Motivation for the High School Swimmer by Dick Hannula, Coach Wilson High & The Tacoma Swim Club (1972)


Motivation For The High School Swimmer

By Dick Hannula, Swim Coach,

Wilson High, Tacoma Swim Club, Tacoma, Washington

(From a talk given at ASCA World Swim Clinic, Montreal, 1972)



How do you approach this problem of motivation? To motivate is to provide with a motive (that within an individual which incites him to action). Now that I had it defined, I called a good coaching friend of mine for help. I asked him for all of the things that he does to motivate swimmers. His answer provided four major motivational methods. They were bribes, profanity, lies, and threats.  This was the kind of stuff that I needed, now I had a start on this problem of motivation.


For years I had been coaching and had never really considered motivation. We did what we did because it was fund to do and it wasn’t necessary what everybody else was doing. If I fall into a trap, and I do, it is conforming to a certain number of yards a day or week, a certain percentage of kicking or pulling in each workout, or keeping up with the Jones’ in coaching. They do it, so we do it, and I believe that this conformity can lead to monotony and boredom, especially when we get locked into the battle for top mileage.


A retired coach who is a close friend and about 70 years old, was talking to me about coaching this summer. He was a baseball coach and he was never an old coach, and he isn’t old now. He never lost his enthusiasm for the game of baseball or for life. He told me that a coach must know the fundamentals of his sport but just as important he must have enthusiasm. What he was saying was that we have to motivate. Tom Landry is written up as one of the great brains of pro football. He is supposed to be a football genius. Tom Landry has been reported as stating that he does not consider the motivation of paid professional athletes as part of his job. The Dallas Cowboys began to live up to their press notices only when a few members of the team took the job of motivating the team. Vince Lombardi was a motivator and it will be a long time before any football coach betters his record.


How important is motivation? How good is a swimmer without a motivating force? How good is a team without a motivating force? Motivation may take a variety of forms. Two coaches may be completely unlike in personality and methods, yet each may be extremely successful motivators. I believe that a team without a motivating force, a motivating coach, is a team without the spirit, the dedication and the drive that are so necessary for success. A team that fails to challenge the swimmer is a dull experience.


Very few completely dedicated swimmers will live through this experience without becoming disillusioned with the sport of swimming. Their participation either ends up in a physical withdrawal  quitting the team, or a mental withdrawal  just a body participating but without the fire necessary for any degree of success. This swimmer is worse than having a swimmer quit the squad completely. He is even a greater liability to your team. Every team has or has had this swimmer. The more you have, the poorer will be your team. This swimmer affects other swimmers, and the deterioration of team purpose is accelerated. The problem is not to allow this situation to develop for a swimmer, and if it does develop, how do you relight his fire.


How important is motivation? The great Bob Kiphuth was quoted in a 1961 SWIMMING WORLD that swimming is 25 per cent mental attitude and mental conditioning. Dr. Otto stated at the 1969 American Swimming Coaches Association’s clinic that man only reaches about eight to 12 per cent of his potential. A former swimmer of mine who had just completed 14 year swimming career, and had one year of freshman coaching at the college level, wrote the following about motivation. Competitive swimming has become one of the most prominent sports in the amateur athletic world. The increase in the number of swimming pools, the expanding age group program, and the fantastic achievements of the Olympic swimmers have transformed competitive swimming from a relatively minor sport concentrated in a few centers to a worldwide favorite. Nevertheless, swimming does remain primarily a sport and not a business. There are no $200,000 bonuses or fees for shaving commercials (Mark Spitz may have changed even this). The rewards of swimming are usually intangible and the work, dedication, and effort required to obtain these rewards is great.


Why does an age group swimmer give up TV or sand lot baseball, to swim up and down a pool. How can a college swimmer find satisfaction giving up part of his social life and put a severe strain on his study time, in the seemingly boring routine of swimming training. How does a swimmer who seems to have reached the limit of his capabilities by doing consistent times in workouts and meets, all of a sudden repeat much faster during a particular workout, swim much faster in an important dual meet, or in the championship meet for no apparent physical reason? And, finally, with over a million competitive swimmers in the world today, most of whom train much the same way with like amounts of effort, why do some end up champions and others just swimmers?

