Items in normal text are questions presented to Eddie Reese by Chuck Warner. Items in bold text are the responses of Eddie Reese.]
Introduction by Josh Davis:
Good morning everyone. I have the privilege of introducing Chuck Warner today. Chuck grew up in Connecticut. His first big coaching job was at the Wilton Y. Then he went on to Cincinnati and coached a famous swimmer named Joe Hudepohl. Then Chuck went on to the Sarasota Y and then CAL State Bakersfield. Over the past 9 years, since 1997, he has been at Rutgers University. Chuck has taken his team from 12th in his conference to now 12th in the country. Coach Warner is significant in my life because in 1990, when he was out of Cincinnati, he was the head coach for the very first Junior USA National Team. Five guys and I who were on that team went on to make the Olympics. I was Captain of that first little Junior Team and I am very thankful for Coach Warner because he specifically helped develop my leadership skills. He said I had some good things to offer and he expected me to produce those good things. He expected me to give those good things back to my teammates so I appreciate him drawing out those leadership skills in me. One of the other things Chuck Warner and I have in common is that our lives were touched and forever changed by the same man. In 1978 Chuck was contacted by Eddie Reese. Eddie said to him, I think you are a positive person, I want to invite you to be my assistant with Kris Kubik at the University of Texas. That one year Chuck had with Eddie had a profound impact on his life. Now, 30 years later, Chuck is an author, a committed family man and an accomplished coach who genuinely cares about his athletes. So please welcome Chuck Warner.
Chuck Warner: I get really nervous about doing this. Over the years what I have learned is, you have got to get your mind off the talk and get a good night’s sleep the night before. That is the key. Every year I have gotten a little better. I’ll try to put aside Josh’s comments because as much as I appreciate them, they draw back a lot of emotion. So my routine was perfect last night. I got to my room about 9 o’clock and I read some very profound things and just drifted off into a great country music line, “I wish I did not know now what I didn’t know then”. George Block, are you here? I figure you and I might connect on that comment. Pondering another thought I read that a snowflake never feels guilty about the avalanche. I was thinking a little bit about how that has to do with the Rutgers program. I was doing great. At about 10:15 I suppose I was asleep. At 10:39 the phone rings. If you have had a wake-up call you know it is a lot like a fire alarm going off in your room. It is so loud. I figured it’s Nickey and he is calling, even though he didn’t say he would, to make sure we can go running this morning. This is okay because I am staying in the snowflake thought – the snowflake thought – the snowflake thought and the voice on the other end of the phone says, “Chuck, its Eddie Reese. What time do we start tomorrow morning?” So at 11 o’clock PM I am thinking snowflake – snowflake – snowflake. By 11:15 PM I am thinking avalanche – avalanche. By 11:30 PM I am thinking, oh that freaking Eddie. By about midnight I pulled out all of my brother’s questions that he wanted me to ask this morning and I felt a whole lot better.
What happened in Roswell, New Mexico in 1968? What about your club coaching career? I felt a lot better and managed to drift off to sleep and move into another sphere. I now want to explain the title of our talk this morning. This is a guy that does so much for swimming in so many different ways: ASCA Board, NCCAA committee. You name it, he finds a way to find time to do all those things to help us. He is the kind of guy that will be at the ASCA Business Meeting after this talk is over. It is something that can be a little mundane, but it has such an effect on learning the agenda for American Swimming Coaches today and helps us become better leaders.
The title of this talk comes from the idea and story of a student that was invited to be received by a Master. It was a student in Far Eastern religion and his colleagues gathered around the student and made suggestions as to what should be asked. They said you should ask about this thing that he said, these passages that he wrote. The wise student that had been invited thought about all of that. He said that he had thought to himself, what makes the Master the Master? Is it the habits that he has that he doesn’t even realize he has? Is that what separates him from just being average to being great? So he said to his fellow students. I am not going to ask him any of those questions. I am going to watch how he ties his shoes. I invite you this morning to try to enjoy discussion over technique and enjoy discussion over training. I have asked Eddie to trust me in helping display him a little more clearly perhaps and highlight some of the things that make him different in some ways and really make him such a special man and such a special coach, Eddie Reese.
Good morning. You notice that I sat on the other side of the stage. I knew what time this started on the schedule. I didn’t know if it had been changed. You know, this is in a different format. George and Chick Wielgus took the first crack at it last night. We are going to be way more funny than they were because, you are funnier than George and Chuck put together, so I am just kind of along for the ride. I am real funny when I am afraid and I am afraid. It has been said that three things could make the world a better place; First, to laugh more, Second, to contemplate the meaning of life in a broader picture and Third, when we are driving our cars to merge more kindly into traffic. I am not sure how you are with the Third, but I know with the Second you are terrific.
I was hoping we could talk for a few minutes about a few of the things that are unique or special about how you coach. I think humor is a big one. Before we get into how it works with your swimmers each day, can you tell everybody a little bit about where that came from? Is it just a product of being the big brother of Randy Reese that generates such a good sense of humor or was it your dad or your mom? Where does that come from?
You mean I can just put up with anything? I really believe that not much of what I do was learned. It must have come from home or a lot of times it’s my wife. I have these discussions about raising children. Some children are just different. It is almost like they are born that way. As I have gone through this sport I have found that I have learned to treat my swimmers like they equal one and I equal one. To do that you just have to value what they say. Now, that doesn’t mean they can say anything they want to me and get away with it and I can’t say anything I want to them and get away with it. I just value them. We are each one. Even though there are more of them than me, they can’t out-vote me. I know that.
Where does the humor come from? Is it your dad–your mom?
