[Introduction] My name is Mary Anne Gerzanick-Liebowitz. I am the Assistant Coach at Oregon State University and First Vice-President of ASCA and I am here to introduce to you today, Jeff Pearson. Jeff is currently the head coach of the Sierra Nevada Marlins Swim Team. He has, during his tenure, produced world record holders, Junior National and National champions. Jeff has also received numerous accolades from ASCA, including the ASCA award of Excellence in 2006 and 2007. He remains extremely active in the swimming community and is currently serving as the Senior Chair for the Sierra Nevada Swimming and Chairman of the California and Nevada Sectional Committee. As a swimmer, Jeff was on the USA National Team for 1992 and 1993 and won two National swimming titles in open water swimming so please help me in welcoming our next speaker, Jeff Pearson.
[Coach Pearson] We are going to talk a little bit today about making club swimming a team sport and I want to start off by saying that we kind of made a transition within our organization in the way that we approached our culture – going for more of a swim club type culture to a swim team type culture and we will talk a little bit about what I think the difference is between those two things. I will say that this transition wasn’t an easy one for me. It wasn’t natural. I don’t think that I am naturally a great team builder. I think that the college coaches, or the greatest college coaches, are really the experts in that, but I have tried to transition some of those ideas into club swimming, to try to make our club better and club swimming in our area better. I will talk a little bit about what we have done there.
Team background, for those that were not at my talk yesterday: our team was formed in 1983. I started in December of 1995. We were relatively small – about a 40 member club. We moved to Fulson and into a newer 50 meter pool in April of 2001, which we helped to get built, and currently we are at about 185 year around members with 7 training groups. We also have swim school, masters swimming and various clinics that we operate during the year. But our heart and soul is really our 185 year around swimmers. Just some quick recent team accomplishments: we have had top three finishes at our California and Nevada sectional meet in ’04, ’06 and ’07 and ’08. I am a big fan of this meet. I think that being able to incorporate a larger portion of your team into one competition and have your national level kids all the way through your first time sectional qualifiers working together towards a team goal is invaluable and so I am a big fan of the sectional concept. We were first place this year in the Nevada Junior Olympics, which is our local age group competition, and this summer we had 8 current/past Marlins represented at the Olympic Trials.
So, the need for serious team building emerged. In 2001 I had a revelation that as our team grew from 40 to 185 we needed to make some changes. We are out of space. We really don’t have the space to build. We are working on some other facilities, but at this point we are maxed out with waiting lists for our groups. We are at our max size and as the team grew, the culture of the team began to change. Some of the things that were easy to teach with 40 members, where everybody knows everybody, became much more difficult when we had a huge influx of new people in a short period of time. We essentially got 4 times bigger than the original size of our team so bigger talents meant bigger egos. Parents didn’t get it. “I” came before “team” with many of our best athletes, and we, in general, just had an unhealthy hierarchy that I felt needed to be adjusted some way.
So, around 2001, we made some big adjustments in the way that we approached our team and what we taught our kids. Today, I think we have a much improved team environment and I am not going to tell you it is perfect. We have our problems, just like everybody else, but in general, our kids are very encouraging and supportive of one another. It is something that we reward and that we emphasize all the time. Coaches, swimmers and most parents, and I will say most parents, bought into our team goals. The parent aspect is something that we are really getting into this year to try and improve–the way our parents think and the way that they approach the team. Kids perform more consistently in practice and at meets. We have kids that are going to meets and they know that kids around them are dependent upon their efforts. Therefore, they are much more consistent with what they put out in a championship meet or in a practice.
If you were at my talk yesterday, I spoke about separating training groups that are competing with one another and those kinds of things foster that competitive environment. Can club swimming be a team sport? I think yes, we can, but we have some built in challenges in our system. I think United States Swimming, for all the great things that it does, is not necessarily set up for great team building. It is not natural, like the collegiate system or the high school system, with a series of dual meets where everything is scored with smaller team groups, etc. We are dealing with large teams. How do we incorporate those large numbers of athletes into our team concept? What percentage of our meets really includes all of our swimmers, top to bottom? And I think most of us can probably answer – a very small percentage. Can we build a team concept swimming against 20 other teams with no relays and no score to judge the team’s success? Most of the meets that I think our kids go to growing up are invitational style or B/A & Up or, whatever you call it in your LSC, but they are meets where there is no team score, no relays. Essentially, everybody is competing as an individual. Can we set team goals to include everyone?
