Thank you all for coming this afternoon I know that it’s getting toward the end of the convention so you are getting a little tired of listening but I believe what I have to say today is very important, and I appreciate, me being a woman, having you all coming to listen and you taking an interest in this topic. My topic is girls to women in swimming and I can guarantee you that I’m not here as psychologist, I’m not here as a nutritionist or any kind of specialist or counselor, I’m am mearly here to give you a new perspective, maybe one that some of you aren’t quite familiar with or haven’t really been paying attention to and that’s the perspective from the female athlete.
I really want to make this sport better and that is one of my goals in being here. I’ve been a swimmer all of my life in training so I haven’t had a great amount of time to dedicate to speaking and really sharing a lot of my opinion’s and also the fact that I am just coming into my own and deciding out opinions for myself at this point in my life.
I feel really privileged to be able to be here and share them with you today, but I want to be as honest as I possibly can about this topic. So that, I’m just going to warn you that some of the things I might say might not be very comfortable and they might not sit with you all very well, but I’m going to say them anyway, because I’m very honest and I can just guarantee you that what I say is very honest it comes from my heart and it comes from experience as an athlete and dealing with young girls and young swimmers across this swimmer across this country through swim clinics. I speak about this kind of stuff all the time with them and I guarantee you that it’s not just my opinions and it’s very founded and evidenced through talking with young girls.
As I have witnessed through 100’s of youngsters growing up in the sport I have realized that there are three distinct phases in a young lady’s swimming career and number one is what I call the little girls stage. And the little girls stage is when a child enters swimming and enters the sport because they love it, they play in the pool, they bath in the pool, they sleep in the pool if they could, they sleep in their swim suits. I did it, I know lots of girls and boys as well who might be doing this as well. You name it they love it. If it has to do with swimming it is very important to them. When I was a child I couldn’t get enough of swimming. One day I was sick and I remember distinctly my mom telling me that I couldn’t go to swimming because I was sick and I threw a tantrum and I got down on the ground and I started swimming breaststroke and going into convulsions and swimming freestyle and backstroke and rolling around all over the place because I wanted to convince her that I honestly wanted to be at the pool. So my love for swimming runs very deep. And I would go to swimming when I was a youngster like in summer swimming, I would go to the pool at 8:00 in the morning and not come home until 5:00 and this is something you will see coming probably with some of your kids, with some of your athletes and I think it’s a very common factor that you find in young swimmers.
Now we all know that not all girls get into swimming because they love it. For example their parents may make them do it or they have friends that do it but for the most part young girls love swimming. That is why 60% of our registered swimmers with U.S. Swimming are women, girls.
Number two, the second phase is the one I’ll mostly be speaking about, is what I call the adolescent transitional period, the dreadful teenage years, the terrible teens, the phase that I’m sure most of you all dread in dealing with your athletes. It’s mostly due to the fact that things change. A lot of changes occur in an adolescent girl that tend to be kind of scary cause you don’t really know what you’re dealing with. They’re difficult and unpredictable, because anytime you change something that’s just a sheer fact, it’s going to be scary and it’s going to be unpredictable. I don’t, I can’t guarantee that by listening to me today that I’ll get rid of any of those feelings, but, when I moved from Pennsylvania to Maryland when I was 13, I just turned 13 years old, and I was right in the beginning of my transitional adolescent phase and I made a lot of scary changes in my life and I really had no one to speak to about it because I love my parents dearly but our communication lines weren’t that open. So I had to start a new school, I had a new team, which came with a whole other set of new things and I was living in, my parents were living in an apartment complex at the time before we found a home in Baltimore to buy so we ended up picking the most craziest, loudest college apartment complex that you could ever find. So we were dealing with I would have had to swim in a whole new schedule. I was training a lot more than I ever had and here I am dealing with college students boom, booming their music all night long of which now I am one. So my training, my passion and my love, which was swimming was all new to me as well and on top of all that I was a freshly new teenager so change is something I can assure you that I’m very familiar with and very accustomed to and I don’t, I’m not really scared of it anymore but I understand as a coach how it can be a scary time period.
The third phase is womanhood. If a girl actually makes it to this point in her career where she is becoming a woman and still involved in swimming it can be what I believe to be the most wonderfully joyous time for a coach to teach a female and the main reason for that is because she finds a lot of love for the sport again, it’s almost like a cycle. You go through a lot of change but you ultimately come back to the beginning which is what got you there in the first place which is the desire, the passion and the love for the sport.