The answer seems to be in motivation. Motivation then has to be extremely important, probably much more important than most of us even suspect.

What role does motivation and mental determination play in successful racing? Fred Wilt has written in his book, run, run, run, that motivation and determination play a major role in successful racing. Correct training makes successful racing but the possibility can be transformed to reality only by adding mental determination. Even the greatest runners suffer extreme feelings of anxiety and helplessness prior to racing and are often obsessed with the desire to withdraw from competition. Sherm Chavoor told me in Munich that Mark Spitz wanted to quit swimming in May of this year. Frequently, they seek socially acceptable excuses for withdrawing or quitting such as an injury or illness. The winner is able to control himself and overcome these feelings. The greater the motivation and determination, the less difficulty the athlete will experience in performing in accordance with his racing potential.

Who is the important motivator? Is it the coach? Is it the parents? Is it the swimmer? Is it the swimmer’s peers (his teammates and friends). I tried to form a conclusion about this so I gave my high school team a questionnaire. This was given to 17 boys, members of the Wilson High School team and the Tacoma Swim Club. I asked the questions on a written and unsigned questionnaire. Questions like, who probably most motivates you as a swimmer. Then Specifically, who most motivates you in workouts, meets, and in the “hidden” training (rest, sleep and nutrition).  We offered seven answers to these questions. They were to rank the choices in order of importance, first, second and third, etc. The choices were parents, teammates, opposing swimmers, coach, the swimmer himself, school and girls.

I was prepared for almost anything. I didn’t know what high school boys believed motivated them as swimmers. Who most motivates you as a swimmer? The swimmers picked the coach as number one and the swimmer himself was picked a very close second, almost in a tie with the coach. Teammates and opposing swimmers ranked somewhat at the back. Parents, school and girls were in the bottom half of the scale. Eight boys picked the swimmer himself as number one, and five picked the coach as number one. The coach then and the swimmer himself are very important motivators.

Who most motivates you in the workouts? I was surprised a little to find the coach ranked number one again with teammates number two and the swimmer himself as number three. There was no significant difference in these three. They were virtually tied as equally important. Opposing swimmers, school, parents and girls finished in that order in the bottom half of the scale.

Who most motivates you in meets? The swimmer picked himself as number one, and a solid number one. The coach ranked a strong number two with the teammates and opposing swimmers still in the top half. School, girls and parents finished in that order. I was somewhat surprised to have the parents finish dead last.

Who most motivates you in the “hidden training?” The swimmer picked himself as number one by the largest margin in the survey. Parents ranked number two, coach number three and teammates number four. Opposing swimmers, school, and girls were not a motivating factor. The parents finally got into the picture as motivators of the high school boy swimmer. It appears that Dad’s pep talk before a meet, and his stroke or race advice after the meet is totally turned off if the seventh place ranking of parents as motivating factors in meets is correct. He may resent Mom and Dad’s advice to go to bed, or to eat his spinach but he does consider it a motivating force.

Who then is the motivator? If the results of my questionnaire are accurate then the coach, the swimmer himself, his teammates and occasionally opposing swimmers, are important motivators. To a much lesser extent and in a very limited way, the parent is a motivator. We then have to consider how you motivate the motivator. How do you motivate the coach?

How does the coach motivate the swimmer to motivate himself? How does the coach influence his team to motivate each other? How does the coach use opposing swimmers to motivate his team, and how does the coach communicate with parents as to their role as motivators.

