Modern Day X-Factor by Lanny Landtroop (2010)


Good afternoon again. This is our second talk of the afternoon session of the high school track. My name is Dan Abbott. I am the President of NISCA and it’s my pleasure to introduce our speaker for this afternoon, Lanny Lantroop finished his coaching career at Kingwood, Texas. Before that, he was at Westwood in Austin, and before that Clear Lake High School in Houston. He is one of the winning as coaches in high school swimming. I am from — I coach in Texas. In Texas, we think of Lanny as the icon of Texas high school coaches, but I found out that that across the country he is held in pretty high regard nationally too. Without further ado and speaking on a real interesting topic, the X-factor, by a Doc Counsilman, Lanny Lantroop.

[LL begins]
Thank you for staying. I didn’t expect there would be this many people here this afternoon. I am still kind of setting up so I am just going to be talking a little bit as I get a set up. How many of you know who Doc Counsilman is, ah was, yeah. Where did he coach? (Indiana University)

Indiana University, most of his career, that’s where he ended his career, it was in Indiana University. In the early 70s, he coached almost the entire Olympic team at Indiana University. He was considered, probably one of the best coaches in the world. He was definitely considered one of the best scientist coaches in the world. And what I’ll be talking about today is in an area that was kind of strange for a doc. By the way everybody called him Doc, Dr. James Counsilman because he was such a scientist, he gave his talk in Montreal in 1971 at the ASCA Clinic and it has since become a classic called the X-factor. He had kind of a rye sense of humor and he used it in his talk. I’m not able to duplicate that unfortunately but it was the departure from the kinds of things that he usually did and so I think you will — I hope you’ll find it interesting. Let me get this computer — let me try this. It’s not yet coming out. Any one, I mean, I want immediately. It was (inaudible) [00:04:02] . We are going to need somebody to come in. I don’t know why I didn’t go with yours. Alright here we go.

For those of you who were there yesterday morning, I am doing a lot better, if you consider that a lot better. You guys have grown up with computers and with these things, have amazing facilities in your control. Back to Doc Counsilman, in his late 50’s he trained for and swam the English Channel. I can remember being in Austin at what was the motel that we always stay there back in those days, the Capri and he was in the pool, they had a little almost a backyard pool and there’s Doc in there swimming up and down, up and down, up there down there to the [inaudible] [00:06:21] swimming up and down and later that year he went all over to England and swam the English Channel. I think he was 58 years of age if I remember correctly.

I get a agreement here so I think I maybe I’m right about that. Quite an interesting fellow. I saw him, the last time I saw him was at this IUPUI pool a number of years ago. But he had a stroke, he was in a wheelchair. but I went up and I said well Doc, I think maybe one of the best things you ever wrote was the X-Factor. And it’s in the appendix of the second book on competitive swimming. And he looked at me and he said, yes I think it is, just like that, just like that, a great guy.

His first book on competitive swimming, when I first started coaching I was not a swimmer. I had talked swimming and that kind of thing but I was an athlete, you know, football, basketball, baseball, we didn’t even have swimming where I went to school. And when I was hired as a swimming coach I had a little bit to learn and it really set a tremendous curiosity on my part and his first book was kind of my Bible and let me tell you, young coaches especially, it would not hurt you to go. It was written in the 60s and it would not hurt you to go back and take a look at either of his books because you can get a lot of information.

It’s not the most up-to-date information but a lot of this classical information. It’s the kind of thing that can help anybody as far as organizational ability, understanding the energy types and really had organized and conduct a training session. We never — we try not to use the term workouts. Everything’s a training session because that’s why we’re doing. When we go to the, what most people call the wait room, we call it the SBR, the Strength Building Room, because we don’t go there and lift weights. We go there to build strength and language can be extremely important.

Doc also traveled all over the world. He was probably the most sought-after clinician in the world at that time and I’ll be talking a little bit about. Again, those of you who are younger have no idea how the way things were during the cold war. But in the 70’s he went to Russia, he went to East Germany and the relations that the United States had with those countries was not really good. But he went there and he dealt with the athletic apparatus in those two countries especially, but in all the Eastern European countries pretty much.