Adult athletes want to learn, they want to be able to understand what they are doing because it is very important to them to be able to cognitively figure everything out. Sometimes a little too much, and also she wants to enjoy her last experiences as a competitive athlete. So like I said most girls don’t make it past the adolescent period. But when they do it can be a really great experience. And I can attest to that myself, even though my last few years of competing haven’t been the best performance wise, I have learned more about myself then in any other time period in my life. My relationships with my coach came full circle and developed into a great friendship that I believe is going to last a really long time and lastly I’m leaving the sport with as much love and passion for it as I came into with at age 5. So keeping all that in mind the three stages which I have been through all of, we’re going to mostly focus on the second one which I said is the adolescent period.
I want to speak on the adolescent puberty phase mostly for many reasons, because I think that is what you all came here to listen to and it’s one of the biggest problems and one of the most trying times for you to deal with and it’s during, also because it’s during this time that we lose a lot of our female athletes in the sport. I have picked a little title for this lecture and they were going to call it girl power, and I’m going to go through each one of the letters in girl power and I’m going to describe to you some different characteristics, some changes some attitudes, some things that happen that you may be able to learn from.
I chose to call this girl power for many reasons. Number one it’s the name of the swim clinics I teach, and number 2, I believe that the adolescent phase of a girl’s life can be and should be an empowerment time period. So that is why we call it girl power. Number 3, it’s catchy and I hope that you all will remember some of it. I’m going to break the words down. Number 1 is G for goal setting. Many girls in their teenage years honestly want to do well. Believe it or not, they want to swim fast and be good athletes and there is always that group of girls that are at practice for all the wrong reasons. Like I said earlier, their parents are making them do it, their friends swim, it’s the popular thing to do, or they feel some type of obligation to somebody, or maybe they just want to use it to get into shape, and be healthy. Whether their reason for being there is legitimate or not, to you, you have a responsibility to coach and help all of your athletes. And I see it everywhere, I’ve seen in all of my training programs the girls who are there for all the wrong reasons. They get a kind of a bad wrap and they get sent into the slow lane or the slacker lane, the lazy lane so they end up producing results to the caliber you projected on to them. What ends up is that their performance stinks and you just wish that you had that lane for your athletes who really wanted to be there and who wanted to train in the first place. Now I can’t claim to know which came first the chicken or the egg. I don’t know if they get a bad rap and then perform poorly or visa versa, I don’t really know, but the bottom line is it doesn’t matter. What you do with these girls is what matters.
My answer is called honest goal setting. Honest goal setting to me is talking in a compassionate and understanding way, maybe even just five minutes this would take, and I guarantee not much longer than five minutes, could change a girl’s life forever. You assess their particular situation, not the group that you’ve associated them with, not what you think they may be doing at practice, but you assess their situation. You teach them that by being in your program there are certain expectations that you have for them and number one is that you have to set a goal. For example, if you have a girl that is maybe swimming because her parents are making her do it and she honestly and openly admits that to you. Then you might want to ask her the question, why are you here and what’s your goal. Then in a compassionate non-accusatory way you suggest what the goal would be for her is maybe making practice fun. And you have that as a goal and maybe once practice becomes fun for her she can come up with ways, and you can come up with ways, but you do it together as a team and you come up with ways that makes practice fun and make her want to be there for herself and not because her parents are forcing her to. You can’t go talk to every parent in the universe and try and change them but you do have that athlete with you for a lot of time in their life. Another example might be if you have an athlete who likes to hang out with their friends and that is the main reason they are at the pool, you may have an athlete who has a chatterbox problem and it’s disrupting the flow of your practice, when her goals might be to have a quieter workout and you give her a time in the beginning where she can talk and do all the talking she needs to do and you tell her you’re gonna get it out of your system and when we go to practice you’re gonna practice and we’re not going to chat today. That’s our goal.
And a lot of people, when they have goals and they accomplish them, it gives you a really good feeling. I’m sure you’ve all felt it in here, the sense that you get from accomplishing a goal. It’s absolutely wonderful and it can’t be replaced by anything. Goals are great, but they must be specific and individualized. I also realized that some of you may be working with large groups so this may be hard to actually individualize, so I would just try and urge you to maybe delegate some of that work onto your assistants. Some girls may work better with your assistant than you, so that might be another way of working around big groups and establishing some kind of personal individual rapport with the athlete. I think it’ very important.