How do you motivate the motivator? Let’s talk about the coach as a motivator. How do you keep him motivated? Will ambition sustain his motivation? How many years will a high school coach be motivated if his ambition is to be the Olympic coach for example. How many years will a high school swimming coach be motivated if his ambition is to acquire a $25,000 a year college coaching position? Money has not been the most traditional method of rewarding a successful swimming coach. Some goals could soon become realistic. What then will motivate our motivator? It is most likely that many of the forces that continue to sustain you will. be intangibles.  The respect and appreciation of your swimmers, parents, school and the community.


Former world record holder Steve Clark has written in his book, “Competitive Swimming As I See It,” that coaching is not a material rewarding career. The man who enters the sport to make money or to gain the prestige of directing a group of swimmers is not a coach. Only the men who voluntarily become coaches because of a basic love and interest for the sport and young people, only those whose chief interest is the swimmers are the real lasting coaches. He writes that the coach must make swimming fun and satisfying.


If you measure success only in records and gold medals, you may lose sight of some of your greatest accomplishments. This summer I was at the toughest meet that I have experienced. This was my second Olympic Trials. The Olympic Games and Olympic Trials are a great motivation for swimmers and coaches, There were few relaxed coaches in Chicago. It is quite possible that the most relaxed were the most successful, but I don’t know this.  Swimmers were in various states of despair with many of the girls crying and coaches were probably drinking more. I heard that one coach quit coaching after his swimmer failed to qualify for the finals in her particular event. He didn’t wait around for

the second event but went home. You can be real high and real low in this particular meet. I was high because we did qualify one swimmer for the Olympic team. I was real low because we didn’t swim as well as we wanted in some other races. From Chicago we went to Hershey for the National Open. If you were a contender or a coach at the Olympic Trials you had the greatest challenge of your life to psych up for Hershey. It was a mistake as I don’t think we succeeded.

Things were going poorly at Hershey and I was lamenting to a close coaching friend that I had really failed, that I hadn’t accomplished a thing. My friend answered, “Hell Dick, look how many kids you have kept off of the street.”

That was great, 21 years of coaching into the success package of keeping the kids off of the street. It was pretty funny and maybe true. I thanked him. Maybe he had something.••something more than just the records and champions even if it was a rock bottom proclamation that at least we were keeping the kids off the street.

We can’t forget records and championships as our goals but we should see the many benefits derived from the attempt to swim to the top of the world. The lesson in self-discipline, dedication, handling disappointment, subordination of self to the needs of a team, physical wellbeing, and travel experience are just a few of the benefits of swimming.

I want to comment on winning a championship tradition as a method of motivation. At Wilson High School we have built a winning tradition. In a school that is 14 years old, we have won 13 straight state championship titles, and a total of 185 straight high school meet victories. This tradition will soon be challenged as next year we will open a new high school in our district and will split our swim team in about half.

Winning is better than losing. I was a member of a losing high school team, a losing college swimming team and when I started coaching, our high school swimming team was a loser, so I know what it is to lose. It is easier to be a winner.  There are more happy team members, parents, fans arid school administrators when you are winning. I recommend winning as a method of motivation. It can be self motivating.. I asked my team members in that same questionnaire if there is pride on our team and why.  A hundred percent said that we have pride and about seventy-five percent gave our winning tradition, that we are the best, as the reason. The only other reasons given for our pride were our ability to work and to take swimming seriously.. Winning then is a great motivating force, it can be self-sustaining.. Every team can’t win every time out but there can be winning in losing and losing in winning. Learn to recognize it.

You may be familiar with Earl Nightingale. Businessmen use his a motivational device for salesmen.  He had made a fortune by the time he was 35 and retired with a very high annual income. He has a recording that is entitled the “Strangest Secret,” On the advice of a salesman friend, I listened to his recording just a couple of weeks ago for the first time. I wanted to see how it applied to a swimming coach and how it applied to swimmers.

