Learning HOW to Teach by John Leonard (2010)


Published


First of all, thank you for being here late in the afternoon.  It’s 4:00: I expected either to have six of my closest friends in the room or six people who were mad at me.  So it’s nice of you all to be here.  Thank you very much. I appreciate it.

 

A couple of you asked me what this talk is going to be about.  It’s pretty much exactly what’s on the screen, alright?  We’re going to talk about teaching.  And I hope some of it’s going to be new to some of you, and I hope some of it’s going to be reminders to some of you of things you may have known in the past and forgotten. But I hope, hopefully, everything will be useful and entertaining to you. If you have questions in the middle of the talk, please just raise your hand and I’d be happy to take up that question then. I’ll have more fun if you ask questions, and you will get what you want out of this faster if you’re going to ask questions. If you ask me a question, and I know I’m going to cover it a little bit later on, I’m going to ask you permission to go ahead and we’ll cover it at that time.  And, otherwise, we’re going to take up the questions right then and there. Fair enough to everybody?

 

Okay, let’s do a couple of little quick survey things. How many of you predominantly coach 12 and under’s? Raise your hand; most of the room.  How many of you coach predominantly 13 and over’s? Alright, at least a third of the room. Oops, okay. Alright, pretty good split. How many of you have been coaching less than five years?  How many of you have been coaching between five and 10 years? How many have been coaching more than 10 years? How many of you are like me and older than dirt? [laughs] Okay, alright. Good start.

 

Alright, what do I do besides working for the ASCA? I have a team at home because I love coaching, and after about five years of trying to figure out how the phones work at the ASCA and do all the menial tasks that it takes to figure out how to run an office, I said to my wife: I want to go back on deck because I really don’t like doing this job if I don’t have some contact with kids. So for the past 20 years in the job, I have…had my own team, of one form or another; actually, three different teams. When the first couple grow up and they get a little bit older and more mature and they have too many kids and I don’t want to deal with it anymore, I sell it to somebody else, move on to another pool, start a new team. I’m in my third iteration of that and right now we’re a nice size: about 70 kids.

 

When I’m in Fort Lauderdale at home, I coach 5:00-7:00 in the morning, and I coach between 4:00 or 5:00 and 7:00 or 7:30 at night. And who am I coaching? I’m coaching novice swimmers predominantly: knee-biters from 6 or 7, up to seniors in high school.  I have some of the worse high-school-aged swimmers in the country and I have a couple of the best; and I like working with all of them. I especially like working with novice swimmers and that’s where this talk is coming from.

 

This talk is coming from how does a 62-year-old guy who’s been coaching for 40 years relate to young children and how do we teach? Does that make sense to everybody? So I’m doing what most of you are doing every single day that I’m home in Fort Lauderdale. I absolutely love it. It’s the best part of my day.

 

It’s what keeps me sane and I’m going to do it until I go permanently horizontal, okay? So that’s where we are. Let’s plunge. Why are we talking about this? Don Swartz – how many people in the know who Don Swartz was or still know who Don Swartz was?

 

Okay, only a handful of the greybeards. Okay, one of the great coaches of all time, coach…people coaches of all time. “No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care.” Better figure that out right away. First thing your kids need to know is why are you here and what does it mean to me, and what do you care about because I need you to care about me.

 

Once they know that you care, then you get the opportunity to teach well and the corollary to that – no one cares how much you know if you can’t teach it. So you may be one of the most knowledgeable coaches in this room, in this building, on the planet; if you can’t teach, so what? You can’t make anybody any better. And our role in life is to help make other people or help other people get better. So that’s a lot.

 

John Wooden, alright, recently deceased; the most famous coach in the planet in any sport: I am first, and foremost, a teacher. If you don’t believe that, I believe you wouldn’t be in this room right now. “I am first, and foremost, a teacher.” There are some teachers we know:  Jerry Holtrey, the famous Jim Counsilman, and the gentleman by the name of Bob Bowman—who I’m sure all of your are familiar with. James Counsilman, one of the great teachers of time.

 

Jerry Holtrey, quintessential (got to be in the quintessential) club coach, going to be in the ASCA Hall of Fame; we’re going to induct him tomorrow night. One of the great teachers, as most club coaches are. What I’m going to talk about this afternoon is 12 rules. Now there could be 200 rules here, there could be four rules here; I’m picking 12 that I think are interesting.

 

12 Rules of Modern Coaching. Why am I talking about modern coaching? You all know the reason. Children are radically different. The children I coached in 1970 upstate New York in Syracuse, near the Arctic Circle, are radically different people.

 

First of all, now they’re 55, 60 years old, alright? But the second thing is they were radically different people. How do they spend their days? They went outside the summertime on their summer vacation. They left shortly after breakfast in the morning, said, “See you, Mom.”