I’ve got a number of theories about that. My dad was funny. He was very humorous and mom was on a pedestal. It was typical old line thinking. We could never raise our voice to mom or talk back to mom and yet, she was funny. She had all these sayings. We would be out too late which I never did, but Randy did and in the morning she would look at us and say, well – it was country sayings – she would say “your eyes look like two goat turds in a bowl of milk”. She always said, “don’t ever let your mouth overload your pants”.
That is pretty good. Now another thing that psychologists seem to say is that two people are never closer than when they laugh together; that is an intermixing of the limbic systems in the brain. This is a picture which you might see up on the screen of the T-shirt that some of your guys gave you this spring. If you can’t read it in the back, it says, “The beatings will continue until morale improves”. Can you talk a little bit about how much humor is involved in your coaching, every day? Some people would say with 90% of your teaching, humor is involved.
That is actually a shirt that was given to me by a Lieutenant Colonel in the Marine Corps who was in Iraq. I am reluctant to wear anything belonging to the Marines. The Marines are so high up in my estimation, but he gave me a number of reasons why it would be alright to wear it. The guys like it. I am just better, like talking to this group, I am better talking to them and more at ease if I get them laughing, but there are times that you have got to be serious. You have got to have the humor and then you have got to have the real life and they have got to be able to know the difference when the serious side is real important.
Are there a lot of messages that are sent to your swimmers, a lot of information, a lot of inspiration that is communicated with laughter and not just with direct serious conversation?
I think there are fewer subtle hints given now in laughter. It used to be, when I was younger, a lot more on the sarcasm side. I wasn’t as good at it. In other words, sometimes the laughter was because it was directed at somebody. Now I know that that is not good. There are better ways. On occasion it is good because there are some people and some things that need to be laughed at as a group and then to get over them and get by them. I have gotten a lot better with the sarcasm side and keep it. I direct it more at myself now. Of course, I have been married for 42 years so I have got a lot of funny things that always happen to me.
I wasn’t sure if you were headed for an apology for all the times that everybody laughed at me when I was at Texas or not, but.
You were the one.
I thought so. Alright, let’s talk about competitiveness a little bit. You have said that the reason people are on the Olympic team is more because they hate to lose than because they love to win. Last year there was a rule that was put into play in the NCAA that you could make phone calls in the month of March. A lot of people were complaining about making recruiting calls in the month of March to Juniors. Skip Kenney said to me, “Eddie Reese will make those calls”. “He will do what he has to do to win”. I have heard you swear two times in the 30 years that I have known you. One of those times was the 1979 NCAA Championships after prelims when we were on our way to scoring one big point by Kelly Rives in the 200 IM. We were walking down the hall and no one was around and you made it clear that things were going to be different the next year. You are a very competitive person, but I think in this atmosphere a lot of times that doesn’t come out. True?
Without a doubt. I played a lot of racquetball and I was the only guy in our group that would go over and practice to be better. Nobody I knew ever practiced racquetball you know, in our group, and we played with good players. There was a guy that 15 years before had been #1 in the world for two years and another guy in my age group that was top 5 nationally. I wanted to compete with those guys so I would just go and practice. I would go in for an hour before camp Sunday afternoon and hit all backhands because everything I do I don’t pick up easily and I have to work at it.
You used to love to play racquetball. You stopped a while back which I thought must be because we all are getting older. Then I heard that it was because you would get so angry after a loss that you would carry it back into practice. It would affect how you were coaching that day. Is that the truth?
Well, according to my swimmers, that is partially true, but I don’t believe it all. I am the type of competitor – I am not one of these guys that – I just hate to lose. I had a partner in racquetball. We could play. We played two great players and we lost three out of five to them. I was happy because we could not have done any better. We were the best we had ever been. He wouldn’t talk to me for three days, but he had the killer instinct and I didn’t. I like to think of it as it is part of coaching and teaching. You can accept your athletes doing the best that they can do as the effort that you want.
Does this competitiveness for your team and your swimmers drive you to work harder recruiting and help them be as fast as they can possibly be?
Without a doubt. I will go further for them than I would for me. It’s like this summer. I ran 12 swimming workouts a week. Three dry-land workouts a week and did camp. That just made it easier for everybody to get in the number of workouts I thought would be beneficial for them. It wasn’t that much fun.
The third thing is intuition. This is a dangerous subject because it can take us into all sorts of tangents. Intuition has been described and defined by psychologists as intelligence tempered with emotion. When you were coming up as a young coach, just talking about the educational part of it, what did you study at the University of Florida?
I called you once in the summer time, a long time ago and I am not sure why or how and I said, “what are you doing today”? It was the middle of the afternoon and I think and you said, “I am re-studying physiology. I try to do it every year. I try to re-learn how the body works”. What background do you have from an educational standpoint that you work off of?
I got my undergraduate degree in physical education and got my masters in administration. However, that whole year in graduate school I worked in a physiology lab. I had a professor that would accept questions about things that were not in the book. Our book back then basically said, there is no research that tapering has anything to do with success. I just felt that that was wrong. I could go ask this guy questions. He played a real important role in my life, in asking questions.
And there was a guy in there that was a grad student that said to you, Eddie, why do we do our endurance work out of the water when we do so much swimming in the water? Why do we separate those two? You knew that Doc Councilman had done a study or someone had that said if you did push-ups and sit-ups in addition to your regular sport you would be a better athlete. Strength has been a big component to your programs in all sorts of ways. It is taking in the most finite or specific way. When you look at an athlete that has touch on the water, that has distance per stroke, what are you trying to get them to do? Not with everybody else’s kids but what in terms of increasing their strength level do you do to get them to be faster?
