It’s Not About the Workout by Teri McKeever (2008)


[Introduction] Last night it was our pleasure to honor one of the great coaches of her time, Mary Kelley-Freeman-Spitzer, and I think it is safe to say that her contemporary equivalent would be the speaker that we have for this afternoon’s presentation. She has carried the torch for women’s coaching over the last 8 years, winning the ASCA Coach of the Year Award 4 years ago, and it has been nothing but uphill since then. Her accomplishments include, as I mentioned, the ASCA Coach of the Year, a large contribution to 11 Olympic medals out of 11 tries, including our past Olympics where the athlete in her charge won 1 Gold, 2 Silver and 3 Bronze. She has been the Head Coach at CAL for the past 17 years – I would like to introduce to you, Teri McKeever.

[Coach McKeever] I want to thank all of you for coming this afternoon, especially on the blind faith of not knowing what the topic was and spending an hour inside when you could be outside and I know that it has been a great weekend with wonderful speakers and personally – I just have lots of information and things going around in my head and my goal today – when John asked me to talk I said, “what would you like me to talk about” and he said, “anything you want” and it took me a while to figure out what “anything you want was” and I wanted to start this afternoon by telling you why I picked the topic, “it’s not about the workout” – just like “it is not about the bike” if you have ever read Lance Armstrong’s book, but it is so much more than that – in my opinion – and I think that one of the things that I just absolutely love about what I get to do is that I really didn’t see myself as being a swim coach. I have an elementary teaching credential and was going to teach elementary school. I had a high school credential as well and when I was doing my student teaching they needed a JV Volleyball coach and my extent of volleyball experience was that while at S.C., I went to all the volleyball games and I thought – hey – this is pretty cool.

Buy books, you know, have someone hit a ball at you, you will be able to figure it out. I really got bit by the coaching bug and had an opportunity to go back to my alma mater with Don Lamont and be his assistant. I said, if I want to coach, I want to try this thing at the collegiate level and one of the things that I love about coaching collegiately is that I still see myself as a teacher. I have the best job because I get to teach in just an amazing educational environment – especially now at CAL and I really feel that I put down coaching philosophy. The reason I want to be a coach is personally, swimming was the first place that I felt good about myself. I was a lot skinnier, kind of awkward, and painfully shy, but when I got up on the block and I swam I just had this amazing feeling that I could do whatever I set my mind to and I really take that as part of why I want to do this and help these young women figure out all the things that we learned from getting up in the morning, from being disappointed, from sharing success, from the discipline, and the time management – those are all things that we can take with us in life.

Very few people are going to go to an Olympic Games and win 8 gold medals or 6 medals in Natalie’s case, but I think anyone that decides to use swimming can get out something that is going to be even more powerful than what those Olympic medals mean or particularly, what your time is. I tell the girls all the time – I doubt you are going to get in the door at that law office because of what your hundred free time is. You know – I really don’t think they are going to count and I was talking to someone this morning – I was talking about people in my era of swimming and I said – I think she was an Olympian – anyway – she was just pretty good you know? And it is just funny how as you move on and I just think it is very realistic that as you move on, those are not the things of what brings us all into this room and what I believe is probably the core of why a lot of us get up in the morning and in saying that if your coaching philosophy is about helping young people grow into young women and learn the virtues of the sport and empower them, you have to spend time doing it. I think it was Vern Gambetta that was talking about that if you put dry-land always at the end you are sending a message that it is not important. So if you are interested in developing character and all the intangible things that athletics brings to all of our life, then I believe that you have to spend time, energy, effort and teaching moments in doing that and that is what I would like to talk about today.

One of the things that I have done the last couple of times that I talked – no matter what the topic is I always go to my current team and I ask them – what would you say if you were me and this was the topic? So I asked them, I said, I am going to Las Vegas and I am going to give a coaching talk and the topic I have chosen is, “not about the workout – it is so much more.” What are some of the things that you think what we may do or what has swimming brought to you that is so much more than the workout??? I have identified 5 little areas that I will talk about here in a minute. And then the other reason I picked this is topic, with my most recent Olympic experience, is that I am definitely a people watcher and an observer and I had – I usually carry a notebook around for the season. Unfortunately, I am not real good sometimes about writing the workout down, but I am very good about if somebody asks me a question and it jogs some thoughts or I see something. My book from my Olympic experience has notes from conversations with Jonty Skinner, from Jim Bowman, the Sports Psychologist; from sets I saw different people do at workout and then asking their coach why they were doing that, from things that I saw that I definitely want to make sure that I don’t do. I mean – I think that is the other thing – it’s like whoa – that didn’t work out – you know – that is not the type of thing I want to bring into my program intentionally or unintentionally so I think that that is the essence of where and what I hope to share with all of you today.

