean by that is, I’ve coached a lot of levels, and I’ve coached every different age group, including 5, 6-year olds. It’s not like I planned that, but it happened, and it gave me a really nice perspective because, when I came out of college, Boomer only coached me my freshman, kind of my sophomore year, and then he retired. When I came out of college and I started coaching the 10 and unders, I had all this Boomer stuff. And those of you who’ve had anything to do with Boomer, it’s confusing stuff. He says stuff like, linear flow, tangents, velocity, power vectors. I don’t get it I really don’t. I understand the swimming part of it, but I’m not really a science guy. I just try and understand it enough so I can apply it. But I understand that it worked and I became a student of it because for two years, really, Boomer was gone. I had all these ideas in my head as a swimmer, but I didn’t have Boomer telling me what to do, so I was left on my own. Started coaching 10 and unders and I used that stuff. And at the time, Boomer was of the mindset that that stuff is for college guys and pretty much smart college swimmers. I started using it on little 6, 7, 8-year olds, and it was incredible, because they picked it up. They may not have understood it, but they grasped it. They understood the basics of what we were doing and they kind of moved on with it. And instead of talking about guys forever, it was a pretty big deal for me. It’s because of that, that right now, standing in front of everybody here and there’s a bunch of college coaches, age group coaches, things like that.

 

The most important people to me in USA swimming are age group coaches. They’re the most important people because you’re teaching mind set, you’re teaching approach to swimming, by far. And as an age group coach, you get to decide on priorities. You get to pick up what people are going to do, and especially in today’s society, and I’m going to get to this a little bit later on, but, age group coaches aren’t just 8 and unders, or 9 and 10’s. To me, age group coaches are all the way up to when kids are around 17, 18, going in to college. And, when you start coaching, you have a possibility of influencing kids along two lines, technically and emotionally.

When you start coaching these kids I started coaching Eric at 12 years old. He was 12 years old. Talented? Yes. The most talented, no. Physically gifted, no. Wonderful competitor, but incredibly bad technically. He would get in, take  a ton of strokes per length, spin his wheels, attack everything as hard as he could, and that age, especially, I think you have the aerobic capability of just attacking stuff and slowly falling apart, but you can go and go and go. When you look at that stuff with Eric, it depends upon what you want to create. Now, my question to all of you is this. When you see an 11, 12-year old swimmer, what do you see? You look at these kids, they’re 11, 12 years old, maybe even 9,10, what do you see? Myself, personally, I see a champion. I can’t help it. I look at these kids and I don’t think, well what do they do in the water? How fast do they go? What can they do right now? What are their best strokes or best events? I honestly don’t care. What I see when I look at kids that age, is I see potential, and I imagine each one of those kids as a perfect swimmer.

 

Now, when I looked at Eric, the best thing about him when he was 12-years old was his attitude. He would attack things. He was hungry, aggressive, very competitive, and he loved what he was doing. He enjoyed it. A ton of energy. But when I looked at him as a swimmer, I didn’t think, well, he’s small, so he’s better have a nice stroke, because for all I knew he’d go through a huge growth spurt, I don’t know. I didn’t think, well, he’s going to be a distance swimmer, I had no idea. What I thought was, he needs to be trained as hard as he can because my influence was Chris. You need to work hard and get better, and, he needs to be a perfect swimmer. Why not? We have a mentality a lot where we cut corners, and when you’re dealing with 11, 12-year olds, why? It’s   a battle of wills. If you can sell them on your vision, then you can create the skills and help them learn the skills, then they’re going to be the ones going after that. So every kid you look at when they’re 11 and 12 don’t look at them and see what they do doesn’t matter. I couldn’t care less about who’s the fastest 11 year-old, 12-year old, 13,14. I can go through every kid in New England that kicked Eric’s butt, and there were a lot of them.