 

Maybe come home for lunch, maybe didn’t. Ran, walked, rode bikes, got into all sort of enormous trouble of the misdemeanor variety, right? Physically active all day long, alright? At night, they had maybe ten channels of TV to watch; the generation before them had three channels of TV to watch. That was my generation, alright?

 

And it was hard to hear that TV with the dinosaurs stomping around outside, [laughs] alright? So the kids have changed. You know that. They’ve changed in the last 10 years. How are kids fit now?

 

You got two things that are fit – their tongue muscles and their thumb muscles – and nothing else. Nothing else. They spend a huge percentage of their day looking at a what? At a screen of one form or another, alright? Of one form or another, it’s a screen that’s there in those kids’ lives; tremendous impact on how they have changed and how they need to learn.

 

So if we’re teaching children from the ‘70s or the ‘80s or even the ‘90s, we’re not teaching very well. And those of us who grew up in those eras have to constantly change and recognize who we’re teaching today; because we need to teach the children who are in front of us now, not the children who were in front of us 10, 15, 20 years ago. However, not everything has changed. Children still have a burning desire to fit in. They have a burning desire to be part of a group and a crowd.

 

They have a burning desire to be something bigger than themselves and more meaningful than themselves. They have a burning desire to have mastery over something, to be good at something. Young ladies develop it generally far earlier than young men, but those things endure. They are still there, but many other things have changed. So you need to know your material, alright?

 

You need to know what swimming is about and you need to know what the children are about. And if you’re in love with coaching and not in love with children, I suggest you go sell insurance [laughs] because you’ve got to love children. And there are people in this building, there are people in our profession, there’s people in this country who coach and they love coaching but they don’t love kids. And most of them won’t be in it very long. So examine which it is you like.

 

Did I see a hand for a question or was somebody scratching their head? Head scratching? Okay, good.

 

Rule #1: if you’re going to educate… (this is…I am like…no, I guess actually I’m not. I thought I was tied down. Let’s see. Does this work? Am I still here? Yes, I am still here, [laughs] alright? I’m not a phantom. Good. Alright, I can move around; that’s a good thing.) Educate and entertain. What does that mean? Kids today have attention span of nats, alright? You already know that, alright?

 

All the young people you know have very short attention spans, and the high school kids aren’t much better; so you had better be able to entertain as well as educate. Your personality is everything. What you bring to the table is what captures the child’s attention and you better be willing to entertain as well as educate, but you have to do it in your own way. You have to use your style; obviously, don’t try and be somebody else. Make sure you are yourself.

 

Let me be…as good an example as I can give you, alright? We have lots of people who are fun and games and smiles. We have people whose faces are smiles, right? Your face is constantly a smile, am I correct? Right, it never changed. It’s always a smile, right?

 

Alright, kids love that. That’s wonderful, right? Your face is always a smile, right? Kids love that – laughs, grins, having a good time, okay? That’s a style.

 

Some people are loud, some people are soft; that’s okay, alright? That style works, right? Every style can work. I’m grandfather age. Thank God not a grandfather yet but a grandfather age and I am not kindly, gentle grandfather on the pool deck.

 

I am harsh, alright? And I am tough and I am demanding, and it works. I don’t lose novice kids. They hang around forever until team gets too big and I decide I’ve got to leave because I don’t want to deal with a big team, alright? I don’t lose kids and I’m very hard, I’m very demanding.

 

I have parents regularly, everyday, who think I am harsh and other parents say, “Well, you really ought to watch your kids. Your kids are having a great time.” Alright? Don’t react to how you react to them, react to how your kids react to them, alright? It’s not the kindly grandfather routine at all, but it works. So my point here is educate and entertain within your own style.  Do your own thing, it will work just fine. Be the real you.

 

Second piece, Rule #2, and this comes from the gentleman who’s going to be our Counsilman speaker on Saturday, Steven Farr.  The book is called Teaching as Leadership, and he’s talking about praising effort and not talent. We’ll come back to the why in just a second.

 

We all know if we’re going to educate, people have to be motivated. We cannot get new information that is going to affect anybody into an unmotivated person. They’ve got to be motivated. So they have to be ready to learn and you know that every day you have children come in who are not ready to learn into your practice. And part of our job is to engage them, catch their minds…get a couple of brain cells pointed in our direction and engage them and get them ready to learn something that day.

 

The Law of Repetition, second part of learning, the more we do it properly, the better learned it’s going to become. We’re going to come back to that in a little bit later. And the last one I call the Law of Results. If we repeat something and we repeat something and we repeat something, and it works and it makes us happy and we feel good about it, we repeat it. Let me repeat that – if we feel good about it, we repeat it.

 

If we don’t feel good about it, we do what? We avoid it, alright? So three key laws: readiness, repetition and Law of Results. So we repeat what feels good. Now, let me make one parenthetical comment here, coaching is about sales no matter who you’re coaching.

