Motivating Humans by Mike Bottom (2007)


My name is Mary Anne Gerzanick-Liebowitz and I am here to welcome you all this morning and to introduce our first speaker, Mike Bottom. A few little facts about Mike for you: He is currently the head coach at The Race Club World Team in Florida and prior to that he was the co-head coach at Cal. He has established himself as one of the top sprint coaches in the world. He has coached as an assistant coach at the 2001 World Championships in Japan, as well as The Goodwill Games in Brisbane, Australia. He was also the Head Coach for Team Stars and Stripes at the first ever Novo Nordisk Sprint Challenge. His swimmers: He has produced ten different Pac-10 champions. He has produced four NCAA champions and he has produced five Olympic Medalists at our Olympic Games so if you would, please give a warm welcome to our first speaker: Coach Mike Bottom.

[This PowerPoint Presentation can be downloaded at the members only section of]

Good morning. Gosh, we are motivated this morning. A lot of people did not get here this morning. It’s a tough morning to be here, the second morning after two nights out with partying out at ASCA. How many of you went to some of the activities last night and are still here? I want to talk to you about your motivation. That’s very good. I gotta get that – how you got up this morning.

This morning’s talk is about motivating humans as opposed to motivating dogs and cats and other things and there’s quite a difference. Motivating humans (as I always say) motivation is everything. It’s not just something that enters in the equation, it’s everything. It’s all-inclusive. If you do not have motivation, you don’t have a swimmer. You don’t have an athlete. You don’t have someone who’s progressing for their future. So motivation is such an important factor. Coach Daland mentioned yesterday that I deal with some guys that are a little bit different. I think he said it a little differently.

The key that I found in working with these guys is in understanding how to get them moving in a direction. Not necessarily my direction, but in a direction that will get them better. So, moving along here, I took a lot of this information from a book, “Motivating Humans” and kind of messed it around and put it in different places. So, if you read the book you won’t see it’s similar, but I did steal stuff from him so I am giving him, Mr. Ford (or Dr. Ford), credit.

The first thing to realize is motivation encompasses the whole person and it’s not just when you look at a situation. You come to morning practice and you look at one kid that’s usually excited and it’s great to be there, and all of a sudden the kid is just blowing bubbles. He’s not paying any attention to you and you’ve gotta click into an understanding.

Sometimes my first reaction is anger. Why aren’t you listening to me? What is wrong here? I think that, as coaches (understanding that motivation is everything), what we need to do is click into something else. We need to click into our own understanding of how to motivate and that has to become a trigger for everything we do. To click into “Alright, how am I going to get this person motivated?”

What I am hoping to do this morning is to give you three different areas to quickly go through and grab hold of one of them and give something a try. If that doesn’t work, try something else. Feel good about what you’re doing and to believe that you can do it. Believe that you can motivate anybody, because I can guarantee you that you have.

If I sat down and talked with any of you, every one of you could tell me stories of 6 year-olds to 20 year-olds to 40 year-olds to 50 year-olds that have come to you and told you a story of how you motivated them – how you took them to the next level, because you’re a coach and that’s what you do.

So the past, the present, and the future all interact right now. The person, what happened to them in the past, how they’re feeling in the present and what they’re thinking about in the future is all going on right now when you’re looking at them.

One of the greatest stories of my career is the first swim meet that I coached Gary at. It was a Mission Viejo swim meet and he came in and it was the heats of the morning and he came in… No, I am sorry it was the finals of the evening. He had made the finals. He came in and it was maybe 15-20 minutes before the end of warm-up and I looked at him. He was just sitting there. Kind of a blank stare, looking forward you know, with his clothes on. I looked at him and at that point, “What am I going to do here?”

“Gary, what’s going on?”

Gary has that way of responding, just kind of an “Uhhh, well uhhh” and you either want to wait for the response or you go on and kind of give him some responses.

“Gary, are you feeling alright?”


“Gary, have you eaten?”


“When’s the last time you ate Gary?”

“Uhhh…I had some breakfast.”

“Gary, it’s 3 o’clock…it’s 4 o’clock…you haven’t eaten?”

“No, I haven’t had anything.”

