Living Your Dash by Pete Higgens (2005)


Introduction: Our next speaker, Pete Higgins, has been coaching… well, I am not going to say that Pete is old, but he has been coaching longer than I have been alive. He started in 1953 and has been coaching very successfully in the Atlanta area for many, many years at Westminster Academy where he has had numerous state championships and state champions. At this time I would like to introduce Pete Higgins.

Coach Higgins: I get criticized at my job for inventing water or discovering water so I have been around the horn a little bit. I would like to welcome all of you to this session. If you are like me your back side is probably worn out by now. I am always amazed at how fatigued I can become sitting still, listening to people talk. This is the first time I have ever made a presentation for this organization. I have done a lot of local clinics, etc., etc., and I thank you for being here. How many of you folks in here have been coaching less than five years or five years or less? How about five to ten years? How about ten to twenty years? How about over twenty years? Now, you guys are the true professionals in here. You have survived all the old folks here.

I think as an older coach and right now I am 72 years old. I started coaching in 1953 and I have been at my same job since 1960. This is my 46th year at the Westminster Schools in Atlanta and I have been very fortunate in my career. I have been the “head coach” in all of my jobs, except when I was in graduate school at the University of North Carolina where I did both my under-graduate and graduate work. I wasn’t the head coach at the University of North Carolina at the time I was there. Pat Earey was the head coach, but I had a very unique experience there as a graduate assistant.

Pat was finishing up his class work while getting a doctoral degree in public health and he wasn’t his own person. He wasn’t in charge of his life and there were only about five or six candidates. When the professor said, “Hey, we are going to meet in my office at 4 o’clock in the afternoon.” you were in his office at 4 o’clock that afternoon. Pat basically turned the program over to me because I was the rock. I was the solid person there and obviously we communicated all the time. He was there all the time when he could be, but there were days when he got very short notice, so I had a very unique experience in coaching people.

This is back in the days. This was school year ’58 through 1960. In all honesty, the Carolina Swimming program was in a little dive as far as talent. We only had one real serious swimmer there, a butterflyer from the Baltimore area by the name of Harry Bloom. Tom may recognize the name from up in the middle Atlantic area. It was a real challenge for me because I wasn’t that much older than the people I was working with and this was back in the days when I had all the answers. Today, I do not know what the proper questions are, but I had all the answers in those days.

You learn to step up and meet some challenges when you are thrown into the fire kind of head first, feet first or whatever. I think there is a responsibility that goes hand in hand with becoming a part of the geriatric set in the coaching profession which is to pass on to the next generation or the next two generations whatever you might think happens to be important. I am not going to talk you about ten 100’s on a minute twenty or anything like that. If you haven’t got that part of the game figured out by now, you are not here.

I am going to talk about the personal relationships because I think this is where it all starts and stops. It’s about developing some personal relationships, and learning how to communicate. It’s the big “C” in the world. A lot of people consider it cancer. I consider it communication, and you have got to.

Everyone here in the room right now is a high school graduate. You have been in a formal education environment for at least 12 years of your life. Probably every one in here is a college graduate so you have been in an educational program for 16 years of your life. Probably each one of those years you have at least one unit of English or language art skills. You have been on a debate team, or a public speaking team. You have been writing the English language.

You have been trying to learn how to communicate with the English language and it has all been outgo. You are the amplifier and you are trying to communicate to other people. I daresay that there is not a single one of you in here that has one unit in listening. We don’t know how to listen to people. It is just that simple. Who are the people that you really enjoy being around? They are the people that listen to you. You didn’t choose them. They just pay attention to you.

You have eye to eye contact with them and they listen to you so, therefore, they are a buddy. They are a good guy. The old adage, “if it ain’t caught, it ain’t taught” applies because listening is 50% of communication. We are so caught up into the importance of what we have got to say that we don’t hear what the other people have got to say and I think if you start developing some listening skills with your athletes you will become a much, much better coach.

I played a lot of sports in high school growing up. I am a native of Florida. I was born and raised in Tampa, Florida. Prior to Mr. C. M. Newton’s presentation yesterday here, I kind of dropped a bombshell on him and asked him, “What does the Fort Homer W. Hesterly Armory do for you?” When he heard this phrase, “the Fort Homer W. Hesterly Armory” his eyes got about this big. He kind of stepped back. He said, “Well I played in the State High School basketball tournament in that Armory in 1948.” I said, “I am very much aware of that” because he played for Ft. Lauderdale Senior High School. I played for Hillsborough High School out of Tampa and I chased his back side up and down that court all the dag gum day. He beat us single-handedly, like a drum.

He was a tremendous athlete, but that was many years ago that was. That is a half a century ago and I am just dropping this bomb on him. It is interesting the relationships and the personal relationships that we develop in this sport. I think any person who has been an athlete can go out and teach and coach that sport for perhaps three to five years and just kind of regurgitate the manner in which you were taught. Just repeat it, and then probably within five years, you have got to establish who you are.

