Finding, Keeping and Growing In a Coaching Position by John Leonard (2005)


We are going to talk a little bit about career paths – not too much, and we will talk a bit about critical skills to develop; and philosophy; and finding a position; succeeding in a position and then what happens when you leave – when you move on.

So, I always like to start from the very beginning and talk a little bit about why are you getting into coaching – why are you continuing in coaching? I think anytime you are either thinking about changing a job – you are changing a job – you are between jobs – you need to go back to the very basics and say – “why am I doing this? Am I better off doing something else”? What are your motivations? Understand yourself. Understand yourself and your motivations are going to change over time and I have always been pretty open about telling people – when I first got out of the army and I started coaching back in 1970, my motivation was to eat because the only job skills I had developed in the army were things that really couldn’t be used in American society and so I needed something that I could do. Then a couple of years down the road I had an Olympian and I only had been coaching for four years and I thought, “this is easy!” You know, you coach for four years and you have an Olympian.

In 1976 Mark Schubert and I were on the pool deck and we were both the same age and nobody talked to us. And we were both young brats. We were kind of offended. We were 26 years of age and later on I figured out what we had done wrong which is we had succeeded without paying our dues. I was just lucky – Mark had done a much better job than I did and it showed up because his athlete win a gold medal and my girl only got a gold medal for sitting on John Nabor’s lap I think the entire meet. So Mark had a little more success than I did, but we realized that there is a big difference between being 40 years of age and being a professional and being 26 and just getting the thing started and that led me to having a huge ego. My motivation for the next four or five years in coaching was my ego and I don’t think that is a good thing – looking back on it. At the time I didn’t even recognize it and gradually as I got older my motivation came from liking the sport – I like doing these things and my motivation became “I want to stay in the sport so I have got to earn enough money to stay in the sport and not having to go and sell insurance or do something else.”

Eventually I evolved some where in my 30’s – or I hope it was in my 30’s – some other people who know me in my 30’s might say in my 40’s — I eventually evolved to the point where I think people get to as they get older and say, “it’s not about me – its about the athletes.” Now some of you start out in that enviable position in the first place and I congratulate you, but a lot more people go through some transition of their motivation. So recognize that if you are one of those people who are having a transition or progression with their motivation that is not surprising or unusual. That is more common than the other. And if you are not progressing and you are stuck in some areas where you don’t feel like that progress is being made, that might be something that you want to look at – re-evaluate – rethink about.

We will talk a little bit about career paths. “What direction do I want to go.” It depends entirely where you want to get to, right? Good wisdom. Do not decide where you are going until you figure out where you want to wind up. And there are some significant differences. If you want to be a college coach there is one way to start that works and that is to start as an assistant in the best college program you can get into because that is where college coaches are going to come from. You are going to start as a number 2 or number 3 assistant – you are going to move up to a number 1 assistant – maybe at the school you are at – maybe at another school and eventually you are going to get a Division I job. The assistants at Stanford, the assistants at Texas – even though at Texas nobody ever leaves — those people are the prime candidates for the upper level Division I jobs. But, if you want to be a college coach – don’t start in a club because it is not a workable career path. At some point you are going to have to go and be an assistant in college.

How do they get hired? Real simple – who do you know? That is the reality. Forget all the rest of that crap. The goody two shoe stuff – you have got to have a network and who do you know? When Don Gambrel was a coach, he was a club coach before he was a university coach. He had the best coaching talent in the entire world working for him and I mean the world. People from all over the world and they were either paying Don to be assistants or working for free and Don would find them a part-time job on the side and you ask yourself why would somebody do that? Because they are working with one of the best programs in the world and for the rest of their lives Don would help them get jobs. That is the way it works in college swimming. So again, if you want to be a college coach do you start out as a club coach? It is going to be hard because you are going to have a harder time making the kind of friendships that you need in order to get referred for other college jobs.

There are advantages to Division I. You are going to work with what? World class athletes. There are advantages to Division II and there are advantages to Division III. I love Division III. I spent seven years as a Division III coach. The athletes who swim in Division III really want to swim. It is not a part-time job –- they do it because they love it. I think it is absolutely wonderful and that is a tremendous advantage. I spent one year as a Division I coach at Syracuse and quit, despite having an undefeated team because the relationship in a Division I school, lower level Division I school is that you are begging 18 year olds to come and make your living. You are begging 18 year olds to come and train with you. Now, is that true at Stanford? Is that true at Texas? No, those guys get to select. They are not selling their program. They do not have to. But, for most Division I programs you are needing to sell your program to 18 year olds who hold the fate of your career. This is the disadvantage.

Lifestyle issues: If the Division I athletes are good people and they buy into what you want in terms of their lifestyle – everybody in college pretty much trains the same — it is what happens outside of the pool that determines who wins. So, their lifestyle determines whether or not you are going to be successful – big disadvantage.

Division III disadvantages – You are going to have to work for a living. You may be a part-time coach. You may have to teach as well as coach. You are going to have a harder time working with any elite athletes if that matters to you. There are disadvantages there too. Job security in Division III – probably pretty good — as long as you are behaving yourself – doing all the right things – not embarrassing the school – you probably have good job security. If you are a lady – a women’s coach in Division I you do those same three things and you have a little bit of success – you probably got good job security. How many male coaches and coaches of men’s swimming teams – university teams – in the United States do you think are real secure? You can probably count them on two hands. There is a security problem there – absolutely –no doubt about it.