These are the big questions that I felt we needed to answer in order to improve. Some of the benefits of a team environment, in my opinion, are:
Accountability. 30 teammates in a group have the ability to see more than one coach, and I think teaching accountability and how to get swimmers to help each other in that environment is critical. If there is accountability happening in the pool, right there in the gutter, and they are holding each other accountable, the coach doesn’t have to be the bad guy all the time. We can sit up there and guide the practice. We can do the instruction that we want to do without having to deal with all the little accountability issues. So, if the culture within your groups is to hold each other accountable and you teach them how to do that in a positive and productive way, I think that could be a good thing. Peer pressure can be a good thing. Kids will do more for each other than they will do for themselves.
Support. Genuine interest in others is a challenging thing for the level kids that we work with in age group swimming, especially teenage athletes. They, more often than not, are so self-centered that they have a hard time really having genuine interest in the people around them. I had a group meeting this last week and I said, “look, there is a cultural thing within your age group where many kids are going to actually want the people around them not to perform well because it makes them feel better about themselves.” It is the reality of that age group and you have to try to teach them to genuinely care about one another and then reward them when they do things that show genuine caring for someone else. That is where it all comes from. The building block of building a team is getting the kids to care about one another and how each other swims. That is huge. If you can do that, you have the big foundation set. That is the hard part. The rest of it can be easier.
Coaches making kids cheer at meets. We used to do this. Why are we doing a team cheer, folks? Every morning the coaches had to remind them. We do not have to remind them to do this anymore because of some of the fundamentals that we taught in practice. You go to a swim meet and it is just intuitive for the kids to want to cheer and get excited about the meet, to stand at the end of lanes and cheer each other on because they are, hopefully, genuinely interested in how each other swims.
Swimmer retention. Why do we lose kids to sports like soccer and baseball? The reality is that team sports are just more fun for kids. In our area we have thousands of summer league swimmers, literally, thousands in the Sacramento area and one of the things that we struggle with is getting them to peel out of the summer leagues and into the USA Swimming ranks. I think the problem has been that they have so much fun being part of that team. They grew up swimming on that team since they were 3 or 4, sometimes, and that is their “family.” They are always doing everything as a team. All the meets that they go to are team-oriented. Their championship meet at the end is the biggest thing in their lives. It is hard to get kids out of that because you put them into a typical USA Swimming program and that all disappears. All of that camaraderie is gone. And now it is an individual pursuit and that is not as fun for a kid.
SUGGESTIONS FOR TEAM BUILDING
Set team goals. Obviously I think we all probably do this but a lot of times you spend a little bit more time on individual goals and maybe not setting team goals. We have multiple competition levels that are all- inclusive. That is what we strive for in our goals. We have these sheds on our pool deck that are kind of the focal point for information for everybody. We have family files inside and, every season, we get these signs made up with our team goals for the year. We try to include basically every kid on the team in one of these goals. For example, the Holiday Festival, which was the December meet we were going to with the age groupers, we wanted to win. Spring Junior Nationals, we wanted to win. Spring Sectional Championships, we wanted a top 3 finish. Spring Far Westerns, top 3 finish and Spring USA Nationals, top 8 finish. I think we achieved all of those with the exception of possibly the Holiday Festival. I am not sure whether we won that one or not.
Defining success in terms of group accomplishments. We brought a new coach on our staff named Amy Lehr and within the first week she says, “We need to look at revamping our awards banquet. Our awards banquet is broken. It is segregated. We are honoring individual athletes and it needs to be a team celebration. We need to get kids up there that participated in Far Westerns and they all need to come up together.” She has all these great ideas and I am thinking, “This gal gets it.” She had been there a week and I knew that she is going to be great for our team.