I am not George Haines. I am not Peter Daland. I am not Doc Counsilman. I am Pete Higgins and here is who I am, what I think, what I believe. Here is the way I am going to do it. I can’t be Vince Lombardi, but I can read and learn and pick up bits and pieces here and there. If you take one thing out of this communication here I hope it is a dialogue rather than a monologue, because there is a significant difference. If you can do that, you are well on your way.

I made a rule to myself, a self-imposed rule that I had to know one thing every night when I went to bed that I didn’t know when I got up that morning. If you learn one thing every day of your life, you will get pretty dag gum smart. You will become one of the obnoxiously smart people around and we all know about them. I am not going to get into that; this is kind of a shotgun blast not a target rifle approach to coaching. I think I am a pretty good coach. I have the title of being a swimming coach.

I have coached three members of United States Olympic Teams. None of them made it in swimming. Two of them made it in track and field. One of them made it as a diver. She was a swimmer. Her name was Jenny Chandler, the Gold Medalist in the 3 meter springboard in ’76 in Montreal. She was a pretty good breaststroker and I coached her in the breaststroke. My diving coach at that time obviously coached her in the diving and she was a much better diver than a swimmer, but a pretty good swimmer.

One boy, he was the captain of our team, ran the 5,000 and 10,000 meters in Munich in 1972. Another girl was on the 68, 72, and 76 teams. She would have gone to Moscow had peanuts, from down here in Plains, Georgia, Jimmy Carter opined that we not show up in Moscow for the ‘80 games. So we bailed on that, but she would have been on the ‘80 team and she was the United States’ dominating female shot putter. This is back in the East/West days when most of the Eastern European women were getting most of their successes out of a needle or out of a bottle.

When she got into the International Competition she got wiped out, but she was the best shot putter in the United States and the best we could put a half step forward. As a 15 year old sophomore she swam backstroke for us primarily. She was on a state record holding medley relay team, etc. Her mother taught elementary school physical education at Westminster. She was a 15 year old 10th grader. She was 6’ 1 3/4” and she weighed 197 pounds. She was a strong person.

I have been in her garage at her house. I don’t recommend this for all 15 year old girls and old fuddy-duddy coaches, but nevertheless, I was in the garage at her house. This was before the days of power racks and the popularity of them. With 300 pounds on a bar bell, a free-weight bar bell, she did 15 full squats. A 15 year old girl. She is balancing a bar, 300 pounds, so she was strong and she could throw a shot putt a ways. I mean, she would just lose them. So she is one of my swimming products that has been out there.

I think all of us realize that young people need direction. They need discipline. They need a sense of knowing that someone is always there for them. You have got to become your athlete’s rock. When the key gets turned in the door at that 5:30 practice in the morning or 6 o’clock or whatever it might be, you have got to be there. I get asked all the time, “Higgins, don’t you ever get sick? Don’t you ever miss anything?” and I simply say, “No. I try not to anyway.” I have not missed a practice at Westminster Schools in 46 years. I have been there for people and I think that is important. You have got to become these people’s rock. You have probably all heard the stories about how important you are in the lives of the young people that you deal with and this is true. All I can say is, I will underline it, put it in bold writing, etc. You have input and power and influence over folks that you have no idea about and they are not going to remember their best time. They are not going to remember their split on the relay, but they are going to remember the band ride to the meet and all the hell that they raised coming back after the meet after you won.

That is what they are going to retain 10, 15, 20, 30 years down the road and you can look forward to that. They are good and hopefully in most cases have good memories. I got a kick out of C. M. Newton’s definition of how many of you folks listened to Mr. Newton the other day. It was most all of you. I am repeating this. He talked about how he narrowed his rules down. He started out and had too many rules and became a policeman. I don’t want to be a policeman either. If you’ve got too many rules, then you have to enforce the rules or you don’t have the rules and he said he had narrowed it down.

He ended up with three rules and then 419 guidelines, I guess, as he put an addendum on to those three rules. We have three rules at Westminster. #1. Don’t get tired. #2. Don’t get sick. #3. Beat somebody. And, that is all we do. We have a mandatory meeting with our team and parents dictated by our athletic director prior to the opening of the season. We are supposed to go over what we want to do and how we are going to run the show this year so that everybody is on the same page. I go through those three rules every year.

Our objective is to be the state champion. Now, if you shoot for the moon and you fail and you land on Mars you have still had a pretty good ride, and a pretty interesting trip. So I can’t even imagine in my wildest dreams, and I have some pretty wild dreams, trying to be in the top 3 in the state meet. Let’s be in the top 5. Let’s have a winning season you know. If that is your goal and you fall one meet short, you don’t have room for error because we have a limit of ten meets in the state of Georgia. You have got to have a 6-4 dual meet record. You fall one short and then you are tied at 5-5. If you try to win them all and you fall you are 9-1. That looks a little bit better.

