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Charlie Hodgson is currently the Director of Product Development and Support services for Hy-Tek, Ltd. Twenty years of coaching experience, formerly head coach of Hodgson’s Hurricanes, 1984 U.S. Assistant Olympic Coach, and coach of World Record Holders Matt Gribble (1983) and David Wilkie (1976) and 1984 Olympic Silver Medalist Michele Richardson. BA Dartmouth College, BE Thayer School of Engineering.
I created Workout Manager based on my 20 years’ experience in coaching to help myself design and analyze my workouts. It won’t make you smarter or coach for you. It will make you more productive and help you make better decisions.
I was a meticulous coach. I wrote every workout on paper before practice began, usually 90 minutes before. I always felt I couldn’t write workouts farther ahead than that because I went by how the kids performed in the last workout and what the feedback from them. Most successful coaches know instinctively whether or not to push the swimmers on a given day. But I took a lot of time in planning because I was meticulous about it. When you’re coaching age group, you don’t always have that much time for planning, particularly just before workout. The next group wants to start and the parents want the kids to be in and out on time. It’s hard to design workouts if you’re just winging it or writing them on a piece of paper. It takes time to do that right, and the computer can speed that process up.
The computer can help all coaching styles. I usually thought of myself as a pretty dry, meticulous type. The kids thought it was a pretty big deal if I had something good to say about practice because it would have to be pretty special for me to do that. Then there’s the conceptual type who can visualize the whole season and shoot from the hip without a lot of planning. Then you have the motivational type who are successful because they psych the kids up and get them to work hard all the time. It may not be the right kind of set, their technique may not be good, but because they’ re mentally tough and psyched up, they still do well. Then you have the coach who doesn’t do any planning at all, but who still does well. I think the computer has something for all of these types.
Computers can be confusing. I was talking to one coach about his problems of the program, so I asked him to send me a copy of his disk. A couple of days later in the mail came a Xerox copy of his floppy disk. The point is that computers are intimidating to people because of the language. Once you can get past this, you’re okay. I and Hy-tek try to design software that is user-friendly. It doesn’t matter whether you know what DOS means. You just want to get your workout done or run your meet using plain English.
Other coaches become obsessed with computers and all the data and forget that the real key is in communicating with the athlete. The benefit of Workout Manager is that creating workouts now takes half the time or less, so you have more time to spend coaching and motivating and correcting strokes.
There are five areas where Workout Manager can help you. We want to also show you how easy it is to get data that you really want, so you and the swimmers have the information you need. The five areas that can make you more productive are: Workout design and analysis, recording attendance and the real yardage kids do on a weekly basis, recording your swimmers’ best rested and unrested times, using these times and test sets to predict training paces, and recording test sets, such as six 100’s on eight minutes. You can record any test set you want and if it’s one of the five standard test sets, it will predict a meet time for you.
We’re showing a workout I already wrote. The first feature to look at is the date you’re going to do the workout. You can assign every workout to a group and subgroup. Groups include senior, junior, novice and whatever. Subgroups include sprint, distance, breaststroke, however you break down your groups. It’s hard for one person to coach more than four different groups at one time, but this will make it easier. As you add and delete lines, the timeline is calculated for you, the cumulative distance is calculated. This way you know that if have 2 hours and want to cover 6500 or 7000 yards or meters, this lets you know if you’ re over or under and you can adjust quickly.
You can label every line of the workout whether it’s swim, kick or pull, and the energy system you’ re using. We’re using the energy systems developed by !CAR. The first three are where you’re developing aerobic capacity. The fourth is the most important, anaerobic threshold. These may be changed in the future to heart rate levels. You can set them up anyway you want. The last, 8- second sprints, that’s where you go in the diving well and do 40 13-yarders on 30 or 40.
You can choose from among 20 stroke categories. It saves you typing because you can just choose a number to label a set; you just hit a key and it’s in. You can choose from single line sets and circuit sets. Single line sets are those you just go through once and you’re done. Circuit sets are those where you repeat all the lines several times and the rest occurs after you cycle through it several times. If you want extra rest after a set, then you insert a line with zero reps on a minute.
Another nice feature is the ability to add some notes to the workout. You can write ten pages if you want to, though it’s not a text editor.
We can analyze the workout because you’ve labeled it in three areas: strokes, energy categories and types of work. This key will tell you what percent of yardage and what percent of total time have been devoted to each. You can keep adjusting a workout as. you plan until it reflects the percentages you want to hit.
In the real world, you do some of your workout planning at home and some at the pool. You can export workouts from one computer to another to keep the two data bases, one at home and one at the pool, current. You can also download your workouts, in about three seconds, to your Colorado computer and IO-line scoreboard if you use that setup as a pace clock. It frees me from being a walking stopwatch to correct strokes, communicate and motivate. You put all the workouts in zip lock bags and hang them from the starting block and they just follow the workout and the programmed scoreboard.
Recording attendance is a real pain, and you need to do a Jot of math to calculate their percent attendance and how much cumulative yardage they’ve completed. If you’ve assigned swimmers to a group, and you write a workout for that group, the program automatically assumes they were there. If they miss, you just put an “A” in there and the computer calculates all of it. You update it on a weekly basis, then do a report, by hitting “R” for group 20 and you can get a periodic report for up to I 00 swimmers that shows weekly yardage completed and the total for 5 weeks of workouts, plus percent attendance.
You can store up to 10,000 swimmers and keep their rested and unrested best times. If you have them on Team Manager already, you can import all their information in a few seconds.
Now we’ll go to the Training Menu. I’ll concentrate on the T-30 as the most reliable way to find the anaerobic training pace. Take their distance for the timed 30- minute swim and the system will predict best training paces. This is more accurate than predicting off of rested best times from a year ago. You just put in the distance, hit “P” to print and you have your report. You can also do a modified T-30, you tell each swimmer how far to swim, looking for a 25 to 40 minute swim, then enter their time. It doesn’t have to be exactly a 30-minute swim.
Now we’ll go to the test sets which let you actually record what you’ re doing. Some come from Australia, some from Jon Urbanchek at Michigan. You can use them to predict a meet time. You can create any test set you want, but only the five standard ones will predict a meet time. The next set: 6 x I 00 or 6 x 200 on 8 minutes is Jon Urbanchek’s and will predict a shaved, rested meet time for 100, 200 or 500. If you do 20 x 100 on I:30 or less, it will predict the 1650 or 1500 time. You can look up all your test sets and sort them by number or date, then print a report of all of them.
Eventually we’d like to have a national recorded data base of test sets by selected swimmers all over the country for coaches to compare their swimmers with. We’ll be forming a committee to decide what we want this system. The whole philosophy here is it does not dictate to you how to coach; it’s a tool to make it easier for you to be creative. Thank you.
Steve Hartle consistently placed among the top producers in New York Life’s professional sales force. For several years now he has worked to provide insurance and financial products to meet the retirement needs of ASCA members. Steve is a registered representative for NYLIFE Securities Inc.
Hartle: I am with a financial services company called New York Life and I am also a registered representative with NY Life Securities. I would like to thank Coaches Jim Montgomery, Mick Nelson, and Paul Blair for serving on our panel this morning. This panel is going to discuss financial planning.
Where do you think financial planning for life should rank in a coach’s financial game plan?
Nelson: I rank it third. My family is first. My personal health and well -being comes second.
Montgomery: For the first 35 years of my life I didn’t have any financial plan whatsoever. I then became married with two children in one day and financial planning became very important. Those of us who have had a tendency to give ourselves away and spend more time with other people’s children than our own ought to take a healthy look at how we are organizing our time.
Blair: Over the years financial planning has become more important to me. Financial planning should be like CPR, Multimedia First Aid, and Coaches Safety Training – it should be a requirement in order to be a swim coach. Without it you can coach the best athletes, you can help people, you can service teams, kids, families, but if you are not financially secure and sound then in the end it’ s going to be all for nothing.
Hartle: Do any of you recall any personal experiences or events in your life that caused you to take action with regards to your financial future?
Nelson: In the bathroom, changing the diapers of my first child, I remember thinking I wanted to make sure I was going to be able to send this child to college. I know
this sounds like a TV commercial but all of a sudden I realized that this wasn’t going to be our only child and somewhere along the line I had to start organizing a plan of what was going to happen 20 years down the road. Thanks to planning, last week we just dropped our third child off to his first year of college and I was able to write the check.
Montgomery: Six or eight hours after I met my wife I began to realize that I had been married to my profession and I had no financial career. When I knew I was getting married and was going to instantly have two children; from that point forward I started thinking about a financial security base.
Blair: I was IO years old. I went to work for my grandfather’s drug store and at the same time worked for my father at his car wash. “A clean car rides better” was our motto. I worked seven days a week and I thought that was the way it was supposed to be. From the time I was a young tot on, my grandfather told me how to save money and how to work. I saw him working 50 weeks a year and taking two weeks off with his family. He was a pharmacist and owned his own store. He came in a 8:30 in the morning and finished at 9 :00 at night. That experience and influence helped me understand that financial planning was very important. My grandfather was very successful and sent both his children through college and bought them houses and sent 8 of his grandchildren through college and bought them cars and left his inheritance to his grandchildren. I hope that someday I am in that position and I am able to do that for my children
and grandchildren. Unless you have a plan you are not going to make it.
Hartle: Do you have any comments on the government’s role in the retirement years, say 5, JO, 15, 20 years from now? Any comments on trends you see?
Blair: There is a Jot of speculation as to whether social security is going to be out there and how much money is going to be available. The thing I try to do since I’ve been at Little Rock is surround myself with people who did things a lot better than I ever thought about doing it.
Recently I was at gentleman’s condo in Aspen. He took us out there skiing. I always try to ask him as many questions as I can about government spending and taxes. He made a comment I found interesting. He said, “As a government, if we give nothing away there would be no taxes. We give no money out, we pay no money in.” We give a lot away. Some of that is necessary but I think if more people would stand up on their own two feet and figure out how to work, how to invest, how to get an education , and we didn’t give so much free stuff away then the middle class would not have to pay as much taxes and we would all be in better shape. Swimming coaches are some of the hardest working people in the world and we need to be rewarded for our effort and our excellence and we can take care of ourselves but it is hard to take care of everybody else. I guess you can see I am not real big on government.
Montgomery: One of the best sources to learn financial planning from the Money section in USA Today. If you read that every day for a year you will have a pretty good sense of what you might be able to look into. It doesn’t give you all the answers but it helps you ask the right questions. I agree completely with Coach Blair. I think we have to stand on our own two feet. I am not going to wait for Uncle Sam. It scares me to death having to give responsibility of my own financial well-being and my family’s financial well-being up to somebody else. It is absolutely I 00 percent up to me as to what my future is going to be like and what we can afford to do. I know I do not want to end up being a burden to somebody else.
Nelson: I love government, but I also ignore government. To anyone who wasn’t in this room a half hour ago at the last presentation, I’m going to out coach you for the rest of your life because you just missed an opportunity to learn about the business of coaching. If you do your business homework and understand the advantages of the sports act of 50 I c-3 and a sub-s corporation underneath it for ownership, you can ignore the government and go on about your merry way and set up your own financial security legally.
Hartle: From a personal standpoint coaches, do you know, or can you recall any acquaintances that right now during their retirement might be in a financial bind because of lack of planning.
Blair: I read a statistic recently that 90 percent of the people over 55 don’t have more than $5000 in liquid assets. Advertising in America, TV, and every magazine you read teaches you to do one thing – spend money. They want you to spend more and more. Credit Cards
have been disastrous for people in America. People get into credit card debt with high interest rates and they can’t pay it back. I personally know a number of people in retirement who cannot do a number of things they would really like to do after 40 years of hard work.
Montgomery: The United States has the lowest savings rate in the industrialized western world. We are being bombarded by spending concepts rather than saving and financial planning concepts. We are only as good as the environment we’re in and if we’re going to get better than our environment then we need a wakeup call.
Nelson: I think the messages we hear on TV play an important part in this. It misleads us on how easy retirement planning is. When Dean Witter says this, or Merrill Lynch says this or EF Hutton says this – people believe it, but it’s not that easy. I know a lot of people who believed what they heard on TV and messed up their retirement. Our main problem is that we do not get ourselves educated.
Hartle: That’s it for my questions. I’d like to open it up to any questions from the audience.
Question: I’m a high school coach and I do not earn very much money for coaching. Is there a way for coaches to get together in some way to, and I don’t want to use the word “unionize”, but to be in a position to demand more money for what we do?
Blair: Swimming coaches, financially, are one of the most underappreciated groups in America. We provide a tremendous service to young people and to families. We play a role in the development of the child. We get laughed at and spit on, we are chewed up one side and down the other and unless we make opportunities for ourselves then it is pretty tough to get ahead financially.
I knew that when I was swimming in college that someday I was going to be a swimming coach. I also knew that I was going to teach school because I love working with young people. But at the same time I knew I didn’t want to live on a school teacher’s or swimming coach’s salary. I was always convinced you could do what you want in aquatics and at the same time make money. Over the years I have sold Amway, Neolife, burglar alarms – if there was something out there to do, I went out after it and tried to do it. Finally I came back to doing what I am best at doing and that is involved with swimming. Over the years I have tried to figure out ways through aquatics I could make a good living and at the same time coach and give of myself.
Nelson: I don’t like unions or the term unions. I think I can do it for myself. I think we need to be more self-confident and creative in the way that we present ourselves to the American public.
About coaches being underpaid, here’s how I look at it.
The average fireman’s entry level salary in our town is
$38,500. The average doctor in own town makes
$500,000. I save more lives than either one of those people. I save thousands of lives each year. I sell that in our community. I am a professional and we are starting to charge fees that are commensurate with that concept and people are buying into it once we have educated them. It’s not going to be a union that does it for us, it’s going to be us that does it .
Question: Many coaches move frequently from job to job and it is hard to use real estate as a means of investment. What do you recommend?
Hartle: There are a number of tax advantage plans that you can contribute to on a regular basis. Each person has a unique situation so it would be better to speak with you individually to go over specific plans. In general, a simple IRA is one way to go.
Question: I’m a young coach, married, and have a baby girl. I started a swim school which has done very well. I also work for a swim team. I Jove to coach but my swim school is more profitable. There is a possibility that I can take over and own the team. I am wondering if anyone has advice as to whether l should pursue the swim school exclusively or try to own the team as well?
Montgomery: You have diverse investments. You have established a swim school, that was smart. Don’t let go of it. You have a swim club operation, hold on to that. Take one more step and invest what you can in a tax. free annuity.
Nelson: Search out people and programs that give you more for your dollar than anyone else. For example, as a young coach with a family you need life insurance. Get the most investment power life insurance because you are in it for the long term. There are plans out there for health insurance where you can recover a portion of your premiums upon retirement.
Blair: Go for it. If you own your team there are liabilities but there are also assets. I wouldn’t have it any other way. I am a sub-s chapter. There are so many tax benefits that I have by owning the corporation. My corporation has the concession for swimming at our club. I run and operate the swim team. I have a swim school. I
have set up a 501 c-3 with the swim team which is a non- profit tax exempt. I get a percentage of all the money that is brought in there. I have an aquatic sales division. Recently I started the Aquatic Therapy division. There are lots of different ways to bring money in the door. What you have to do as a coach is figure how much time you want to coach and how great of a coach you want to be. If you want to have great elite swimming in this country then maybe it is best if you get to a university where you can coach and be compensated for your time and get involved in camps and make a good living. If you want to run you own team they you can do that. Mick Nelson has been very successful owning his own team but he does much more than that. He does other things to bring dollars in through the door.
To me it is what you want to accomplish, what you want to do, what role you want to play – and there are choices you have to make. It is tough to be wealthy and be an elite swimming coach.
Question: [Not completely audible – has to do with “what is the balance of energy a young coach should put into earning/investing money and coaching because greater coaching doesn’t necessarily mean more money?]
Blair: I learned some things from Sam Freas. When I was in Wheeling, West Virginia, coaching my tail off for nickels and dimes, he was telling me how he was giving private lessons and running clinics and camps and making all kinds of money. At the time I thought, “How can you charge these people to do that?” What I learned is that people want your services and people want to pay you for your excellence. Too many swimming coaches think of themselves as swimming coaches instead of business people and providers of services and opportunities. The service that you provide as a swimming coach is not any different than a doctor or an attorney or a dentist or any other professional. How good you are will dictate how much you are going to be compensated.
Question: [Not completely audible – has to do with “when you budget for your team you are only going to have so much money for your staff. How do you figure what you are worth compared to your staff?]
Blair: It depends on how much you are willing to do. In our program I enjoy coaching and teaching and that is what I have decided to do. I have hired other people to do the service of administration. But you can be creative there. In our situation, we have a guy who works for the pool, works for the parents group, and works for me so
he makes a pretty good salary. If you cannot do it yourself, you have to hire somebody to do it for you.
From the first day you start working have a financial
plan. Save more money than you spend.
Nelson: Learn to work with a budget. If you want to be in competitive swimming and think that it is going to pay your way you need to go work for a university. If you are going to be an individual the best you can hope for is for in competitive swimming is to stay afloat and break even. You have to get the surrounding sister businesses that are in aquatics and become involved in them also. Run a full service program.
Montgomery: I learned this the hard way: You don’t pay the rest of your staff first then decide what you’re worth. Pay yourself first. Then see what you can afford to pay somebody else. If you can’t work that many hours then you have to decide what you are going to pay someone else. Nobody else is going to pay you first but you.
Question: What financial planning programs are available through ASCA?
Hartle: Programs are offered through NYLife and NYLife Securities and approved by ASCA to present to ASCA members. We have annuity programs, mutual funds, life insurance, and a number of different vehicles. Please call me to discuss these. My phone number is I – 800-725-0298.
Thomas G. Guthiel, M.D. is co-Director of the Program in Psychiatry and the Law, Massachusetts Mental Health Center, Harvard Medical School and Director, Charles C. Gaughan Fellowship in Forensic and Correctional Psychiatry, Bridgewater State Hospital. He is a Professor of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School, and former Visiting Lecturer, Harvard Law School. He has been author or coauthor of some one hundred fifty articles, book chapters and books and has shared in two Guttmacher awards. Dr. Guthiel lives and works in the Boston area.
It’s a real pleasure to address a large audience of athletically inclined folks at the end of a long day of sitting passively in chairs, when your information input has probably reached its maximum and your tolerance for input is probably at its minimum. The only thing this presentation has to recommend is that it is in some ways about sex, and that tends to keep people awake even in the late afternoon. Even after lunch. The question might arise, even though in high school I was captain of our swimming team, what is a forensic psychiatrist doing up here talking to an audience of coaches, and for a certain subset of you another question is what is a forensic psychiatrist? One way to describe it is it’s someone who works with a psychiatric overlap with the law. That’s what the law school experience is all about. Those of you who know Dr. Quincy know that he does forensic pathology as a medical specialty, works for that gray haired guy with the police and therefore helps out the legal system and you could think of me as being a psychiatric equivalent of Dr. Quincy. More importantly than any of these credentials or descriptions is the fact that in working with courts and with law suits I have handled I 50 cases in my personal caseload as an expert witness of sexual misconduct, accusations, and claims against a wide variety of people. This includes medical personnel, physicians, and clergy, one lawyer, and a number of teachers. It is in the teacher realm that coaches are vulnerable to both actual misconduct, (getting over involved, over invested in your athletes, and personally involved with them) or a false claim. In the field of coaching, as you can well imagine, a false claim of sexual misconduct can be easily as damaging as an accurate one. So I’m going to try to broach this subject and give you some idea of what the issues are and how perhaps to prevent them and then we’ll be able to take some questions because I think it’s your concerns that are the most important.
Let’s take a general look at the issue.
This slide has the person on the left saying “censorship police, sir. Your tie is pointing at your penis, and you’ll have to come with us.” This captures the fact that there is a certain tendency toward dangerous over reaction in this area and one can get over sensitized to questions of boundary problems.
