How to Implement a Culture of Learning for the Coaching Staff by Sergio Lopez with Jon Sakovich, Bolles School Sharks (2014)


[introduction, by Jennifer Gibson]
Okay, I know we still have people walking in, especially with kind of change in location. I am Jennifer Gibson; I am fortunate enough to be a member of the ASCA board. As part of the ASCA board we are asked to introduce speakers. I got very fortunate as far as the young men that I get to introduce this afternoon. And we always seem that a theme that can start coming out of clinics each year. And when I was writing some thoughts down about Sergio, one thing [that] really came to mind about him is: when I looked back, where he started and came from, he just was surrounded—and I am sure with some thought on his part with this too, but maybe did not realize the impact—from his arrival here in the States, how surrounded he was by great mentors. And it is one thing to be mentored; but it is another thing to really take what you are being shown and taught and inspired with, and really use it in your career. And I think Sergio just really symbolizes what mentoring can do for us.

He was born in Spain. He came to the U.S. to swim for Doc Councilmen. And with that, Sergio’s name became well-known within USA Swimming ranks. He was the 1988 bronze medalist at the Olympic Games in the 200 Breaststroke. He then swam for the famous—well, infamously famous—and very successful coach Jozef Nagy. He began his coaching career—and I had to get corrected on this—he started out with the club Hillenbrand, and from there, for 7 years he was in the collegiate leagues with Northwestern and then moving on as the head coach at West Virginia. And then, as we know, in 2007 Sergio moved here to Jacksonville; pretty proud to say he is one of Jacksonville’s own now. Moved to the Bolles School, to lead both the high school and the club teams. His high school guys and girls had been absolutely amazing, being national mythical champs several times; his girls have been runner-up. His club teams have won at the Junior National level numerous times. And with his latest young man—that we all know about and watch with such interest—is our national teamer Ryan Murphy.

And just want to say: just seems like wherever Sergio goes, he has the ability to bring out the best in people. So I would like to introduce Sergio Lopez.

[Lopez begins]
Hi. First of all, I want to thank you all for being here, and listening to me and my thoughts. And also I want to thank John Leonard and the ASCA staff for giving us this opportunity to share what we do with the coaching staff at Bolles. I think… I find it fascinating; I really enjoy it. So I hope some of you get something out of it and can implement it in your clubs.

Before I go into the talk, I want to thank my coaching staff; I have three coaches here from my coaching staff. But I think, you know, as a coach I always believe that you are as good as the talent that you have, and the swimmers. The same thing as a head coach: you are as good as you are going to be with the talent that you have with your assistant coaches or the people that work with you. So I want to thank my coaching staff: Coach Dale, Coach Jason, Coach Jon. I also want to thank Coach Jon [Sakovich]. Coach Jon has been at Bolles… 14 years? 14 years—he was there before I got there. And from Day 1, he embraced me as a colleague and as a friend, and we have become very good friends. (I am a little bit emotional; as passionate as I am, I am a little bit emotional.) So… so he has been there for me for good things and for bad things. So I just [want to recognize] Coach Jon. [applause]

When they asked me to talk about something, I thought that, you know, the last few years we have been… the dynamics of our coaching staff is very interesting and I do not think many clubs do what we do. I thought that would be a good opportunity to share with all of you and see if you can take something home that works for you, you know. I want to start telling you, just briefly, how I learn what I know; you know by… as a coach by trial and error, reading. I am not a very good reader; I fall asleep after the second page, but I try. I think by not being afraid to fail, I think that is the most important thing.

My path as a coach: my first job was being a head coach of what is now known as Tucson Ford Dealers—it used to be known as Hillenbrand Aquatics of Tucson. When Frank Busch interviewed me for the job… well interview me: I called him up and said, “I want that job”. I just finished my career as a swimmer. His question was: but you don’t have any experience? I said, “Well, just believe me: I can coach it. I can really do a good job with the kids.” And he said, What about the clubs? “Well, I don’t have a clue about the club, but I’m willing to learn. And I used to follow rules and used to listen to people, I don’t think it’s that difficult. So please give me the job.” A week later, he called me and gave me the job. I had no clue what I was getting into, but I think I did it. But I was a head coach at Hillenbrand Aquatics.

Then, after few years, I wanted to become a college coach. And I set my goals like we do when we were swimmers, and my goal was to, at least in my career, to win one NCAA championship in my life. So I interviewed in different places and I found Bob Groseth and Northwestern. A brilliant person and a brilliant mentor; and he gave me an opportunity to be an assistant coach over there. And he did wonderful. From Day 1, he let me run, he let me crash; and he always guided me. Most important, he taught me one thing: about taking care of my family and making sure that I never forgot about that. And so that is another thing that I learnt hopefully with my coaching staff: making sure that they take care of that.

After that, you know, I left for my first head coaching job at college; it was at West Virginia University. And then, for personal reasons, three years after I got there, I left West Virginia and moved to Bolles. I never thought that I would be back at the high school/Age Group level, but I have been… it has been kind of one of those things that I found myself in a place, and I did not know what I was doing there, but it turned out to be a very good thing. So I am very thankful about all that.

I think the most important thing that we have to learn is: I think being successful—and I do not want to sound conceited—but I think being successful is not that difficult. I think if you work hard and you believe in yourself and you push, you will be successful. I think the hardest part is, you know, how to keep it there. Sustainable, long-term success is the hardest thing. I learned that as an Olympic athlete. And it was like… you know, I spent the last 6-8 years of my professional Swimming career in a very dark place just because my federation, the press, many different people took ownership from my swimming. And I had to… you know, thank God that before I retired I went back to understanding what Swimming was for me. So, the hard part is to keep it up there all the time.

I think… the question… now, we are going to talk about how to align a coaching staff here. The question is how we align a coaching staff as a business. I know most of us, we start coaching because we love the sport, not because we want to be in the business world. But if you are a head coach, you are running a business and you have got to learn how to do that. And you have got to make sure that every single piece is really working perfectly.