The next letter is I for interaction. You have to interact with an adolescent girl on an individual basis, you have to converse with them. They need a lot of conversation and a lot of time to feel like you care. The more you talk to them the more they feel like you care about them. And a lot of these kids are not getting that from home. They’re not getting the care, they’re not getting talking at home and they need it from you. I mean talk with them, chat with them, discuss problems that they may be experiencing, encourage a rapport with them that is positive, open and kind. Young girls go through so many changes at this time that more often than not, they just want someone to talk to and who will listen to them and provide them with some kind of advice.
For example I did a swim clinic, a girl power swim clinic in Delaware a few months ago and we have this small session we call our girl pow wow and the girls have a chance to be able to speak with me one on one. No coaches, no parents. This is the best time that these girls have because there are no real structures involved. They can ask me whatever they want, and I had a girl who came up to me and she said, she didn’t go to her parents. She came up to me a stranger and she said to me, how do I know when I’m getting my period? I was kind of thrown back because this was actually my first girl power swim clinic, and I didn’t expect the girls to really open up to me like that. It was a really great conversation that she and I shared. I felt very honored to have shared and I guarantee that some of you all can do that as well.
I think that being coach in the year 2000 is very difficult. I know it is and you end up being a lot more than swim coach to many, many young athletes because their parents aren’t doing their jobs very well, so it’s a big responsibility that I applaud you all for. I want you to remember how much power you actually have. That was a real wake up call to me, that experience with that young girl because I didn’t realize how much power I had and how much influence I had and how much I had to make myself aware of the fact that I should be knowledgeable about these things to talk to these girls about.
So, that brings me to my next letter which is R and that is recognize. I’m talking about recognizing warning signs of problems before they blow up in your face. Recognize that you have the power to change children’s lives for the better and recognize that talent and mold it and shape it and use it. Also recognize possible life problems and mold them also. For example, eating disorders. I know they are rampant throughout our sport and throughout all sports, throughout our society, especially in swimming because, like you all know, we have to stand up there half naked in front of people all the time. So if you recognize, I really urge you to recognize the warning signs of eating disorders before they get out of hand. I know for a fact that they can get out of hand and it can cause major, major complications for girls a long ways down the road.
Some of the warning signs: number 1 is a complete obsession with food. I’m not talking about eating food, I’m talking about cooking food for other people, I’m talking about delegating food at functions, and organizing food. All these things are very typical symptoms of eating disorders. Number 2 is the desire to exercise 24/7. Running is a big one, because it burns a lot of calories very fast so you’ll find a lot of girls when they go into this eating disorder type mentality that they start running a lot. They’re obsessed with doing sit ups and all types of exercises that in any way that they can burn calories. I had a room mate once that was anorexic we were at a swim meet and I came in and she had to swim, and I saw her sitting on the bed and obsessively doing sit ups and crunches. I was like what are you doing, you have to swim soon. She is like, Oh, I was just stretching my back. Anorexics are really good liars, and bulemics as well. It’s not to put them down by any means because they have a serious problem. It is a serious problem to be dealt with early on. Another one would be just the sheer recognition of weight loss, rapid weight loss.
Number 4: I had a girl friend and she was anorexic and she was constantly getting freezing in the water. When the water temperature is very, very normal for everyone else and you have one athlete just sitting there like this after a 2,000 warm up, you have to kind of question that. When you have to send your athlete to the hot tub to warm up in the middle of a workout I think that’s a big problem. Number 5: You just can watch their social interactions. They start to detach from friends. They become kind of into or less involved in everything, and they start to take on kind of a negative attitude where they think that nobody really likes them, no one cares about them. In actuality what is happening is they are distancing themselves because they don’t want anyone to really find out about their problems. Like I said I’m not by any means a counselor or an eating specialist, but I do know this from watching it and I do know these habits and warning signs do pop up very early on.