Give older athletes a say for better buy-in. When I conduct team meetings with my older athletes I really try to let them decide and I will educate them as to what I think is possible and who might be at what meet, etc. You have to factor all those things in that they may not fully understand, but ultimately I want them to come up with the goals. What is your goal for Nationals as a team? Where do we want to place? Teach the relationship between individual goals and the team’s success. How is your individual goal going to contribute to these team goals? What is your place in all of this?
Make your team goals public knowledge. Sometimes as coaches we are afraid to broadcast our team goals for fear of failure. We put our goals all over the place so obviously it is somewhere that the kids go every day and the parents go every day. It is on our website. We send it out so everybody knows what they are. We remind them throughout the year what the goals are and the more you can make these public knowledge, the better.
See your meet schedule as a series of opportunities to teach your team concept. Have a championship with which to judge your team’s success. This has been a huge challenge because it is very hard to have a team-wide inclusive meet in USA Swimming. I know in other areas they do a much better job of this, but on the West coast it is difficult to find meets where we can bring all ages of swimmers and have them all feel like this is the meet that they need to be at and they are excited to be at and to go for some type of a team championship. This needs to include multiple age groups. It doesn’t have to be a season ending meet. You are all thinking about your seniors in this situation. Well I don’t want my seniors resting and shaving for an age group meet at the end of the season. It doesn’t need to be that. It could be anything. It could be in December. It could be in January.
Travel together whenever possible. I think we all understand that traveling is a huge part of kids bonding together and feeling like a team. We, typically, for all of our big meets, have team travel. We do two types of travel: team travel and family travel. Meets during the season, a lot of times because of the practicality of it, are family travel meets where they travel individually and on their own. When we go to large meets, we enforce team travel so the kids travel together. We bring chaperones. We feel it is a really important part. You wouldn’t go to a volleyball tournament or soccer tournament as a team and have families stay in different hotels and doing different things.
Team sports keep score: Why don’t we? I am a big fan of keeping score. Even if you are not a program that is going to win that particular meet, there is nothing wrong with keeping score. Maybe you have never been Top 10 at your Junior Olympics and your goal as a team is to be Top 10. Whatever it is, everybody can have a goal. You wouldn’t go to a soccer game and then not find out the score until the next Wednesday when it gets posted on the internet. We know the score of the soccer game as it is happening. I think team scores should be announced at the conclusion of every event. They should stop the meet, announce the team score, do another event, announce the team score, etc. If we could get to a system like that, kids would get riled up about how that team just got past us by 2 points or we just got past that other team by 2 points. Now you start to form some rivalries. Now you have something to base this teamwork on. Seek out and demand team scores. Coach Doug Rays, who has been with our program for the last 7 years, is a bulldog with this. He goes and he finds whoever is going to be in charge of getting those numbers out and he forms a relationship with that person on Day 1. He shakes their hand and introduces himself. If you have met Doug, he is the nicest guy in the world. They love him and they will get team scores to him as we request them and whenever we go to a major meet, he goes and does this.
Recognize relay results with more importance than individual results. I think there are very few teams that do this. We are teaching “individual” and we are not teaching “team” when the headline in your newsletter article does not include either the team score or the importance of a relay. If it is at the bottom, then that is the least important thing in your article so that is what you are teaching. You are teaching them that the relays are less important than the individual events or the team score, etc.
