Dynamics of Culture Change by Paul Yetter, T2 Aquatics (2014)


[introduction, by Jennifer Gibson]
Good afternoon. If we could take our seats, we will get started. My name is Jennifer Gibson and I am on the ASCA Board. I am very, very fortunate to get to introduce our next speaker. This is Coach Paul Yetter. I am sure for many of you, he is a familiar face; others, if not, he is a good one to get to know. He is a very, very dynamic coach. I have been fortunate to have been on a few trips with him. Many of us would remember, if you hear that name, where he was for 8 or 9 years: he was at North Baltimore [Aquatic Club] where he coached the quite-accomplished swimmer Katie Hoff. We all followed him there, as far as how she progressed.

From North Baltimore, he was an assistant at Auburn for two years. And during those times, he has been a 7-time USA National Team coach. And then in 2011, Paul took another big move: he moved to Naples, Florida—kind of traditionally known as a retirement area. Well, he started a new team, and can personally say I have been there. It is T2 Aquatics; I really believe it is a program that we are going to hear a lot about. A pretty phenomenal location and set-up that he has, and that he is growing there and developing. So, Coach Paul Yetter.

[Yetter begins]
Thanks everybody. Great to be here; great to see everybody here. We are going to talk about culture; we are going to talk about progressing and changing culture. And trying to get it to the point we want to get it to, so we can get our athletes to swim fast and to get our programs to be the type of programs that have some longevity and some consistent success.

I thought we would first just define culture, so we know what we are dealing with. There is a ton of definitions for culture, so I just picked this one: the behaviors and beliefs characteristic to a particular group. So that is the definition we are going to go with today. Culture really though is the personality of your organization. So if I had to give my definition, I would just say it is your organization’s personality.

So this picture shows some of our athletes leading-into the 2012 [Olympic] Trials. We had all women at that particular trials, and they were just kind of… they kind of rolled like the picture you see. You know, they were tough and tough-minded, and that was our personality. That was kind of the start of T2 Aquatics’ culture-building process.

So I kind of ask myself the question before taking some time to figure out what to talk about today, and I wanted to figure out what you guys wanted to hear. And I figure there is probably 10% of the people in this room that are interested in starting a new culture; maybe you have got a new job or you are starting a new team. I think 20% of the people are trying to kind of change their culture a little bit. But pretty much everybody is trying to take the culture that they have and progress that culture. Even if you are just starting a culture, you start the culture and then the next day you are progressing the culture, anyways. So it is all about culture progression. It is… we are going to talk more about that, than starting a culture.

So we have given the definition of culture—and that is kind of my little preview. We are going to talk a little bit about my background, and why that matters for this talk. We are going to talk about just, kind of, some nitty-gritty about culture, kind of as a term and as a word. We are going to talk about your organization’s culture and mission and vision, and what we are all about, what your organization’s all about. And then… (and I have highlighted this on the screen, here, because this is really what I hope you guys can take home with you today) we are going to talk about practical tips to convey your team’s culture to your staff and to your parents. Because that is a huge key. And we are also going to have some specific tips that are going to help you do some things on the deck every day that helps you solidify your culture and progress your culture.

So my background, as an athlete. 1982, I started swimming; I was 6. And it goes all the way through my time with North Baltimore Aquatic Club. So, I have had a lot of great coaches and I have been part of a lot of programs; but my cultural background starts with a program that has produced Olympians. And not only Olympians, but 15-year-old Olympians. So, when I was growing up and I was a 15-year-old swimming, my good friend who was a 15-year-old, Anita Nall, made the Olympic team and won some medals. So, my background as an athlete has really helped me as a coach, in terms of knowing what a good culture looks like, what a culture that values hard work and values high performance looks like. And I was able to kind of, even as a younger person—I guess, sort of—just know what it is to be part of that sort of a culture.

Then I coached at a high school called Verona Aquatic Club. And many of you have never heard of this; it is in Wisconsin. Neil Walker swam for this team. And for those that do not know Neil Walker, he is a US Olympian and a former University of Texas athlete. And so when I came into this particular situation, they already had some culture. They had some things that they had going for them that were habitual for their team. And I was a new coach, coming into something now which was a different culture than I was used to.

My next step was Bel Air Aquatic Club, which is in Maryland. It was not a brand-new team, but for a lack of a better way to explain it, it was more of a country-club feel. It was in an athletic club and I pretty much was starting a culture with that particular club. After I coached there, I spent a year with Bob Bowman at the North Baltimore Aquatic Club, and I watched Michael Phelps train every day. And that was my most… that was my best experience as a coach to kind of figure out what culture is all about, and how to build culture and how to get people to basically do things that they did not want to do—or they did not think that they wanted to do.

I went from there to a satellite team at North Baltimore, which was a team that was pretty new. It was a satellite that was about nine months old, when I took it over. So there was a sense of… it was a North Baltimore Aquatic Club satellite, so it had a name, but it was a brand-new team. And, in fact, a lot of the Bel Air Aquatic Club kids eventually were at that particular site.