When I was at Fresno State I coached both the men and the women. I don’t think they are unique to one gender or the other, but you know you will have to modify and adapt them. I do think there are things that you can bring in to an 8 and under program just as much as you can to 18-22 year olds, so hopefully there is some good information. So, if it is not about the workout and it is more than that, what are the 5 things that my team and I sort of came up with that we feel is important to coach – to be mindful of and that allow you ultimately to be successful in the pool and out of the pool and in no particular order: ADAPTABILITY, COMMUNICATION, INITIATIVE AND EMPOWERMENT OR OWNERSHIP. I THINK THERE IS ANOTHER WORD THERE – A BELIEF AND TRUST, and THAT BELIEF AND TRUST IN YOURSELF AND THE PROCESS AND THEN FINALLY, ACCOUNTABILITY. So, I have notes for each of these.

The first one ADAPTABILITY: So I have a real good friend – Kathy Wickstrand-Gahen who is a long time swimming coach and now is a life coach and a personal coach that I have worked with personally for I think 7 or 8 years now and she usually helps me on things like this. I ask her and pick her brain and one of the things that she said is, Teri, tell stories because people like to hear stories and it will explain your point. Adaptability is one of the things that we talk a lot about in our program and is just going with the flow. I think that this is something that a lot of kids just aren’t and I am finding, are less and less able to actually adapt. That things have been outlined for them and they have been told what to do and the ability to adapt and change and go with whatever is thrown at them – I think they are having a harder and harder time doing that and I think that is something that we bring a lot in to our program, whether it be in the pool or in the weight room. An example of one of the things we have done in the weight room with Nick Folker, our strength and conditioning coach who works with all the aquatics programs at CAL and just does a wonderful job, will be to just start rolling physio-balls at him or maybe they are trying to jump rope or they are doing push-ups and you just walk and get too close to them or just make it a little uncomfortable and you would be amazed how many kids will just completely stop and not just deal with some different surroundings. I was personally just really surprised at how many people just couldn’t deal with jumping rope and seeing a ball coming at them while making some sort of an adjustment to get out of the way of the ball – instead of stopping and letting the ball dictate what they were doing and then taking control of the environment.

In that theory of going with the flow; every winter we go on a training trip and Nort always goes to Colorado Springs and Teri doesn’t like cold weather so Teri always goes to Hawaii or somewhere it’s a lot warmer because I think a training trip should be about what you would like to do too. So every four years the NCAA allows you to go outside of the United States and in 2004 we went down to Quenelle which is just outside of Sydney and had an opportunity to spend some time with Ian Thorpe and his coach at the time, Tracy, and just had a marvelous experience. I just had always planned to go to Australia again in 2008 and like any good coach – things kind of get piled on and you want to go to Australia and you have got to take 30 people to Australia, but all of a sudden it is October/November and you don’t really have a pool. You don’t know where you are going to stay but luckily you find out that US Swimming has a Junior National team going; that they are going to swim in a meet in Melbourne and maybe you can call Candy and get some good information there and she will help you out and so I just said hey, I am going to Australia. We decided we are going to go to this Melbourne meet that the Junior team was at (some big championship). So we go into Melbourne, swim, and then we would fly to Sydney. We didn’t stay for the whole meet and we were going to workout one of the mornings before we checked out Melbourne and you know I had other coaches go, where are you guys going to workout? We ended up at a club team – I cannot even remember the exact name or where the club was, but the Mayor came out and gave us T-shirts and I looked like a genius you know.