So right away, “Gary, go get something to eat. There’s a pizza place right up the street. I think they serve slices. Just go get some pizza.”

So he walks out and the 50, I don’t remember what it was in the order, but he had some time and it was okay. So he kind of marches up the street and I am looking at my watch and give him half an hour. He will be back. Half an hour came…went…half an hour. Forty-five minutes came…went. I’m sitting there, starting to sweat. The races are going. The 50’s coming up. The next thing I know I see Gary walking down the street with a box. He had ordered a pizza. He’s walking down the street with a box in his hand and he’s just slowly walking down the street and you have that slope at Mission Viejo and I am seeing him go like this, just walking along. He comes through the gate and I’m ready to blow up and I’m thinking okay, come on, take a deep breath. Relax.

“Gary, did you eat anything?”


“Gary, sit down here. Open your pizza. Have some pizza.”

At that time I didn’t know that Gary was diabetic, but he was showing all the symptoms, even at that time, of being a diabetic. His insulin was low. He was kind of spacing out. A lot of the similar things that would go on and somebody would recognize if they had worked with diabetes before and I hadn’t at that point, but he was blank.

He ate the pizza. He got up. He swam. He swam pretty well, actually. So, the idea was that there was something that happened in the past (he hadn’t eaten), the present (his demeanor was blank), and the future. I don’t know what his future was at the point where I was looking at him, but I made his future that got him pizza, got him something to eat and got him going. I think that you’ll find that food is really an effective motivational tool for your athletes.

I kid you not: a nutrition bar in the middle of practice for doing certain things is a great motivator. Doc Councilman, in all his wisdom, used to use jelly beans. He used to tell me about his jelly bean experiences. A great, great motivator is food. We always make sure that we have Cytomax or Gatorade or something there to take care of this because this is probably going to affect your athletes more than anything else and you won’t believe it.

Again, past, present, and future and there are all sorts of things that affect an athlete’s past and you can go through them in your mind. What happened last night? Boyfriend…girlfriend…all that stuff affects the motivation of your athletes.

When you change these things, you change their motivation so you don’t even have to get real technical. You just have to figure out what’s happened in the past, where they are in the present and what they are thinking about in the future. If you could just do an immediate switch in any of those things, you’re going to change their motivation. Motivation interventions may not result in the same outcome if repeated over and over again. I’ve had great athletes that I had a lot of fun with and certain things worked at first and they didn’t work after a while.

I used to be able to yell and scream at certain athletes and after a while, when a freshman class comes in, you could wave your arms and you can yell and scream and there’s a fear factor that occurs there that motivates these athletes. After they’ve been there three years, their fourth year with you as a college coach, you can yell and you can scream and they’re going to laugh at you. So there’s a big difference in trying to motivate a person one way one day and motivating him another way another day and it’s important to have a repertoire that you can go through.

One motivational technique will not always work the same on different people so you can use a motivational technique on one person and it might not work on another person. I have an athlete, Jernej Godec, who’s from Slovenia. One of the hardest things about Jernej is that in order to get him to make a change I really have to get animated. I know this about the guy. He’s just kind of a plod-along kind of guy. Very consistent in life, but he has a hard time making any changes.

His first swim meet was a Stanford meet. We had this meet that’s every year at the very beginning of the season and we’d go against them and we’d do these crazy events and one of the events was a 200 medley relay. He was swimming butterfly and he came up (and to his credit, there was no cross on the end of the pool, it had worn off and they hadn’t redone them yet) and he belted his head on the bulkhead. I wasn’t facing it, but I heard it. I turned around and I just see Jernej kind of floating there, right? Well, it took him a couple of seconds. He finished and he came back in and from that point on Jernej was afraid to make a turn. He would approach a turn with just sensitivity. He was used to swimming short course meters which is longer and he’s swimming these yards and the turns are all right there. So my job then was now to get Jernej to understand that he can control that. He can make a turn…and a finish. The finish was the same. Every time Jernej would finish or turn, it would always be this way or this way.