Hire employees that buy into the team concept. We have been very, very fortunate. I have a great staff. Currently Coach Doug Rays has been with us for 7 years. He was my senior assistant and varsity coach. He has now “retired” to Hawaii. He is still on deck working, but living in Hawaii. We have hired a new coach by the name of Brad Robbins, who is here today. Coach Peter Brown had been with us for 11 years and retired at the end of this year. We have Coach Daren Mei, who was coaching our younger groups, fill Peter’s position and like I mentioned before, we hired Coach Amy Lehr. Lastly, we have a developmental coach by the name of Barbara Lewis Mill. This group of people is the one who is responsible for our team concept, ultimately, because they are the ones that are instilling these kinds of things in the kids before they get to me. Because we have been doing this for a while, the kids that are coming into my group fully understand the concept. I do not have to re-teach it as much as I used to because the kids that are coming up through the program now are learning this team concept early. One of the most important jobs of a coach, I believe, is to protect the team environment and to protect the culture and you have to be on your toes with this all the time. Trying to nip things in the bud before they become a problem, like relationship issues and things that are going to create a rift within your team. You have to stomp those things out as quickly as possible before they become a bigger problem and, once again, you need to reward people who are your best team players. Typically, we tend to reward the kids that are the most talented or the kids that score the most points, but if they are not the best team players, they are not the ones that should receive your highest accolades.
Consistency, obviously, throughout all the different levels on a daily basis and then communication. Build a board and or parent group that supports the team’s direction and, like I said, I think our Board of Directors pretty much gets this concept and has been very supportive of it. I think that the general masses haven’t been educated properly and we are going to need to work a little bit harder on this, this year. We had some little issues last year that just made me think, “You know what? We need to start teaching this more.” So we are doing a series of parent meetings this fall. The big part of those parent meetings is talking about the team concept and we are just going to try and stay on them and try and improve that a little bit.
Foster productive rivalries: This is something that is, once again, built into collegiate and high school swimming. Kids love this, right? There has got to be that rival that you respect, but you want to beat extremely badly. That is a huge part of building a team and, once again, when you look at your program, who is your rival? Do you have a really strong rival that you guys talk about, that the kids talk about, that when they get on the blocks they want to beat those kids on that team? This is a positive, productive thing if done right. They are not the enemy. Competing is not striving against, it is striving with. We want to get our hand on the wall first and we want to be better than they are, but at the same time we respect those people for what they do and that they are worthy adversaries.
Establish standards of membership. Make your team and your groups prestigious. One of the best things that happened to us was when we got into a waiting list situation where we started to hold try-outs and select swimmers that joined our team. Now, for the most part, if the group is open, it is “first come, first serve.” As soon as that waiting list starts to grow, we have to take other things into consideration. I think people understand this, that the faster swimmers that really are going to come in and be part of our team environment, they are the ones that are going to make our team and that are going to commit to what we are doing. Having that environment, that has basically been fostered by having waiting lists, has created a competitive atmosphere to be part of our program. That makes it prestigious. People are proud to be on our team and it wasn’t like that years ago. This is something that is a little bit more recent and I think because within our team, we have standards within each group as well. The standard to get in the senior group is very high and the kids that get selected for that feel very proud to be there. They are proud to put that Sierra Marlin cap on and we talked about this in our meetings. Champions won’t be proud of something that everybody can be a part of.
Establish a team uniform. I butchered this whole concept early on. We had team uniforms, but one of the problems was that we wanted to get creative every season with new T-shirts. You want to have a new T-shirt for this meet and a new T-shirt for that meet and pretty soon you looked at our team and it didn’t look like a team. You had kids wearing a hundred different T-shirts and, yes, it said Sierra Marlins on it somewhere, but they didn’t look like a team. You look at the great teams and what I figured out was to make the front of the shirt the same every year. That front is not going to change. It is going to stay the same. We are going to do four colors of shirts only. We have a T-shirt guy that has been in our program and he is kind of an artsy guy and he came out with purple shirts one year. I am thinking, “What are we doing with purple shirts? We are black and red. What are we supposed to do with that?” Those purple shirts are still flying around. So, we started to limit what was part of our team uniform. 4 colors of shirts where everything is the same on the front. One sweat. You make the Nationals, you get the same sweats as the kid that is 8 and under. We do not do special sweats. We don’t do special parkas because then you don’t look like a team. Teams look the part. Successful teams look the part. Uniforms instill pride. One of the big things we did is we require swimmers to wear team caps at practice. We don’t allow any other caps. Friday is free cap day where you can wear whatever you want as long as it is not another team in our area. You can’t wear a cap from one of the other local teams, but you can wear whatever you picked up at the swim shop on the weekend. Coaches wear team gear at every practice. We wear a Marlin shirt every day, something that says Sierra Marlins on it, every day, except for Fridays. Fridays are free uniform days. But, all I have are Marlin shirts so I end up usually wearing a Marlin shirt anyway.