Well, if you guys see anybody that looks pretty in the water, don’t tell anybody else, just tell me. That is what I recruit. There is a lot of talk in the newspapers and everything about cheating that goes on in the world. Basically in the sport’s world most of it is to gain strength. If they cheat in cycling to gain strength or in swimming, they do not gain specific strength, they just get stronger. Then as the body gets stronger you are better at what you do. So that is how my strength program is oriented. What I do and what Brendan, Neil, Ian and Aaron and those guys do, I haven’t got any freshmen and sophomores that can do that. They have got to work up to that. Like to improve strength for most everybody in this room, we could all get stronger by just doing 5 pushups every 5 minutes, 5 times twice a day. We would get stronger until probably three weeks. Then we would have to change. There are some people that could do that and nothing would change. In fact, if that is all they would do, they would get weaker. Strength gaining is relative to the individual. Where they are now, where they have been, I think that is real important.
I really appreciate what John Leonard has done and USA Swimming and now FINA, as much as I hate the testing because my guys love to do the testing process during practice. It takes about 20-30 minutes. At least that is what they tell me, but I am all for it. I want to see what we know and what we can get people to do and what they can do, something that they can be proud of – what they do themselves.
Are you trying to get them to be able to apply more pressure on the water, to be able to go faster through your strength program?
Very basically, I want them to keep the distance per stroke and increase the strength. In a mathematical theory, if you keep the distance per stroke and increase the stroke rate by 1/10 of a second, you will go this distance a second faster than you would have normally done it in ten strokes. That is purely mathematical and to increase the stroke rate 1/10 of a second is very, very difficult to do.
No slippage of the water, just more strength to be able to apply more pressure and hold on and go. There was a time when it seemed, like in the 70’s, part of the challenge was how bad could we be during the season compared to how good could we be at the end of the season, right? You were great at that. You had guys go 1:59 in the 200 IM all year long and then they would go 1:52. Everybody would brag about that. Kris Kubik tells me a lot of that was because of the difference in the strength program as much or more than anything else. Is he right about that? Has your strength program changed in terms of developing strength and measuring strength development throughout the season as opposed to just getting very tired and doing four sets of 15 dips with 60 extra pounds thus getting very tired and slow and gradually bringing them back?
As for our strength program, I do think it sets us apart. To put it bluntly, it makes us suck during the season. But there are some people that refuse to lose and they are not going to be bad at any time. Those are the great talents. They are not just the great physical talents, they are the great mental giants of the sport. That first started at Auburn when I got people like Scott Spann and Bill Forrester and Dave McCagg. Those guys were the first group that I had that could move during the season. I do believe that it is the weight room. The heavier the weights, the fewer repetitions, the more you involve the greater number of muscle fiber at the same time so you have the greatest opportunity for fatigue. Now, I don’t do it to the same extent. Somebody new into our program will do our program for two weeks and then they will do a week of testing in the weight room and then two weeks and a week of testing. The testing isn’t easy, but it is not near as hard as the program. For the guys that have been in the program, it’s like a senior and a freshman in high school. The guys that have been in the program, they do it three weeks and then they do a week of testing. That kind of keeps them from going way down into over-compensation curve, but I am a firm believer in the over-compensation curve.
So, you have had more people swim fast in December than you used to ten, twenty years ago?
You have guys in the summer that are really fast two to three weeks out of their big meet usually. Is that the difference, mainly in strength control or strength fatigue control?
Without a doubt. In the summer we come off weights a lot sooner. For an Olympic Trials or something like that that we have in early July, I always aim for the meet before because I don’t get the first meet right. I aim for the meet before the Trials and then they go real good at Trials.
In the summer, you guys went to two days a week of strength and one day a week of dry-land as opposed to the typical?
Three days a week of strength and two or three days of dry-land? What was your thinking?
Well, we did the three days a week April and May, during their optional time. That’s a little humor. I just threw that out to see if you were listening. It was just too important of a meet. We were picking three or four teams. It ended up being more teams off of it and I just couldn’t take any chances with me.
When you say you came off strength sooner in the summer, I know that is very individual. Is that somewhere between, instead of two and three weeks or one and three weeks in the winter and then it becomes three and five or six weeks in the summer? Or what is the range of difference?
In the winter it is in the three to five weeks. In the summer it is for sure five weeks. When we went to the Olympics in Athens my guys were fast enough. Two days after the swimming was over, we went in and did our test set in the weight room. They had basically been off weights for nine weeks. We had done some dry-land, but when you are doing pushups and pushing your body weight and you got guys who can do 70-80 pushups in a minute, and you are doing 10 or 15 pushups, your strength will fall some. I was surprised at how good, how well their strength had stayed up and they were too.
Which suggests that simply swimming and putting pressure on the water can maintain strength to some degree.
Well, its like a 10 and under, they get stronger just by going to workouts because it is at a higher level than they are used to.
Just by lifting their arms out of the water and putting pressure on the water when going the 100 butterfly 8 year olds are doing a strength workout?
We did with this group.
Technique. You have said in your DVD that no matter how fast somebody gets (you are welcome for that DVD comment) no matter how fast somebody gets, there are always ways to improve and go faster. We have a world record in the medley relay with Aaron Peirsol from your program that was a world record holder in high school, Brendan Hansen who was 3rd place at the Olympic Trials in high school in the 200 breaststroke and Ian Crocker who was an Olympian 100 butterflyer in high school, that have all gotten faster. Let’s go through each of those guys and specifically for Aaron, who is up here on the screen, aside from underwater dolphin kick, what do you guys work on to make Aaron Peirsol faster?
Well, Aaron is a genius when it comes to technique. He and Dave Salo did a phenomenal job. Aaron knows almost too much about his stroke to pass it on. You don’t have to worry very much about Aaron and his stroke. Every once in a while he will get out of alignment, where his hand goes in the water, but that is just fatigue. Normally he doesn’t miss much, rhythm wise, how his hand goes in the water. He talks about hand pitch the way Johnny Skinner and the guys at USA Swimming talk about it. It is not something that I normally talk about. Aaron is just way ahead of me when it comes to the backstroke. We work hard on the fly kick because at this moment that is not as good as it is going to be.
