On Coaching Excellence by Vern Gambetta (2007)


[Introduction] My name is Bob Groseth. I am the men’s swimming coach at Northwestern and a member of the Counsilman Lecture Committee that helps choose the speakers for this program each year. I was lucky enough to be a manager at Indiana University when Doc [Counsilman] was there. The theme of this lecture series is to bring in people from outside of the swimming discipline to talk about things that will help stimulate us and make us better coaches. Doc was always bringing in people from outside of the sport of swimming. We always had visiting professors who were there. They would sit and watch Doc’s practices, and Doc would talk to them; and I was lucky enough to be sitting at their side and some of it rubbed off on me, I hope. In fact, Vern [Gambetta] and I were just talking about one of the books that he had to read; and I mentioned that this was somebody that Doc had in Bloomington when I was there. That was a great thing about Doc. Vern was also mentioning that a lot of times at the track clinics he goes to that Doc’s ideas are presented there as well. So that is the theme of this lecture series. We are very fortunate to have Vern Gambetta as our speaker today. You know, we have a fund that sponsors this series. If you go to the ASCA web site, you will find information there that will enable you to contribute to this series. With the money that we have raised, we have been able to bring in some very good speakers from the outside, and this year, obviously, is no exception. We were able to bring in someone who not only has a lot of great ideas on his own, but who also has been around a lot of great coaches. In fact, most of us were here at 6:30 yesterday morning to listen to Vern. I know that I am very excited and interested in listening to what he has to say, so I am not going to take up any more time. I am just gong to turn the program over to Vern Gambetta.

[This PowerPoint Presentation can be downloaded at the members only section of www.swimmingcoach.org. Notes from the handout are also included at the end of this article.]

[Vern Gambetta] Thank you very much, Bob, I appreciate it. You have no idea what an honor it is to be able to give the Doc Counsilman Lecture. I guess I am kind of a boy in a bubble. A lot of people who know me know that. I didn’t realize that this was the lecture that I was giving until I was at the University of Michigan last week and the coach was saying: “You are doing the Doc Councilman Lecture.” I just about fell over backwards. I went home and revised everything. Talk about pressure … but anyway… What I want to do is share with you some of my ideas and experiences. I did not have the direct relationship with Doc Counsilman that a lot of you do, but, in a way, I sort of do. (Perform Better is the company that is sponsoring me. We will get the commercial stuff out of the way. That is the booth. I will be around there).

Now we can get to the meat and potatoes of the talk. My goals today are to share with you some of the things that I think I have learned. I want to provoke you to think too. I have been coaching for 38 years. I have never coached swimming. But, I have been involved a lot in helping some of the greatest coaches I know who are swimming coaches design their dry-land programs. A lot of coaches who are my inspirations are swim coaches.

I just turned 60 (I hope it’s not a midlife crisis, but I don’t know). I do know that there are a lot of things that I have been seeing in the last four years that alarm me in terms of coaching. And, there are a lot of really good things too. I would like to talk about those. Hopefully, I can motivate you and last, but not least, have you leave here excited about what you do. What we do as coaches is really special. I think sometimes we forget that. I want to make sure that we do not forget that, and I won’t allow you to forget it. There is a handout which you can get afterwards, and probably, for the first talk I have ever given, you don’t have to take a note, unless you want to. So put your pens down, if you want; you can kind of kick back and relax. If you fall asleep, just don’t snore. I will keep you awake. I will definitely keep you awake because I am getting a little bit fired up here.

I have divided this talk into parts. I will start out being a little bit personal and tell you the story of how I got involved in coaching. I think we all stand on the shoulders of giants. Obviously, a person’s parents are pretty important. My parents were immigrants from Switzerland. They had basically no education in this country, but put a tremendous value on education. They did everything to sacrifice for my brother and for me so that we would be able to get an education. I am so appreciative of that, and I am going to talk a little bit more about some lessons that I learned from them.

