Introduction: Good afternoon everyone. My name is Mark Onstatt. I am President of NISCA and we are going to have the first of our three afternoon speakers. The speaker is Phil Emery who spoke to us this morning. Phil, if you were here this morning, you heard all of his accolades. The great thing about Phil is that he has a real big picture on high school swimming and how it fits into, not only the academics of the whole school, but also into the development of the individual and he does a great job in that respect.
Phil Emery: Thank you very much. Thank you very much Mark. I am happy to be back here again. We had to do a lot of digitizing this morning to make that crowd look full. For those of you that were not here this morning, I am going to verify who was here and who wasn’t. We actually had dummies sitting at Dick Hannula’s crowds. It looked like the place was full.
Now, first of all my talk today is Moose, Atlantic salmon and Coaching. I am a lifelong fisherman. I mean, literally, my father never fished, but as soon as I was three or four years old and we had a cottage near a lake, I wanted to fish. Nobody said you know you ought to go and do it; I just wanted to do it. When I was a kid, we lived in Bangor, but not too far away was a stream that went through town and woods, along both sides of it, and I had this interest in hunting, but my father was not a hunter, nor would he allow weapons of any kind in the house, so we built our own bow and arrows.
We would take saplings, go to the corner store and get string. We would go down to the local 5 & 10 and buy arrows for .29 and we would, I hate to say this, we would shoot chipmunks and squirrels and other things. But we got pretty good at it and obviously as I got older, those interests developed and I am going to talk a little bit about them and try to relate to you what that has to do with swimming.
I also want to say, as a side thing, when we coach swimming it is kind of like some of these shows on TV. I don’t watch the reality shows. I am not sure if that is a reflection on what they have or me. I am not putting them down, I just don’t. But you know, they say, “Heroes are not born, they are made.” You have a situation and the cream rises to the top and it may or may not be. As we coach kids and as we work with kids, we create a situation in which they can be successful and although we are telling them we want them to be champions, whatever that means to that individual. For one person it may be in their whole high school career they finally break a minute and that may be a much greater accomplishment than if you got a swimmer who was :51 going into 9th grade and got that person down to :45. Not that we can’t score more points with a :45 person, but the accomplishment for that other person may be equal or greater.
What we really do, even though we disguise it in the form of State Champions or State Championships, a Conference Championship or whatever it might be, is we create a situation in which these people ride the boat together, so to speak. They ride the storm, they ride the crest of the wave, they develop their characteristics, their traits, their personalities and when they become young men and women, what we have done, just by being there to provide, that makes them better human beings and as Peter mentioned this morning, rarely do these kids come back and say, boy, coach, remember when I went 1:46 or whatever.
Usually, it is some other thing or things that happened, but the time and the swimming fast is what we use as the keel to really develop human beings. Just as the football coach uses his thing to develop human beings and the basketball and I love all sports. I am not one that says one is better than the other, just like flowers. Boy, I would get sick if the only flower that existed was a rose or the only flower was a tulip. It is the fact that they all exist, from the wild flowers to the cultivated ones and that is kind of what it is all about.
Now, I wanted to tell you something that happened the other day. There were three guys in my area, out for a ride, on horses. We have horses up in Maine. One of them was from Texas, one of them was from Massachusetts, and one of them was from Maine. They kind of rode along a ways and it was pretty hot and they got tired so they stopped. The guy from Texas reaches down and takes out a bottle of whiskey and pulls the cork out of it and slobbers it all over himself. He takes the bottle and throws it and it crashes. The thing smashes to pieces.
The guy from Maine says, “What is that all about?” Why did you do that? The Texan says, “Well I am from Texas and we get all kinds of whiskey in Texas and we throw the bottles away when we are done. They ride along a little bit further and they stop and the guy from Massachusetts reaches down in his saddlebag and pulls out a bottle of Champagne. Pulls the cork off, slobbers that thing all over himself and throws it in the air and pulls out his gun. The thing smashes into a thousand pieces. The guy from Maine says, “Well, what is that all about?” He says, “I am from Massachusetts. In Massachusetts we get all kinds of Champagne and when we are done we throw the bottles away.
So they ride along and pretty soon they get tired and they stop again. The guy from Maine reaches in his saddle bag and pulls out a bottle of beer, takes out his gun, shoots the guy from Massachusetts, takes the bottle and puts it back in his saddle bag. The guy from Texas says, “Partner, what was that all about?” He says, “I am from Maine. We get all kinds of guys from Massachusetts and we have returnable bottles.”
The first thing on that sheet that I gave you, not the first, but if you go down you will see what is called the “Bangor’s World Famous Poop Sheet.” It is a team newsletter. It is stuff I beg, I borrow, I steal, I plagiarize. I am not selling it, but I probably could still get in trouble. Mel Roberts is sitting right down here, from Tulle, Utah. A lot of those cartoons were taken out of his handbook, a spectacular handbook. What it is is just basically fun. Once we start the season and we have meets, after each meet, on the weekend, I sit down and put a poop sheet together and the poop just means what is going on, what is up.
In the process, by an efficient human being, it probably could be done in very short order, but not being very efficient and kind of getting lost in reading through old poop sheets and I date them so I try not to use the stuff for at least four years, it takes me quite a while. It takes me the better part, half to ¾ of a day and so if you take the cover, usually the cover could be anything. There is one that I did years ago with myself, no it isn’t, it is the Pope and President Clinton and they are pointing out in the crowd and of course I have written in, it has to do with Coach Emery out there or something like that. But you do things that are fun and kind of like this one here. On that first poop sheet you see on the cover where those two goons broke all the crayons in half, but Mr. Positive says now he has twice as many and that is the way some people are. They see things half full as opposed to half empty and that is a great example of that.