I’ve got to introduce you to two somewhat complicated terms. One is the notion of a fiduciary relationship. You may not have thought of yourself this way. You probably think of yourself as a coach, but coaching in relation to the athlete is one form of a fiduciary relationship. That is a technical/legal term for it, and basically it’s one where you’re committed to the athlete’s well-being and the athlete’s success, and so you fit in with doctors, lawyers, teachers, and other fiduciaries who have some responsibility toward the well-being of your trainees.
And the second notion you have to get is the notion of a power asymmetry. And that is where one party has greater social power by virtue of status position or knowledge. You’re the authority figure; you’re the one who has the knowledge about swimming. The athlete is in a certain sense the trainee and therefore you are in a power asymmetry. You have more power than they have. They are somewhat subject to your control.
There are some basic axioms in sexual misconduct, and when you see the word “therapist” what I want you to do is to mentally replace the word “therapist” with the word “coach”. The coach is the professional. The coach has the responsibility. Therefore only the coach could be liable in a civil litigation situation, or blameworthy in a situation where some complaint is being lodged against you. Now obviously that’s not the same as saying that
swimmers or the other person in the situation is not responsible at all ; everybody is accountable. But only the coach has a professional code or will be looked at before the law as having a professional code. And therefore it is the coach who has the responsibility. One of the implications of this is that the issue of seduction is irrelevant. It doesn’t matter who’s seducing whom. What matters is that the parties, coach and athlete, are in an asymmetrical situation. And even though a coach may say, “I got into a sexual relationship with my swimmer because they started it,” the asymmetry is going to carry anyway, and unfortunately that is not considered a defense. You’re going to see, I predict, an increase in these kinds of concerns as more and more professions begin to be brought before litigation around sexual misconduct, or even sexual harassment. That isn’t even sorted out yet, but you can predict that this is going to be occurring. It’s happening in every other field.
This is the advertisement for an HMO, and it shows a doctor and a patient in bed together, and it says “your doctor should feel this close”. I think the point is, the HMO is trying to get people to sign up for their plan because the doctors are so accessible. But this guy’s obviously disobeying my first principle of avoiding boundary violations, which is to avoid even the appearance of a boundary violation, (which we will define in a moment). And even though they’re both guys, and they’re both wearing clothes, they are IN BED together, and it’s hard to take “IN BED TOGETHER” and make it a benign situation. Now the guy on the left is saying to the guy on the right, “there’s nothing wrong with a flowered tie, Sims, but here at the bank we regard it as the first step on the downward path to full frontal nudity.” The point being here, that nobody gets into a relationship suddenly. Usually there are small personal intrusions into the professional relationship: More informali ty, more physical contact, non-swimming, non-coach related activities; a gradual expansion of the relationship beyond the normal system of interaction. The informality can get romantic, sexual, social, personal, and other kinds of ways. It’s a “slippery slope” notion which you actually see in practice all the time.
What’s a boundary? Well, a boundary is the edge of appropriate behavior. Obviously there’s a lot of leeway as to what constitutes appropriate behavior for a given coach-athlete pair. But the issue really is going to be determined by the parties involved. Only you can decide, by setting a model of professionalism, what is appropriate for your coaching approach. Obviously the athlete is going to have some opinions about what is appropriate and what is not appropriate. How much general physical contact in fact is appropriate ? How much
shoulder patting? How much fanny patting? How much hugging? How much other kinds of contact are considered appropriate? How does it relate to the genders of the coach and athlete. Those are some of the questions that constantly come up in assessing boundaries. Boundary breaches occur in two kinds. One is boundary crossing, which means you step out of your role. You do something “non-coachly ,” but it doesn’t hurt anybody. It doesn’t exploit the athlete. It doesn’t abuse the athlete. It doesn’t intrude on the athlete, or harm the athlete. It’s something that you’re doing that is for social purposes. You invite them over to your house for dinner. Again, fairly benign. No exploitation, no harm.
In contrast to that kind of a boundary crossing, a boundary violation is something exploitative or harmful to the athlete, where you use your superior position, your position of authority, your superior knowledge, to take advantage of the athlete and have a personal-social relationship or other kinds of exploitation.
The problem is that even a boundary crossing can represent a “promise you can’t keep”. You may out of the most pure and reasonable motives, invite an athlete over for dinner with your family. And it could go perfectly well and could be understood as a nice bonding experience. But athletes come in a lot of different flavors as I certainly don’t need to tell you. And a number of them can interpret your dinner as a tremendous invitation. Some athletes come from broken families, dysfunctional and disruptive families, abusive families, and getting to know a non-abusive family such as your own may be an enormous seduction, an enormous temptation. It may stir very strong longings in that athlete to become a member of your family, and therefore you may be making, even with the best of intentions, a promise you can’t keep. Does that mean never have athletes for dinner? No, of course not. It means being alert to the fact that even benign extra-coaching activities, extra-business, extra-teaching activities can mean to people who are susceptible, who are vulnerable, promises that you can’t keep.
Good coaches don’t get in the game; they stay on the sidelines. They consult, if you will, with the athletes. The point is that your job is to help the athlete to become a better athlete rather than use the athlete as the gratification for yourself or for a relationship as it directly relates to you. So good coaches stay on the sidelines. They don’t get into the game, that is become personally involved.
Now, a couple of axioms about sexual misconduct based on a large number of actual cases. The problem is of
course. by the time we get to this we’re already talking litigation, which is very ugly, and particularly ugly in this subject area..
Most sexual misconduct begins with boundary violations, and we’re going to give you some examples of those in just a minute. That’s the slippery slope model. However, the presence of the boundary violation itself doesn’t prove that misconduct occurred. You ‘II get people who have a highly informal relationship that’s not sexual. But fact finders (it could be a civil court, it could be, if the athlete’s a minor, a criminal court; it could be various other kinds of administrative bodies) find sexual misconduct more credible in the presence of boundary violations. That is, the more informal boundary violating (touchy-feely extra-coaching, extra-teaching, extra-business) the relationship is, the more likely the decision maker is going to find it credible that this occurred. So to put this in sort of simplified terms, smoke leads to fire. You could have smoke without fire, but fact finders assume where there’s smoke, there’s fire. And that’s why boundary violations become meaningful. Here is a very famous case in Massachusetts and the board in a transcript is basically saying “we took the presence of smoke, and inferred fire.” Now this turned out to be fake. The patient was lying and it was well established and well documented, but initially, before the rehearing and before all the additional evidence came in the doctor was in danger of losing her license inappropriately because it was a fake claim. The presence of boundary violations led the board to assume sexual relations, that is to believe the patient.
Common sites of boundary violations. Again the question of the role. The most profound or basic boundary issue is, “is this what a coach does?” What is your role as coach? What are the boundaries of appropriate behavior for your role as coach, and even for you as the kind of coach you are? There are some coaches who are all verbal, some are very physical; people vary in their different styles and approaches and different personality qualities, so the question is not the “universal coach” but you as the “normal coach.” Is that what a normal coach does? If an athlete actually requests a personal, social, or sexual relationship with you and it does happen because of the idealization that you see in teacher-student, coach athlete relationships, the question is, “is that what a coach does?” Well, presumably not, but arguably the pressure can be very high and the temptation very strong.
Questions arise about time. Extra or extra-long sessions. If normal coaching occurs between “X” hours, and you find yourself spending huge amounts of time with one
particular athlete, what does that mean about the relationship? What message does that convey either to the athlete or to other people who might be investigating the situation at a later point?
Place. Where does coaching take place? Well, obviously there are a variety of different answers; the pool, the locker room, the room with the blackboard. and so on, a lot of different places. Coaching usually doesn’t take place in none of those situations; it usually occurs in one
of those situations. If you’re taking an athlete out to dinner, okay, you could be giving them coaching at that point. It looks like a date though. It doesn’t look like what you’re supposed to be doing, and that can raise questions. Does that mean you should never take your athlete to a McDonald’s if you feel like it? No it doesn’t. But you must be alert to the fact that it may be experienced as a breach, a boundary violation.
Questions of money. Do you get paid by individual athletes? Some of you might be in a consulting-retainer situation. Is it clear that it’s work? Is it clear that it’s business? Are the business issues of the relationship between you and your athletes clear, or are they sufficiently vague so that it’s not even clear that it is a business relationship?
Next, physical contact. Stuff that doesn’t look like coaching. Not showing a person how to hold their hand as they make the stroke, it’s showing them how to do something else which counts more as hanky-panky. How about hugging? When you get someone being sued for some form of misconduct they always say “I gave the person a non-sexual hug.” Well that’s a little tricky. Non-sexual to who? Some people feel very sexually aroused by very informal contact. A lot of swimming contact exposes a lot of skin because of the natural things you wear for swimming competition and therefore it’s more erotic. There’s more skin contact in swimming than in football with a lot of padding getting in the way. Obviously contact may be experienced in a much more intrusive or invasive or arousing way than in other sports.
Next, self-disclosure. One of the most useful things that a coach can do is to show your own experiences. But suppose you start confiding in your athlete. Suppose you start using the athlete to confide about your marital, social, sexual, financial. spiritual, moral problems and difficulties. Suppose you turn the athlete into your confidant and guide, rather than the reverse. That kind of pitfall can be very destructive and difficult for athletes to tolerate. They don’t settle well with the idea of somehow being responsible for your troubles. And when you
burden them with your difficulties you’re changing the role. They’re becoming the coach for you in a manner of speaking. That can be very stressful and painful for especially younger athletes or athletes with a history of abusive experiences in their own past. That can really set off very disturbing upsurges of feeling that are much harder to deal with.
Sessions in cars. You may have to drive to meets and there may be a lot of stuff going on in the car. It doesn’t look quite like coaching. It looks like two people taking a drive in the car. Nothing wrong with driving to get places, but again if you’re spending a lot of time driving around, is that coaching or is some other kind of situation going on? Is this going to create either in the athlete or in people looking on the suspicion that the relationship is getting personalized?
When in doubt, getting a second opinion is very strong in malpractice prevention, and I really strongly recommend it for you. One of the best things you can do to keep your feet on the ground is, if something is developing between you and an athlete that you’re puzzled about, get a second opinion. Get a peer. Call up someone you know and run it by them and see if they feel it’s a problem as you do. Consultation helps.
This is a description of body zones. I don’t put a lot of stock in this directly but you need to get a sense that people have different awareness of how close is too close. For some families, for some cultures, any physical contact is presumably an attack. For other cultures its assumed that if you’re not actually patting somebody on the shoulder, you ‘re not listening to them. This is very culturally affected, very regionally affected. Different parts of the world, different parts of the country. One simply needs to be aware of this fact. What’s standing at a respectable distance from person “A” may be feeling to person “B” like you’re in the face and down the throat, and not because of where you are, but because of their own cultural location of body zones.
How do people complain? There’s this term dysphoria, (that’s fancy shrink speak for some kind of feeling of wrongness or badness) and there’s the feeling of exploitation, the feeling of wrongness. Usually one or more of these in combination have to occur before someone registers a complaint. I don’t know what your experience has been with this. Most commonly I find that the parents (usually the athlete is too mixed in their feelings about what’s going on so they don’t complain) may hear about it and they may get involved. The question is what triggers the complaint? Usually it’s a mix of some of dysphoria, some bad feeling, distress, discomfort, anxiety. depression, panic attacks in some cases. Feeling exploited, feeling used, feeling had, and then basic feelings of wrongness. This is wrong. We shouldn’t be doing this. And that feeling of wrongness may be the third trigger in the complaint.
Here is an interesting finding. There are many complicated reasons for it, but individuals who have a history of childhood sexual abuse tend to get involved in abusive relationships. This is really a complicated issue to explore, but one way to think about it is that for many people who have been through abuse as their only relationship, the feeling is if it isn’t abusive, it isn’t real. So these are individuals who get themselves involved in very destructive situations. Paradoxically you’d think they’ve been burned before, why would they get into it again? But there seems to be a kind of addiction of involvement or attraction or disposition, and so if some of the young people you work with have been early abused, it does create both vulnerability and a curious form of tropism, a curious form of readiness to get involved in exploitative abusive relationships. The critical point here is that one can see the remarkable coincidence between people abused in childhood and people involved in sexual misconduct.
False claims. There’s a whole psychology to this, but it does occur and one has to be careful about assuming that every complaint is always true. Many are, but not every claim is true. The most common basis for a false claim is simple lying. And we’ll explain the reasons for this in just a moment. Occasionally you’ll get someone who really is delusional, who has lost touch with reality and assumes that something is going on when there is actually no evidence whatever for it occurring. That’s actually quite rare. A false claim is more likely to be an outright lie than to be something crazy, and you have to be alert to those possibilities. There is also a kind of distortion where what you’re doing is innocent or straight forward, but the athlete experiences it as something more ominous and more grim and more exploitative. Here is a case where a patient attempted to use the threat of a claim to manipulate a doctor . This is an actual case in Massachusetts. How would this work with a coach? There are many ways in which you could conceivably be manipulatable in connection with having somebody on a team. I’m not sure the temptations you’re exposed to but again the threat of a claim of sexual misconduct is extremely serious for any coach and that manipulative element could be something you could be having to face. The trigger has historically been termination. That is where you say “look, I can’t work with you anymore, or your behavior is unacceptable, I can’t have you on the team anymore. You bounce a person from the team, they
say “OK, either I stay on the team, or I bring this claim against you.” Other kinds of rejection: perceived mistreatment. Termination, rejection, and perceived mistreatment are probably high on the list of triggers in your field.
What are the damages of various kinds in sexual misconduct? This is a boundary violation issue, when you have sex with an athlete under your care, it does create a loss of trust in most future relationships. Someone who has been exploited by a coach is obviously burned and is more distrusting of future coaches. A large number of emotional reactions can be triggered. Feelings of exploitation, humiliation, shame, betrayal, anger, public embarrassment, all of those can be triggered and of course in extreme cases especially with adolescents who are vulnerable to these feeling storms, suicide risk can occur. People feel completely had, completely used, then worthless, and that goes on to depression and self-destruction. It can be quite serious. So although one can get sort of light hearted about these kind of relationships, the seriousness both in terms of your career and the athletes well-being and life can’t be minimized.
Then there is cessation trauma, which occurs when something stops, not when it goes on. You will get a situation where an athlete gets over involved in a personal, social, sexual relationship with the coach and they don’t seem to be showing any signs of distress whatsoever. They seem to be “cooking along” and enjoying the relationship, and this wonderful, “I feel special, I feel chosen, I feel wonderful,” until something happens that changes the chemistry. It’s as if a rubber band which was being stretched during the relationship suddenly snapped. At that point when the coach goes away and doesn’t take the athlete along, when the coach says they’ re not going to leave their spouse and take up with the athlete, some kind of rejection, some kind of change; at that point the rubber band snaps, all the trauma explodes. At that point even though the relationship has been cooking along wonderfully, now you get all the negative consequences of an exploitative relationship. You cannot use the fact that things seem to be going well as an index that they will always continue to do so, because cessation trauma very commonly occurs.
Are there things you can do in terms of prevention? Well there may be. Here are some more fundamental questions. Keeping your head screwed on straight about what your role is and what your task is. I suppose this whole meeting is designed to do that in various ways; to articulate your role and help you with it. Careful self monitoring. Staying on top of yourself and being aware of the fact that some people can experience what you’re
doing as much more intrusive, harmful, invasive, exploitative, than you yourself may mean or be doing. Being vigilant to the process of what’s going on. Is the person responding the way your other students have responded. Is there something funny going on, something in the air that leaves you uncertain? Getting consultation. Check it with a peer. Find out if someone else sees the situation as problematic as you. And then, education which is my humble effort here to try to alert you to some of this by consciousness raising.
Here is the issue in terms of context. If someone is willing to lie under oath there’s no defense. If I’m willing to make up a claim against you, and I’m willing to lie under oath and it gets into some sort of litigation situation, there’s no way you can defend yourself. My lie is going to be expressed. So you could argue that all of us are vulnerable to false accusations or misconduct, and I think that is unfortunate and true. However there are three context defenses you can use that will help even with a false claim.
Number one, a basic professionalism that makes the accusation implausible. What you’re hoping is that your reputation with your peer group is so strong that if someone says “hey, I hear Joe is sleeping with one of his athletes,” the initial reaction is “no he’s not.” You want that kind of professionalism to be known about you.
Number two, no hint of boundary violations. Again that should be obvious by now. The smoke-fire kind of issue.
And then, no hint of sexual harassment by the coach elsewhere. This is sort of confusing because if a coach is making the moves on an athlete, you could call it a misconduct or you could call a sexual harassment. What the problem is doesn’t matter. Whichever one the claim is brought as, the other one would be used as corroboration. In other words, if you are making the moves on an athlete and it is treated as a sexual harassment, the athlete’s reaction to that supports the idea that this is sexual misconduct as well. And so there are two different kinds of challenge. A harassment case, and a misconduct case that would now be brought against you and can be used to reinforce each other. Anyone who, for example, harasses the swimming department secretary is therefore likely to be the kind of person against whom athlete claims are going to be believed. So harassment and misconduct can be used again to reinforce each other.
We’re going to stop at this point, and open it up to questions, comments, horror stories, examples from your own experience, and hope we can benefit from that. Thank you for your attention.
- I) The question is raised about minors. Obviously minors trigger a whole other level of issues. Number one, they are more likely to misunderstand stuff than older folks. Number two, you’re adding criminal concerns on top of all the other concerns. If you’re coaching 20 year olds, its certain kinds of problems, but you add a minor and its everything else on top of all that. And there also is low threshold mandatory reporting, as you don’t need me to tell you. Yes, with minors it’s another acute level of consciousness raising and sensitivity in the
- How do I talk to my assistants about this 9 Let me tell you about the pitfalls of trying to get this point across to different audiences and those might include various kinds of trainees. The equivalent of your talking to your coaches would be my talking to medical students or trainees of various types, ones who haven’t really fully gotten their identity in their new role, but they still need to learn this issue. Here are some of the pitfalls to avoid. You want to avoid a punitive moralistic phrase. “I don’t want to see anybody’s hand on an athlete anytime during this entire time I’m here!” where you’re already beating them for what they haven’t done yet. The other pitfall is to try to suggest that somehow there’s something intrinsically wrong with all the general standard affections that you develop between coaches and athletes. The best way to try do it is to bring it up as a question. “Has anybody had any difficulties with athletes being very sensitive to boundary violations, physical contact, using their first names.” Use the inquiry to see if you can get people talking about this issue, and whether anybody had any difficulty with family members, teachers, clergy, counselors at camp, and so forth, in the past. Tap into individual experience. It’s an unpleasant subject, but it’s an area where a little bit of consciousness raising goes along way and is probably quite valuable. Staying out of trouble is best in this situation. I think those are the pitfalls: Avoid the punitive model. Try to draw from their own experience. And indicate that this is really a tough thing to be saddled with and so you want to avoid even the appearance, or even the suspicion, or even the accusation of this occurring. Whatever you can do to make that more likely is better for the coaches. It’s better for the athletes
- How and when to bring the issue up with coaching staff? Bringing it up with all the coaches at once avoids accusing anybody of being too loose with the boundaries. Making it a consciousness raising for the whole group would at least start out by saying we’re all starting on the same page here. Then after that if someone gets into some difficulty you can say “I can’t help noticing
you’re doing a lot of physical contact with that particular athlete. Do you notice that too yourself? Do you think this could get you into trouble?” What you want to do is what we call in this business an alliance with one of your coaches which does not say you and me against the athlete, but says me working the best side of you to keep trouble from occurring with the athlete. And maintaining that alliance is usually the trick, which you do best by involving them.