I have a personal phobia with the coaches that try to legislate their win/loss records. They want to get into this league or in that conference or in this classification of schools, etc. They will politic and argue and fiddle around with this and spend hour upon hour dealing with that. If they get back on the soccer field, the swimming pool, the baseball diamond, the football field and coach their kids and use about half of that time to better their own team, they would probably end up where they want to be.

So, I think that you have to spend the time with the kids and I don’t know in swimming that you need to be a great scientist of the sport. You cannot know a whole lot about competitive swimming and why people get through the water in a hurry and this guy goes faster than that guy. You can read the stopwatch. Obviously 25 flat is faster than 25.5 you know? Hey, go figure.

We are fortunate to be in the competitive swimming business because we have the denominator. A second is a second every place you put your finger on the map of the world; Tokyo, Japan, Marietta, Georgia, even Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. We can compare ourselves. Each one of you can coach a World Record holder. Each one of you. Not many of us succeed in that, but you can’t coach the best high school football player because he doesn’t play against every high school football player in the United States. He plays against ten other schools and there are in a lot of different positions. So all the All-American players are just what the sports writers say. They look at a bunch of stats and they run the numbers on them and say, “Okay, this guy can run a 4.3 40 and this guy can only run a 4.5 40 so he must be better.” Woopty-wow. He can bench press this or what have you.

I think we tend to see what we want to see and I think we tend to hear what we want to hear. (Coach Higgins shows a picture to the group.) Most all of you have seen this. There are a lot of bumper, I mean, not bumper stickers but license plates with “fly” on them. But what is difficult about reading this is we are conditioned to read black on white and the first time that you look at something like this you are looking like boy, these are a bunch of crazy looking figures up here because you focus on the black. We have a very emotional attachment to that information that we learn first and this carries over into your coaching.

If you learn stroke mechanics, swimming correctly, the first, time your life will be much more pleasant. If you have got to unlearn something and then relearn it, your life is not going to be as pleasant. And we deal with this. (Coach Higgins shows another picture)This might be a little bit more difficult to read. Read this. There is a tremendous message here everybody, if you can read this. If you can’t, walk on up here you know? All the A students, somebody has already said, are sitting up there close to the front of the building. Hey, we got a couple of prospective scholars here. The dues do not go up the closer you are to the front.

Okay. How many letter F’s on this paper? When you count them up just raise your hand so I will know when you are through. Count up the letter F’s on this piece of paper. Stan has even got bad eyes. I love it. How are we doing? Most everybody is a player. Please, how many? Three. How many got 3? How many counted three F’s? How many four? Could we see it again? Coach, pass it over. Okay, we have got 3, we have got 4, we have got 5, we have got 6. And this is the same piece of paper. I am not playing charades with you or watch the pea under the dag gum cup.

Hey guys, oh I see a lot more now. How many F’s on the piece of paper? How many F’s on the piece of paper? How many say 3? How many say 6? How many say 5? How many can’t talk? There are 7? Hey – we got another number. 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7 and we wonder as we communicate with young people. We tell them that the sun is up today. Well I don’t think so coach, it is pretty cloudy out there. I haven’t seen the old sun.

This is the same piece of information right here and we have a range of 3-7 F’s in here. Now, I will embarrass some folks. How many “ofs” are on this piece of paper? “Of”, the word “of”. A. Three. Did you count all three of those f’s? No, because the better reader you are, you gloss over the connective words; the “ands”, “these”, “buts”, “whereas”, “ofs” but you got the scientific “of”. You got the finished “of”. You got the files “of” didn’t you Bob? Any of you stopped right there?

Hey, I am home, you know? There are no “of’s” on there, you know? Because all you horrible readers, you got all six of them. Horrible, huh? Do you get the message? We see what we want to see and it may be truth, it may be something other than the truth. Okay? What two US coins equal .55 in value, one of which is not a nickel? When you know the answer raise your hand. What two US coins equal .55 in value, one of which is not a nickel?

Boy the wheels are moving. I see a lot of panic faces here. Tom is really getting frustrated up here in the front row. He said, “Dag gum, I can’t figure this out.” Get my pencil out. Please. A 50 cent piece and a nickel. One of which is not a nickel. A 50 cent piece is not a nickel. So we hear what we want to hear, all right? I have already tipped my hand. See, we hear what we want to hear. We see what we want to see. Your kids that you are dealing with, all these highly intelligent educated 15 year olds, 17 year olds, 18 year olds; they don’t know Jack. You know they really don’t. So you have to come at them.

As a graduate student at N. Carolina, I was in a study project with a bunch of sixth graders at the Chapel Hill Elementary school and we gave them ten vocabulary words that were well above the 6th grade reading level. The words were kind of out of their range, off the charts, and we filmed the room. There were 32 kids in this class and the room was on the second floor of the building. We did this study as graduate students in education.