Have team captains. I think team captains are an important part of this concept. They serve as a conduit to the coaches. I went back and forth on whether it was good to have team captains, but ultimately when we did it I think there was more benefit to this than not. We do have both a male and female team captain within our senior group. They provide additional leadership when the coaches can’t, so this is the person that can get the workout started when you have to go talk with a parent, a person who can handle some social engagements or anything that needs to be collected. A lot of times I will rely on these guys if I get overwhelmed with paperwork or something. I will have these guys collect it for me so that has been very positive. If there is an issue in the locker room, these are the people that usually come to me and let me know of something that is going on before it becomes a huge problem. Did you have a question? Q: How long are your captains your captains? A: For one full year. So, they are voted captain. We will do voting next week. They will be captain until August of next year. Q: Do you vote or have the kids vote? A: They vote. Q: Do you not control? A: No, but I do. We don’t share the votes with the kids and I will say that there have been occurrences with ties where I didn’t tell them there was a tie. I made the final decision on who that captain was going to be. But I do let them have control over that and they almost always pick great captains. Because of all of these things that we have taught them, I think they understand the kind of captain they want to have and it is not necessarily their best friend all the time so it is not necessarily a popularity contest. We preface it every year when we vote that we are going to live with this captain. It is not necessarily your best buddy and it doesn’t mean that just because you are not team captain you can’t lead. Everybody can lead on any given day because sometimes I am not the leader. We don’t all have to lead every day. We can all take turns, but the team captain just has some specific purposes: getting team cheers organized, etc.
Teaching athletes how to be good teammates – accountability without conflict. This is a challenging concept to teach these kids. Kids like to rip on each other and they see somebody else doing something wrong and, boy, they don’t have any problems tearing that kid’s head off. We teach them how to be good teachers. If you see something that is not right, we ask them, how would you approach that with your teammate? How would you like to be talked to? Teach them how to coach, basically. How you teach this person or bring them along to your standard that you believe in and how to do it without conflict and how to do it in a positive way–we talk about this a lot.
We do commitment buddies within the senior group. This is something I stole from Coach Bob Ladouceur, who is a football coach at De La Salle High school. They won, I believe, 10 National Titles in a row. He is a phenomenal football coach and was a tremendous team builder and has a book that is called, “The Game Stands Tall.” You can actually buy it in Borders and it is an excellent, excellent book on team building. It talks about how he built that team at De La Salle High School in the Bay area and one of the things that he did is commitment buddies. So we picked up on this concept. Kids, at the beginning of the season, fill out a 3 x 5 card with their three strongest goals and we ask that one of those goals not be a “time” goal. One of those goals needs to be what your contribution to this group is going to be apart from a time you are wanting to swim. Yes, your times are important and how you perform is important to our competitive goal. Those goals might be, “I am going to be the first one out there pulling tarps off in the morning.” “I am going to encourage 10 people per practice” or “I am going to be the guy that is in charge of the wrench for lane ropes every morning.” Anything. There are all kinds of different contributions that people can make. On the back of the card they list their keys to achieving those goals. What do they need to focus on? If there were problems in the past that they really need to change or things that they did well that they need to continue with – what are those keys? They take that card and they hand it to their commitment buddy that they choose. The commitment buddy does the same thing, but to another person. I try not to have them exchange back and forth to the same person who they chose. Now we have three people involved. And a lot of times in our practice sessions there will be two people that are three lanes apart and all of a sudden you hear this one person yelling for this other person over three lanes. They are keeping an eye on each other. Ultimately what we do every three weeks is come in on Monday afternoon and let commitment buddies talk about how their commitment buddy is doing. They get up and they talk about how they are doing in reference to their three goals. It has been a real popular program within our senior group. The kids love it. We have had good commitment buddies and we have had bad commitment buddies, but once again – this goes back to learning to care about someone else, someone else’s accomplishments. It is not all about you.