In my opinion it is: how do you maintain… or create, develop and maintain sustainable long-term success? By aligning the coaching staff as a business, by empowering the coaches to understand their talent, not to be afraid to think and develop their own thought, to share their knowledge and learn from the rest of the coaching staff, and by teaching them not to feel threatened and to be confident.

You know, one of the things when I first came to America—I do not speak French, but I studied French for seven years—so I came with no English. And I spent a lot of hours with Doc Counsilman—he was like my granddad. And many things that he said to me is like: “Sergio, remember: coaching is sharing.” Coaching is sharing: that stuck with me for a long time. And that is one of the things that I try to do. You know, I do not feel threatened because I share my thoughts, because my job is to beat you. You know, you are my competition, my job is to beat you; I have to be confident about that. So it is okay for me to tell you how I do things. We have tried to create that culture with our coaching staff.

All of you know what it means to be a head coach. But in my book, what I believe to be a head coach is three important things:
1. You have to have a business mind. Nowadays, you have to. Understanding each part of the organization—and I mean each department—and the coaching staff to develop and follow the goals of the organization. (That is too big of a sentence for me. I wrote it, but it is too big of a sentence for me. [laughter] But, you know, you get the idea.)
2. The next one will be to have a manager’s mind. Understanding the needs of the organization by successfully hiring the staff, the right staff, and by empowering each individual to develop their talent to the highest level. And that is the challenge; that is a big challenge.
3. And the third one that I think…. Most of us when we start coaching we only think about: heh, I’m going to make those kids swim fast, we’re going to win Juniors or we’re going to have ten Olympic Trials qualifiers. It will be to develop plans and strategies for the swimmer to develop themselves and perform at the highest level in the water, in the classroom and, most important, as people.

One of the reasons why I know that I am going to be good is because when I was a kid I was alone, a lot. My father left when I was a kid, when I was 4 years-old. And I spent a lot of time on the subway going to practice by myself, since I was 9 years-old or 10 years-old. And I got to learn how to think and spend time and understand who I was. That is a scary thing; it is a very scary thing.

And I think most important is: each kid that goes through your pool has a talent. What level of the talent, who knows? But they have a talent. And most of your kids… you know that you felt bad as a swimmer, or when you have done something…. You know that they had a practice in a random day that you did not even pay attention to them, and they are in the shower thinking: Wow, I’m so powerful. I did something good today. You know. So our job is to develop that, to make them understand that and to make them have ownership of that, so they can become good people. I think that kind of makes you appreciate things in life.

And, then, to develop different season plans and strategies for the coaching staff and the administrative staff; to empower them to keep growing with knowledge, curiosity, to be the best they can be; and, ultimately, become great head coaches and managers, somewhere else. That is the legacy, hopefully, that coaches like Jon Urbanchek and the other coaches that are here, when you had a chance to coach for many years, you have many coaches place everywhere; that they are doing a great job, and they are empowering people to be good.

I think it is important, at least, that you know how I hire people. I know when I got to Bolles and I started hiring the way I hire people, I had very, very successful professional parents coming to my office telling me that I was an incompetent a person, that I did not know what I was doing, that… blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And I kept telling them: listen, this is my business. I need to hire, well, you know, whoever I feel that I can work with, that I believe is going to follow me and teach me too. Teach me what I need to be do, needs to be done, you know. It is very hard.

I was lucky that I was, for seven years, a college coach. And I love the fact of recruiting; so I spent a lot of time watching people and trying to understand how people move, how people talk, how people look. And I have been hiring people that… giving opportunities to people to grow; people that I recruited as athletes, because I am lucky enough that I have been coaching for 17 years and I had enough swimmers going through my program that now want to be coaches.

So swimmers that I have recruited and that I had a chance to coach, that they have knowledge of swimming, that they are passionate about Swimming and empowering young people to be the best they can be. That they really want to be coaches. And I put that in-between quotations because being a coach is not a profession; being a coach is a vocation. And it is not what people think; you know, I just finished my degree in engineering, I could not find a job, I’m going to go and be a coach, you know. Some of them become very good coaches, but some of them, they just crash. So, you know, you really need to understand that concept of being a coach. Being away for weekends, and more weekends. When your spouse or your companion tells you: What the heck are you doing? You care more about that kid that is going to leave you next year then about me. How you deal about all that. Coaches that will go the extra mile, that are loyal or learn to be loyal, that they are curious and willing to learn and share. That is the people I try to hire.

What do I really need in a coach? Coaches that are willing to do what I ask. Coaches that are better than me. And there are three things: in areas that I am too busy to take care of, or that I do not want to do anymore, or that I do not have a clue of how to do. And it is, you know… if you are on your own, you are on your own; and the bigger you get, the more complicated things we make. So you need people that are better than you, most of the time.

Coaches that complement me. That is a hard thing to find. But it is hopefully with everything that you do, you know, they become a complement or you become a complement with them and you adapt to one another. And, again, coaches that want to learn and share their knowledge with no fear. I think right now in our coaching staff, when we talk about swimming, I do not think my coaches feel bad about expressing what they think. And if they have a thought about hey, if I move my pinkie this way and they teach that, my swimmer is swimming very fast, ahh, because we are going to say you’re nuts, were you drinking last night or what? So they do not think how about that; they are very confident people.

Now, there are many problems. You know, me as a manager, if I think about the problems that I might have within my coaching staff that I need to solve, I think the biggest problem that I have—in my opinion, in my case is—is with looking at an assistant. Assistant coach, the biggest problem is that he or she becomes successful too quickly, and at one point he/she thinks that he/she knows more and that he/she can do a better job. (Which I know it is very complicated, but with equality and all these animals [on slide]: is it a she or…? [laughter]) I think that is the biggest problem.

And you know why, because coaching is a very egotistical job. And now you guys think that ego is a bad word. No; ego is a good word. You know, we all have a good ego, and we need to look at the positive side of that. And we coach because it feeds our ego. You want to tell me that I coach because it makes me happy and la, la, la, but look at you, you know.