One of the first points which Mr. Nightingale makes is that out of a hundred young businessmen at age 25, all who are eager, confident, each believing that he will be successful. At age 65, about the end of their business career, one per cent are rich, four per cent are self-sufficient, a certain percent are still working, and well over half are broke. Why are only five per cent successful? What about a hundred age group swimmers? Are they eager, excited and confident that they will be successful? I believe that they are. Do more than one per cent become champions, four per cent very good, what percent will still be working at it and what percent will be disillusioned and will be out of the sport by say, age 20, or the college years when they should be at the peak of their swimming career. I would guess, that we would probably have about the same success and failure percentages for swimming. How can we measure success? Mr., Nightingale defines success as the progressive realization of a predetermined worthy ideal. Ninety-five per cent do not succeed. These people believe that their lives are influenced by outside forces. Five per cent succeed.  Why do people succeed? Is there a key of guaranteeing success? This is where I believe that his plan for success in the business world carries over to the athletic or swimming world. He says that people with goals succeed because they know where they are going. People without goals will fail because they do not know where they are going. Backing this up was an experiment that I heard about. The researchers set hard specific goals for half of the subjects by adding a fixed increment to the subjects best previous score on a task.  The other half were told to do their best but not given specific goals. The results were highly significant in favor of the group with specific hard goals.


Secondly, the key to success is believing. Quotes from successful men through history and the bible back this up. We become what we think about. A man’s life is what he makes it. All things are possible to those who believe. As you believe, so shall it be done to you. If you think negative, you will get negative results. If you think positive, you will get positive results. This has been known by a few, the successful few all through history.


Believe and succeed. I was asked by the local Rotary Club to comment on our winning tradition at a luncheon meeting a year or two ago. The following is from part of my notes. To me, winning our championships is built on believing. Believe, we had a poster on our bulletin board with the word believe on it through the season. A couple of weeks before our State championship, I got out a huge sheet of paper and spelled out in large letters, BELIEVE. Then every boy wrote the word believe on that poster. Well, actually almost every boy, one boy wrote “believe.” This was good too, because it gave us a couple of laughs and loosened us up a bit. Believing is what it is all about.  Believe in yourself, your teammates, and your coaches.

We have to define our goals, make them realistic, then believe that we could attain them. When Wilson opened, our goals were to be state champions. We didn’t make it the first year, but we did in the second year and have continued to win for 13 years. We have continued to adjust our goals upward. We started shooting for All America honors. Two years ago our team was second or third in the U. S. in the number of high school All America positions. Last year, we had two boys listed as number one in their interscholastic events for the United States.

We started to shoot for national qualifiers and we qualified a record of 23 swimmers last summer. I think this is the way anything worthwhile is done. Define the goal, determine how to reach that goal, then believe. Believe that you can do the work. Believe that you will stick with it. Believe that you will accomplish your goal. In order to maintain our winning tradition, it has meant not becoming satisfied and continuing to set our goals higher when it became obvious that we had reached a goal. All of these notes of mine were made long before I heard Earl Nightingale, so when I listened to his recording, I couldn’t help but think, that this guy knew what he was talking about.


He says that you look for the circumstances you want and then if you can’t find them, you make them. He likens the planting of a seed in the land to the planting of success in your mind. If you plant corn in the land, you get corn. If you plant success in your mind, you will get success. Plant your goal in your mind, care for it, and work steady for it, and it will become a reality.Picture yourself achieving the goal. Think of it in a relaxed positive way. You must control your thinking. Life should be exciting, never a bore. We should be doing something that we like to do. It should be an exciting adventure, He is your basic challenge in swimming. Earl Nightingale has a 30 day test that he uses to prove to yourself that you can succeed if you believe. There may be a value in a coach doing this for himself. There may be a value in swimmers doing this for themselves. As an experiment, I have a group of my swimmers trying this. Some boys who wanted to try it,

The Test: No. 1. Write your specific goal on a card and carry it with you and look at it several times a day, No, 2. Stop thinking about what you fear. Replace every negative thought with a positive thought. Take control of your mind for a 30 day period, You need, number one, a purpose or a goal, and two, faith or believe. For 30 days act as though it were impossible to fail.  Keep calm and cheerful and above all, don’t worry.