I have an undergraduate degree in Business Administration. I am a Marketing major. I grew up in an athletic and teaching world. My father coached football and track for some 30 years or so and I knew what the financial rewards were on that side of the coin. I said ahaa, not me baby; I am going to be in the bucks. I am going to go to business school. I am going to be a salesman. I am going to go out and make some money. And that is exactly what I did.

I got out of the University of North Carolina in 1956, came down here to Florida, my home. I traveled the State of Florida as a manufacturer’s rep and made more money accidentally than I will ever do on purpose teaching school. But there wasn’t anything here or here for getting that name on that purchase order by that purchasing agent and I said man, I got to get out of here. So, I got a job teaching in a large public high school in Tampa. I never had an education course in my life. My first school job was teaching driver education.

I have been in the front yard of every house within a mile radius of Plant High School in Tampa, Florida. “Yeah coach, I got it. I got it.” you know and then boomp-boom, over the curb. And it is really an experience. You know, you get out there with four girls, three in the back seat, one under the wheel. We had four cars in the program; two standard shifts, two automatics. This is the 1957 – 1958 school year. Two of them were Chevy’s and two of them were Plymouths (those big tail Plymouths). All you guys can probably relate to that.

They were four door sedans, and we came up to a big intersection and there was a traffic light for each lane and you could hardly see the sun. I mean, there were lights and wires all over the world up there. They blocked out the sun and she pulled out, ready to make a left hand turn in the middle of the intersection. Some of you are old enough to recount and remember the Donald Duck comic things. Donald is out in the middle of this intersection with cars coming from 360 degrees. Well that was us. Of course we got the “Driver’s Ed” written all over the side of this car and she stalls the car.

We are in a standard shift Chevy and this girl, she started on the left hand side of that dashboard and she turned every switch and pulled every knob out. She pulled the cigarette lighter out, threw that in the back seat and I said, “Start the car with the key. You start the car with the key.” She is just out of it and the light changes and boom, there we are. Everybody is looking at us and guys giving us a high sign and all this kind of stuff. So she finally gets the car restarted and then she lets the clutch out a little bit too fast and we go lurching around this corner and get out of the middle of this intersection. People are clapping. They say, “Way to go champ” and all this stuff.

I have been around a little bit and seen a lot of crazy stuff, but you gotta go with the flow and that is, I guess, what I am trying to say. The title of this talk is living your dash, and I will get to that a little bit later too. I like to talk to kids about making progress each and every day. I want fast swimming each and every day. I have coached club swimming at Westminster for 26 years. I was there from 1963 until 1986 and I have been on both sides of the coin.

I have coached both teams at the same time and worked around the clock and missed my kids growing up. I think, as Peter Daland told me this morning over a cup of Starbucks, we are all in the wrong business. We should have gone into the coffee business. I mean, when is the last time you have had people lined up, across a hall, in any kind of building, in line waiting to pay you money? I mean, go figure folks, go figure.

It is going to be a long time before that happens in the swimming business, but swimming is all learned technique. Nobody was born knowing how to swim. Everyone has to learn how to swim. We are educators. We are teachers and we have to teach people how to do this. Some people can do it better than others. We evaluate it with, well, this isn’t a stop watch, but you know where I am coming from. We time them and again, the 25.0 swimmer is a better swimmer than the 25.5 or whatever.

I have been very fortunate to be able to work with some fairly fast kids down through the years. My first year at Westminster in 1960, the graduating class of ’61, I had a young man that graduated and he held six national prep school records and at that time his record was 1:52.1 in the 200 freestyle. I had a girl the year before last go 1:46.32 in the 200 freestyle for the national prep school record. Now, is that girl a better swimmer than the male was because, obviously, 1:46 is significantly faster than 1:52? I don’t know. I don’t know. His impact on the sport was probably greater as a high school senior than hers’ was so I think you have to put things in relationship.

I was, I thought, an outstanding swimmer. You know, we are all on an ego trip and I swam in the Florida State High School meet as a sophomore, no, as a junior. I was about 20 miles north of here, Lake Worth Casino Pool, on the beach and all of you can do some quick math in your head. I swam the 200 freestyle. I was 55.6 at the hundred. This was back in the days when you had to touch the wall and all of this kind of stuff. I was 55.6 at the hundred. I swam 2:06.1 for a 200. Did I get tired? Oh hell yes I got tired. You know, I had no concept. No one ever told me about tempo, about pace work, or anything. You just run and gun. Count to 8 and stop and hope where you crash is 10 yards past the end of the race and I went 2:06.1 in a 200 yard freestyle.