Club coach or a YMCA coach? My recommendation is to start with the best program you can get into as an assistant. I did it the other way. I started out as a head coach in the middle of Syracuse, New York where nobody knew anything about swimming, cared anything about swimming, couldn’t tell if I was screwing up or not — and I screwed up, I made a lot of screw ups. I have made a lot of screw ups since then, but I made the biggest number of my screw ups on the smallest possible stage — not a good way to do it.

Now, if you start out in Chicago or you start out in the Atlanta area – you start out in any big metro area with lots of teams and you start out as a head coach you will screw up – many people will see you – your screw ups will not be hidden and that baggage will go with you forever. I am – as you can tell – I am going to tell you truths today – I am not going to give you any platitudes. If you are going to start out as a head coach and you feel that you are bound and determined to do it your own way and be a rebel then go do it in Podunkville where nobody can see you. And when you have screwed up enough and that is your reputation and you have learned, move to another Podunkville and try and get it right and when your act is ready – then consider moving to Broadway. And by Broadway I mean places where there are lots of good club teams – a much better career path and start with one of the better club programs in the country. Make your mistakes if you have to make them, out on the boondocks.

I want to go back a little bit more to the advantages of that first part. What many of us want to do versus what we should do is work with elite athletes. Lots of young coaches – when they are first learning to coach – want to go and watch senior workouts and you will have an age group workout and you will have a senior workout going on and if somebody goes somewhere to go watch the senior workout as a young coach – wrong. That is what you want to do. That is not what is good for your career. What is good for your career is learning from the base up. Get rid of your ego and learn to be a professional swimming coach and I learned this the hard way. My primary coaching responsibilities the first seven years of my life were with senior athletes and kids trying to make the Olympic team and all I was was a trainer. I didn’t know that at the time because I had a big ego, but I was just a trainer, I wasn’t a coach. It wasn’t until I decided to go take a job where all I did “was coach.”

“Just Coaching” — that is a big mistake too because that doesn’t exist, but I thought that that is what I was going to go and do. And all of a sudden I am a one man show. I do not have 15 assistant coaches. I don’t have 750 kids on our team. Now all of a sudden I got Suzy who can barely swim 25 yards and cannot breathe properly and I have to teach her to swim or I don’t have a living. And all of a sudden I had to become a swimming coach. That means being a teacher. Young people, you have got to teach. Go ask any of the speakers here – any of the experienced people here and find out what is the most important thing, in their opinion, about coaching and it is knowing how to do the basics right – knowing how to do the basic things properly. Learn to be a teacher.

Let’s talk a little bit about skills you are going to develop – that you need to develop. First of all and most importantly is you have got to learn how to sell. Now that may sound strange to some of you. You don’t need to learn how to teach freestyle – you don’t need to learn how to teach backstroke. That is not the first thing you have got to learn. The first thing you have got to learn is how to sell which means that you have to understand why people buy. Because that is all you do every day all the time. Learn to write, because that is part of selling. Learn to speak. Learn to do presentations. Every time you step on a pool deck you are doing a presentation. Every time you step on the pool deck you are doing an acting job. Learn to be a good actor. Learn to write – learn to speak – learn to sell -– learn to sell – learn to sell – why? Who are you going to deal with in your coaching career? You going to deal with athletes – you are going to deal with parents.

Now we can talk all we want and make believe we have diversity in this sport – it is an upper middle class white sport. We wish it was otherwise, but it is. Who are those people? They are managers. They are professionals. What do managers and professionals do? They communicate all day long. If you can’t communicate – if you can’t sell – you can’t do your job. That is what impresses them. You are going to sell every day. When you go in to morning workout and you go ten 400 IM’s upside down, backwards, under water with no breathing – you have got to sell that to your senior team. When I go to practice in the afternoon I am trying to get somebody to get their ear inside their shoulder and balance, and do side glide kick properly – I am selling the importance of that. How am I selling it? I am going to walk them over. I am going to show them the best swimmer in our pool and I am going to say are they swimming on their side or are they swimming on their stomach? “Well coach, they are swimming on their side.” I say, “That is the position I am trying to get you in.” That is called selling – whether you are selling refrigerators – stamps – automobiles – ten 400 IM’s upside down, backwards, underwater with no breathing. Or we need to go on a team trip to Cincinnati for a swim meet when you are a thousand miles away. Or we need to build a new pool – you are selling.

That is all you do as a coach. Every day to every athlete – you are selling. They don’t care how much you know. It doesn’t matter how much you know – if you cannot sell your athletes on doing what needs to be done, you can’t coach. It is the only skill that really matters.

I hope most of you have heard of George Haines – please raise your hand. Is there anybody who has not heard of George Haines? A couple of hands did not go up either way. Short history lesson – greatest swimming coach in the history of the United States Swimming – American swimming. George Haines – didn’t know much about freestyle, backstroke, breaststroke or butterfly. He didn’t know a whole hell of a lot about training and everyone of his athletes would swim through a wall for him. Everyone of his athletes loved the man to death and would do anything and he is the greatest coach in our history as far as success goes. Mark Schubert not withstanding – right there with him. All George could do was sell. He could relate to people and he could sell and he understood that when you sell, you sell on emotion and people buy with emotion and then they support that decision that they made, to buy what you are saying with logic and a good salesman provides the emotion and provides the logic – both. That is as far as I am going into today’s sales course, because it is one skill.

You want to improve your coaching course – your coaching career? Go to the book store – go to the business section – buy every good sales book you can find or just plain buy every sales book that you can find and learn the whole thing. You sell refrigerators the same way as the way you sell ten 400 IM’s upside down, backwards, underwater at 4:30 in the morning. It is all the same picture – exactly the same picture. Things to put in your to-do basket.