Psych cybernetics is even more detailed. Cybernetics has to do with goal striving, goal oriented behavior. How you can achieve goals that are important to you. The book sets up a minimum of 21 days of mental practice to change your self-image and develop a new mental image of yourself, This book should be read by all coaches and swimmers. It has one chapter entitled “That Winning Feeling” that is particularly valuable, Forbes Carlile’s book on “Swimming” has a section on tapering. On that subject Forbes quotes from a memorandum that he gave to the Dutch National team before a championship meet. It is a motivational message on positive thinking for a championship effort, If you haven’t read it, you should.

Success can be built on disappointment. Success by itself breeds satisfaction,  Some have experienced success and without admitting it or probably without realizing it and have become satisfied. Success must be earned. No one can achieve an ambition for you. No one can do the work for you. You must understand this before you can take one step on the ladder to success. Success has four essentials: 1. Dedication; 2.Patience, no short run time table; Persistence, failure is only a temporary nonsuccess and no setback will deter you; 4. Experience, gradually tougher competitive situations.

The great Australian track coach, Percy Cerutty, is quoted as defining the Law of Success. It is much the same as our other sources. When a person conceives a goal that is within his capacity to achieve and when that goal becomes an integrated part of that person, someday the goal must be satisfied, The greater the desire for a goal, the greater the belief in one’s capacity to achieve that goal, then the greater the success. He gives a warning that could easily apply to swimming coaches. To feel satisfied, to receive the commendations, the honors, the rewards  is to spell one word  finis. The wise man, the truly successful man, never reaches the end of his road. The equation of one goal is but the step on the ladder to equating another goal, Percy Cerutty’s book, “Success In Sport and Life,” is another good book for the coach.

How do you motivate the motivator? Probably you will have to create the circumstances yourself. Establish your own goals in coaching and believe. Reward yourself and your wife with a major trip or vacation after the season. If you are married your wife has sacrificed too. Reward her with a special gift, Establish goals, reach goals and reward yourself (a new suit, a special dinner, a weekend trip) and then start all over again, I don’t necessarily do these things but I am learning, If my wife heard this, she would go in shock, but anyway, I think it should be done,

If your goal is to get a swimmer on the Olympic team, build a motivating reward. Sell your club on the idea that if you qualify a swimmer on the Olympic team that the club should pay your way to the Games. Twice I have had the Olympic team members and twice I wondered how I could afford to go. On both occasions, a parent spearheaded a drive and raised funds to send me. It wasn’t something that I expected. The last time it

happened after I had left for Germany, I believe that it should be part of our long range club budget, Our club has already set aside funds for the 1976 Olympics for that purpose. If we win a championship, we usually do something special with the team, Try doing something special for yourself and your wife. Set the money aside and take the reward when you reach your goal,

How do you motivate the swimmer to motivate himself? Form goals and believe as already discussed. My questionnaire provided a few answers from the swimmers themselves. The swimmer should be doing something exciting, something that he wants to do. I asked them what is monotonous in workouts. The same workouts, the long series of the same distance, the same warm up, long kicking, long swimming and the same repeat series were the most frequent answers.

One boy answered nothing, nothing is monotonous in workout. This guy is one in a million.

Every boy questioned, wanted variety in his workout. I asked what is challenging in workouts. Hard repeats within a short rest time limit, or hard fast repeats, to beat a teammate in repeats, the work itself and distance swims were the most frequent answers. Individual medleys, new series, reference series and sprints were all listed as challenges,

What did the swimmers believe to be necessary and purposeful in the workouts? Long swims and hard repeat series were most frequently listed. Stroke work was also listed but not as frequently. Almost every other phase of swimming was mentioned to a lesser extent. They understand that the work is necessary.

What is time wasted in workouts. A surprising number, almost forty per cent thought nothing is wasted in our workouts. Too much kicking, goofing off, waiting around for coach to start the next series, and long stroke building series were listed as time wasters.