Now, put this in perspective. At that time, no male high school swimmer had ever been under 2 minutes. Ron Gore from Lane Technical High School in Chicago did it that year. He went 1:59.7 I think or something like that. I thought his eyebrows had to fall out if he was going that fast because that is just humanly impossible to break 2 minutes going eight lengths of a swimming pool, but that was not the case. It is just not the case and I don’t coach people to swim 200’s like that. But when I dove into the pool at the start of that race the Florida State High School record was 2:15.1, held by Barney Hungerford, from Ft. Lauderdale Senior high school. I broke the state record by 9 seconds and everybody thought, “Holy Christmas, this guy is really an animal here.”

You know, you have got to put things in perspective. I had a senior, one of my senior girls this year. She came up to me right before I came down here and said, “I am going to buy some t-shirts this year.” She got on the internet and my name and the Hillsborough High School name is on the Florida High School Association web site. She looked it up and saw my time. She said, “I’m gonna buy some t-shirts that say, ‘I beat Pete’ For everybody that goes under 2:06. I’m gonna just give them a dag gum t-shirt. I beat Pete.” I said well, that’s good.

You get asked all the time. Haven’t each one of you been asked, “Did you swim? What did you swim?” And they don’t want to know what stroke. “What was your time?” You know, were you worth a flip or not, you know? Were you a bum? I always say it is much better to be a has-been than a never-was and I enjoy being a has-been. But the older you get, the better you got, you know? So you have to keep all that stuff going too.

I am a stickler for good mechanics; good stroke mechanics. I think you can look good whether you are winning the race or whether you are 98th in a field of 80 swimmers. You can look good and I think it is my job to get you to look good. If you are sitting close to someone, I am going to give you my lecture on motivation because I don’t look at myself as a motivator. I look at myself as a facilitator. My job as a coach, I think, is to try to not de-motivate the swimmers that come in contact with me; to get out of their way.

Every kid that walks in the room wants to be a State champion. They want to be on a state championship team. That is what I want so my job is to not get in their way; not to de-motivate them. I think you have to have a much longer “don’t do list” than a “to-do list”. Think about that. It is probably more important what you don’t do than what you do and I am kind of a maverick. I do things differently. We in education do things differently.

Where is the easiest place an example? Where is the easiest place to learn to dive from in a normal swimming pool? Anybody want to make an offer? Where is the easiest place to learn how to dive? The shallow end? Boy, you are living on the edge. Anybody else? Edge of the pool? Well, guess where we teach all the diving from? It is off a 3 meter diving board. Hello? Have I got your attention? Okay, why? Because all you have got to do is stand there, stretch, tight stretch, and old man gravity doesn’t know if you are looking at that wall, that wall, that wall or that wall and fall. Your upper torso weighs more than your lower torso. Ten feet off the water which is a 3 meter board, you automatically invert and you do a perfect dive each and every time. No questions asked. Just dummy and fall like a tree.

There are no joints in a tree. It’s straight. Now, it is easier to do it backwards folks than it is forward because if you are going off the board forward as you fall you start slowing and whump you are in there. Now, if the board was 15 feet off the water you would be in the diving world what we would refer to as being long and you would over-rotate. You would tend to go over on your back. Assuming you are going forward off the board.

If it were 8 feet off the surface of the water you would be what we would refer to as being short. You would not quite get vertical, okay? But 10 feet, bingo, automatic, every time, without fail. Now, if you go off forward you start slowly and then you regain your senses when you are about in this position right here and this is not a pretty picture. I am looking at the water and I am horizontal and all I can think about is what my stomach is going to feel like in a matter of a couple of seconds. So what do you do? You bend your knees and you push and all that does is just keep that same position.

But you just get a little further away from the diving board and you come up looking like this gentleman’s jacket right here. You know, you rush the season, you get a little sunburn, you know? It is winter time, but you got a little red sun on your body and you slap yourself around. Not a fun picture. Go off backwards, look at the two bolts holding the board down and just look at them and just follow, just lean. When they go out of sight, look at the water. It’s a perfect dive every time. Now, where do we teach diving? From the side of the pool. What am I asking you to do? Hey baby, you have got to jump up in the air.

Do a hand stand on this floor. I said whoa, wait, say that again. I have got to jump up in the air and do a handstand on the floor? Well, that is not entirely true – depending on the configuration of the pool. You’ve got six inches, eight inches, maybe a foot. You have leeway or room to work in, but what do I have to have in my hip pocket in order to do that? I have got to have some rhythm, some coordination, some strength, a little kinesthetic sense to know what position my body is in. I gotta have the full wagon and that is hard, but that is where we professional educators teach diving from, go figure.

It’s like trying to teach calculus and you don’t know how to add and subtract or multiply and divide. We are teaching the complex before the simple. It takes nothing. It takes no skill whatsoever to fall, but you have got to have confidence in your instructor. You have got to establish a personal relationship that this guy is my rock. He is going to be there for me. He is not telling me something that is going to hurt me. If I do everything that he says for me to do, Bingo, I am in good shape. When I start taking over and overriding the rules, then you know? It is slap time.