- Question on data available on frequency of misconduct by sex of coach/athlete: I’ve got it for clinicians and patients. I’m not sure it’s that useful for coaches. I haven’t seen the figures for coaches. I would be interested if anybody knows if this has been studied because I think it would be useful as a starting point, but I don’t have that information. In the clinical pairings the most common is (let’s pretend its coach/athlete, but it’s not really, its clinician/patient) male coach/female athlete. Second most common would be female/female. Third most common male/male. And last female/male. Again in my 150 cases I have all those pairings. They all occur in life. I would not be astonished if that frequency were recapitulated in coaching as well, but I don’t have any data. It would be interesting if anybody knows if there are any
- Question, comment: “I’ve had a couple of situations which did not seem to be a problem; I’m aware of lawsuits, that sort of thing ….but I coach prep school and a lot of times at the end of the season, or when something good happens and an athlete will come up and hug me and it doesn’t bother me; it doesn’t bother them or anybody else. Is there a problem with that? Answer: Doesn’t sound like there is, and that’s clearly not unheard of, what’s called termination hugs. There’s a technical name for what you’re describing and it doesn’t look like its exploitative. I certainly would not, like in the overreaction we saw in the slide, throw the person to the floor. Go with it under those circumstances. Since at that point the student is initiating it and it looks like a one shot, I don’t see a problem with
- Question: I coach little kids, and the little kids are trying to learn to dive, and I ask them if I can put my hands…. Answer: Great, you got permission. You’ve established consent which is an enormously positive thing to do. Your question reminds me of the issue. You are probably aware if only subliminally that this country is in the middle of a sexual abuse hysteria. You’ve got satanic sexual, you’ve got ritual abuse, you’ve got childhood sexual abuse, recovered memories which is a whole industry which is at this moment at the crazy-proliferation stage and is about to reach the bitter-recrimi-
nation and cool down stage but it’s not there yet. So you will get people who will see you holding the kid by the rib cage and say “A hat Sexual misconduct under the guise of teaching!” The consent that you’re getting is enormously valuable; it probably detoxifies most of the problems for the child which is really an issue of control anyway and it probably anticipates and detoxifies the problem for the parent. There is no defense against someone seeing your benign physical intervention and misinterpreting the hell out of it. You have to do the best you can with the consent you’re getting.
- Question: Are there interactions or styles of coaching that seem to be based more on sexuality than on personhood. Answer: The problem is that a number of sexually abused children, people sexually abused in childhood, get rewarded by the abusing family member for being seductive. They get reinforced for And that means that these individuals tend to sexualize (it’s called eroticize), and act seductively in all their relationships including inappropriate ones. That’s also true for certain coaches for reasons including childhood sexual abuse in coaches. There’s nothing about being a swim coach that makes you immune from a history of abuse. So the critical point is that you will get interactions which are malignant in that the parties are having a relationship based on their readiness to become sexualized in the relationship rather than on the work and teaching of coaching. Its problematic and potentially dangerous to both parties. That is its dangerous to the athlete even if the athlete misinterprets what’s going on and its lethal to the coaches career.
- Question: Explain the liability of the coach on deck for swimmer/swimmer boundary violations. How different is it with 5,6,7 year olds, before and after puberty? Answer: Your responsibility is to use what you’re being paid for which is your professional judgment. I think it’s absolutely okay for a coach to step in because they feel there is something uncomfortable going on. The point is the burden of proof is not on you. If you don’t like what’s going on, I think you really have the option of stopping it; especially since the things you’re describing really aren’t about swimming. People getting into a wrestling match; that isn’t what they’re there to learn from you. So I think you can feel comfortable with a low threshold for your intervention and you don’t have to justify it. You can just say “look I don’t like watching you guys getting into this knock together. Break it We’re not here to do that. Let’s get back to work.” By redirecting the focus you help the person get back to the business part, and avoid these other kind of issues. It’s tricky. When you feel uncomfortable about something going on, if you’re a reasonable human being, a part of
you says “Could this be my problem? Could I be over sensitive, or something? Could I be over reacting? Could I be over reading it?” The answer is yeah, you could be. But in a situation where its clearly not about what you’re there to do, it’s okay to have a low threshold. It’s all right to be a stickler, to be reviled for being a Puritan or a tight ass or whatever the issue might be. It doesn’t matter. The point is you use your authority to protect whoever might be emotionally affected by something that looks superficial. Low threshold is okay.
- Question: In hiring someone is it okay to ask if someone has past history of sexual misconduct? Answer: I don’t think there’s a problem in asking because arguably they’re in a fairly sensitive kid related There’s a fair amount of body exposure and skin contact which makes it different from other kinds of teaching. So in general unless your state prohibits that as part of the job application, I would ask it. Of course they can always choose not to answer.
- Comment involving the possibility of a data bank on coach applicants at a cost of $50 per coach
I I) Question; How do you handle a report of an employee’s misconduct? Answer: …by starting with the person. If I were accused to my superior, I’d want the first thing that person to do is ask me about it and then see where you go from there. So I’m inclined to do that first. Get them into the conversations. Get the other side of the story. And then say, “Look, this is too messy and too ugly. We’ve got to kick this upstairs. We’ve got to refer it to this administrative body, or that administrative body. It’s really the same if you were hearing a rumor; a rumor that one of the fellow coaches was sleeping with an athlete. The golden rule says do to them as you’d want them to do unto you, right? And so if somebody had that rumor about you you’d want to know about it. And if it was false you’d want to know about it because it would be meaningful to you that this was circulating. So my first approach is, I’d talk to the person. “Look, I don’t know what the facts are, but I was in the cafeteria and I overheard two people talking saying you’re sleeping with an athlete. That’s out there on the street. I don’t know if it’s true or not. Is there any way I can be of some use here. Shouldn’t we talk?” And a person says “No, I’m not talking to you, I’m talking to my lawyer.” Or “Yeah, I never heard of this. How come its happening? It’s crazy!” At least then you have something open. You can get the conversation going. People get into difficulty more when they try to sweep it under the rug, pretend it’s not true, etc.
I 2) Question: A coach is accused of sexual impropriety. So far it’s been two years and he hasn’t had a date in
court yet. He lost his job, he lost his wife, his family, Jots his home, and the legal bills are already thousands of dollars; Answer: And I’ II bet his usual insurance don’t cover it. The courts are incredibly slow and this stuff hangs over your head, and as you give in this vivid and tragic example it goes beyond coaching. It can affect other areas of your life, as you point out in this case, the guy’s marriage. So this is not a light and peripheral issue. The damages and dues are very heavy. It has become in my profession because of the national practitioner data bank, the end of your career. There’s a doctor in Maine who is now selling insurance because he cannot get a medical job because every time they credential him the practitioner data bank says he was convicted of sexual misconduct.
- Question on coaches giving rub downs. Answer: Have another person in A chaperone for any situation which could be misinterpreted.
- Question: What about our obligation to report suspected abuse of a child? Answer: Coaches are usually treated like teachers as mandated If you become aware of a suspicion you have in most jurisdictions an obligation to alert the social services, or agency that does the same function in that area. Again, that’s an obligation that you have in most jurisdictions. There is automatic immunity, so you’re allowed to be wrong. All you have to have is a suspicion and the agency investigates it and the rest is taken out of your hands. It is difficult and disruptive and the parents are mad at you. It’s not trouble free, but it often is a very important thing because as a coach you are a case finder; you may have the earliest access to information about somebody being seriously abused compared to anyone else in their social circle.
Thank you, we’re going to stop now.
Dr. Alan Goldberg is a nationally known expert in the field of applied sports psychology. He is the director of Competitive Advantage, an Amherst, Massachusetts based consulting firm that works with coaches, athletes and teams at every performance level. Dr. Goldberg has worked extensively with swimmers of all ages and abilities, from age-groupers to world class. As a “head coach”, Alan specializes in teaching swimmers how to overcome blocks and get the most out of their physical potential both in training and competition. A former ASCA clinician, Dr. Goldberg is an entertaining and sought after speaker at clinics around the country because of his ability to take sport psychology concepts and present them ill a practical and easy to understand manner.
Alan earned his doctorate in counseling psychology at the University of Massachusetts. Dr. Goldberg writes extensively on the psychology of peak performance for as number of National publications including American Swimming, On Deck, The Diver, Rip, Archer, etc. He is the author of “Smoke On The Water”, a mental toughness guide for swimmers and “Swimming Out of Your Mind”, a 6·tape audio cassette mental training program. His latest book, “Slump Busting” will be published early next year.
You know they’re physically ready. You’ve trained them yourself. They’ve done everything they need to up until this point to maximize their chances of going fast. They’ve trained hard, busted, sacrificed and even listened to you a wee bit along the way, (which is always a bonus). And now the BIG meet is here and they’re starting to come apart right before your eyes.
If you could only hear what’s going on in their head it would make you cringe: The self-doubts, negative focus, nostalgic trip down memory lane to review all their worst races, the second guessing of all the training they’ve and all YOUR coaching. Was it a good enough taper? .Did I really work hard enough? How can I compete with (checking out the swimmer in the next lane)?
They’re talking to you about a slow pool. About how
lousy they feel in the water. God they’re SOOOoooo tired. What can you do for them besides reassure them that they’re ready. How can you get them to relax and focus on what they’re supposed to instead of all this garbage? You can throttle them or have a temper tantrum.
Every coach at one time or another has seen a swimmer fall apart when it counts the most. You may even be able to think about some choice examples while you listen to me. Swimmers who had it all but just didn’t use it when it counted the most. Why? Was it them? Was it you? Was it something you said to them at the wrong time. Was it something you ate?
This talk is geared towards helping you as a coach better work with your swimmers on those days leading up to the big meets so that they maximize their physical abilities, training and your good coaching to have a decent performance. I want to provide you with a concrete understanding of pre-meet psyching so that you leave here with specific strategies and ideas that you can immediately put to use.
Many of you have listened to me before or heard my tapes for swimmers. To insure that you are able to get the most out of this talk, I want to challenge you not to leave this talk without at least one new idea or strategy that you can use. You may hear me say something that you already know in a little different way. One that gets you thinking about things and being creative. Take one piece from this talk and use it and I guarantee you that you’ll have more effective swimmers at crunch time.
If we talk about pre-meet psyching and developing the right head set for performance, an important understanding is that you can’t wait for the big meet to do this. If you wait until “crunch time” before you start focusing your athletes and yourself on the proper headset it’s too late. It just won’t work. The techniques and strategies that I’ll be addressing with you need to be started on day 1 of practice. In other words mental training should not be a crisis intervention thing. You don’t want to wait until someone’s freaking out before you introduce stress
management techniques. Developing mental toughness should be an integral part of training. What I’ll discuss about pre-meet psyching will be usable both at the beginning of the season as well as right before big meets.
I want to start with concentration because peak performance in the pool is all about having the proper focus. As a coach, if you inadvertently give your athletes the wrong things to concentrate on you can unknowingly set them up for failure. If you can help them narrow their focus when it counts, they’ll swim well. Any swimmer I’ve ever worked with that’s had repetitive performance problems, or even just one bad race when it counted, did so because that athlete was paying attention to the wrong things at the wrong time.
If it’s race time and you’re concentrating on the fact that you haven’t had a good time in over a year, aren’t as good as the swimmers in your heat, was disqualified the last time you competed in this meet, or how this is your worst event, then chances are pretty good that you’ll have a lousy race. Your swimmers’ focus is THE KEY to how well they’re able to take their physical training and translate it into race time under pressure.
So what is this concentration thing. Very simply, the ability to FOCUS IN ON WHAT’S IMPORTANT AND BLOCK OUT EVERYTHING ELSE. When you perform well this is EXACTLY what you do without thinking about it. You’re paying attention to what you need to in order to do well and have NO attention for distractions, even though you may be aware of them.
Knowing what concentration is may help you take a test which asks you for this definition, but it won’t help you to concentrate, so I’d like to briefly review HOW you concentrate. This is the skill that you must teach your athletes so that they get the most out of practice and so that they are able to come through in the clutch.
Many of you have probably noticed by now that as I speak, periodically you find yourself drifting away from my words to a land far far away. Now if I say something and you go internal and think about how that relates to you or specifically to one of your athletes… For example, I tell you the story from the 92 Olympics of Ahmann-Leighton in the 100 fly, looking over at the 50 meter mark to see a Chinese swimmer two lanes away keeping up with her. That Ahmann-Leighton continued to be distracted by this swimmer, tightened up, and consequently lost the race by .12 seconds… and maybe you’d begin to think of a specific swimmer you’re working with where something like that has happened, or maybe you think of a time it happened to you. When you drift in this manner in this setting it is exceptionally important and constructive, and in a sense you are still concentrating on the task at hand, i.e. to make sense of my words for YOU. However, some of you as I speak are going to a different place. You’ve had thoughts about dinner, and what kind of intense partying you’ll be doing today, and so you went internal to”La La Land”. This focus is exceptionally unimportant and will not help you coach better or get your swimmers going faster.
So the trick with concentration is a paradox. To concentrate, you must first catch yourself when you are not concentrating, when you are in “La La Land”, and second, you must quickly and gently bring yourself back to the proper focus. Without an awareness of having a destructive or negative focus, a swimmer will continue to self-destruct in the pool, regardless of their physical training.
Your concentration is so critical because of the mind/body connection. That is, what you think about, imagine or say to yourself goes directly into your body and changes your physiology. If you tell yourself you’re exhausted before a race and have a lousy feel for the water, and you keep repeating this to yourself, your body will respond by getting tenser and seemingly more tired. A swimmer’s pre-race thoughts changes the rate and depth of their breathing, muscle tension, heart rate and blood pressure, and blood flow to the extremities, all of which will significantly affect their feel of the water, endurance, power and fluidity of stroke mechanics.
So periodically throughout your practices it would be useful for you to have your swimmers working on concentration. Find ways to help them RECOGNIZE when they are drifting from a proper focus, so they can quickly BRING THEMSELVES BACK. It’s this one skill alone that will make all the difference pre-race for your swimmers. Show me a swimmer who consistently swims below their potential or in other ways struggles under pressure, and I’ll show you someone who does NOT recognize when they drift to “La La Land”, (the wrong focus) and therefore cannot do anything about it.
Now let’s talk about our goals pre-meet/pre-race. Peak performance in the pool is all about being on automatic mentally and physically. It’s about trusting yourself, coach and training and letting the performance happen. I’m sure that you can relate to what I’m saying if you’ve ever had a great performance before. Sooner or later when you think back to that performance, you can recognize what I’m saying. “Effortless effort” is the mark of a peak performance. You may have been working your butt off, but the experience you can remember is one of everything flowing easily.
What I’m talking about here involves a certain way of thinking, or NOT THINKING to be exact. That is, when you swim your best you are not usually doing a lot of thinking about what you’re doing. Instead, you are almost totally involved in the experience. Your conscious mind is not yapping at you the way it does when you struggle. If you’ve heard me talk about this before I’m referring to two different ways of thinking, the PRACTICE mentality and the MEET mentality. These correspond to the two different hemispheres in your brain, the left and right respectively.
When you’re in a PRACTICE mentality, you’re conscious mind is active. You are processing information using words and logic. You analyze, evaluate, criticize and worry. This is a fine way of thinking if you’re learning something new or trying to correct bad habits. However, if you try to compete in this PRACTICE mentality you’ll go nowhere fast. Race time is time to shift to a MEET mentality, to the non-dominant part of your brain, your unconscious.
When you process information through the right or monodominant hemisphere, you are literally ·not thinking, you’re unconscious. Now I don’t mean literally that you’re out cold. You’ve just suspended normal conscious functioning. Instead you process information without words and logic. You use images, pictures, and kinesthetic, (muscle) feelings. Further, you take the whole into consideration. That is, there is no analyzing. An important part of the MEET mentality is that processing is INSTANTANEOUS. In a PRACTICE mentality, it takes a fair amount of time for your conscious mind to process things.
What’s all this mumbo jumbo got to do with going fast and pre-meet psyching? Well, the last thing you want your swimmers doing at big meets is thinking too much. Your job as a coach is to help them get into trusting themselves and their training and putting themselves on automatic. Worries about a good start, executing turns properly, a needed time, an opponent they have to beat, last year’s results, etc. consciously clutter up the swimmer’s head so that they can’t go fast. Can you think about that swimmer that REALLY wanted that time, just HAD TO GET IT? Usually that conscious wanting leads to muscling of the strokes and a lousy race.
Don Sonia used to coach at the Philly Aquatic club years ago and three days before a big meet he told his swimmers that they were going to do 25’s for time. His instructions were that they go all out on the first 25. He wanted their absolute best time, 110%. In essence, by putting special emphasis on the importance of the race and time he was helping them shift into a conscious, trying too hard mentality. Their times were 11.5. Without providing them any feedback he then said, “O.K., take it down on this one. I only want you going 75% of your speed. You can relax”. Their times? 11.5. Again without providing them their times he said, “One final time, only this time I want you to go 50% of your speed, no faster”. This time they all were in the range of 11.3. Their “l/2 speed” times were even faster than their “full speed” times!
Trying too hard is a losing game for a swimmer because it comes from that conscious part of you. You train muscle memory in the pool with your athletes daily and you want them to be able to rely on that when it’s crunch time. Thinking messes the whole process up! So one goal for pre-meet psyching is to be sure that you help that swimmer NOT think. That you help distract their conscious mind from the race when it’s time to go.
I’ve had swimmers that consistently choke under pressure because pre-race they go off by themselves and “concentrate”. That is, they obsess about how much they want to do well, why they doubt themselves, how strong the opposition is, and why their having a bad hair day. Status of conscious mind: OVERLOAD. A simple intervention is to get this type of swimmer back in touch with why they are swimming, i.e. FUN, and to get them up, talking with friends, cheering for teammates, listening to music, etc. All of which is designed to DISTRACT the conscious mind from its’ role as saboteur.
What this means for you is that the less you get your swimmers to focus on pre-race, the better. If you have athletes that tend to get too analytical and lean towards a PRACTICE mentality, figure out creative ways that you can distract them. Use humor. Give them ridiculous assignments or tasks that they have to do before they race, i.e. count all the colors on the suits at the meet, find the one suit that has more color, etc.
I’d like to continue this discussion by shifting over to a brief discussion of stress and where it comes from. Most of the performance difficulties out there can be traced to situations where the swimmer is too stressed to perform their best. However, the important understanding here is where does this performance inhibiting stress come from? Concentration. The swimmer’s focus. The two main causes of pre-race stress for a swimmer are:
l – How that athlete explains the competitive situation to themselves. What they say about the race, their competition, how they feel, etc. This internal dialogue either gets the swimmer ready to perform their best or shuts them down.
2 – Focusing on or trying to control the UNCONTROLLABLES within the performance arena. But it’s the second area, the UNCONTROLLABLES that I’d like to focus in on. Swimmers who choke under pressure pay attention to the things that they can’t control pre-race. They worry about beating another swimmer, qualifying, pool conditions, whether they got enough sleep last night, whether their taper was good enough, what people might say if…and what happened in the past in this race or over the course of the season. Three distinct things happen when you focus on uncontrollables:
l – Your anxiety level goes up.
2 – Your self-confidence goes down.
1 & 2 insure that your swim will
For pre-race psyching you need to make your athletes aware of their uncontrollables, the things that they tend to focus on that are completely out of their control. It’s this awareness that will form the basis. of them getting back into control. If you know you’re focusing on an uncontrollable, then you can do something about it before your stress level goes off the charts. This takes us back to that first concentration skill that I mentioned: Recognize you’re drifting and then bring yourself back. The swimmer must become aware of when his/her focus drifts to uncontrollables so that he/she may quickly bring that focus back to a neutral or performance enhancing one.
Three major uncontrollables that need to be emphasized have to do with something that I call the “HERE AND NOW RULE FOR PEAK PERFORMANCE”. Let me explain it as follows: Concentration has two dimensions: a dimension of time, and one of place. That is, when you concentrate, you have to be in one of three time zones: PAST, NOW, FUTURE. You could think about the last big meet you either coached or competed in, and if I can get you to think about that now, your concentration is in the PAST. Or I could ask you to think about how you’re going to get home after the conference, or to think of one situation coming up this season where you may want to use this material. In either case, if you allow yourself to focus in this way you are now in the FUTURE. Or I could just say to you, listen to my words and I’ll provide you with the winning megabucks combination to Massachusetts’ Lottery drawing tonight. It’s only a paltry 5 million but you might find yourself focusing in on these numbers.