When you read through some of the quotes that I have on there, many of those came from Skip Bird’s book or books. He really has put out a number of them and some come from who knows wherever, but many, many of those come from Skip Bird’s, from Valparaiso, in Indiana. I try to mix a combination of funny ones with serious ones and if it is in italics that means I am kind of doing the same and quite frankly, sometimes I am not sure what it means and I will put that down. I try to put in enough to make fun of coaches and often times if I can put my name in there then it will personalize it more than just coach in general. I have gotten better and better at that.
These were back from the year 2000, because actually what happened is I put part of this together for a presentation I did to the Ohio State Swim Coaches Association a week and a half after 9-11 and I hid it all in one place, so I went and put the same things back in, so it is not as though I have not been doing them until the last few years. In amongst there you will see, we have famous predictions, which are just tongue in cheek. Whatever I happen to think up, but there are messages to parents. There are messages to the swimmers. It may be about an upcoming meet. It may be whatever, but as you read through those, primarily it is a newsletter.
What I try to get you to notice is that I hole punched them and some of you may leave the room and throw it away, but some of you, if you keep things, it is a lot easier to keep them organized, if the holes are already in it. I encourage my kids to take them home. When the first one in 9th grade put it in a folder and continued to keep them all the way through high school because sooner or later, you are going to be curious as you get better and better as a swimmer, you are going to want to look back through and read some of those things. So, I always give them with the holes punched in them.
Obviously, most of the predictions are con jobs because you read some and you know the thing has already happened and there are different ways to compliment the kids and so on. But I have parents that even after their kids have graduated; some of them were doing exercise aerobics in a room nearby the pool. I would always stop by and leave them the poop sheets, even though their kids were long, long gone. Because it allows them to keep up and I still, even to this day, have a few parents whom I will drop poop sheets off. I always send one down to the superintendent. I put one in the principal’s and AD’s office. I leave one on a table in the teacher’s room. I also put in a disclosure or something along that line I believe and I just kind of want to read through what it says at the very beginning.
This will be my first attempt at word processing a poop sheet in eight years. I had been doing it and I got away from it. I started handwriting them. I did it before, so I know that I can do it again, but the poop sheet is actually a newsletter, made up after each meet. Other than meet results, there is no telling what might be in the world famous Bangor “Boys” poop sheet, but it is guaranteed to be good or triple your money back. Please, please, do not over-think what I said. There will never be any attempt to demean or discredit anyone or any team. Sometimes in an attempt to be funny or even serious something might come out wrong. It is always my intent to promote our team, other teams, our families and all who are involved in the great sport of swimming and diving. If I do mess up, please give me a call and I will make it right in the next edition.
Oh, by the way, if you are having a bad day and want to call and blast me for no reason at all, go for it. I kind of like the attention, even if it is negative and then sometime look through that stuff and don’t over think it. I am not an English major. The only course I flunked in the history of school was 9th grade English, first quarter. It never happened again. My father took care of that. The point is I am a science person. I respect all the other stuff, but my strength is in the sciences, but what I don’t do is let my weaknesses prevent me from doing something. Otherwise, I would just be sitting there worried about making mistakes and someplace on one of these I put a disclaimer and then I intentionally misspelled words to find out who was really reading the poop sheet. I actually know how they are spelt, but I wanted to know who is reading them and if I don’t get people telling me, then I know they aren’t reading them.
The next thing that I put in there is this circle 60. I am not going to tell you any more than what it says. It is a wonderful, wonderful workout. It takes a long time, like the whole practice after warm-up to actually maybe do six 100’s. You could do it with 10 year olds all the way up to whatever. Do not read it now, because you will miss what else I am going to say, but it is a wonderful workout. Remember, I begged, borrowed and stole them from everybody, but it is a great way to communicate. Pete Higgins, this morning, said to see and the see is communication.
The biggest problem that happens between any groups of people is lack of communication. You think you know what they are thinking. They think what you are thinking and quite frankly, the only way you are ever going to know exactly what I am thinking is to ask me. You can presume you know, and I can presume I know why you do something, but the only way for me to know for sure is to come to you and look at you and say why did you do that? Say it nicely and vice versa and so we will leave that at that.
I have a whole bunch of stuff here. I know I can’t cover it all, but Atlantic salmon fishing: Atlantic salmon, the Latin I think is salmoa sala, which means the leaper. It is a phenomenal fish and I have always liked challenges. Let me tell you about the life cycle of an Atlantic salmon. When they are born, the eggs are deposited and fertilized in certain cold-water rivers of the Northeastern United States. Very few places any more, for various reasons and into eastern Canada, all the way up to New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador. All of which are my stomping grounds. I like to do other types of fishing, but this is the one that is truly my passion and it is truly the one that I have caught less of than any other thing.
After the eggs hatch, the young live in the river for approximately three years and they go from fry to par, which would be maybe this long to small, which are around 7 or 8 inches long and when they become that long, just by their biological process they start facing upstream. In a sense, all en masse within just a few weeks in any one-river system, they turn and they head toward the ocean. It varies from river to river, but the average salmon will go to sea and this happens also, by the way, in Scotland, Norway, Northwestern Europe and they will go out off of Greenland where they will spend approximately two years. Some will stay longer and some will only stay a year. When they return, they will return to the river that they left, some kind of a built-in homing device that has been going on forever.