You know, you would say and so would a lot of other people, get your hands down 8-10 inches before you catch in backstroke and then begin to pull. You will see on this video that he is unusually shallow in where he catches water. That is one of those things that you might say the model is to do it a different way, but you have decided this a better way. Dave Salo has said maybe this is Aaron’s special skill, being able to catch water that shallow.
He is pretty deep up there.
Look at his left hand.
Chuck, that is pretty deep.
For his right hand?
But it sweeps up. I would like to make a comment about technique. Technique is like yard work. You need to know I am no good at yard work, but if you don’t do it, it gets worse. It takes more effort. Technique is the same way. We have a camp in the summer and we work. We have two sessions a day on technique. I think technique is difficult, but we don’t do a good job on it, as a country. We must do a better job on technique.
Let’s talk then more about how you do a good job on technique. If you think Aaron is pretty good, but sometimes his hand placement is not perfect, what do you say to him? Is it just a quick work? Is he watching video to remind himself about what he does or is it all by feel?
It is almost not fair to talk about these guys. They have heard things so much. You can remind and remind them of it and they will say oh yeah. It is like Brendan at the Pan-Pacs. He swam a very bad 100 breaststroke. I never thought we would be calling 59.9 a very bad 100 breaststroke but it was. He took 20 strokes down and 22 strokes back. He is usually in the 100, 17 or 18 down and one or two more coming back. He has got a drill he likes to do under water. He likes to swim regular breaststroke under water. After the race I grabbed him and I said, don’t do that drill before you do the 200. I think when he swims under water it really helps him with his line and it has helped him on his pull-outs but when you swim under water you have the tendency to start getting too wide and too flat. When you swim the stroke, the way Brendan swims it, he comes up, he pops up and that is natural. When you get too wide you lose this part of the pull, the main part of the pull. So when you are wide you are flat. I thought that is what he did in the 100. It may or may not have been. He has got another drill he likes to do where he just goes pace 50’s. He goes 25 breaststroke pull and then just for the rhythm he goes into the stroke at the 25 meter mark. When he goes 31 plus, then he knows he is ready to go. It probably played no part in his 200. I am definitely not trying to take credit for that, but as soon as I told him that he said yeah, I know what you are talking about. So those guys aren’t the stroke challenges.
Stroke challenges are the younger guys on the team that aren’t this talented. These guys are talented. Brendan’s talent is strength and work ethic and Aaron’s talent is feel for the water and technique and Ian Crocker’s talent is…he is a fast boy. Well, what I mean is he has got a 32-34 inch vertical jump. Not many swimmers do that. He can jump. That means he has got probably a lot more white fiber or quick twitch muscle than Brendan does. I would love to do a muscle biopsy on them and not have it connected to me because that can be painful.
You have said that by Brendan holding his eyes focused toward the starting block at the end of the pool that it helps his hips stay up more. At least that is what you say on the DVD. Do you mean that there is a more straight line flow, less amplitude as he goes down the pool? Do you mean that he is not way up and down, that his hips are traveling relatively high the whole time? What do you mean by that? He holds his head high and he looks forward and his hips stay up more?
Okay, what I actually want in the breaststroke is I want them to come up. I want them to look at the block at the other end. At this point in my career, I am not a fan of the look at the water breaststroke or the head down breaststroke. The reason I am not a fan is if you stay down in the water, you have to pull your arms up with your arm muscles instead of lifting your chest and shoulders up. I have noticed that there is no one that swims the 200 with that stroke. The people that swim that stroke in the IM, in my opinion (this is an opinionated sport), they have trouble swimming freestyle on the end of their stroke. I think keeping their head down just takes too much in the arms to keep bringing them up through the water. I just get him up. I want the head to be perpendicular. We go through a lot of phases. When you take a great athlete they can make a lot of things work that mechanically might not be sound. I remember Tracy Caulkins. She has got to be the greatest all around swimmer ever in the history of our sport, men or women. American records in every stroke. I can’t figure out how she held it in the IM too, but there was a time when she broke the American record qualifying for the world championships. The principle then was she was coming up so high out of the water because they wanted to use gravity to try to move her forward off the high side of the water. I thought they were trying to get her to breathe through her belly button also and take in more air, but that didn’t work. She was so good she still won. That didn’t make it the best. One year during NCAA’s there were two guys from the same college team that went the same time in the hundred fly. One went on to win the Olympics in the 100 meter fly. I am not this good mechanically all the time, but they did a butterfly turn where both hands came over the water simultaneously and came around like that. Well, I was younger then so I got in the water and tried that. It was much faster, but you couldn’t think. You couldn’t get underwater for the push-off, but they were so good they made it work. I am always on the lookout for that. I don’t know if I should do this.
Butterfly. Some people say what is so unusual about Ian Crocker is that his amplitude is less than anybody else. I don’t know where I heard that recently. Does that mean that he is flexible enough to slide through the water with some sort of dolphin, but he doesn’t have to go real high and real deep to do that? What is, aside from what you have already said, what is special about Ian?
I really think that the loops and the high recoveries are going to come out of the sport because we are getting too fast. If from here to here is the shortest line, we are going to have to. This is a longer line, but you have got more potential for speed here. We are going to have to shorten to go faster.
Shorten the distance between two points?
We are going to have to keep that amplitude down. If you look at Ian or Michael Phelps or the young lady from Australia, Schipper that swam fly. They were almost skipping across the water instead of a high loop. The high loop definitely helps with the hips so it may be flexibility like you are talking about.