Every morning I broke the team up into two groups – an experienced ocean group and a non-experienced ocean group and we spent 90 minutes in the ocean – depending on whatever the ocean threw at us and have numerous stories about kids coming out with jellyfish on their face and sting rays on the bottom and big waves, little waves, etc. In the afternoon, we worked out at a little surf club that was a 4 lane, 25 yard pool and I broke the team up into 4 groups – depending on sort of where they were on getting some concepts and maybe what stroke they swam and olders with youngers. You had this group that you trained every morning and every afternoon you had off and I told them that we are going to Australia and I am going to focus on the swimming experience itself. I put two girls in charge and told them I would buy them a train ticket when we were in Sydney – where can you go? How much does it cost? And really – empowered them to make that – whatever they wanted it to be and let them know that that part of being in a country where swimming is held in such high regard, I thought was an incredible experience as well. So, this year we are going back to Hawaii, but I keep checking in and asking people where a good beach is?? Everyone wants to send me to a pool and they just don’t understand that I don’t want the pool – I want the ocean. That is where we are going and what we are going to do and it has been a huge opportunity for us as a program and as a coach just learning some really great things about how to get it done in sort of the non-traditional sense.

I think the other thing that I really saw at the Olympics and I had the opportunity obviously to work with my athletes – Natalie Coughlin and Emily Silver, but particularly with Christine Magnusson from the University of Tennessee – who swam the hundred fly and Kim Vandenberg from UCLA who was on the 800 free relay and a little bit of opportunity to interact with Dara Torres. Mark Schubert just did a great job there and then you see a Rebecca Soni and all these different people and you wonder, what is the difference of the ones that really found a way in that time period to take the next step at their Olympic experience and I use Christine as an example. One of the things that I was just so impressed with her was her ability to adapt to a new coach. Christine and I had never met each other for more than “hello.” I didn’t really know Matt more than knowing that he was doing a great job at his program and anywhere he has been he has really done a great job with different athletes and they continue to get better. I have watched his team and the interaction between him and his coaching staff or the athletes and the coaching staff and they are always having fun.

We went to a meet at Indiana University with him last fall and they were doing this “teach here” and I told their G.A. that I gotta get that cheer. He sent me the video of the cheer. Matt had sent myself and Christine a framework of what they wanted to do and there were definitely sets that you could tell that they do during the year and that she knew exactly what her stroke count needed to be, what time she was shooting for, and what her heart rate should be. Then there was a great majority of it that just was very general – this much at this level of intensity – this much kicking and what it allowed us to do in our little piece at the Olympic training camp is that we were able to all work together. I could modify these 4-5 women into a group and it wasn’t about I have to do what my coach says so that I can swim fast – it was like, I can work with anybody. She did a great job taking feedback from the National Team staff, other coaches, or the science staff with video and I just really was so impressed with that and I believe that that is not something that you just show up at the Olympic Games knowing.

Rebecca Soni, another athlete that if you were there for the two month experience, is with different coaches doing different things, but the consistency in that was that you could tell that Rebecca knew what she needed to do and she could modify and adapt to whichever coach so that it would work for her. I think that is our responsibility as coaches to be able to do this for the athletes. Mark mentioned it the other day; Emily, you go from the highest of highs of making the US Olympic team on July 4th and then on July 5th you’re in an emergency room knowing that your hand is broken in three places. Fortunately or unfortunately – it was the third time she had broken a hand so we have experience, but there was obviously a lot of adaptability on her part and my part for her to be able to swim in the prelim and ultimately win a silver medal and as proud as I am of Natalie and her accomplishments. I was telling someone last night that when Emily did her time trial, I probably felt more sick, like anticipating that and knowing what was at stake there for her than during Natalie’s swim. It was definitely personally one of those experiences I will never forget…never forget the way the other coaches and the team just responded to her whole situation.

The next point would be COMMUNICATION and I think that you can define communication in a lot of different ways. I alluded to a working relationship with Kathy Wickstand-Gahen and the last 7 to 8 years, every assistant coach I have had and during that time has also worked with Kathy. I have had Kathy in to do different team building things with individuals and the whole team. Milt Nelms is our volunteer coach. We probably, as a program, only see him 1-2 times a year, but you know, coming here and being on the Olympic Staff…..what a powerful opportunity!!! Frank Busch: every time I have been on a staff with Frank Busch he always asks if you had three things in your program you couldn’t do without, what would they be? And he goes around and he asks everybody that and I think that it makes you think because you have to come up with an answer and you know I think it is about the next point, asking the right questions. I think not only do you want to do that with your peers that you know locally or even all over the country, but asking your athletes this as well.