The first giant on whose shoulders I stood was my high school basketball coach, Mr. Keel. Mr. Keel was about 5’ 6” tall, bald headed, chain smoker, and a very interesting guy. My first encounter though was not on the basketball court. It was Wednesday during the first week of school (I will never forget it), at Bishop Garcia Diego high school in Santa Barbara, California, in world history class. Father Bernard’s class – except that Mr. Keel taught us term paper composition. The goal was to write a 10 page term paper at the end of the semester. Now, to write 10 pages as a 9th grader seemed a forebidding task to me. Mr. Keel had this process and he was going to make us go through this process. On the first day when he came in, I was 13 years old and was a real young 9th grader, probably more like 11 years old in terms of maturity. I acted up and he got on me. The first thing we had to do was to go to the library and do research cards and write them out. (Some of you have had to do this. Most of you guys under 40 or gals under 45 never had to do it this way because you had computers). The next day, we all had to go up in the first 20 minutes of class and give him the cards, and he would flip through them. He went through the first three of my cards and he said: “Take those back and do them over, and if you don’t finish it by Friday you are going to get an F in this class.” Whoa! When I went home, I was shaking in my boots. I told my mom: “I hate this guy.” I told my Dad: “I hate this guy.” What did they say? “Do it.” They backed the teacher up. They didn’t go in and have a teacher conference and say you are treating my son mean. So, now I had three adults against me. I did the cards over.

Now, fast forward. I made the basketball team in my junior year. I don’t know how. What happened next is that three of the starters got kicked off for drinking. (God forbid that you should drink. I mean, in today’s world right)? Well, they got kicked off for drinking, so I got my big opportunity. I started the first game and I fouled out. I was going to play now, so during every practice, when we were doing scrimmages, I had to play defense. Mr. Keel made a foul call, and I made a face at him. He got a little bit peeved. On the second day, I did it again. He pointed to the door and he said: “Out of practice.” That happened 5 days in a row. On the 6th day – I am not real smart by the way – I went up to the student store at noontime. It was a little Catholic school, and Mr. Keel ran the student store at lunchtime. Everybody had to multi-task, right? I needed a pencil. Mr Keel said: “Vernon” (and my name wasn’t Vern then, my parents called me ‘Vernon’) … “Vernon,” he said, “Do you want to play basketball?” I looked at him like what are you getting at? And I said: “Yes, Mr. Keel, I really want to play.” Then, he said: “Well, maybe you ought to try finishing a practice sometime.” The light went on, okay? Now, I got to play, and I got most improved player that year.

Then, in my senior year, because I got most improved player in my junior year, I was going to test it. We had to go to Mass, to church, on the day of the game, you know? And I didn’t want to get up at 7 o’clock in the morning to go to mass, so I didn’t go. When Mr. Keel read out the starting lineup, I was not in the starting lineup. Not a word was said, but I was sitting on the end of the bench. The guy who was normally the 12th man had moved over one. Half way through the first half, Mr Keel said: “Gambetta! Gambetta, don’t go to Mass, sit on your ass.” It was real simple. It was real simple, wasn’t it? Real simple. Those were simple lessons, Mr. Keel. Thank you. I became a history teacher; I became a coach because of him; and I don’t think I have changed the way I coach because of him. There were a lot of powerful lessons there.

There are people in this room such as Jack Simon, and I am so proud to see him inducted tonight [into the ASCA Hall of Fame]. Jack is the reason…he is the person who first got me involved in swimming. I will talk about more people as I go along.

Part of my motto always was, and always has been, and will be going forward is this: “training the best to be better.” The first day I started coaching at Santa Barbara high school in 1969, the first athlete I coached was 2nd in the State in the shot put that year. Bill Crow, who was the head coach, is another giant on whose shoulders I stand. He said: “He is yours.” Now, I didn’t know anything about the shot put, but Bill had won 164 meets, etc. He had forgotten more about track than I knew, and I was shaking in my boots. How am I going to make this guy better? That is where the motto became “Training the Best to be Better.”

I think that everybody that we work with – if they show up to the pool, to the track, to the court – is already good. Our motto should be to make them better. I think as we go forward, we go with that motto.

I think the other aspect of making the best better, in terms of training, is following the functional path. What is the functional path? Where do you have to go? Stephan [Widmer] mentioned Hans Rudy Koonz who was his teacher. I met him (it is funny how paths coincide) in 1972 when we were training together for a decathlon. He made me completely rethink what we were doing with strength training, and my thinking completely changed. I watched the Europeans come and train, and they were training differently. We were spending hours in the weight room, and they were spending time on the track doing functional things, or what we would call functional things today. It really opened my eyes. We have to keep going forward and finding new ways to do it. I think that is what this idea of following the functional path is.

