David, I thank you very much for those very, very kind words. I just want you to know ladies and gentlemen that I have had a thrill and an honor coaching for the past 40 years. One of those thrills, by the way, is having coached David Marsh and then watching him as a coach afterwards with the excellence that he is developing in his program and his athletes at Auburn University. He is just doing an unbelievable job. I am real proud of you, David! You are really setting a standard that is going to be very difficult to match by anyone. I have coached for 40 years. I have wanted to be a swimming coach since I was 12 years old. I tell you that because that inspiration came from my age group swimming coach. I wanted to be like Bob Timmons of the Wichita Swim Club. I didn’t necessarily have a dream then of ever coaching in the Olympic Games or at a Stanford University or any place other than a swim club or a high school or whatever. I have loved every second that I have been in this sport – literally, every second.
I have had more thrills than a coach deserves in 40 years. I am egotistical enough to think maybe we could do some of those things again, but my grandchildren are 10 and 13. They do not live close to Stanford. They live in Austin, Texas. I can’t miss experiences with my grandchildren, too. The first thing that I would like to suggest to you as coaches is that you do not have to miss out on your family to be a great coach. In fact, I think you might send a message to your squad if you visibly put your family first and your job second. I think you are sending a message to the athletes you coach that family is important. My only regret is I missed a little bit too much of my own children’s life and I am not going to miss any more of my grandchildren.
I am going to miss coaching, partly because of the camaraderie of all the coaches in this room and with many, many that are not here. It has been an honor to work with you, compete against you, dream with you, and be inspired by you. Your job today, in my opinion, like has been voiced by a couple of other coaches that I know of in their talks, is a good deal harder than it was when I broke into the sport 40 years ago. Excellence is harder to achieve today. When I broke into the sport there were four giants: Doc Counsilman, Don Gambril, George Haines and Peter Daland. Ladies and gentlemen, those four men at times must have wondered who that stranger was in their team meetings at swimming meets because I was trying to hear everything. I was trying to stand next to those guys every time I got a chance to understand why they were so successful. The fabulous thing about it was, they were all willing to share! That is what I find about the great coaches in the world today, way too many to mention, but 99% of them will tell you everything they know. Have the courage to ask them. To be quite honest, they will be flattered to help you, are even looking to help you, if given the chance.
I have almost never been turned down when I have asked for help for 40 years. It is not a weakness – it is a strength. I will tell you just a couple of stories about those guys. Doc Counsilman – One time a very good friend of mine, who coached me, drove across the country to go to a clinic with me given by Doc Counsilman in Bloomington, Indiana. I remember two things about that clinic. I hope I do not offend anybody here, but one of the things that Doc said was “how many of you guys play golf?” A bunch of guys in the room raised their hand. He then said, “How many of you play as often as twice a week?” A bunch of guys still had their hands up. I didn’t because I didn’t play. He then said, “I will never have to worry about you SOB’s because you cannot play that much golf and be a good swimming coach!” That stuck with me. I had some golf clubs in the garage – I sold them the next week.
Also at that clinic, his hobby was showing film in those days – not video tape. There were over 100 coaches at that clinic. We were watching this film one evening of the great swimmers of the time – underwater and above water. As he was commenting, I didn’t even notice it, well maybe in the back of my mind, but the door kept opening in the back. People were leaving as it was getting later in the night. At one point, well into the films, Doc turned on the lights. There were three people in the room – Doc Councilman, Doug Ingram and myself. Doc turned to us and said, “Guys, how much longer do you want to watch these films?” I said, “Doc, as long as you are running that camera, I am sitting here listening.” He turns off the light and we proceed to watch film for another two hours – until close to 2 o’clock in the morning. The guy would give you anything.
Next, I’d like to talk about George Haines. I went to a hundred clinics, I bet, where George Haines spoke. Every time I went, I was looking for the secret of his success. I believe George coached more Olympic gold medal winners and world record holders and had more national champions – both individual and team – than anybody in history. By the way, George is struggling with a stroke. It is a serious struggle. He is losing that battle. Please have a thought and a prayer for George Haines. But, what I realized was George’s excellence was day to day. He couldn’t tell you what he was doing that was so different from anyone else. He could tell you what the workouts were. It was just him.