Sometimes we get blinded by things. And, you know, a young guy thinks that they know more than you because they do not know many things that are happening, but it seems that you might and you do not want to bother them with that. You know when that happens, he or she starts undermining you in front of the swimmers, parents and coaches. We all have that. He/she starts playing the group, playing a division between the team and explaining themselves out of the goals: the goals are bad, the coaching staff made a bad decision…. That is a big problem.

And to me that is the biggest problem that I need to solve as a head coach, as a manager. You know you might have systems of how to do things and how not to do things, but if everybody is not on the same page and believing in one another and being confident enough to say: Coach Sergio, you’re wrong. Why don’t you think like this? Or you have a coach that is confident enough to say Oh wow, Coach John or Coach Jason have an awesome job; I need to do that. And then I empower them to feel good, and they do not think: oh, I am better than them.

Why do I think it is the biggest problem? I was an assistant that became very successful, and I could feel the nation’s heart. Now I was a head coach before and I learned a whole lot; in the three and a half years that I was there, I learned a lot. So I hope that when I talk about this… when I was at Northwestern with Bob Groseth… (I don’t know if Bob is here? I hope he doesn’t take it the wrong way, because he is my mentor. You know, he is like the uncle/godfather to my kids.) But he gave me the chance to do something, and I ran with it. And I recruited and I did this and remade the team from nothing. In five years, I think, they went from nothing to top-40 in the country.

And, a lot of the recruits—because I was the one recruiting—wanted to come and swim with me. And everybody was like “Sergio, Sergio, you’re so good” that your head is like this big.

(Louder, Sergio; we can hardly hear you. Turn your mic on.)

That is why I have assistants. So, (woah!) [louder: microphone on].

So I recognize that with Bob too, and I did not leave because of that. But it was a cost too, for me too to think I left, because, like, my paycheck was $700 less than my mortgage. And I had to find somebody else to be able… at that point I had two kids. And I was spending… I think at one point when I was living… the year before I left I was living 40 miles away. Outside of Chicago, 40 miles. You know, I got up at 3:30 in the morning to shovel snow, and got back at 10:30 at night. So it was not a good thing. So I left.

But also I left because I felt that that was his thing. And even though he asked me, he said, Sergio, why you don’t stay? In four more years, I’m going to retire and you can be the head coach. I told him, I was like, what about in four years you do not retire? I cannot ask you to retire. This is your team; you have been here for 25 years, it is your team. You deserve all these. And plus, I could not make it financially.

One of the things that we talk about is spouses. You know, I have been with my wife for 24 years. And when we moved to Chicago, she had a good job, did not make a lot of money. And when my son was born, my second kid was born, she wanted to stay home. So I had to get… at one point I had two jobs—when I was a coach at Northwestern—so she could be a stay-at-home mom. So that is the partnership that you create. So it was getting too hard, so we had to move-on somewhere else.

Since my first job, I had the same issue with one too many assistants, and I could see a pattern. And that was something that maybe hurt me so much when I started coaching, but that is something that I pay a lot of attention. So a few of my assistants, they have left, and they have gone to be either head coaches or assistant coaches at other places. They have reached out to me and apologize for the way they acted, or this or that. On their own. And I am like, “Oh, wow.” But that was a learning experience for me. So that is why I think it is the biggest problem in my opinion, and I need to make sure that that does not happen.

Umm, now to change it a little bit: how we came to a program of what we do at Bolles. When I got to Bolles, after a while I realized I had a group of really-gifted kids. Not just gifted because they could swim fast, but gifted because they had the tools mentally and physically to be some of the best in the world. And in my opinion, I really wanted to prepare them in a four or five year cycle, the best I could.

So, the mind is so powerful and it is underutilized. And I have always done augmentations, visualizations, moving energy, and all that hocus pocus—you know, the New Age thing. But I have been doing it since I was a kid, and I really believe in that.

Conversations with my brother. (I will give you a little background later on.) But my brother was an ex-swimmer and he was always fascinated with the way the teams that I coached developed to be good. And we talk about how we motivate and how we talk to them. And I talk with him about… now he is a consultant and he coaches executives, if he would help me create a specific program for the swimmers. So he created a program and after the success of the program I ask my brother to think about doing what he does with executives of companies to do with us, with the coaching staff. Not at that high level. And so he developed a program for us.

This is my brother Mark; he went to Florida Atlantic. He was a very good swimmer, very talented, gifted, back in Spain. Went to Florida Atlantic University and became a captain of the team, also coach, an assistant and coach at some club or something. But, you know, what he wanted to do was consulting. He got a master’s degree in Engineering, and some certified… and training in access management, emotional intelligence, peak intelligence. But we complement [each other] a lot. And we talk the same thought… like you know, with our mind. So I thought that he could help me make these kids better.

So… sorry. [pause]

So I am going to let Coach Jon [Sakovich] talk; explain a little bit of the program for the coaches and the swimmers. And then I will come back.

[Sakovich begins]
Ahh, first of all thank you, Sergio, for giving me this opportunity to talk to you guys, and thank you ASCA for giving him the opportunity to give to me to come up here and talk. First I would like to say in this part of the presentation, if we go back a few slides where he talks about things he does not like to do: that is right here; that is my job. If you see my name, it is not assistant coach or anything; it is the guy that does the things Sergio does not like to do, so. [laughter]


[Lopez]: Here, here. We did not rehearse.

[Sakovich]: There was no rehearsal, so…. (I will try to stand next to here, since I do not have a private mic—it is going to be a little tough. Alright, try not to walk around too much.)

But, the peak performance program that we talked about: FAST. Meaning:
-Solution, and

Combines knowledge and methodologies that work on the mental aspects of practice and competition to help participants reach higher levels of performance. So, basically, everybody’s goal here is to get your swimmers to be at the utmost level that they can reach. The objectives of the program….