Let me go back for a second to standing on the shoulders of giants. At the first clinic that I went to, Bill Bowerman spoke. How many of you know who Bill Bowerman is? If you don’t, you all should read Bowerman and the Men of Oregon. It is a terrific biography. He was a track coach at Oregon. A lot of people think of him as the founder of Nike, but that was really after he did all the great stuff at Oregon. He spoke at this track clinic when I was a senior in college, and I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. I thought I wanted to be a coach because of Mr. Keel, but I wasn’t sure. I walked out of that first talk from Bill Bowerman and I said: “I am going to be a coach.” He inspired me with his passion, with his fire, and all that.

About ten months later I went to another Clinic, and a man named Tom Tellez, who ended up gaining fame as Carl Lewis’s coach, spoke. He recommended three books. This brings us back to Doc Counsilman, and there won’t be too many more stories after this. He recommended three books: the first book was Jeff Dyson’s, The Mechanics of Athletics. Has anybody here read it? Get it. It was written in the 50’s, and it is still a great book. The second was: The Mechanics of Athletics: Scientific Principles of Coaching by John Bunn, who was a basketball coach at Stanford when Hank Luisetti invented the jump shot. That is a trivia question. You are going to learn a lot of trivia in this hour. And the third book was: guess what? The Science of Swimming, by Doc Counsilman. Those books were dog-eared. In the early 80’s, somebody stole my Science of Swimming, and Joel Stager sent me a brand new 1st Edition last year which was really cool.

If you look at all of those coaches, they all worked in different sports. They didn’t just specialize. They had a primary sport, but they tried to do things better. I think that is what the functional path is too.

Another thing I would like to say, and I know this is the way I have always thought, is this: Think Big Picture; think Big Picture. Now, if you look at this like a jigsaw puzzle, you will get the point. I did this with a bunch of coaches the other day. There were 12 coaches, and there were a hundred pieces to the jigsaw puzzle, but I didn’t tell them that. I gave them each a piece of a jigsaw puzzle, and I gave them five minutes to put the puzzle together. They were not real sharp. It took them about three minutes to figure out that there were 87 pieces missing. But — even if there were 87 pieces missing, you could at least start to put some of the pieces in the right place, if you knew what? If you knew what the big picture was! If you knew what the actual puzzle looked like. So, how can you train a swimmer to be a championship swimmer? How can you be a great coach if you do not know what a great coach looks like? What they act like? What they talk like? What they feel like? The same thing is true with your athletes. Know the big picture. Know what the finished product is like and strive for that finished product. I think that is an essential, essential thing to achieving excellence.

Now the next part of the talk. I want to talk to you about sustained excellence. One thing that hit me when I was in high school and being coached by Mr. Keel happened when we played another little high school called Santa Clara High School. They were awesome. They just kicked our butt and took names. I couldn’t figure out why they were really good every year. My senior year we were really good, but the rest of the time, we were not. Why were they good? I started thinking: “Well, why?”

When I was growing up in the 60’s, the Green Bay Packers were really good. The New York Yankees were really good. What were the characteristics they had? Why were certain athletes consistently good year in and year out? That is what really fascinated me. Now I wasn’t a big Grateful Dead fan, but I found this quote and I think it is a great quote: “You do not merely want to be the best of the best. You want to be considered the only ones who do what you do.” That is what the people who have sustained excellence have; that is the approach that they have; and I think that that is really important.

“A champion,” and this is from Bjorn Daly who is a great Olympic champion in cross-country skiing, who has won beaucoup World Championships and Olympic medals…: “A champion,” he says, “is something you have been and become. It is never something you are.”

One of the things that I have seen around the great coaches and the great champions of sustained excellence is that they are never satisfied. They are always trying to find a better way. They are never talking about last year’s championship. Last year is gone. You are not a champion this year. It is a clean slate. It is new. I think that is a very powerful thought to remember.