He’s a butterflyer so it’s more obvious and it got to the point where I had tried almost everything and when I get to that point I start using four letter words fluently. It’s my other language. The funny thing is, I’d just had a baby girl and my wife was at practice and we were in a swim meet and she was in the back room with my daughter and Jernej comes in for the finish and he finishes like this again and that’s it. That’s it! I’m going to let him have it. I go out with my 4 letter ranting and waving my arms. Then I turned around and Laura Lynn is sitting there with the baby Bjorn and the baby’s sitting there going like this and I’m going oh. So needless to say I’ve tried to curb that type of motivation, but that’s one way to motivate Jernej and I do it today. I still do it with Jernej. I yell and I scream. I do not use as many of the foreign words, but that’s the way I get to him.

If I were to do that to Gary, Duje, or Anthony (in his day), they would just tell me where to put it and walk off the deck because that doesn’t communicate to them. One way of motivation works for one person and it doesn’t work for another person and it’s up to you as a coach to get to know that individual and you do it by going thru the repertoire and get them moving because that’s the important thing, to get them moving forward.

Here are the three dimensions of motivation and this is what I like about this guy, the way he thinks. You can plug it in real quickly. The first dimension is goals and that’s kind of the mind, using the mind, using goals. The second dimension is beliefs – the belief in self, belief in you as a coach, and belief in a system. The third is emotions.

Goals…can I attach to a goal? Can I attach to a belief? Can I attach to an emotion? Going to your athlete and going “How am I going to get through this?” It gives you something to grab a hold of and use and it eliminates the frustration factor of going to the next level.

Let’s look at goals real quick. Everybody knows about goal-setting so I’m not even going there. Goal-setting is something that you guys have been beaten over the head with forever so I’m assuming that everybody has goals. The kids have got goals, you’ve got goals and everybody understands the goals. The check that you go through is, “What kind of an environment do I have here?” Is this a responsive environment for the goals to get accomplished? This is where the word “team” comes in. How is my team, my team view right now? Are they at each other’s throats? Are they splashing each other in the face? If they’re splashing each other in the face, it’s going to be difficult to put them into a group setting and have them help each other. That’s not going to happen because they’re going to continue to splash each other. How is the environment helping you to get what you want accomplished? Look at the environment.

Activity relevance…this is a tough one. If you’re an aerobic coach and you have a sprint kind of kid that has a sprint mentality – especially a young boy, 13 years old, has his testosterone thing going – to show relevance to what that guy is doing. How is this going to get me faster in the 50? I might be faster by swimming all these yards, right? Well you’re going to have to be able to work that out. You’re going to have to help him or her understand those things. Is that activity relevant? Is this going to get this person’s goal? I have had guys say to me, “Mike, I can’t see this. I cannot see this. Instead of sitting there and arguing with them I said, “Why don’t you move over here and here’s what I’m trying to accomplish here. Give me a set that will help me accomplish this. What are you going to do? Take a 200 swim easy. Come back to me with a set. Let’s get it done.”

Mike Cavic, Milorad Cavic, or however you want to say it…he was born and raised in Irvine, California and he’s Serbian. He challenges me all the time like this and it’s okay for me. I’m alright. I’m able to handle it. I just say, “Mike, alright, I’ve talked to you before. If you don’t like what I’m giving you, give me an alternative and do it to the side and we’ll work it out, alright? It defuses him right away. It moves him into his own motivation. All of a sudden he’s making his set. I’m telling him what I’m trying to get done here. He gets that. He makes a set. He goes for it. He does better than what I would have gotten out of him. Now maybe his set is not exactly what I’m trying to get at, but it’s more than I would have gotten.

Now I know you cannot do that when you have 30 kids in the pool in three lanes. I know you cannot do that so that’s when you have to check your own self. Is this going to be perceived as relevant? Can the kid see this as something that’s going to help them achieve their goals? Maybe they should eat a tomato or some colorful fruit instead of the green stuff because they will still get some of the same vitamins. Maybe not all the same, but they will get it done. They are going to get it done. Try to shift a little bit of your own idealism in order to get the motivation because remember, motivation is the key. If a kid is not motivated, it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter.