 

You are selling ideas. This is the way we get an early vertical alarm…vertical forearm in freestyle. This is the way we slweep our hands in backstroke. This is the way we do a good backstroke…sorry. You are selling ideas. If you can’t sell, you can’t coach.

 

And a critical piece of understanding sales is first you make a sale with emotion and then you back it up with logic. So when you teach you’ve got to transfer what you know with emotion and then you back it up with logic. And we go back to results. People will look at results to see with what…see if what they are learning is what they want to do – how do I feel about it? Emotional. Whether the results look like intellectual logical; that makes sense to everybody?

 

Okay. Alright, praise effort, not talent. Why? This is really interesting and it’s a great point out of Dr. Farr’s…and I know he is a great presenter and he will do a great job on Saturday. Don’t miss it, okay? He’s with Teach For America and he will bring…other young lady with him who’s a fabulous teacher as well.

 

His point with this…the book…with the book is this, I’ve always kind of intuitively known this but I never understood why. If we tell somebody they’re smart and now we give them a set of problems, and they start pretty easy and then it’s a little harder problem and than a little harder problem and a little harder problem. The people we’ve told are smart are going to do what? They’re going to stop at the problem they can’t solve. Why?

 

Because they don’t want to put the label of being smart at risk. If we tell a swimmer that they’re talented, they’re going to accept the challenge at step A and at step B and at step C; and then when they don’t think they can do step D, they’re going to stop because they don’t want to put at risk…“what happens if I get a C on this test? Oh, my god! I’m not smart anymore. What happens if I don’t win this event? My god, I won’t be talented anymore.” Ladies, this is going to hit home a little bit. I don’t mean it as a stinger but when you were young, if you were told, “Oh, you’re so pretty.” What’s your identity?

 

“Oh, I’m so pretty.” Alright? Which means when you in the weight room in high school, you say, “I can’t really sweat. Pretty girls don’t sweat. We don’t do that.” Right? Right?

 

Don’t praise qualities like talent or smart; praise effort. And what happens when we praise effort and working hard and you learn that new stroke really, really well; you did a great job at working hard to learn it, there’s nothing at risk. So when the hard problem comes along in Math, the person who’s praised for effort works on that hard problem because if he fails, he screws it up, so what? He’s going to go back, he’s going to try another approach because he’s been praise for what? Hard work.

 

Makes sense to everybody? Praising people for smart, talented; not going to work. Praise people for effort, hard work, persistence, going back at things again. That’s what makes great learners and great achievers. Otherwise, people stop far short of what they’re capable of achieving. Questions, comments, thoughts? Ah, there’s a hand! Thank you, sir.

 

[audience member]:  With low self-esteem athletes, does that still apply?

 

[JL]:  Mr. Farr will tell you it applies to everybody and “low self-esteem athletes” before they need anything else, they need visible proof that they actually have done something. Not somebody saying, “Oh, you’re so talented,” but somebody who says, “Last week you went your ten 50s and you averaged 38.4 and this week you went your ten 50s and averaged for 37.2. Congratulations on your hard work. Keep it up! What do you think you can do next week?” Does that make sense? Thank you.

 

Alright, Rule #3. Coaches all know this, alright? What’s better external motivation or internal motivation? I think we all say internal motivation. Alright? We have a young man in my team. His name is Sal Squartino and Sal is sort of a round guy, and he is 7 years of age, okay? And Sal is sort of lethargic, I think would be a nice way of putting it [laughs], alright? We once found a pulse in Sal but it was fleeting. [laughs] And he’s a really nice kid and his older sister…and this is hard.

 

His older sister is the fastest girl in JOs, alright? In our part of the country in a mile and she’s pretty much…the opposite…she’s energetic, hardworking; and Sal’s sort of lethargic, alright? And a little while back Sal’s grandfather…sort of an old style guy who wants rewards for effort and achievement and so forth. Sal’s grandfather looked at him and said, “Sal, you win this next heat in the 53 and this is yours.” And he pulls out a nice, crisp, brand-new hundred-dollar bill. Now, Coach Guy and I…now I’ve got to tell you, Coach Guy actually coaches this kid and I just watch him, so hands off, alright?

 

It’s Coach Guy’s kid, alright? We’re watching this go on and I’m thinking, “Guy, is going to have a hemorrhage [laughs], alright? Guy is going to offend this new grand…this Grandpa like you wouldn’t believe and he is going to go absolutely nuts and wacko.” And, in fact, Guy takes two steps towards Grandpa and then I see the wheels turning in Guy’s head. He and I have worked for 40 years, I can hear him go, alright? And he takes two steps back and I know, “Ah, he’s getting control over this.”

 

And he’s just sitting there and we watch this, and it comes time for Sal’s heat. Sal goes up to the blocks, don’t look any different going to the blocks, gets up on the blocks…now Sal’s best time at this point is something over a minute in the 50m freestyle. I told you he barely had a heartbeat [laughs], alright? Sal dives in and takes off like somebody shoved a rocket up his butt [laughs], okay? And Sal’s in the high 40s, alright?