I will never forget about a young guy from Texas who went to swim with George Haines one summer for three months. He was an average swimmer, really, because in the pool were Mark Spitz, Don Schollander and all those great swimmers. When this young man comes back, I ask him – “okay, what is the secret here? Why is George Haines so great?” This young man said, “Richard, I felt like every workout was designed for me”. He was just an average swimmer. In fact, the next time I saw George Haines, I asked him about the kid. He hardly remembered his name, but he gave the impression, because he cared so much, that each workout was designed for each and every swimmer in the pool. I doubt that when George was writing the practices, he was considering that kid, because he had to be considering Mark Spitz, Don Scholander and others.
Peter Daland doesn’t know that I am talking about this, but he ran a clinic in Minnesota. He talked about four things that he was looking for when he recruited. I still used it the last day I recruited a swimmer. He was looking for somebody with high goals as an athlete. He was looking for somebody with high goals academically. He was looking for somebody that understood that there was a relationship between being successful in the pool and being successful athletically as a whole. He looked for people that looked to the future in life and would give back to our world and the community. Finally, he was looking for people he liked, that he wanted to spend time with. There are 365 days in the year and let’s say you have a swimmer who can swim fast for you 30 days out of the year. That then leaves 335 days you have to deal with that person. You had better like them. They better fit in with your philosophy.
Now, you are working with young swimmers, you can shape a great philosophy. You have your hands on the treasures of the future of United States Swimming and by the way, I think you are doing a great job. I really think you are doing a great job. There was a clear cut objective. We heard about that this morning from Bill Sweetenham. When I started in coaching, if I wanted to be on the pool deck at the National Championships with those four men I talked about and the other great swimmers of the time and get to see them, it was at short course Nationals and there were short course time standards for that. If it was a long course nationals there were long course time standards for that and there weren’t any other meets. You went to local meets to try to qualify to go to the National Championships. Clear cut objective.
Now ladies and gentlemen, there are Junior Nationals and Sectional meets with time standards and I think it is all great. What it requires from you as a coach is that if there is somebody, and there are, in your program with big dreams, do not sell out for something short of their full potential because of a standard just below. I am talking to the NCAA coaches. If you have got the potential Olympians on your squad and many of us do and we don’t know it. If you will run a program that allows excellence at the highest level and not sell out, whether it is an NCAA Championship or even the National Championships or a Junior National Championships, set the standards high.
American swimmers have always responded to high standards and high goals. It was more clear-cut in those days. There was a little bit more of it in the United States at that time. It was okay to work hard for a long time and have steady progress toward a goal. It has been mentioned already in the talks that we are into instant gratification now. That is a strength of our sport. Sell it – be proud of the fact that there is a lot of work and if you are willing to do that work consistently, pay attention to the details, then you have a product that very few have. It doesn’t exist other places in society. Sell that it as valuable and there are families out there that really value that.
In those days when I broke into coaching, if a 15 year old boy came to me or a 12 year old girl came to me and said, “I would like to swim in the National Championships”, but in their age group they are a hundred yard breaststroker. You would say, to this young man or woman, why don’t we set up to train for the 1500 and the 400 individual medley and the longer events in the program. That is the best way for a young developing athlete to get to the national championships. Two things happened when that took place. Talent was exposed to distance swimming and sprinters got background young in their career. In today’s world what happens is a 15 year old hundred breaststroker is kept as a hundred yard breaststroker until they make the nationals time standard. They may not have the chance to get the background that I think is really, really valuable for an overwhelming majority of the swimmers in your programs. What works?
By the way, let me just say this. I think we saw an example of that with Brian Goodell. He was a national ranked age group backstroker. He got exposed to distance swimming with Mark Schubert at the Mission Viejo club and wound up winning a gold medal in the mile. He probably would have been a scholarship backstroker in college had he stayed on the backstroke course. He would have been good, really good, but gold medal? Ummm, I don’t know. We see an example in today’s world with Katie Hoff. She decided to swim some short sprint things this summer in the national championships. She made finals in the 100 meter freestyle. How many of us would say, oh man, we have got a swimmer here that is finaling in the hundred freestyle. Let’s have her train for the hundred freestyle, but in her young development she is training for the 400 individual medley. Who knows what her best event down the way is going to be. She may be a great hundred freestyler. What works?