You could have the best swimmer in the world and if the kid does not increase in his motivation, by the time he gets to be 13-14, or she gets to 13-14-15, they’re gone. They’re out of here. They’re playing soccer. They’re playing basketball. They’re playing volleyball. That’s why I think this is so relevant. This talk is more relevant to those of you who coach age group swimmers, because we’re losing them. We’re losing some of our best swimmers to other sports. So activity relevance is a key for them.

Some of their goals are not what you think they are. Try to understand what they really want. Maybe they just want to be there and have fun and be with their friends. They are going to get better. You are a good coach. They are going to get better, alright? Maybe they are not going to get as good as fast as you would like, but as they grow, as you teach them, they will get better. No question, right? Will they stay in the sport? That’s the question and that’s the one that we want to keep them motivated to do.

Multiple goals – this really works in a college setting, but I imagine it would work in all different settings. Not just multiple goals within the sport, but multiple goals that work together outside of the sport. Those goals align to something greater and I know that all of us think this way because we understand that swimming is just swimming. It’s not that important. What we are doing is building individuals that are going to change the world in one way or the other and we are trying to make them better so that they are going to make this world better.

So, as we align their goals we are aligning them to a greater purpose – a higher purpose. To create someone who is going to go out there, be motivated, be disciplined, be smart and creative, be able to carry out tasks (even though they are routine and happen over and over again), but are smart enough and individualistic enough to make decisions. That’s what we’re after as coaches. We’re creating something and it’s bigger than swimmers and that’s the exciting part of what we’re doing.

The next thing we’re working on is the belief and the best way to work on belief that I’ve found is positive feedback. I get into this situation all the time where I’m looking at somebody and I’m seeing what’s wrong instead of what’s right and I can’t help it. That’s the way my father was. He was a naval guy. I love him very much, but he was a disciplinarian and if I washed the sink, he didn’t tell me how shiny the knobs were. He pointed down where the drain is and showed me there was a little speck down there. So, that’s the way I am.

I’m naturally that way and as a coach I’m even worse that way so I have to continually look at my athletes and my goal is to try to give everybody in the pool positive feedback that day. That doesn’t seem like a very hard thing to do, but it’s very tough for me and the secondary goal of that’s to do it before I give them any negative comments. The rule of thumb is always 10 to 1, but no one can do that. No one can give 10 to 1. If you could give 1 to 1, you’re doing a great job, but you want to try to use positive feedback as much as possible. What positive feedback does is boost their belief in themselves, the belief in who those developing human beings are. You’re boosting them and that’s what we’re trying to do.

Positive feedback is pretty much taken as positive feedback. When you tell somebody “Hey, the way you shifted your arm forward is exactly like I want to see it and I wish everybody would do it that way.” When you tell someone like that, they are going to take that in a way (even through the filters of their parents or someone else that has ruined or been negative in their life), they are still going to hear positive stuff. They are still going to hear positive stuff.

If you say “You know if you could shift that left arm like you shift that right arm, you would be great.” They are going to hear a completely different thing. They are going to hear the negative. I can’t get my arm up.

I cannot stress that enough – positive feedback. If you go to talk to someone, stop for just a second and figure out how to turn it around to be positive. If you cannot figure out how to turn it around – go find someone who is doing it right and tell them, right next to them. Nort used to do this. He used to tell that story all the time and I loved it. When he wanted Rich (his son Rich swam for Nort) to do something right he would find someone right next to Rich and he would say you are doing this. You are doing a great job with this. Rich would go like this and he would do it.

Flexible standards…I find working with the athletes that I do, that you can’t have the same standard for everybody. They all need to know that an optimal challenge has something to do with this too. Optimal challenge is setting the standards and the goals for individuals. So, flexible standards and optimal challenges kind of go side by side. When you challenge your athletes you want to challenge them to where they are, not to where someone else is and that’s tough when you have a group.

Try to give a group a standard and all of a sudden you’ve got guys down here or gals down here that can’t possibly do that. Then you’ve got guys or gals up here that can easily do that. So the hard thing is to affect the person’s belief because what we’re talking about is a person’s sole belief in who they are. If you give someone who’s really, really good a lower standard, what are they going to think about themselves? It’s going to bring them another way that you don’t want them to go. They’re going to go “Alright, I could do that easy, but if that’s all he believes, then you know…” Remember, when you look at your athlete’s eyes you are setting their belief in themselves.