Actually when we did this, we decided that we needed to… you know, we have over a 100 Senior kids in our program, we could not have them all do this. So over one Christmas break we decided to kind of take the top 10-15 swimmers that we felt were the most serious about to coming practice, put in the best work ethic over that time, and, you know, were kind of in that Junior National range. And we also felt that they were, mentally, fairly mature; that they could handle something like this.

So after the end of Christmas break, we pulled the 15 swimmers aside, and said: Hey, we want to do this program with you; are you guys interested? And it’s not, you know, you come to one or two classes or whatever; it’s you come to all of them or you don’t come at all. And for the guys that did it, and girls, they also had to stay after practice for an extra half hour to an hour to do this. I think it was like once a week or so, for about a couple of months—10 weeks. So it was something that they really had to commit to because they were missing-out on homework time, sleep, that sort of thing.

The objectives of the program:
• To gain clarity. We all know if we do not have very clear goals, we are not going anywhere very fast.
• Keep the focus. You get halfway through a season and you start flaking-out, or the swimmers start flaking out; just kind of teaching them to help keep that focus.
• Reduction of anxiety. (Right here, right now.)
• Increased physical and mental energy. [If you] reduce the anxiety, you tend to think clearer, have little bit more energy for your performance, speech, practices whatever.
• And then increase self-confidence.

We started with, from FAST, we have got the foundation. (I know, up there) This is the presentation that his brother Marcos gave us—some things might be a little different. But…
• Foundation: basically, where you are starting from. Where these athletes were mentally. Whether they were swimmers that did great in practice and then could not handle it at swim meets—they got scared, they got nervous, whatever it was. That was our foundation; our starting point.
• The action: taking risks. They had to do things they were not comfortable with. If a swimmer was very shy and, you know, kind of walk up to the block like a scared little child, we had to get them to stand-up tall. Talk to the person next to them, to open up a little bit. Do things that made them very uncomfortable. So, taking the risks.
• The solution: self-awareness, understanding. The reason why we needed people that were fairly mature was: they needed to be able to self-evaluate. To have that maturity to look at themselves in the mirror and say, Yes, I wimped out on that set yesterday. Yes, I slept-in because I really didn’t want to go to practice. Or whatever it is. You know, not making excuses. So that is self-awareness and understanding what is going on.
• And then the transformation. Using the things that his brother Marcos worked with, that we helped him with, to help change that mentality, help change that brain a little bit.

And then from the transformation, we get back to the foundation: once you have changed and adapted, that is your new foundation. And what is the next step we are going to take? Then we go back through the cycle again. (There is a little arrow.)

The program’s structure is based on six main elements:
1. They have the kick off meeting. Basically, the first meeting they were at. Kind of introducing them, talking to them, about what is going on. That they are going to be challenged. That there is going to be uncomfortableness. That they had to put forth their best effort. They could not just do the homework at the last minute; that there was some homework. And I, myself, went through this with his brother Marcos; just, kind of, for me, personally, to help out. So I kind of understand a lot of this. And there are definitely a lot of areas where you have to become uncomfortable in order to become better. So kick off meeting,
2. Work session: first big session that they had. They were given a program guide, kind of like a syllabus. Basically, it had all the activities and stuff they were going to do.
3. Daily reflections. They had a journal that they had to write in. You know: did I have a good day? A bad day? What kept me from being good? So on and so forth.
4. And then probably one of the most important things: feed-forward. Everybody has heard of feedback; this is the opposite. And what Marcos did was he brought each kid in, in a meeting with the coach that coaches them directly, and we had to do a feed-forward meeting. They would tell us their goals. And we had to, without saying anything negative, without saying anything about their past performances, we had to give them tips on being… on moving forward. So we could not say, Hey, yesterday was a bad practice, you could have done better. It had to be: Well, today, you know, we’re doing 5x1000s, and we really want to look forward to you focusing on negative splinting. Or whatever it is. So feed-forward.
5. Follow up. Pretty simple.
6. And then the transition. As they were transitioning from their old selves into their new selves. (Phew.)

Program requirements. For this program to be successful, specific key factors that were present during each phase of the program. Okay?
• Like I said earlier-on, we had to have commitment from each participant that they were going to do the homework that they were given. (Excuse me.)
• Support from the coaching staff to the program and the participants by providing periodic feed-forward. And as you can see, it is underlined because Sergio and the rest of the coaching staff felt that this is probably one of the most important things. You can coach a kid all you want; but if you do not develop a relationship and work with them and understand them, they are not going to become as good as they could be. Okay? So we felt that was extremely important; that is why it is underlined.
• And then understanding that the program is a process and not just an event, and results will appear as the program progresses and new behaviors come forward. So that was… the most important thing was, as you know, teenagers, this day and age, they want everything yesterday. Well, this type of program, swimming: it does not work like that. It is a long, periodic process. And so they had to be mature enough, again, to be able to understand that between Thursday’s meeting and next Thursday’s meeting that they were not going to all of a sudden be better. And that they had to work at it. And that they were going to get better, and then they were going to fall down; and they were going to step back up, and back down. And up and down until they were able to implement the new changes that they wanted.

Now as Sergio said: we also did this with the coaches. We felt it was extremely important to have a coaching staff that was… I do not want to say single-minded but we all had the same goals. You can still have the same goals, but we wanted to make sure that we were implementing these goals as a team and not, you know, this person doing it this way, this person doing it that way or that person doing it that way.

So what we did was hired Sergio’s brother, Marcos, to come-in and kind of do the same thing he does with corporations. Although we could not do it to that level, thank goodness. But we did it… it was supposed to be about 12 weeks; it ended-up being—I don’t know—6 or 7, little bit more. By 8-9 weeks, he ended up having to take a better job off in Africa, somewhere. So we as the coaches, every Thursday came in, sat down and he made us do activities, projects and things that some of us were not comfortable with.

The objective was to develop strong team alignment and improve the team effectiveness to achieve the club’s goals. The methodology: develop the four key elements of a high-performance organization; meaning the process, the management system, people and leadership.