We have tagged them for example in the River in Bangor by the thousands and almost, there are a few exceptions, but almost everyone that comes in the river is from Bangor. We won’t get tagged fish from other rivers in Maine and vice versa with a very small, maybe ½ of 1% will get lost. When they come back into the fresh water they are bright, long, majestic silvery fish and they stop feeding as soon as they hit that fresh water. They do not feed again and they can come into fresh water, depending on the river system, anywhere from April all the way through until November. November is when they will spawn. The group that is in the rivers now and some are still coming, my last trip is Columbus Day weekend, and they will all spawn within a three-week period in late October to mid-November.
Those fish, depending on the river, some will turn around and go back to sea and some will actually stay in those rivers and rest up under the ice until the next April. Until smelt come in from the sea and they will feed on those a little bit and when they get their strength they will go back to sea. So some of those will go a whole year without feeding and they will lose 33% of their body weight. So a 60-pound salmon, which would be very rare, but they do exist, would weigh no more than 40 pounds. They would be long and they would be skinny, but they would still be powerful.
Now, how do you get them to take the fly? With a fly rod, I use a 9’ rod with a 9’ weight line. As far as I cast is maybe from here to the doors and probably with the wind behind me a little bit I can go further than that. A really great cast, I can just kind of flick one almost to the back row. We use dry flies which float on water, sometimes as long as this and little tiny wet flies, which kind of go under the water, that you can hardly see and the challenge is to get the salmon that is not feeding to take the fly. Sometimes they are pretty good at it and you are in the right place at the right time and they will actually take fairly readily out of instinct we guess. But, let me tell you about this July.
On July 5, I began fishing in the Matan River in Quebec, which flows into the St. Lawrence River or the gulf of the St. Lawrence. We fished from like 5 o’clock on that day until one half hour after dark, which is when you are allowed to fish. The next morning we were up at a quarter of 3 AM. You can begin fishing one hour before sunrise, which means it is still dark, which we did. We will fish until about noon, sleep about 4 hours and fish until 1½ hours after dark. So, I fished the 5th nothing, the 6th nothing, the 7th nothing, and the 8th nothing. That should be four days, plus an evening. On the 9th, now I cannot tell you how many casts I have taken. The conditions are really good there. The water level is low, but the temperature is good and there is some fresh salmon coming out of the ocean every day.
Now, I just kept pounding away. We changed where we fished on the river, kept putting flies out and changing flies. The last morning I had gone down the river. I came up by my friend and I said, “I am going to go up around you and fish this section where we haven’t caught fish for years.” As soon as I put that fly out there a salmon came up and did something, but it backed down and I didn’t have it hooked. I put it out there again and it came up and did something, but I didn’t hook it. Within 45 minutes after having done nothing for four days, an evening and four hours, I hooked and lost 3 Atlantic salmon and finally caught one about 17 pounds on a dry fly. I got the non-taker to take. Now – what does that have to do with swimming? Well, lots of things. It has to do with life.
1. The kids that we coach, some of those are feeders, and they are like mackerel? We used to go and catch mackerel, 4-500 in an afternoon. Kids that are feeders, they come to you and they can hardly wait. They are drooling and foam is coming into their mouth like a rabid animal and they can hardly wait to get into that pool and as much as we want to think it is us, it doesn’t make any difference who is doing the coaching. If you are a good coach, they will be better than if you were a lousy coach, but they are going to be there. Those are the feeders and they are the free rides. They sometimes make us think that we are better coaches than we really are, but the true measure is how do you get those non-feeders to take.
By the way, I don’t have any secret of how you get those non-feeders to take the fly. What you don’t do is scare the fish off. Every fish is going to take. Sometimes you can see those fish. Other times, you know where they will sit. They will sit behind boulders and rocks. There is going to be current, because they have to get oxygen. You can’t even see them moving. The motions are so subtle. I was back again in August of this year and sometimes you will see the same fish, especially if it is big. You can recognize it. It must be the same one. It hasn’t moved in a month. Others will move around. Those swimmers, that is the challenge, the patience to say, you know what, I know I can hook this kid.
I can’t give up on him. That may be the kid who comes out for your team and just doesn’t take it seriously, but comes. He is not really feeding. He is around, but he is not feeding. Those are the kids that when I first started coaching, I probably would chase away in a week or two. Well you know you have to do it this way. This is our business and we are serious here. This isn’t fun and games. Even though we told them we wanted them to have fun. No, this is a competitive swimming program. This is not free swim. This is not recreational swim. This is competitive swimming and you lose them. They go okay I am gone.
In your old age you realize maybe you can afford to lose them. If I scare that salmon off from that position, I may still be able to see that salmon, but it may not be in a place where he will actually take a fly – because they only take them in what we call certain positions, when the current is just right. If I chase that kid away, as frustrating as he or she may be, I cannot get them to take the fly. I know that some of those salmon I never could catch and never did catch. But by believing that I had an opportunity to catch a salmon every time I take a cast, even though I know deep in my head, that almost never are they going to take. By the way, I have had some spells where they, I had one day like a year ago where I caught two 15 pounders and a 10 pounder within a four hour period, like I knew what I was doing and then reality set in and it was back to normal.