I got a two page letter from a gentleman who is in the 82nd Airborne and if you are not familiar with the 82nd Airborne, they get paid to jump out of airplanes. Hopefully with parachutes most of the time and he wrote me that every time he hooked up and somebody was hollering “Geronimo” around him that he thought about the 8th grade at Westminster Schools doing back dives off a 3 meter diving board. He said, “If I can do that buddy, I can get out of this damn airplane.” So this is what it is all about; the carryover stuff.

I think, well, let me say this, I think all over-learned mental and physical skills are controlled by your subconscious of your brain. I can ask you what is 6 X 8. Well that is kind of a knee-flex knee-jerk reaction. Well, it is 48, you know? That is an over-learned mental skill. I think swimming the butterfly is an over-learned physical skill. How many of you play golf? We got a lot of golfers in here? Hey, do you want to get an upswing on your next partner or competition? Ask him when he is ready to T-up on that next tee, “Do you inhale or exhale on your back-swing?” Oh hohoho, wait a minute here now, whoa, you know? This beautiful, nice rhythmic action he has been practicing for the last 400 years now is herky-jerky. Let’s, hmm, I think I hold my breath, wait a minute. And he can’t hit that, I mean, he will hit a worm-burner down here 10 yards you know? Because what he has done has elevated this out of the subconscious portion of his brain up into the conscious portion of the brain and the dumb brain hasn’t got enough savvy to figure out how to cope with it.

The brain can’t deal with it so he is in big trouble and I think swimming has to be that. I have never had a swimmer of mine that did what I refer to as a PBT, a personal best time, get out of the water, find out what his or her time was on a scoreboard or on an alpha stop watch before we had all the score boards and everything, and with out this reaction, “Gosh, if I had known I was going that fast, I would have really tried because that was so easy. I had no idea that I was going that fast” and I said that is why you went that fast. You are on, as they say in the NBA. Hey, he is in his groove, you know? He is in his zone. You throw the ball up in the air and golly, it just went through an orange circle, what do you know about that. They call that a basket. You can’t miss. You are in the zone. That is why he or she went fast is they are dealing with an over-learned physical skill and they are relaxed.

I did a lot of work with a medical doctor at the University of North Carolina at graduate school. It ended up, I worked with him with post-hypnotic suggestions then, because, and I haven’t had, trust me, I haven’t had this experience. I haven’t had my first child yet, but I got two children. I haven’t personally had a child. The women, the pain in the process of birthing an off-spring is because they are very tight, they are anxious, they don’t know what is going on and that is when the muscles tear. That is when they get in pain, because they are tight, etc. All he did is just try to get these women to relax and work with him in a hypnotic suggestion. They were not hypnotized when they were delivering, but through a post-hypnotic suggestion. This solved a lot of problems.

At the time we had a pretty good distance freestyler at North Carolina, but the guy was petrified of these things here we call walls. He couldn’t turn worth a flip and he just got wiped out and as most of you know, it takes a lot of turns in a short course 1650 to get there. If you blow every one of them, which he had a very strong inclination to do, you are not going to be very fast. Now, he could swim pretty well between them, but he just kind of slowed down and he was petrified approaching the wall. So we worked with this kid and the first time after about two weeks of teaching him how to self-hypnotize himself and get himself to relax and to have confidence in his turning ability, he dropped 48 seconds from his best time in his first race.

You know, you thought he was picking up $10 bills off the parking lot out here. He was finding money in the street so you have got to be relaxed in order to deal with an over-learned physical skill. All of swimming is learned skills, etc. We have heard a lot of conversation, and the more I am around these conferences and clinics, the more everybody is saying the same thing to me. I hear the same stuff. It is expressed differently. They use different languages, different stories, but you know, we are all saying the same thing. Really, in all honesty, there is not a whole lot new in the world of getting through the water. Some of the stroke mechanics are new and of course if we can start cheating pretty soon with FINA on the breaststroke it will be different too. But it is making cheating legal, I guess.

It is, that reminds me of the story about… I guess it was about ten, maybe twelve years ago. Brooke, good gosh, what was that? Does Berkshire-Hathaway do anything for you? Do you know what that is? Please? Warren Buffett, his investment firm, it is an insurance operation. He took about a 12-11% something like that. Maybe it was a 12% position in the Coca-Cola Company. It is something we are real proud of in Atlanta. At that time that he did this there was a big interest around the country in the financial circles of why CEO’s, CFO’s, higher ups in all these corporate structures were getting these tremendous bonus packages.