Other skills – learning to do the strokes, starts and turns. Get proficient at it because the person who teaches those skills is the coach. I thought I was the coach the first seven years of my career – the kids didn’t think that – they thought the people who were working around me were the coaches. I was something – I was designing the training – I had something to do with it. I had a little bit of good advice to give them and talk to them about racing – I had kind of a feel for that from my own career and other things, but I wasn’t the coach. The person who is the coach is the person who teaches. Learn how to train athletes physically. That is the simplest part of this entire job. Learn how to design training programs – learn how to taper. Easy stuff – easy stuff. Learn how to train athlete’s minds – a little bit harder – a little bit more imprecise – you still have to learn it and then there is a lot of extra stuff: dry land, nutrition, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. Learn how to sell. If you can’t do that you can’t do anything.

A couple of things to not forget. Your business skills are going to be one of the things that keeps you from getting where you want to get. You need to develop your business skills. One of your business skills is selling, but you will have many others. In all the conversations that we have and between Guy and I – we probably talked to 20 employers a week — very seldom are coaches ever fired for a lack of technical skills. They get fired all the time because they have bad relationship skills and they have bad communication skills and it is easy to have bad communication skills when your clients are managers, and upper level people in businesses. It is easy. That is what we get fired for — Bad relationship skills – bad communication skills. You have got to improve them which leads us to the next question.

A little bit of philosophy in terms of how do you improve those skills? First of all, 99 times out of every 100 my advice is “bloom where you are planted.” Wherever you are, if you have a workable situation, you are better off making it better than moving. You get set backwards tremendously when you move in terms of your professional development. Figure out how you can improve the situation where you are, bloom where you are planted and get better that way. You go years backwards most of the time when you move.

Do you work for yourself or do you work for others? Boy, that is a big difference. Do you own a club? If you were in here the last hour you listened to a man who does a great job of owning his team. That is not for everybody. You have got to be a risk taker – you have got to have a spouse who understands the pluses and the minuses. There are a lot of things that you need to have, especially that entrepreneurial spirit. If you work for other people you have got to learn how to do that pretty dog gone well. Time will take you on. There is no difference – there is absolutely no doubt that there are tremendous advantages to youth and there are advantages to age and experience. Those of you who are young – what is the advantage to youth? A lot of energy – and what else comes with energy? Enthusiasm – I call it passion for the sport. Lots of young coaches get the best athlete of their career in their first ten years of their coaching career – even though you know the least – why? Passion attracts passion. You got crazy young people – crazy.

Normal does not mean great does it? Normal young people do not become great. Wackos become great. That is the reality. Also, some wackos hide it better than others, but the people who become great athletes have got something inside driving them. They are a little bit out of balance and I mean that very sincerely so what happens? A young coach – and I am putting myself in this category – some of the best athletes I have ever had were in my 20’s and all they cared about was if I was as passionate about the sport as they were. And I was wild eyed about it and that is what brought them to me. And that is what kept them with me and that was the bond we had.

Now, how do you loose that passion? Let me just tell you what my theory is – as you get older, what happens? You get a thousand little cuts, right? When I first moved to Illinois – to Lake Forest and I am telling stories because people remember stories better than they remember anything else — when I moved to Illinois and I moved there so I could stop chasing lifeguards around until 3 o’clock in the morning because in Syracuse we had 30 pools and we had lifeguards at all of them and it is a blue collar/no collar town which means that the pools are open until midnight. And this was back in the 70’s and nobody actually went home directly from work so we would stop off and we would have a few or more than a few on the way home and I would get home at 3 o’clock in the morning and get up at 5 to go to morning practice. There are only so many years you can do that.

The people in Illinois where offering more money than I was making in Syracuse and I said “$25,000 a year to just coach?” Wow, fantastic! And within the next couple of years we amassed an incredible amount of talent in Lake Forest and we had a girl break a national age group record – which was an 11-12 record. The next Monday her father came in and said John, thanks very much for doing a great job with so and so – we are going down to work with Don Talbott at Nashville. Go down and work with Don Talbott and I am like? You brought me here because I had a 1976 Olympian, but now I am not good enough, after your daughter breaks a national age group record and you are going to take her somewhere else? And that is a cut. You have all been in that situation. Do you recover from that very easily? Hell no.

Six months later a second girl breaks a national age group record – her parent walks in and doesn’t bother saying thanks very much John – he just says Monday we are going down to Cincinnati and swim with so and so. And we have all been there, right? At one level or another we have all been there and those are cuts. Now the rest of our girls took great pride in the fact that two years later neither one of those girls could make our B relays. And that was a real source of motivation and pride and for me as well. But the point of this is we all accumulate those cuts and as we get those cuts what happens to our enthusiasm? It gets tempered. It doesn’t suddenly go away, but it gets tempered. At 58 it takes me a lot longer to latch onto people than it did when I was 28. On the other hand I know tremendously more now at this age – but I don’t know anything – I am smart enough to know that I don’t know anything, but I have had a lot more experiences than I had at those ages and I know better.

When to use the hammer, when to use the drill and what tool to pull out of the tool box to get the job done: Remember that time is going to take you on – it is going to change. Don’t try and use the same skill set that you had at 35 when you are 45 or 55 – your skill set has got to change.