Then I became the lead coach for the high performance team at North Baltimore. So I really got to be the person on the pool deck at the main side at NBAC, which was probably my second best experience up-till now, in terms of just seeing the pictures on the wall of the athletes that have made the Olympic team and that sort of thing. That was a big thing for me.

And then I went to Auburn, and spent a year there. Auburn has a terrific culture. For those that were in the talk previous to mine, you can kind of tell Auburn has a great history of success. They have had a bunch of Olympians, and I think it was 14-straight SEC championships on the men’s side. And then, my next step was to start a team, essentially—not totally but essentially—from scratch.

So the reason that this slide is up here and the reason that all of the stuff is important is because I have gone from, you know, coaching a dozen athletes at the national championships to having nobody at Juniors. And I did [snap] that very quickly. I realized the types of things that I needed to do to really start that culture. And at that time, I realized how easy it was to be part of a team with tradition and with culture.

And I remember being in Baltimore and having coaches call me on the phone, or I would talk to coaches at meets, and they would say things like, you know, I just can’t get my athletes to do x, y, z things. And my thought process was like, I don’t really have that problem. And I kind of knew that I did not have that problem because my team, that I was coaching for, had been in existence since 1968 and had put many people on Olympic teams—and that sort of thing. These kids just wanted to go through-the-wall for anybody; it did not matter if it was me or anyone that was on our staff.

So, for me, I kind of liken-it to flying a kite, and it is a lot easier when the kite is already in the air. For those of you that have flown a kite, you have got to get that thing together, you have got to wait for the wind to be right, you have got to make sure nobody else is around that you are not going to hit in the head; and then you can fly it. It is a lot different than if somebody is just standing there with kite in the air, and you go and you grab it. So I have kind of found that I have got to fly the kite with my new team.

So why does culture matter? What is it that makes culture something that is a subject of discussion? Culture defines right and wrong. It gives us, as a staff and as a team, a sense of what is the right thing, what is the wrong thing. So if you are in a position where you are like what do I do, your culture and the things that you hold dearly to your team, that determines what it is that you are going to do and how you are going to act.

It determines how people approach work. You know, early on I had an athlete here at T2 Aquatics who was a really-talented athlete. And this athlete was basically at the swim meets going-over to her mother and crying and kind of hiding with her mom, while she got worse and worse throughout this particular meet. And, I think it was my buddy Dave Gibson who was sitting right there, I said, “Dave, she is driving me crazy. I can’t… it is like I don’t even know what to do.” So I was confiding it with my friend. And he says, “I just tell people” we don’t do that here.” And that is a sense of culture that this particular girl needed to sort of understand: We don’t do that here. We, meaning the team; the here, our team’s facility and our team’s pool. We don’t do that here: very simple, very to the point. I think she is starting to get that.

Culture determines how well an organization adapts to change. So if your pool shuts down, or something like that, and you have got to deal with it, your team’s culture defines how you are actually going to deal with that. And culture encourages or discourages outsiders from claiming a stake in your organization. So if you are trying to raise some money and build a new pool, then your culture better be defined as something that the public can sort of grasp onto and understanding and get on board with.

So why might my culture change be necessary? There is a lot of reasons why it might be necessary; I am going to pick two. One is for the long-term and the short-term stability and success of your organization. This is our pool that we use at T2 Aquatics. (this picture was actually taken a few years ago.) You can see that there is a lot of space there and a lot of land there. There is a lot of money going down the drain, if that pool sits there. So we have got to figure-out a way to make it work.

If you have got a pool like this, and all you have got is a swim team that has got a 120 kids and a lesson program that goes for an hour-and-a-half every day, good luck; you are not going to do it. So you have got to figure out a way to make your facility work for you. Sure it is great to have a 9-lane, 50-meter pool—I would much rather have that than the other way around. But there are some challenges that go-along with having a huge facility; you need to make some money. In order to make some money, you have got to have a lot of things going on and then you have got to have a lot of staff. And to have a lot of staff, you have got to do the leg-work on that and make sure you are hiring the right people.

I do not know if you guys have heard about CVS; CVS has stopped selling cigarettes. Their culture has decided, as an organization, they need to make an organizational change; they need to take a different stance. So that is another reason why you might want to have an organizational cultural change: if you are going to make some sort of a big change with the direction that you are going and with your company, your organization or your swimming team.

So what is needed to succeed? What is needed to succeed is a staff that is going to do stuff that is outside of their job description. I know at NBAC, everybody at NBAC did manual labor—everybody. The types of things that I did just for our pools and for our facility, from: mowing the lawn, to picking the weeds, to trimming around the pool, to taking a pick and getting plaster off of the new pool so we can get it smooth and put the water in it. We did not hire people to do this stuff; as coaches for NBAC, we took care of it.