Now, I was a history major and I took historical geology. My professor… we used to joke that he could teach historical geology because he lived in the Pliocene era. He was that old, but anyway … he had pictures, real live pictures of dinosaurs … no that wasn’t the Pliocene era, but why?? Does anybody here know why the dinosaur is extinct? Does anybody have an idea? I mean there are all these theories of mass extinction and that kind of stuff, but you know, it is really, really simple. Do you know why the cockroach is still alive? They are from the same era. The dinosaur is extinct. Why is the dinosaur extinct and the cockroach still alive? Because the dinosaur was completely adapted to its environment and it took days for the message to get from its head to its tail. The cockroach, on the other hand, was completely adaptable. They are still there. Come to my garage and do a workout with me in the morning and you can find some cockroaches in there, okay? They are completely adaptable. The dinosaur was completely adapted. This is kind of gross, but do you want to be a dinosaur or a cockroach? It is simple, and that is a simple choice. You can be a dinosaur coach, or you can be a cockroach coach, okay? You may not like that, but cockroaches are going to survive and they actually thrive — which is kind of scary, isn’t it? So, you have a choice: are you adaptable or are you adaptive. I think that is a real, clear-cut distinction that you can look at.

When you talk about excellence…I had the opportunity three years ago to work for the NY Mets for eight months. The Mets are in New York City and the New York Mets have won, I don’t know, one World Series in 40 years or 50 years of existence. The Yankees have won a whole bunch. Above our club house in Port St. Lucie for all the young players to see was a sign that said: “Relentless Pursuit.” Every day, I would walk by it and I would think: “Relentless Pursuit of what?” What are you pursuing?

Now I also had the opportunity over the years to watch the Yankees. We shared a complex with them in rookie ball, and I watched how they went about what they were doing. They were not pursuing anything but excellence; the way they wore their uniform; the way the players walked on the field; the way the coaches coached; the way they did everything they did. It wasn’t about relentless pursuit. They knew exactly what the big picture looked like; they knew where they were going; and they did everything they had to do to be adaptable to achieve that goal.

So it is not about relentless pursuit. It is about having a specific goal. How many of you have read the book Good to Great by Jim Collins? Most of you have. If you haven’t, it is a really, really good book to read. I happened to read it the summer I was working for the Mets, and it was a terrific juxtaposition because it made me think about why we were also- rans and why the Yankees and some of these other teams were the best.

Here are some characteristics that Collins identified in terms of good to great. First Who? Folks, it is about people. It is not about computers; it is about people first, and then what you do. First: who. It is about people. Confront the brutal facts and never lose faith. For example, if you have got two months to go until the Olympics, and your shoulder is really killing you, what are you going to do? Are you going to pack it in or are you going to find a way to get the job done? Those are the brutal facts, okay? And you have to deal with the brutal facts.

Every great organization has a culture of discipline. That is one thing that I have seen in observing some of your practices, and it is something the good teams that I have worked with have. They all have a culture of discipline. Great organizations use technology as its accelerator, not a centerpiece. Coaching is high touch, not high tech. I am not real interested in being in Sarasota and conducting a workout in California. It doesn’t work. You had better be there. You had better know how they sweat. You had better know the temperature of the water. You had better know all of those things.

Good to great does not happen over night. It is a process. It takes time. How many of you have heard the 10 year rule? Ten years or 10,000 hours to achieve excellence. That is pretty much the case. I want to go back to the first point: First Who … Then What. You have all heard this probably from Collins’s Good to Great: you need to get everybody on the bus first, right? Get them in the correct seat; then, get a driver who knows where they are going. Even if you have everybody in the correct seat, if the driver doesn’t know where they are going, it is no good. And you are the driver, by the way. The coach is the driver of the bus, okay?

Now, here is the other concept of excellence. Winning isn’t a solo. Sure, swimming is an individual sport, except for the relays, but all of you are the people behind those medals and behind those great performances. Winning is a symphony: it is a team. It is a team effort — and if the symphony isn’t playing together, you are not going to have a winning performance. Here is a great quote from John Wooden: “I believe that ability can get you to the top, but it takes character to keep you there.”

The other characteristic that I have seen, and you have seen, of sustained excellence is that they do not cheat. They have character. They do things with integrity. I think that is really, really important. In today’s world, you know, with the issues in regard to drugs and all these other things, having character is a real issue. It is an issue that you have to face daily as a coach; and the young people that you are training have to face it. Whether you want to admit it or not, the character issue is there.