Rewarding good team behavior. We do have a Marlin of the month, which typically is given to someone that has contributed in a team way. “Deposits versus withdrawals” is a concept we talk a lot about, which I stole from Teri McKeever, who is a great team builder at CAL. The idea is that we have a bank account as a team at the beginning of the season. Every time you do something productive we are making deposits into that bank account. Every time you do something negative you are taking money out of the bottom of that piggy bank. At the end of the season we need to be millionaires and so we talk about making deposits and making withdrawals. Some day the coach is going to make a withdrawal, let’s be honest, and we are honest about that with them. We try not to make that withdrawal, but some days we come in and we have bad days like you guys do, so we need everybody to be making as many deposits as they possibly can. Don’t tolerate behavior destructive to the team concept and you have to believe in the concept of addition through subtraction. Sometimes your best move is to try to bring someone along, but if they just are not going to get it and they are being destructive to your team atmosphere, you need to consider getting rid of that person.
Establishing teams within the team. We try to teach this team concept in smaller groups. Relays are a great way to teach team concept. We teach our relays to move as a unit. How many of your relays do you see where four kids just kind of migrate to the blocks from different areas of the facility and they get together right before the relay and go up to the blocks. I want my relay team warming up together. I want them moving around together. They are a unit. They need to act as one person.
National team, senior team, distance group, girls, boys–break them into smaller groups. It is easier to teach your team concept and then somehow find a way to integrate that back into bigger groups.
Tour de France. I mentioned yesterday that this is a team competition we do over Christmas break where we basically structure our practices like a bicycle stage race. We have between four and five teams, depending on how many kids are in my group. They come up with some goofy team name for their team and every day there is a different event and every day it is a little bit different. Some day it might be that at the end of practice we are going to get up and go a 50 free for time and the sprinters cheer. The next day, it is a 1650 pull for time or it might be a best average set based on a previous performance. We go through this extensive scoring. It takes me a lot of time to do and then we keep track of this over the course of our Christmas break. Kids do not miss practice. They are mortified to miss practice. Their parents tell them, “sorry, we are going to be at Grandma’s for an extra day” and they are upset. They don’t want to miss because they know that their team is going to miss out on points. And we do not make that easy on them either. If they are going to miss, their team is out of luck. That is just the reality. The one thing that we do do is if we know someone is going to be gone for a full week or something, we don’t include them in the team process. They can compete in the individual events but their performance doesn’t get included with a team score. That is one of the great things that we have done towards team building.
Inter-squad dual meets: We do a boys versus girls meet. They love that. We score them based on how far they are off the national cuts. What we will do oftentimes is we will handicap the boys so the girls go off and then the boys go off. If the difference between the two National cuts is 4.7 seconds, 4.7 seconds later you send off the boys. And man, they kill themselves. You see best times in everything they do. They will go best times all day long. It is amazing. Dual meets – Tri-meets – Quad-meets – Distance Challenge – Relay Meets – Girls versus Boys – the list goes on. There are all kinds of creative ways to teach team concept. Break them into smaller groups competing against one another. You can do this on a daily basis. There is always a creative way to do this.
We do schedule frequent group and team meetings. We do a lot of small group meetings. I like to separate different training groups and talk with them individually. We do gender specific meetings, which I think is really important. It is really hard to teach certain things to boys and girls in the same room because they learn differently and they think differently. For boys, we may go out and play dodge ball. The guys go and play dodge ball and bond and they come in and they are hugging each other and they are having a great time, high fives, etc. Girls – we bring them into a room and we talk about how they feel about each other. What do they care about? What is important to them? They come out hugging, high fives; the same effect but a completely different method to get them to that same point. Girls and boys a lot of times need to be taught differently. Meetings for different stroke groups, common goal groups, your national team or whatever it is. Meeting with your board. Your board needs to be a team. If your leadership isn’t a team how can we teach that to the rest of the parent group?