I see coaching as a partnership and again, I don’t know this for a fact because I haven’t done it, but I still think that you can ask a young age group swimmer questions and learn so much from where they are, why they are doing it, what they are picking up and what they are not picking up. I learned a lot last Friday when I asked the team – “what do you think that you need to do to be successful and how do we do it?” I mean – that was a clinic for me and I really have tried to do more of that in my coaching. I think communication too, at least early on for me, was knowing the right thing to say. I think even more powerful is knowing how to be a good listener. I tend sometimes that when someone comes into the office or you know they want to talk, I am trying to solve the problem instead of just listening to where they are and what the issue is. I am better when I can get the information, go away, solve it, and then come back. I used to think that if they are crying, I have got to solve it. You know – the girl’s joke – something about the couch in my office just brings you to tears. I think like you can hold it together until you see your mom. So I think that is some really communication growth that I have learned.

The other thing is you know asking for outside help. One of the things that I love that ASCA has done in the last couple of years is bring people in from outside of our profession. Hopefully, many of you had an opportunity to listen to Greg McMillian the other day. I think that sometimes we get into our own little world and the way swimming coaches think and I personally just find it absolutely necessary to get outside of that world and talk to a track coach or something. The high school track coach or a Masters coach – that is a whole different world and a whole different dynamic and a whole different community that they are working with that I think we can learn a lot from. One of the other things in communications is just an acknowledgement of people gathering information in different ways. The last couple of years I have given the team something, and I don’t know exactly where I found it, but it asks them to rate the way they like to gather information. Do they like to have an article and then ask questions about it? Do they like to just listen to it and not have anything in writing? How many times – giving a workout and depth of the understanding – whether you just say it or you write it up on the board? I have found that sometimes I have written some things up on a grease board and they will stop listening to me. Sometimes it is on a piece of paper and things are written out you know? Sometimes it really doesn’t have any kind of information to it.

With some kids, you need to get them out of the water and physically move them! They are kinesthetic learners and one of the great things at this pool that we were in Australia last winter – it was like a fish tank because – if this was the pool – then the deck was down there so you could walk along side of them and like grab them or move their hips back and forth – people should consider maybe building teaching pools like that – it was really great and for a lot of them and I was just surprised at how well that worked, as well as watching each other. We do a lot of things in our program of watching each other and sharing.

I have sharing down. You know, we will put people together and do partner turns and it is in one of the examples that I have later and you know – put a breaststroker with a freestyler and they will say – well I don’t know anything about breaststroke turns, but you do know what it looks like when there is a good streamline. You do know if you are spending too much time on the wall and you know – those are things that I believe that if you can see them in other people, you have a better ability to make that correction for yourself. I have always seen these things in the city, where take San Francisco for example; you can rent a bike and ride across the Golden Gate Bridge and go into Sausalito and take the ferry back. and I thought hey – why not do those with 25 of your closest friends and hope they do not fall off the bike – only 3 fell off so not bad. Luckily, nobody hurt themselves, but there is value in just going on the bike ride and how you make that bike ride a communication……you know a learning experience.

One of the points I am going to make later is making every moment a teaching moment. For the bike ride, I had the seniors come with me and the guy explained what the route was to them where we were going to go. I said to them – okay – you guys are in charge because I have done something like this before…it is not a race because the last time I did this it was a race and then people were all over the place. It is not a race!! We are just out for a leisurely bike ride and there were two times in particular that we got to a place where the seniors in the front stopped and they didn’t know which way to go. The natural tendency I think is to turn around and find Coach. I said I will be at the back you know and make sure that everything is okay and so they do not see me when I fall? And one time in particular I know they stopped and looked at me like I was going to tell them where to go and I purposely just stood there. They went a direction and a couple came back around me and said, is this the right way? I said I don’t know, but that is the way they are going so we need to follow them. It was their responsibility to get us where we needed to go.