 

He’s like 47-48, beats his heat by 20 yard, hits the deck…now remember, he walked kind of lethargically over the blocks and come running back at top-speed over to Grandpa, “Give me the hundred! Give me the hundred!” And Grandpa hands him the hundred, alright? Now I’m looking at Guy and I’m thinking, “Everybody in my team has seen this. [laughs] What do we do?” So I wandered over to Grandpa who’s a horribly old guy. He’s probably my age.

 

And I said, “Sal.” Who is Sal Senior, by the way, there’s Sal II and Sal III. I said, “Sal, what are you going to give him for the next one? A new car?” And I had a big old grin on my face like I do right now. Sal looked at me and he says, “Wrong thing, huh?” And I said, “Yup!”

 

So now we made a joke out of it. Does external motivation work? You know it does, and you also know how limiting it is. Where do you go next with external motivation? Does the ribbon mean anything?

 

How many of your kids take those first couple of ribbons and they take them home and they put them on a refrigerator? A couple of weeks later, they’re where? They’re in the drawer, right? A couple of week later, they stop and about the tenth meet they go to, they stop picking up the ribbons. They don’t give a damn, alright?

 

Now we go to a new level meet and we get a ribbon and we do what? Take it home, put it on the refrigerator. A couple of more ribbons at that level meet, they go in the drawer. A couple more ribbons at that level meet, we don’t pick them up, right? Everybody familiar with that syndrome?

 

External motivation is self-limiting. So what are we trying to do? Good coaching today, good teaching. We’re trying to teach internal motivation. Three components of internal motivation…this, by the way…I don’t know why they didn’t put this on the slide other than sheer stupidity, alright? The book is called Drive and it’s all about internal motivation, and I would recommend it as a read.

 

And I’m sorry my brain is not stable enough right now to tell you who the author was, anybody else know? No, okay, Drive’s the book. Alright, three keys to creating internal motivation. Number one you’ve got to have autonomy or freedom. The person’s got to have some choices, alright?

 

They’ve got to have the choices of what their goals are. They’ve got to have the choices of what they’re trying to achieve. They need some autonomy. Second piece, they’ve got to have the feeling that they can master something; that they can become really, really good at it. And you all know the ordinary 11-year-old girl loves to master anything.

 

They’re in swimming to see…to prove that they can do something absolutely correctly. I come into the pool correctly, I get my gear bag correctly, I put it in the proper lane, I line my equipment up correctly, I do all of my drills correctly alright? I stay properly spaced in my lane so I am nowhere near anybody else’s feet, alright? They do everything correctly and they are masters of mastery. And the ordinary 11-year-old boy wants to come in and beat the crap out of the 11-year-old boy next to him, alright?

 

That’s all they want to do is pound on each other and have fun. There’s a big difference. A couple of years down the road, that 11-year-old boy turns 14 or 15, all of a sudden that mastery starts to emerge. Boys are just slower than girls. So mastery’s the second piece.

 

The third piece – purpose, they want to be part of something bigger than themselves. It’s internal motivation but that’s why they want team, that’s why they want gangs, that’s why they want to be part of a group. They want to be part of something bigger than themselves just like you do and just like I do. And those same three keys apply to whether we are internally motivated as coaches versus whether we are externally motivated as coaches or whether we are athletes learning new skills.

 

[audience member]:  The author is Daniel Pink.

 

[JL]:  Daniel Pink. Absolutely right. Pink. Thank you very much.

 

Okay, Rule #4—this comes from The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle. We’re talking about the magic of the myelin sheath, I’m going to talk about that again in a second, which means that life is actually about correct chemistry, alright? And what Daniel Coyle talks about in this book is part of the age old law that one of the reasons…the ways we learn is repetition. But he talks about why we have repetition that works and the talks about the chemical fact that every time we send a signal down a set of neurons, the more frequently we send that signal down there, we start to wrap a fatty sheath called myelin around that neuron. And as we do that, that myelin or that fatty sheath acts as an insulator so that neuron doesn’t pick up other random twitches of impulses being sent by our body. So now, all of a sudden, that nerve…that impulse starts to move more quickly and the more myelin we lay down with good repetitions, that becomes a very easily replicable movement.

 

Does that make sense to everybody? The myelin sheath. Now what that means is when we teach correctly and we have a magic number of repetitions, we start laying down myelin and we get to be better swimmers. Less interference, more consistent movements, more consistent strokes. It also means, ladies and gentlemen, and you should be scared stiff of this because I am, it means that just what we’ve always known as coaches which is there’s some magic number of strokes that we take, at which point we’re not really ever going to change that child’s stroke.