You’re so instrumental in carving out their belief in themselves. They’ll mature and they’ll re-carve that out and they’ll whack off some of the misconceptions that people had about them in the past, but there’s going to be lumps and there are going to be spaces there. You can be a great instrument in shaping and developing that person or you could be a great instrument in chiseling away that person’s belief in themselves. It’s really your choice. You have that choice.

The positive feedback, the flexible standard, the optimal challenges individually…I know it’s tough, but maybe you can divide off groups. Doing age things isn’t the best way to do it. I know that’s the easiest way to do it. To lump everybody in the 10 year olds and the 9 year olds when you have different developmental abilities and different levels of talent is not the most effective way to develop their belief in themselves.

I don’t have the full answer. I just know that this is very effective in developing a person’s belief. What I try to do with my guys is pull them aside. I will pull guys aside all the time during the aerobic sets because to me the aerobic sets are important, but it’s more important that I develop a confidence and a belief so I’ll pull a guy out and I’ll just say “Hey look, I’ve been noticing this. You really are doing this right and I think you can be this way and I think on this next set you could set this standard.” I won’t say that same thing to another person.

When Gary and Anthony were in the final of the Olympics I had something to say to each one of those guys. I didn’t talk to them together. I talked to them as individuals. I told them both they could win and they did. Same thing when Duje and Gary were in the race and Salim. Each one of them had their own thing. I knew Salim couldn’t win (Salim Iles from Algeria). I knew he couldn’t win and truthfully I didn’t think Duje could win, that Duje could do as well as he did. He had just swum the 100 fly. I tried to talk to them and set the standard and challenge.

Direct evidence…you know there’s a lot of talk and there’s a lot of people who want to build self-confidence and there are a lot of concepts about self-confidence, but direct evidence talks about not dealing with concepts, but dealing with reality. Dealing with what’s in front of you.

Great example… a guy named Matt Scanlon this summer. He’s a flyer, and swims freestyle. He said to me “Mike, why can’t I kick freestyle? Could you look at my freestyle kick and see what I’m doing wrong because I’m doing something wrong because I can’t kick freestyle.” I’m thinking to myself, this guy can kick freestyle and it’s not that hard.

He’s been swimming for all his life. I’m thinking all these things. I look at him. He kicks freestyle fine and I said “Matt, the truth is, the reason that you can’t kick freestyle is because you don’t believe you can kick freestyle. I can talk to you about that forever, but I’m not going to,” and I just walked away. I just walked away and then at the end of the little kick set. “Matt, get down here at the end. You’re going to go a 50 all out kick, freestyle, and just do what you can do. I just want you to go all out. Put your head down.” I showed him a few tricks, how to do it (get your head down, straighten the board out) and we are going to do a 50. He said alright, because you know he had never broken 40 before. He could do a 36 in the kick for dolphin, but he couldn’t break 40. I get everybody around him and everybody’s yelling “Go Matt!” A little get-out swim type of thing – got the motivation level up for the group. Matt kicks a 33 for the 50 freestyle and he didn’t believe me.

He still didn’t believe, right? He still didn’t believe, so I took my watch and I threw it across the pool. It hit the water. Fortunately it was not cracked and he picked it up quickly and he looked at it and he smiled – changed his belief. That was direct evidence that his belief was incorrect, right? A lot of times you need direct evidence because no matter what you say it’s not going to convince them.

The last one is reality and reality is similar, but different. Let’s take a dive. They’re going to do a dive and reality deals with things like somewhat emotion, somewhat beliefs. It’s teaching them techniques – small techniques that will eventually get them to be able to demonstrate a false belief. This is where your coaching comes in because sometimes somebody might not believe. If I had seen something in Matt’s kick and I was able to teach him a different technique then I would move into reality. The reality is, “Matt, you were doing this wrong and now you can do it.” The reality is that if you do this on a dive you’ll be a faster starter. You give them a real reason why their belief is wrong, as opposed to direct evidence where you just go do it. Reality takes your own coaching style, your analysis. You figure out. Let’s see how we can get this done. Somebody asked yesterday, “Using the shoulder driven stroke, have you been able to show faster results?” The reality is yes. After these guys have learned shoulder driven stroke they’re able to swim faster so they believe that this is a better way to do it. That’s the belief system.