Well, I think one thing that works is setting a belief system based on goals Ladies and gentlemen, let me define goals. A goal is something that you are absolutely going to do. It is not something you hope you are going to do or wish you could do but something that you are going to do. It changes everything about you. It changes the way you think. It changes the way you train. It brings you to the pool, as Bill Sweetenham said, early and you stretch because you want to be there. It is your goal as an athlete. Who helps set that culture? Coaches do. You set the standard of excellence. Set the belief system. It will see the athletes, if it is their goal, it will see them through the temporary plateaus that all athletes go through, but the goal has to be realistic. It can change – it can change.
As the athlete improves their goal can grow. Some of you have heard this story before, but when Dara Torres started training with us her goal was to make the Olympic team as an alternate in the 400 freestyle relay. That was her goal. She had been out of the sport for 7 years. She wanted to swim in four Olympics. She just wanted to be an alternate on the 400 free relay as her goal, but as she started training and improving she said to me, “wow, maybe I can make the team in an individual event!” As she improved some more she began thinking about what color the medals might be. Her goal grew from being an alternate on the relay to trying to win an Olympic gold medal. As a result, she retired as the American record holder in the 50 freestyle and the 100 butterfly. Your goals can change and grow, but ladies and gentlemen, it is up to the coach to allow the dreaming to turn into goals. You put that in place.
I learned that, I think, from Eddie Reese. I was at Iowa State University. It was my first head coaching position. I don’t know why he called so much, but I think it was because Eddie had some of our swimmers that I had coached in Dallas on a club team on his team and at Auburn. Eddie called me up on a pretty regular basis at Iowa State to tell me how fast his swimmers were going to swim. I kept thinking, “Boy, if everybody on his team swims this fast, he is going to double everybody’s points in the NCAA championships.” Not all of them swam as fast as he said they were going to swim, but some of them believed him and some of them swam as fast as he thought they could. He set the tone. He did it every day I bet. In fact, when I coached with him at Texas I think that was his greatest strength. He kept telling his kids how fast they could go, until they believed it.
What seems extraordinary today will become commonplace in the future. Again, Bill Sweetenham talked about it a little bit this morning. I would like to suggest to you that in 2025, in twenty years, – how fast will you have to go to win an Olympic gold medal in a specific event? Well, I don’t know what the answer to that is, but I would say, why can’t that be done today? I think the only reason it can’t be done today is because of the belief system. We are not going to improve training that much in the next twenty years. It will improve a little bit. People will learn some things, but the major thing that will change is our belief system as coaches that we will relay to the athletes as athletes. The same person that is going to be 8th in the national championships with a specific time this year would be 8th in 20 years in the national championships with a time that would win an Olympic gold medal today. They will just free themselves up to do it. You can create an atmosphere in your club or school that allows those dreams to turn into goals sooner than twenty years from now, if you are willing to think about the future. Please do not sell yourself short in that area.
Another thing that works is technique. Technique works. There is so much information out there on how to swim properly. It is incredible. There are a lot of great videos out. You are going to hear a lot of great talks at this clinic. Study technique and implement technique every day in practice. I really think there is something very special that happens between an athlete and a coach. If you invest all the time during practice in not only providing a training regime, as far as how far they are going to swim, but you are investing in improving their technique almost every length of the pool. Every time they come to the end of the pool, try to have an atmosphere on your team where you are giving instruction on technique improvement. In fact, try to inspire all of your team to help each other in that area. Make technique important. To me, there is nothing sadder than seeing a person who is really working hard and really has wonderful ability be limited in their speed and their accomplishments because their technique has basic flaws that with a little instruction on the part of the coach could make a huge difference. Technique works.