 

And if it’s with poor technique, that kid is cooked because the myelin sheath does not go away. So now we’ve established the myelin sheath. Now, can you then paper it over? And when you get that child at age 12 who’s had a four-five years of swimming with a bad technique and you’ve changed the technique…yeah, you can. You’re going to take different neurons and you’re going to lay down a myelin sheath.

 

Now we get down to the last 25 of 200 freestyle at the Olympic Trials at age 22, and we got two sets of myelin sheath that are already laid down. And what do we see happen? The same stroke flaw that we had at age 12 is there at age 22 because we still got two equally wrapped sets of myelin sheaths down to the muscles. Makes sense to everybody? You’ve got to teach right in the beginning.

 

The most important people in American swimming are the teachers who have learned to swim. If they do a good job, our job everyday is easy. If they do a poor job and the myelin sheath gets laid down on the wrong neurons, we’re cooked. If you’re an age group coach, you’re not involved in learning to swim, you’re missing the boat. Get on it.

 

So we all know the first one – practice doesn’t make perfect, it makes habit. So we need to be practicing, if not perfectly, damn well. Anders Ericsson who was our councilman speaker last year at this clinic has a thing that says, “10,000 hours of purposeful practice to master full performance.” 10,000 hours. If you work that out and you figure out what the ordinary swimmer’s going to be doing from age 8 to about age 18, you will get to approximately 10,000 hours.

 

And it doesn’t work out to 2,000 hours, obviously, a year because at eight and under, they’re not practicing much. But go through the entire year, figure out what an ordinary good swimmer would be doing and as we increase him out of training, they do all the time, it comes out ridiculously close to 10,000 hours, alright? So it does take ten years to make a swimmer – a masterful swimmer. By the way, Dr. Ericsson’s doing a whole lot of research right now because we have him hooked up with the USA Swimming in their database and he’s doing a lot of research on swimming. And he’s very excited about it.

 

And the things we’re trying to get at is, do people learn at differential rates in swimming? And if they do, what do their practices look like? What should a great swimming practice look like? And he would argue, and I would argue that very few of our swimming practices, as most of us run today including myself, looks like purposeful practice. Can we improve that?

 

Can with…with purposeful practice get better performance with a lot less time in the water early on in life and, therefore, have a lot more enthusiasm later in life? We don’t know the answers to those things. Sooner or later, I think with the research with the United State Swimming, we’re going to be able to tell from Dr. Ericsson’s research what kind of practices actually work best with age group swimmers because, as you know, we have a gigantic number of times in improvement rates in that database. Moving on, number five.

 

Rule #5, let’s talk about Dr. Ericsson’s purposeful practice. What does it mean? First point, it’s focused concentrated effort. It is not happening assuming 500 free to warm up. That’s not purposeful practice.

 

20-25 is working on one thing at a time with constant feedback, that’s purposeful practice. Accurate feedback, understandable feedback every time you do it. A musician sits down to play a piece. They can tell right away, as soon as they start performing, when they miss a note. They don’t need a teacher to tell them, they can go right back and go, “Oops, that was a mistake, do it again.”

 

And the intensity of that effort is gigantic. That doesn’t look much right now like swimming practice in most of our cases. So they need purposeful feed…purposeful practice which consists of accurate feedback. They also need to move from mine-full – thinking about every movement I’m doing – to mindless which is called “get up the blocks, turn your block…turn your mind off and go race” because we all know the best performances come from when we turn our conscious mind off and we are running on our subconscious. So we need to be able to do that.

 

So three rules of purposeful practice: it’s got to be focused, got to be concentrated, got to have a huge amount of effort, got to have accurate, understandable feedback and it’s got to be moving from mind-full to mindless. Think of those items. Think of those things that most human beings learn. Maybe not to learn the violin, certainly not me, alright? What do we do with all of those?

 

We move from mind-full to mindless. How many of you can remember, and this is a rhetorical question, the first time you drove a car? Alright? You thought about every single thing and today you go from the pool to home and you don’t even know you’re driving [laughs], alright? The car drives itself and, “Oops, I’m home. How did that happen?”

 

Rule #6, and this really relates to modern children, when you’re developing focus which was the first part of what we’ve just had up on the screen before. When you’re developing focus, pace, rhythm and tempo is everything. Our minds absorb much faster than the ordinary person speaks. I’ve been told that’s not true with me because I talk too fast, alright? But for most of us, our brain goes a lot faster which means there’s a lot of space in between those words for the brain to go drifting around.

 

And a lot of the children that we teach, we have that situation. We need to teach with rhythm. We need to teach with pace and the tempo needs to be fast. It needs to be demanding. Your speed of speaking for you needs to be relatively fast because their speed of comprehension is going to be fast. Now, if you’re staying there on the side of the pool deck and you’re trying to teach a small group…let’s say 20 novices at the same time, teach them a skill, and you’re giving them information.