So we have gone over goals. Beliefs and emotions are the toughest things to work with. Emotions are deepest seated of all the group of three. The goals, which is right up there at the top, which can be changed very easily, it’s just thoughts. You have the beliefs that are kind of a combination of the thought and the emotions. Their thoughts, their designs with emotion – a little bit of emotion attached to them. Then you have the emotions which is pure. That’s pure and that’s the hardest thing to change.

Emotional activation…again, team is a great way to change emotions. Your own emotional activation is a great way to change emotions. Stories are a great way to change emotions. Emotional activation just means somehow you get involved in their emotions. So you guys are waking up when I’m jumping around here. Some of you aren’t, but…somehow you interject or you get them to interject the emotions.

We do a set regularly where I have them swim a slow 50 and the idea is that they would do everything perfect in the 50 and if they don’t do it perfect outside – they do it perfect in the head. When they touch the wall they are to emote. They’re to do whatever they’re going to do at the end of a race. They’re to jump up and down. They’re to shake their arms. I’m trying to emotionally activate them to be motivated at the end of the year to swim fast. I tap into that emotional activation over and over again on lots of different sets, but I have to get it in there in order to get them to win.

Relays are a great way to emotionally activate people, kids. Why? Because what happens in relays? They get excited. They get excited. They jump up and down. If they swim fast, how do they feel? They feel great, right? Emotional activation is such a key in changing the emotion. If you get a kid and he comes in and he doesn’t want to swim, you get the group together. You have some fun. You play some games. All of a sudden you have an emotionally active kid. Now he’s motivational. Now he can be motivated by you, alright? It is up to you.

I love US Swimming stuff. They have all those tricks. I think we got a little disk didn’t we – of all the games and tricks? Did we get that in our packet? I think we did. I haven’t looked at it, but you know there is so much help now for coaches on how to get guys and gals involved. Whether it’s games, or whether it be little motivational videos, you can get those now. Nort used to show those to the team at the beginning of the year, motivational videos. Emotional activation…what’s better than seeing some US Swimmers touch first and raise their hand and do one of these? That emotion activates the motivation.

Just do it. Just do it. Yes, it’s stolen from the Nike ad but a lot of times fear’s an emotion that cripples so many individuals in life and sometimes the best way to get over fear is just to do it. Now, you can’t put a kid on a three meter board, a three year-old kid who’s afraid of a 3 meter board, and put him up there and say, “Just do it, kid.” No, you put them on the edge of the pool and you have them jump off. Then you put them on a plank and have them jump off. Then you put them on the next level and have them jump off, but you just do it, right?

You heard me yelling, if you saw that talk yesterday. You heard “Just get it done. He’s doing it. You do it.” At some point some of these elite athletes learning something new are afraid to try. They’re afraid to try. Why? They don’t want to look stupid. They don’t want to look stupid, so they don’t try. They don’t even do it. So, I just have to yell sometimes and say, “Just get it done. Just do it. There it is. Do it. You can do it.” If you get them where they just jump off, all of a sudden they have done it. The emotion just goes away. It changes, okay?

Take the fear, push it back. Whatever means you are doing it with. Whether it’s with a group because if you get a bunch of kids to do the same thing…one kid does it, another kid does it, another kid does it, your kid comes up that’s afraid of it and all of a sudden they’re doing it. Why? They got the momentum going. It is getting done, alright? So get it done and the emotions change. Baby steps. Probably one of the most important things to realize is that emotions are tough to change. Fear is a tough, tough opponent, but it’s not a killer. It can be managed. It can be beaten. Fear can be beaten.