So it may be there are some kids that just have to go up and down in order to go forward because they are not that gifted, but Ian is gifted enough to be able to travel at a pretty narrow dolphin, but still gets through the water fast.
I have been hung up ever since Sidney in 2000. I have been hung up on kicking because everybody that is any good, at least particularly on the male side, Van Den Hoogenband, Thorpe, Hackett, Gary Hall, Michael Phelps, Ian Crocker, Aaron Peirsol , they can all kick 50 meters flutter kick on a board and break 30 seconds. Popoff and Larsen Jensen have been 58.8, 100 meters flutter kick on a kick board. The kick is really important. We have looked at it under water. I have had two guys with size 18 feet that came off a basketball court and they have hydrobrakes because their ankles won’t become flexible. We worked on it. As the last resort, because they had one more year of college, I was going to take a hacksaw and cut the front of their ankle. I would never cut the Achilles’ but I would cut the front to see if this would help them with their ankle flexibility. It is ankle flexibility. Some people are good at it and others have to work at it and you know what? That is alright. However, if you don’t work at it, that is not alright. The good kickers are so flexible. If you have ever watched Ian Thorpe with about 125 to go in a 400, he starts kicking. He makes the second best guy in the world look like a beginner. He starts kicking and he just pulls away. It is unbelievable. The kick is really valuable. I don’t mean that you have to do everything where you just kick, but it is very important, very worthwhile working on. The good kickers come up to here and their ankles are so flexible they come to there and they push the water that way. The average kickers brush. They get vector forces and the good kickers get more straight forward forces.
You have moved us into training. This is where your intuition seems to kick in. You are known as never writing down a practice. The only time that I worked at Texas that you wrote one down was to help us out so that we had some idea what was coming, which was very rare. You walk in with an idea. You walk in with a set. You walk in with a timeframe of we are going to spend 20 minutes on this, we are going to spend 40 minutes of that. How much in your mind do you have planned before you walk in the door that day for practice?
I think it is a philosophy. I know what I want to be doing at that time of the season. When you write a workout there are a lot of ways to get there. When I write a workout they hate to see me come in with a paper because they know that it is too hard. That is their opinion. Too hard for them, I don’t get tired, I am fine.
So how much of a plan do you have? Do you seek out sets? Do you think about sets? This is good – that is good.
Do you walk in that day thinking, I think probably we are ready to do this and go through warm-up and decide, yeah I think we are or back out of that and say no, I am looking at everybody and I just don’t think today is the day to do that, we are going to do this?
I love practice. I love going to practice. I write when I am on an airplane. If I am not reading, I am writing up sets that will give me what I think I want. In other words, we have all done ten 50’s on a minute thirty where you want them to go real fast. I remember when Neil Walker was in college. He would go ten 50’s backstroke and hold 23.5’s or better. Then I figured, well, why do I waste that last part of the 1:30 interval? Since that was hard and we got the lactate up, why don’t we do something on the aerobic side? So we immediately go into five or eight 100’s if they are freestyle. 23.5 was short course but if they are long course we will go eight 100’s on 1:30 and you get four breaths a lap. They have learned that you don’t go real slow because that means holding your breath longer.
Do you know that that is probably what you want to do when you walk in that day?
Yeah, I have an idea. I like to get a feel for where they are and what I think they are willing to do. I think about what they can do. I kind of watch warm-up. We have done some warm-ups that we call warm-outs, that have just killed the whole practice. We did a short course warm-up one time where we went eight 100’s freestyle on 1:20, six 200 frees on 2:10, four 300 frees on 3 minutes, two 400 frees on 3:50.
We were done. I only had two guys make that.
Was that your intuition that day that told you that was a good warm-up? That didn’t workout?
No, that was just for me.
That was after a racquetball loss?
I read something Dick Jochums wrote a long time ago about challenging people and particularly men or boys. It was about how they respond to a challenge and how important it is to them and it is alright to give them things they can’t do. Now I don’t make it a habit. I don’t do it once a week or once every two weeks, but we do some things that they can’t do. Doing things they don’t want to do; that is life in the big city.
Is there a pattern to the week?
Well no, I mean the same day we lift weights.
You do the fast stuff?
We will do fast stuff, but if we do, it is Tuesday, Friday. This semester, Monday, Wednesday, Friday is weights and Tuesday we will do some fast stuff and Friday we will do some fast stuff. We have gone Monday, Wednesday and Saturday/Tuesday or Saturday/Thursday. I don’t like to be patterned. When I did all my studying on strength training I did a lot of reading about what the Russians did. One philosophy came through with everything that they did, which is not at all how I pictured them. It was that basically, if you do the same thing every day when you go in the weight room the body will adjust to it easily. So they change things up. I change things up in the water also. We usually do our aerobic, then we do our fast stuff. That is pretty much traditional. Recently, we have started doing our fast stuff and then we do our aerobic.
I have got a guy that could break 15 minutes for the 1500 meters freestyle. I don’t want to take two years to get him down there. I want him to do it next summer. I have got to find a way to do that. As Jon Urbanchek said last night, some of the ways we did things to get people under 15:10 won’t get them to 14:40. There may be steps they have to go through, but there is another step out there to take.
And you are looking at Steve maybe as a precursor to?
Well, I also like the idea of getting the chemical waste products in the system early and then doing the aerobic with it.
In the practice in that day?
You are starting to talk a little bit about basic truisms of training. Is one of them that one of the worst things that you can do is start a season too hard?
My theory is that, yeah. I believe that if you start and work up gradually you can go further before they start crashing and you can crash at a higher level.
Are there any other truisms like that that are important for everyone to know?