This is the picture of my brother Tom, who is our head Age Group coach. He does stuff like he builds these clock towers that we have—there are small towers, not really towers. We put little clocks inside of those, because it rains a lot and we want to keep our clocks dry. So he took two weeks and he built six of these things, with a white board on top. And then he figured out they kept tipping over, so he redid them and he made them thicker. We did not hire anybody to do that. You know, we needed things paved in our pool, we got the Boy Scouts to do it. Boy Scouts made our benches for our locker room.

So we have sort of gotten our staff and people that are maybe not our staff but people that are kind of on the outskirts of our team to really make things happen. So a lot of things that I wrote there, but the I can do that attitude is the real key for your staff. Saves you money; it also gives people a sense of belonging and a sense of this is my team. If you can get a staff that is thinking I’m part of this team, I’m not just a person that comes in there for an hour-and-a-half every day, that is pretty powerful stuff.

So what are the challenges that we face when we are talking about building a culture? Leaders not being aligned; so coaches not having the same goals. And leaders and the membership—for the coaches and parents, coaches and swimmers—not having the same goals.

Some of the roadblocks that we run into. I think that we have to consult with organizations that are doing really well. I think one of the roadblocks is we just do not consult: we do not pick-up the phone or talk to people about what they need to do better. I have got the Spurs up there—I know there are probably some Spurs fans in here. But if you are a basketball team and you are not looking at what the San Antonio Spurs are doing, you are looking at the wrong thing. And you can think about every sport, and think about teams that are really doing it right: you have got to copy. And steal; it is okay to copy and steal. In fact, if you are not doing it, you are way behind.

Everything that I have learned from coaching is about copying other people and stealing stuff. And then once you copy and steal, then you can sort of have your own ideas pop-up within that thing that you have stolen. So you might steal a set from somebody else, and then you might say, Well, actually, I could probably do it a little bit differently; I’ll do it this way. So you have stolen some things, but then you have enhanced it.

Okay, let us get into the nitty-gritty; we are going to get further and further into things that you guys are going to be able to take home with you today. They are really going to help you.

So you have got to assess your organization’s culture. I would like to assert that if you are not taking a snapshot of where your culture is today, you are missing out on being real with yourself and being honest with yourself. A lot of times I think we think about what is going to happen next year or what our culture was last year; that is wrong. You are not being honest with yourself; it is not right. You culture is today; what it is right now, today. While you are sitting here in this room and you have got assisting coaches that are running the workouts: that is your culture.

Another thing that I think you have got to be really concerned with is setting your culture up for further success. You have to ask yourself in terms of performance—this is not in terms of business, this is just in terms of performance—are you ready, as an organization and as a team, to have the next, future world-record holder walk-in your door tomorrow? On your team. What would happened if somebody that was really-good walked into your door? Would you know what to do? Would you have the resources to figure out what to do if you did not know what to do? Would have the eye to figure out that: yeah, we do have that person?

I went through that in my coaching career. When I was at the North Baltimore satellite team I had a couple of pretty good athletes, but I did not have… well, I had one athlete that had a National cut. The year of 2003 we went to Nationals and she was DFL [dead last] and that was my best swimmer. And I knew that at that time, right during that summer, I knew that I was going to get an athlete, Katie Hoff, that was going to move to Maryland. And I am going to tell you a little bit about that four-month process that I went through internally and mentally to get ready for her.

I knew that… just after meeting her one time, I knew that the type of environment that I had at my satellite team in my little 6-lane pool that we rented four lanes of, I knew that we were going to have to change some things. And we had months, weeks, to take care of that change, so when this athlete came to our team, she was ready to continue to progress.

So in May of 2003, I got a phone call from the Hoff family; they said: We are moving to the Baltimore area and we’re looking around. Maybe we want to come to your team and come to your site. That was May. In June, they came and visited the team, and did a workout. I got to really see, at that point, what I was dealing with. And then in July, Katie got 4th, I think, in the 200 IM at Nationals, and I am watching while my kid gets DFL. And I am like, man, you know; like this is easily my best kid that gets DFL. And then I have got some other kids, they try hard, all this stuff; they are not bad kids. But they are not people who are going to go to Nationals and be really thinking about going fast there. So in August, we had to be ready.

So there was a number of things that we did. I knew Katie’s weakness was kicking, so we kicked more. I got them really ready to kick, because I knew that when she was going to come into the team, we were going to kick a lot because it equalized everybody. I did not have this one kid that was swimming way out front of everybody else; so the kicking equalized everybody. That was kind of a strategic plan for me; a major strategic plan for me was to get this kid kicking better. Not only that, but to get her with the group, so that she did not stick-out so much. She was already going to stick out a lot; I was already going to have a deal with that. So I tried to figure out ways to kind of get everybody to be a little bit more the same.

I was a little harder on the kids, a little tougher; I was a little bit more of a jerk. Because I knew that I did not want to just start being a jerk when Katie got there, and start really like making people do stuff a little bit better. So four months in advance, I changed a little bit; I probably changed a little bit each month. By the time she got there, you know, I probably changed more-so then than any other time. But we were a little bit more ready, and the kids were a little bit more ready, to deal with me as a coach.