There’s a saying over in Europe – they call it “The Rabbit.” They got “The Rabbit.” They got “The Rabbit” in them. You know, they can’t go to finals. They got “The Rabbit” in them and rabbit means the heart races. The rabbit shows a lot of fear, runs everywhere, there’s no purpose to its direction and I believe that there are great rabbits that are winning races and I’ve seen them change. I’ve seen individuals who had been described as rabbits become champions because they have learned to deal with the fear, because the fear is okay. The fear is just fear and once the person can accept that fear and manage it, in small steps, learning to manage the fear can actually become something that’s a motivation to keep them focused.

I have one athlete who couldn’t win the big one. Could not win the big one, until he figured out how to manage his fear and the way he manages his fear is this: focus. If he focuses on what he’s doing, the fear does not set him off task. He thinks about everything he does (and we’re talking about the 50 freestyle, so he has slowed his race down in his mind). He’s doing everything perfect. The guy is unbelievable. He’s perfect. He swims a perfect race because he’s learned to deal with his fear by focusing. He didn’t do that all at once. Small steps, right?

So, you’re not going to see a change. If someone has this fear, if they can’t go off the blocks, if they can’t dive or if they can’t swim in a big race, you’ve got to be accepting. You’ve got to say, “That’s okay, you’ve got a little fear in you. That’s alright. We’re going to deal with that. We’re going to learn to deal with it and you’re going to go forward and you’re going to be okay – alright?”

“What’s wrong with you kid?” That’s not going to help.

I’m pretty close to out of time. Just remember, the great thing about all of this is there are so many options. You as a coach have to believe:

1. You’ve got to have a goal. You’ve got to know that motivation is the key. Motivation is the key. It is not a key. It is the key, because without motivation everything you learn, everything you teach, will not get done.

2. The second thing is you’ve got to believe that you can be motivational. You can make a difference.

You got creative. You got creative goal-setting. There’s nothing that says that you even have to set time standards as goals. Be creative with your goal-setting. If you know that there’s a fear of failure with someone, you don’t set time standards. You set stroke standards. You say, “Alright, I’m going to watch this. I’m going to rate you on how you get your elbow up and you recover.” Make a difference. Change the goals. Create self-concept.

Sometimes somebody believes something about themselves so strongly that you’re not going to change it. You might have a kid that’s a rebel. There are a few kids out there like that. I had a kid once, I don’t know if he’s in here, but he’s coaching in England right now. He was the first guy to beat Popov in the 50 freestyle in a long time. He was a rebel, there’s no question about that. He was from a home in Virginia or somewhere like that. It was a tough home and he grew up in a tough neighborhood. He was a tough kid, the first kid to ever go to college. He was a tough kid. I didn’t try to change that. I told him he was a tough kid. I told him he was a rebel. I told him everybody was against him, everybody. “Nobody believes in you. You’re the only one that believes in you. I might believe in you sometimes.”

He swam his senior year. He wasn’t even on the SEC team at Auburn. He didn’t make the team. He was probably one of the fastest guys that didn’t make the team. So, he had to swim after the meet, when Auburn won their first SEC Championship, in a relay that was going to qualify him to go to NCAA’s. You know how that went. Auburn wins their first championship. Everybody’s getting thrown in the pool, and they’re trying to clear it to run a relay. That’s not going to happen, right? So two weeks later, I think we had a meet and it was a time trial and the great story is, the relay went off and he was anchoring. Well the breaststroker false-started so the relay had already been disqualified and he didn’t even get up. He was dry at the end. He had waited the whole meet for this relay and he gets up and I said to him, “Don’t even swim, you know? The relay’s over. Don’t even swim. It’s over. You’re just going to have to do it on your own.”

Actually, he said that. “I’m just going to do it on my own. I’m just going to do it on my own.” He walked away.

Two weeks later he went a :19.7 in a time trial and there was an article written in “Taper and Shave” (thank God for “Taper and Shave”) that had “Bill Pilczuk, an unknown, goes :19.7 in a ‘time trial’ and it was like, quote-quote, time trial. What’s the world coming to?”

Something like that…I cut that thing out, blew it up, slapped that thing on the wall and said, “Bill,. I told you no one believes in you. They think you cheated. They think you cheated, Bill. No one believes in you, man.”