 

Now, it’s not like I want them to lose, but the biggest thing to me was long term focus. You got a kid at that age, you look at long term focus and you try and create a better swimmer. Now, the part of this that I like the most, when, not just Eric, but any of these kids were 12, and I was coaching Eric at Mass Bay Marlins, the head coach of the Harvard men’s team, Mike Chassan, and I absolutely loved what I was doing. Coach of the men’s team as a volunteer assistant, gave me a wonderful perspective that I got to see some very, very, good, very, hardworking division one athletes trying to raise their team into a top 10, and then to two A’s. And at the same time I’m coaching these 11, 12 year olds, and you can’t help but just try and have a vision of those kids when they’re older, when they’re competing in college. And it was a very nice situation for me.

 

I learned a tremendous amount from Mike this gives me a chance to say thank you to Mike Chassen because I had no experience. He watched me the first couple months, and let me go. He gave me direction. He gave me also an awful lot of responsibility. And it was a blast.

So, as I was coaching these kids, you start thinking about perfect swimming, you think about two things. You think about perfect technique which I’ve already mentioned, and that’s potential. And then you think about perfect attitude. And that’s the part that I like the most. As a young coach, still a young coach, but as a coach, the thing that I get the most enjoyment out of is not necessarily kids winning or going fast, but when you talk about trying to teach kids how to attack their potential. Not just as swimmers, efficiently, but as their attitude. To me, the greatest thing about Chris, and the greatest thing about Boomer, and about all the coaches that I’ve dealt with, and predominately I was a baseball player up until Chris showed up at Petty. But every coach that I had that ever meant anything to me, it was about teaching me how to grow up. So the nice thing about attitude, when you get into work ethic and things like that, is you can start trying to teach that stuff, and yeah, maybe these kids won’t become world beaters, maybe they don’t become gold medalists, but it’s you teaching potential, and you’re attitude that’s going to help them be successful. You’re going to teach them attitudes like working hard, not being afraid to fail, taking a chance, attacking things, thinking positive. And it affects their work, it affects their school, it affects everything. So if they fall on their face, hey, it’s okay. You did your best effort. You can pat them on the back.

 

At a very early point, all I cared about was effort and attitude, and my goal, with that group was creating an environment that that’s all they cared about. What I mean by that is this. There’s no cool and uncool. There’s no that kid dresses nice, or that kid’s good looking, and stuff like that, it’s where you walk into the door of the pool, that stuff’s left to the side. And you’ve got kids that start to treat each other based on who works the hardest. Attitude and effort. So, in order to make that work, you’ve got to back it up. And that’s a big challenge because you’ve got this one kid, Johnny over in the corner, who’s really fast, but if Johnny doesn’t work hard, you can’t treat him better than the kid who stinks, who’s in the other lane who’s killing himself. You can’t do that if you’re sitting there saying, well, what I care about is attitude and effort. Now this is with 11, 12 year-olds. Wonderful.

 

Well, to me, this is with everything. It’s the biggest thing I like about coaching, and to me it guarantees success. You have kids whose priority is having a great attitude when they walk into practice, and giving the best effort they possibly can. There’s no limit to that. There’s no 100% of that. There’s always something you can pass through. So when you have that kind of stuff, and you try and promote that, and push it, you get training out of it, and you teach kids that there’s stuff that’s more important than, well, that kid doesn’t have the nicest clothes. All right. I like that stuff. I could talk about that forever. But the thing about it is, you gotta’ sell it, and to me, that’s coaching.

 

Coaching  is  communicating it, selling the vision. Having a vision of not just the work and the attitude, but also the stroke. I think that’s something that I’m going to get to a little bit later. There are a lot of people that learn mechanics of swimming, but if you don’t have a vision of what that’s going to look like, then it’s garbage it’s useless because then you keep just trying to teach kids, well, use your hip here, and put your hand here, but you’re not trying to promote a vision and talk in different ways to the kid about it, and then the kid can never really take it and make ownership of it. That’s why the first couple years of coaching, that was my whole deal. I loved it. I still do. But, just to kind of go over it, Eric at that point ate this up. And I had a group of , well they’re all young kids, but there were scattered some old kids in there, and they ate it up, and they not only adapted to it, but they enjoyed it. I think it takes some pressure off people because you can always focus on it. It takes the pressure off your final time, things like that. Puts things in perspective. I didn’t talk to these kids about how good they were going to be at 13 or 14. Never. Everything I talked about with them is four years down the road. Talked about, if you want to go to nationals, and beat people at nationals, this is the stuff you gotta’ do. Used swimmers all the time as examples. Harvard swimmers because they were right there. Or swimmers on a national level. All the time. And it was something that I was a big proponent of because at that point I felt that I saw so many swimmers, U.S. swimmers in general, sloppy. Just phenomenal athletes, trained really hard, and incredibly sloppy. And then you see other swimmers that are beautiful, but they don’t do any work. I never understood doing one or the other. It was a big focus for me, and obviously a big focus for the kids that I coached.