But to come back to that kid, you may have to just let that kid do his or her thing for the year as long as they are not destructive. Next year they are older and have watched what went on. Now they may begin to feed a little bit, but not very good. They may just be like that fish that came up and pushed on the fly, but didn’t actually take it. If you still have that person and now he is a year older, he maybe feeds a little bit and then, even though again you want to say, “Hey, this is all about being competitive, if you are going to do your fair share.” It is kind of like we are all in the boat rowing, we have got to row together. We are a team and all of that stuff. The kid doesn’t understand about that stuff. He is just a 9th grader or 10th grader. They are just having a good time. They hang around with their friends.
If you chase that kid away before he becomes a junior or a senior, sooner or later, all of those kids, if they stay and you are patient, will all of a sudden, one day they are a year older and they come in and you say, “Is that the same kid that left my program last March. I can’t believe it!” It could be just a level of maturity or all of a sudden they may have joined a club, just to get some extra swimming in, and NOW they are feeding. They are on a frenzy and they are trying to catch up. They have not been pounded into the ground all their life because that was not in their mental or physical capabilities and so those sometimes are the best. Patience, perseverance, and you have to believe that you can change a non-feeder into a feeder.
Deer hunting. I hunt in a number of places in Maine, I am a hunter, not a shooter. By that I mean and some of you may be 100% anti-hunting and I respect that, so this is not here to promote one way or the other. It is just a fact that I do it. I have hunted 36 years. I have shot 8 deer. That is not very many. I could shoot probably 8 deer in a season because of these permits that you can get in certain populated areas. I do not want to shoot deer. I want to hunt them. We have an old hobble down in Eastern Maine that is probably as big as from here to there. It was a horse hobble at one time, which is a little shed they keep horses in back when they were hauling logs out of the woods.
It was closed in, dragged up the lake during the winter on the ice, and put on this point on this lake. It has been there from about 1930. I got involved with it through a guy I taught with and through the person that taught me to deer hunt in 1974. The point is, this little hobble. We would go down, this man taught me how to hunt, and we would take a canoe. You had to paddle a canoe out to the point where the camp was or walk through the woods. We would get up before sunrise, put on our clothes, and go across the lake, which is probably half a mile across. There was only one camp on this lake, 8 miles long, besides this one. We didn’t own the piece of land that the camp was on. We didn’t know who owned it. It was out in the woods and nobody cared.
Then we would hunt and stay in the woods all day long. I knew nothing, so I was like a beginner the whole time, even though at that time I am probably 24 years old. I did not shoot an animal at that camp for eight years. I only saw a couple. He said, Phil there are not many deer down here any more, but we will go into the woods. If you get tired, just take a nap. A lot of times at camp, the guys go hunting for an hour. They go back and they take a nap. Come back and hunt in the afternoon before dark. That is not hunting. That is shooting. We do the whole thing. So lots of times we don’t even know.
I hunt with a 12-gauge shotgun with buckshot. Which means you can’t hit anything further than that back door and you have to be close to them. The closest I have ever shot is straight ahead of me. The furthest shot I have hit is probably half way the length of this room, but again, I am there. They don’t even know I am there and it is patience and persistence. You would never hunt that way. People like to sit where they can see a mile. Use a scope and a rifle. You cannot believe, if you are patient and you are persistent, how close you can get to one of those animals or how close they will get to you. So again, it is the same thing on the patience.
The next thing here I want to talk about is the Moose. Now, Maine has a lot of moose. In fact, to get rid of the moose, they issue about three thousand moose permits a year. We have about anywhere from three to seven or eight people a year killed in moose-automobile collisions each year. The problem with a moose is that they are big. They often weight over 1,000 pounds. They have extremely long legs, so if you hit one straight on, you knock the legs out from underneath it and the whole torso comes through the windshield before you know it. Their eyes do not sparkle like deer, so you don’t see them in the headlights and their coat tends to be fairly dark and non-reflective. So at nighttime especially, the moose is in your car before you know it. It is just lucky if you are not there.
Now that being said, they are big ugly animals. They get that big thing on their back. That is to help hold up that huge head they have and the big rack that the males will have, so it is extra-muscular up in there. Kind of like what you see I think on buffalo. They are magnificent animals. They are easy to see sometimes and very elusive at other times, but like the swimmers, certain swimmers, they can be enticed to come in, especially during mating season. The mating season is just beginning right about now and they react very well to a call. Now I am going to do a call here, some of these guys had me do it, and they kind of think it is a joke and they think that I make this up.
The Native Americans did it with a piece of birch bark. Take a piece of birch bark off a tree. Make it into a cone, much like a megaphone and ideally you do it with a bucket of water. You would be sloshing water like this, slopping around the edge of a pond or on a swamp or something like that. I am not going to do the water thing, even though I guess, I could gurgle this back and forth like that. Now, here is the call and there are a lot. They make obviously more than one sound. I cannot tell you how many times we will be driving on a wooded road. It is rare that I hunt, because I have only had my name drawn for a permit once.
We are driving in the fall, bird hunting or just sightseeing. The foliage of course starts to get pretty good in a few weeks and you will see a moose off in the distance. Those suckers. You do that and they will stop every time. Then their ears will go blump, blump like that. Then you do it again, and maybe they will go oop, oop like that. Then maybe they will start toward you and maybe they will say who does this guy think he is? But you can call them. I have been at places where we have done it, where you do not see a moose. It is rare where you would expect to see a moose and you can call them out. So again, it is kind of like, to get back to the swimmers, sometimes you have the non-feeders, you have the feeders, but you also have the ones that are kind of in-between like the moose.