Steps. First one, obviously, we had to figure out where we wanted to be. Second step was to establish where we currently were. Analyze the gap between where we want to be and where we currently are. Develop an action plan. And then follow up.

Action plan: basically, these are the steps that we are going to take. We would have a meeting, we would come back the next Thursday, we would sit down and he would ask us: Okay, show us your action plan. Did you do all the steps that you needed to do between last week and this week in order to improve what we’re supposed to do. And it could have been something as simple as each coach writing their own goals for the program, putting them all together and figuring it out or… you know, whatever it was.

So we have got the four steps.

The work processes: the steps that define the way that work needs to be done. For instance, when you are doing… we have got 6-7 full-time coaches, and if we are all trying to do meet entries, we have to do it a certain way; otherwise there is going to be people getting cut out, double entries, kids entered in events that they are not supposed to be in, so on and so forth. So we have to have a certain format in order to do that. If we do not do it, then we have chaos at the meet. So the processes.

The management system: the tools used to manage the work processes and evaluate how well we are doing. One of the ways, with meet entries, is you find out at the end if everybody got to swim the events they wanted. And you are not running-around trying to deck-enter and scratch and all that fun stuff, at the end so.

The people: coaches and staff. Very important parts of each program. And then the leader. And leader’s job is keeping everybody kind of inline and making sure that we are always continuously moving forward.

This is just one example of the activities that we had to do; basically it is a priority wheel. To give you example: if we take an underwater dolphin kick, okay. You have a swimmer that really wants to work on their underwater dolphin kick—that is their priority. You have got eight segments—eight pieces of the pie—and you put down the eight different things that are going to contribute to that underwater dolphin kick. It could be the streamline, their push-off, their flexibility, their up-kick, their down-kick; whatever it is.

And then you have got a rating of 0-10; 0 being the very center, 10 being the outside [of the wheel]. And the goal is to kind of use that chart to gauge where you are and improve. As you can see, that one has got lines all over the place. And you rate: my flexibility is not very good, I am about a 2; my streamline is excellent, I am about an 8. And, you know, we have got a different circle. The goal is to have that perfect-10 circle. That is just one of the things; there are a lot of others that I am not going to even get into.

The outcome: by the shortened end of it, we had our short- and long-term goals. Both team and individual. We still have our 2012-2016 goals posted. Every now and then Coach Dale [Porter] will call us all together and tell us that we just crossed-off another of our quadrennium goals. Whether it is winning Junior Nationals, how we are ranked in the Virtual Club Championships, we had 10 kids swim a mile at a meet. Whatever it is, we cross those off as we go through.

The action plan. Each of us coaches, you know, our daily action plan is what we are going to do that day. But also every time we have a staff meeting, we start off with an action plan. Coach Dale will sit down and go over everything that we discussed the week before, to make sure that things are getting done. If it is an activity that you cannot do, we cross it off or we put it to the next week or whatever it is. But it is a step/tool to help us keep moving forward.

Swim group goals and time frames: just the goals for each group. What they want to accomplish.

Group structure: how we wanted the team to look, as far as… you know, we want our 8 and 9 year-olds with the 10 year-olds or with the 6 year-olds—how ever. Just setting that up, so everybody in the program knew where kids were supposed to be.

Team roles and responsibilities. We have one person that is in charge of the computer stuff; whether it is the website, setting-up the meets online—whatever it is, that is their job. Another coach is in charge of helping set-up the swim meets. Another coach is in charge of our swim camps. Each thing, Sergio grabbed everything together and then doled it out based on our best attributes. He felt: Hey, you’re pretty good with the computer, you’re doing this. You’re not good with the computer, you’re not doing that so.

And then: weekly coach’s meeting structure. When we first started-out having our weekly meetings, they kind of went off on tangents everywhere. After Marcos came in, helped us align it, and now we get through our meetings within an hour pretty easily. Actually, we can probably be a lot quicker, but we still go off on tangents, here or there. But we have each section: each coach is supposed to report what they have done, or go through the action log. We talk about what needs to be done for the next week, the next month, or whatever it is. So this is all part of our outcome here.

And now I am going to turn it back over to Sergio.

[Lopez returns]
(Can you hear me?) Thank you, Jon.

I think the result of this two months of working with my brother: we became like a small business and really align. And most important: when I got to Bolles I had 11 coaches; at one point we were 19 coaches—I think when my brother started that we grew up to 19 coaches. And we had 7 full-time coaches, and all the full-time coaches had to be at the meeting and the part-time coaches were invited. Many times they [the part-time coaches] could not come, because of work or school or whatever. But I think what I saw is like: we became a unity. You know, we really started understanding how everybody else was thinking and I think we felt comfortable with one another.

I think, like Coach Jon said, Tuesday’s coach’s meetings became more effective; we can go through things a lot better and we have more accountability for things to get done. As it is, we are coaches, so we still have to learn a lot about being accountable with outside things that are not really designing a practice or teaching a kid how to do things. But I think we are at a very high level.

Ahh, we traded… when my brother left for Africa and I started, the coaches were so excited about it. I thought about trading the coach’s workshops. I talked with Coach Dale, Coach Jon and asked them about what do they think about doing that, and they thought it would be a great idea. So the way it works for us: on Tuesdays, we have an administrative meeting that last an hour, and on Thursdays we have created a coach’s workshop.

And what the coach’s workshop is: Coach Jon assigns one Thursday to each one of the coaches—so we keep rotating. And each coach needs to think about something. You can think about: the way you design the practice or you could, you know… I will show you all the talks that we have done. And what you need to do is prepare yourself and give a presentation in front of the other coaches. So we set it up in our office or in our dryland room—now we have a nice office, but a couple of years ago we had a dryland room, so we set up over there. And, you know, the coach had to present whatever it was. And you had the freedom to choose. So it was not, oh, we’ve got to talk about this; no, no. So we went from bullying to high-level training, to how to be a successful coach, to anything.