 

Now, in the process of that, the training environment at that point there’s a couple things I should probably throw in there before I go into that. This is something I find very interesting. Eric, at this point in his swimming, you could not hold the kid down. These kids would work really hard, but in the process they were always moving around. These were not kids at home playing Nintendo. These are not kids at home watching T.V. They were nonstop motion. And it wasn’t just him. And it’s something that I find really interesting, and it’s something that I think you have to promote with the young kids. Now a lot of times you go into pools and you watch other teams, and you see they’re young kids and they’re playing around and playing tag out in the corner, or something. And their parents or their coach is saying, sit down, relax, don’t do that. We used to be in a society where if a kid was sitting down watching T.V. they’d get yelled at if it was a nice day out. Now, you got parents buying them $60.00 games so they can sit down and play for three hours, and it’s not like I’m 80 years old and back in the 20’s we kicked ass, but it is a reality, and it’s a big reality. These kids right now growing up, if they’re not in something organized, there’s a very good they’re not doing anything. And I listen to some real smart people telling me if these kids aren’t being aerobically challenged, or in aerobic situations at young ages, you can’t open that up later on, and I absolutely believe that. To kind of simplify what I just said, if these kids aren’t training hard when they’re young, when you try to get them really active aerobically as they’re older, there’s nothing there. And that’s absolutely true. And I’ve only coached seven years, but I’ll tell you, every year I’ve coached, every season I’ve coached, I’ve dealt with kids that are in that situation, and it kills them. It limits what they can do down the road.

 

Now, what I mean aerobic, I’m not even talking swimming here. I’m talking about running around. And Eric as a kid, man he should have been strapped down, because the kid did way too much. He was all over the place. They would play,

I hate saying this he’s going to kill me if he hears this, but they would play tag non-stop. And it would drive people nuts, but it was constant motion. And I’ll tell you what, I think it has a lot to do with where he’s at now. But, my reaction to their training, I did a ton of reading. Why, because I take a lot of responsibility that I’m coaching kids, and I don’t want to be wrong. So, I did a ton of reading, and everything that I read was all about aerobic background and stuff like that. And I had all these kids my background, personally, I remember specifically being good at certain events that two years later I stunk at, two years later they were my best events. So I had an attitude like every kid goes through that. So when I was coaching Eric and all these other kids I said, okay, they’re all milers and 400 imers. And I didn’t do that because I’m some genius coach, and I didn’t do that because of my experience coaching, I did that because everything I read seemed to back that up. Everything that I personally experienced seemed to back that up, and it made sense that I had no idea what these kids were going to be in five, six years. I didn’t have any experience in watching kids go through that stuff. I couldn’t say, well, this guy that used to be a stud in the 100 looked like this five years ago because five years ago I wasn’t coaching anybody.

 

So I train them for the mile and I train them for 400 im, and probably more of an honest truth, it’s fun. It’s fun stuff. I mean, you’re not sitting there working on, all right, we’re just going to do some 25’s . No offense to Dave Salo, wherever he is. But, the point I’m getting at, I couldn’t tell where they were headed. And it just made a lot of sense to me to put them in the mile, put them in 400 im, and swimming them everything. And it didn’t seem to hurt them, and I liked the idea of being able to have some kid potentially get up on the blocks and be able to do everything. So, my attitude towards it started that way, it stayed that way, and I’ll tell you what, the kids swam pretty damn fast for little kids. But it was fun.