You can call out if you, again, if you do the calling, so to speak. Be patient and wait and eventually some of them will come forward. Whether just to come out for your team or to take the next step forward, but they will respond again, very similarly to the way the moose does. I have a best friend, my cousin’s husband, who five years ago, to show you this stuff, he and his son saw in Cabalas catalogues and others, if you are familiar with that catalogue. They have game calls. The old ones used to be a tape like the old phone answering machines. There was a tape in there. You play it forward and all the way back. It was a nuisance. Then the newer tapes, they weren’t tapes. They went to digital. Nobody in America had digital game calls, so three guys, and this is almost like you got to believe, you have to take a chance.
I don’t know exactly, but they went from zero to $200,000 in debt among the three of them and the father and son bought out the third person. I know that last year they grossed at least three million dollars. I have no idea how much of that was profit, but they traveled to Canada, because they also have a TV show called Chasing the Dream. It is on what I call extended cable, the cable that I am not willing to pay for. It is an outdoor channel and they have a show that is on once or twice a week. They go to Mexico, they go to Canada, they go wherever, shooting footage of different types of animals and calling them and so on. That is kind of along that line of how that works. I have a whole list of things here that I learned from coaching. The title kind of sounds like I am being egotistical, but I am not. I hope you learned something, but you know you need a title that sounds good. A lot of you probably know a lot more than I do. Dick Hannula this morning knows more than all of us combined.
Star Wars. When I am talking to the kids, remember new kids. You know they can do it. You have seen it happen time and time again, but each individual, just like if I went back up there and found somebody who had never spoken in front of a big crowd and made you come up here. Can’t speak, can’t speak, can’t do it. Well, I am up here doing it. My nickname as a kid was silent red. I am not kidding you. It was silent red. I didn’t talk. If you made me talk, I did not talk. I giggled and I was silly and I was stupid, but I didn’t talk. I don’t know why I am doing it, but I am doing it.
I have been nervous for a whole year, from the time he said Moose Man. He said Moose Man I need a favor. Speak at the clinic and I will never call you Moose Man again. He lied to me. He called me Moose Man twice already. But the point is, I make myself do things that scare the living daylights out of me. I mean I know you are not going to shoot me. We all have anxieties and some have more than others. Peter said this morning, well I guess we will go walk the plank today you know, and so we have those anxieties. Kids have those same anxieties and kids, though, since they haven’t seen the end of the movie, whatever movie it would be, they do not know the outcome. We have all coached kids and the more you have coached, the more you know that even the hopeless ones, you don’t know which one it is going to be, actually surprise you. Often times you are going, oh my God and each time you put that in your memory bank.
So I talk to them about Star Wars, which I think is a great movie and how Yoda is teaching Luke Skywalker the power of the force. Because that force within Luke Skywalker, the forces within us, the force that you can convince young kids they have inside, is what will make them successful. It is them that are going to do it and I know it is them. Our school record in say the 400 freestyle relay is 3:14. Now, I am not going to take credit for that. Last year we went 3:46 and were as happy as clams. I am not going to take credit for that.
I create the situation and I know it is a healthy situation, depending on their abilities, they get the most out of themselves as they can. They have to find that force and again, when kids come back and they see me years later, they will talk about those things. They will almost never, ever, ever talk about a time. They know they did them and they are very proud of them, so I am not putting that down. That is what helps you get there, that measurement, but they are most proud of their involvement in the program, their involvement with each other.
I was in Jackson this summer. I spent 9 days in that area. One of my swimmers runs a cable car. This is a kid with an IQ three times of mine and he is running that cable car that goes to the top of that mountain at Jackson Hole all summer long. He said, “Coach you don’t know how scared we were of you” and I said scared? Well, you are a coach, you know? Well they were not scared that I was going to beat on them, just maybe a combination of respect and awe or whatever. We do that to kids, whether we know it or not and they love you.
They talk about how neat it was to see me get kind of ticked off and they talk about the vein that sticks up in my head. A lot of men have it. I am not sure if the women do, but those veins stick right out and they are kind of looking. You are talking and you are angry and they are looking to see if that sucker is going to squirt water. I’m telling you that is all they are thinking about. When they leave they may have gotten your message or they may not have, but power of the force, that is a great lesson. If you have seen it, go back and watch it again. It is a great way to teach those kids about taking charge of what they do.
I had the NISCA handbook. NISCA has a handbook. The National Interscholastic Swimming Coaches Association of America, which was put together a number of years ago. A lot of different people put stuff into it. I believe John Leonard kind of finally compiled the whole thing after members of NISCA kind of got it going. It is a wonderful handbook and I believe it is going to be updated. Joining NISCA, there is information on the back, there is a flyer. If you do not belong and you are a high school coach, it is a wonderful organization. Everybody would get something different out of it, but as a professional, NISCA is the only organization that promotes high school swimming at the national level. Nobody else does it.
If NISCA were to say, you know what? Not because we are angry, let’s just stop. We don’t need to do this anymore. That would be the end of it. There wouldn’t be any of the All-American things, whether it is academic, whether it is the swimming or the diving or the water polo, the recognition that these kids get. It is not the end of the world if they don’t get it, but it is kind of one of those little things, those little notches you put and then you move on with your life and so on. If we do not promote swimming, nobody is going to. In some cases, there may not be much of a direct benefit to you. Where you are going to get an All-American certificate for your kid, but the benefit is going to be that somebody is helping this sport at the national level. It is a volunteer organization.