Little things, done consistently, make the big difference. I think there is nowhere that that is more true than in technique. I really believe Misty Hyman won the 200 butterfly in Sydney for two reasons: technically #1 and they were both involved with the turns. She did a back somersault first before she worried about getting a breath. Her two major competitors in the same race touched the wall, raised their head first for the breath and then tried to get around on the wall. The next thing she did was she took six kicks under water and did not breathe before the first stroke off the wall. She learned that from Bob Gillett as a young athlete. I am not sure I ever had to tell her that in training at Stanford. She didn’t have to make a decision after kicking six times whether she was going to breathe or not. She did what she did in practice every day. By the way, the other two girls took two kicks off the wall and they took a breath during the first stroke. They were vertical in the water and had to restart. They were two wonderful competitors, in great condition, and great human beings. Either they let themselves down or somebody let them down in a little thing.
One thing that really helped me in 2004 was hearing Bill Sweetenham say, if you are 99% right you are 100% wrong. I wrote that on the board for a while in practice and my athletes didn’t like that a lot, but I really think it made a difference. That is hard to think about by the way, but if you are 99% right and you could be 100%, then you are 100% wrong.
Strength works. Strength per pound body weight works. I am not talking about that necessarily in the weight room. I think it can be found so many ways, and again there is a lot of information out on that. Sure, the weight room is one place it can happen, but it can happen in Pilates, in yoga, in gymnastics type exercises. It can happen in a dry land circuit. Again, I will use Katie Hoff as an example. Paul told me that one of her goals is to be able to do, in a row, the pull-ups that match her age! If she is able to do that, she is going to be pretty strong by the time she gets to be her full potential swimmer somewhere between 26 and 33. I will never forget watching her at the Colorado Springs training camp as she jumped up on that pull-up bar. You could see every muscle in her body and I don’t know how many sets of 8 or 10 or 12 pull-ups she did, but wow, it works.
Strength per pound body weight and muscle endurance is what you are looking for in training. I just think it is something that “”, if you want to kind of look at a dry land program, ran a school here on that. Look at what Inge DeBruin did as she could climb a climbing rope without her legs. I don’t know how many times, but a bunch, without her legs, climbing up a 14 or 15 foot rope. I really believe if you will look at her in college, she was a borderline average swimmer. She got into the finals at NCAA’s once in a while as I remember it. I don’t remember her being a big time player. When she got stronger she became a real big time player, the biggest at times. I remember what Paul said, “the more guy-like you can make a girl with regard to their ability from a strength standpoint, the better swimmer they are going to be. Obviously, hard work really works.
Hard work is a key, but let me tell you this, “I really believe that it is very important to build recovery time into very strenuous specific training.” David was right when he said something about jumping off something a little bit higher than normal. But back in those days and I apologize to David and all his teammates because back in those days if they had a great workout on Monday, then I am laying awake on Monday night trying to see how we can have a greater workout on Tuesday. Then, if they were great on Tuesday, I am doing the same thing on Wednesday and here is what happened. Let’s say this is really fast and this is really slow. You know, if I have any ability at all, I can convince people to work hard and I can convince them that that is what leads to fast swimming. We got pretty good at swimming pretty fast, but we didn’t swim real, real, real fast until I learned something about the recovery side of training.
Now, some people are going to say, “He is talking about something easier,” but there is no easy way to be successful in this sport that I am aware of. I have never seen it. Because you have “a recovery day,” that may be the day that requires the highest level of concentration on your athletes because that ought to be a day that you are really working on technique, on new technique. It is not “an easy day.” It is not a sloppy day. It is not a sloppy workout. If you give them some rest of some kind, they can move closer to more specific training.
I very seldom in my career had an opportunity to have a physiologist work with me every day, doing lactates and that kind of thing. When I was at the University of Texas, there was a woman by the name of Randa Ryan who was working on her PhD in physiology of exercise. We had a deal. She said, “Richard, I will do a bunch of lactate testing for you and all that kind of stuff. I will tell you how far the athletes ought to swim and what intensity they ought to swim on Tuesdays and Thursdays of the week, and the rest of the time you can do with them what you want to, but on those days, I will do all this testing for you. I made that deal with her. That summer, 1986, Betsy Mitchell dropped from 2:12 in the 200 backstroke to 2:08. By the way, she had to touch the wall with her hand and didn’t know anything about underwater dolphin kick. I still think it is one of the most phenomenal swims I have ever seen. She must have gone 1:03 in practice for I don’t know, 100 meters, fifty or sixty times. It wasn’t necessarily even all out. It was just really, really good swimming, but as soon as we built in some recovery, she got to swim more specifically that related to her race. DO NOT interpret that as easier. It is not. It may be just a little bit smarter.