Now, in the process of all this, my mentality for these kids meets. Huge, huge amount of learning at meets. A lot of stuff focused on just learning from your mistakes, attacking these, getting after things, not worrying about the outcome, and then coming back and saying, okay, what’d you do right and wrong. That was a mentality that really permeated everything we did. It was a long-term focus, so it took off. Oh, we had a bad swim, everybody freaks out. And again, this is sold to the kids, and it’s sold to the kids as a way of approaching their swimming. We didn’t rest for anything. Championships, that’s it. I like that stuff. I think it works. People call it old school, I just call it smart. Especially with young kids. They swim tired. Why not. You know, young kids, how tired are they? They did a lot of work. Tried to challenge them. Tried to get them to respond to the challenge, and value it. And again, attitude and effort all the time. The meets, learn what you’re doing right and wrong. And they swam everything. Didn’t allow a kid you know you have those kids, I think everybody gets them, that they just can’t swim breaststroke, no talent at all in breaststroke. Well, as a coach, you’ve got to be willing to sit through a two-minute and 32nd hundred breaststroke. Deal with it. Especially if you’re going to sell these kids on swimming im, 400 im, well, deal with it. You can get ways around it, but you’ve got to go through that stuff. And you can’t give up on any of that, ever. Always, long-term focus, and championships race.

 

You look at these kids, and again your thinking about, this kid is a champion, so what are you trying to teach? You want to teach the things that are going to help him be successful when they’re 16, 17, 20, 25. Why not? They’re good things. Going up to championship meets and just racing to win. Well, if you get third, so what? If you’re racing to win, and you’re supposed to get tenth, getting third is a pretty good thing. Attitude and effort. You step up, be aggressive, you’ve got nothing to lose. Plus, don’t worry about it. In five years, you’re going to swim so fast, this is going to be ridiculous.

 

Then, the last part, and this is a part that I think helped me a lot. I was not the senior coach at this point. I was training kids to move into the senior group of the Mass Bay Marlins. Coach Bygone and Dave Fuako, who’s an incredibly good friend of mine, some of you know him because he announces. What many of you probably don’t know is that he is a kick butt coach. And he was a senior coach at that point. And what I started to realize was that I wasn’t training these kids to swim for me down the road. What I was training these kids to do was swim for Dave Fuako, and that was my responsibility. So I started spending some time looking at what Dave’s program was like, and trying to figure out how best to train these kids. Areal important thing happened, about the second year I was coaching Eric. He moved up into Dave’s group Dave did a wonderful job with him. Doesn’t get any credit for that. Because in the six-year period, there’s almost a year where Dave coached him, and I coached him like probably two days a week with Dave as Dave’s assistant, but Fuako did a phenomenal job, and really emphasized the work ethic, as well. And, like I said, a great coach. But, a big thing happened that I think really affected Eric at this point. Two things. One, I had swimmers that moved up into that group who were tied into me. What I mean by that, that as a coach, I was producing some swimmers that didn’t take ownership of their swimming. They got up there and they looked at me as big reason of why they were successful. And the other part is that I think I finally established the way I looked at swimming. What is meant by that is, Boomer had filled my head with a lot of stuff, and in the process because I was always reading and always talking to other people, you get to a point where you have ideas in your head of what you think is right and is wrong, but at this point, I was always learning up through there. And always looking for ways of getting better, and at this point, I think I finally established what my views of freestyle, backstroke, all that stuff, and it’s pre-solidified in my head.