Let’s talk about time, okay? I actually got this from Karl Mohr, back when I was at CAL, for these meetings that we had every Tuesday, and it has never left me. You have three time zones: past, present, and future. Too many of us spend too much time living in the past, talking about the good old days and what happened then. We have been spending a lot of time in the last couple of days reminiscing which is fine. That is not talking about the good old days. You learn from the past. BUT, you have to live in the present. The future? We do not know what is going to happen. None of us has a crystal ball; and so, live for the moment. Live for today in a good way. A lot of your young swimmers (and I saw this with my own daughter who is an athlete) would be so worried about what is going to happen in the game…that they were living in the future. Kristen, that is why you practice. That is why you prepare, so that you are ready for what happens in the game. So, remember that: try to be in the present.

1440 – Does anybody know that what number is? No, it is not my birthday. Anybody know what that is? It is the number of minutes in a day. 1440 is the number of minutes in a day. When I saw this number a couple of weeks ago, I thought: “WOW – that is pretty interesting.” 1440. We think of a day as 24 hours, and all of that, but minutes are precious; and your time is what you do with it. It is as simple as that. If you are always scurrying around, thinking “I don’t have enough time: I don’t have enough time” … you probably need to really look at what you are doing with your time.

One of the theses of a recent article I read is to look at creating a little bit more time for yourself. I think if I were to say something, as a coach, that I have not done a good job of and still don’t do a good job of, is to take enough time for my family, and enough time for myself. That is one of the hardest things that we all face, isn’t it? If you really look in the mirror and hold it up to yourself, it really is. So, use that time. Be here now – be in the moment, okay? This is a book that I just read about two weeks ago: The Simplicity Survival Handbook. I thought there were three really good admonishments in this book about how to deal with time: “Say ‘NO’ more often.” Right, Melissa? My wife is here and she was trying to tell me that yesterday. Say “NO” more often, instead of always saying “Yes.”

Bill Crow, who was the first coach I worked with, in about the second week I was coaching with him at Santa Barbara high school, stopped me in the middle of practice one afternoon. I was still going to school at the University of California Santa Barbara. Bill came into the weight room and said: “Don’t you have class at 5:30?” I said: “Yes,” and he said: “It is 5:15; there is traffic; and it is twenty miles away.” I said; “It’s okay, Coach, I’ll get there.” Bill took me outside the room and he said: “You know, I just want to tell you something.” (I had known Bill since I was a little kid). He said: “I just want to tell you something, Vern. If you were a woman, you would always be pregnant because you can’t say ‘No.’” And you know, I mean … the guys wanted to stay after and do some extra sets, so I wanted to stay after and do some extra sets too. I also remember I got a B in the class because I missed too many classes, but you know what? The team did really well that year – so that is my justification.

Question more often. Question more often; it is okay to question. That is the second admonishment in the book. Call time out, and say “Whoa” and “Stop” more often. It is okay to call time out too. You can call time out in life, and you can call time out in practice. The future: right? We talked about living in the future. If you want to live in the future, then create your own future. That is pretty simple, isn’t it? Alan Kaye, who worked at Xerox Park and is really in a lot of the computer features we use today, put it this way: “The best way to predict the future is to invent it.” When I saw this quote about 15 years ago, I thought: “What a great quote.” But you know, if you think about what we do as coaches, that is really what we do, isn’t it? We are inventing the future every day, because we have that end-product that we are looking for– and every day we are inventing and investing in that future in terms of moving forward.

Change: It is another theme. Change is a constant. You are not the same person today as you were yesterday; nor will you be the same tomorrow. Recognize that change is a constant; learn to deal with it; learn to accept it. Manage the change. If you take that approach, change will define you. If you bury your head in the sand, you are never going to adapt to change. And I think you have to be really cognizant of that [statement] because that is what we have done a lot in society today. If you think about what we have done and how we have compromised a lot of things in society, [we think that] if we bury our head in the sand, then problems will go away. [We say]: “We can’t discipline Jane or John because….” You know, all the reasons why. But, we have to [discipline them] okay? This is the other part of change that we have to remember. Insanity is doing the same thing over and over with the same people and expecting different results. That is my definition of baseball, by the way. You know, having worked in professional baseball, they do the same thing with the same people and expect different results. And you know what is scary about that? Sometimes they get different results. But anyway: confront change.