 

That information has to be delivered in appropriate sized bites with the appropriate sized speed. It needs to be small, sharp and fast; and here’s one of the keys, folks, don’t wait for anybody to say, “Huh? What? I didn’t get that.” Just go, alright? Some of your 20 kids aren’t going to get it, probably ten of them. The second time you get down the other end of the pool…I start at this end of the pool, I’m teaching freestyle.

 

I’m teaching what I call sailboat drill, alright? Sailboat drill is designed to put the weight in front of the center of buoyancy, alright? So we’re going to have 20 kids go here and my instruction’s going to be “Sailboat drill”. Six kicks switch, elbow in front of the ear which means that this elbow is in front of this ear. So I’m leaning forward and my next words are, “Ready, go!” Not “Okay, everybody got it?” It’s “Ready, go!”

 

And we go. We go to the other end of the pool, alright? We get down here I say, “One more time, same thing.” I give them a little feedback first by the way, alright? So on the way down I’ll say, “Susie, is that your elbow because it doesn’t look like it? I can’t see an elbow right now. Elbow in front of the ear. So we’ll go again. Sailboat drill. Six-kick switch, elbow in front of the ear. Ready? Go!”

 

And the ready is not, “Are you ready?” It’s a command ready. “Ready? Go!” Alright? We get down to the other end, I’m going to start my next instruction. “Alright, sailboat drill, six-kick switch. Make sure you’re switching from your hip and not using your hand to switch. Switch from your hip.”

 

It’s the shorthand. “Sailboat drill, six-kick switch. Switch from the hip. Ready? Go!” And we’re down here. Now, what’s happening? If you’re not paying attention, you are lost.

 

It’s okay for them to be lost a couple of times because it will what? It will focus the brain. Does that make sense to everybody? There is nothing wrong with a kid feeling lost. And then if you have a kid who’s lost after six or seven of those, you tell everybody, “Alright, easy hundred. Sailboat drill, six-kick switch. Ready? Go!”

 

And you take Susie and Billy out of the water and say, “Guys, what’s the problem? You’re not getting this. I’m not repeating it. Get on it. Watch the people in front of you. Pay attention and learn.” Yes, sir…ma’am? Sorry.

 

[audience member]:  How do you handle the kids that learning/understanding issues, stuff like that?

 

[JL]:  I put them in a different group.

 

[audience]:  You put them in a different group, okay.

 

[JL]:  Put them in a different group because that…I mean them trying to get along with a group of normal speed, not going to happen, alright? Not going to happen. Now I’m not going to do it right away. I might force it because…well, today there’s a lot of kids who are diagnosed with a lot of bullshit that has nothing to do with reality [laughs], okay? [applause]

 

[audience]:  Amen to that.

 

[JL]:  60% of the male, young male, population in the United States does not have ADHD, okay?  They’re just boys. Alright? They’re just boys. And all you’ve got to do is say, “Guys, shape up and off you go.”

 

I’m not trying to make light of to your question. I’m being serious, okay? It’s go, go, go until they prove they can handle it. When they can’t handle it, you’ve got to put them in a situation they can handle, alright? That makes sense to everybody?

 

[audience member]:  I just don’t have that luxury cause I coach them and I got two lanes and that’s it.

 

[JL]:  Can’t solve it for you, can’t solve it for you. Sorry. That makes sense to everybody? So pace is everything. Tempo is everything.

 

“You want to attention? Go! You’ll get attention.” Kids want to be part of the group – that’s the motivation. They want to keep up. They don’t want to get behind. They want to be with the rest of the group.

 

If the rest of the group doesn’t have to ask questions, if the rest of the group’s mind is engaged, they will go. Okay, fast paced learning environment, obviously, promoting focus.

 

Rule #7: quality and meaningful feedback is critical to success. And I wanted to employ/report/talk here about the Wooden method. And there was a great article in Sports Illustrated right after Coach Wooden died; and one of the things it said in there was Coach Wooden didn’t make speeches.

 

He didn’t even really use sentences. At practice he uses a phrase here, a phrase there. Short, crisp, to the point, descriptive, evocative, get an emotion when he needed it, quick, constant, never stopping. Talking to  different people all the time. Is that hard coaching work?

 

You bet it is. If you signed up for Easy Coaching 101, go somewhere else. It doesn’t happen in our sport. It’s going to have to be hard work coaching. Now, let’s translate that to the pool. What I use, and I put a big word in here, Socratic Method.

 

I don’t actually talk like that to anybody. I just kind of like throwing in a big word here too so I look a little more educated than I am, okay? What that means is I ask questions, okay? And we talked about what freestyle should look like. So when children come in to the wall, I will ask a simple, short question.

 

It will be, “Susie, where’s your elbow?” Susie knows what that means because there’s a spot your elbow’s supposed to be at a given drill. Or I’ll say, “Pete, switch from your hip.” They know what that means. Short, concise. Or I’ll say, “Sue…Bill, what’s supposed to move first, your hand or your hip?” Short questions because if you’re asking questions, people have to do what? Pay attention, right? Pay attention. They never know who’s going to…who you’re going to ask.