 

Now, one of the things that I think Eric is known for and looked at is there’s a lot of people that look at his training and like, wow, this kid trains real hard, and man, he can finish his races, and can go and go and go. Yes, it’s true. And a lot of people look at it and say, wow, he’s got some pretty nice strokes. He pretty efficient. And you may not realize it when he’s swimming in the water, but he’s a good six to eight inches shorter than every kid he’s racing against. And, one of the things that is looked at is in some ways that comes across as a paradox here, as a, . . . what’s another word for that. It’s a conflict, how’s that? What I mean by that is this. I go up to U.S.A. swimming and this gets me so angry. I see this slide, and still it gets me very angry, and if I’m not careful, I’ll go on a huge tangent here. This slide has efficiency over here, and endurance over here. And every time that slide’s put up, and any of you see that, it hurts our swimming. I hate it because I think it’s garbage. I think that’s a choice you make. If you sit here and you have a swimmer and you decide I’m dying for this kid to go this fast in practice it’s okay if he starts getting sloppy and just starts banging through it. Well, hey, that’s your choice. Or, if your kid has a great swim inside of practice, but he starts doing ugly stuff with his breathing, well, start him over. Keep your priorities. Just like your priorities in this stuff’s supposed to be work ethic and attitude, well, if you’re trying to create swimmers, or help swimmers learn that they have to swim efficient and be successful, then why do you let them swim with a stroke that’s not efficient? Why do you let them do anything in practice that you don’t want to see them do in a meet? But we have this attitude in our country, like as a coach, you’re either one or the other.

 

When I started coaching in New England, people walked around there saying, oh yeah, he coaches 25’s of stroke work, that’s why all his swimmers have such pretty strokes. We were not doing 25’s of stroke work, it was mixed in with some other stuff. And then now, you know, I have people come to me thinking, all we do is just grind it out. Do 31 thousands all the time. The thing about that stuff is, we, and I don’t mean myself, but my team, these kids, try and do both all the time, every day, every practice. To me, that seems like everybody does that. I don’t think there are coaches out there that are saying to their kids, we just going to train really hard here. That doesn’t matter what your stroke looks like. I don’t think that’s going on, but every time we put up that slide, we’re allowing people to think it’s okay if I let this slide or that slide. I let this go, that go. It’s not okay.

 

I’m going to go through quick the vision that I have of  the strokes with Eric. Freestyle. I started basing my vision of freestyle on what happens to kids when they fall apart. You watch kids swim, they get a little vertical, and they slow down and they get short. So to try and teach kids how to do the opposite, we base all our freestyle work on attacking the front of your stroke. Now, this stuff’s good stuff. I think it works. I believe in balance, which is a big Boomer thing. I believe in balance so you eliminate frontal resistance down your body. I believe it’s easier to do that than to use your legs. I believe in hip roll. But I hate hip roll the way people talk about it when it’s about grabbing water and ripping it through, because if you don’t teach something going forward, you don’t have a focus in front, I feel like you get sloppy and you go to power. This was developed in my head based on watching guys that are a lot weaker than other guys and beat them. The more I watched, the more I learned about it. Another influence on that, a guy named Barry White I think that’s his name was at Harvard doing some smart stuff Ph.D., I don’t know. And he talked about he’s an incredible kicker and he swam against guys in, I think 1980, he got second in the mile I’m not sure. I should have researched, but I didn’t. He talked about his legs. He would throw his legs in at the 300. Like 300 to go? No, no, at the 300. He would throw his legs in in the 1650. So that was a big deal to me as well. I started looking at the kick as something that you could train into your swimmers so that they always did.

 

Backstroke real similar to freestyle. I just didn’t like people attacking the front. I’m starting to change that a little bit for balance as well.

 

Fly I dig using your body to throw it forward.

 

Breaststroke I’ve changed 100 times, but at that point, I was really focusing on riding your legs, gliding down the pool, not being a physical breaststroker. And we based a lot of this stuff off of im training. I started feeling that in order to control stuff, a huge talk that affected me I can never say this guy’s name right Arturis Arzukas something like that. I listened to this guy talk, and he talked about how there’s no distance swimming anymore. And he’s using Caren Perkins as example because he was fast in the front, fast in the back, and the more he thought about it he talked about 15 minutes and even at this point we were training pretty hard. So I’m thinking 15 minutes isn’t that long. I mean, you can deal with a lot of pain for 15 minutes. So I started thinking, you should really be able to work a mile. And everything, all this stuff, was based on really, not just the philosophy of swimming smart and having beautiful strokes, but, pain. The coolest thing about our sport, by far. And you sit there and you look at that stuff, and we just started focusing a lot on it.