I can tell you from being,I am ex-director for Zone 1, which is New York, New Jersey and New England, which is Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut. What I do is insignificant compared to what the leadership does. I mean, it truly is. They put staggering amounts of time into it. Anytime somebody is the president, at one time or another, when I am talking to them, they are going Phil, I don’t know where I am using 28 hours in the day. They just throw their hands in the air and walk away. They keep pounding on it. Mark Onstatt said that about a year and a half ago. Danny, you were backed up in seven different directions and whether you knew it or not you were muttering to yourself and you said that to me one time when we talked on the phone, but they never quit. They keep working hard and it is a wonderful organization.
Relay takeoff machine: How many of you own one of those Colorado relay takeoff machines? Put your hands up. Be honest, okay. The rest of you, make it your mission to buy one of those. We have bought every piece of good stuff and junk you can imagine and that is produced. That is the best thing we ever bought. I think it is up to around $1,300 now. However, it was $900. When we bought it and again here is why we won a State Meet in the year 2000. We won the state meet because our relay takeoffs were so good. Now for years and years and years I had done what all people do. I had worked with my kids, I would watch them and watch them, and the kids would go how was that Coach? Moreover, I really wasn’t quite sure. I wasn’t quite sure if I wanted them to keep going and stretch it to that level you know? Because I wasn’t quite sure whether it was legal or not and I know that all truly 100% perfect relay takeoffs, all of them, if you are watching it from the viewer’s standpoint look illegal and if they don’t, it is not a good relay takeoff.
Therein lies the problem. However, if the official does it correctly, the official watches and when the feet leave the block they then look down to see if the hand has come in, not watching two at the same time. Therefore, if they do it right, you are good to go because there is actually a delay of probably a tenth or two of a second. I can watch both at the same time. It cannot be done. They are lying to you. It cannot be done, unless you can separate one half of your brain from the other and get one eye to look in one place and one eye to look in the other place. Who is that guy on TV who used to spin his eyes in two different directions and in the movies? I cannot remember, but anyways unless you can do that you cannot watch both. You can get a good idea, but you can’t see.
So, presuming the officials do their job correctly, you can have those swimmers stretched right out, right out to the very, very end, right to here, right to there when that guy touches. However, you can only do that if you practice and practice and practice. However, you have that little box. The box hooks up to the pad. The box hooks up to a button and that box gets hooked up to the starter. Now, I don’t use it for anything else. You can use it for reaction time of starts. I don’t use that. I don’t want my kids jumping. I have my own way of doing it. You just keep practicing and they have to practice with the person coming in. You kind of have to as you go along, and it works better with really good swimmers, because their stroke rate will be more predictable. They are less likely to take a last, one of these jobs, at the end, which makes us all kind of lay down and cry.
We had a situation that a swimmer, Scott Welch was his name. In 2000 his mother was diagnosed with cancer in the fall. He took the year off and was home-schooled by a neighbor and tended, his father was a pilot and was there all he could be, but he tended to his mother and fought breast cancer, but it was too far along. She had known that it was there. She got nervous about it an waited about five months before she went and by then you know what eventually had to have happened so he came back the next fall.
I presume now, after his mother passed away, that he would not swim again. That would have been his senior year. He said coach can we go out for breakfast some day? I said I would come and get him at the pool. He was lifeguarding so this was during the summer. He says, I have some unfinished business to take care of. I said, “What do you mean?” He says there was some stuff I didn’t get taken care of with swimming that I need to get taken care of and I said okay. He said, I want to swim, but I am being home-schooled so I won’t be going to school in Bangor. Even though as long as that is my District I will be fine as long as I do all the hoops I have to jump through.
He wins the 50-yard freestyle by maybe a tenth or two of a second, probably 22. This was in Maine, maybe 22.1 to 22.2 and this is a meet between us and some high school which is the high school that Ian Crocker attended, the Olympian Ian Crocker, although Ian swam for someone else his freshman year. He never did swim high school again, because Ian was involved in a club situation. Ian was not involved in this meet, but I just mentioned the high school because that is where Ian Crocker did attend.
We get down to the 200 freestyle relay. We are behind when it goes to the anchorperson. The anchorperson for the other team is this kid that our guy beat by 1/10 of a second in the 50. On the relay takeoff our guy picks up a full body length. However, because he had that timing so good, within five strokes he was even again and we won the relay by maybe again, a tenth or two of a second. We won the meet by less, I think we won it by 11 points and as you know, we do 12 places. So the relay, the swing of the relay would be, we would get 6 more, they would get 6 less. That one relay takeoff, not considering the other ones was the difference in that meet. Does that mean there is going to be a difference in every meet? No, if you are going to win by 300 points or you are going to lose by 300 points. It may be the difference between you being in 5th place and in 6th place.
We were 5th a year ago and you would have thought we won the Olympics because with the crew we had, every single one of them had the most phenomenal meet they had ever had in their life. That machine, I am telling you, it tells you and we don’t do like three hours with it. We might bring it out every other week and use it maybe five times through at the most, because they get bored with it after a while. Not bored with it, but you know, they get sloppy. They can focus for a short period of time.