Of these 3 dimensions of time, 2 are uncontrollable: The PAST and FUTURE. If you get a lousy start, blow a turn, or mess up in a previous race, you can’t get this back. It’s in the past and gone forever. However, if you obsess about that failure, and come to this year’s championships worrying about what happened last year, you’ve got a good chance of taking that past focus and poisoning your present one. Similarly, if you’re on the blocks ready to swim the 200 and worrying about your splits for the last 50, which right NOW you have absolutely NO control over, you’ll stress yourself out.
For the most part, when it’s race time, you have to keep yourself in the NOW. This is the only time zone that you have control over and power in. To the second dimension of concentration, place. When you race, you can either be in the HERE, the right mental place focus ing on what YOU are doing and WHERE you are doing it, or you can be ANYWHERE else. I always talk about this issue in relation to a swimmer needing to stay in their own lane mentally before and during the race. For the most part, when you mentally leave your lane and start worrying about where another swimmer is, how they’re doing or whether they’re going to catch you, you’re mentally in the wrong place and asking for trouble, performance wise.
In other words, you only have control over what happens in your lane. This is basic, but missed by most swimmers, especially those that get themselves stressed out. When swimmers leave the “here” of the performance they add both muscle tension and precious seconds to their race.
So one of the hearts of pre-meet psyching is to teach your athletes how to recognize and deal with the uncontrollables. This entails teaching them an awareness of the “here and now” rule and HOW to get themselves back when they are in the PAST of FUTURE in a destructive way. I say destructive here because a past focus can be productive if you review past peak performances, races where you felt great about yourself and had “winning feelings”. Developing a peak performance cue is all about that. Similarly, a future focus is invaluable when you mentally rehearse what you want to have happen.
One concrete way of working with both the uncontrollables and the here and now is by teaching your athletes to CONTROL THEIR EYES AND EARS in meet/race situations. That is, the athlete is encouraged to only focus on those things visually that keep them calm, composed and confident. If looking at a competitor does this for the athlete, then its fine to continue checking out the opposition.
However, most swimmers get uptight and psyched out when they think about who they have to go against, their size or speed. In these situations they should be encouraged to have other things to deliberately focus their prerace attention on. Looking at a spot on the blocks, in the pool, on the deck or on your person will help keep the swimmer’s eyes from wandering to more anxiety provoking sources.
You know what I’m talking about here as the pre-performance or pre-race ritual. Every good swimmer has a set pre-race ritual that they engage in which functions to keep them calm and focused. Having preset things that you do and LOOK at within the ritual helps keep you away from focusing on the uncontrollables. This could mean that at meets the swimmer sticks their head in a book, or gets involved in teammates races to distract themselves visually from all the other distractions.
Controlling your ears similarly means that you should only focus on and listen to those things that keep you calm and confident. This means that if you start thinking positive things that you can focus on auditory. Swimmers who listen to Walkman’s before meets/races are controlling their ears. They’re distracting themselves constructively from all other distractions, whether these may come from within or without. bad thoughts, you don’t simply tell yourself, “don’t think about THAT”. Instead, you find other more neutral or obviously even with YOUR creativity there are limits on what you can prepare your swimmers for so…have them use imagery as homework to prepare/practice ETU. Have them anticipate those normally upsetting things that might happen, but just as they start to happen, have them imagine successfully coping with the stressor. Even imagery practice in this manner will help desensitize the swimmer to the anxiety so that their response will not knock them off center.
This is far from an exhaustive list of pre-meet strategies. I just wanted to give you some general guidelines and a few techniques that you can use to help your athletes better focus when the chips are on the line. Remember, pre-meet psyching is mainly about keeping the proper concentration prerace.
A final aspect of pre-race psyching that I want to discuss with you is the concept of E.T.U. That is, you want to train your swimmers to EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED at big meets. It’s the unexpected events that can so easily knock a swimmer off center and send their performance down the proverbial tubes. The car breaks down on the way to the big meet, you feel miserable after warm ups, your goggles break at the last minute, your worst nightmare unexpectedly takes the blocks right next to you,. etc.
If you train your athletes to mentally anticipate all the unexpected things that could happen, and how they might constructively deal with them, when and if they do happen in reality, the athlete is then able to stay centered when the proverbial poop hits the fan. The way you teach ETU is to use your creativity and try to provide the swimmer with the kinds of experiences in practice or at smaller meets that would “push their buttons” and cause them to panic. Strategize with them appropriate ways of handling the situation, i.e. refocus, change self-talk, slow and deepen breathing, go talk with friends, etc.
If you have questions about any of this material or have an athlete that is having repetitive performance problems, please feel free to call me (413) 549-1085.
Dr. Alan Goldberg is a Nationally known expert in the field of applied sports psychology. He is the director of Competitive Advantage, all Amherst, Massachusetts based consulting firm that works with coaches, athletes and teams at every performance level. Dr. Goldberg has worked extensively with swimmers of all ages and abilities, from age-groupers to world class. As a “head coach”, Alan specializes in teaching swimmers how to overcome blocks and get the most out of their physical potential both in training and competition. A former ASCA clinician, Dr. Goldberg is an entertaining and sought after speaker at clinics around the country because of his ability to take sport psychology concepts and present them in a practical and easy to understand manner.
Alan earned his doctorate in counseling psychology at the University of Massachusetts. Dr. Goldberg writes extensively on the psychology of peak performance for as number of national publications including American Swimming, On Deck, The Diver, Rip, Archer, etc. He is the author of “Smoke On The Water”, a mental toughness guide for swimmers and “Swimming Olli of Your Mind”, a 6-tape audio cassette mental training program. His latest book, “Slump Busting” will be published early next year.
particular meet and had beaten her daughter in every one of the first 6 races that they went head to head in. The mother was overheard loudly talking in the stands, “You know, for the $500.00 I’ve spent on this meet for the hotel, transportation, food and fees, you’d think Jane, (her daughter) would beat Sally (her opponent) in AT LEAST ONE event! Meanwhile her daughter hyperventilates after each race in anticipation of her mother’s regular fits after each loss.
WHAT IS WRONG WITH THIS PICTURE?
Are parents REALLY crazed, egocentric maniacs and psychological misfits vicariously living out their own frustrated athletic careers through their kids? Why, yes of course I respond immediately in 1% of the cases out there. In 1% parents are crazy and have lost sight of the fact that their child’s swimming is NOT larger than life. In the other 99% of the time, parents are sane, but just do insane things. Now this begs a question, if they’re sane, why do they act and say crazy things?
Well before we get to that let me share with you an important secret. Every sane parent wants 2 things for their children and YOU are in a position to give them both.
At, States, just before a number of her daughter’s races, a mother came up to several of her 13 year old’s opponents and asked them if they wouldn’t mind letting her daughter win, since she had worked so hard and wanted the high point trophy. Appropriately each of those swimmer’s gave the mother what she REALLY needed. They smoked her daughter!
A USS sanctioned meet official and father of 12 year old identical twins secretly switched his daughter’s just before a race so that the faster one could swim using her sister’s name so as to increase their team’s chances of winning. Nothing wrong with this guy’s sense of values and what he wanted his children to learn from our sport.
And then there’s the mother who could not tolerate that her daughter’s arch rival over the years was hot at this
- – They want their children to be
- They want their children to be successful.
Parents are willing to go to great lengths to satisfy both of these. They’re willing to sacrifice time, money, their energy etc. towards these ends. The question remains though. If parents indeed want these WHY oh WHY do they act so crazy.
Simple answer: 2 parts
- – We live in a crazy society where winning is blown totally out of proportion and success and failure are defined ONLY in terms of coming in first. If you drop bundles of time and come in less than first you’re considered a loser in this model. This is the winning is not only everything, but the only thing mentality. Let’s face it, how many Olympic athletes who consistently finish out of the medals are household names? How many will you find on the cover of a Wheaties box? Yeah right! If you have some trouble with what I’m saying come back a few years with me to the Olympics and let’s listen in on those highly intelligent post-race interviews. We have Summer Sanders finishing second with a personal best time and Gold medal smile being asked to comment on how disappointed she must feel that she ONLY came in second. GIVE ME A BREAK! We have Jenny Thompson being asked to immediately comment on the suspected steroid use of the first place Chinese swimmer since Jenny only got a Silver medal.
This winning is everything mentality filters into our consciousness very early in life. We’re surrounded by it. It’s the professional model. At a T-ball game a five year old “smacks” the ball and runs on his stubby little legs to first, turns the corner and goes for second, only to be tagged out by the equally tiny second baseman. Instantly and without provocation the runner jumps on the hapless second baseman and begins to pummel him with tiny fists. After the grown-ups physically removed him and demanded an explanation, he quickly and seriously replied, “I thought that’s what I was supposed to do, That’s what they do on TV isn’t it.”
- – Most parents today did not have very good role models as to the appropriate way to act in relation to competitive sports. I can’t speak for yours, but I CAN for mine. I did not have good role models. My parents were a bit out to lunch in relation to my tennis. I did not have pushy parents, I had parents who were out there…way out Tennis was only the most important thing in my life and they didn’t care. This can be just as bad as having pushy parents for some kids. Then there are the parents who get physically sick watching their children compete, and they can’t stick around.
Your job as a coach is to help parents learn to be better role models by training them. What I’ve just said defines three things that you must teach parents in this training.
- – HELP THEM REDEFINE WINNING – one of the biggest causes of performance difficulties in and out of swimming is having an outcome focus. If a coach, parent or swimmer is too focused on winning or getting a certain time, you can be sure that the athlete will NOT be successful. In this sport you have the luxury of NOT having to beat someone else in order to define success or failure. You can tell by YOUR own time.
Parents need to be trained to rethink winning in terms of personal performance. Winning is about doing YOUR best. “YOUR” is the key word here. Whether you have a 100% to give that day or just 68% because you’ve been sick, you must define winning in terms of your own standard. A winner strives to do better than their best. Winning a meet with lousy times does NOT make you a winner.
- – REDEFINE COMPETITION – In America we have a football mentality understanding of We talk of “killer instinct” and “destroying the competition”. We talk of our opponents as “them”, the “enemy” and make sure that as parents, we don’t talk to our son’s competitor or his parents. Look up compete in the dictionary and you’ll learn that the true meaning of competition is “to seek together”. Competition is a thing where your opponent gets you to go faster. The better your opponent, the more opportunity you have to improve. Let’s face it. When you have a lousy race, when you choke under big meet pressure and add several minutes to your best time, who did it to you? That’s right no one but YOU. You are your toughest competitor. Parents need to understand that peak performance is about competing against yourself. I can’t tell you how many blocked swimmers I’ve worked with over the years whose main problem was a parent who wanted them to always beat certain swimmers in each race. Now that’s a good strategy to cause performance problems.
- – REDEFINE THE FOCUS OF CONCENTRATION –
When I have a bad race or meet you can bet your life that the MAIN reason I did so was because I went and focused on the UC’s of the race. If I got psyched out, intimidated or just plain choked my little guts out, you can trace my problem back to the UC’s. The UC’s are the UNCONTROLLABLES in the meet or race. When a swimmer focuses on or tries to control the uncontrollables their anxiety level goes up and their confidence and performance will go down.
Because they do NOT know better, parents tend to focus their kids on the UC’s. “We’ve got to beat Sally today”. (Sally=UC) “If you win the high point trophy, we’ll all go to Disneyland” (highpoint trophy is a UC). “Today you have to qualify”, (quality=UC). When a parent or coach distracts a swimmer into an uncontrollable focus, they inadvertently get them into trouble. The swimmer needs to ONLY focus on those things that they CAN control.
Now, back to YOUR role. If you have any investment in becoming successful as a coach you have to acknowledge that parents are NOT the bad guys. They are an important part of a winning team. You can’t be successful without them. So, let’s look at the two main ways that coaches deal with parents:
1 – THE CRISIS INTERVENTION MODEL – Used by
most of us. You only deal with parents when you HAVE to. They are causing problems, they’re on the deck coaching, they’re undermining your program, THEN you deal with them. In this model you are a fire fighter, always rushing around putting out hot ones. Incidentally, this style of intervention with parents will lead to burn out, hair loss, and a terminal condition known as ETTO, (Excessive Talking To Oneself).
- THE PREVENTATIVE MODEL – You see parents as the good guys, as educable and you pro-actively take responsibility for training them. You meet with parents when they join the program, teach them about the sport, competition, your rules, life etc. It’s this model that you must adopt if you want to be successful and keep your sanity as well as your hair. Don Sonia once said that coaching is 90% training the parents and 10% coaching the swimmer, the hard part is working with the grown-ups.
So looking at my model of high performance, winning team we see that all members have important roles. I don’t have to spend time setting out your role on the team as the coach. You should have a fair idea of what’s necessary. We also know what the swimmer’s job is on the team: commitment, sacrifice, positive attitude, listen, work hard, enthusiastic, etc.· Now we get to the parents. Most parents do not really know what they should be doing on the team. So through my years of research I’ve developed a very complicated answer. You tell them what to do! Spell out the parent’s role in writing. Have them come to a meeting to discuss it and let them know what happens when they don’t play their role the way they should.
So let’s speak English here. What is the parent’s role? Support, encouragement, love, understanding, pay the bills, drive to meets, volunteer to do things at meets, etc. Yes, and the emphasis for parents is that what their kids need is for them to be their BEST FAN. Some swim parents are “fair weather fans”. As long as Johnny is dropping time and Sara is kicking everybody’s butt, their parents are behind them 100%. However, when little Johnny chokes his guts out at the big meet and Sara false starts and is DQ’d their parents are enraged and embarrassed. Those aren’t their kids. When parents tie up a kid’s self-worth and lovableness with their performance and times, they are asking for Trouble with a capitol T.
But Jet’s cut to the chase. What are you all waiting for me to say about the parents role is what they should NOT be doing on the team. Their role is NOT to coach.
Now let me say this again in English so that you’ll remember to repeat it when you’re having this discussion with your parents. A parent’s role is NOT to coach. And then you must define exactly what coaching is. Pre-meet focusing, goal setting and motivation, pre-race psyching, directing, instructing, after race critiquing, evaluating and judging. REMIND THE PARENT THAT IF INDEED THEY TRULY WANT THEIR CHILD TO BE BOTH HAPPY AND PERFORM TO THEIR BEST, THEY WILL NOT COACH.
Keep in mind here something I said earlier. 99% of the parents out there are educable. They will work WITH you. They can be trained. 1% can NOT. There are a small amount of parents who are mentally unbalanced and will NOT work with you and who have a mission in life to make you, your assistants and their own kids crazy as loons. With these kinds of parents you must use “Get Out Therapy”. That is you simply show them the door.
So what prevents you right now from working effectively with parents? Simple! You and your reactions to the things that they say and do. Some parents have a knack for pushing your buttons. For getting you to see red and respond emotionally. Keep in mind, once you respond to parents from an emotional rather than a rational place you lose both your professionalism and effectiveness. There are three common, knee-jerk reactions that happen when we are confronted by inappropriate parental behavior:
# I FIGHT FIRE WITH FIRE · The parent is in your face and you get right back and give’em a taste of their own medicine. They’re angry with you and so you blast them. While getting angry is very appropriate at times, all too often discussions fueled by anger only create more difficulties in the long run. My favorite saying along these lines is: SPEAK WHEN YOU ARE ANGRY AND YOU’LL GIVE THE VERY BEST
SPEECH THAT YOU EVER REGRET. Fighting fire with fire gets everyone involved slightly charred. As Ghandi once said, “An eye for and eye and soon we will all go blind”.
#2 GIVE IN – Otherwise known as EATING YOUR FEELINGS. Yes sometimes it is important to give in. However, if you do too much of this you’ll be compromising both your personal and professional integrity. Especially if you are giving in “just this once” in hopes that the parent will miraculously start acting appropriate next time. This type of reaction is based on the time honored philosophy that if you feed steak to a tiger long enough, eventually it will become a vegetarian.
Furthermore, if you continually sit on your feelings, you’ll end up either saying and doing inappropriate things or else getting yourself sick.
#3 BREAK OFF – You leave, sever relations, throw the parent out, etc. Again, sometimes it is important to divorce yourself or the parent from the club. But this isn’t a strategy you want to use every time you have a serious conflict.
Remember, you are a professional. You are the expert. Even if you’ve had one year of coaching experience. Try to maintain your distance and objectivity. If you Jose your objectivity, you lose everything!
So let me provide you with a metaphor of what kind of stance you want to use whenever you are dealing with any difficult situation that involves confrontation. It’s based on an old Aesop’s fable about the sun and the great North Wind. One day the two were arguing about who was the most powerful and it was certainly quite clear to the North Wind that he was by far the stronger of the two. To prove his point he said to the sun, “See that hapless traveler over there? I bet that I can get his coat off faster than you can”. The sun, noting the long stranger walking along huddled in his overcoat readily agreed that this would be a fine test of who was the strongest. With that the sun hid behind a cloud and watched the North Wind go to work. The great wind began to blow cold and the poor stranger had all he could do to hang onto his coat. However, the harder the North Wind blew, the more tenaciously did the man hold onto his coat. Finally the North Wind had to give up because not even all his blowing could wrest the coat from the stranger’s grasp. Then the sun took over. He slowly moved out from behind the cloud and began warming the stranger. Soon the traveler began to sweat. Soon it became too warm for him to wear his overcoat which he quickly took off as he continued along his way.
Which naturally leads us to an effective stance for dealing with conflict. Please watch. (asks for volunteer). (to volunteer) Please hold your hands out almost perpendicular to your body, shoulder high. Now I am going to approach you twice. When I get to you I am going to grab both your forearms and try to push your arms down to your side. In each case, no matter what, I want you to resist me. Ready? (approaches with teeth barred, angrily and quickly grabs volunteer’s arm and puts all his energy into trying to push the arms down. Volunteer offers tremendous resistance and Dr., G is unable to budge his arms). Now shake your arms out and Jet’s try that again. Same thing. (This time he approaches volunteer very calmly with warm smile on his face, looking volunteer straight in the eyes as he calls his name in friendly greeting. Lightly puts hands on volunteer’s forearms and with almost no effort pulls volunteer’s arms down to the side.
My point is simple. Did I get what I wanted? That’s right, I did and I was a whole lot more successful than when I went after it looking for a fight. This is a very important metaphor for you to keep in mind. Certainly some time you still need to approach the parent the way I did the first time. However, most of the time you will get more of what you want if you approach them the second way.
So we’ve discussed your reactions. Now Jet’s briefly look at WHY problems develop between coaches and parents. One word. COMMUNICATION. Actually, a Jack thereof is more accurate. When things are left unsaid, assumed or imagined, problems always develop. Let’s take perspectives for example. Every good swim coach has a Jong term developmental perspective when they take a young swimmer on. They train with an eye on the Jong haul. They build slowly, thoughtfully and carefully. They worry about and avoid doing too much too soon. This stance however, is in direct conflict with most parents’ way of measuring whether Jane or Billy is getting better. How do they measure this? Well, is Jane dropping time and is Billy winning more races. There’s that short term, instant gratification, winning and results is the only thing mentality. When I came into your office about my little 7 year old Teddy and demand that he get to do two-a-days like the older kids, because my Teddy is special and someday he’s going to win US a gold medal, you need to be able to communicate quite clearly to me why I won’t get what I want with this short term perspective. I need to be educated about the training process so I don’t drive myself, my kid and you bonkers over the next few months and years.
So you have to teach your parents how to talk with you. This means however, that YOU have to be accessible to them. You have to listen to their concerns and complaints. I didn’t say you have to agree with them but you must listen to them and give them a feeling that you understand where they are coming from. If they feel you understand them, they’ll be on your team for the duration.