Different reasons that I thought these workshops were to be good is because these young coaches have to learn how to, you know, portray, communicate and project. They started doing an awesome job, and they felt good. They saw us taking notes and asking questions, and I think that empowered them to feel good about their jobs. And then if they are underpaid, keep working hard. So that is the most important thing.

That has taught us to learn how to share things, how to share thoughts, to create and accept constructive criticism. You know, I think if Coach Jason comes up to me and tells me, “Hey, Sergio, during this, do you think you could do that in a different way?” Yeah, it pisses me off. Not pisses me off, but internally it kind of… hoah, you know, like, I’m doing something wrong? But I do not take it personal; I think about it: you know what, he is right. And you learn how to take that criticism in a good way, because we are all looking at the same goal. Well, what is our goal? We want to be the best. Being the best is a relative word, but we want to be the best, you know. And with the talent that we have, we can be the best. But, hey, if he thinks did not, then I realize….

Like with the coaches meetings, at one point what I learned how to do was like, if I had an issue that I have to solve, I would go the coaches meetings: Okay, we have to… we have to fix those 60 chairs. I would like you to think how we’re going to fix those sixty chairs, and next Tuesday when we meet, let’s talk about it. I already knew how to fix those sixty chairs, most of the time; or I knew how I was going to fix them. But if the coaches came in and they brought in an idea that was pretty much the same, everybody; I would do that idea instead of mine—like it is the bunch. And at the end of the day, those sixty chairs got fixed. So things like that, where you start making them feel appreciated, I am developing my talent.

You know, like, when Ryan Murphy came into my group, I did not coach him for the first year—he should have been in my group. There was a talented coach in that age-group range and I told the parents he is not going to be in my group. And what I did, it was great for me because I had four more years after that, he was with a very-talented coach, and I watched, I observed. I watched how the parents were, I watched how the kid reacted. And the coach grew a lot; he learned so much. Because, you know, we all learn from the talent we have, and when you have a gifted kid, you learn at a higher rate.

So, you know, for me, I was surprised that I did that, because, you know, you always want to coach the best swimmers. But I think that empowered them to feel good about it; the same thing with Coach Jon and the same thing with other coaches. So that is very important and I think that has changed the dynamic of our team and has made our coaching staff have an appreciation for what we have.

The results of the program. We developed the 2012-2016 quad goals, and there are four departments in that sense. The club performances, like he said. We want to win Junior Nationals in the next four years, two times. We want to have 20 kids at Olympic Trials. We want… whatever it was that we thought, with everybody’s thought, we could accomplish, that is what we could. Group plans for each one of the groups. Proper structure: how we could improve it, how we could improve our business model. And the facility improvement: just thoughts of how we can either, not fundraise, but give ideas to the school or talk to the parents on what we think are needs to start putting the seed on the administration. So I was very happy that we were able to do that.

I think that is a guide that everybody should have. Because when I was by myself as a coach, at West Virginia, I was running two teams with my assistant. And sure, he was one of my best friends, and I could sit with him and we could chat and we knew. But when you have 10 coaches, 6 coaches, 14 coaches—or like SwimMAC has, what, 50 coaches—either you have some sort of organization and some sort of like goal structure or you will not be successful.

After we developed those goals [and] we started the coach’s workshops, we sat down and we developed… we started talking about how we could develop a manual of what we think is the perfect stroke for our kids. From 6 years-old to the time that they are 18. Because our job as Age Group coaches is to prepare the best package possible for somebody else to develop it at a high level; and we need to accept that.

So we thought it was going to be a short thing, but it took us one year of every Thursday meeting and talking, because, you know, I think this one and that one and I think this movement, this behavior. And we ended up with a 16-page manual that we have with our thoughts of how to teach and develop strokes and behaviors. We are in the earlier stages of utilizing all these, but it is something that brought us together. And really, I learned a lot, I learned a lot about things that I took for granted with the stroke that I do not see any more, and hopefully each coach learned a lot.

Like I said, after that we created an internal coach’s continuing-education with the coach’s workshops. Here [on slide] I put some of the topics that we have. I think this is the best tool: if you cannot really organize yourself as a business and do all that, you know, get together and have a workshop like that with your coaches and just brainstorm. Because… you know, I always tell the coaches that I have that if you have been swimming for 15 years, that does not mean that you are going to be a good coach. But if you have been swimming for 15 years, you have three coaches, four coaches, you are really passionate about this sport; right there, you are walking encyclopedia of knowledge. Now what happens, that knowledge is hidden somewhere. So it is how you treat different things, to stimulate your brain to let them out.

I think… I am very thankful that I am here to try to explain all this to you. But when I started, I went to the ASCA [World] Clinic in 1997 for the first time, and then I did not go for many years. Why? Because I thought, you know… —and I believe in this—I told the coaches, I said, You know, I have knowledge. I don’t understand it, but I’m going to set my philosophy and I’m going to set a plan, and I’m going to go. And I’m going to push it, and I’m going to see if I fail. And I am going to see if my plan is this, I know that if I analyze it four years later, it is totally different but I still think it is the same. If that makes sense.

If I start getting all this information, and nowadays it is so complicated because Instagram/no Instagram, YouTube/no YouTube. I love Instagram—do not get me wrong—it is a good way to be connected with my kids. And nowadays you better catch the train or you are going to be out of it. Be careful with it. But there is so much information that at one point: what do you do? You know.

Like, if you do not believe that your thought process two months ago was good, get the hell out of this business. How can you stand on the pool deck and tell your swimmers okay, we’re going to do 8×50 on 1:00, 200-pace-+1. the first two dah-dah-dah… when you do not believe it? And the hard part—like I said before—is being alone and having to think. Having to think and having to reach deep inside. It is, you know… I am going to stay the course, and I am going to see where we go. And if where you go is to the bottom, you are going to stand up and you are going to go the bottom with pride. And then you learn.

If I learn something from another coach, I do not try to implement it right way. You know, I leave it right there. And if I am a thinker and I try to evolve, randomly that thought is going to melt into what I do. But if I try to push it and it is not the way I think, it probably will not work.