 

When these kids are 12, 13, 14, sat them down on deck, told them to go in the shower, turn it on as cold as you can when you get home and focus on how that felt. I couldn’t get away with whacking them or anything like that, so that’s the best thing I could think of. I used to go through anything like that that I could think of, and it’s selling what you’re talking about. Turning it into something that the kids wanted to do. And I don’t mean wanting to sit in the shower that’s freezing cold, but deal with being uncomfortable. Dick Jochums said something, I think I heard him say this a couple of years ago, and it made a huge impression on me, and I really dig this. He said, swimmers need to feel being comfortable being uncomfortable. And I absolutely agree with that. If you see swimmers now, some kids get uncomfortable at the end of a 200 form, they don’t know what to do. But if you have kids that are uncomfortable all the time, and you force them not only to work harder at that point, but you teach them how to attack their stroke at that point, well, you start to hit on something that I think is going to be pretty successful for you.

 

So, the other part was teaching ownership, and I still struggle with this. What I mean by that is, I don’t say I’m a control freak, but trying to teach kids on how to put themselves in a position where, all right, this is up to you. And I think I’ve done a much better job of that I know I’ve done a much better job of that, but I don’t think that’s a huge challenge for age group coaches. I think it’s obviously a lot harder with the young girls. The guys tend to be easier with it. Tell them they’re studs. They tend to like that. But, it’s something that changed my coaching at that point, and it was pretty big deal.

Right before I started coaching Eric again, this is Orlando Juniors ’95. I was taking over the senior group, Fuako was leaving, and I watched Eric swim a race at Juniors, and he swam catch up for the first hundred because if he didn’t, he would spin his stroke. And then he did a hundred build, and then he swam, and his stroke lasted for about a 400, and then he spun the rest of the way. Had a good swim. That was a huge deal, and this leads into a pretty big breakthrough for Eric Vendt. At that point, figure out the math that’s ’95 in the summer, he’s 18 now I don’t know how old he is. So, when that happened and I started coaching again, I used that as a weapon. I made him feel embarrassed all the time. You have to do a drill at the start of your race. You have to do a drill at your championship meet. You didn’t get up and race your event, you had to do a drill. That’s ridiculous. And we started a fight that lasted about a month and a half. That fight was making Eric really value, not just holding his stroke, but making his stroke his swimming. Taking that freestyle that he had learned and turning it into his swimming. And in short course, he had two big breakthroughs. And during it, he got his butt kicked. There were four kids in team that beat him in a mile in one of those meets because he could not hold that stroke. But he did, and he held it, and he died doing it, and they killed him, and I was psyched. I wasn’t psyched that he lost, but out of all those kids, he was the one that held that stroke, and if I’m backing up these kind of priorities, I made sure everybody knew that.

 

A month later this was not an issue anymore. But during that meet, it was a big deal because he took a beating doing it. One of the things he started to realize was he needed to really use his legs a lot more in his balance. Some kids don’t, he does. The way his body lies in the water, he had to. I started changing an emphasis that I had in his training. We did a lot more freestyle swimming with boomers. Cut fins, and I loved this. We did stuff like eight 600’s, I mean ridiculous stuff where you just keep your legs going. Hard steady kick, beautiful stroke. To the point we’re doing 1500 meters or 1650 with a steady kick wasn’t that big a deal. Try it. You can create that. I think everybody needs to work on their kicking no matter what, and I don’t like kicking as a way of making your stroke better, but it makes sense that you’re going to have some kids gonna be able to work their legs for a long long time.