You have to teach them NOT to go to your assistant, another parent or their child when they are upset. It’s you they want to talk with. So here are some guidelines for you to follow to build a winning team with your parents and to foster open communication:
#1 STATE CLEARLY (both verbally and in writing) YOUR COACHING PHILOSOPHY, STYLE and
POLICIES – Spell out your view of competition and winning and how YOU measure success. Tell them exactly what your program is about.
#2 ESTABLISH YOURSELF AS THE EXPERT –
Whether you have a Lot of experience or a little, you ARE the expert. You are the coach. Even if you are inexperienced, you have access to a wealth of written/audio/visual experience. Present this role in a friendly NON DEFENSIVE manner.
#3 CLEARLY DEFINE THE ROLES AND EXPECTATIONS OF THE PROGRAM AND OF EVERYONE
ON THE TEAM – Spell out what is expected of the swimmer. Time commitments, sacrifices, physical demands etc. Explain your role and what you will and won’t do. Spell out the do’s and don’ts of the parent’s role including in detail the issue of coaching. This should include, clearly stated what will happen if a parent persists in interfering in a coaching role, on deck, at meets etc. Spell out role and function of parent organization.
#4 DEFINE APPROPRIATE BEHAVIOR FOR PARENTS, SWIMMERS AT PRACTICE AND AT MEETS
– Explain to parents WHY it is important that they follow these guidelines, i.e. That their child’s love of the sport, self-esteem and performance is at stake.
#5 EDUCATE THE PARENTS ON THE PRINCIPLES OF PEAK PERFORMANCE – Teach parents the following principles and their role in fostering a positive learning environment and consistency in winning performances and help parents understand the process and their role in facilitating it.
- – ATHLETE IS HAVING FUN
- – ATHLETE HAS HIGH SELF ESTEEM
- – ATHLETE IS FOCUSED ON THE PROCESS OF THE RACE NOT THE OUT COME
- – ATHLETE FEELS CHALLENGED, NOT THREATENED
- – ATHLETE HAS THE FREEDOM TO FAIL AND MESS UP
- – ATHLETE IS ON AUTOMATIC AND NOT THINKING
- – ATHLETE IS RELAXED,MENTALLY AND PHYSICALLY
#6 DEFINE A COMMON MISSION • Highlight the parent’s important role in the team’s goals. Spell these out clearly. If you want to begin to develop nationally ranked swimmers, then you need to put this on the table
#7 KEEP THE LINES OF COMMUNICATION CONSTANTLY OPEN AND DEAL WITH PROBLEMS
RIGHT AWAY – Do not wait for a “good time” to deal with conflicts. “Good times” just don’t ever come. Move towards the conflicts immediately and calmly. Don’t Jet the mole hill turn into a mountain.
#8 REMEMBER TO KEEP YOUR PERSPECTIVE
AND PROFESSIONALISM – Share your strong emotions with a supportive other, NOT with the problem parents that stir those emotions within you. Carefully consider both your words and actions…and when your alone you can scream and yell a lot.
Keep in mind, to produce a winning effort and have the gratification you deserve from this sport and your job, enlist the parents to help you. DON’T EVER ASSUME THAT PARENTS SHOULD KNOW WHAT IS AND ISN’T APPROPRIATE BEHAVIOR. Use a preventative model and train them. You’ll live longer and be happier. Not to mention that you’ll also be a more successful coach.
Ingrid Daland is a former National team member from Germany. Size is a past American Record Holder in the 100 meter breaststroke. Attending the U.S. Nationals in 1962 resulted in her 30 year marriage to the current ASCA President, Peter Daland. For over 30 years, Ingrid has been teaching swimming ill private pools, country clubs, and now in their own facility. Most of those years teaching were part time to supplement your coaching salary. Her coaching years started as the age group assistant at the Los Angeles Athletic Club. Size was then the head coach for two teams which she founded. After winning the respective regional championships, and wanting to reach higher goals, she became head coach for Simi Aquatics in 1980. In her second year size had 13 rookies who qualified for Junior Nationals. Until she stopped coaching in 1987, she had at least one different Junior National Champion at each NO Championship meet. After winning the Junior Nationals team title and having developed and coached a Senior National Champion, it was time to devote herself to a newly acquired swim school. Now Ingrid is coaching high school only, and devoting all her time to running a swim school with two pools and over 30 employees during peak season.
All of us at one point in our careers had dreams of being our own boss and being financially independent. Most of us have a mental plan of how our future career path will wind uphill through our lives. To some of us it seems that we have reached dead ends, and our jobs have seen more downs than ups. Since most of our coaches are at the mercy of parent’s organization, which very often are not responsible decision makers, the fear of losing our job keeps us from saying things that should be said and from doing things that should be done. Our lives are in the hand of parents equipped with blinders who are often ignorant and almost never can look past their own child. They literally can cause the destruction of a coach and his work, and of course the salaries that go along with most coaching jobs are pathetically low. But lucky for all the swimmers we stick with it, because we love what we are doing.
I am assuming that we all know that our product is the main ingredient. Teaching people how to swim, how to enjoy the water, and convincing the general population that aquatic activities are a way of life. You have to believe in your methods, being SwimAmerica, Red Cross your own acquired way, whether you believe group lessons, private lessons, therapy classes, exercise classes or teams, are your priority, is not the discussion here. What you are selling needs to be your decision, though I urge you to inquire around and be open-minded!
If you have a business degree, knowledge in bookkeep ing, financing, etc., you are already ahead of many of us. Maybe you should take a course in entrepreneurship. There are many ways to acquire the business back ground knowledge you need. Certainly experience, working for someone else in the same field is a good base to build on.
I, for one, have never taken a business course, hated economics, I loathe math, don’t know a thing about book keeping. I tell you, if I can go into business for myself anybody can!
If course, there are a few key ingredients you must have to get started. I find three components very important: Desire, Opportunity, and Financing.
Desire: The drive, the willingness to work long hours often under sacrifice of personal and social obligations. Desire is also the belief in yourself. Hopefully, you have a person that supports you. It will be hard enough by yourself and impossible against the wishes of a spouse.
Opportunity: Opportunity appears differently to different people. First of all, you need to have time for research. If a place ready build to operate is offered for sale, this is certainly an opportunity. So is the perfect lot in the perfect neighborhood, ready to build. Opportunities are also having an interested partner or friend to motivate and advise you. There also needs to be opportune time in your life to take on a new business venture and then sometimes there are financial opportunities that present themselves.
Financing: This is definitely one of the key ingredients.
- Financing could be achieved by finding a financial backer or getting a construction or Small Business Administration (SBA) loan or starting out small and build on while doing your own financing or you could simply win the
1 really cannot see how you can accomplish much with just two components: Desire with opportunity, but no money? Money and opportunity with no desire? You be the judge!
O.K. You have the desire, so you look for an opportunity. If you are looking only to supplement your coaching salary, you probably don’t want to own your own facilities, but there are numerous people out there that are very successful doing just that.
Do you have a pool in your backyard? Teaching lessons in your home that could be owning your own business.” Run it like a business. Check on zoning. You are probably illegal in most parts, but if your neighbors don’t mine go ahead. Check into rebuilding your back yard entrance so your privacy will not be invaded, possibly construct an outside entrance to a bathroom.. Maybe install a portable changing room. Set strict operating hours, have customer contracts and lay down the rules: otherwise your projected $80 per hour will be whittled down to $5 with all the no-shows, make-ups, telephone calls or just being sociable with the customers. Get liability insurance and keep good records. Pay your taxes.
You can also go from home to home or teach in someone else’s home. There are many different ways of utilizing private pools. It will be a little harder to have many assistants or keeping them (Because what keeps them from doing what you are doing.) Your income will be directly related to how many students you teach!
You can also rent a facility. These possibilities are endless. There are country clubs, tennis clubs, health clubs, homeowners associations pools, scuba diving shops have pools, hotels and motels, private academic schools need to generate income from their pools, a municipal facility without a Park and Recreation Department, look around.
Some pools you probably won’t be able to rent. Municipal pools run their own programs which are generally not geared to really learn how to swim well, but to serve a large part of a not too interested public at a reasonable price. As far as all the other pools, make an offer!
Find out what the operating cost would be. This depends on size of course, indoor or outdoor, type of equipment, bather load to name just a few.
Take into consideration, membership or homeowner use and see how many hours you can free for your purpose, sharing lanes might be a possibility. You need to do your homework!
A good manager will listen even if they have an existing program. Maybe you can offer something they need or you can do something better than what they have. Guard against becoming an employee. Stay in control. Establish a check list and find out about each different situation. For example:
- Available hours and space ls there enough time for me to generate enough business? Can I teach evenings? ls there enough space to possibly hire a helper? Water temperature who controls it?, etc. etc.
- Financial liabilities Besides agreed rental fees, what else is hidden? Can I set lesson and pay fees as I see fit?
- Insurance Do I need my own?
- Repairs and maintenance: Who is responsible. Can you schedule maintenance around your operation or do they want to vacuum until 10 m.? Is the water and deck clean?
- General operating responsibilities What specific rules apply for each facility?
- Employees Can you hire employees? If yes, they need to be on your payroll, your insurance. You need to do all the monthly, quarterly, and yearly tax deposits and forms that are needed. The IRS has very stringent guidelines, as to when you are an employee and when you are an independent contractor! You need to know
- Overall control In most cases this set up will turn into a situation of an employee in charge of aquatics, not your own business. You are truly only independent, if you lease the whole facility, and are responsible for everything in exchange for paying a fixed monthly fee or a percentage of the
If you lease a pool, have a lawyer check your contract. In an “as is” contract, you are responsible for repairs, etc. Make sure that additions belong to you. The new pool heater you put in, because there was none, is yours when you leave. If the owner wants to take the lease back, the added equipment shack or the pool reel and covers that you purchased will go with you when you go.
This will make it harder for the owner to take over again when he sees how much income you generate. A new percentage may be a good financial arrangement: “When I do well, you do well!”
When leasing, you are truly not your own boss, because if your lease expires and the owner decides to put an office building where the pool is now, you are out of business. In our case, you couldn’t just rent another store front! You do need a pool. Of course, if you have a portable pool, you could take it with you and rebuild somewhere else.
Rita Curtis, a former National Champion and a Southern Californian pioneer in owning and operating a number of swim schools in the 1950’s and 1960’s, once said to my husband, “Lease Never own water!”
That is definitely a statement to think about. Check with people you know who do one or the other. Get their input.
I personally know of several very good lease situations, but also of some gone sour which have really hurt the operators involved. Even the most stable health club, the richest sugar daddy, can change their mind or worse yet, go under.
When you own your own place, yes, you are independent but you are stuck! The buck stops with you. If an employee goofs, it is your responsibility. If the equipment breaks down, it is at your expense! If the neighborhood goes down, so do you. Know yourself. Are you willing to take chances. I am a very cautious per son, though I tend to be impulsive. I don’t stick a nickel in a slot machine or even buy a lottery ticket, but I will gamble in order to explore, to improve, and to find a new challenge. With my business, I am not a risk taker. I’d flunk every entrepreneur aptitude test, but here I am against all odds.
As far as the previous ideas about self-employment, I have been there done that! I did it all: I have done the backyard teaching in a home pool; Teaching/coaching in homeowners pools, country club pools, the Los Angeles Athletic club; worked as a team coach responsible to a parents group; I was aquatics director in a country club setting; I also owned and coached my own team in a leased facility and now I am owning and operating my own facility.
Now the only thing left for me, is to build the perfect facility to my own specification based on the experiences I have gathered.
One of the great opportunities, of course, would be to buy an existing facility, but the cost may be prohibitive. So check into just buying the business and leasing the facility. You don’t need so much startup capital, and you generate income immediately. Work out a possibility to buy the property at a later date.
In my case, I bought an existing swim school that had been there for years, even been for sale for years, and was totally run down. There was no business left. Two weeks before foreclosure, at the spur of the moment, I decided I wanted to make a go of it. I knew I could do it. But how do I go about it?
I needed money. Well, we are both coaches with three school children, no cash flow, and no real assets. Where do we find the money? We refinanced our house and used the equity for the down-payment. I sat down and made a business plan, which I should have really done first. Mind you, I was absolutely clueless.
I made a one year projection with an outline of programs generating income and calculating expenses. Then I made a five year plan.
I talked to a number of people to obtain information. Here are a few clichés I had to listen to:
- In order to make money, you have to invest money. Sure that is true, more or less. It does not mean the more money you invest the more you’ll
- Time is money, yes, but don’t forget to value your time. Coaches are generally so free giving of their
- It is better to use other people’s money, if you can get it.
- Money isn’t everything, but an awful lot depends on it, and so on and so on, half-truths, all of
I assume that none of you are in a financial position to go out and either build or buy a pool on a cash basis, but don’t let that distress you. There are ways. Just like you needed to find out about yourself, in which aspect of swimming you really want to work, you need to find out how you can live with yourself as far as financial matters go:
A. Can you sleep at night having large mortgage payments?
- Do you take chances
- Are you meticulous about financial affairs, record keeping, etc.
It is best, of course, if you have a spouse/a friend as a helper or at least as a sounding board.
Solid inquiries should be made at the:
Chamber of Commerce There are groups of retired business people willing to offer their help. Attend meetings. Ask. Ask.
Bank Officers Get to know the banker you are dealing with. Ask. Ask. My suggestion to you is, talk to your banker and find out what information they need to process a loan application. You can write to American Bankers Association, Steps to Small Business Financing for further information.
Friends you value Sort out valuable advice. Think in terms of dollars. If your friend’s dollars were at stake, would he give you the same advice?
Specialists I had never run a pool, just the programs in it, so I talked to a local pool man. He was kind enough to come and look at the equipment. He gave me an idea how much to estimate into my project.
After being turned down by two different banks, one banker at a third local bank believed in my plans, my ideas and most of all me.
He trusted his instincts, that even without a track record, having no assets, no business education, ·an I had was a husband with a steady job. I wanted to keep it simple. I didn’t need a line of credit, because we did not need to support our household from this venture, so all I got was a real estate loan.
Pools are considered a one use property. Banks do not want to loan money for ventures like ours. If they get stuck with a pool repossession, they can’t do much with it, so they are taking a big risk and as we are finding out everywhere swimming pools and swimming schools don’t fit into any category. There are no statistics to go back to, so most loan officers are very cautious.
You could get a real estate loan for the lot. Maybe get a separate Joan for improvements, which is being handled differently. The bank will pay vouchers directly to the contractors, and you will pay only interest on the amount used, when it is used.
You will need operating capital, start-up money and if you are giving up your job, money to maintain your household until you generate income.
Finding financing is not as tough as it seems. The United States Small Business Administration has a lot of money set aside to help start and continue small businesses. It involves a detailed application with personal histories, business plans, detailed financial records, locations, projections, etc. The application goes to a committee and there it can sit. It is a very good loan to get, you just need to have time and patience.
Minority help is everywhere. Your SBA loan application will fare better, if you are a member of a minority. Remember, though there are more women than men, we are considered a minority.
Even if you don’t think you’ll need it, establish a line of credit. This gives you a certain amount of money that you can tap into quickly and pay only interest on when you are actually using the money. Always pay these lines of credit back as quickly as possible. With a swim school being a seasonal business in most instances, a line of credit is of great value.
Another way of funding your project is a backer. You can have silent partners. All they want to see is a profit, but generally they have no say in the business.
You can form a corporation and sell stock. This can also have benefits from the liability point of view.
You can form a partnership and work together with someone who’ll help you financially and who will also work in the business. The problem here is, if a partner ship goes sour, dissolve the relationship immediately, it will not get better. Dissolving a partnership is always messy and disillusioning. It is worse than a divorce, because there is always money involved, job security, ego. Get a lawyer to advise you.
And in the last three instances also have a lawyer draw up contracts. Don’t trust a handshake, no matter how good you think your friendship is at the moment.
Whether you buy an existing facility or build to suit check into government regulation before you put your money down.
Then dive into the wonderful world of government regulations, local ordinances, health department codes, etc. to name a few. Do your leg work:
Zoning: Can you operate your swim school in the cur rent zoned area. If not, can the zoning be changed for you? Don’t assume that buying an existing business automatically gives you the same basis of operation. Frequently, new regulations apply with change of ownership. This is true for all the following considerations as well, to name a few:
Operating hours: Can you open at 6:00 a.m. and stay open until 9:00 p.m. In some areas (residential for example) the city won’t let you open too early or stay open too late, because it may disturb the residents. If it doesn’t apply to our projected hours that’s O.K., but what if you want to change maybe later?
Lighting: Tall lights or bright lights may be necessary for you to extend your hours to generate more business, but does your neighborhood permit it, or can you modify the lights or the rules?
Parking: Most communities are enforcing strict parking rules. In a residential area people may bet very upset if your customers occupy every spot up and down the street. Needless to say, your customers are not happy having to walk what seems to them miles, even though there are only a few steps involved. Having to literally drag an unwilling child ten more steps can turn your clients away. In our community, an ordinance asks for 7 extra parking spaces for every two feet of water. Why? I fought for a variance on the grounds that this is an existing facility and no way to modify due to topographical condition.
chance of getting injured is slim. Probably less than that for office personnel, but as usual pools and pool employees are being lumped into other categories, and that makes the instructors insurance six times higher than that of office employees. I pay about $15,000 per year on insurance and that does not include any medical plan at all, and I don’t know what this fair city of Washington is going to do to me and all of us small business owners in the way of health insurance.
Uncle Sam, of course, is holding out his hand every where: property taxes, including every chair, desk, computer or loose item in the business. You will have pay roll taxes, monthly, quarterly and yearly, with your contribution being around 10%, Medicare (in California), and your own personal income taxes. Don’t forget to subtract the cost of your accountant. It seems a bit expensive, but you will need one. Get a good one! It took me three tries. A good CPA will save you a lot of money! It is one more way you are forced to keep good records, which is very important. Believe me, the IRS will check up on you.
If you thought you could write off a lot, check again. The laws are changing constantly. I cannot write off any travel expenses of a relative. For example, my husband Handicap access: Handicap access is a law. There go at. is coaching our masters team, and any travel expenses least two of your best parking spaces.· Your shower facility is down to one. The two toilet stalls are now only one. Some communities ask you to access the water by installing swings or ramps. If you are not on level ground, even the slightest elevation, you could be in for major expenses ($56,000 in my case, including access to my equipment room. It does make it easier for the chlorine and coke deliveries.
Signs: Can you advertise on the street where people can see your sign? How big could it be? Check your ordinances. There are probably a lot more, and these are only building codes which vary greatly in every town, county and state. So research.
After knowing all your codes and regulations, start in on your insurance and don’t think you can do without it. That would be foolhardy!
Of course, you will need fire, theft, and vandalism insurance. Liability insurance is a must. For your own peace of mind and your livelihood this is a necessity. It is not cheap, so do shop around. I got mine down to $6,000 due to swim school networking.
Worker’s Compensation Insurance is mandatory and quite high. For example, we know that an instructor’s occurred due to National or World Masters Championships with our swimmers are not, I repeat are not deductible. I am sending my daughter, who works for me and is on my payroll, to the National Swim School Association Conference together with my head instructor to Fort Lauderdale. My daughter’s expenses are not deductible (she is a relative), though my head instructor’s expenses are O.K. You figure this out. I gave one of my valuable employees two $550 tickets which I cannot deduct, unless I put it on her payroll and she has to pay the taxes. That means she is out about $300 NICE PRESENT!
As you can see, a lot of detailed thinking goes into your plan to minimize your surprises. Surprises and mistakes are expensive, but we all pay for our education. You probably all have at least one facility in mind that you would want to build or take over or renovate.
If you have no personal ties, no obligations, and you could go anywhere you wanted, how do you choose a location for a swim school.
Go to the library. Check out the results and publications of the census bureau. Ideally, find a town with a population of around 100,000 with other communities nearby, easily reached by express or fast highways.