That was the mantra for Bill, up until NCAA’s. At NCAA’s, he leads off the relay. I can’t remember what…:19.6? Nineteen-something. He finishes, and I had been “They hate you Bill. Everyone hates you Bill. They hate you. Everybody hates you.” So he is “Grrrrrrrrr!” He gets up. He finishes. He pulls himself up on the block and he does one of these to everybody. I would not advise it, but it’s a great story.

Bill, are you here? I don’t think – oh, he is over there. Bill Pilczuk. Hey, Bill. First guy to beat Popov in the 50 freestyle – Bill Pilczuk. But now he has a kid. He’s calmed down. He’s not a rebel anymore. He works for Bill Sweetenham.

Creative use of emotion…there is nothing wrong with fear. You’ve got to get a hold of what you can get a hold of, and then be creative with how you use it.

The last thing is respect and this is what it all comes down to. You’ve got to respect yourself first of all, because I can guarantee you (as many college coaches know) that you don’t get respect from your administration, no matter how good you do. You don’t get respect, a lot of times, from the parents of whoever you’re coaching, no matter how well they swim. You’ve got to respect yourself.

What you’re doing is one of the hardest jobs in the world. What you’re doing is you’re applying psychology, physiology, and biomechanics. You have to have knowledge of so many different fields to be good at what you do. You have got to respect that and you’re going to make some mistakes and you’ve got to respect that. You’ve got to respect it. You’re going to make mistakes and you’ve got to respect each other. When someone makes a mistake as a coach, you don’t go after him. You don’t talk about him or her, alright? You respect them because what they’re trying to do is the same thing you’re trying to do. You’ve got to believe that, because no one’s going to stay in this sport (with the amount of money that we get paid) unless they have some greater good in mind. It just isn’t happening. It just doesn’t happen, so you’ve got to respect each other.

You’ve got to respect yourselves and once you do that you can start to respect your athletes. You can start listening to them in a different way. They are growing individuals. They are learning individuals. One of the greatest times of learning for me is every year I go down and work with Jim Steen at the Kenyon College Sprint Camp and we have high school athletes that come in. I learn more from working with those high school athletes than I do all year because what I do is I have all these things in mind of what new drills can I use. I bring them in and I give them to these athletes and if they can do the drills, I know my athletes can do the drills. Sometimes they can’t do the drills, so I tweak them and figure out how to make the drills work for these guys and gals because if these guys and gals can do it, my guys and gals can do it.

So, respect. If you show your athletes respect, if you look them in the eye and tell them the truth, “Hey, I blew your taper. I blew your taper. I’m sorry and this is what we’re going to do next year alright?” As opposed to, “What’s wrong with you? Obviously you screwed up somewhere.”

Take responsibility. Coaches, here’s the funny thing – if an athlete swims well at the end of the season, you did a good job. If an athlete doesn’t swim so well at the end of the season, then you have a choice. A lot of times it’s the athlete didn’t do something right. If anything, blame it on sickness. Try to find an illness, that’s an easy one. That’s the one I go to, alright? ‘Cause no one gets the blame there, right? The best thing to do is say, “What did I do wrong?”

Say the kid, you know, went out and found drinking. He loved to drink or she loved to drink. Went through a whole bout of drinking, ruined their evenings and whatever right? They’re out of it now. They’re going to do better next season, alright? Well, as a coach, how can I make sure that doesn’t happen to another athlete? How can I use this as something that can help me? Maybe if I was more sensitive as a coach, I would have seen it earlier and I could have gotten a hold of them before they went on that system, before they went there.

The idea again is there’s nothing wrong with learning and the only way you’re going to learn is by making mistakes. Nort was great at this. One of the best things we ever did was had all the guys write the number of their mistakes and the person who made the most mistakes over a week’s time won. It’s okay to make mistakes. Respect your mistakes. Respect your attempts. You’re coaches. You have a higher good here. You’re making individuals who are going to make this place a better place for all of us.

Thank you for what you’re doing and the Race Club supports you, however we can., if you need to get a hold of me.

Thank you.

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Sponsorship & Partnerships

Official Sponsors and Partners of the American Swimming Coaches Association

Join Our Mailing List

Subscribe and get the latest Swimming Coach news