The swimmers recognize that it takes hard work and some long swimming. The problem is to make it interesting. Keep away from the monotony.

This is the coaching miracle that probably no coach has completely solved. The swimmers suggested the following methods to motivate our workouts. Specific goals discussed before practice. Team meetings, separate goals for each swimmer, prizes for good times and variety. Examples like 5 x 100 kick on 2, one swimmer shoots for a very fast time. If he makes it, everyone does only four. Build team spirit.

Swimmers recognize the need for exciting and meaningful Workouts. Yet when I have had the swimmers plan the workout, it is usually a very boring workout.

There are about 300 to 320 swimming days in the swimming year. Most of these may be double workout days. You will probably have five or 600 workouts to run each year. You will probably coach 20 years for 10 to 12,000 workouts. If you make 40 years, you could hit 25,000 workouts, Now make them different, exciting, meaningful, fun and still get the 9000 to maybe over 15,000 yards or meters of work per day, that we have come to accept as necessary. Give them different goals and individual workouts, George Haines told me that he has had 15 or more different workout groups at the same time. I have had eight that is why I say this is a coaching miracle that probably no one has completely solved.


I think that every coach has tried a great number of things to break the monotony. I consider the chlorine water temperature, air temperature, humidity, water clarity arid water level important. I try to have some control of those factors. The swimmers want variety in workouts. Some coaches never give the same workout twice, others will use a reference series for measuring progress. Others will use previous years times of either other swimmers or the same swimmers as goals. Interval training can offer a great number of examples of variation. Ron Ballatore gave examples yesterday of variation that included series such as 20 x 200; 10 on 3 minutes; 10 on 10 seconds, or 5 on 10 seconds R.I., 5 on 20 R.I., 5 on 3 minutes; 5 on 3½, and this could be changed any number of ways. I keep a record of all of my workouts and have done so for quite a few years. Here are some examples of workout variety from my workout book:

6 sets  400  200  100

(each set in that order)

Odd sets  1/3/5  400 on 5, 200 on 2½ and 100 on l½

Even sets  2/4/6  broken by 100’s in 400, 50 in 200, and in 100 all w/10 second R.I.  broken set  400 on 5½, 200 on 23/4 and 100 on 13/4,


Some of the motivational items and gimmicks that I have used to relieve monotony and boredom would include the following: an ever changing bulletin board, pool records board, team records board, honor roll of state champions, honor roll of All Americans, the milk shake  popcorn ball motivation chart. This is a long range motivation chart I have used through the season, Each swimmer starts out with so many minus points scaled anyway that I decide. Swimmers earn points during the season for personal best times in practice, meets, and anything else we want to use. Near the end of the season, we have a milk shake and popcorn ball party at my house and they collect according to the points earned, Coincidentally, we usually have this party just a couple of weeks before the State swimming championship and show the State meet film from the year before, We also have used special posters, handicap sponges, mirrors (in and out of the water), poems, and cartoons, We used mini-posters one season. Last year, the team brought in mini-posters for our mini-board.

Every Christmas we have a special workout. The day before Christmas we have a number of workout and series choices on individual cards. We put them all in a Christmas stocking and have various team members select a card for each new section of that workout, I title each card and examples would include:

  1. “Joy To The World” 4 x 25 on 1
  2. “Scrooge Strikes Again” 3 x 1650 on 20
  3. “Rudolph Rides Tonight” Everyone sings one stanza of “Rudolph The Red nosed Reindeer” and then the team lines up in two lines, the length of the pool, making waves with kickboards while the smallest swimmer on the team takes a time trial for 50 yard butterfly or free.


The tension is terrific as each card is drawn and they know that there is at least one Scrooge card that could be drawn. The swimmers select the cards. Where a swimmer draws a lemon like Scrooge, they nearly drown him, We finish that workout with team Christmas carols led by our team captains, They usually write and print up a Christmas carol with words to fit our swim team. If several alumni are home for practice, we put them on our side of the pool and the present team on the other side and we have a caroling contest. I don’t know about the team, but I have more fun with this workout and I really look forward to it, We finish the workout off with a candy cane for everyone.