It should be a predominantly middle to upper-middle class community.
The median range should be on the young side. an age of mid 20′ s is excellent. Mid 30′ s would be O.K., mid 50′ s is not desirable, if you want to teach! Of course a young community will generally not be an upper middle class area, but they have the kids!
Remember, we are getting the perfect lot. It is flat, so we don’t have to worry about grading and extra building expenses for handicap access. It is big enough for a parking lot and some landscaping.
The lot should be near major thorough fares, accessibility is of importance, as you’ll draw from larger areas. Shopping in the area makes it more attractive.
If you pick a shopping center, make sure it is an upscale one, not one with a lot of teenage hangouts, fast food places, and convenient food stores.
If you like countryside, make sure that it is not so remote that the trip is too far and a customer cannot tie it in with any other errands.
Is the climate favorable? We all know of windy corners or dark valleys or fog holes. If your dream is handicapped by early mountain shadows, solar heating might not be feasible. If an indoor pool is considered, that again, wouldn’t matter a whole lot.
Are you going to move closer or live right on the property? Do you have a long commute?
There are a lot of considerations. There is no perfect place, but assess the pro’s and con’s. What can you live with and what is insurmountable. Are some of the negatives really not so bad or are they going to cost you in terms of maintenance or customer traffic? Are the good points really that good or are you paying too high a price for a certain feature.
Shuffle all the pieces and they will fall into place. Many things are decided and are taken out of our decision making process either by chance or by tie ins with other situations.
Well, now we have the money. We have the place. What do we build?
Your own plan is of utmost importance. I am assuming now we want to build a full service swim school. We’ll have members who swim for fitness, water aerobic classes, swimming lessons, swim team, birthday parties, and other revenue producing programs.
Now the climate and populations tendencies are playing an important role. In colder climates you have to be indoors or at least in a facility that can be converted, either by tenting, putting a dome over, or sliding roofs. There are many varieties out there. I am in Southern California where people don’t want to be indoors all year long. They also don’t think of swimming lessons much in the cooler months, even if you offer an indoor facility. In my area, people associate swimming with summer, when their own pools are heated.
A friend of mine who has two swim schools on Long Island, New York, says that December is one of his biggest revenue months, in indoor pools of course, and his summers are slow due to vacations. In my place, the months of May, June, July are by far the biggest, and in December, you could be as lonely as the Maytag repair man.
Since we come from a coaching background, we are having a team. If we are only having one pool, it would, of course, need to be six lanes wide by 25 yards long (it could be four lanes only or only 20 yards long) but that would limit our team sizes and levels.
A better set up would be two pools. One for teaching and therapy at around ninety degrees, and the larger one for fitness swimming, exercise classes, advanced lessons, masters and age group teams with a temperature of about eighty-two degrees.
As far as configuration of the teaching pool, there are many ideas and you need to come up with your own idea. At the National Swim School Association Conference we discuss points like this all the time, and I have seen fellows who come with blueprints, etc. and leave with totally renovated plans!
Two pools gives you the option of operating only one in the slower season and cutting down your overhead.
If you want to make real money, you probably don’t want a lap pool at all. You would teach lessons only at peak seasons and close for part of the year, cutting down your cost and making a pleasant life for yourself.
If startup money is a consideration, you might want to begin with a small pool only. Operate in peak season only. Enclose it at a later time. You could rent a mobile trailer for office and locker rooms until you can afford to put up permanent buildings. Later add a big pool and permanent structure. Plan ahead so you have a mini mum amount of tear down and rebuilding cost, and you can utilize existing structures.
The locker rooms should be simple, well aired, easy to clean, moisture resistant and child friendly. Tiled from top to bottom is ideal, but costly and can be done later. I found two toilets and two showers adequate for both the men’s and women’s bathrooms. Have a team room if you like.
The office needs to be large enough, accessible, and centrally located, so that if only one person is on duty, she can overlook the whole facility. You can allow space for a small shop, exercise room, and you will need storage space.
The equipment needs to be adequate if not oversized to ensure clean water. That is another whole subject.
If you are planning on an indoor pool: Do you want it indoors year-round, some of the time only? Do you want sliding doors? Check out your needs, climate and customer’s needs (some areas have wimpier swimmers than others!)
There is great variety. You can get bubbles, canvas with a metal ribs holding it up, or a structure held up by steel cables, or a movable vinyl and glass building, or solid buildings, in expensive and reasonable price ranges.
Get local building code approval before beginning anything.
Your pool itself, presents quite a challenge. Have you ever checked out how many different types are out there? There are a lot of above ground pools, and many are very sturdy and affordable, providing your health department and building department approve. The in ground pools are constructed of vinyl, aluminum, granite, with different kinds of finishes like plaster, fiberglass, rubber, etc. I could go on and on. A good gook to get is Pool & Spa News by Leisure Publications. It contains company names and products of anything you would need for your pool and equipment. It is worth the investment.
Some people have waterslides, wading pools and spas. Check out your expenses versus possible revenue. Are you thinking about necessities or amenities? Are you interested in revenue, or are you giving a public service?
Keep in mind, if you work full time in your facilities certain items may not make financial sense, but if it makes your life a lot easier and more pleasant, it may be worth considering.
One of the most difficult aspects of owning a business, is being an employer. Most small business owners are pretty terrific in what they are producing or what they are doing, but hiring and worst yet firing people is the most difficult and most hated job. If you are lucky, you have one key employee in each department and they can make life a whole lot easier for you.
You’ll probably wear all hats in the beginning. One hat I should advise you to let someone else wear is book keeping. You need an expert there. As I said before, a good CPA can save you thousands of dollars and your office person answering phone calls and signing up customers probably shouldn’t do your books. You need cross references. Whoever takes in your money, shouldn’t keep your books. Try as you might, you can’t keep your eye on everything. You’ll be head instructor, head coach, head maintenance person, head office man ager, head troubleshooter.
When business gets going, of course, you hire people. I suggest you stay with what you love, if it is coaching, then coach and hire teachers; be it teaching, then teach and hire a coach. If you’ve never seen yourself as an office person, then stay out of there, even though signing up new customers is the most important job at hand. Stay visible and accessible.
Be the boss. Delegate, but don’t be afraid to pitch in if it is necessary, to benefit the customers, or go and help out a valued employee. You might have to alter your own plans to keep your staff happy.
Create a chain of command and stick to it. Screen and train your employees or have a supervisor do it. Don’t forget to supervise the supervisors. There will always be a dud. Get rid of that person sooner rather than later. Second chances, usually don’t work. Trust your instincts.
Listen. Don’t interfere in front of customers, or better yet, have a good job description for your employee an you do not need to interfere you just need to reinforce.
Try not to be moody, temperamental, or inconsistent. Be fair and don’t play favorites. Know your weaknesses and try to improve what you can.
If you have reached a good bottom line, and you have climbed out of the financial cellar, reward loyalty. Pay for good service and look into a good reward system.
Seasonal help is expensive to train, so give them a rea son to come back. Look into profit sharing or retirement plans. Give out little awards along the way.
Don’t fall into the trap and hire instructors and call them independent contractors. One of my swim school owner friends was caught by the IRS and had to pay over $120,000 in back employment taxes and fines. This was only for several instructors she sent out to private homes. This did not even include people that worked on her premises. I know of an architectural firm that went bankrupt due to back taxes and fines claiming the architects in the offices as independent, which they actually were to a large degree. Even now, if you presently work for cash, but if someone else “really” employs you, be careful. In your handout is a Form 937 a 2DO point reference for independent contractors. If you can answer yes to even one statement, you are an employee and your employer needs to pay all taxes or you both will be in serious trouble. The IRS will check your sources of income and write offs.
When your business grows you’ll probably hire a receptionist first, next a full time head instructor, and depending on your facility and your own abilities a plant manager/maintenance person. Other office people and instructors and coaches will probably remain part time unless you run a pretty steady year-round program, which is obviously ideal.
The source of your employees is different with every situation. If you have colleges in your area, they are an ideal source. I personally found “moms”, part time adults not a good resource, though some swim schools swear by them.
Make your part time seasonal people feel like full time people. Train them well. Treat them well, pay them well, if you can. They’ll come back. I have three seasonal people five years now, two part time people seven years. In fact, I only have one really full time person and I just made her salaried this year after three years of part time work.
Your employees will be your most valuable assets and your biggest headaches. Learn from mistakes, don’t be closed minded. I have learned a lot from my employees. Due to the informal nature of our business, like dress code and dripping wet kids everywhere, it is sometimes hard to be the employer/boss and to make sure rules are followed and company policies are enforced and upheld.
As a boss, you have a lot of power. Make good decisions for your business and for yourself.
I am right now in the fortunate position that I have a good staff, but I am not yet daring enough to let go of the reins. Several of my friends have more than two facilities and spend very little time in each of them. That takes a certain personality; maybe if my name were not over the door, I could expand and after spending seven years getting my current place the way I want it, I am thinking daily of the possibility of opening another place.
So now I am at the very beginning again: I am looking for a place (have several locations in mind) I have financing, but I am nervous about staff. The profit mar gin in swim schools is not that great, and if you don’t have a responsible managerial staff, it’s hard. There are several ways you can make expansions work.
The best way, I think, is a personal financial stake by the manager. Let’s say, it is my own location, my financial responsibility, and after all expenses (taxes, operating payroll, etc.) are paid, I’ll take a certain percentage and the head manager after getting a regular salary takes the rest. Better yet, if the bottom line is estimated to be about $100,000, the first year, I take $80,000, the man ager takes what is left. If the business generates an increase of 20%, I still get my $80,000 but only 20% of the increase, which will leave me with $84,000 and the manager gets $36,000, good for the manager and for me, because my assets are growing (with the mortgages and loans paid off, the value of the business is increasing). We both win! Particularly if there are clauses in the contract that he has first refusal in case of the sale of the property, or a way to actually buy the property.
If anybody here is interested, let me know. I have the seven year itch to move on.
A good staff will make running your programs easy. Your programs will be dictated by your own preferences, but don’t be blinded by what your market should really be. Be familiar with the percentage of your different programs: The percentage of income compared to the total revenues: The percentage of expenditures, wages, and cost, compared to the total expenses.
Don’t be afraid to cut a program. If it is not producing, chop the dead branch of your healthy tree. If the aerobics class has four loyal participants, but can’t really get going after several different approaches, cut it. Don’t moan. Find a new program.
Sometimes, we keep a program for sentimental reasons. If you can afford it, keep it, but at least modify it. In my facility more than 80% of the gross revenue are from lessons. Less than 5% is from the swim team. Salaries of coaches on the other hand are between 40% and 70% (depending on season) of the team income. Swim instructor’s wages are below 30% of the lesson revenue (but there you need to figure most of the office workers salaries into it.) Financially, it is not sound to have a team, but I see it as a service to our lesson graduates, and a service to the community, and you should think the local “big” team would be grateful for us to turn over an average of twenty five kids with excellent skills and work habits. We decided that our facility and our purpose lie in the instructional end, and why compete with another team in town, when nobody offers what we do. We try to be the best at what we are doing.
Every area is different. We have a lot of competition in our-area and we listen to our customers. That in itself dictates the programs we run. For instance, in looking over my first business plan, I was pretty close in predict ing the overall expenses and revenues, but boy was I off in which programs generate what percentages of the income. My baby and me classes never did what I thought they could do. My aerobics classes are a flop, regardless of instructor, time slots, types, etc. On the other hand, our birthday parties have taken off.
To be a good employer and boss, make time for your family and yourself. Nobody is indispensable. Life is too short, and Peter, wherever you are · Yes, there is life beyond coaching and swimming.
When you are closer to your swimmers and know them better than your own kids when every weekend is spent at swim meets or at work and your vacation is a trip with the team to Hawaii you need to re-evaluate your life.
Last, but not least, owning your own business is extremely rewarding. It can be a lot of work, a big headache, and can take over everything in your life if you let it. You are in charge. You take the risks. You make the decisions. The buck stops with you.
I love what I am doing. You wouldn’t know it the way I moan at times. I love to go to work, and I am in charge of my life!!
Mr. David Dahl, from Wichita State is a Professor of Entrepreneurial thinking at Wichita State University and their entrepreneurial school, one of the best in the Nation. He was a basketball player in his college days, twice WOil the most inspirational player award. He continues to do caller commentary for Wichita Basketball on the radio. He has become a Lawyer. He is interested in corporations and startup businesses. He is a coach of his son’s little league baseball team and he is an outstanding speaker. His course has been taken by Rob Snowberger. His family works at the Wichita Swim Club.
I gave this very same presentation about 2 weeks ago to the National Association for the Legalization of Nude Mud Wrestling and it was very well received and I’m glad to see so many of you back again to hear it a second time.
Did any of you used to watch the show Star Trek? Remember that? And I guess there is a more modern version and I haven’t seen any episodes of the modern version. But let’s assume for just a moment that you are beamed up to the Starship Enterprise and you are put in charge. What are going to be some of the things that concern you? Has anybody here ever captained the Starship Enterprise? I haven’t. What are going to be some of your concerns to do a good job of being the captain of the Starship Enterprise? We don’t want to crash and if you’re not going to crash and if you’re going to be in charge, what are you going to have to have. You’re going to have to have the personnel to get you through. The people that know what they’re talking about. You can’t do it all by yourself. We’ll talk a little more about that in just a little bit. Also, before you started driving a car, before you got your VCR, didn’t you open up an operating manual and look it over. Absolutely you did. And the same thing should be true with a business that you are running. You need to have an operating manual. Now, I helped over 400 businesses get up and going in the last 14 or 15 years. And there are about 10 things that I consider to be the most important things for these young entrepreneurs that are getting up and getting start ed. Kaley, would you please go ahead. This is one of
my sons. My twin sons are here with me as well as my wife and this one is Kaley. Thank you son. The first thing that you have to concern yourself with as you are starting your business is, you’ve got to have a play book. You’ve got to know what you’re doing. You have to have the outline. Any former football players here? See, all the guys who are walking around like this are the former football players. When you got out onto the field, when you practiced, didn’t the coach give you a play book so you knew what your blocking assignments were, so you knew where you were going to go when the quarterback was going to throw the ball? Absolutely you did. Something as simple as football required a playbook. Did anybody here ever build a house? Have you ever built your own house? One person? Two people? What did you use as your playbook when you built your houses? You had diagrams, you had blueprints, and you had specifications. And if you don’t, you’re not going to build a very nice house. Your just going to go out and buy lumber and start your project like we did with tree houses when we were kids. No, it doesn’t work that way. You have to have your playbook. Your playbook as a business man is called a business plan. You absolutely need to have it. Has anyone here read the book, “Alice through the Looking Glass?” It’s an old one. Or “Alice in Wonderland”, it’s also called “Alice in Wonderland”. There’s a line in 11 Alice in Wonderland” where Alice is down in the magical land and she’s running and she runs into the Cheshire Cat. Remember the Cheshire Cat with the big grin and he would disappear and the grin would be the last thing to disappear. And Alice says to him “Am I going the right way, or is this the right road.” She says, “Is this the right road?” And the Cheshire Cat says “Well where are you going?” And what does Alice say? Well, I don’t know. Well if you don’t know where you are going, every road is the right road. And the Cheshire Cat told her that because you have no goal. You have no objective. You have no plan. As a businessman, to be successful you have to have your playbook or your business plan. I tell my students this, and I teach one course a semester out at Wichita State and a lot of them are starting to follow this advice and it really works well. And it worked for me when I was in school too. When do we usually write out resume. Not you. I know you wouldn’t do this. But when do young students today usually write their resumes? (Answer from the audience) “When they’ re done with school and their trying to find their first job” That’s perfect. School is over, I need a job, let me think, I’m going to sit down with my parents and go over a list of things that I’ve accomplished. Right? Well, your resume should be like a business plan for you and please advise your students of this, the peo ple that you coach. What you should do, for example, if your students want to get into the marketing profession, and I deal with a Jot of freshman and sophomores. I say to them, “Go to some of the advertising agency’s in town, go to some of the television and radio stations and ask the Chief Executive Officer, who are your key peo ple, who are some of the shining stars, who are some of the up and comers. Now, tell me, what did they do to get this job. What have they accomplished. What is their track record. What makes them special. What distinguishes them. And ask as many people as you can and then you go back and write that resume as a fresh man plugging in all those things that you would have accomplished by the time you are a senior. Maybe you should be an intern for an advertising agency. Maybe you should take some extra classes at Texas Tech University. One of the best advertising schools in the Unites States. Find a mentor that will look out for you. And I’ JI guarantee you that at the end of 4 years if you have filled out this list and if you have written your business plan or your resume beforehand, by the time that you get out and have done all those things, you’ II get a job. It’s just as simple as that. And I’ve had students say to me, “Well my goodness, that’s unethical, to write those things down”. Well, what I say is I’m not telling you to go out and sell yourself with a resume that isn’t honest. What I’m saying is outline your future. Put down the things you want to accomplish during your sophomore year, junior year, senior year. And folks, it’s not too late for you to do the same thing. Is there another position that you want. Do you want to coach at another school, for example. Do you want to get into the business world? What does it take? What would make you a shining star? Fill out your resume and then start to complete some of those things. And honest to goodness, it works and it works very well.
There are 13 parts to a business plan. I have a handout up here and please come up and take one of the handouts after the session is over and we’ll conclude at about 11 o’clock. And that gives you the 13 points of the business plan. Very basic. All 13 points need to be in your business plan. Your game plan. If all 13 are not in, you will not have a successful game plan. The pieces that are missing will make you less successful. For example, did any of you used to put models together when you were kids? That was always so tough for me, you have to be a pretty patient person. A very precise person to put models together. And I remember about three years ago, no actually it was about 5 years ago, that Kayle and Brock, my sons, asked me to go to the Hobby Lobby with them to buy a model airplane kit so that they could put it together. So we got one for each of them. One for Kayle and one for Brock. They came back and started working on those models that very evening and after about 30 minutes Brock was done and it took Kayle about 3 hours to put his together. Brock came up to me after 30 minutes and said,’I’m done”. And I said, I don’t know much about models but how can you be done in 30 minutes. He said, “I’m done Dad, but why do they give you all these extra parts?” Well, they give you all those extra parts because you didn’t put all the parts together. And it’s the same thing with the business plan. You have to put all the parts together if you’re going to be successful as a businessman. Also, personnel is very, very important. And I tell my clients this and a Jot of my clients have businesses that are, and I represent almost as many women business owners as men business owners. You’ve got to have people that are going to help you do the job. They may be volunteers, they may be friends, they may be employees, and they may be advisors. But you’ve got to have them if you’re going to be successful. All too often, and I know all of you are very self-confident, and in my opinion you have to be to be a coach and to be a successful coach. That’s part of success, is being self-confident. But you may get up in the morning and look at yourself in the mirror and say, holy cow I’m looking good today. I feel fine today. I’m going to get out and whip the world. And that’s fine and you may be able to do it as a coach but as a businessman we all need help. You cannot possibly have all the skills that is takes to be a successful businessman. In Topeka, for example, or in Wichita, excuse me, for example, Frank and Dan Kearney started Pizza Hut about 30 years ago. Small pizza shack on the corner near Wichita State University. And finally when they got so strong and they were thinking about franchising, they hired somebody that was an expert in franchising. They hired somebody that was an expert in marketing. Somebody that was an expert in finance. They hired an attorney full-time because they don’t have all those skills. You guys can’t possibly have all those skills. You ladies can’t possibly have learned all there is to know about business at this age and still devoted enough time to coaching. It just isn’t possible. So what do you do. What can you possibly do. You read a little bit. You educate yourself. You enlist help. You get people on your committees and on your Boards of Directors that are fundraisers that are financial people that are CPA’s that are marketing people. Involve them in your organization and your chances for success will skyrocket.