Of course, he went to Australia, he went South Africa and almost everybody who had any serious notion started competitive swimming he visited in their clinics. His question was is there any one factor or trade that determines the successful swimming coach. If so, could we educate that coach to that trait, especially, among younger coaches. They have a tendency to award the sliver bullet, as there a [inaudible] [00:09:52]. It’s that thing, it’s it.

But as we’re going to see I don’t think there is an in it. I don’t think there is of that thing. So to do his talk, he took a person that he had worked within his graduate program and he kind of use that as a sample and then he synthesize some other characteristics into it and he develop this person called Frank Zilch. Anybody know anyone by the name Zilch? And it was kind of indicative of his rye sense of humor to do something that was really off-based.

Now Frank was a graduate student and he had so much going for him. He was very handsome, and you know in sales, they say the better looking you are the better sales you do and coaching is pretty much sales, isn’t it? So Frank had real good looks, tremendous desire. He wanted to be the best coach in the world without a doubt, tremendous energy. He wanted to take every course when Doc was trying to develop and again this is a fictional character.

When he was trying to develop a graduate program for him, he put him at all the scientific, I mean, in all the different things that we will be talking about to give him all the information that he thought he needed, that Frank thought he needed to be the greatest coach in the world. And he was an intelligent person, and we’ll talk a little bit about the importance of intelligence and sometimes how intelligence can really get in the way.

But Frank lacked one thing, the X-Factor. What is the X-Factor? The business world has long tried to find how they could develop the best executives, administrators, sales people. They spent, literally, millions of dollars sending executives and administrators, sales people to seminars, just like swimming coaches go to clinics, to try to educate them and to help them become the best executives that they could. Unfortunately, often they came home and they were worse than they were before they went. I hope that’s not true with swimming coaches. But Doc said it is.

Some coaches come to a big clinic, they hear all these new ideas and they go back and their swimmers say “Oh God, he has been to a clinic again. He is changing everything. What are we doing, why are we doing this?” This is and that does happen, the same thing that happens with the executives. Rather than letting that kind of gel in your mind and to think about in into, maybe play with it a little bit and see how you feel about it rather than how big name coach felt about it. And that’s what they found in the business world. The Indiana University Business Department did a lot of research trying to find out what it was that made the best executive, what it would it create.

One of the things they found out was that once you got beyond average, little above average intelligence, it really didn’t make any difference to go much higher to greater intelligence as far as executives, administrators and sales people were concerned that sometimes the lowest profile, the lowest paid file clerk was more intelligent than the executives. Did anybody see Good Will Hunting? Example, here you have a guy collecting the garbage, Mr. Genius and that happens sometimes. The person with the highest IQ in that position doesn’t mean you’re necessarily going to be successful. If it was, all you have to do is give him an IQ test and hire the person with the highest IQ whether it’d be a swimming coach or in the business community. So once you get beyond average, above average intelligence, it doesn’t really make any difference. It really takes a great deal more.

The business school found that the intelligence necessary is not one that can be measured by academic measurements. It would be better called the type of perception. They call this unidentifiable factor, the X-Factor, a matter of perception. Dangers encountered by the business community in trying to build the perfect administrator, sending them to these courses and finding that they came home and they were doing worse than they had done when they left, they then began to re-examine and to try to look at things that were more nebulas, not so accurate. And the same thing that we do with swimming coaches. Why?

To synthesize a person, Frank Zilch, let’s say how are we going to go here? Yeah. He put him in all kinds of courses of study. He put him into physics where they studied Bernoulli’s Principle. Anyone knows Bernoulli’s Principle? Back in early 70’s, it was the thing. Bernoulli’s Principle is the thing that make airplanes fly. I remember I had just gone to a new high school and I was sitting across the table. I had assigned my swimmers to come in with a definition written of Bernoulli’s Principle. And I was sitting across the lunch table with a physics teacher and she said “I know you’ve got to be a great coach because all of these swimmers that are in my class came up to find out what the Bernoulli Principle was so you’ve got to be a great coach if you are dealing with those kind of things and it was just because I’ve been to a clinic with Doc Counsilman but he talked about the Bernoulli Principle.