I think my swimmers would be good to get in on this. We had our team meeting before Nationals talking about it. When I finished, Brendan Hansen stood up. Now Brendan likes to train breaststroke. His other strokes he can swim, decently. I mean he was a 1:46 IMer. He’s never swum the 400 IM shaved, but he could have probably broken 3:50 for 400 yards. Anyway, he said, “I can remember those nine 400’s we did that one day and they were all freestyle and how hard that was”. “I can remember the day we almost all rebelled until Eddie came in and gave us a 20-20-20”. That is just 20 minute swim, 20 minutes kick, 20 minutes pull. It’s the name of a practice I don’t like to give, but I do. It is called recovery. They had whined it above my tolerance level.
But my guess is that you have very few shoulder problems because you do have a sense of what is too much and of when you are getting to the point that you are grinding away in a way that they are not going to recover in the next week or two, true?
During October and November and December, I feel like we prepare for the summer. When we finish at the end of March we really don’t have time to do the kind of work that I want to do for the period of time that I want to do it. When a swimmer starts, you look at their career as a triangle. When a swimmer starts anything you give them works. You can tell them for example, walk up the stairs in your house five times or swim five minutes, kick five minutes, stroke drill five minutes for a 15 minute swim. Anything you give them will make them better, but as they get better, fewer things work. The sad part, the tough part, the thing that works best is more work. Because, when an athlete quits gaining strength through physical maturation (that falls from a 3-5% gain from age 10 to sometimes age 18, to zero to one or two%), then something else must occur. A lot of times we have the swimmers that are good, no matter what we do to them. We have to be cognizant of the fact that it may not be what we are doing. That is my biggest fear that I am taking these guys in the wrong direction. We talk about it all the time. I don’t particularly care if they agree with me. These guys that have been in it for a while, that have been good, as somebody said yesterday, they are getting smarter. They know more about the sport, but they know more of what they want to do, not what they have to do. Honestly, I don’t know what is best for them. I visualize them on this platform with a lot more legs in here that is supporting where they are. When they add more to their platform that can be a good thing. It can be a positive girlfriend. It can be hunting and fishing. It can be stamp collecting, but it goes on the platform. You need to do more to support even the good things that they pick. They will start removing some. Well, I really don’t like doing squats because my legs feel bad in practice. That’s alright. You just slap them around. We don’t care what you don’t like, but you can’t talk to them that way either. A lot of times you know, when the good athlete will have a bad season, they want to go back to something, back down in here, something that they think made a difference. It might be the thing, but more than likely it is not.
If it was easy, everybody would do t.
If it was easy, everybody would be fast.
Michael Jordan once said, “I have missed more than 9,000 shots in my career and I have lost almost 300 games. 26 times I have been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I failed over and over and over again in my life and that is why I succeed”. What great lessons of failure have you had that have taught you how to be a better coach?
My swimmers are real good at reminding me of this. The summer of the World Championships they had a real good summer and I didn’t go. I have been living hard on that one ever since. They said, well let me see. You went to the Olympics and we weren’t that good. Then we went to the World Championships and we were real good and you weren’t there. But failures, I have got them all. I have got them from things like people that I didn’t recruit that went to another school and were great. About four of them, they stopped me getting off an elevator one day and said, “we should have come to Texas”. I just said, “don’t tell me that”. Golly day, that just kills me. I live with all of that. Like when we have a decent summer Nationals, there are still guys that I wanted them to do better. They gave me everything they could give me. I got them there needing another week’s rest or another week and ten days and I don’t like that. That is why this summer I went to two weight workouts a week and one dry-land. The distance men went two dry-lands and one weight workout a week. I thought I was careful. It is a constant learning process. The sad part is that you learn from your mistakes and now it takes something else to make them better. You have got to be out there. I am never satisfied, never satisfied. I am happy. I like fast swims. Brendan Hansen told me at the beginning of this past September, he says a 2:09 breaststroke is the weakest world record out there. No, he said the softest world record. He said, we have got to fix that. We both know that 2:07 is in the game and .58+ is in the game.
I want to get to the point in the next 15 minutes where if you guys have a question or two that you have a chance to ask it. So if you are thinking of things, please do. We have a few more things to talk about first though. Almost thirty years ago you had five assistant coaches at the University of Texas. Three of them were unpaid that tended bar, waited tables to learn from you. Two were getting a little money as graduate assistant coaches. Of those five, one has become the President of the National Interscholastic Swimming Coaches Association, NISCA. One became the president of the College Swimming Coaches Association and the third became the President of the American Swimming Coaches Association. The fourth is still there and the fifth we are worried about.
I know who that is.
What is the state of mentoring and development of young coaches today? Is there a path to success that you see that makes sense and any advice that you have for young coaches out there as to how to progress in their careers?
Well, they have taken a lot of graduate assistantships out of college programs now. The sad part that is all those (I even bothered to look this up) all those people at the NCAA’s that voted this out; most of them got a graduate assistantship. I have got some real issues with the NCAA and one day here soon I may start taking them on. It won’t scare them at all, but I will feel better about it. All I know is how I got to do it. I picked Don Gambril because Don Gambril was the guy that was doing the job back when I was young. It was Don and Peter and George and Doc. I remember Don Gambril had six of the top 8 finalists in the US Nationals in the Women’s 1500 meters freestyle. That really impressed me. Any time I would go to a meeting like this or a banquet, I would stand at that door and when Don Gambril came in I would grab him. I probably hurt his education but helped mine because he never heard anything but my thousand questions. He was nice enough to do this.