Then the next one. I’m a horrible speller. I don’t think that I spelled that correct. Is that how you spell niche? Number 2? No that’s the psychiatrist. I had just come back from my psychiatrist and I just, Freudian slip I guess, and I put that up. But number 2 is actually niche, niche. What you have to do, a second of the 10 points we’ll talk about this morning is find your niche. Find your niche. And you do that by determining what the needs are of the people that you deal with. That’s your target mark, find out what their needs are. You have to analyze your competition just like you would have to analyze your opponents that you swim against. And I’ve got a list of 10 or 11 items on breaking down. the competition. It’s on the flip side on one of the sheets on the handout. So please get that. It’s great and it works. You can find a lot of things about your competition. So you have to analyze your competition and then you have to do an accurate job of analyzing your own strengths and weaknesses. I mean both business wise and person ally. Analyze those strengths and weaknesses. Let’s take a quick example. There’s a sporting goods store, Rob, maybe you know the name, and I don’t know the name that’s coming into Wichita. It’s like Goliath Sporting Goods, on 21st Street. And it is huge. It’s like the Superdome. It’s going to be filled with brand name sporting goods at discount prices. What does that do to the smaller Mom and Pop sporting goods store? There out of business. Because sporting goods is, and I represent 2 sporting goods stores, it is most, the most price sensitive business I am involved in. It’s just really tough. People aren’t loyal to sporting goods stores. It’s just really price sensitive. OK. Well, let’s take it one step further. Incidentally, there are ways not to go out of business. You create a differential advantage. You take advantage of your smallness, Let’s take it one step further to illustrate that. Walgreen Express. Who knows what Walgreens Express is? It’s a drugstore. Discounted prices. Volume discounts. And they come into a community with 5 or 6 stores and they can get volume discounts. OK. We represent 2 pharmacies in Wichita as well. Their smaller shops. One of them has 2 outlets. One of them has 5 outlets. Walgreen Express does, sells what? Price. OK. What differential advantage does the Mom and Pop pharmacy have. They have great service. Your name is? Dotson? You come in and I say “Dotson, how’s your wife doing, you know I notice that you want to pick up this prescription but you might also want to try this and here’s an over the-counter thing that might work also…. They develop a personal relationship with their customers. That’s what you have to do. We’ll talk more about that in a little bit. What are some of the things that the pharmacy can do to create a differential advantage? What else can they do? They could specialize possibly in a few things. They can deliver which Walgreen Express did not deliver. OK, Let’s take it one step further. Let’s talk about your swim club. What differential advantage can you talk about when you try to sell people on your swim club. The location is great. Short driving distance, easy access, easy to get to. What else can you sell them? Super coaching, I think that’s the most important thing. You want your child to be competitive. You want your daughter to develop self-esteem. You want your child to potentially be a high school athlete, to potentially be a college athlete, to potentially get a scholarship. I don’t think it’s inappropriate to talk about those things. We’re success orientated here. We’ll develop those traits in your child. We’ll help you develop those traits in your child. What else can you sell as a swim club. Fitness. Fit for life, your child will develop a life style that will make them healthier, more successful in life. There are tons of things that you can sell in creating a differential advantage. And trying to carve out a niche for yourself. Now just very quickly we talked briefly about competition. Who’s your competition? Other sports. Now see foot ball is just going nuts over this. There are football coaches in Wichita that are just going crazy over soccer. Soccer now is a 9 or IO month a year sport. The quick defensive backs in football are playing soccer now. They don’t want to get banged around. They’d rather play soccer. Other sports would be one. What’s another competitor of yours. Other youth activities. Piano lessons. I coach basketball, I coach baseball. Sorry, my son can’t come to practice tonight, he has basketball. That’s fine. My son is in a play. That’s fine. I under stand that. But that’s tough and at one point the child makes the choice. What are other competitors? School work academics. It’s a tough one to fight. Gotta be there but it just is a matter of budgeting time in my opinion. And it’s been my experience that the better athletes are the better students, as a general rule. The athletic population gets a higher grade point average as a general rule than the non-athletic population. What else? Other teams. Church involvement. Money. I can’t do it because_ of the money. I don’t know enough about the sport. You know one of the things that is a competitor that is really bothering me lately and I’ve got friends that have kids that are pretty competitive athletes as sophomores and juniors in high school in a number of different sports and the hormones kick in and the competitors are the mall, and the car, and the girlfriends that aren’t interested in sports, and the boyfriends that want to hang out, and Bevis and Butthead because we’d like to watch TV instead of working out. And if it doesn’t happen with you yet, it’s going to. And to me, that’s one of the biggest concerns, one of the biggest competitors. Number two though, it find that niche. Kaley, would you do me a favor pal and go ahead and put up the next overlay. Thank you sir. Number three is focus. You know what we can do is spread ourselves so thin trying to do too many things. It’s been my experience that most coaches, my father-in-law was one, I have very good friends that are coaches, I do some, not on the same level as you do. We’re type A’s. We do every thing. We don’t delegate as well as possibly we should. As we take on more and more responsibility, we do things maybe that eliminate some of the focus we need to have to be successful. You’ve got to have focus. You talk to your athletes about it you have to have focus to be successful. I’ll give you an example. Does any body have kids that play baseball? Tim, I know you do. They ever play coach pitch? Your kids ever play coach pitch. Where their own coach pitches to them. It’s a fun game. Kids aren’t too skilled at that point. They are 7 years old. I saw a game 2 summers ago, not this summer but the summer before. There is a shot that is hit to the outfield. There is a man on second base, the score is tied, and it’s the bottom of the 5th inning. My friend’s team is in the field. The outfielder goes back to play the ball. Now usually he will miss the ball and it rolls to the fence. He plays it on one hop. This 7 year old kid plays this ball on one hop and this kid is running from second. This is the winning run, our opponents, and he’s not even on third yet. The kid catches it on one hop and uncorks a throw to the plate like you wouldn’t believe. I mean it’s right out of ESPN highlights. It takes one bounce and those little league fields, if they are the same where you play as they are where our kids play so they can play games even if it’s a torrential downpour are so hard that the ball hits the infield and one hops over the catcher’s head. But this kid is just rounding third. The backstop is not too far from the plate. The catcher turns to run back and get the ball, he’s going to have plenty of time to tag this kid out at the plate and send this game into extra innings. As he turns to go back, this 7 year old catcher, he notices something. Now see these umpires can move these games along at a pace of one per hour. So they’ll umpire 4 games in an evening. The umpire then doesn’t have an opportunity to take a break so they’ll bring some treats with them and this umpire had brought a huge bag of peanuts M & M’s and he was eating them between innings and then he’d roll it back up and he’d put it back up against the backstop. The catcher turns to get the ball and Oh, out of the corner of his eye he sees the bag of peanut M & M’s. It’s funny, he stops dead in his tracks. And the parents are now starting to become aware of what’s going on. The kid stops dead in his tracks. The baseball is over to his right, the M & M’s are over to his left. The parents are screaming get the ball, get the ball. The kid finally gathers his senses and moves to get the ball, stops again, looks at the M & M’s, and runs over, true story, gathers up the peanut M & M’s and starts to eat them as the winning run scores. Parents are beside themselves. One of the most memorable things I’ve ever seen in sports. But we do the same thing with our businesses and what you do with your clubs. We lose focus. We’ve got too many things to do. If you put 2 bales of hay in a corral with a donkey, he’ll starve to death. Which one do I cat. Which one should I go to. You’ve got so many things to do that unless you have held and unless you have focus, you’re out of business. So you’ve got to narrow down your focus as to what you do best and what your club does best. I’ II give you another quick example. I represent a guy that, anybody a Harley Davidson driver here. Well, they’re really making a comeback and I represent a guy that’s on the outskirts of Wichita, that sells Harley apparel and I’m not talking about knives and guns on the streets, I’m talking about vests and leather jackets and it’s pretty good looking stuff. And t-shirts and boots and he’s making a ton of money and he’s moving his business to Wichita, Kansas. Don’t tell anybody yet because it hasn’t been finalized. But he’s moving his business to Wichita, Kansas and we’re trying to team up with a very wealthy individual and one of the things that my guy wants to do is get a huge location and then open up a 50’s restaurant over the clothing store and the apparel store. Well, you know what is going to happen with this guy who has never run a restaurant in his life, if he opens a restaurant, he’s out of business and he’s out of business within 6 months because he doesn’t have focus. You’ve got to focus in on what you do best and get help with the rest of it, but focus. There’s another quick story. One of the guys I represent is a plumber. That’s a tough business, a hard business. He works 60 hours a week and I mean he works 60 hours a week. He talks to me about once every three months and he says when should I hire another person and we analyze it and deter mine and we get in part time workers because it isn’t advantageous, it isn’t efficient enough to hire in a full time worker and we go over that every three months or so and he’s not around his family, he’s not around his spouse, she has to work and he came into me about a year ago and he said you know what we’re going to go ahead and buy a little piece of property in Rose Hill and we’re going to put in a hardware store. And I said Wow, I agree Rose Hill needs a hardware store but why would you give up the plumbing practice. I mean you’re finally doing pretty well at it. And guess what his answer was. Well, that’s what I was expecting. Spend more time at home but guess what his answer was. Who’s giving up the plumbing practice. I’m doing both.
And he said What do you think of it. And I’m really candid with my clients after practicing law for 18 years and I said you’re out of business in probably less than 7 months if you do that. You’re working 60 hours a week now, you’re plumbing business needs you personally there. You do one or the other. You open up that hard ware store, that’s fine, don’t do both. And thank good ness he did not do both. You’ve got to have focus.
Number 4, what’s my batting average? You folks deal with statistics all the time, don’t you? I mean don’t you deal with times on your swimmers and don’t your swimmers know what times and you know you’ve got statistics on how you perform in certain meets I assume, is that correct also. You have your statistics. I coach base ball. We have our statistics also. Just tell me and I don’t know enough about swimming to know what times are good times. I’m a very good friend of some of the people in Rob’s Club. Rob’s a friend of mine but I don’t know enough about it to say what good times are. However, I do know enough about basketball and base ball to say what good percentages are, good ratios are. Who can tell me what is a good batting average for base ball? 300 and now 300 you’re in the hall of fame. I mean 260 and you’re making a million dollars a year. But 300 is a magical plateau. How about basketball. If your shooting from the field what’s a good field goal percentage? What we like to say is if you can get up to 50 percent you’re a pretty darn good basketball player and how about from the free throw line. What’s a pretty good percentage from the free throw line? 80 is a very good percentage, or 75 and they say if you do other things well then that’s college material. Now you’ve got to do a lot of other things well but they want their college players to shoot 75 percent. You know what good times are, you’ve got your standards, you’ve got your numbers, and you’ve got your batting averages. Well, how about your business. How about the way you run the club as a business. What are good percentages, what are good ratios? How do you tell. What do you have to have to tell that. You’ve got to have the bottom line and there are three documents that can get you to your bot tom line as easily and as clearly as possible. A profit and loss statement is one and I like to cut them down, people call them P & L’s and that’s exactly what they are, financial statements. I divide those two into balance sheets. But balance sheets and income statements, got to have them and your cash flow statements. You’ve got to know how much cash you have on hand to pay the bill. Balance sheets and income statements and cash flow statements. There was a company out of Wichita called Carmel Corn. People stood in line as far as from me to the wall to buy this Carmel corn in the largest shopping center in Wichita, Kansas. The books were done by the owner’s brother-in-law. He was in Gary, Indiana. Now what often times happens when relatives do work they don’t get to it as quickly as they would their normal clients because they’re not getting paid. Even though people daily, were in lines this long, he went out of business and declared bankruptcy. He did that because he was charging too little for his product. What he did was determine the cost of the ingredients of the popcorn and the box and marked it up. Took into account nothing for insurance, nothing for rent, nothing for the payment of the employees. Just the cost of the ingredients. And it was a healthy mark-up and he thought with this kind of a mark-up I’ve got to be successful. He was out of business in a year and a half. Somebody bought the business out of bankruptcy. The first thing they did was increase the price by about 40 percent and what happened to those lines when he increased the price 40 percent. They didn’t go down at all because the product was great. Product was good. The guy needed to know what his batting average was as he went along, he needed to know his numbers, and he didn’t know his numbers. How often should you have your income statements and balance sheets done? On a monthly basis and it used to be quarterly and then annually after you were in business for a while and now we talk about having them done on a monthly basis. Who should do those financials for you? An outsider. It will cost you seventy-five or a hundred dollars a month and I know that’s though and I know it’s tight but why do you want to have an outsider do it rather than doing it for yourself. There are a couple of good reasons. He’s objective. You’re going to skew to figures in your favor. You may not even intentionally do it. But a third party will be totally objective with the numbers that they put down. Who does their own taxes? Isn’t it hell week when you do your own taxes. You stay up late. I don’t do them anymore because my wife and I used to get into so many arguments about the taxes. Most of us aren’t accounts. Most of us aren’t CPA’s. You can be much more efficient if you spend your time with the club either coaching or developing the club business. I just don’t think it’s an efficient use of your time if you serve as it’s accountant as well. The financials illustrate things. Does anybody watch the weather channel? It illustrates things to you. Like an EKG. I had a friend what had an EKG for an insurance physical and the guy said we’ve got to put you in immediately you’ve got a blockage, you’ve got all kinds of problems. They did open heart surgery within 2 days and they saved his life. It reveals things about you and your business. That’s why you have to have those financials done. My mother-in-law was a kindergarten teacher. Every second week of every semester the photographer would come in and take the picture of the class and about a week after that the picture would be posted and the students could buy the picture. Photographer comes into Carol’s class, takes the picture, a week later which is now three weeks into the semester the picture is posted up and the kids come rushing up and look at it and they start saying to one another, Hey, we’ve got a black kid in the class. And they started to look around and they say that’s right. We do have a black kid. in the class and they looked around and finally figured out this kid was the black kid. They had been together every day for three weeks and nobody noticed that anybody was any different until it appeared up on the picture. Now, wouldn’t it be nice if we were still that way and we wouldn’t notice that we were any different because we’re not. But the picture reveals it. That’s why you have to have those pictures for your business. The financial statements and the income statements.
Number 5, who knows what MMFI means? Who knows who Mary Kay is? May Kay Cosmetics. One of the greatest marketers in the entire world. Number 5, MMFI means Make me feel important. And Mary Kay says that in her business when she runs into anybody, she sees emblazoned on their forehead, tattooed on their forehead, MMFI because everybody is saying to you make me feel important. And I’m here to tell you if you want to be a successful business person, if you want to be a successful club manager, a successful coach, you have to make people feel important. What kind of peo ple am I talking about? Who do you have to make feel important? The customers, the people who will donate money to your organization. Who else? The employees have to be made to feel important. Don’t forget the athletes. I’m not saying make them feel that their important at all times because there are some time, like when I sat in on two sessions yesterday when you have to take them to task, I understand that, I agree with that. But you can do that in the proper way. You make them feel important. You treat them in an uncommonly courteous way and they will want to deal with you. They will want their child to be coached by you as long as you know your P’s and Q’s and I’m assuming all of you are good coaches. I’m assuming you have taken care of the technical part yourself J C Penney was being interviewed in his home. He was in his nineties, he has since passed away. And there was a phone call and JC Penney picks it up and he lives in a small town and he say hello, yes, I don’t know if we have that, let me check. And then he picks up a second phone and he dials the number and he said “Do you have any of the off-white paint that we’ve been talking about in our advertisements? Good, how many gallons do we have left? Great, how much is it going for now? OK, good. Would you hold two gallons of that paint and somebody is going to be coming in to pick it up. He hangs up the phone and picks up the other phone and he says We’ve got two gallons for you right now. We’re saving it for you it has your name on it just come in any time today or tomorrow and it’s $10.95 a gallon. And the interviewer said, my god, what was that. Well, J C Penney listed his name in the phone book as J C Penney and a woman calls and says I want to know if you’ve got any white paint. And he says you know I bet this hap pens to me a hundred times a year and I Jove it. And he treats this woman who’s ordering two gallons of paint from one of his stores as if she is a queen. And that’s one of the reasons that J C Penney was so successful for all of those years.
One time, I had to catch a flight and it was a really cold snowy winter morning and I needed to get some cash and I waited too long to get the cash and my flight leaves at about 9:30 and at five till nine and I pull up and it is blizzard conditions outside and I’m knocking on the door and it’s a branch bank and I can see 3 employees inside with hot apple cider, coffee and their nice and warm and chatting back and forth and they see me out side and I look like Jack Nickelson in the Shining when he’s frozen and I’m saying, Please let me in and it is five till nine and the woman points up at the clock and she says we’re not open for five more minutes. Well, how do you treat people. And I’ve had students of mine say hey, I work in a bank, they can’t do business with you for five more minutes and I said I know that, just let me in the door. You can do that. And they can to that. You have to treat the customer in an uncommonly courteous way. And it was far from it.
One more quick example. Have you ever eaten at a place called Long John Silvers? There was one that came to Wichita and this was about 20 years ago and it was when I was working at the Chamber of Commerce before I went to law school and all of the members of the Chamber of Commerce who were invited for a free meal at Long John Silvers. Now, talk about being treated in an uncommonly courteous way. This was it. More so than any other time in my life. They were trying to get the people in and out as quickly as they possibly can because this is free lunch day for invited people. And they would seat you as quickly as they could as soon as the people in front of you were done at their table and then they’d get all the things on the table off but they were doing it so quickly that we were being seated when they were still wiping off the table. And you know at Long John Silver’s they’ve got these little crinkly things with the fish. These little fried crinkly things that are pretty good. Not on the diet. Is anybody giving a talk on nutrition here? So I’m seated and this 19 years old waitress is wiping off the table and she wipes all these crinkly things right into my lap. And she looks down and there they are all over my lap and she reaches down and brushes them all off of my lap. I ate more fish in the next 30 days going back to Long John Silver’s then I’ve eaten in my whole life. But what you have to do is treat the customer in an uncommonly courteous way.
Number 6, you have to be creative. We’ve got limited budgets. We have to make the most of what we can do. Most of the businesses I represent are this way. We simply have to be creative. I’ll give you a couple of examples. Who likes to do laundry and garden work? I don’t. I would asphalt my yard if I could. I’d put in a huge basketball court. I don’t really care to play basket ball but then I don’t have to mow that section of the yard. But in any event, John Deere comes up about 10 years ago with a lawn mower that’s a riding lawn mower and it can turn on a dime and it can cut right around the tree. The reason I don’t like yard work is it’s too much work and it takes up the whole weekend. And that’s finally a little bit of free time. Now I know most of you work on weekends because your meets are on weekends but if you don’t work on a Sunday, you want that Sunday to be free. Well what if John Deere called their riding lawn mower the weekend freedom machine. And all of a sudden that codgers up a real picture. It’s creative, it helps them promote their lawn mower and they’ve had a lot of great sales because of it. Talk about creativity is anybody familiar with the Beatles? I was talking with a 15, 16 years old girl the other night and I said oh that’s a Beatles song and she said that voice sounds familiar. And I said it’s Paul McCartney and she said “He played with another group besides Wings?” I said are you kidding it was the greatest group of maybe all time. They sold so many records. Anyway, remember the great marketing ploy that the Beatles had. It was creative. How about the album where you spun it around backwards and what did it say, Paul is dead. On the Abby Road album, as their walking Paul is out of step on the cover walking across the street, and Paul was barefoot and everybody else had shoes on and one of the songs talked about Paul’s disease. People thought that there were clues in the album relative to Paul being dead. And guess what happened to sales of that album? The songs were Ok, the songs were pretty good. Bestselling album that they’d every had up to that time because we wanted to solve the clues, we wanted to be the detective. It was simply, purely a marketing ploy. They were just very creative.