When I first started coaching I was young enough and good looking enough and had hair right, that I looked like people’s boyfriends so the teenage girls do what? They relate to the coach that way and ten years later I look like people’s father and they related that way. Well folks, now I relate as grandpa. And I am not a kindly grandpa – I am a grumpy grandpa. And that works. It works beautifully. I got 60 little kids who just love me. And they are absolutely terrorized of me the first couple of weeks they are there and then they figure out, “ah ha – he is a teddy bear.” And I have little girls who come in now and torture me by being as bad as they can to see how much they can get yelled at because that is attention. So you have advantages. Time is going to take you on, but each stage of your life you are going to have advantages that you didn’t have before. Don’t try and keep using your same young dog tricks as you get older.

You don’t know a hell of a lot. You are not going to get any respect from parents because you don’t know – maybe you don’t have kids yet and that is what they are going to tell you. And they are right – you don’t know. But you do have passion and that matters a lot.

Let’s talk a little bit about finding a position. The best thing you can do is use the ASCA Job Service. You find out from there what is open. You need to know what you are looking for. You call Guy at our 800 number. He is not going to find you a job, but he is going to tell you how to use job service. More coaches get jobs through job service, except for college coaches than any other place in the country. And it works beautifully. We talked about this before – finding a position – have friends – make sure that they know what you are looking for. Keep track of them and the ones that you trust, give them your resume. So they can hand that resume to somebody that says, I am looking for somebody. One of the things that I have taught everybody who has worked with me the last few years as young coaches on the deck of the pool is to say, look – just because somebody doesn’t have a job opening doesn’t mean that you cannot go to work there. And when Pat Hogan was at Mecklenburg and now when Jen and Dave are at Mecklenburg – I think that that is one of the greatest clubs in the country to work at and when I have young coaches who want to learn more and want to go somewhere, I say call Dave or call any of 20 other places and let them know that you are looking for a job. Here is what my experience has been. Here is what I can do. Here is what I can bring to the situation. Here is what I think I can do well. The next time you have an opening – could you put me on the list to call and talk to me. There is nothing wrong with doing that. You are not applying for a specific job. You are letting somebody know that you are interested in working for them and that is just as true in college as it is in club swimming.

Mechanics are important. You need a cover letter when you send something in. You need a resume. Folks, if you lie in your resume, you are cooked and you get caught. Nobody is going to trust somebody who lies on a resume so don’t. If you are certified say you are certified. Say what level you are. Say what type of coach you are. If you are not certified and you say “I would be a level III,” do you know what they are going to do? They are going to call me up and I am going to say, he is not a level III. He hasn’t done his school work. He hasn’t done anything. It is like being pregnant – you either are or you are not. It’s not, I would be a level III. Tell the truth on your resume.

Care enough to tailor your resume to what they are looking for. If your experience is about half age group and half senior – emphasize what you have done in age group coaching if that is the job that you are looking for. Don’t send them just one resume and demonstrate that you know what they are about and what they are looking for. Make sure you send references when you do this. This is just all format. Ask your references first. Don’t have it be a surprise when somebody calls up that reference and says, gee – Joe Jones said that you would, you know, give him a reference for this particular job. Make sure there are no issues there so make sure you ask the references first and then you are going to deal with an interview. Make sure you get the small stuff right, because there is no small stuff. One of the things that kills you, but it can’t help you is spelling. If you don’t know how to use spell check on your computer, figure it out because it will hurt you, but it can’t help you. In fact – it will kill you. I mean when you see a resume that comes in and says one of my attributes is that I am detail oriented – for those of you who have ever tried to use one of those online resumes that will fill in the blanks for you about what you are, you know? And you say well let’s see – I am handsome – I am intelligent – I am charming – I am detail oriented whether you are or you are not and then you spell oriented wrong, You are cooked. So get it right. If you don’t understand what formal English is versus colloquial English, understand it, learn it, use it. And the question that you have to ask yourself is what shows the people who read your material that this job is the one I want and if it is not the job for you, don’t pretend it is, but if it is your dream job – let them know that it is your dream job and why.

Interviews: it is all about sales – you have got to be well prepared. One of the things that you have to ask yourself is what are they going to ask you and what are you going to ask them. You need to know both of those things. You need to rehearse with someone who can be hard on you with both of those questions. What are they likely to ask you and what do you need to ask them? You need to be really hard because what you want – same thing as the way you train your athletes – you want them to practice to be much worse and much more difficult at a meet, right? You want your practice interviews to be much harder than your real interview so when you go into your real interview and they are lobbing what you think are now softball questions you are in better shape.

One time in a job interview – the only interview that I ever didn’t get the job for – at the end of the interview (and this was back in 1977) the man who was interviewing me asked me if I ever looked at Penthouse or Playboy. Now, do you think that you can rehearse that question? Like an idiot – I told the truth. And he said thank you very much for coming Mr. Leonard, but I couldn’t possibly hire somebody who ever looks at that pornography. End of job, and in every other respect I had the job. So I am saying make it hard – I mean make it hard. Make believe that the person interviewing you is the angel that sits on your shoulder and knows everything about you and be able to answer those questions. What is on your list? What do you want to ask before the interview – before you even waste your time going for an interview, what questions do you want to ask? What materials do you need to have in hand? And by that I mean, you probably want budgets, you probably want by-laws, you probably want newsletters. You want everything you can get about that situation before you get there. If it is a university position what are the colors of the university, right? What is the central theme of the university. What are they trying to achieve. What do they look like – what is their history – you need to know them as well as they do when you go in the door. You want to know who they are going to ask questions of before you get to the interview. Who are the people who are going to be interviewing you and how much can you find out about them, because that is going to help you succeed in the interview.