If you are going to be a change agent, [then consider what] Kelvin Jiles, an Englishman who lives in Australia, has to say. We were speaking at a conference in England a year ago and he said that coaches are “change agents” and that you have a choice. You have a choice as a change agent: you can be inside the tent pissing out; or you can be outside the tent pissing in. So, if you want to institute change, (it is kind of a gross image), but if you want to institute change, you are going to be able to institute change [better] if you are inside the tent. If you are outside the tent, you are not going to be able to institute change. And, you are talking to somebody who has spent a lot of time outside the tent, alright? All you do is get people mad at you, so you have got to figure out the politics. I do not like politics, but politics is part of coaching. Great coaches are smooth politicians. They do not spend very much time in smoke-filled rooms and things like that, but they understand that to get the job done, you had better be in the inside of the tent pissing out. Remember that.

1% – what does that mean? If we want to change, change 1% at a time. Clive Woodward, who was the English coach of the World Championship rugby team in 2003, asked his team: “can we change 100%?” Universally, the players said: “No” — and they were three years away from the World Cup. So, he went around and he said: “You, you, you, you and you, you can go 5/10th of a percent today; and you, you go 1% today.” You know: that kind of thing. So we can all change — and even if we change 5%, that is pretty significant isn’t it? So, figure it out over five months, do the math, it isn’t very much. It is just doing a few things and doing them consistently and that will institute change.

I like to portray it to the athletes that I am working with [by saying that] success really is about walking the stairway. You can’t jump from one level to another level; you have to walk one step at a time. Put one foot in front of the other and then you are always taking positive steps toward being successful.

Here is a quotation that really, really has stuck with me over the years; and I want to mention another giant on whose shoulders I think I stand, and who is a terrific mentor: Dr. Joe Veil. Dr. Veil spoke at ASCA a few yeas ago. He is a PhD Exercise Physiologist, and a great coach. He coached Dena, I always get it mixed up, Castor-Grossen or Grossen-Castor who won the bronze medal in the marathon in Athens. Well, once I had to give a talk at the USA Track and Field coaches’ body to defend coaching education. Hard to believe, isn’t it? This was in 1982. [The purpose was] to get track and field to institute a coaching certification program. It was a very, very hostile audience, to say the least. At that time, I had been coaching about 14 years. I was nervous as hell, because there were people in that room that were ready to fire missles at me. I mean, they had loaded weapons, and it was scary. I was standing in the back of the room, and I felt an arm on my shoulder. I wasn’t deaf in my right ear then, and Joe was on my right side. He said: “Coach,” (he always called you “Coach”). “Coach,” he said, “Just remember one thing: there are a hell of a lot of people in this room who have had 30 years experience, but it is really one year of experience 30 times.” Then, he slapped me on the ass and he said: “Go get them”. And you know, what he was saying is exactly what Aldous Huxley was saying, wasn’t it? Experience is not what happens, it is what you do with what happens.

So, do you learn? To me, that is why I love coming to this convention. I had a tremendous learning experience last night at dinner, just sitting around and listening to the coaches who I was sitting with talk. That is what is so cool, and that is what I admire. That is why I admire you being here, because you want to be better. There is more experience in this room than we could ever dream of, and the reason a lot of you are so successful is because you keep trying to get better. You are not satisfied with the same experience over and over.

Let’s talk about personal productivity because that is pretty important in terms of being successful and being a successful coach. I am working with a girl’s volleyball team at Venice high school in Venice, Florida now. I am doing their conditioning. Their coach was real frustrated in late March, when they were playing club volleyball, and said to me: “Vern, they are doing a great job with you. I watch their effort, and they are kicking butt. They are doing all this kind of stuff, but when they are playing a game and it gets to match point, it is not happening.” Then, he said: “They are too comfortable. They are just too comfortable.”

So the next day I was driving to practice and driving down the interstate, and I almost got in a wreck because I was writing this down. I was saying to myself: “Comfortable… comfortable…” I was thinking: “Well, they are in their comfort zone … they are in their comfort zone. And it is comfortable. A comfort zone is a comfortable place to be.” A lot of us are there.

When I went into practice, I got a white board out, and I drew a triangle on it, and I put those things up. First, I wrote: “Comfort Zone.” and they said: “What is a comfort zone?” I said: “That is where you all are right now. You actually are comfortable with me, but you are not comfortable with volleyball because you are all afraid to make a mistake.” You are comfortable with me, I continued, with me because: “How can you screw up a squat? Right? How can you screw up a dumbbell clean or something like that?”