Last year on our retreat, we broke the group up into 4 small groups. We were up in Tahoe and we gave them a piece of paper and I think it was $20 or $30 and said, you need to make dinner for the group. You have ten minutes at the store and you will have 30 minutes when we get back to the cabin to make dinner….that was all I said. You know, it was so interesting, first of all because it immediately became a competition. I never said it was a competition, but they turned it into a competition – they didn’t work together which was funny in itself, but to really make it a teaching moment – we had to debrief it and why did you think it was a competition? Because there was a time element to it was one of the things which I thought was kind of interesting. They thought there were going to be prizes because I tend to do that sometimes. Some people thought that for the $20 they needed to make you know, the salad, the main course, and the dessert; where other people just made like dessert with their $20 and it was like, that is what you are going to eat? I mean it was awesome and it was fun plus they had to work within the kitchen.

There were you know two stoves so that kind of limited what you could do and that was just a great opportunity at team building. Sometimes we will do workouts with stations and I had like 4 stations and I asked if anyone had questions because this will be the last time that you can ask questions…they said no. Okay, you have 15 minutes to organize this and we are going to start this in 20 minutes or whatever. Well then I started yelling “you need to get in the water – you need to warm-up” which was just creating stress that they couldn’t plan exactly the way they wanted to do which, which is really what a swimming meet is. It is stress and adapting to the unknown and then when it got to the 20 I said okay – where is station 1, station 2? They had forgotten a whole station. They were not even in it because one of them was like stretch cords and I think there were only 4 stretch cords, but one group had six. You know, there were a lot of things they just didn’t think about and yeah, did it “mess up my workout a little bit”? It did, but it also taught me and it taught them that there are some things that they have to be accountable for and I think that those are things again that you can tweak to your experiences. We will do relay starts sometimes and turns and there are 20 people in the group; we’ll break them into 5 groups and two teams go down there. These teams are working down here and you all are working on starts. You have 8 minutes to do whatever you want – these are the leaders of the group and it is really interesting to see them turn them into the coach.

When I came here we had three one hour water workouts and there were two coaches and the only instruction was that you are in charge of the workout. Here is the wrench and you know, you can get in the water, stay out, and do whatever. I just texted them and they said it was okay so we will see. And then the other thing with sharing too is after doing a set – just checking in and asking “what did you learn from that set?” You have got two minutes and you just go around and you do that.

Another thing I really like to do with communication I found personally is that when I get tired, it affects my workout to them. Like I think they are as tired as I am and that is where I have to remember that I am not 20 anymore. Kathy brought that up to me about 5 years ago. Why am I so more tired than I used to be and she goes – have you ever realized they are not the same age you are, but 25-30 years down the path….that makes sense, you know? But just to have them go around on a scale of 1-10 and ask “where are you today?” One is you could barely get out of bed. 10 is you think you could go run a marathon and just go bang, bang, bang you know and the first time you do it you will have some kids stand there and over-analyze everything. I am like, it is not an essay question, just give me the answer, but it also really allows you very quickly to check in with where the group may be so that you can make good decisions.

The third one, initiative and empowerment, is just a coaching philosophy. I am a believer that teaching and coaching is a concept, but learning skill is a continuum and there is not a right or a wrong way of doing it. I think that if you came to our deck you wouldn’t hear me say, your little finger needs to do this or your right leg should be doing that – it would be more of, are you thinking about holding water??? I think we all understand that and I think that personally I see that that empowers your athlete. I remember when Natalie broke the world record in February in the hundred backstroke and Mark called me and he said, you know you have done a good job when your athlete can break a world record and you are not there and I just think there is something to that. You know that you are doing Matt credit because she (Magnusson) is doing a great job because his athlete was not in his immediate care for two months and she took another .8 off her time and won a silver medal at her second international meet….that is a great job you know?

I am proud this summer of things that most people will never know – that Lauren Boyel – a young lady from New Zealand can go to New Zealand for two and a half months and be on their 800 free relay and take 2 seconds off her 200 free or Hanna Wilson who swam for Hong Kong can be with us. We all leave to go to trials for 10-12 days – she comes back or we come back and the group trains, but then she goes to Hong Kong for two weeks out of Beijing and she goes from a 1:00. to a 59.5 hundred fly. I mean, I think those are things that when your athletes can do that and I am proud that there was a group that did a great job at trials. Kristen did an even better job at US Open, which to my understanding is a completely different emotional setting. She found a way to get up and swim fast and have a personal break-through, so I also think that that is really important.