One more thing is that what is the most important question that you can ask? What do you want? And that is not enough – how are you going to measure it? ? I knew enough when I interviewed in Lake Forest to ask that question. I said, what do you want? I was a pretty smart young man and they said, well, we are interviewing you because you are one of the two youngest coaches in the country that put somebody on the 1976 Olympic team – we have a bunch of talented children and we want them to be Olympians. Whoa baby, that’s me – I’m ready. So now what happens? I get there and first of all they told me they had x-number of kids and when they did it they must have run them through the country club kitchen and back out a hundred times because I saw 120 kids and there was only about 30 when I got to practice. So I realized I was getting hired to coach a bunch of rich people’s kids and that was kind of a shock. And this is another shock – people do not always tell the truth in interviews. And then the next thing that happened is that we get to Christmas and I say, boy, this is really going to be great – athletes and parents because you know, we don’t have school now and we can train three or four hours a day and the first hand goes up and says, but we are going to St. Moritz next week and the next hand goes up and says well we are going to Colorado next week. And the part I didn’t ask is how are they going to measure it because if I did that I would have realized that this was a situation where everybody wanted to go to heaven, but nobody wanted to die. We want you to make our children Olympians on an hour and a half a day – five days a week. And I was too dumb to ask that question – what do you think it takes to make an Olympian?

So the question was how was I going to succeed because I wasn’t smart enough to ask how they were going to measure it. I thought it was obvious how you made an Olympian. Right? You train five hours a day – seven days a week – six years later you have an Olympian. They didn’t think that so you have got to ask both parts of that question. How are you going to be measured and what are you going to be measured on?

The next thing that you have to think about is contracts – think about how the negotiation is going to be. Who is going to negotiate it for yourself? If it is any kind of a decent job that is probably an idiotic thing to do. You probably want a nice friendly lawyer type – that is an oxymoron right? You want somebody who you trust to represent you, rather than yourself. You better get the best deal you can get on the way in because the chances of it getting better are slim. Make believe you are never going to get a better deal so get everything you want in the beginning that you need to succeed.

Who do you go to for help with contracts? You start with Guy Edson and I. Send it in and we will look at the swimming part of it. We will say does this make sense? Are they going to be able to evaluate you? Are you going to be able to produce what they want? Are they compensating you adequately and then we are going to say, take it to a lawyer and make sure that the legal part is correct. We are happy to do that. Thee is no fee for it – it is just part of what we do.

You got it – you got the job, what are you going to do with it? This is really important. Lots of coaches succeed and they wind up getting fired. Not only do you need to succeed, but you need to make it clear that you are succeeding to everybody. If you keep your success a secret because you are a charming and humble person – it is going to get you another opportunity to go looking for a job and repeat this process. It is not enough to be successful and that goes back to what? How are they going to measure it? Every week – every day – you need to have in front of the key people’s faces – here is how I am doing. Now, if you are young, recognize that you are going to have to make a progression working with this organization and you are going to start as a servant. That is how I started in Lake Forest. I was what I called a hooker coach. They were hiring somebody who would come in and do whatever they wanted me to do. I was young – they were going to pay me in those days what was pretty good and they expected me to do what they wanted me to do.

So, you have to go from – servant is a nice word for that – to a partner. We are in this together. I am working with you to build this organization and if you do a good job of that then you get to become the leader of the organization. When I left Lake Forest I was the nominating committee for the Board of Directors and there are some tricks to that as well. Every year I nominated people I nominated the worst enemy I had in the club – the parent who hated my guts the most and eight other people who were the good folks in the club who understood where we were going and what we wanted to do and why. It is better to have that camel inside the tent pissing out than outside the tent pissing in – pardon the crudity ladies. When I have that person close to me I know what they are thinking and I don’t have to rebut their ridiculous discussions because the other eight people on that board are going to be able to do it. But by the same token he is his own nominating committee and all he ever nominates is his people who like him because I went out of my way to make sure somebody wasn’t. So the progression for young people is you start out as a servant – you prove yourself capable – you work yourself to the position of partner – if you do a great job as a partner eventually you will become the leader.

Now some of you are experienced enough and have had enough time and service that you are going to start at partner or you may start at leader. There is nothing wrong in the beginning – first year or two you are on the job to take a step back and treat it like a partnership or maybe if you are at partner level to spend a little bit of your time being a servant, right? Because when you are setting up for a swim meet and you are the one carrying the tables – all the other parents – the parents will quickly get the idea, gee that is not the best use of our coach’s time, maybe we better carry the tables and the coach can go coach. Now if they don’t get that message and you are still carrying tables six months later, you maybe need to step back up to where you were, but there is nothing wrong with being a servant.

On succeeding – some tips: first of all – know very clearly who you work for and in every organization there is a paper structure and there is a real structure. There is a paper hierarchy and there is a real hierarchy – know who you work for. If you are a college coach is it the AD or is the AD kind of a paper job and there is somebody else that is the power structure there. Know those things. With the club – is the club president really the person in charge or is there somebody behind that club president? Know what they want and know how they are going to measure you and this is critical – be the first person to measure yourself. Measure yourself honestly – report it to them. You be telling them how you are doing honestly – not the other way around. Become a good planner and then plan for improvement – not for staying the same, but for improvement.

Things coaches are not good at: being organized is right up in there. You have got to be respectful, whether it is an AD you are being respectful of, parents or whomever, but you need to be respectful. You need to be a team player. Any lack of honesty is going to get you fired sooner or later – any kind of lack of honesty and you need to have facts because in organizations where you are working for the people you need to have the organizational culture – be it about making decisions based on facts and not feelings. Does that make sense to everybody? If you know what they want – you know how to measure it and you can accumulate the data to support that you are in an extremely powerful position because when somebody comes back and says, “well I feel that…” your answer is, “show me why – give me some solid data to back that up.” But you do not do this retroactively, you are going to do it actively by being the person who creates the culture with the facts, with monthly reports.