They got a good salary, but then they would get 28 million in stock options or something like this and they asked Mr. Buffett, “What are your thoughts about this?” They asked whether the company was going uphill or if they were going in the tank. The CEO still got all his fantastic, and he said, “Well, I agree with it if they are making money and everything is good. There is no red ink at the bottom of the page down there. I don’t see a lot of sense in it if they are going in the tank.” He said, “I make the analogy. It is kind of like shooting an arrow into the tree and then you go and paint the bull’s eye around wherever the arrow landed in your target so you never miss your target.” I thought that was a pretty good analogy, by gad, he has had a little financial success in his day from Omaha, Nebraska and being a business student, some of this stuff makes sense to me.

I think that we have all had challenges with the club versus the school program and how you interrelate these and again, I am into the personal relationships of coaching. I think this is all dependent on the personality, the beliefs, the desires, the motivations of the club coach, of the school coach and of the athlete that happens to be wearing two hats. I have been on both sides of it. I made a rule to myself in 1986 when I got out of the club business to never get into an adult tug-of-war over some teenager. This is their sport. I am out of eligibility. I can’t score a single point in a swimming meet and besides, Pete Higgins in a Speedo is not your basic pretty picture anyway.

So I don’t want to be there. I am out of eligibility. So, it’s whatever that athlete wants to do. Some of them can wear both hats and be very comfortable with it. They can swim in a club meet on Friday, swim in a high school meet on Saturday, and go back and forth you know? It doesn’t make any difference.

I don’t know if the name Elizabeth Hill does anything for you. She was 3rd in the NCAA’s this past spring as a freshman from the University of Georgia in the 500 yard freestyle. She went 4:39. She improved her time from her high school time. She went 4:40+ for us as a senior at Westminster the year before. She is the girl that went 1:46.32 in the 200 yard freestyle and I ragged on her. I called her up in the middle of June this summer and I said, “Hey Elizabeth, I am just checking in you know? How is everything going?” She said great and I said, “You know, I am sitting in my office over here and I am looking up on our record board and it says that you hold our school record at 1:46.32 in the 200 freestyle and I think that is a pretty significant number because you have been in college for a year and you didn’t go any faster than that last year as a freshman in college. That must be a pretty good number up there and she said, “Higgins, get out of my life.”

I like to nail people you know? Just keep the barb in them a little bit. It is kind of the way I operate I guess, but she could wear both hats. I bring her up and there is another girl who was a freshman last year, starting her sophomore year at Stanford, Catherine Bell. They both swam for the Dynamo Swim Club and they’ve got swimmers. I mean, I don’t know how many swimmers they got. A jillion of them. They are two very, very large swim clubs. Swim Atlanta, I call them the 7-11 of competitive swimming. They got a program on every street corner. Some kids can do that.

Jeff Dash, who was a collegian at the University of Arizona, had no problem. He swam down at Georgia Tech and the Swim Atlanta program and he could do this. Other kids, they can’t do this. I have had a 49.7 100 freestyler, female, who didn’t swim for Westminster schools as a senior in high school because the high school swimmers were trash in her way, slowing her down. I was the world’s worst swimming coach, etc, etc, etc. She was wasting her time in a rinky-dink high school program and I said, “We have a welcome mat at our pool on both sides of the door. You are welcome in and you are welcome out. I am not going to hold a gun to anybody’s head. Hey, you gotta swim. This is your sport. That is why you are there and I want to get out of your way and try to let you do whatever you want to do with your sport. I don’t want to de-motivate you.” So, I think you have got to deal with that stuff.

I want some fast swimming every day at practice. Somebody has got to tee it up and get after it. We probably swim less distance than most all of our competition, but we enjoy beating them because they may have better swimmers, but we are a better team. Last year we had 93 kids in our program, male and female. We swim in the winter; it’s a 4 month program. We can’t get in the water until October the 24th this year. Our state meet, we host it at Westminster, will be the weekend of February 11 and I can’t coach them before that or after that. So, you do what you gotta do and eat a burger and go home I guess.

After that, who knows? I like to work on all strokes everyday. We do a lot of IM work, etc, etc, etc. I don’t play favorites. I have high expectations for everybody. We are in a very hyped, tough, academic environment. In Last year’s senior class, the median SAT was 1291. We didn’t have a single senior not graduate. We have about 200 in a class in high school, 760 kids or so in the high school. We didn’t have anyone on our senior graduating class under 1100 on the boards. We had six 1600’s so I am glad that I am on my side of the desk and not their side competing with them because I would come in a bad 3rd.

As teenagers, their world goes from Friday and Saturday night to the next Friday and Saturday and they do not understand the historical situation. If you want to feed the horses in January and February you got to put some hay in the barn in October, November and December and you got to get it in before the rain comes and destroys it and starts rotting the hay. They have been told all their lives that they are very talented people in 3,000 different areas and they have been told all their life they are great. They have been told that they can do anything they want to do, so they dink around in the academic world, stay up all night the night before the exam, knock out a 97 and go on with their life.