Q. What is the differential that you are telling them that you want them to shoot for in practice? A. I tell them actually anything at a .1 is fine. I say if you are around a .1 that is actually darn good. Q. Is .01 too fast? A. No. Q. But you are still dealing with subjective judges at state right, or do they have this machine? A. No, we do not have the machine at states. Q. So they might be .01 leaving at states and get DQ’d? A. Absolutely. That is why I say if you are around .1 you are really good and you will only see that if you use this machine a while. You will be surprised how many relay takeoffs are .3, .4, .5, .6, .7. I mean you can’t believe it and then you multiply it by three other swimmers or four other swimmers and you do all that coaching I do, all that abuse that I do, all those yards that we do, and there it was right in front of me, just the relay takeoffs. How much we could have made up? I am telling you. I am telling you sincerely. This is my feeling and I am not selling for Colorado. It is the best.
We got fins. We got bungee cords. We got this and that, but the BEST thing that we have ever, ever purchased is one of those devices. You can do other things with it. We don’t. I don’t want to get kids jumping on the blocks. I have a way of teaching starts that I think works very well. Now, if the officials do it correctly, to come to the rest of the answer, I always ask at the State meet, very nicely. I say, now explain to me again, to the referee with the officials, explain to me again what your instructions are going to be on the relay takeoffs and the referee will say I am instructing you to watch and when the foot has left the block to then look down and see if the hand has come in. Not to do them both at the same time.
If they do that, you have another tenth or a two of a second. However, if you get somebody who is daydreaming and looks down, you are in trouble. Therefore, when it gets close it is scary. Do you follow what I am saying? You know I am not saying that you are going to come home and say yes, I was really doing a pretty good job and I listened to this guy Emery from Maine and he screwed up my whole program. We had the State meet won and then we get called for jumping. Well, all I can tell you the more you work with it, the more comfortable you will become and at least they will become consistent. You might even say you know .15 is good, if you can be consistently there, especially when you see the .3, 5’s, 4.5’s, .6’s and stuff. You will be amazed at how slow starts really are. It will be scary how slow they are.
I don’t know where I got some of this stuff. When you get old like me, sometimes you think you thought it up. Sometimes you hear it at a clinic and then you use is for so long that you think you thought of it. I may, I think I heard something like this at a clinic where the coach said years ago we begin every practice with a start. Have the kids get behind the blocks, swimmers up, take your mark, now I use a whistle as opposed to the starting horn and go. We don’t work on starts much and one day it might be a track start. The next day it might be a grab start. If we have 90 practices in a season, that is 90 starts that we do, isolated, one at a time. That does not mean at some point that we may not say “Now let’s talk about starts.” and get a video out and show Richard Quick’s video or somebody – Skip Kenney’s or whoever we have and look at them that way.
By and large, other than a couple of instruction days, one per practice, here is what happens. Here is the catcher. I am proud of this and I have had some parents I had to explain it to them. What do you think happens if you do a false start? What is the penalty? What is the penalty in a meet if you do one false start? You are gonzo. So if a kid starts my practice with a false start, what should I do to that person? Well, I will tell you what I do. They are gonzo. I don’t get mad at them. I don’t ridicule them. This has been explained to the whole team a number of times ahead of time so it is not like you know I am going to hurt the kid’s feelings and shame them, but I have had a few parents say that. I say, now what will shame your kid is if we are at the State meet or at the conference championship or the dual meet and your son or daughter does a false start. We are practicing. You learn from practicing and they can go sit in the balcony, but they are all done.
There is no dryland. They change and they can go and sit in the balcony and do homework if they are waiting for a ride with one of their friends. They are not ridiculed and they all understand it. All they do is they will go in. They won’t say a word and it doesn’t happen, maybe three times all last season. They come over and they get out and they walk right out and they are gone, that is the end of it. No discussion and you know what? We don’t have many false starts because it is really, you just say take your mark and they are always lowering so you are actually training them to roll on the block, if you know what I mean, we have all done that. The other thing is when you are done with the last one, because you are making it an official set – they are all in the water instead of chasing them around trying to get them in the water.
Sportsmanship. Let me tell you about a cheer that we used to do. This would be good on this recording. When I came back to Bangor High School from college and I was a sophomore on the Bangor High swim team when it was approved as a Varsity sport. It was called a minor sport and our letter was the opposite colors, instead of being white with maroon trim, it was maroon with white trim and instead of being full size it was a smaller size, but that, you know, we took it and eventually we got the same as everybody else. It was December of 1961. That is when I was a sophomore on that team and other than the five years that I was away in college, I have been part of that program to this day.
When I came back from college, they had a cheer they did and I loved the cheer. The rhythm of it was so good. Lanny, I think that you have talked about those rhythms and stuff like that. It was a nicki labomba that somebody taught us. Well this one was, I am embarrassed to tell you because we haven’t done this, it was called hate – hate – mutilate. Hate – hate – mutilate. Crash – crash – kill. Hate – hate – mutilate. Crash – crash – kill. Hate – hate – mutilate. Crash – crash – kill. or whatever it was and the rhythm was so infectious that we did it and I remember my wife going, “Phil, do you understand what that is saying?” I said, well forget what it is saying. It is the rhythm you know and we did that. One year when we were vying for the New England Championships in ‘75 all the other Maine teams came over, sat with us, and did the cheer.
Now that I am at my age, I am telling you, I am so embarrassed that we ever did it. There is a point where you are young and lots of things go on in your brain. It is like the more you think you know, the less you really know. When you get older, you don’t think you know anything and you probably do know quite a bit, but we only do positive cheers. We do not do any negative cheers. Promote us. Promote Speedo. You want Speedo to say you are the worst program. You got the worst. You got to wear suits and stuff. Promote Speedo. Nike will promote Nike so you don’t get any negativism. All we do now is there will not be a cheer on the Bangor team that I would ever be involved in that is not positive and promoting.