 

You have to set this up beforehand by giving them the language, simple language. I’ve got a bunch of eight-year-olds in front of me, “How are we going to swim freestyle? Eyeballs on the bottom of the pool, body rotating. Hand enters outside the shoul…just outside the shoulder line, elbow up, index finger going in first, reach out, reach and roll, pull…fingers down, elbow up. Push through. Thumb your thighs, spin your hand out. Little finger first. Elbow up, hand close to the body, close to the water on recovery.” There’s a whole description that I’m going to teach 8 year-olds.

 

Is that world-class freestyle? Hell, no! But it will lead to it. I’m not teaching world-class freestyle to eight and under. I’m teaching good stuff that will put them in position later on to do…add things on that and make…and get better, okay?

 

Now, when we do that., and I’m when we’re talking about is your fingers…when we’re asking questions, I’m saying, “Is your fingers down or your fingers pointing across? Where are your fingers pointing? Where’s your elbow?” Next stage of that is I’m going to add in the fact that we’re going to lift that shoulder…got to elevate the scapula and put the shoulder in the ear when we’re at full extension. So I’m going to ask the child, “Is your shoulder in your ear?” Does that make sense? Alright, when we’re talking about butterfly, I’ve got a whole other set of words for butterfly, whole set of words for backstroke, etcetera.

 

And I make those words evocative and good pictures. We talk about butterfly timing, I use the idea of butt breathing. You’ve got to breathe through your butt, alright? Hands go in when the butt goes up. If you can’t breathe through your butt, you haven’t got your butt high enough.

 

You got to have butt breathing. Will any of you forget the word “butt-breathing” in the next two weeks? Hell, no! [laughs] Do any of my eight and under every forget the word “butt-breathing”? Hell, no!

 

When I ask that question, does every single child respond, “Butt-breathing!”? You bet you they do [laughs] and Mom is going, “Ah!” [laughs]

 

Rule #8: mind-full to mindless. Every physical learning act begins as mind-full. Literally, your mind is full of stuff and then every great physical performance is mindless – it’s without thought.

 

It’s all reaction. So when we are teaching, we got to be moving from potentials or possibilities in practice from doing it mindfully to doing it mindlessly. We want to get to the point where we can say, “Turn your brain off and go race.” State of the empty mind; freeze one to allow the subconscious to exert itself. If that mind is full of crap, you cannot get the subconscious involved.

 

It just says, “Uh-uh, not me! I’m not invading there. Look at all that nasty stuff. It’s going to mess me up.” Your subconscious has a video playing of what your perfect race is going to be if you’ve taught them properly. But it’s not going to intrude as long as your conscious mind has priority. Ask yourself those two questions, alright? When you learn to walk, you made about 12,776 mistakes unless you’re a girl, in which case you did it the fourth time. [laughs]

 

And the point is, you did what? Nobody said, “Oh, my god! I made a mistake. Oh, that’s terrible.” Your parents said, “Oh, isn’t that cute? It’s wonderful. The child is learning to walk. Oh, great.” And that went on for any period of time, as long as it took, until you could walk. Nobody ever smacked your butt and said, “I want you to learn faster to breathe…to walk.”

 

Never happens. It all comes from what?  Trial and error. Trial and error, trial and error, right; and endless repetition until you are no longer thinking about trying to walk, trying to swim or trying to drive a car. So it’s got to be a lot of good repetition.

 

If you get good feedback, that helps. Racing, obviously, has to be the same and then when we are racing…we’re old enough to be athletes who are racing, being mind-full is going to be harmful to that final performance; but we have to be mind-full as a step on the way to getting there. We’ve got learn mindfully. You’ve got to go back to Ericsson’s purposeful practice.

 

#9, from my old friend Yoda.  Many of you are too young to remember who the hell Yoda was; it’s from Star Wars, alright? The older folks in the room will remember that. And Yoda’s quote is, “Do or not do, there is no try.” Problem with try is you’ve got a weak excuse: I’m trying.  So what? Everybody tries. That’s what we expect. We expect you to try. You don’t get any awards for trying. You get a little bit of praise, say, “Good job! Keep working at it.” But that’s not the goal; the goal is to do it. Do it.

 

The other thing that happens with trying is that trying presupposes that at some point there’s the possibility of you not trying anymore. And if you want people to learn, you have to remove that possibility. You have to say, “We are going to learn this.” Now some of you are going to learn it in the next two 25s, and are some are going to learn it in the next two months, and some of you are going to learn it in the next year; but we are going to learn this, alright?

 

Try is a nasty word when it comes to educating people to do things.

 

#10, you all recognize Coach Marsh, “Sales is the transfer of the emotion; teaching is a sale. You’ve got to have energy, effort. You’ve got to create excitement and that makes the sale to people who are new or young learners.”  Folks, if you cannot be energetic when you’re teaching your new young swimmers, it’s going to be really, really hard. You’ve got to be energetic.