Another example of recognizing: just recognize that kids don’t like to be talked down to. Even though someone may be 15, they are still a human being and speak to them that way. Don’t treat them, because maybe they’re 15 that they don’t have a brain. I’ve seen this go on, I’ve seen coaches yell at a child until they cry. Me personally, I see no reason for that. I don’t think it’s necessary and as a matter of fact I think it’s inappropriate. I think young kids really take those kind of talks to heart and you could yell, I mean my father yelled at me the other day and I’m a 24 year old grown person, that really bothered me. I was thinking to myself why does this bothers me? Well it bothers me because he just belittled me and instead of just talking with me. You can talk to someone and not yell at them and get the same message across, just figure out how to do so it’s not that hard, it really isn’t. I know sometimes you get so angry because of something they did, or someway they acted that was absolutely ridiculous, but just really try and not yell. It can really be uncomfortable and what ends up happening is the kid either tunes you out and misses the message completely or they get defensive and miss the message again and start yelling back. So either way the goal isn’t accomplished there, you didn’t get a message across, because they really didn’t hear you in the way that you spoke to them.
And the next letter is L, G-I-R-L. This one is a good one. It’s very simple, just Listen. I’d love to know by a show of hands how many of you all have read the book by John Grey called Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus? Oh my gosh, I figured it’d be a lot of people. So you all know that one of our, if you believe what this guy is saying, he says that men tend, when they have conversation, they tend to want to solve problems, and I think that you will find this through your relationships. When you listen to a woman speak she just wants you to listen and since I’m looking around and I’m finding that probably 75% of the people in here are men, I think that this is important in dealing with young females. They sometimes just want to talk, they don’t necessarily need you to put the world back together and fix everything in one second or that day or that minute, they just want to talk and have you listen.
The next letter is P for positivity. We all know about this one. I feel like that we all know that negativity catches on like a sick disease amongst small groups, and I really believe that positivity does as well. So it’s something that you want to put on to your kids like a disease and let them spread it amongst each other. Put up signs up around your pool that encourage a positive attitude. You don’t only want to foster a positive swimming attitude. I think it’s also important to also foster a positive attitude on life and the swimming stuff will just follow. I read once in a book, I read a lot of books, self help books, and one of them that I read said that the two, I’ll let you guys try and guess, the two most powerful statements in the English language are, does anyone want to try and take a guess? The most powerful in a negative way, would be “I can’t.” Does Anyone want to take a shot at the second one? It’s “I’m afraid.” I can’t and I’m afraid. These statement can immobilize people, absolutely destroy them and they are just words. So it shows you how powerful words can actually be. Don’t allow your kids to say these words. I don’t mean yell at them and say you can’t say this. Just try and encourage other words like, “I’ll try my best” and “I’ll give it my all.” All you can ask from a youngster is “I’ll try my best” and “I’ll give it my all.” I had a sports psychologist ask me once, what do you really have to be afraid of? Really nothing. The worst fear in the world is that of dying. Public speaking I think ranks up there pretty high on the ladder. I don’t really have that, thank goodness, but like I said, just try, you know you can’t ask anymore of your kids than to try their best and to give it all they’ve got. So try to encourage them not to use the words I can’t and I’m afraid, I mean maybe you can make that a team goal to not use those words. I think that would be a great atmosphere, to begin at setting some positivity.
O is, obtain trust. Our teenagers today have a lot of issues to deal with and it amazes me because I graduated in 1994 from high school and I hear things from young people today that were not going on in my school when I was younger so times are changing very fast and a teenager today has to face a lot of decision making in their everyday routine. So decisions about drugs, alcohol and sex are the top issues for our teenagers. Having someone they can trust like you and confiding is an extremely important thing. Let them know you can be trusting and not just by telling them but showing them. All it takes is one time of me hearing my coach tell my assistant coach something I told them in confidence and the trust is blown. So you can see, and you know in your personal relationships with people, how quickly you can lose trust in someone. So youngsters are even more alert to that fact so they really, really need more people they can trust.
A lot of kids don’t feel comfortable speaking with their parents so you are the next person in line. I know that I spent more time with my coach when I was younger than I did with my parents because they both worked and when I got home from swimming I ended up having to do my homework so we didn’t really, I mean we had dinner together but that was it. I spent a lot more time with my coach. So you are really there on the trust list with the kids.
The W is for willingness. This is a good one. I know a lot of people don’t like to give up their ways or their habits or their kind of established rituals that you have set into place over the years. Some of you have been coaching for a very long time and I know you have patterns, but I really beg of you to be open and willing to learn from young athletes. You’ve already taken the first step by coming here and listening to people like me speak, so all I ask you now is to do and go home and listen to your athletes as well because they are really the ones that you need to be in tune with and focused with. You have to be willing to let go of some old ideas and concepts that might not work for today’s teenagers. It’s just a fact, like I said before, the world is changing very fast and we kind of have to keep up with that. Be willing to be more flexible and understand that not everybody is the same. For example some kids might have to go to church on Sunday. I know we used to practice on Sunday so in this case I would be willing to accept the fact that they have to go to church and they are going to miss workout because that is important to them and that’s important to their spirituality and it should not be a big deal that they can miss one day out of the week for something that is important to them.