If there is one thing I can give you, if you are a club coach, that is most important to do, it is the monthly report. Factually evaluate your club every month, absolutely honestly, set goals, be accountable. When you fail to make them – say so. When you do make them – broadcast it loudly and have that be the central document of the club so that after 24 months at the club and it is time to renegotiate your contract you have 24 months of facts. Center it around what they hired you for and have the decisions based on facts.

Board meetings are critical – absolutely critical in any club – whether it is coach owned or whether it is parent owned. You have got to get good at board meetings. You have got to learn to endure them. You have got to make them pleasurable to be at. And Mark Schubert taught me this lesson many years ago – he said John, I am not coming to another ASCA board meeting where we talk about how to run the organization. Start talking about what we can do about improving swimming or I am not coming. It was the 97th kick in the ass that Mark has given me throughout my career and 97 times he has been right. Don’t talk about how to run the organization. There is something radically wrong with your organization if you are talking about how to run it at board meetings. Talk about how to move the organization forward. People will enjoy your board meetings – they will want to be part of your board and you will be the leader. Does that make sense? And we go back to servant – partner – leader. You need to be intimately involved in the agenda of that board meeting – right from the beginning when you take the job. You need to go to the board president – you and the board president go to lunch – you say, let’s set up the agenda for what we are going to do. And you come in and say – here is what I think we ought to have on the agenda.

And there is power too – we used to call it the pen – there is power to the computer now. When it comes out in writing and you hand him six things that ought to be on there – those six things will be on there. The next time you hand him seven things – there are going to be seven things on there. Does that make sense to everybody? Control the agenda of the board meeting over time.

You need to hold staff meetings. If you are going to be a leader you have got to lead your staff. I don’t care if your staff is three part-time moms who come in for an hour a week, but it is a staff – they need to be on the same page with you. You need to run good staff meetings. You have to improve your staff constantly. Also make sure you are going to run team meetings. Make sure your athletes – from the littlest athlete to the big athletes – have meetings. You explain what we are trying to do. Clarity is important. When you get done – double check and say – now – what did we say? And make them give it back to you until you are good at running those team meetings.

Somewhere in this process you want to be in control of the communication systems of your organization whether it is a collegiate program and you are communicating with alumni – potential sponsors or whoever you are communicating with – you need to have control of that communications – especially in club situations.

You need to control the budget – the facility and communications. If you do those three things you are on your way to stay ability – otherwise known as stability. And in any swimming program in the history of the swimming universe, the #1 predictor of success – however you want to measure it – is stability. Turn over means no success period.

Last success reminder: one of the most successful men on our planet – in terms of our sport — Forbes Carlisle – says to create an environment in which champions are inevitable. Ask your self the question – what is your environment? How much can you control – how much can you improve? One of the reasons the coaches associations are important is because we operate in a national and international environment. Each of us individually has no power. 5100 members of the American Swimming Coaches Association has huge power. What is your environment in your LSC? Who controls it? That affects how well your team is going to do. Folks, successful teams do not operate in a vacuum. Successful college programs do not operate in a vacuum. It is a lot harder for Wyoming to produce national champions than it is for Auburn to produce national champions because the people in Wyoming are not competing with people at that level. The people Auburn are competing with – it is like a national championship meet when you go to the SEC’s – it is the same thing with club teams. There is no where in the country where there is one good club team. You have an investment in how well your neighbor does because the better your neighbor does – the better you are going to do.

We were the first club in the State of Illinois to hire a full time age group coach. Within two years we had 19 full-time coaches because the other clubs looked and said, if they are going to hire him full-time and we want to compete – we have to do the same thing, does that make sense? Your environment is bigger than you think. You need to be working on your environment all the time from starting with the fact that you have got to work with your board because that is an important part of your environment. And with your team members – that is an important part of your environment. And with your LSC or your college conference. Environment issues are what make champions inevitable.

So, we have talked a little bit about how to get a job. We have talked a little bit about some advantages of some jobs. We have talked some about interviews. We have talked a little about and this is probably the most important part – things you can do to succeed. In a lot of cases coaches decide at some point that it is time to move on – for whatever reason – and again, I am going to reiterate my advice of “bloom where you are planted” because it works better for you and it works better for swimming. How do you know when it is time to go? How do you do it? Well, how do you know is really hard. One of the things I tell young coaches is to evaluate what is the best you can see with the clearest glasses. Can see it for yourself in your present situation over the next five years? What is the worst situation you can see? Evaluate those two things. All of us accumulate baggage. When people see you up close and personal, day after day after day after day – they will know your flaws and they will know your strengths and they will love you for your strengths and they will not be too kindly about your flaws. If you make too many mistakes too many times in the same place sooner or later that is what people remember and at that point in time – and I cannot tell you exactly when it is obviously – you are better off going than you are staying. If you cannot change that perception – does that make sense? So ask yourself over the next five years – where am I going to be? Where can I be? What is the best picture I can create? What is the worst picture I can create? You are much better gambling obviously with your career when you are young. If there is a gamble make it early because the older you get the easier it is to make a change, but the bigger the price is. The price on your family – the price on your marriage – the price on the kids around you. The price gets bigger so you need to evaluate where you are.