The other way you can coach and teach initiative and empowerment and ownership is in your leadership style within the team. I have done captain so many different ways and one year I didn’t have captains because I was trying to get across the point that one or two people can’t do it and we are all captains, but by December, we had to pick a captain because no one knew where we were going. I think if I did that now that it would probably work. You know, I think that is the other thing with this – Vern said it – training has a cumulative effect. This is my 17th season at CAL and I can honestly say it probably took 15 to get to the point where a lot of this stuff kind of it is in the culture. It doesn’t have to be Teri hammering it home all the time, but Teri better stay on top of it because if I don’t, it is not going to happen on its own. This year the way that we selected them is Jeff Jansen has a book on team building and there is a student-athlete evaluation form in there. It is 20 questions and I have every girl answer the 20 questions for each other and that stuff is who does a good job during workout? Who does a good job outside of the pool? Who can you count on in a stressful situation? Who deals with disappointment well?

The other thing that you can do and I have used it this way before is, you know, we have all had a conversation with someone where their reality is so completely different than yours and the people around them. Am I crazy or are they crazy and you know, when the team comes back and evaluates them more in line with what you are thinking, you are the crazy one you know, but you can kind of use that in a positive way of saying like this isn’t about Teri not liking you or Teri seeing things. This is also how your teammates hold you when you are being evaluated and I think that can have an incredible effect. I think it can be incredibly abused too if you do it in the wrong. It is not something we print it all out and go to each girl and go hey, look at how everybody thinks that you are doing on the team? It is just one or two questions and the women that have the five highest scores on that rating amongst their teammate. I ask them if they are interested in being captains and they say “yes or no” and then we vote on that and we have had anywhere from 2-3 captains. I usually let them decide. I think sometimes 3 captains – last year I had 3 captains – because of the personalities – I don’t think it worked real well. It kind of became a 2/1 situation sometimes.

This year it just so happened that two is probably a better way and then we have these committees. We have a random acts of kindness and I stole a lot of this from Susan Teeter at Princeton and have tweaked it over the years and that committee is in charge of you know – writing thank you notes. When you go to a parent’s house and they feed you or something….Those are things that I think are important that you show them it is the right way to acknowledge the family and then you have the team do it. That shouldn’t always be coming from the coach. We have a spirit group and that is about you know – the bulletin boards. I just used to just spend hours on a bulletin board and while that was somewhat therapeutic for me, Kathy would say: is that something that is mutually exclusive to your talent? No, it wasn’t, and it wasn’t a good use of my time and energy and effort. Maybe the bulletin board doesn’t look exactly the way I would do it, but it is a bulletin board that the team has and they are in charge of keeping it updated and working on that. Some people help me with alumni. Some help with a parents’ weekend. We have a birthday academic person in which this person makes the birthday cakes and the other person makes cards and if your birthday is during the summer you have a surprise birthday. There are lots of different things that, as a coach, you would like to get done that I think really enhances the experience and teaches that it is more than about you and that we are all responsible for this.

One of the things I think is so important in leadership is knowing when to be a good Indian and knowing when to be a good chief. You know, leadership isn’t always about being in charge. I believe good leaders also know when to be a good Indian and my experiences on the National team and different opportunities I have had have been amazing to see. The best coaches in the United States work together or maybe not work together as well and how does that dynamic affect the current team and relationships and everything else??

Belief and trust in yourself and the process: For me, this has just been the difference of having the confidence to stand up here and share this and a belief in myself. I really felt that when I first started coaching and when I came to something like this, it made me feel inadequate to a certain degree. I spent the time going, man, I am not that good….or I didn’t think of that or whatever and what I have really learned is that when I stopped trying to be Richard Quick, Mark Schubert, Peter Daland, whoever, Nort Thornton….who is standing next to me and just tried to be the best Teri McKeever, really great things happened! It is okay that Mark or Teri would do it different, but feels right for me. You know, at the end of the day you have got to be authentic and true to what your beliefs are training-wise, administrative-wise – why you want to coach and then you find the people to do that. I am in the unique situation that I recruit athletes and have found that we have been more and more successful in recruiting as I became more and more clear about what type of person I wanted to bring into our program. I get paid because I am supposed to win meets, but I also feel fortunate that I work in an environment where I am supposed to develop young people and to develop young people you have to find people and families who believe that is important and that is why they are there and it is about a buy-in. It is about selling it.