Action reaction, fluid dynamics, studying all those things in physics are going to make a great coach. This is what Frank Zilch was hoping. Studying physiology, studying stress, physical stress, mental stress, adaptation, almost everything we do is a product of adaptation whether it be physically or mentally putting the athletes under stress, under certain amount of stress and understanding that it is very easy to go overboard and place too much stress. So there’s a period of adaptation, its like walking up the stairs as you go through your season.

Dr. Seely’s Theories, anybody familiar with Dr. Seely. He did work, he is a Belize Canadian. He did a lot of work on dealing with stress and he was really popular, I guess, back in the 70’s and 80’s but it’s still a text book in colleges. His work was that foundational. Reading the journal of applied physiology, reading research quarterly, gathering up all this information to make him, to help make him the greatest coach in the world.

Studying stroke mechanics, balance, propulsion, does he have a high elbow, does the water flow over his body? All the things that go into stroke mechanics. He was put into classes that would help him develop those kinds of things. Psychology, he dealt with motivation, with stress, with will and success orientation. The basic psychology was not enough for Frank. So he was placed in all kinds of graduate levels of psychology. But they were all clinical-type psychology classes and so the psychology that you would use to deal with a person on the pool deck was really not very — didn’t applied to him very much in his search.

Doc did a lot of — a lot of photographing. He, as far as I know, was one of the first people who actually went to the pool and he put stripes down the side of the pool so that he can measure things. He put them across the bottom of the pool and he could measure the advance that people took with each stroke. He could all have kinds of measurements. Like I say, he was a great scientist. But one of the things they did is they did an video, they filmed dogs swimming and what they found was when they threw the dogs in they would, some of them would go in and they would start trying to swim with all four legs.

Now Labs, after about two times, would quit trying to swim with their back legs and just use their front legs. And so they began to swim pretty well. Dachshunds on the other hand were thrown in and after about 12 tries, they were still trying to go with all four legs and they are about to drown. So Docs summarized that what you want to look for as a swimming coach were Labs and not Dachshunds.

There are Labs. You know the Labs. They are those people that come into your program who we might look at and say they got a good feel for the water, they are natural athlete. You know we have all kinds of terms for them. But those were Labs. And there are people that come to your program that are Dachshunds, and they will probably always be Dachshunds. And they can get a great deal out of your program. And just those have to be in the swimming pool, at least in the competitive pool.

The better the swimmer, according to Doc, the better the swimmer the less you have to work on mechanics. If they are really doing well, don’t mess him up. That happens very often. You might want to have a little something here or little something there but if they really got a great feel for the water and things are going well, don’t mess him up. The better the swimmer, the less you need to work on stroke mechanics.

The X-Factor. Doc says if you have three different coaches and one is a master and expert at stroke mechanics, one is an expert in physiology and the third is an expert in psychology and they have equal teams in every way that he bets on the psychologist every single time, every single time. Now think about this for a second, think about this clinic. How much of it dealt with stroke mechanics? How much of it dealt with physiology? How many — how much of it dealt with science? But he says that psychologist is going to win, the guy who knows the psychology, who knows how to deal with people, get the most out of people from a male stand point is going to win every single time.

He is going to have a large team. He is going to be able to deal with the City Council. He is going to be able to deal with parents. He is going to be able to deal with swimmers with all those things. And then he is going to win every time. This is not, it’s not me talking although I can agree with him. But there the psychologist is going to win every time, if he had to put money on it or otherwise. He says that it’s the ability to separate the wheat from the chaff. You must be able to recognize the important things and work on them to minimize the unimportant. It’s very easy to get overwhelmed with stuff that really doesn’t do anything in the long run to help your athletes. And that’s what we are there for, and a lot of people get sidetracked very easily from doing the most important things.

I just read an article about the iPad the other day and the guy was reviewing the iPad and he said, boy he thought it was really neat, and he got it. He was doing all this work and he said then after about two or three hours, he started playing those games and then he found out that at the end of the day he had gotten very little work done because he was distracted from doing what he got it for. And sometimes we do the some thing. We get involved and we start thinking about all kinds of things that don’t have to do with helping these young people grow up, become adults and swim fast.

And it’s very easy to do that and Doc says that’s something that we need to look out for. That also happens in their research on the business community, the same kind of thing happens, to cut through the detail and get to the heart of the matter what you are really there for. When you deal with that then there are those other things, but take care of that first. That’s the most important thing.