E, this is my favorite one and most important one, so if you listen to anything I say today, I ask of you to take notes on this one. E is for Empowerment. It is the word of the day. I’m trying to ask you today to think about focusing on developing successful human beings, not just successful athletes. Kids need direction, they need knowledge, they need to have power. I don’t mean that they rule your workout by any means, I believe in structure and discipline. The meaning of the word, empowerment, to me for an example would be, empower a young lady with the promotion of a good healthy self esteem. One comment like, “your boobs are to big,” or “your butt got big,” or “your hips are too wide,” you don’t realize the effect that can have on a young girl. It can blow a girl’s self esteem, shoot it down through the basement. I truly mean that and I mean that because I’ve seen it, I’ve felt it, and I just watched it over and over again.
Another example would be, empower a young woman with knowledge. Tell them why they are doing a particular exercise if they want to know. I’ve seen a lot of coaches who have problems explaining what they’re doing. I kind of have a hunch that sometimes they don’t know why. And I also feel like if there is something that you’ve gotten from listening to me, I don’t mind saying “I don’t know, I just know it works,” or “I know that this is important.” It’s O.K. to say you don’t know, you’re not going to lose credibility if you don’t know the exact reason. “You know we have to work on this so that your quad muscle on this side gets a good squeeze from the breaststroke kick” — just a general idea gives them empowerment to know that they have a purpose for doing something. During the adolescent phase kids like to know, they like to question, they want to learn. I think it’s important to promote that and not go up against kids and tell them that they don’t need to know that, just do it, because today’s kids want to know. This is the technology information period that we are going through and kids really do want to learn.
Give a child choices and opportunities to excel, don’t set someone up for failure. You can set someone up for failure so easily and not even realize you are doing so and that also can send some self-esteem, just shoot it down out of commission. Education is so empowering to people. Educate kids on proper nutrition, on eating disorders like I spoke of earlier and focus on promoting healthy eating habits, instead of saying things like, don’t eat this, don’t eat that, try and teach them, teach them how to eat properly. They need to learn, they can’t just go by do’s and don’ts, they really do need to learn.
Now we are at the last letter which is R. R is for refer. If you have a child who has a problem, an eating disorder, you sense a torn shoulder, any kind of problem that you don’t think is in your expertise to handle, give up some pride and refer them, send them, to someone who knows how to do it. Don’t try to be their doctor, their psychologist, their everything. When I was 16 I started getting sick a lot and Murray and I went through a very tough time in my career because I didn’t know why. I was going to doctor’s all over the place and nobody seemed to have any answers for me but, we just stuck it out and we kept looking and we kept searching and he helped me through that phase. I’m not going to say it was all easy by any means, we definitely had some run ins with each other, we definitely had some distinct opinions that were different from one another, but we got through it and we worked it out and he helped refer me to get other help. And in 1998 he referred me to what I call my savior. He is the best doctor I ever found and I got him through Murray. So refer your kids and try not to take on all the problems of the world and realize when you can’t do something, admit and try and help them. I found out that there are people in the community who will donate their time and services to help out kids. Believe it or not there are people who will do things in this day and age for free, and you just kind of have to reach out there and ask and find them. I know it could become a big pain in the butt and a lot of time consumption but if you are really into this and you really want to foster and develop a healthy developing team I think it is really important.
So there’s our letters, Girl Power. Like I said before some of your athletes will spend more time with you than any other person in their life. Recognize the power you have to be a positive influence and role model in a young girl’s life. The level of self esteem they obtain throughout their teenage years can really make or break them. So let’ all work on making good people and swimming will follow, I promise. Thank you.
(Inaudible question) For me personally going through a lot of changes I think the most important thing for me was to have some type of consistency in my life, and my home life was very consistent so that helped me out a lot, it helped me stay grounded. If there were a whole lot of other things changing, like training, I think I would have had a problem because, like I said before, a lot of other things are changing, the brains are changing, the hormones are changing, the body is changing, and the other changes outside of those things get to be overwhelming, so I would just say when the girls are going through body changes, let it happen, wait it out, work on it, let her get used to a new body. Encourage nutritional awareness, encourage nutritional knowledge and just kind of work through it, without doing too many changes.