This is the great picture that was taken in 2004 (and I guess we cannot really see it that well). Do you see that person right there? That person right there is Katie. And this was about 9:05. And you can see Coach [Jon] Urbanchek over there—hey Jon. (Where are you Jon? Can see him over there in the corner.) And it was really interesting because nobody was in at nine o’clock—except for the guys; Jon had his guys in. (Good job, Jon.) But the girls were not in. It was 9:05; they were going to do kind of a loosey-goosey warm-up, you know. And she was in that pool, ready to go. And they were people who were kind of putting on their caps, and that kind of thing. And those people actually swam pretty well at the Olympics; Katie did not.

But when you are 15, if you are not like that, what are you going to be like? You know, are going to be late to practice? So I think it is better to be over-prepared, rather than under-prepared, in terms of your cultural readiness to be part of a great team and great organization like the USA Swimming team.

Alright, let us get into some practical tips. The first part of this practical-tip section of this talk is going to be: how to deal with your parents and your staff. Both your parents and your staff are dealing with their own stuff. They are dealing with anxiety. The parents are dealing with a lot of anxiety; I know you guys see that. They do not know if what they are doing is right, and they pretty much think that what they are doing might be right or might be wrong—they are not sure. They have a lot of anxiety. And as a coach, it is your job to help them shift through that and just take the weight a little bit. A lot of the times our squeakiest wheels, from the parents side of things, are the people that internally are the most anxious and less-sure about their kids and their family and what they are all about. So, to me, there is two ways you can do it: you can be defensive about it and come at things from a defensive standpoint, or you can sort of recognize what they are dealing with and work with them on it.

So I would like to assert that when it comes time to really establishing a culture and progressing a culture forward, it is not things that you are adding that makes the culture work. It is not things that you are adding that makes your culture better than it was yesterday. It is the things that you are taking away. It is the thing that you are pulling away, from the normal, anxious way that we all tend to live.

So what are some of those things? You have got to take away the negative stuff; you have got to take away the negative body language and the negative talk that is happening in your pool, on your pool deck, among your parents. Some of the ways that you take away the negative stuff is by talking to people individually, instead of talking to them as a group.

(And I was going to touch on this a little bit later on, but I will touch on it now.) If you are coaching athletes, and you give them a bunch of static on the deck about how they are performing in the pool or what their attitudes like, and you are talking to twenty kids. What do you think is going to happen after you give them a bunch of stuff, when they go in a locker room? All they are going to do is talk about you. And about how bad of a person you are, and about how ridiculous it is that you would expect them to do x, y, z.

So, especially when being critical, I think a great way to build culture is to talk to people individually and to get them to understand what they need to do individually. And I do not care if you have got to take a person aside every day; you know, pull him out of the warm-up or talk to him before practice or whatever. But if you talk to him individually, they are not going to go into locker room and talk badly about what you said. In fact, they will probably talk positively about what you said, if someone were to ask them about what you were talking about—especially if you do it in the right way. But you have all been there; we have all been there. You send everybody home with, you know, yelling at them, and then that is all they do is talk about it. Then you have got to deal with it the next day and you have got to deal with their parents.

Sticking to the fundamentals tends to simplify things. It is a great way to defend your position as a coach, particularly to the parents in your organization. You know, if you are working on stroke technique, or even if you are not but you say you are and you convince the kids you are kind of working on something that is stroke-technique based—particularly if you are new to a team—the kids are going to talk about it and the parents are going to hear it. And I do not care if it is ten minutes out of every day that you are working on streamlining and putting your fingertips in first. If it is just ten minutes every day, you have got something that you can kind of defend to people when people start to question you.

This is important with building culture, because it really helps you as a coach not go on the defensive. So you have got to kind of preempt: you have to have a preemptive attitude. You have to understand what the parents are eventually going to complain about, and make sure that you are covering your basis with that.

I picked this slide for a reason. I think a lot of people think—and this is just sort of an aside—but, you know, a lot of people think Michael Phelps is pretty talented. He has done some great things. I am here to tell you, after watching Coach [Bob] Bowman with him for a full-year, every day, that this picture that you see, those eyes that you see, on Michael right there, that is the eyes of learning. And Bob’s eyes are the eyes of a teacher, and Michael is taking that teaching from him. It is a very intense picture, isn’t it? It has got to be… well it says “Duel in the Pool” on Bob shirt, I am going to say it is probably 2001 Duel in the Pool.

So another way to reduce your parents’ anxiety levels is to take care of meet entries. I know there are probably a lot of teams that do this already. But if you are doing it, and you have got your parents signing-up for their kids events, that is going to create anxiety for them, eventually. It might not at first—they are going to love it at first—but it is eventually going to create anxiety for them. So things like meet entries, automatic payment for their bills; little things like that you can create, that takes the stress off the parents.