The point is that there are many methods to relieve the monotony and each of us should try to implement them. Repeat series should change enough to create challenges and not monotony and still get the job done. Go home swims, relays, handicap races, and innumerable other methods can keep workouts exciting and challenging.

About a year ago we started pep rallies before an important meet, They started by accident with kickboard noise making. Slapping kickboards on the water. Someone on the team got it organized and the whole team developed a rhythm of beating the kickboards on the deck or bleachers, starting slow and building up.

The pool really rocks and they yell, scream and raise hell. Our kickboards may be a little shabby, but we have never swam poorly after a pep rally. I also stay late for water volleyball after practice. They play this over our backstroke flags in the shallow end and they love it. I don’t hang around every night but the game builds team spirit. The kids get to know each other a lot better and it seems to spark them up before going home.

Each year our team designs and sells a new Wilson Swimming shirt. Last year we were shooting for our 13th straight State championship so we put “Lucky 13” on the back of our shirts, We also sold big buttons with Wilson Swimming and Lucky 13 on them. This was our motto all year and our Wilson Swim Club even took out a half page ad in the State meet program with Lucky 13 on it.

Motivation of the swimmer can be long range goals and short run immediate goals. Motivation may need to be planned for preseason, in season, and taper periods. It probably has to be used in dryland training for certain meets, for start and turn practice, for stroke drills, kicking, pulling, and you could go on and on. Motivation must be paced or you will start out too fast and over motivate at the start of a season and have nothing left for the second half of the season when it may be most needed.

If you do nothing but use motivational methods, they can become boring, and will lose their effect and purpose. The routine of swimming sets the stage for many motivational methods.

You probably need some routine to make some motivational steps work. You need to get the work done. If you are getting the work done and everything is going well, you don’t need to work at motivation, you have it.

Distance swimming charts are frequently used by coaches to motivate the swimmers in early season to accept long distances of swimming. The English channel swims were some of the first charts that I had heard about. That distance is too short for any long range effect in today’s swimming, I believe in a distance base before we start our hard repeat training. Last year we had a chart on our board that took us along the highway from Tacoma, Washington, to Salem, Oregon, a distance of about 190 miles. We had each city on that chart along the way. I told the team that we wouldn’t swim one timed repeat until we got to Salem. This included all of our preseason and early season distance swims. We really tried hard to find acceptable ways to swim long distances without timed series work.

When we hit Salem we had a root beer party and a team meeting outlining the next phase of our training.

Last year in our preseason training, we worked on starts and time cross pool swims for various methods of starting and we had starting champions. Dryland work needs variety too, and I’ve used progress charts and time circuit training.

Your poolside work can control the enthusiasm of a workout. Posted workouts with the coach physically withdrawn (in. his office) or mentally withdrawn (reading or talking somewhere else on the deck to another coach or spectator) are not the way to get the best work out of your swimmer. This type of work may be very good at certain stages of the training. The coach at poolside talking to swimmers showing an interest in their turns or in their strokes is more motivating. I watch our swimmers from the deck, from the ceiling, from the bottom of the pool and upside down. Occasionally I will take a few repeats with the swimmers. I said a few. I can stand in the

water or wait at the pool wall and listen to these kids. I hear what I can’t hear on the deck. Much of the time they don’t realize you are there and you get a valuable insight as to what the swimmers are thinking about in your workout. You can also communicate easier. I believe you should make eye contact with every swimmer every day during his later work out.

This lets him know you care. If you follow this up with a word or two about his swimming, it is even better. I saw a listing of coaching types as described by the athletes themselves. The negative classification of coaches by athletes should be avoided. Most are self-explanatory. The insulter, the shouter, the avenger, the choker (ties up and chokes himself under pressure), shaky, tough guy, Rocky ( one inspirational talk after another), the whiner, fast mouth ( always giving directions), General Custer (he sticks with a way of doing or position on things no matter how wrong), critic, super friend, joker, or Hitler.