You need to study and you need to learn from the experience. If you leave a job or you get fired try and go on the best possible terms because that stuff does follow you and then learn from it and evaluate from there. How do you do it exactly when you are leaving and this is what I would recommend. People will argue this I think somewhat, but what I would recommend is first of all, if you know who you work for and you decide you are going to go and take another job and folks it is always easier to look for a job when you have a job. Don’t get fired and then go and look for a job. You could get hungry. You will do much better looking for a job when you have a job and when someone asks you why you are leaving – tell them honestly why you are leaving.

I left Syracuse – I walked into my boss and I said look, I am sleeping two hours a night – some of that is not your fault but the part of it that is your fault is that under the best circumstances I can’t sleep more than five hours a night. I have been doing this for 7 or 8 years. I need to get in a situation where I can actually live, right? Just tell them the truth and when somebody in Lake Forest said why are you interested in leaving where you have just produced Olympic swimmers I say very simply, “I am working 18 hours a day and I am not coaching all of it. I am spending most of my time doing personnel issues like chasing life guards around and I want to be in a situation where I can just coach.” There is no job like that folks – there is no where you can just coach. You are going to do other things. You have to. Mark Schubert does a million other things. Eddie Reese does a million other things. There is no such thing as just coaching. That is a naïve thing to say.

The second people you notify is your staff because hopefully they have been loyal to you and you have been loyal to them – they deserve to hear second. You notify your athletes third and then everybody else. You leave on the best terms you can leave and here is the critical one – develop a reputation for leaving the situation better than you found it. If it is worse – that will follow you to every job you have. If you come in and take from the organization instead of give to the organization – pretty soon you are going to run out of jobs because that reputation will absolutely follow you. The swimming world is a small world and I could name you five names right now – which I am not going to do – and half this room would recognize them – they will realize that people that leave scorched earth behind them and they are out of coaching now. Don’t do that. Leave the position better than you found it.

Everything is going to end – make sure that it ends well. A bit of advice from Jack Nelson – absolutely true. Athletes are always going to move. Parents are always going to move. Your peer relationships are going to last for decades – decades. My best friends are in coaching. My best friends have always been in coaching. They don’t live next door – they live all over the country. They live in California – they live in San Antonio – they live in Colorado Springs. We are the closest of friends and you all have the same thing. You talk to people all over the country – those are my peers – those are my friends – that is the relationship I protect. I don’t let athletes or parents get between my relationship with any of my peers. Who are our friends and our peers. Don’t confuse that. No athlete – no parent is worth losing that. Bloom where you are planted. Where did that come from? My friend Tim Welsh – men’s coach now at Notre Dame – when we were in Syracuse he said – John – don’t leave – don’t go to Lake Forest – bloom where you are planted. And I would have listened to Tim except for the fact that I only had two hours a sleep at night and that was getting tough.

Q.) In your opinion, how do you overcome the perception of dressing professionally and being as professional as you can? There always seems to be that perception that I come in the morning and I come back in the afternoon and the rest of the day the tooth fairy or something does all the travel arrangements and all that stuff. – Is there something you can think?

A.) that is a great question and in case anybody did not hear it – the question is how do you prove you work more than four hours a day? And the answer is – show them. In your monthly report – here is the work that we did, here is what had to get accomplished for the team, here is our success in doing it. When I write a monthly report and anybody that wants to see a monthly report – doesn’t know what I am talking bout – Call Guy Edson – he can give you monthly reports. All our staff does monthly reports to me now. I do a monthly report to our Board of Directors. Our Board of Directors are the best informed Board of Directors in the United States. They know daily what is going on and they get a monthly report. The monthly report is your best weapon in that case. What you say is, here is what a full-time coach does. Here is how I spend my time – lay it out directly. I worked 86 hours this past week – here is what I did and by the way, while you were sleeping this morning and the children were at practice I got up at 4 and was here at 5; ran practice from 5-7; went and worked out for an hour from 7-8; went to the office at 8; stayed in the office and worked through until 3; went and got to the pool at 4; When you left work at 4… by the way you got to work at 8 or 9? My day is half over by then. You do not say this directly or in an antagonistic fashion like I am doing – you just put out the facts. And you say when you come home from work at 5 o’clock I am in the middle of practice – two hours later I finish practice – that is the end of my day? Oops – except I have to go home and do emails and correspondence that came in during the time I was at practice. Now it is 8:30 at night – I kiss my kids good-night – wonder where my wife is, right? And get on with the rest of what I have to do. Does that make sense? And oh – by the way – when you have Saturday and Sunday off – I was at the swim meet and the following weekend I was at a swim meet for three days and the following weekend I was at the swim meet for three days, right? You have to lay it out for them because the honest truth is – they don’t know. They are not meaning to be mean – they literally don’t know. I went through that in Lake Forest. They said, why do we need a full time coach for? And I had to show them, right?

Q.) How do you know the difference between being in a position where you can be an expert at that level – let’s say you coach 12 and unders — Being an expert there or knowing whether you are holding back and not coaching to the full extent of your ability? Like, how do you know the difference?

A.) I have absolutely no idea. I mean that is a great question, but I have absolutely no idea. And there is nothing wrong with coaching a variety of people. Most of my career I have deliberately coached little people – the beginning people – because that is where my skills get sharp. Not while I was in Syracuse – my ego was big. But after that I coached the little people to keep my skills sharp and I coached the top group. And now days, I don’t coach the top group. The last top group – after last year’s Olympic trials – when they evaporated into space to college and other places – all I am going to coach right now for the rest of my life is going to be people in their first two years of swimming. I love it. It is the most fun you can possibly have. I go to morning practice so I can work one on one with a few senior kids – Rob gives me a couple of senior kids and says, would you do this? Or what do you think we ought to do with them right? And I go and I am there and I have contact with them and I talk to them and sometimes they like to talk to somebody who is the age of a grandfather rather than somebody younger. But, I am not coaching them so, I mean I don’t know how to answer your question.