 

Again, we go back to that first one, within your own personality; but if you’re sitting, you’re going to have a hard time—I pretty much know that. If you’re trying to give people a drill to do and then read the newspaper; they’re watching you read the newspaper, then you can forget it. You’ve got to be actively engaged with them, eyeball-to-eyeball. No matter how many kids you’ve got in the pool, eyeball to eyeball. They know that you care about what you’re teaching and they know that it’s important to you, and it’s going to be, therefore, important to them.

 

Rule #11 most of you are already familiar with, but let me talk about it a little bit, different depth. Everybody today…because remember we talked about that screen thing? Everybody’s a visual learner, alright? We are all visual learners. Kids need to watch. They are not learning from talking, they are learning from watching. So you have to be careful what they’re watching; that they’re watching the model you want them to follow and not another model.

 

And those next two words are important: age relevant. Taking your 17 year-old in practice to do a drill, to show your 8 year-olds is just about almost as worthless as just not doing it, because a 17 year-old to an 8 year-old looks like a what? A grown up.

 

That’s their older brother or sister who takes them to the mall. They’re a grown up. There’s no relationship between a 17 year-old body and the 8 year-old who looks at the mirror and say, “My god, I don’t look like him or her. I can’t do that drill.” And yet, sociologically, we all want to be like the big kids. So who’s a big kid?

 

When we’re nine, a big kid is 10 or 11. When we’re 11, a big kid is 13 and when we’re 13, the big kids are 15 and 16. When you’re 15 and 16, the big kids are 20. When you’re 20, the big kids are 30. When you’re 30, the big kids are 50.

 

When you’re 50, the big kids are 85. [laughs] When you’re 62, they are Peter Daland.  And I watch Peter Daland to figure out how I’m going to live when I’m 90 years of age.  Because if I can make it and look like him and act like him, I’m going to be a happy dude. Does that make sense to everybody? Alright? So be careful who you use as these models.

 

The most powerful models you have in your team are not necessarily your best swimmers. They’re the best swimmers that are within a relatively close age category of the people you’re trying to teach, because those are the ones those kids are trying to be like. So good demonstrations really matter, very little talking really matters. Last one, whole thing about teaching is about purpose. You have to ask yourself what keeps you from doing an effective job of teaching.

 

And you know and I know there are a lot of school districts around the United States where the teaching is more about having kids feel good than really learning something. It’s fake learning, fake teaching; and you can’t fool kids—they know that. In lots of cases, they come to you expecting to be praised for minor achievements or no achievements just because they are good enough to be warm and breathing, and that’s not the case. So your expectations and your purpose sets the tone for how well you’re going to teach and how well they’re going to learn.

 

You need to make your expectations and your purpose in being there, and your intent for them absolutely clear. And when that purpose is clear, everything else will flow from that. My comment to my novice kids all the time is, “We will have fun when you are not in the water and I am not standing here in the side of the pool deck teaching. When we are in the water, we are dead serious about learning new skills. That’s what we’re here for. There’s a time for laughs, giggles and fun; and there’s a time to learn. And when we get in the water, it’s time to learn.” And that intent is absolutely crystal clear. And I would suggest to you that’s the place to start when you have a group – make sure the intent is there.

 

Okay, a couple of final things. You already know this but it’s always good to have a reminder and you can’t have too many. Your impact is absolutely enormous. After 40 years of coaching, I’m still getting letters from people who are now 55 and 60 years of age and so on and saying, “My god, I can’t believe that I still remember this lesson that you taught me way back when.” And each of you has gotten those letter or will get them too.

 

It’s an awesome responsibility. Casual words come out of our mouths as coaches will be remembered for those children for the rest of their life. Therefore, the second paragraph up there, alright? It’s not what you’re going to take with you because not…most…many of us are going to take much with us. But you’re going to leave behind memories, thoughts and philosophies that are going to last forever because the kids you teach are going teach their kids, who are going to teach their kids and it goes down through generations.

 

I watched two gentlemen last night before the presentation take a picture with Coach Schubert and it was obviously important to them, and it should be—the greatest swimming coach in history. And when Mark got done taking that [picture], I said, “You know that’s going to wind up a 100 years from now in somebody’s trunk; and somebody’s grandfather gave it to somebody else, who gave it to somebody else; and that will last in that family and it will be important for a long time.”

 

It’s not the photo, folks. It’s what you teach every day. It’s what I teach every day. It’s long-lasting. It’s impactful.  Sometimes it takes a hundred times to do it.

 

And the last secret is be just as persistent as you ask your children to be. Never give up. Sometimes it’s the thousand and first time you tell somebody something that the message gets through. That’s all I have here for you for this afternoon. Questions, comments, thoughts please anybody? Thank you. [applause] Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

 

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