The positive classification of coaches by athletes should be a goal for us. This includes the counsellor (he is available to the athletes), the supporter (he is on our side), Mr. Cool (he is calm and relaxed  I can’t help but think of Flip Darr and that pipe), the shrink (an observant, perceptive coach), the tourist (he spreads himself around to all of the team) the salesman and the explainer.

Coaches should be more person minded and a little less performance minded, according to the athletes.

What can be done to motivate at swim meets? The swimmers stated that cheers and more spectators, especially those from their own school were most needed to motivate at meets. We need to promote student participation at our swim meets. The Wilson Swim Club will get that job at our school. We try to get our band out two times a year,

What can be done to motivate our team spirit? Our team answered with team psych up meetings, pep rallies, games. I received one negative statement to this question, the only negative answer in the entire questionnaire. One boy answered that the coach should not cut any one person down. Someone was trying to tell me something and I can’t relate it to any specific action by me. Nevertheless, I must have hurt some swimmer at some time and he hadn’t forgotten it. Actually I think I know which boy wrote this and that “turkey” did deserve it. I want to go back to the team questionnaire that we did a couple of weeks ago. We asked the question, why do you turn out for swimming? We provided the following answers and they were to rank them in order of importance:  First choice was the swimmer’s drive to be a champion. Second choice was the swimmer’s desire to improve himself. Far behind was a tie between coach approval and parent approval. School and co-unity recognition and social or friendships were lost.


We can most motivate swimmers if we work on the swimmer’s own desire to be a champion and to improve himself. Recognize his own personal progress toward these goals and he will remain enthusiastic about swimming.

I know coaches who work five, six, and seven days a week.  Success doesn’t seem to be based on the number of days per week. One of the most successful worked seven days a week. Another very successful coach worked only five and a half days a week. Both had great success at the Olympic Trials. That success was built on motivation. One of those coaches told me of swimming repeat S’s and R’s  the letters of the alphabet in workouts. They spelled out Olympics on the final workout before leaving for the Olympic Trials. He said the kids loved it. Swimming is individual, but team championships are the goal of high school teams. High team spirit will encourage greater individual efforts and results to make a team championship possible.



(Used at Hilson High School)

We have a chart of all of our swimmers on the pool wall to record points, plus photo static enlargements, table A and table B.

Each swimmer is assigned so many minus points (in the hole) at the start of the season.


Varsity lettermen 100
Reserve lettermen  50
New swimmers  25
National competitors 50
State record holders  25


Near the end of the season, the coaches pay off.

1 milk shake for 50 plus points

1 popcorn ball for 50 plus points

Or the swimmers pay off.

1 car wash for 50 minus points

1 floor scrubbed for 50 minus points


I treat the high school season as a coming battle. We build up our foes, our opponents before a season starts. We try to make a case or our particular cause.  Our winning tradition, the defeat of a particular team, the defeat of a particular swimmer, scoring at a certain level in a championship meet. Then we concentrate on working together to win our team battle.


Each swimmer’s goal and individual effort is given importance in progressing toward this goal. The swimmer who wins and scores is important to the realization of our team goal. The swimmer who improves and inspires his teammates with his courage and determination, even if his goal cannot achieve points at the championship, is important to the realization of our team goals.


I’d like to direct a few thoughts to the new coach the young coach. I am defining young in this case to be the hungry, motivated coach. In 1966 I saw my first nationals, it was dominated by about five teams and there was representation from only a few teams. At the Olympic Trials in Chicago, there were just over 400 swimmers and 112 teams. One hundred twelve teams, that means at least 112 coaches. There are more good coaches than ever before. You are coaching better. Champions are emerging from relatively new and small clubs. You’ve got everything you need to succeed, if you are willing to pay the price. Any coach, any team club, anywhere.

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