The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing. The main thing is to keep the main thing, the main thing. And that’s just we like that. We have that in our pool [inaudible] [00:25:41]. [inaudible] [00:25:42] its still there. My assistant took over from me and its still there because that’s how important it is. It’s really easy to be distracted from what you are doing. Doc said that to be a great coach, one must have two basic abilities. Be a good organizer and be a good psychologist.

He said he would like to be around in a 100 years and see he knows, he said he knew there will be all kinds of things going on, be it testing, lactate, we have been doing that for long. But in 1971, lactate testing, all kinds of scientific measurements, all kind of things. But when it gets right down to it, he says, even 100 years from 1971 that the inherent behavioral pattern of swimmers will be the same and good coaching psychology today will be good coaching psychology a 100 years. And I think that would be, probably, true.

A quarter century later, more than a quarter century later, when Cecil Colwin, Australian, wrote a book called Swimming Dynamics and the entire first chapter is called the Intuitive Coach. Think a second, do you think the intuitive coach might have the X-Factor? He might have that something that makes for the great coach. In my own personal experience, I think we’ve got one of the greatest intuitive coaches in the world at the University of Texas. We got Eddie Reese [ph], who’s also been our Olympic coach for three times, one time to a championships, etcetera, etcetera. If you ever sit on the deck with Eddie, I can remember sitting here and talking to Eddie while his team is practicing. He is sitting there telling them what to do. He doesn’t have a flat body. He doesn’t have anything. Somebody will come in. He will say I don’t want you to do this. I want you to do this. And he’s got what, 20 guys in there. And he knows exactly what I all of them are doing. And he is doing it, he is operating from where, from his experience. And obviously it works.

One of the interesting things I think about it intuition is after marrying two, he was the Olympic coach and he said I don’t think I will ever do that again. It take me away from my gods too much. So then when he took the job for the Athens Olympics, I kind of went up to him and joke away, I said I don’t thing you are going to take there job anymore. He said yeah but you remember Melbourne, where he had done too well on the relays. Yeah, but I got to take it because I know relays. Now, think about the last relay we had. Think about the men’s 400 free relay. How did he know? What do you win by? An eyelash, the width of an eyelash, not the length. But why did he put him anchor? Do you think they were scientific measurements that told him to put him anchor? Based on his experience, based on his feeling, knowing the guys that we’re involved in it and he is very much an intuitive coach.

You’ll often hear the intuitive coach, sometimes I know something without knowing how I know it. I just know it, I feel it. And guys, girls, how many yards did you watch the swimmers you work with go? How many meets do you watch them swim in? How much data, even though its not specific data, how much data that you take in to help you understand the personalities of all those people, the work habits, the mental make up, all those things that help you help those people do the best they can and to put them in positions that are in there best interest.

One of the things that it really makes me feel good is when you put some one in an event they haven’t been swimming much, and they do really well and a parent comes up later and say, you know, how do you know to put them in there. College comes calling, saw them in, get them a full scholarship. That’s happen number of times. Well, I’ve watch them swim, doing yards, I’ve seen him in meets, I’ve seen a little pressure in all kind of ways and you just have a feeling that that was going to happen. Is there such a thing as a natural coach?

Today it is increasingly common to hear of the application of scientific detect, this is directly from Cecil Colwin. The application of scientific detection methods to the intuitive coach, this trend is almost as offensive as it would be if someone had tried to teach Rembrandt to pay it by the numbers. Some people observe the intuitive coach and don’t understand how the improvement of the athletes is possible, because they don’t seem to work out on a set system and use scientific principles.

Example, there was a physician who was, you know physician, some of them are people physicians and some of them are science physicians. This guy was a science physician and his daughter was in swimming and she did it. She just kept improving, getting better, and better and better and the coach was an intuitive coach and she didn’t understand it. I mean he didn’t understand it. He could not understand how his daughter just continued to improve because this guy didn’t do things the way he thought they needed to be done. He thought he needed a lot of numbers, he needed a lot of data, he needed all these things to help his daughter improve. But she continued to improve. Is this voodoo coaching? If it is, I want to be a voodoo doctor. It works.