Number 7, you have to be resourceful. You have to create something where there is nothing. You have to be resourceful. Like a magician, like David Copperfield. I’ll give you a couple of examples of resourcefulness. Ford, back in 1902 or 1903 was start ing his automobile manufacturing company. Henry Ford was ingenious. And if you would make engine parts and you would make wheels and you would make steering wheels and you would make lights, I would require that you would ship those component parts to me in crates that had very rigid specifications. Now what difference would it make that the crate was a certain size and a certain thickness of wood. What could that possibly have any bearing on. Anybody ever go to Sea World and look at the penguins? I was never interested in penguins until I went to Sea World. their risk analysis is the greatest in my opinion of any animal in the wild. What they do is they will be out on the ledge, huddled around and the ledge is back out a ways and back to the ocean and then they decide in mass that they want to go for a swim and have some fun. But, what’s the problem? Is there a killer whale there? We don’t know. Seals eat them, because there are large seals. So they start to edge over and they start to push and they edge over and the one that’s closest to the edge falls in and it’s funny. Once one falls in they just come over and look. Only one goes in and you read about this and I said, that can’t be true, and it’s true. Talk about great risk analysis. Only one guy pays the price.
Number 9, start your engines. You ladies and you gentlemen I know already are doing this but what you have to do is translate this to the business part of what you do. You have to have enthusiasm. Got to have some vigor. It’s contagious. Your athletes will perform better if you have that. Your parents will be on board, the adhesion will be stronger. They will be more tied to you. Your investors will like dealing with you because of that zest, because of that enthusiasm that you have. Who’s ever read Winnie the Pooh? There’s a character in Winnie the Pooh that’s a real downer. Eeyore, oh, what a day, we’re supposed to go on a picnic and it will probably rain. It seeps off the pages and if it doesn’t rain the food will probably be no good. And if the foods any good the ants will probably pester us to death. And that’s Eeyore. And I’m telling you, you can’t be that way. You can’t be that way for one minute. And another thing, another piece of advice, it’s tough if your around people that way too. They just pull you down so be very careful with your associations because it’s tough to be with them. This glass, the optimist’s creed. What do I have here? It’s half full, not half empty. It’s just a way of looking at things, We go on vacation. We’ve got 2 days left and do we say, Oh my god, 2 days and then I’m back at work and then it’s another 50 weeks before I get a vacation. Or do you say, two days and these are going to be the most enjoyable 2 days of my life, let’s get out and have some fun, what should we do. And it’s a way of looking at things, it’s a way of approaching things. Anybody have a pet? They all have their personalities and they’re so funny. A guy showed us the capitol building yesterday, he had worked in the House of Appropriations Committee. I had just met him and his cat was sick and the guy was just beside himself. He was despondent over this cat. We get attached to these animals. But dogs, you can tell what their thinking. You see the expression on their face. They smile, they almost laugh. They get sad at things, they get disappointed that things aren’t going well. We have a dog, named Mitzi, we have another dog, my sons named our second dog who looked like to first one, they named him when they were 6 years old. Guess what they named her. Mitzi two. Anyway, Mitzi, the doorbell rings and Mitzi immediately is up. The ears are up and that tail is going a hundred miles an hour. And it’s just a bee line to the door. And she’s just so excited and she’s jumping up on the door and she’s yapping and the door comes open and it’s for me or for Tony or whatever. Every time the doorbell rang for 16 years, it was the same. The smile, the tail, every time she’s that way for 16 years and you know what it was never for her. Not once. But she still maintained that zest. She still maintained that enthusiasm and that’s what we have to do as coaches and people that run businesses.
And finally, number IO, income. Got to be like a fighter. You get knocked down, you get back up. How many times have you told your athletes that? Got to be like a fighter with your business. Get knocked down again, get back up again. You’ve got to hang in, you’ve got to be tough. In your business, because you’ll be tempted to bail out just because some of the business things that go on. There was a woman that lived in Minnesota, which was my home, which was where I was born and raised, and this was many years ago, and she weighed I 55 pounds and she had 2 kids and she was married and she said to her friends, You know some thing, I want to be a model. And what did her friends say to her? You can’t do it, don’t even think about that. Don’t waste your time, you’re a little too heavy to be a model, you have 2 kids, your here in Minnesota. Models don’t come out of Minnesota, your husbands here, his job is here, and you can’t do it. Her relationship with her husband was not on good grounds anyway and that’s why she was thinking of this career. She moves out to LA. She sheds a few pounds and she gets an agent and then they start taking some pictures of her and she was in an ad finally. Oh, and she felt ecstatic. She felt great about herself. She worked a little bit harder and she lost some weight and she had a very pretty face and she was raising her kids and her agent worked very hard for her and she was a sincere person and she was in a couple of more ads. And she worked even a little bit harder and her agent transferred her to another agent and he had better contacts and she was on the cover of a magazine. How great, she’s finally on the cover of a magazine after only a couple of years of working all the time at this and after having people tell her there’s no way and after having people in LA say, there’s no way. And then she was on a couple of more magazines and then at one time she was on the cover of every magazine at one point or another in the entire world. You know who I’m talking about? Cheryl Tiegs. I don’t know if any of you have seen pictures of her but a very beautiful woman and the last time I looked she was still looking pretty attractive to me but she didn’t stay down, she got back up. She persevered. She was able to hang tough.
There was a guy who fashioned himself as a cartoonist. That’s what I wanted to be when I was a kid. I drew a cartoon strip for my parents and it was horrible. They humored me and never told me how bad it was and as I look back on some of the things they saved, I’m embarrassed by how bad it was. But I wanted to be a cartoonist. There was a guy in Kansas City and that’s where I went to high school, my parent’s had moved that, but this was long before I went to high school. But he too, thought he was a cartoonist and he drew a cartoon and he took it to the editor of the Kansas City newspaper and he said I think this is a pretty good cartoon, what do you think. And the editor of the paper said, we don’t think it’s a very good cartoon, i.e., don’t call us, we’ll call you. But there wasn’t any call that came. So he goes back and he sketches some more and he goes into a little business in the meantime and he brings the next cartoon back and he says, what do you think of this one? And that time he didn’t even get in to see the editor. They don’t want to see him, they know the quality of his work. Well, this guy in the meantime was submitting a lot of cartoons to the editor of the Kansas City newspaper. He can’t buy his way in, he can’t see him. The editor would make snide comments about him. So this guy goes into business to try to make some money in the meantime and he fails and he tries and he fails and actually 7 of his businesses failed as he was trying to develop this cartooning career. Finally, one day he gets a call from the editor of the Kansas .City newspaper, who says, well, this one’s not too bad. I think I might want to talk to you about it. As a matter of fact, we might want to buy this cartoon strip. Come down this afternoon, let’s talk about it and we’re ready to sign you up to a retainer. And the guy couldn’t come down until the next day because he was so poor at that time he didn’t even have a pair of shoes he could wear there. So he had to go out and borrow some money to go out and buy a pair of shoes so he wouldn’t embarrass himself. The guy buys the strip. Who am I talking about? Walt Disney. My god, that guy can got knocked down and got back that many times and look what happened to him. We can do that with our swimming clubs, we can do that with our business.
The final example, there was a guy that was interested in politics and what he did was run for the state legislature and he lost. And what happens with most of us, when we lose at a political campaign? That’s it. It was fun. I gave it my best, but it’s over. So he was done for a while and went into business. He thought he was through with politics and his business failed and he spent 17 years paying off his debts. But that’s ok, because he was in love with a beautiful woman and he could withstand any kind of a problem as long as he was with her. However, she died and he was so despondent that he contemplated suicide. People talked him into getting back into politics and eventually he had enough support that he ran for congress and he won by the narrowest of margins. An eyelash, a sliver, he wins. He’s ecstatic. He serves 2 years, he runs for re-election and then what happens to him. He’s soundly defeated. He’s embarrassed, he’s humiliated. He tries to get a job now with the US government. He can’t, they won’t hire him. He tries to get a job in private industry back home, he can’t, and they won’t hire him. They’re afraid he’ll get back into politics. He does get back into politics. He runs for the vice-presidency of the United States, he loses. He then runs for the US Senate, he loses again. Who are we talking about? Abraham Lincoln. How many times can we get slapped around. How many times can we get knocked down and get back up again? One more time. And that’s what you should say to yourself. I can do it one more time. And then when you get knocked down the next time, I can do it one more time. You can always do it one more time. That concludes my little presentation on IO important points of the successful entrepreneur. You can do it. You translate your coach ing skills to your entrepreneurial skills. You folks are all very good coaches, excellent coaches. And what you have to do is make sure that the business part of it doesn’t throw you into failure. And you do this by adhering to these principals.
Coach Chasson is the Head Coach of the Harvard Men’s Swim Team. Prior to coming to Harvard, Coach Chasson was the Women’s Assistant Coach at Stanford University. He was all associate coach for the 1988 Olympic Team, Head Coach for the 1993 Macabean Team, and the Assistant Women’s Coach for the 1993 Pall Pac Team. His achievements include NCAA Champions, USS National Team Swimmers, and Olympic Swimmers.
Thank you, Nort. Working in Nort’s program got me started on using stroke drills for teaching stroke and developing technique. I’ve continued to use that for the last 20-plus years in coaching and I thank him for that.
I’m talking about Developmental Breaststroke, but the things I’ll be talking about, I use with our Olympic caliber athletes as well as our age group program at Harvard. We do the same things with the youngest kids up through the college swimmers and those I’ve been fortunate enough to coach at the national level.
Drills are the basis of how I teach strokes to kids. I like them because they “force” good technique. If you can teach the kids to do drills properly, get them to continue to do them on a daily basis, they’ll develop the correct habits. I’ve found that to be a lot more effective than me either demonstrating the stroke from the deck or describing it verbally.
I’ll still show video’s or have swimmers demonstrate the stroke or the drills, but by them practicing the drills, we can break down the stroke or put it back together, depending on the drills you’re using. Eventually, depending on the talent level of the swimmer, they develop the stroke you’re looking for. How long it takes depends on the individual.
I use them in the warmup and warm down phase of practice to start the practice with an emphasis on technique and finish it by reemphasizing it. We also use drills on more demanding intervals as part of sets, but not as much as others might. We use intervals that are comfort able enough that people can keep working on the skill properly and hold their stroke. If some people can do them on a faster pace. I’ll let them, but generally our emphasis is on doing them correctly not fast.
Drills are real good to add variety to a practice. I have quite a few drills for each of the strokes. We try to mix it up and work on different skills. It helps to keep the swimmers interested but you’re still giving them valuable work on skills. I’d rather have them work on a drill as part of warmup or warm down than to just have them swim easier.
I’ve had breaststrokers be successful with a number of different styles. Jill Johnson, who made the 1992 Olympic team had a completely different style than Rich Schroeder, who made it in 84 and 88. Totally different but both successful. One year at Stanford I had 5 different girls who scored at NCAA’s and each had their own distinct style. There are certain basic things they all did well. I don’t have anyone try to swim with a particular style, because it may not work well for every swimmer, but I try to maximize certain things that I’ll explain when I go over the drills on the video. These things will apply to any style. Work on the basics first and as they become successful at doing them, build on that by adjusting what they already do. A lot of them will do that on their own because of their physical attributes. It won’t have anything to do with how we coach them; they’ll take the things they know they do right and adapt it to their body style. Try to individualize as much as you can because there’s a lot of ways to be fast with this stroke.
I’ll be showing a boy and a girl doing the drills on this video. The boy is Joe Sheehan who is a national qualifier in breaststroke, just graduated from Purdue and came to our program this past summer. Many of these drills he’s never done before and he does them with a varying degree of success. The girl is Jill Johnson, the 1992 Olympian. This video was made a couple of weeks ago and Jill has not been swimming for a while. But she did drills very well when she was swimming. She doesn’t have all the power she did, but she still performs them with the kind of precision I like to see. You’ll also see a contrast in styles. Jill is a more leg dominant breaststroker. Joe uses his arms more and has a less patient stroke. We’ve been trying to get him to use his legs more.
These drills can be used at any level of swimming and once they know how to do the basics of breaststroke, we’ll start them on the drills. The first set of drills are kick-oriented, then pulling, then timing and distance per stroke on the third set.
(Runs video and comments)
We start teaching the kick motion on the pool deck so they can’t bring their knees forward. The particular style of kick matters Jess than that they bring their heels up and turn their feet out. We have someone stand behind and put pressure on the inside of their feet to give them the idea that they can be propulsive.
Next we have them go through streamline and pulldown. Jill had excellent turns and I want to give an idea of that. I want them to get underneath their body much like a butterfly pulldown, coming off their streamline.
I don’t like using a board for kicking. I’d rather have them learn to use their legs for support and kick with their arms streamlined in front, then they put their head up which puts more stress on their legs, They’ll either have to pick up their kick tempo or work their legs harder to stay up on the water. Then I’ll have them kick with their arms back, bringing their heels up to their finger tips, stressing not to bring their knees forward on the kick, also keeping the head up.
Try to have them breathe where they would normally breathe in the whole stroke. Try to accelerate your kick; your feet should get faster as they close out the kick; make sure they finish the kick by snapping the legs and feet together.
A few years ago, Jill had a knee injury and when she came back she had a wider kick. It improved her distance per kick so we left it the way it was. Jill is known for having one of the longest strokes; in the Olympic trials, she took 15 strokes on the first length, splitting 34 flat on the way to a 2:27 breaststroke. That’s legs more than anything else.
It’s much easier to start kids on the habit of not using kickboards in the developmental stages, than to take them off the boards when they get to college. But I think. it’s better to work the legs without them.
Next we’re seeing vertical kick. Try to keep the kick tempo high and squeeze the last bit of water out from between the legs. Just by finishing their kick better, breaststrokers can take off a stroke per 50 meters. The more streamlined you can get them the better. The higher they can get out of the water, the better. Try to have them keep it close to their natural kick.
The next series of drills relate to the pull. We emphasize the inward sweep of the stroke the most. We’re looking for excellent acceleration where the press out is slower and you accelerate your hands in and forward. We want fast hands with their elbows out in front of their shoulders and holding water, not just moving their hands quickly. Joe’s hands have gotten faster, but we want him to learn to hold water better also.
We start pulling breast with a flutter kick so they can work on the hands moving fast without worrying about the timing of the stroke. We have them do it with the head up because it makes them keep their elbows out in front of the shoulders more. This is more advanced.
Then we switch to a dolphin kick. We do a lot of this to work the pull more and to save their knees. We start with this then build them into the kick over the season. We can keep the rhythm of the stroke with the dolphin kick. We emphasize the upward part more than the downbeat of the kick. If they develop a dolphin action in the stroke, that’s even better. Breaststrokers with good lower back flexibility can get that action. Then I try to get the dolphin action integrated into the breaststroke kick. So we do two dolphins to one breast kick with a breast pull, trying to fit the dolphin into their stroke. They emphasize the upbeat on the dolphin.
Watching Jill, you can see quick hands, elbows in front of her shoulders, trying to accelerate her hands forward. You can’t just move the hands quick, you’ve got to hold water on the in sweep. Keep the elbows above your hand on the pull, so you’re going to press down.
Jill put fins on here. Fins allow you to do it faster and with a bit more undulation.
I haven’t worried about whether they’re recovering above or below the water. If it’s below, I leave them alone. If it looks like they can benefit by recovering above, then I have them try it, but I don’t teach every kid to do it. If we have any doubt, we have them recover under and streamline the recovery to minimize resistance on the arms. Some kids on my college team come to me with over water recoveries. If it looks like they’re going up and down and not forward, then I have them change it, but if it looks effortless and effective, I have them continue.
If you have someone who’s not a strong breaststroker and you want to help their IM, you might be willing to experiment more than if you have a world-class breaststroker and you’re just trying to move them along a little bit. You’ll move more cautiously and with the knowledge that it’s going to be more effective. You’ll make subtle changes, not some big sweeping change just because you saw some other breaststroker doing some thing that worked well for them. In Jill’s case, she used to swim with her head up and chin forward. At the 91 World Championships, a lot of the breaststrokers were swimming face down and streamlining their head between their arms. We switched to having her do that. At first she didn’t like it at all, but as she practiced it more, she became more effective with it. Now I have all breaststrokers look at the bottom of the pool as they recover their arms. I think they get more distance per stroke.
This leads into the next drills-swimming underwater breaststroke with both breast and flutter kick, forcing them to keep their head down and streamlined so they can go further on each stroke. Secondly you can build strength on the inward hand acceleration because you’re pushing a lot more water. We do a lot of 25’s and 50’s, holding their breath as much as they can: They may use fins on this. When they do this with breast kick, they have to be more conscious of their timing. If the timing is a little bit off, we don’t worry about it as long as they come back and work on it later in practice.
The other timing drills we do are 3 kicks to one pull. With their arms out in front, they’ll take 3 complete kicks before they take a pull. Then we do two kicks per pull. The second kick will have a pull with it. I have them breathe only when they use their arms. It works breath control a little bit and ties in the timing of the stroke at little better. It makes you think about where your pull should fit into your kick. I can talk about the timing and it may not get through. I may show a video and they may still not understand, but if I can get them to do these drills correctly, it takes care of their timing. With Jill in 92, I would time her for a lot of underwater 25’s to see if she could get her kick faster.
The first part of the pull sets up your timing. You want your legs starting to recover and you want your kick, kicking your hands forward. These drills, 3 kicks per pull and 2 kicks per pull, emphasize that. We use these as much as any.
If you have an IM’er who doesn’t have a great breast kick and can’t be considered a true breaststroker, yet you can get their timing down so they have good distance per stroke, it will help their IM a lot.
Tied in with the timing drills are an efficiency drill that also works on timing; that is swimming a 25 with as few strokes as possible, just short of stopping altogether on the glide. I also have them do it with a 3-count glide on each stroke, which is a lot closer to swim tempo. If I do a 3-count, how few strokes can I take in a lap? They both stress being extremely efficient on your streamline, your glide, your pulldown, finishing your kick, and putting your head down on your arm recovery.
Joe’s got his head buried a bit too much there; it doesn’t need to be down underneath his arms, it should be more in line with his arms.
It’s important to build speed in training by changing gears and pick up your tempo without slipping water. You could think you’re going faster, but not gain any speed, if you slip water when you increase tempo. Buildup 25’s are a good way to work on that. I stress them a lot because I want to see them hold their stroke at the end of races. So many breaststrokers lose their timing and work harder to go slower when they try to pick it up at the end of races.
We finished up with several turns. We try to get them to look up at the ceiling while they’re rotating, bring the hand behind the head, and push off in the most streamlined possible position.
When we’re teaching breaststroke drills and skills to kids, we’ll show them video’s and get someone who knows how to do them to demonstrate. It’s important to stress doing them correctly from the first day, first minute they learn it because it’s harder later to change bad habits. Quite often, we assign drills because we’ve evaluated them and feel they need more work on a particular aspect. We tell them they should always choose from one or a few drills.
Other drills we do include breast kick on your back, keeping your knees beneath the surface, just like we teach on deck at the beginning.
(Opens floor to questions)
I was asked if I had a drill to keep them from flexing the wrist as they press out in front. I don’t, but I emphasize that they should keep their hand in line with their arms and show them other swimmers doing it correctly. I have lots of video of other Olympic breaststrokers, collected over the years.
I was asked if we work on ankle flexibility. We spend 15 to 20 minutes before practice on stretching. Probably 5 to 10 minutes of that is ankle stretching and rotations.
Two questions. Should a swimmer with a weaker kick still put their head down on arm recovery and second, how do I get them to keep their elbows up when they’re doing that? If they have a weaker kick, you need to get more out of the stroke. If you can streamline your head, your kick will get you that much farther even if it isn’t that strong. To keep the elbows up I have them pull breast with a buoy and do lots of 25’s and 50’s so they’ll do it right. If I had them pull 500’s, they’d probably drop their elbows. I combine that with use of a VASA trainer, swim bench or surgical tubing to strengthen that.
I was asked if it’s necessary to keep your head underwater all the way through the triple kick drill, especially if it’s a younger kid whose breath control may not be that good. I don’t think it’s necessary. If they can’t hold their breath, I’d try to get them to hold their body position anyway, like it would be in the race.