 

Now, does Eric swim with all-out kick? No. He doesn’t. His legs are going six feet and they’re going hard from the start, but there’s a difference between how hard he’s working them and then when he really throws them in. And it’s sometimes hard to figure that out, but every time I hear the announcer going, wow, look at his legs, it gets me actually kind of mad. Because that’s not really true. He starts out fast with his legs, but it’s fast and quick, but it’s based on a lot of training, you train it in. The other thing that was a breakthrough, that short course season he did five 500’s on five minutes. And that was a huge set. Never done anything that hard. He made that set, big deal. That long course season, ’96, my last season at Marlins and Harvard, him and another boy, Mike Dowling, he was a, I think a freshman in high school, and Mike was either a sophomore or junior, made nationals in Alabama Juniors, went to Ft. Lauderdale because Eric’s mile wasn’t that good. And he had a great swim at Ft. Lauderdale, and then Matt  Kredich started Squid.

 

I don’t know if any of you know who Mack Kredich is, but he’s the tall dude right there. That guy rocks. Matt Kredich started Squid, I left because Brown was very supportive of a team and because Matt’s a very close friend of mine. The biggest reason why I went there is, I think Matt Kredich is just one of the best coaches in the country. Period. And if you don’t know about him, you should learn about him. He’s the head coach at Brown. At the time, just the women. Now he coaches men and women. And I went there specifically because just the little I talked to this guy, I just wanted to learn from him. And I loved his attitude and what he wanted to start with the Squid. And actually at first I didn’t like Squid as a name. Now I love it. Love it.

 

So Squid started. And Eric actually came down, which I didn’t expect, but he came down, and this is my favorite part of the talk. How many people here have ever heard of Animal Lane? Raise your hands. I love that stuff. Animal Lanes, Mission Viejo, Santa Clara, any of that stuff, man. Guys on your team, or girls on your team, your best swimmers, your distance swimmers, duking it out. Great stuff. Well, my attitude when Squid started was to create, instead of a lane like that, a team with that attitude. I didn’t like the idea of a bunch of kids walking into meets with squids on their chests, and having some people say, well, these kids over here, they’re tough. They train real hard. These guys do pretty good work, and those guys over there are babies because I like the team deal. And I didn’t understand if you’re promoting work ethic and attitude, why are you going to go away from that? Why are you going to water it down.

 

So, my whole attitude towards it was, that was going to be our focus. That’s what we were going to go towards with our team. And we were going to try and create that across the board. No one’s going to be judged based on who’s the fastest. They were going to be judged on who worked the hardest. No one’s going to be judged based on who’s the coolest or the funniest, though it is nice to have funny people, we were going to judge on getting in with attitude and effort, except across the board the entire team. And in the process of it, it just backed up everything that I really liked about coaching, backed up everything I believed in, and it backed up any kind of vision that I had of not just a great swimmer, but a great team.

 

So now you get to hear all those clichés. And now we started to talk about the training. I did not want to show practices, and I did not want to show what we do, like, this is how many practices we do a week, and things like that, but I’m going to. The reason why I don’t want to show that stuff, because it’s not ideal. You have to deal with all these different attitudes towards what you’re doing. We try and make it work. Try and get in the water as much as we can. If we were associated with just a pool instead of with Brown, we wouldn’t have to worry about when the varsity practiced, we’d be able to do it earlier. And actually, Brown kicks butt for us. They help us out a lot. They let us use their facility when it comes to the gym, things like that. And they want to see the team do well. So they try and help us out, and it’s a huge positive for us as a team, but the biggest attitude we try and create without training is no fear of failure. Failure’s a daily, definitely weekly, almost a daily thing. Pushing limits. Aerobic training, yes. Tons of it. Tons of it. What we do on a daily basis everything I can think of.  I’ll explain my training.

 

Ernie Maglisco…I read it, I read all that stuff. He’s got this whole deal where you do this, this, this and this. That’s what I started with. I go from the back of the season to the championships backwards. Taper changes from two to four weeks, things like that. But basically, what I’ll do is this, if you go backwards I’ll have about 5, 6 weeks where it’ll be speed work, and it’s probably easier to tell you the other way.

Sponsorship & Partnerships

Official Sponsors and Partners of the American Swimming Coaches Association

Join Our Mailing List

Subscribe and get the latest Swimming Coach news