Now we have the internet. I go to the internet and look up research. I know that there is some research that wasn’t done on the right group. We haven’t got much research on the pinnacle or the elite athlete. We don’t know what changes them. Just like, you know what crunches are. Do you know why crunches were brought into our society like they were? We don’t do crunches. They are not good for people that are further down the line. They did studies on groups that had never done anything, so they started doing sit-ups and the small of their back hurt. So sit-ups are bad for your back. We do sit-ups with surgical tubing tied right there so it makes them harder. Crunches are purely cosmetic when you get to the level my guys get to. They have got to do 2-300 to make any changes. If they are at this level, they will never get stronger doing crunches. It would help for most of us however. It would help me to do 100 crunches a day.
So what is your advice to young coaches in developing, aside from crunches? Is there a message behind this? Is it to find a mentor and ask and learn?
There are a lot of people out there that have a good direction and know what they are doing. It is people that are consistent in the sport and are consistent in their program and are moving forward with it. There are a lot of people. Just don’t be afraid to ask questions. Grab somebody and ask questions. Some of the best parts of this clinic used to be people sitting around. I sat down in the lobby yesterday and pretty soon there were four or five of us around there talking about breaststroke. How do you go from a 15 year old 2:24 breaststroker to 2:16 and 2:12 and what do you look for and how do you see these things? There are some good videos out that have got some great swimming on them. I think there is breaststroke video out with Brendan on it. He has a great stroke. I will never forget a story. There was a young man, he coaches now. In fact I told him this story without knowing it was him. The story was about a swimmer that impressed me most who was a 2:02 breaststroker at Santa Barbara a number of years ago, back in the Mike Barrowman era. This swimmer got Mike Barrowman’s tapes and did everything that Mike Barrowman did. He copied his stroke and everything. He went 1:58 the next year and scored in the top 8. You can do it on your own, but there are a lot of people that will help you. I think the key to my changes comes when my swimmers don’t swim well. I look at myself first. That is hard to do. It was harder when I was younger. Now I know I was right all those years, but it is something that I did.
Different subject: Humor is great. Relationships are great, but anger and discipline come into coaching too. It seems to me that you are great about being angry at and or disciplining an individual, but not holding any individual in contempt for them as a person. In Josh Davis’ words, “you are great at informing athletes about how to get faster and inspiring them to be great men”. What do you do when you are angry with an individual? How do you deal with that?
My wife worries a little bit about my anger because I internalize it. I don’t show it real well. I don’t believe it has caused anything because I am good at internalizing. I am beginning to have fun with it. I have seen people get angry because a swimmer doesn’t swim well. If I blame myself, I can’t get angry at the swimmer. I have got some swimmers that can’t race. I have read books on it. I have talked to experts on it. I don’t agree with any of them. They say it is genetic. There is nothing you can do. I believe that everybody has got that point where you can race or you can become a hero. It may be so far down the line that they don’t reach it. I have tried to get people where this was not one of their strengths, to be able to compete. I have not succeeded. The ones that can compete, do compete. If somebody knows how to do that, I want to know because I have not been very successful with that.
Is it a true story that at a USC meet in some recent year, somebody was finishing I think a 200 IM and they didn’t kick all the way through “the wall”. Is it true that you magically made it from the other side of the pool to the side of the lane where they finished between the time that they got from the backstroke flags to the wall and looked at the young man in the face and said, “don’t ever stop kicking until you have finished the race”? Kris Kubik says that is true. Is that true?
Luckily I have forgotten that, but the way I remember it as I didn’t come around the pool deck, I walked across the water.
Very good. Team Work: three people in my eyes come to mind as being keys in your life. You know almost all of us have a friend or more that we come up with in coaching that we become very close to because we are at a similar stage in our coaching career. We can really help each other. I am sure Don Gambril had Peter Daland and George Haines and others where they kind of came up together. You have the unusual case of being a brother to the man you have said is the brother that doesn’t smile, which we all know that is not true. He has a great sense of humor. What has Randy Reese meant to you in terms of a coaching colleague and trading information and helping each other, aside from giving you Dave McCagg, Scott Spann and Billy Forrester that made you the coach that you are today?
There is no doubt about that, no doubt about that. Randy is a real genius. I don’t want anybody to tell him that I said this stuff about him, but he is a real genius when it comes to swimming. He is amazingly innovative. I mean, I am the left-handed one. I am supposed to be creative, but he comes up with things and why it works? I don’t do everything he says, but there are a lot of things that I take and he takes a few from me. The thing that I admire most about him is he makes people do what is best for them and that is a real gift. There is always someone on your team that will do whatever you ask, at the level that you ask them. Those are the ones that you coach for free. The others you get paid for because you must demand that they do it another way. That is harder on me than it is on Randy.
Thirty years with one brief interruption. I want to ask this a different way I guess. Most of us spend, if we are a head coach, thousands of hours in our coaching career in finding or trying to find the best assistant coaches that we can have. They come in. They go out. They move to other programs. It disrupts the continuity of our program. It takes a lot of our time away from our program, with the exception of one year or two in there. Kris Kubik has been with you since before Texas, at Auburn, 30 plus years. I asked him what is the best thing about his job? He said #1, I get paid pretty well. #2, If we do well I am a great assistant coach. If we don’t I get to say I told you so Eddie #3. I get to work for the man I most admire in the world. What has Kris Kubik meant to the success of your career or your program at Texas?
Well, Kris is one of the people that I most admire also. He does a great job of taking care of me. An assistant coach always hears more than the coach. The things that I need to handle he makes sure I hear about them. The things I don’t need to handle, I don’t hear about that. I can go and leave practice and know that he is going to work them harder than I would have worked them. They are going to be glad to see me when I come back. You can’t beat that. I get a royal welcome when I come back. He is just great at reading faces. We both agree on I think a philosophy of life. We both know that all we have to offer is to help these people. Ultimately, on earth, the only thing we get out of it is what we give others. To help people is why we are here. We have got jobs that enable us to do that. I graduated from the University of Florida in 63’, 64’. That was a time where the whole theory was take care of #1. That meant you took care of yourself and didn’t worry about anything else. Now and even then, I found that you take care of yourself better if you take care of everybody around you and if you don’t worry about yourself. Kris is the same way. Every job that has come open I have said, do you want me to get that job for you? I have been so thankful when he said no. I am sincere in saying he is easily one of the top 5 coaches in our country. He is very, very good. Our staff is Kris Kubik and I. We do have a volunteer coach this year, but he is from Australia. You know how that goes. We are not sure of his relative value yet.