That intuition usually comes from a long period of experience, observation and information gathering and the ability to apply it in a given situation. If you haven’t read Blink, the book by Malcolm Gladwell, let me encourage you to do so. As a matter of fact, Gladwell has three really outstanding books and none of them have anything to do with swimming but they have everything to do with swimming, all three of them. The first one is called The Tipping Point, the second one is Blink and the third one is called The Outliers. Now I’ll just give you a brief summation of them.

Gladwell is, you know, some people can look at something and really see something that no one else sees and he is that kind of guy. In tipping point, he observed how common things changed over night because something went on. And he gives a lot of examples of it. And now it’s kind of in our common vernacular, like here Tipping Point, on the news I hear it on TV all the time. It had been used a little bit but after his book it became fairly common.

The second book Blink, which is the one that really deals with what we are talking about today is intuition, based on observation, experience and all the information you’ve gathered. The intuitive coach is not somebody who just has this intuition for no reason at all. He’s gathered up all of these things and he has put them in this big pot and let it boil around a little bit and that’s where the information comes from, that’s where his intuition comes from. And one of the examples in Blink was a guy at the University of Washington, put couples in a room and he videoed them. And after he had done it for a while, he could watch a couple and their exchange of pleasantries or whatever came out.

He could watched a videotape of a couple for a 10 seconds and tell you whether their relationship would be successful or not. Kind of astounding, isn’t it? 10 seconds? Watch there inter change and tell you whether their relationship would be successful or not. Now that’s where intuition comes from. Now, he didn’t get there overnight. He had videotaped hundreds of couples. He had studied all, you know, he had really paid his dues, that’s what we call in athletics.

He paid his dues and he got to where he could really trust his intuition and that’s what happened with coaches, with great coaches when they are released, is he’s done all these first time I have met Eddie, it was 1977 and he was doing really well then. And he’s just gotten better and better and better. Of course now, he also gets some pretty good – when he first came to Texas, he was recruiting people who no one had really ever heard of to speak of.

And they all had improved dramatically and they started winning. Now, after you win a little bit, pretty soon you start getting the starts. You get those Labrador, retrievers that are well bred. But he started off recruiting, he still does recruit people that some people have never heard of and their improvement is really very dramatic. But if you get a chance, read this little betty book you know. You saw I am not a reader. So little betty book.

Among the main characteristics of the intuitive coach are good self image, curiosity and independence. This is Cecil Colwin talking. They are adventurous, decisive and able to change old patterns. They are not stuck in the mud. They don’t do the same thing over and over and expect a different result. They are always looking for a better way and that’s where some of the gear that we’ve seen invented that you have seen in the exhibitor’s hall come from, they come from people who are looking for better ways to do things.

Very honestly, most of it comes and goes because there are any no silver bullet. But sometime it helps, may be psychologically, if not physically. And for a short period of time and it will. There is no single way. As inaudible] [00:38:00] said you have your way, I have my way. There is no ‘the way’.

One night a group of nomads were repairing to retire for the evening when suddenly there were surrounded by a great light. They knew that they were in the presence of a celestial being. With great anticipation, they awaited a heavenly message of great importance that they knew must be especially for them.

Finally, the voice spoke. Gather as many pebbles as you can, put them in your saddle bags. Travel a day’s journey and tomorrow night will find you glad and it will find you sad. After the visitor departed, the nomad shared their disappointment and anger with each other. They had expected the revelation of a great universal truth that would enable them to create wealth, health and purpose for the world. But instead, they were given a menial task that made no sense to them at all.

However, the memory of the brilliance of their visitor cause each one to pick up a few pebbles and deposit them in their saddle bags, while voicing their displeasure. They traveled a day’s journey and that night while making camp, they reached into their saddle bags and discovered that every pebble they had gathered had become a diamond. They were glad they had diamonds. They were sad they had not gathered more pebbles.

Folks we work with pebbles. Our job is to help them discover they can be diamonds. And according to Doc Counsilman and Cecil Colwin, the best way to do that for many people, not everyone, but for many people is to gather all of this information, this experience, this ability to bring it all together and help people become the best they can be as a person and as a swimmer. Thank you.

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