Well, you can’t do that in a sport, particularly an endurance sport like we are involved in. You can’t just piddle around okay? I am going to really start training and working hard the week before the state meet. A-hah. You gotta do something earlier out. You have to fight that battle and that is one of my biggest battles. You have got to teach people how to be competitive and I don’t think being competitive is arguing with the teacher that you got an 88 and it should have been a 91 on that last quiz. That is just grade grubbing. That is not being competitive.

My definition of competition is get an advantage over your opponent. Get them under your heel and grind them into the ground. Destroy their competitive ability to come back and re-attack you. Take away their fight. The most dangerous animals in the world are the wounded animals. You and I have a conflict and you take a swing at me and bloody my nose. Hey baby, you got my attention now and we are going to be into it because I am a wounded animal. This is what you have got to learn how to do.

I learn more about our swimmers and athletes in our dual meets than they learn themselves because we are all wired differently. Some people are front runners. You give them a lead and the world record holder isn’t going to go by them. They will fight you to the death. Then there are other people who are come from behind folks. They love running people down. You put the world record holder out there two feet in front of them and they will go and chase him down. They are built that way. They are put together that way. Psychologically, mentally, physiologically, I don’t know, but you need to know how your athletes are put together.

If you have got somebody that likes to run people down you don’t want him up there with a big lead early out in the relay because he is going to wait until somebody gets out in front of him before he gets mentally into the race and perhaps you cannot recoup from that. So, you have to learn all these things about these kids. We have made a living at Westminster beating better swimmers with our better team.

I have run my mouth too much. I would like to recommend a couple of books for you. Home Invasion. When I say those two words it probably conjures up in your mind a ski mask with a gun in your ribs or next to your temple. This is a book that was written by a female saying, and I get asked all the time, “How do the kids today compare with the kids you coached in the 70’s or 60’s?” and I say they are exactly the same kids. They put their pants on one leg at a time. They do not jump in the air and say, “Okay I am dressed and ready to go.”

But mom and dad, we adults have changed. Her definition of the home invasion is: the internet, the computer world, the television world, the cell phone world, these items are invading our homes with a bunch of trash for these kids. They keep them up all night IM’ing each other, etc. I do a lot of computer work and the internet is an unbelievably marvelous phenomenon to me. There is a tremendous amount of beneficial stuff out there and there is two times the tremendous amount of trash out there. You have got to be discerning in your use of it.

I would recommend a book by Mr. Jim Gibbons, who was a professor in the graduate school of business administration at Stanford University where most of our lower level intellectual students end up and he wrote a book called, Good to Great. The first seven words in this book I could talk for a month and a half on. “Good is the enemy of Great.” It is easy to become good. Once you get good it is almost impossible, or at least very difficult to become great. I am trying to get our kids to become great and it is a hard job. It is a tough job. It is a fulltime job.

He talks about hiring people. This is all done in the business world. He took the Fortune 500 companies, every one of them, and did research on them. Virtually all of us have read some level of a “How To” book. They are all structured on, you are here. I want you to get over here and this is how you best get over there. They have an agenda. They want to route you through this maze to get you where you want to go, where the author wants you to go. He just evaluated these companies; all 500 of them. He had a nice captive audience of graduate students to do his leg work and he basically came up with two companies in each division. He only found 11 great companies out of the Fortune 500. That is all he found.

Virtually, every company is a good company and he gave you the reasons why. He said hire people for what they have to bring. He made the reference to getting on the bus. You have got to get the right people on the bus. Do not hire somebody for a job, you know? Don’t say, “Hey, we are going to load up this bus and we are going to go down to Miami.” Because you get all these free loaders, and hey, there is a free trip to Miami. I am going to go out there and get on that bus. Go hire good people. Get on the bus and they will tell you where the bus ought to go. You may end up going over to Ft. Myers, across alligator alley, or someplace.

Let me close by taking the liberty to read something for you and this will get back to the title of this conversation that we have had today. This is a poem.

I heard a man who stood to speak at the retirement banquet of a coaching friend.
He referred to dates of the coach’s career from the beginning to the end.
He noted the first and last days of the coach’s time and spoke the dates with tears, but he said what mattered most of all, was the dash between the years.
For the dash represents all the time that he spent coaching on earth and now only those who loved and played for him, know what that little line is worth, for it matters not how much we win, the trophies, the records, the cash.
What matters most is how we live and love and how we spend our dash. If we could just slow down enough to consider what is true and real and always try to understand the way our athletes feel and be less quick to anger and show appreciation more.
And love the people in our lives like we have never loved before.
If we treat our athletes with respect and more often wear a smile, remembering that this special dash might only last a while.
So when your coaching career comes to an end and with your life’s actions to rehash, would you be proud of the things your athletes say about how you spent your dash.

Thank you a lot.

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