You are asking me “when am I ready to move up and how do I know that?” And I don’t know how to answer that. I mean, it is a really hard thing to evaluate. If I had a way to tell you I would, but I don’t have a clue.

Q.) You talked about respect. I am wondering if in your coaching career if you ever finally got to that level.

A.) Great question, how do you get the respect – where do you get the respect, when do you get the respect? The answer is, the best option for young coaches is to accept the fact that they are young. A 25 year old does not have the same life experiences as a 35 year old or a 45 year old. If you haven’t had children you don’t know what it is like – end of story. They are absolutely correct. My life changed when I started having kids and it has never recovered. And it never will recover. So they are right about that so you have to just say, “you are right.”

That doesn’t mean you are going to do what they suggest, but I want to hear. At that stage in your life you are trying to be partners with the parents in raising these children. Now, what I suggest to young coaches is two things: First, have expert power. Have a notebook, have a file in your office that has got everything that you have ever read about physiology of training whether it is 10 year olds or senior swimmers. When someone says, “what do you mean? – we are going to do all this distance work.” How do you know that it is right? What do you know about this? You say, “I have read this article by so and so” and you figuratively or literally pull it out and put it in their hand. It is from these great experienced coaches and this is where I got my ideas from. I use expert power to this day when I get hard cases I say it is not my idea. it is so and so’s idea.

Now the other option is and I have used this a lot – I used this into my 30’s and even I think in my early 40’s – is, I said, “tell me why you want to do it your way?” The parents way – whatever the parents way may be is not an issue. Maybe the parent says and this happens a lot – Suzy went a really great 100 fly last meet, but you didn’t put her in it this meet, How come? I want her to swim that event all the time. Well, many coaches know that you do what? Many of us swim away from success. The chances of having two best times two weeks in a row or two times a month even in the 100 fly are pretty slim so if she had a best time in her fly – lets go and do the 100 back at the next meet because we got another chance for success and she has less chance to swim that back to back so how do you convince a parent of that? It’s pretty hard because you have limited experience and at a certain point your experience factor kicks in and you said because this is what I have done in the past and this is how it works. But the kicker is and this is a good one – is to use the line –“what do you think we ought to do?” “What do you think we – you, me and the swimmer, ought to do?” and the parent tells you, “well I think you ought to swim two weeks in a row.” “How are you going to measure that Mom, whether that is successful or not?” “Oh, well – what do you mean – successful or not?” “Well, do you think she is going to go a best time two weeks in a row?” “Yeah, so we are going to measure the success of that experiment by whether she goes a best time next time out, right?”

If she does what happens? Mom is going to come back and say – let’s do it again and you say exactly the same thing but what you got to get out of mom is say, “well, I am perfectly happy to try it your way because I am young, I am inexperienced – you know your daughter better than I do.” (There’s a killer – because you know she probably doesn’t.) “We are going to try it your way, but if it doesn’t work out and she doesn’t go a best time, the next time she does go a best time we are going to do it my way – is that fair?” So you have to get them to buy both sides of that – does that make sense? Give in. you don’t have to win every argument with a parent – just give in. And say we will try it your way, but if it doesn’t work we are going to try it my way. If she is right – if she is one of these kids who can go five weekends in a row and go five best times – hallalulla baby. I got help coaching somebody. And you go to the parent and you say – thank you so much – that was a great idea. And if she doesn’t next time you say, “We are going to try it my way.”

Expert power and giving in. You don’t have to win – nobody likes the smartest person in class. Don’t win every argument – lose arguments deliberately to parents sometimes – give in – let them have some space for God’s sake, right? Relax a little bit. Not all the time and not on everything, but listen to them. If they have something that is well thought out and rational – say thank you very much and off we go.

Q.) Let’s say that you have a coach that you are not completely happy with working under you, but they are not terribly bad – they are just not perfect. Are you better to stick with and work with this coach?

A.) Stability comes from the person on top of the organization. I have the most instable staff at the ASCA that you can possibly imagine. Four of us have been there for 18 years or more. One of us have been there for three years and three of us have been there for less than a year because I always keep getting rid of the bottom person — whoever is the lowest performer. I say, “thank you very much – good-bye.” And I think it is the same thing here. The stability I am talking about is stability at the top because that generates stability of philosophy and everything that flows from that.

I am not talking about do you keep the same staff and keep somebody because they are mediocore, but you know them. When Guy and I hire somebody in the office we say, it is a simple mantra – get great or get out. You have time to get better and to get great – we don’t care how many mistakes you make, but if you are not great at a certain point – you are gone. So, we have high turnover in our staff, right? Certain parts of our staff – other parts of our staff have been there forever. And other parts of our staff go away for a little bit and come back and say, “this makes a lot of sense.” I would rather work here. Does that answer your question?

Q.) I have a board of directors that communicate almost entirely with me by email. Every once in a while I have one that starts getting sarcastic in the emails coming across and I will not respond back to them when they do that. Are there ways of dealing with board members who use their email and start getting emotional in an email.

A.) Lunch – I mean literally. I think, when you have problems with a board member don’t do communication that can’t be absolutely crystal clear. Invite them to lunch – sit down – eyeball to eyeball – make sure that you can walk away disagreeing. But do it eyeball to eyeball because you know, people are so courageous in email. And they have testicular shrinkage when it comes eyeball to eyeball.

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