Coaches need to be a team. We all need to be on the same page. And if you are a head coach and you have a coach within your program that is not on the same page with and you can’t get them on the same page, you need to make a change because, once again, you cannot teach a team concept while you have coaches at odds. It just doesn’t work. Kids pick up on that.
Larger group meetings help seize the opportunity to address your whole team. It is very hard if you have a large group to ever have your whole team in one place – parents, swimmers and everyone else.
Awards Banquets, any kind of banquets–seasonal banquets, Christmas banquets, whatever you guys do, are super important in my opinion because they are a great way to address the team and talk about more than just the events that night, but address the team for that season.
Resist the need to control every meeting. This is something that I have had to fight a little bit. As coaches, we want to come in and we want to run the meeting. I have had much more success relinquishing control because the kids just get glazed over as soon as you start lecturing – that is what they spend all day doing at school. You give them the meeting. You let them run the meeting and you will be amazed how much interaction you get from them. A coach’s role in that regard is to ask good questions. Ask the questions that will guide the meeting where you want it to go. Allow the team leaders to run the meetings. We always meet in a circle. How do Boards of Directors meet in major companies? They meet around a big round table. Everybody is facing each other.
Just some other ideas:
“Concept of the week” is probably the cornerstone of our program. This is something I really, really believe strongly in. We have been doing it for a long time. Essentially every week we have a different concept that we teach team-wide. It might be to “start with the end in mind.” Or it might be “integrity” or “perseverance” or something that is important that you guys all teach. We have tried to put those into a curriculum where we have roughly 22 or 24 concepts that we repeat twice a year so over an athlete’s career with us, they may actually spend 12 – 16 weeks on that concept. That is all that is taught that week. At the beginning of every practice we take that concept and we give them different perspectives on it, what we think is important about it and we do that throughout the whole team. We send it out to the parents. The parents can talk about it at dinner or whatever they want to do and I think that is a great team building tool because it gets everybody on the same page. Everybody is working on the same concept within your program.
Buddy Day/poster contest was created by Coach Ben and has been really, really successful. We do a buddy day where we assign an older kid to a younger kid. We do this prior to our championship meets and we put these two together. They bring each other food and hang out to get to know each other. They have to come up with a poster together and then those posters are brought to the major championship meets and hung on the team tents. We have a poster contest. Everybody gathers around and they spread out all the posters on the floor and the coaches walk around and pick the winners. Every coach gets to pick a winner and, I tell you, the kids love this and it is a great thing for the younger kids to get to know the older kids a little bit better.
Wall clinic: this is something we started last year. The coaches sit on the outside of the pool and there are different stations with groups of kids rotating. This year we are going to have the older kids rotate in one direction and the younger kids will rotate the opposite direction so everybody is working with different people. The older kids are teaching the younger kids concepts in regards to walls. We do a backstroke start station. We do an underwater kicking station. We do a regular start station. We do a relay start station. So we spend 20 minutes on each of those different things and then we do some kind of party where we feed them. We get pizza and then we do something at the end so it kind of brings them all together again. Having your older kids working with your younger kids is extremely good team building and awesome. The parents love it. Those younger kid’s parents live for that.
Team challenge sets using creative games. Anytime we do anything fast in my group, we usually break them into some kind of team structure. If we are going to go six 200’s on 8 minutes or something like that on a Saturday, we bring out a white board and divide the group into teams so that it is competitive. You base it on the points versus your best time. If you are within 5 seconds of your best time you get 4 points or whatever and then it goes down from there. Make them compete for it. So not only are they going for it for themselves, but they have got 4 or 5 other teammates that are going for it with them. Lots of cheering – high energy – better sets.