Almost always, with our rivals, we have a good relationship with them. They want to defeat us and we want to defeat them, but when it is over we walk away proud of what we did and we move on and I cannot tell you how important it is to keep the focus on yourself, not on your competition. Watch your steering wheel and where you are going and not the other one and you will do a much better job of getting to where you are going. A lot of you probably learned that in about one day, especially after I just told you that cheer, but some guys are slow learners.
Torpedo 25’s. You heard Hannula talk about torpedo 25’s, streamlining under water. We do eight every day in heats. He talks about how the kids should streamline. I have seen how some of my kids streamline. It is painful to try and get them to hold the position, so the only control I have is we go eight 25’s in heats. That means it is going to take about 8 minutes and depending on whether I have to stop and re-explain it. All season long there will be teaching, all season. Some of those kids that we taught as freshmen will be teaching the same thing as seniors. That is the only way as opposed to saying okay as part of your workout Lane 1 you do and Lane 2 you do this. I can control that. It does mean that you have got to give away some time.
You are better off to take the time. When we are talking about how far you can go and how fast you can go and if it is really streamline and you are really good, you can go faster under water streamline than you can swim any of the strokes on the surface. Those salmon imagine if those salmon really had arms, none of them would survive, they would all be dead. As soon as they started moving those things they couldn’t go fast enough to get away. The seals would chase them when they got out in the estuaries or the larger fish would chase them. Those suckers would be long gone. They would be extinct. We would be finding fossils of these fish with arms, and we would be saying, “How did those things become extinct?” Finally somebody would be saying, “Because they weren’t streamline.” They were trying to use those arms to go faster and so, for us it has been well worth the time.
# 10. There is no secret to success. It is hard work. It is attitude. It is enthusiasm. It truly, truly is. You bang away at it. It is enthusiasm, enthusiasm, attitude, and attitude. You know when you hear speakers, if there is enthusiasm that is more enjoyable than if there isn’t. If you hear a teacher speaking with enthusiasm that is more enjoyable than if there isn’t. Kids, when you are coaching them, they want enthusiasm. They love stories by the way, just like I am telling you stories, kids love stories.
Captains – I know everybody has a way of doing it. We do not vote. I mean I do not appoint captains at Bangor High School. We vote for them. For this reason, that means that I am taking the chance that I am going to have some kids that I don’t want to be captains, but I don’t want you. If I don’t pick you and you are really a hard working swimmer, but I don’t think you are a good enough leader Dana and I pick Tom or Mark, I don’t want you to think that I don’t like you. It is okay if you think that the two people behind you don’t like you because, you are swimming for me or with me. I am working with you and you guys are competing against each other so you can just say well I don’t care about them and so we vote for captains.
Now, this is what I can do wrong. We don’t always have co-captains and I always I tell them I have one vote as a tiebreaker. I would never, even if it were somebody I didn’t want, I would never keep somebody from being voted in. But I would add somebody. So everybody votes. You can vote for two people and then I just start counting votes. When I see where there is a big break, some years we have co-captains. The most I have ever had was 5, because we had 5 seniors and I was not going to let one of them not be a captain. That way at least, the kids that I am not, because they still, if I am going to coach them, they need to think that I respect them and like them. Even if, I hate to say it this way, even if maybe I am suspect in some of their attitudes and things. I know a lot of you appoint yours and for equally as large of a reason so I am not criticizing you. You had your hand kind of up?
Q. I am debating going to no captain. I think John does it that way in New Jersey. He just gets all the seniors involved. My problem is; I let the girls vote and some win and some lose. The ones that lose, you know, feel like they are marked the whole year with dirty hands for non-captain. John has all the seniors as captains and they all get some kind of role on the team and I think that is a little more work for the coach, but it may be something that I might do. A. That is not a bad idea and I am not disagreeing with that. I do tell the kids before we vote that they are all seniors and they are all part of the team, but at some point, somebody is going to have to take charge of ordering shirts and somebody is going to have to take charge of this and somebody is going to have to take charge of that, but just like you said, by doing more work, you can accomplish the same thing.
Boys are less work. If a boy didn’t get elected, most of the time they don’t get, you know; girls, you know they are more emotional and more sensitive about it and I am not criticizing it. It is just the way they are and so either way, but what I don’t want to do and what I was really getting away from was did we pass the time? Yes. Okay? Quick – One thing at a time. Goal cards. Give the kids goal cards and then when you see what they are doing, look at the cards and see if it matches what they wrote down. Don’t be afraid to take time to show videos during practice. Even if you spend the whole time and that is what happens to me every time I show a video. I think it is going to be ten minutes and it is the whole two hours or an hour.
This is the last thing I am going to do. I have lots of stuff here. Obviously I can’t do it. I have the parents keep a scrapbook for me. When I have the parent’s meeting in the fall, I say, at the end of the season your kids are going to want to buy me a present. I say, now I am not saying they should, but that is the history and they want to give me a present and lots of times it is something I really don’t need. I said, let me tell you what I need and it is cheap. I would love a scrap book that had any articles that were in the Bangor Daily News in it, any of the poop sheets that I have handed out, anything, programs from meets we went to in it and any pictures that some of you might have taken. Then at the banquet, just give that to me and it is done and if one of the parents would do that, I would appreciate it. I started doing that five years ago and I am telling you, I have gotten some wonderful, wonderful things and so that is something to think about.
Thank you very much. Have a nice day.