(Inaudible question) The question was about accepting and talking to the parent and how do you do that. I would think that, that would be the first place to go. It’s unfortunate, but, I think that a lot of us have blinders on when it comes to our own lives and especially our own kids. I was talking to a lady the other day and she was talking about her 18 year old son who was away at camp, who stayed at coed college dormitories all summer and she said, “oh, I’m sure he didn’t mess around with girls.” I’m thinking to myself, was she never young once? We tend to not want to face a lot of things and this is one of the biggest ones. Our sport doesn’t want to fact it and society doesn’t want to face that we have a problem, and our parents definitely don’t want to face it. I think the only way I can advise you to going to parents is just do so in a compassionate way, and say look, maybe you can take information. I think that might be actually good, just go get information and say, look do you want your girl to have, maybe not be able to have children when she gets older, do you want her to have all kinds of problems with her body.
A lot of anorexics tend to have back problems because they don’t have enough protection and they exercise a lot, especially running, so they tend to get a lot of back injuries. And you can take information to the parent, and say look do you want this to happen to your child, I’m very, very concerned, and I’m giving you this information only because I’m concerned. Me personally, if I had a swim team, I would have to not let, if I saw a situation that was getting very serious, I would not let a child swim under my swim team, because of the health ramification it could have on her. I know that sounds pretty harsh, but, there are some serious problems that could come from eating disorders. I don’t think as a coach you want to deal with that, so that is why going to parents and trying to be the first root.
Drugs are the same way, I’ve been very fortunate, I’ve never seen steroids, I’ve never seen cocaine, I’ve never seen very many drugs, and I hear that kids these days in 8th grade, 7th grade, can buy them in their schools so I don’t know what the answer is to fixing it. I just know that kids need someone to talk to and they need to feel that they can confide in people.
(Inaudible question) I think that you need to correct the behavior before the product can come through. I was an education major and we used to have to set up behavioral plot plans and patterns for kids who had attention deficit disorder and attention deficit hyper disorder and all those other things and learning problems, so I think setting up a plan to fix the behavior will in itself take care of the swimming. I really believe that, once you free yourself of dealing with someone who talks all the time, or someone who is there for maybe the wrong reasoning, you shift their focus. All the sudden you notice that they are swimming well and they are doing things that you didn’t think were ever possible. I can’t guarantee that but I really have faith in that that that would work.
(Inaudible question) That is a really good question. Moving to a new team, for a swimmer, is a very difficult situation to deal with. I heard this one girl, she asked me what my best stroke was and I said it was breaststroke and as I walked away she said, “ah, just what we need another breaststroker.” And a year later I broke an American record in the 200 breaststroke. So that was very difficult for me because, this is a new situation for me and I’m coming into and here we have a girl who is already making me feel uncomfortable my first day, so I know exactly what that is all about. I think you encourage the kids to worry about themselves. I’ve see one too many times where kids who are worried if Suzie, Phil and Pete are coming to workout and they are not concentrating on whether they are doing their drills right. “Oh but she didn’t come the other day so why should I have to come?” Or, “can you believe that so and so missed five workouts this week.” I think it’s the job of the coach to really put on the kids that they need to focus on themselves. Worry about yourself and take care of yourself, and let them deal with that, you know let Suzie deal with the fact that she needs to take care of her own actions and you take care of yours, so I guess that I would just stress some personal responsibility more than letting that get to a point.
(Inaudible question) What ends up happening when a coach goes away and another coach has to take over that group who is left behind because junior nationals is this week and Olympic trials is this week and zones is this week, so I think every team goes through that and I guess the best way to handle that situation is just let the kids know that you’re equally involved with, equally caring about all of them and give as much attention as you can to each one. You are only one person, you can only do so much, so I guess what you have to do is get rid of some of your expectations on yourself because you can’t really be with all of them at all times, that is just how it works and they will understand this someday. My coach Murray gets e-mails to this day from people who swam with him a long time ago that he had a lot of problems with, now saying things like you know swimming with you was one of the best experiences of my life, I learned so much, I thought that the discipline and the structure back then was horrible but it really helped shape me as an adult and it really help mold my life into a really good adult human being. So they will understand later. It’s just getting through the hard times is hard. So I guess just try and show them all that you really care about them all and you want the best for all of them.