So I think these coach’s workshops, they are a great tool. And like you can see here, Coach Jon, being an assistant coach, this was awesome. Because, you know, he talked about being loyal and doing what Sergio says….

[Sakovich]: Folks you are not going to see it. There is nothing here because he did not want to put….

[Lopez]: Oh! I forgot. I forgot: I did not put the head assistant coach, I did not give him a title. But I put you first. [laughter] [Ok, I’ll take it; we’re good.] I put myself last. But that is because when we are in Spain, if you did not put yourself last, you get smacked in the head.

But, you know, like you can see, being an assistant coach that I think it is very hard to understand what it is to be an assistant coach and be loyal. And be able to, even if you do not agree with the head coach, ham-up, where the kids do not feel anything and you do what you need to do for them to swim fast. And then you deal with your issues with the head coach or with whatever it is, in the office at a different time. And hopefully you can compromise, get to a happy place.

Like this one, Skype with Michigan. This started with Coach Jason; [it] was one day that he had to give a talk. So he contacted Russell Mark at USA Swimming. And this was the first Skype session that we did. And I will show you a video, if we have time—hopefully we have time. What time is it? [Two o’clock. We have got time.]

He called Russell Mark, and he said, “Would you be interested in having a session with us through Skype, with the coaching staff.” And he said: sure—he did not know what he was getting into. So Coach Jason sent him like a battery of questions about butterfly. And I think he said that he only had 45 minutes in that day, but we ended up talking for an hour and fifteen minutes or an hour. And what happened is: we went from the butterfly to the breaststroke, because there are a lot of similarities with what you do with your hands. And at one point, before we were done with the session, Russell is like: wow, this was a very stimulating session, I didn’t expect this. He was challenged, because we had 7 people/8 people with big egos trying to prove: this moves this way, this moves that way, you know.

So then we thought: Wow. Why we don’t we do this more often? So that was why, the one before, later on when one of the times when Coach Jon—our head assistant coach—had to do the talk, he contacted Michigan. And we had a Skype session that was an hour and 20 minutes/15 minutes with Michigan. But, you know, you see, some of the talks are very interesting. Like Coach Dale had a Skype session with University of Nevada; that is Abby Steketee, used to work with me. I think she is one of the best, upcoming, young, woman coaches in America. She coaches at a small school, but she is unbelievably intelligent and organized. So we had a session that was very interesting for my coaches.

But… Coach Jason – learn how to develop talent. Journey to the Olympic Trials – Michael Walker. We had a roundtable too with Auburn; that was breaststroke pullout—he analyzed which pullout would be the best. Sports Psychology. So we have developed some very good talks, and we did not have to pay anything—our budget is good.

But here, this is a Skype session that we did, so you can see. I will keep talking or I can answer questions; after that, we should be done.

[Skype video begins]
Um, this is pretty much our whole full-time coaching staff here. I will go ahead and introduce them: that’s Mike Walker, here; Stephen Brooks, our camp director; Sergio. We’ve got Dale Porter, Head Age Group Coach; Jason Calanog, our Late Night Coach; and, Josh, we’ve never met, but I’m Jon Sakovich. (Nice to meet you.) Nice to meet you both. Rick, I already know you, but….

[Lopez]: This is just like six minutes long. Like, we were seven coaches or six coaches, right out here. Mike Bottom was recruiting, but he joined us through the phone, so that was very interesting. This talk is only two or three minutes, just to show you how we did it; but it lasted an hour and 15 or 20 minutes. So it is very….

: ….Is there any preference on the order you guys would like to go in? Or just top-to-bottom?

(Josh?) Did you lose us? (Let me pull that out… we’ll go… let’s go top-to-bottom….)

[Lopez]: I think, like you can see, this is a very relaxed way to learn and to open up.

And before I forget, if anybody is interested in doing something like this with us, please let me know. We will be more than happy to do.

: …and last week we talked to Auburn, a little bit about their, you know, sprint, not-so-sprint, and kind of easier freestyle. So we kind of wanted to hear your guys’ take on it. And then we’d also like to see if you guys have any differences, technical differences, that you do between the 50s and 100s of, you know, fly, back and breast, as far as, you know, change this, change that to try to go a little bit faster or whatever.

(You want to take this one or do you want me to take this? I’ll start and you can jump-in. When we talk about the Three-style Freestyle, when we look at what Mike has come up with. He’s done a little research over the years coming up with a concept of looking at how the freestyle has several different parts to it….)

[Lopez]: All these coaches have been very graceful; they really share a lot of stuff with us and we shared a lot of stuff with them.

As it finishes up, does anybody have any questions?

I just wanted to show you so you can see. I think it creates… (ahh, which one I’m talking to?). It creates a camaraderie and it creates… it makes you feel good to be a coach when you can do all these things. Share thoughts and see that other people really respect what you do and they’re curious about what we do, you know. I welcome anyone of you that wants to have a session like that with us, just to let me know and hopefully we can make it happen.

Um, but, does anybody have any questions?

[audience member]: You said one of the things you look for in an assistant coach is loyalty. I mean, it is no secret that in some clubs they cannot afford a full-time assistant; I am living that life right now—you know, post-grad, student loans. What do you define as a head coach to be loyal? Are you looking for long-term in the assistant coach or are you just looking for someone who is going to be there with you, day-in and day-out?

[Lopez]: No. I think, with loyalty, even if they are with me for six months, what I look for is somebody who respects me—and I know that you have to earn the respect—but who is willing to, if there is an issue, come up to me and let’s talk about it and deal with it. And even if six months later they are someone else, that is fine.

I think a lot of us, we start coaching… even though I was a head coach, I do not want to tell you my salary when I took the job. And then I had volunteer assistants. One of my volunteer assistants became a very successful college coach, and he was working 10 hours a day for 150 bucks, you know. And that guy was really loyal, and you feel bad about asking him anything but he would do it. And, you know, if there was an issue, he would tell you. So, you know, there is that type of loyalty, you know; I think that is very important.