Joel talked earlier today about you know – one workout a day – you got to get the right people on the bus because if you don’t and if someone doesn’t think they can get it done in your environment or at your club or with your belief system or your philosophies, then there is another bus which you should be on….so go get on that bus. Whatever damn bus you are on, get your feet up and let’s go, you know? And we talk a lot about that: like if you don’t want to swim (families will ask me) how come so and so quit? Sometimes I think my job is to convince them you can quit. You don’t have to swim to validate who you are as a young person you know? And sometimes I think people are scared to retire, quit, or whatever because they don’t know who they are beyond going to the workout. If I can help somebody kind of figure that out, I think that that is pretty darn important. I used to have to pay my brother to fly up from San Diego to help me (with these power-points) or I would bribe the athletes with dinner. I told someone earlier that Natalie is always telling me, Teri, just try it – just try it. I am like Natalie – I don’t do well with just “try it” someone tell me how to do it and I can do it – don’t give me this – just try it. So, I have to call her and tell her I did a good job with “just try it”, but on to the 5th point here: accountability.

John Trembley said last night that Ray Buzzard would kick you off the team if you were late once or if you are a walk-on and take your scholarship away if you were on scholarship. I am not that crazy, but I really believe that that is just a simple way of showing yourself and the people around you that you respect what we are all trying to do. I mean some of these girls get to workout so early and they are standing there waiting for you to go…or at a meet, you know, you are going to have your meeting and they are outside your door waiting. I think that is about accountability and being consistent in it. It isn’t that sometimes it is okay to be late and other times it isn’t and I don’t know about you that coach college now, but I never envisioned that I would have to have a cell phone policy: when can you text, when can’t you text and if I am sitting for dinner with the team, should we be able to do that? If you don’t address all those things then anything happens. I think once you address it and you talk about it and you are consistent in it, then it takes care of itself. You don’t have to tell everyone that it is not appropriate to text whoever when we are having a team dinner.

I think the other thing, accountability is that I had a young lady that was a transfer last year and every time we did something she would give me validation. I just kept saying, “you have got the answers.” Before you ask me – ask yourself, you know? They have got to be able to figure out what the answer is without us always telling them and I think that sometimes is coaching. Isn’t it a lot easier to just tell them? Absolutely. Do they make less mistakes when you tell them and is it as powerful of a learning experience if you let them maybe go down the wrong path sometimes? I know one reason I put Natalie up there with initiative and empowerment is that if I had gone to Natalie and said, Natalie, we are going to swim the 200 IM and there would be 5 medals, not 6 medals. It has to be her and I think it has to be her goal. You know, going to Emily Silver and saying Emily, I think you can make the Olympic team! I think you have that conversation, but it is up to Emily to do the things that she wants to do. If she tells me “I want to be an Olympian” – then my job is to consistently hold her accountable to what that is. You don’t get to say you want to be an Olympian or you want to be an NCAA Champion or you want to do your best time and then not do it. I want to have great walls and then breathe off every turn when I am not looking. It is about that personal accountability and I think that is something that is really, really huge and so much more than the workout.

I just think again, just using every moment as a teaching moment and those mean the good things and the bad things. I used to have a tendency to (when I see something) sort of not address it and try to figure out like how do I bring this up and should I talk about this? Should I not talk about it? And what I found is when we were at a meet in April and I really thought some of the girls just weren’t taking it seriously, so instead of you know going, “hey, I don’t think you are taking this seriously!” I brought them together and I just tried to turn it into a teaching moment. What have we learned in the last couple of days? How is that going to help us as we move forward into a really important summer? You know, it really calmed me down. I wasn’t as angry or upset or whatever because I was like, they are kind of getting it and then they would give each other great feedback that I think a lot of times they can hear that. You say if you are always the messenger, it is another reason to bring outside people into your program and to just reinforce your message. It gives it validation.