(Inaudible question) About fun. I think that a lot of kids aren’t having fun to begin with because they are getting yelled at, because they are not succeeding, because they are thrown into a group of kids that are delinquents of the group, because they had success at a young age and they don’t have it anymore. So a lot of kids aren’t having fun and that is a fact and that is why we lose a lot of teenagers from the sport. So I’m all for fun and all for adding fun to the training, but I think that when an athlete is going to practice and not getting yelled at and doesn’t feel tension it’s going to be fun for them, because they’re with their friends, they’ve made friends with other kids on the team, they have other interactions with kids on the team. Once you alleviate some stress from them they are going to have fun. And swimming was just fun for me period, before I started having stresses put on me and it was by myself self inflicted as well. So I think that once some stresses are alleviated you go back to that sheer love of the sport and that in itself can be fun. And I think success is very fun and once a child doesn’t have a whole lot of stresses on their lives and they start succeeding they love that and that can be like the biggest high, higher than any drug can ever take you is success and accomplishing goals.
(Inaudible question) about kids not wanting to have fun. When you are dealing with groups, the bottom line is you can’t make everyone happy, that is just something you have to come to terms with. I’m sitting here right now speaking to you all and I’m sure there is someone sitting in this room going, “ah, this is not what I came here to listen to,” so you just kind of have to accept the fact that you can’t make everybody happy and I guarantee if you just try your best and get input from them, find out what is fun for them — maybe what is fun for you isn’t fun for the 14 year old, because I don’t know what is fun to them anymore — but I’m sure if you ask them and ask for their input they could tell you. I think that they are probably open to giving you input, and say if we don’t have a full group effort on this then we are going to eliminate our fun day.
(Inaudible question) Who doesn’t want to have the fun? I would take a look at what kind of activities you’re doing. They may be more boy oriented activities, they might be activities that boys really enjoy but girls don’t. I’m not saying you have to go do what is typically and culturally a girl activity but you might just want to ask them what they enjoy and maybe they will tell you. Good athletes don’t want to be treated differently. A good majority of them, you do have a small group of I guess we would call them prima donnas or people like that who really require a lot of work and attention and individual coaching, but I would say 98% of the people that I’ve come in contact with just want to be normal. They just want to be looked at as normal. They have normal issues like we all have, they have body issues like you all have, and they just want to be treated that way. I always tell people when I do swim clinics that, if there is one thing that you all can take from me today, they’ll only meet me for three hours a day and I’ll say if there is one thing that I want you to take with you, I am a normal person with a skill, with an athletic ability that has exceeded itself and just really know that I eat like you, I sleep like you, I go to the bathroom like you, I mean I have dogs, I have cats like you and we are just normal and young girls who achieve success early. That is very important to them, normalcy. It is very important to have peers that look at them as normal and don’t treat them differently. I talked to Janet Evans a while ago at a swim meet. She said I just wants to find a guy who doesn’t already know who she is because they have this preconceived notion of who she is and she just wants to be looked at as a normal person with extraordinary skills. So that is very important.
(Inaudible from audience) When I did this and when I did that, I’m an exact replica of what you are talking about. I swam fast at age 15 and I never swam that fast again. I wish I knew the secret to this, it is something that plagues every swim coach and every young successful athlete in this country where we have success at an early age and then that is kind of it. I maintained for a few years but I never went faster and I never really hit my times again. So I don’t have the answer. I wish I did, but once again we’ll go back to normalcy, you can’t pretend like something isn’t wrong or something isn’t going on.
A lot of times you might want to look at health issues. If they are healthy that is great, and then go on to the next step, nutrition. Things like that, at that point it becomes a breakdown of the smaller things and are you working on these kinds of things or are these stresses that are effecting her mentally that end up effecting her physically, because no matter what we want to tell ourselves, our mind is connected to our body and it ends up being kind of a constant conflict sometimes. These are some conflicts that are going on within at child and their body is not going to be producing and they may have some anxieties about performance that you may want to look at, but if I knew that answer gosh, I could make some money I think.
So you shift the focus. That is a good idea because I’ve been there and I’ve switched to trying to do IM and I’ve had great achievement and success with IM when my breaststroke is pretty poor and it is a good idea to try and shift.