The parents that we have at T2, they love it. They did not like it at first; they did not like it at first because they did not have any control. But once they realized that they did not want the control, then they loved it.

You have got to smooth-out some misconceptions about Swimming in general, as a leader of your team. You have to do that as a leader of any organization: smooth out the misconceptions. I do it by blogging. I have not been really doing it that much recently, but, you know, when I first started with T2 Aquatics, I started to blog. And I just put everything I thought on this blog, because I figured I did not want to have a parent meeting every week or every month. I just email it out to them, communicate with them that way. I think that if you do that, you can really put yourself out there, concretely: this is what we believe as an organization, as a team. And either they like it and they stay, or they do not like it and they go; but you have kind of got it out there.

Some of the myth-bursting that you can do; for me this is through blogging, for you it might be having a parent meeting. You might talk about like, you know, there are some teams that are known as a spirit team, or a distance team; you have got to bust those myths. What do you want? You want to coach a team that is really good at like four different events or two different events? Who wants to do that?

One of the things that… before I started coaching with North Baltimore, that I learned from the head coach there, Murray Stephens, was that a lot of people, when they do not have long course training time, they go to the pool that is 30 or 40 minutes away that has long course on Sunday or Saturday afternoon to get the long course in. Who needs it? All you are doing is teaching the parents that they can drive 30 or 40 minutes down-the-road to the next team, because they have to have long course. There are little things like that, that I think, you know, when you think in these terms, you tend to have a more solid organization and a culture.

So the parent involvement. Here is just basically a list of things that you can do. You guys all know the stuff, I am sure. But you have got to wait a little while, if you are starting a new team. You know, you will pick the wrong parents if you, you know, get there for a week and you say I want you in the office and you are doing the ribbons and, you know, you are doing the car-pooling. You will pick the wrong parents; so give it a little bit of time. Figure out who is really on your side, and who is just trying to endear themselves to you for the benefit of their kids and for the benefit of how they look to all the other parents.

Dryland work for athletes is highlighted because we have got one guy, one of our parents, who does dryland with some of our kids. He is a PE [physical education] teacher; he is somebody who has been around forever and we know him. So we put him in charge, and he does basically the basic-PE dryland with our kids that are 9-12 [years-old]. And we give him a little tuition help. So we make it work for him; he makes it work for us.

We have got parents in the office. Not a lot of parents: we have actually got one main parent in the office, and then a couple after meets that help with ribbons and that kind of thing. So we have used our parents, but you have got to be careful who you use.

Convince people to create their own culture. Sort of like, you are creating your own culture. You know, like the culture of the ASCA conference is created by all of us together, right now. And so what you are doing in the pool is… you are creating your culture. So how you think plus how you behave equals your culture.

And I think it is really helpful to have a mission statement and a vision statement. (I am not going to read this; you guys can read this.) But our vision statement is really key: excellence is a habit of champions, therefore we will rehearse excellence every day. So the mission and the vision lets us harken back to things that we know really matters when we are dealing with a challenge situation with parents or kids. You know, kids are not working hard or they want to take a day off or whatever, because of whatever reason that you do not think is a good reason, well, that is not part of our vision, so you are not allowed to do that. Or you are at least going to be told that you are not supposed to do that. It just gives you something to kind of go back on.

So along with the mission and the vision, we like to, or I like to, come up with stories or things that I like to say, that are kind of like things that I say as their coach, that they can really hold on to. One of the things that we say is: you want to shoot for the stars that you cannot see. And to me… and I will explain to you what I mean by this. To me this particular way of thinking is a way of thinking that is hard to do, yet easy to understand. I think that if people think this way, it is going to guide them, it is pointing to, the culture that we are trying to create. This is going to guide them into being part of the culture we want to have at T2 Aquatics.

So shoot for the stars you can’t see that is based on the fact that when you look outside at night and you see the stars, you can see a lot of stars. But you cannot see… you see less than 1% of the stars that are actually out there. Those are not all the stars. So when it comes time to figure out goals, when it comes time to figuring out what you want to do as an athlete or as an organization, our philosophy is: we want to shoot for the stars that you can’t see. We know that they are up there; we know that there are things that are out there that are just beyond our grasp, and possibly just beyond our emotional and mental ability to grasp. But if we just stay on the same path, eventually we might be able to start to grasp this stuff.

I will go back to another story about Katie Hoff. In 2003, right after those months that I put up on slide a couple of minutes ago, she confided in me that she had made the National Junior Team—confided in me because I had no idea. This was before you could just get online; I mean you could get online, but it was like it took you five minutes to get the thing to do the little sound. (You guys remember that, like the little phone sound?) So finding out who was on the National Junior Team was a little bit tougher at that point in time.