I think the other thing that I have really learned is to just deal with that elephant in the room. You know, deal with the things that nobody wants to talk about. I used to really worry about how to do that? You know, am I going to say the right thing and what I have learned is just saying something even if “is the wrong way of saying it” is better than not saying anything at all. If you have got 6 girls and they all want to be on the relay and there are only 4 spots….there are jealousy issues there and there are probably parent issues. There are lots of things that you need to be the leader and address in this job! I hope Amanda wouldn’t mind, you know, at the Olympics, Amanda Beard really had a rough swim and she came out of the pool and she sat down in our team area and I just happened to be there and sat down with her. She was obviously visibly upset and there were three of us and everybody just kind of looked around. I finally just said, “you know, are you alright if I go talk to Amanda?” Now did I know what I was going to say to Amanda when I walked over there? Absolutely not. Was I uncomfortable? Sure! But I think you just sit down there, you talk and you know, she came up a day or two days later and said – “Teri, thank you for saying something – everyone else just ignored me” and I don’t think everyone else just ignored her…they were not ignoring her but they just didn’t know what to say or do. I think you just have to go and do it you know? And say it and you think you have a drinking issue going on…you have to deal with that. You know, you have to figure out what is going on. You have an eating issue. You have to deal with those things and not pretend that they are not there because I think that is when you get yourself in trouble and then just being a constant learner you know?

Coming to things like this – reading books and then making it your own. Just because it worked for Teri McKeever doesn’t mean it is going to work in your environment. Just because it works for Michael Phelps, doesn’t mean that is the right way to go. It doesn’t mean it is the wrong way, but you have got to believe that that’s what is going to work for you. I just have such a firm belief that there are so many ways to be that constant learner that this is just a small piece of them and I will just encourage you to get outside of our community whether it be another sport or whatever. I loved Bob’s talk the first night when he brought in the 10 Successes from that Investor’s Business Daily. You know the music analogy and things like that are such powerful ways to communicate and teach and learn, that we can impart on our swimmers.

The last thing here: this is a workout and I just want to prove that it is not about the workout, okay? So the first thing if I want to teach adaptability here; how many times have you been at a workout and you are in the middle of that main set and all of a sudden the other group or the men’s team needs a lane and you have got to move people? What if the clock goes out? What if you purposefully shut the clock off? What is going to happen? You know, are they adaptable? Can they make an adjustment right away? Communication and how sharing afterward – a partner turns there and you are just saying do it for 3 minutes and they are going to figure it out. Initiative: There are a lot of things in our program that are choice – three 50’s choice, 100 fast kick, swim….do I have to do it all the same stroke? This is four rounds so do I do one of each? Am I in the distance group this day or I mean, if there are different workouts going on, sometimes I will ask them where to go. Sometimes I will let them pick? Do they make poor choices? Absolutely, and that is when you go back and say, “hey, you know I really think that you are probably going to be swimming a 200 breaststroke so why are you over in the sprint freestyle lane? You may want to see 24 variations and to have 24 different people do that you know? You will get an idea, but that empowers them. You can’t say that is important to you and then when you have an opportunity to do it – you don’t do it you know? So you are helping them with that belief – I mean – that just goes back to you know – there are things and you know – do you think this is probably way less yardage, you know – is it about the yardage? Is it about the skill? Like – what are you trying to accomplish and I think it is really important that the athlete knows while you are doing something.

Early on I think I have a reputation of doing things away from the pool you know. We would dance. We would spin and we still do. We do weights. We have done a circuit. We have gone down to the track. I thought they knew why we were doing it. I thought, 25% of them were able to connect the dots, but, you know it and you are connecting them so that they know what they are doing all has a purpose! Accountability about underwater as long as you can without a breath….you can’t watch all those people and hold them accountable.

Race Rehearsal: Like I will say race rehearsal and that gets to mean they get to pick whatever part of the race they want to work on. You know, they want to work on one stroke off the wall – then work on your one stroke. You want to be at a certain pace then do it on that pace and you know, you can have 25 people doing 25 different things. The last thing here is if I make sure what I do I am always bringing 6-8 new people every year. At the beginning of the year or even throughout the year, you are giving a workout and it has a basic structure. If you have a Natalie Coughlin in your group or a senior who has been there 4 years, 5 years, 8 years…8 years and all they are doing is taking the basic framework and they are not taking the initiative and the accountability to make applicable to them, they are not going to get better. I think that you are presenting opportunities where they can take ownership in it and I think it is now time to stop. I just appreciate it and hopefully there is something there that you guys can use.

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Sponsorship & Partnerships

Official Sponsors and Partners of the American Swimming Coaches Association

Join Our Mailing List

Subscribe and get the latest Swimming Coach news