Speaking of support and support systems, there is a third person in this process. Back there in the early 60’s when you had dance class at the University of Florida there was somebody that thought you were really cute and had to put you on her dance card as much as possible. It took you a while to figure out that when she was walking through the bank to take care of her business and then would come back out the other door and get in line with you again to walk through the bank with you, that it wasn’t because you had a lot of money. She wanted to get to know you. Then when you were invited as a guest to speak at her swimming class, you asked her to demonstrate butterfly. It made her cry. You consoled her, started to date and you have been together ever since. Last year when you received the Coach of the Year Award, you said that back in the middle 1970’s when I was at Auburn there was this great class of guys coming out. It was Tim Shaw or Bruce Furniss year and or Brian Goodell. Eleanor Reese said to you “are you going to recruit them?” You said, “they will never come to Auburn” and she said, “how do you know if you don’t try?” How much of a help has it been in your coaching to have the support of Eleanor Reese in your life, particularly in your coaching life? We all wish that we had that kind of a spousal understanding and support. She claims that she has not taken over as your assistant coach, but as a matter of fact had to remove herself from that kind of attitude in those days because her job, first and foremost, was President of the Eddie Reese Fan Club. If she spends too much time coaching she won’t be able to fulfill that role?
It has brought tears to my eyes. There are three parts to knowledge. 1, is intellect and that is book learning. 2, is being smart. That is how many times you have to keep screwing up till you quit doing it. 3, is wisdom and most men must marry wisdom. Wisdom is that gift that you know the right thing without ever screwing up. I married wisdom. She has made me be a better father, a better dad. I got a real high compliment yesterday. Somebody in this group came up to me and said, “you gave me the best advice I have ever had”. I thought he was going to say you know, fly kick under water, something real important. He said I started going to lunch at school with my children because when you coach in the afternoon and recruit at night you give up time with your children so you must make a greater effort. I would go to the cafeteria and eat lunch at elementary school and junior high school and high school. They did not want that to happen. You can understand that, but Eleanor would not ever let me put the family anywhere but first. It is the best investment I ever made. Great kids, spoiled grandkids, all the good stuff, Eleanor has been (she is like Randy in some ways) in her being able to predict the future or where we need to go or where swimming should go. She has got her Masters. She is very good at physiology and has helped me in that area. I don’t bounce things off of her like we used to. Now I am at the stage where I think I know something. It is a dangerous stage. She belongs in the “amazing” category.
I want to give everybody or at least somebody a chance to ask a question or two. I had a few things to finish up with, but I am going to skip those and just go to this one. A truism of life is that we are only entitled to receive as much as we are prepared to give. I think a lot of us look at Eddie Reese and say, boy is he lucky, Olympic coach, coach of ten or so NCAA Championship Teams at Texas and World records. What I am not sure everyone sees is how much you have given to your individual athletes. How much you have given to your team at Texas or how much you have given to the American Swimming Team or consenting to do things like this today and how much you have given to the sport of swimming. I think you have gotten out of this way less than you have given and I think everyone else in the room today would like to thank you for all of that.
Does anyone have a question for Ed before we start the business meeting? Matt Benedict?
[Editors Note: Unfortunately the questions from the audience did not come through on the audio tape. Consequently, only Coach Reese’s responses have been transcribed.]
Freestyle and butterfly are the strokes where breathing and the right breathing is important. Most swimmers, if you time them on a 25, are not going to breathe. So that means we are faster when we don’t breathe. Ian usually goes around 80 meters, one up, two down and then he goes to one up one down. I am a firm believer of one up one down. I have quit trying to convince Michael Phelps of that, but there are always exceptions to the rule. He is one of the great athletes. He likes to do it that way and he is amazingly good at it. Most normal humans, to get back level in the water have got to put their head down so we do a lot of one up, one down. We do a lot of two strokes off the wall in a short course pool. Two strokes off the wall, breathe on the third one, breathe again at the flags. So you breathe twice a lap. We do repeat hundreds that way. We do dive 100 freestyle short course (I don’t recommend this for a younger group) where we go one breath a lap. We go them on about 2 ½ minutes. They hold amazingly fast. I have had guys hold :47-:49 on four 100’s in a tired part of the season, going on 2 ½ minutes. Now they are spent at the end of that, just because of the breath holding, but it definitely plays a part. What do your 50 men do? I did see Gary Hall at one Nationals go a number of years ago a 22.3, 50 meters freestyle, breathing every stroke. I think that was the same year he went 21.7 breathing once or twice on the 50. I think it is a factor for most of us.
We will go one last question and then we need to move to the business meeting.
In the heat before his heat, one of our swimmers flinched on the block and was disqualified. So he got off the block at .2. Normally it is .06 something for the sprinters or .08. He was way slow. He was .2 and behind everybody.
It was not a plan, but we were very excited that he was outside. They had the Omega pads that covered the gutters which makes a pool more wavy. We knew the outside lanes in that pool were the fastest lanes. He took five kicks off every wall butterfly and went three strokes without a breath on the start and every turn in that race so he didn’t breathe a whole lot. He was 19.9 on his feet and he was 19.3 in the 50. That was about as fast as he could go, but he knew he had open water so he went for it. He is a racing fool. Thank you very much and I do get a lot out of this.