She said, “I’m on the Junior Team.” I said, great, because she had made the Junior team with Typhoon Aquatics, not with our team. So, great, have fun. She said, “I don’t want to go.” Okay… you do not want to go. She said, “In October, I’ve got to this camp; I’m going to miss a week of training.” And she understands that a week of training at the camp is not the same as a week of training in our pool. And then, “I’ve got to go to the meet in January, and I’m going to miss training.” She is 14 at that point in time; just turned 14, 14 and five months. I said, Okay, if you really want to do that, that’s cool.

She said, “You know what? I’m going to choose what’s behind door number two.” Door number two… you guys have seen Let’s Make a Deal, I am sure. She wanted to choose what was behind door number two. For those who have not seen that game show, you have got like a nice kitchen set behind door number one, with a nice dish washer and that kind of thing. And you can take that as your prize, or you can choose what is behind door number two, which might be a brand new car or there might be a bunch of sheep. You get to choose which one it is. And she said, “I want to choose what’s behind door number two.” I said, “Okay, that’s cool. Let’s choose what’s behind door number two.

And she recognized that she had to shot to make the Olympic team. And she just thought, she kind of added it up in her head: you know, I’m going to miss the training, I don’t really want to hang out with the Junior team, I’m ready to make the Olympic team. I want to be part of the Olympic team. So she saw the stars. She saw that which I could not… well, I mean, I kind of thought that she could make the Olympic team too, but I was not really… we were not really talking about. But she saw the things that not many people could see, and that a lot of people in her position would never look for it. So maybe the real key there is to actually look.

Alright. So I am going to go through a couple of practical tips that you can use every day, and this is going to conclude this discussion for the day—the next couple of slides. These are the things that I think you are going to be able to leave this pool, or leave this facility, and go to your other facility, where you all really live, and really make something happen in terms of solidifying your culture, progressing your culture.

Culture is defined by your actions. As a culture, you have got a value hard work; you have got to value grinding. I think that if you are going to start a culture, or try to really do a crazy vast big change, even if you are going to do a lot of sprint work, you better not say that we’re a sprint team and we’re going to do sprinting only. You cannot build a culture off of that, in my opinion. I think that you can swim really-fast off of sprint training. (And I know that I am throwing-out some words that mean a lot of things, but I think everybody knows what I mean.) But if you are going to have a culture that is going to last longer than you, it has got be based off of hard work.

This slide was taken probably in 2012. (I know you cannot see it that well). If you look at these athletes here, they are ready to puke in the gutter; I mean, they are all just absolutely fatigued. And I took the picture because they were like that for like the last ten minutes of this set that we were doing; and I said: “I’ve got to take the picture of this. This is awesome.” Just watching people sweating; just watching it happen. The little kids come in; little kids are to the left of this picture, watching it happen.

At NBAC, we had the Senior training group trained from 3:45 to 6:00, and the Introduction group trained at 6:00. And every day Michael Phelps would get out of that pool, and 6-year-old kids would get in it. And they knew that becoming somebody great was… they were going to be able to do that. All they had to do is just stay in that lane, keep coming back to practice.

At NBAC, we had pictures of Olympians—I say we: it is still… it is kind of habit for me. There are pictures of Olympians on the wall, of the main facility there. There was one particular moment that was amazing. My brother Tom was coaching these kids. There was kind of bulkhead in the middle of the pool and the picture were like right there. And these kids were staring at these pictures. The pictures were all about as big as these screens—maybe a little bit bigger. It was probably right after 2004, when we added a picture… we actually added two pictures—because if you are making Olympic team twice, you get another picture.

And this particular kid looked at my brother and she said, “Tom, why are the pictures going in that direction? We’re clearly going to run out of room.” She was 11, and she knew it was possible. And she not only knew it was possible, it was expected—absolutely expected. How powerful was that for your kids? How powerful is that? I would say it is everything; or pretty-darn close to everything. If you had a little pie chart, it would be a lot of that and a little bit of all the other stuff.

I think you have got to praise and value attitude over statistics. I think this is a huge point—this is a big point. When your athletes swim well in practice, let’s say they go 30×100 and they hold under a minute. The first time they have ever done that and you are really excited about that performance that they did in practice. After practice, what do you say? You might say nothing, which is fine. But you might say something like: Great job on those thirty 100s! I’m really proud of you; you held under a minute for the first time ever. You might say that. But you might say: I really like how you got yourself to practice 30 minutes early, you did the dryland that you’re supposed to do to warm-up, you focused-on your warm-up and you had pretty-good set. It is two totally different things to say to the athlete.

In the first thing, the athlete cannot really repeat. I mean, they can try to repeat 30×100 under a minute, but they cannot really access that directly. But what they can access directly is the second option. As a coach, you are talking about how great they did on the dryland, how they prepared, about how their attitude was good. Those are things that they can sort of reproduce. They might not exactly reproduce it, but they are going to reproduce it someway. And then the result perhaps is reproduced, or you will get a better result.

I think too often we as coaches get so excited about the result, and, frankly, I think we tend to think more about ourselves than the athletes. We think about how: okay, we have been training well-enough where now they are ready to do this great thing. So you give yourself a pat on the back. And because you are so busy giving yourself a pat on the back, you just spit something out at the athlete to bring the athlete into that nice energy that you are creating within yourself. But it is not effective: it not effective long-term and it is not effective even short-term—the next day it is gone.