I already hinted at this one, but seek help. United States Swimming has an awesome technical assistance staff. Jonty Skinner, Genadijus Sokolavas, John Walker, and the other members are really, really smart. They are really on the cutting edge. They want to help you. They are really, really good. Next is Club development with Pat Hogan, Tom Avischious, and staff. They want to do everything they can do to help you with your clubs. The national team director is Everett Uchiyama. If you have somebody that you think has extraordinary talent, talk to Everett about your athlete. Get him in the loop, so that they can be followed and observed and you can get some help. Allow it to be a national project. ASCA: John Leonard and Guy Edson. Golly, I do not know of two guys that want to help you more. We take this clinic for granted. We take what John Leonard and Guy and the ASCA staff has done for granted. This is an extraordinary clinic. It takes an extraordinary amount of time to put these kinds of speakers together with this kind of information together and to seek everybody’s needs and trying to meet those needs. Let them help you. Again, ask the great coaches of our time to help you.
Ladies and gentleman, we are all members of America’s swimming team. Take good care of our sport. You know to me what that means is that we always treat each other with respect. Don’t talk negative about any other swimming coach. If you have an issue with somebody, please go talk to them about it. You know, I am real proud of the fact that Teri McKeever felt comfortable enough to call us up when she had a pool problem at CAL. She said, “Richard is there any way you could spare some lanes for us over at Stanford to train?” And it was an easy yes, but every once in a while, I have done it and apologized for it. I hear us talking about each other in negative ways and it doesn’t make sense. Our family is too small to do that. It happens in college around recruiting, but it really happens locally in your clubs, and in your area.
Sometimes a coach gets blamed for something that he had nothing to do with. I will tell you a story about George Haines again. I am coaching a 12 year old girl in Houston, Texas by the name of Keena Rothhammer. I suggested to Kenna and her mother that she could make the Olympic team in distance freestyle and even win a gold medal. Her mother said to me, in a not very pleasant way, “Richard, you just want everybody to be a distance swimmer! My daughter is a backstroker.” Within weeks she moved to Santa Clara. The family up and moved, even though the father was without a job. I don’t know how it happened to this day and now you know what I could have and maybe I even did a little bit. I could have blamed George Haines for that, for recruiting Keena Rothhammer away from me. I did get discouraged. The very next time I talked to George, the first thing out of his mouth was “Richard, I am really sorry. I know what she meant to you and your program. I just want you to know that I did not have anything to do with that.” I took him at his word. We have been great friends ever since. The other thing I learned in that situation as I moped around for a couple of weeks because I was kind of feeling sorry for myself, happened when one of the athletes came up to me and said, “Richard, we know you are discouraged because Keena left, but there is a whole team of us that want you to coach us!” So, I slapped myself in the face and started coaching with some enthusiasm again, because it is every child’s dream to be coached and led.
It is our responsibility to do that every day in practice. Take good care of this sport. It is the best sport there is for young kids. There is nobody telling you to sit on the bench because they are too slow or too little or it is not political. If you swim fast, you get a payoff. If you improve, it is a payoff. It is measurable. It is a great sport. Get involved in it obviously as a coach, to the fullest extent, just like you have been inspired to do by some of the talks. I would really encourage you to get involved in the governing of this sport. Coaches are the most consistent part of our great sport in this country. We are here when swimmers come and go and their parents come and go. A lot of times we turn over our profession to those people that are in it for the short haul and not the long haul. We have got some really important elections coming up in the next couple of years in United States Swimming. Find out what the issues are. Find out who is involved in wanting to help run our sport and get behind them. Figure out who the best person for the job is. Again, I will say, it has been an honor to be a coach with all of you. I thank you for listening to me today.