150 member relays is something that we have done for a couple of years and this is during our major fund-raiser every year. We give them a yardage goal as a team and it is kind of like a swim-a-thon where they all get in the water and they are all swimming X-amount of yardage. At the end of this swim, about ¾ of the way through, we bring them all together and we break them up into teams. We just go down and give them all numbers. We got little kids with big kids and we do a relay with 150 people. It takes 5 minutes to do and once again, parents love it. Little kids are literally swimming 5 seconds under their best time in a 25 free because they are so scared to let the big kids down. But it is just a huge positive experience for everybody and the older kids love it too because they get to get out of the workout that I am giving them that is like 10-12,000 to go and do the relay.
Put together team building activities away from the pool. I think we all do this, but things like dinners, beach days, ski day, movies, go-carts. We took my group and raced go-carts one time and it was really fun. It was a fun day and they still talk about it.
Gradual move-ups: I ask my assistant coaches what they thought some of the most important things were about group changes and it came out that moving kids up to another group all at once was overwhelming for all involved. They thought it would be good to have them move into that group maybe one or two days a week for two or three months prior to help bridge that gap. They start to get to know the kids, but then they can go back to their comfort zone – just kind of another thing that helps us build those teams.
Mixed practices: we do a lot of mixing of our practice groups – pre-seniors working with the varsity, varsity working with the seniors, seniors teaching our developmental kids. We bring them in and do 15 minutes of “let’s teach them how to swim backstroke” or something. It just takes 15 minutes and it is huge for team building.
That is all I have so we have a little time for questions if there are any.
Q: Your banquet – what kind of a format do you set up? What sort of events do you recognize rather than your best swimmer?
A: Right now, like I said, Coach Amy has got my wheels turning here, but what we do right now is we hold a banquet. It is actually next month I believe. It is like a standard awards banquet that a lot of us do. We recognize anybody that made Senior National cuts, Far Western cuts, team records, Top 16. We do a Marlin of the Year for each group. We do Most Improved. We do Most Inspirational for each group. So there are quite a bit of awards that are given out. Once again, Amy has got me thinking so we will see what we do next year.
Q: Travel as a team – do age groupers and younger kids travel?
A: Yes, we do a major meet in December and that is where we try to teach that team travel concept and we really think it is important that our age groupers learn to travel and still swim well, which normally they don’t do because they are traveling and they are staying up late and it is all different. Well, they have to learn that before they get to the senior level so we think it is really important that age groupers do travel together. We do a meet in Arizona or the Southern California championships in December with the age group kids and they do travel as a group with chaperones.
Q: When you do activities outside the school, how much does the team pay for the activity and how much do the individual members pay?
A: It depends on the activity but that is a good question. Like I said, our Board of Directors is pretty supportive of these things so a lot of times if we are doing a pizza event, it might be that the team is going to pay for all the drinks, but you have to bring 3 bucks for pizza or something like that. The team usually contributes in some way to try and minimize the cost so that it is not prohibitive. We are actually doing a burrito day at Chipolata I think in the next few weeks where they said they would give every kid on our team a free Burrito. So we are going to bring the team over there and have a Burrito Day and that is not going to cost anything.
Q: Team goal meetings?
A: Yes, we have them. I schedule individual meetings with each of the kids and on top of that we do team goal meetings as well.
Q: And are all those meetings at separate times?
A: They are during practice time for the most part. I try and do it during times when it is not interfering with the work that we want to get done that day, but the reality is sometimes it has to. Sometimes it has to overlap with your work, but I think sometimes you get more accomplished in a team meeting in one day than you could get in the next three weeks of training if you have some issues that you need to deal with that are critical. You can get past those issues fast and get back to work and start moving toward your goals.
Q: Do you go through difficult times with coaches and do you have any strategies on handling that?
A: I really haven’t had. Maybe once we had a situation where a coach really wasn’t working out. I have been really, really fortunate and been surrounded by great coaches so I am probably not an expert on this in any way, but I would say that you need to talk with them and be honest about what page your are on, where you are trying to go with the program and make sure that they are on the same page. If not, they need to understand that that is maybe not the program for them. You just need to be honest with your coaches.