Effect change on an individual basis. This is what I talked about earlier; I am not going to delve too much, too far into it. But you have got to talk to athletes individually, particular when you are being critical. When you are being positive or you are giving them some kind of a motivation, you just have to understand that it is much more of a direct effect for you as a coach talk to them individually. That is a direct communication. It is not direct communication to talk to a group. I cannot communicate directly with this particular group, unless I am communicating with the group. I cannot talk to Steve, directly, right now. So there is a big difference between the communication style. And I think it is really important.

You have to understand that there are learning differences. And this goes into building and progressing culture, because if you as a coach are not an educator and you are not understanding educational principles, you are going to have to be on the defensive all the time with parents and with swimmers. So you have to understand basic educational principles, like how people learn. And you have to actually make things happen that help people learn kinesthetically or through audio or visual means. I know my college roommate, who was a swimmer, he told me that he could not do breaststroke pull-out until his coach brought him out of the pool and moved his hands into a certain direction. And then he could do it; he said it was like that.

Find ways to coach everybody well. I think this helps you with your culture. How often do we just sort of like go through a whole week and we recognize and we realize: man that kid that’s going forth in the lane, I haven’t even talked to that kid for two days. You know? And they all go to the meets. So you go to the meet, and your five kids that lead the lanes are doing awesome and you have got this great communication with them. Because, let’s face it, you do 30×100 on 1:30 and they are going 59, you get 31 seconds, and then you have got 15 seconds with the kid going 1:15; do the math on thirty rounds of that.

You cannot do it any other way than to get with those kids, that are the weaker kids, during the warm-ups, get with those kids during the warm-downs, or during the transitions that are between the main sets. It might be just a minute of talking about what you think they should hold on the next set. You know, you are doing 30×100 and…. (Everybody is going to go home and do 30×100 tomorrow, I’m sure.) You do 30×100 and I want you to hold 1:12. Last time you did 1:15s. That is all you got to do. And then through the rest of that set, when you have only got that 18 seconds, you have kind of effected some change before the thing has started.

What do you say really matters. I have two post-graduates in this picture for a reason. You know, I have been in a lot of conversations fairly recently with post-graduates who were in their 20s or 30s—or in their 40s, actually—who have told me stories about a conversation that they had with their coach, or their parent or a teacher, when they were 11-years-old or when they were 15, that they still remember. And they still break-down emotionally when they think about it.

So some of the things that I have noticed [that] come-along with that description of the conversation are the words never and the words always. You’ll never be a good breaststroker. You always stop too short on the wall; you’ve got to finish to the wall. These are generalizations; are they really true? No, they are not really true. They are generalizations: there is no generalization that is ever really true. So you have got to stay away from being general.

And you have got to watch out for limiting language. So like, if you have… I mean, I have seen athletes who are in their 20s, 30s and 40s, and I have thought to myself: there is no way that they are going to be able to do what they say that they are trying to do. I just do not say anything; I just shut up. Because you are going to think all these things. So you just have to back-off and understand that, much like with culture and like you want to take stuff away instead of adding stuff to it, sometimes you just go like take away the things that might come out of your mouth before they come out of your mouth.

And let us face it: we are coaches who do what we do every day. We have bad days; we have good days. We have emotions and we have good parts about us and bad parts about us, and all that kind of stuff. And we not only deal with the parents and staff and the athletes, but we deal with ourselves. I would like to point-out something that I have talked to a few coaches about and I think is a pretty normal thing for coaches to deal-with that does not get talked about a lot. That is: you know, when you have a bad day and you just… you do some stuff that is kind of dumb—for me. You say something to an athlete that you regret, or maybe fly-off the handle verbally to your group. We have all done that; like, you know, go crazy, throw stuff and you leave. And then you go home and you are like [blowing out air]. Right? How many people have done that? I mean, a lot of people have that, right?

So you go home and you are like: Well, what the heck did I do? Like I shouldn’t have done that. I should have just… can I just rewind time and go back. No, you cannot. So what ends up happening is, I think that we approach the pool deck the next day with the little bit of trepidation. I think that if you have any kind of conscience, you are going to walk on the pool that can be like: Man, I feel like normal, like good; maybe I shouldn’t kind of like let that out, I still kind of be a little pissed off. You know, I still got to be little mad at this group, because they cannot see me go from being totally nuts to Alright, we’re ready to go here, nice and calm. You know, you kind of think like oh, man, I kind of feel like I am doing this too much.

So what you say matters means: hold your tongue. Do not put yourself in the position where the next day you have got to apologize to people. And that takes a lot of work, and it probably takes a couple of apologies. But if you are going to coach for even one more year, that is going to make things a lot better for you.