[audience member]: You talked about the biggest problem with an assistant coach would be trying to undermine the head coach, and then you said you have to handle it. How do you handle it?

[Lopez]: Well, I am the type of person, and maybe it is because… I think one of my talents. You know, when I was a kid I was not a very good swimming, and I became good. And I spent a lot of time watching people in the subway; you know, alone. It is something that if I look back on my life, I think, taught me how to observe how people move. And I used to watch people stealing, like their wallets; you know, the gypsies—you know, it is what it is. And you are 9 years-old/10 years-old, live in a city like New York, and you have to go to school on your own because your mom is working. So I was very lucky to watch.

You can ask my coaches, you know. Even with a swimmer, we have new swimmer, oh, this kid in a year-and-a-half might go 53 in 100 breast. And in a year-and-a-half, if he works hard, yeah, he is 53. Because I can feel certain things. Makes sense? So with a person, I can feel it; I can feel when that person….

And you see it with your… if you have kids or with your companion. When my wife comes to me and talks in a different way, you know; or she puts her hands somewhere, like that. So if my assistant now does not look at me in the eyes, or does not… usually used to come to say certain things and now he is avoiding. You know, you can see certain behaviors. So you have to address those; you have to really address those. And I think it’s important.

Like I said, it hurts my ego when one of them tells me something. And nowadays, the person that really is my support is my wife. So I go home, [fire breathe]. And my wife is like, Oh, don’t worry, blah, blah, blah, you know. Maybe we should try this. “Oh, you don’t know anything,” dah, dah, dah. And then, you know, I try that and my life is better.


[audience member]: Yeah. Do you do evaluations of staff? And how do you do them? Formal? Rigid?

[Lopez]: Yeah, we did; though the school, because the club team is owned by the school. So a Human Resources person. I did for the first five years or six years, and then we had… this is our fourth headmaster that is coming in. And I don’t know, they are going through things, so I have not done them for the last few years. I think right now, I was thinking about start doing them again. But I feel that, for the last couple of years, the seven full-time coaches that I have, we spend so much time together and we are really talking about things that we need to improve in this and issues, that, you know, I did not need to do it.

Also, a lot of evaluations, either I fire somebody or… you know, one of them I go and say, Listen, if you continue doing this, I am going to have to let go. You’re a very talented coach, but you need to learn this, this, this. If I let him go, I let him go, because he does not do that, that I told him 150 times.

But the evaluations, more or less, are to raise their salaries and this and that. And you know how the economy is. So sometimes we cannot raise anybody’s salary, so the school is not asking us for anything. It has not been because I do not want to. And also the last couple of years, I have been traveling a lot at the end of the season, so I did not do my own evaluations. But it is a good thing—it is a good thing.

Any other questions?

[audience member]: Just a little comment. I think that you guys have done the uncomfortable, hard work, and done the staff meetings. And at first it just seems like process, process, process. But you are an example of a group that was willing to get in there, roll your sleeves up, go through the process—just grind it out—and then you come out the other side and you can all look at each other in the eye and be really unified.

[Lopez]: Thanks. I feel that way. I feel… now I feel—I am sorry that I forgot about this title [laughter]—but I feel that I can leave. Like this summer, I was pretty much gone for seven weeks, at different meets with the kids and all this, with different kids. I did not feel like I felt my first two years or three years, because I know everything is taken care of, and it is moving in a good direction, you know. It makes my job now a very comfortable job. And honestly, as a head coach, if you are a head coach, that is what you want, you know: you want a comfortable job. The assistants can be uncomfortable, like we were uncomfortable after a while. And then they will become head coaches, and they can do that: create that type of culture.

[audience member]: Sergio? (Yes?) Does or has your brother gone out to other teams to evaluate them?

[Lopez]: Uhh… he has done work with one or two university teams. He has done work individually with swimmers from different levels.

What happens is that, also, with traveling outside of the country for his job. Because mainly he either works in Columbia or in South America. Or he is going to Mexico too; he was in Africa. He was in Peru for a year-and-a-half. It is very hard. He started this program because he wanted to stay in Jacksonville, or around there, and at one point do this. But, you know, a lot of the coaches when we send them this stuff, they were very skeptical. So, you know, you need to eat. And, honestly, he is not going to get paid what he gets paid doing what he does now; or what he was doing with the Swimming side—he won’t.


[audience member]: With your FAST program that you were showing, does that only pertain to your Senior group or is it something that all of your coaches are using as like your format for structure?

[Lopez]: Well what we did is we chose 15 kids and those kids follow-up. And many of them stay in touch with my brother. But because of the traveling and all that, we stopped. Like, we do things, but we have not implemented that program more and more and more with a group of kids. Because, honestly, even though my job is comfortable now, and I feel good about it, there is not that much time for me or for one of our coaches to really implement that and follow-up. So what we have done is adapt what we can, the best we can, within our coaching philosophy and the way we need to do things.


[audience member]: Do you actually get into a situation where you can take them off the program if they do not live up to expectations?

[Lopez]: I am a believer that if a kid is willing to come and, you know… our job at this level is to give a second chance to people, or third chance at times. Because you never know the family situation that they have, you never know. So, I think in seven years we have got two kids of this profile, yeah? And one of them, I am sorry to say that, ended up in jail not long ago. But we worked so hard with parents and them to give them a chance. We do not kick people off.

We have even this thing where we have a couple of Chinese kids that have joined our program, because when they applied for the school, they put that they were swimmers. And they come in, and they are coming with big surfing pants. They can barely go to 25. But they are still swimming. One of them, Charles, you know, this is his second year; he does everything that we ask him. We put him in the outer lane that is wide enough, and the kid is so happy. And the day that you gave him the shirt and you told him, hey, you’re part of the team, he was… he could not believe it. He was like ooh!

So we do not kick people off the team. I would love to kick parents off the team. [laughter] (That’s a good one.) But they pay the bills.

Any other question? Well thank you very much for having us. [applause]

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