Culture comes down to you, and how you are. And how you are on the deck, and what you are thinking, and what you are all about. So you have got to take care of your parents, you have got to take care of your kids, but you can take care of yourself as a coach. And I really believe that watching what you say, making sure that if you have got something to say to somebody that is kind of a real-critical thing, that you handle it in a way that you do not have to come back the next day and be apologetic about it.

If you get in that situation where you have to, then you have only one choice. That is to coach your butt off that next day and forget it happened—that is the only choice that you have. I do not think that coaches make that choice, generally speaking, anyways—I am sure people do. But, generally speaking, I think that coaches need a day or two to get back to that spot. You should not need a day or two; you should just go immediately back to that spot: this is who you are and this is what you are about.

I have got Aristotle up there. He says: happiness depends upon ourselves. That is one of his many quotes. So I am going to leave you with that; thank you for your time.

I will take any questions. Yes?

[audience member]: You talked a lot about teams that have a history of culture and were able to keep that culture integrity even with new swimmers. Our swim team is unique: we coach on a military post where they are only there for ten months. So we have new swimmers every ten months, and about 10% of our swimmers stay the same. So how do we hold that integrity, that culture, and get our new swimmers incorporated to buy-into our culture when we only have…?

[Yetter]: Right. Did you guys hear the question? You have got basically a group of people that are standards on the team, and people coming in and coming out.

I think you have got to talk to those 10% of the people individually; I think that is the real key. You get with their parents and you get with them, and you teach them about the team and the process that your team is going through. And why they have to maybe behave a little bit differently than the other people; why they are a little bit further-along than any other people. But the individual communication, I think, is the real key for that.


[audience member]: You talked earlier about releasing responsibility from the parents so that their anxiety goes down. We current have a system where we do meet entries for the parents, but we still have parents emailing, fighting, right to like to the day of the meet: No, we don’t want to do this event, my child wants to do this…. We have been doing this for years now, and there is no going back.

[Yetter]: It is such a huge challenge, and you say you have been doing it for two years. I will assert that, you know, culture, we talk about… you guys have heard that it takes… people say it takes a certain amount of time to start a culture. It takes a year to start a culture, or it takes two years to start a culture. I think it takes a certain amount of time to really begin to start a culture. And so the first year or two, I think, is really like the preview of what the culture is going to be. So you are still dealing with people, who, they are not going to be on your team… a lot of them might not be on you team in a year or two—maybe if they are older kids—and they are going to be gone anyways.

So what I would do is I would have meetings with the parents as groups of parents, not as the whole… if you have a parent meeting, do not have a whole team together. Have the introduction group and the younger kids separate from the seniors. And do not worry too much about the seniors, and give-and-take a little bit: you want to swim the 100 fly every meet, fine swim 100 fly; it’s your best event, go ahead. But with the younger kids you can kind of explain to the parents what you are trying to do. You cannot talk about why oh, we’re going to just let them go, but at the same time you can effect change by going not individually, but individually in the sense of their group is different than the whole, big group.


[audience member]: At NBAC, you talked about the culture, when Michael would get out and the young kids would get in. As far as starting yours at T2, how did you manage the day-to-day culture of attitude at practice, like for the young kids obviously making it a little more fun and having to stick around, to the older kids, where they have to be a little more serious? How did you turn that dial depending on what group it is or…?

[Yetter]: We were fortunate in the sense that there was an existing satellite team that was there. But in terms of our numbers that we have right now and the numbers that were there then, they are night and day. So we had a huge influx of swimmers my first year at T2 Aquatics, and they were all… like we were seriously pulling people off the street to just fill our pool. And so we did not really encounter so much resistance with that, because we were teaching everybody straight from the ground up. And much like my last comment to the last question, we sort of dealt with it individually in small groups, more so than anything else.

One of the things we did is we took our seniors and we split them. And I just said these 15 seniors will be part of a top group, and then these 30 seniors and then these 20 seniors are going to be our next two groups. So we took the seniors and we just divided them up. We did not divide it perfectly. We got a couple of those people that are really hard-core in the one group, and then the next year we sort of pulled some other people in who could really be part of it. But we purposefully made that group pretty small, so we could then pull people in to it and really fill it. (I do not know if that answers your question.)

It was a tougher situation for us than it was at NBAC, because at NBAC everybody got into the same pool—for the most part. Here it is the same pool, but it is a 9-lane, long course pool, 23 short lanes. It is really difficult to get the little guys to be like right there. One thing we do is we have the older kids, the kids who are swimming the fastest and tend to be the more dedicated kids, swimming right at the front of the entrance. Like, right, when everybody is walking-in for the swim school and for the younger kids practice, they see people just grinding. So that is one of the things that we have done kind of on purpose.

Another reason we do that is we take the heat off the Age Group coaches. They go all the way to the other end of the pool. We have signs; parents cannot go past the signs. So we take the heat off the Age Group coaches: they are not to deal with parents sitting there, watching the practice the whole time. So that helps too.

Anybody else? Great, thanks very much.

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