I said: “What you all have to do is this: you have to get out of your comfort zone. You have got to take one giant step forward and get in the performance zone.” Now the performance zone is what? It is that zone where you get comfortable with being uncomfortable. I asked each of them each day to be able to come to practice prepared, and I said: “I am going to be able to call on you any time and ask you what you did today to get out of your comfort zone?” I said, and this is how I defined it, it may mean walking around the building instead of through the building, just something that got you out of your comfort zone and that reminded you that when you get in a pressure situation, you are going to be uncomfortable. My commitment to them was to drive by Starbuck’s instead of pulling in – once, you know, and then drive around the block, or something like that.

The next zone is the High Performance Zone. That is better than being in your Comfort Zone, and it is better than being in the Performance Zone. The High Performance Zone means that you are performing at a pretty high level. You have to be a lot more uncomfortable. You have to make more sacrifices. You are going to have to practice twice a day. You are going to have to do homework. You are going to have to do a lot of the things that your normal peers, your peers as coaches and your peers as athletes, don’t do. And then, if you really want to be the best, if you want to play with the big dogs, then you go to the Peak Performance Zone. And you know what? To be the best: it is not very comfortable. It is really uncomfortable because you have to work a lot harder every day as a coach. You have to work a lot harder as an athlete to stay there.

So, I admonish you today to think: “What zone are you in?” What are you going to do to move to the next zone? What zone are your athletes in? What are you going to do to move your athletes to that next zone? Can you give them concrete steps to move forward? Can you do things that are concrete to move forward into those zones?

There is a terrific book out. It is a very simple book by Carol Dweck. She is a psychology professor at Stanford. Her book called Mindset. What she has done over the years is to identify two mind-sets: a fixed mind-set, and a growth mind-set. The fixed mind-set is the person that is very comfortable where they are. A lot of the fixed mind-set people are people that are “A” students. They are a lot of the kids that you have that are your really good swimmers, but they just don’t quite make it to the next level. They are comfortable. They do not want to take a risk, and they do not want to fail.

A growth mind-set belongs to somebody who is willing to take risks. Growth mind-set people are confident in their abilities, and they are willing to take a step and go outside themselves. Michael Jordan is an example of a growth mind-set. He was a guy that every summer worked on a weakness of his game. Tiger Woods is a great example of a growth mind-set, isn’t he? Who else would – in front of the whole world – change his whole golf swing? Not take off and go away for a year, but do that in public. That is a growth mind-set.
If we want to be the best that we can be, and we are talking about excellence here, we have to find ways to achieve within ourselves and within the people that we work with, a growth mind set. I think that is really important.

I will say this: acceptable is not good enough. It must be exceptional. I don’t think that is something that we have to hammer and yell at people about. I think that is something that has to come from inside. It has to come from inside the athletes who we are working with. This is a mantra. Every year I try to pick a little theme for the athletes that I am working with and for myself. This year’s theme was “ICE.” Every workout that we do, and this is all you can ask, we do with “intensity, concentration, and effort.” Intensity: concentration: effort. That is all. When you bring that, when you bring ICE to practice every day, you are going to probably improve: probably at the very least 1% a week. But you have got to understand what that is, and that it is more than words: ICE.

Win the workout. Wayne Goldsmith said this here about four or five years ago. This is what happened to the Brisbane Broncos Rugby League Club, who were the defending champions. That was their problem. They spent all year defending their championship and they were not – you know – they have had some other injuries and that kind of stuff … It was so cool though, being around this team for two weeks in May. These guys: they win the workout. This is a tough, tough sport, you guys. You think swimming is tough… You think American football is tough… Nothing compared to this; and these guys are playing 26 games; and they play two or three games a week. They come in the morning; they weigh in; they go to a perceived exertion scale; Ba Boom. Ba Boom. Ba Boom. Then, they go out, and they do a workout. The first 20 minutes of workouts are on fundamentals: how to catch a ball; how to pass a ball; that kind of stuff. (Go over and watch the San Diego Chargers. I guarantee you they are not working on how to catch and pass the ball).

The Broncos, they go through a whole workout; then, they come in, and they go through their recovery regeneration work. They eat, and then they do their strength training; then they do their mental meeting. In terms of film analysis, and this is in the middle of the season, I watched the intensity, concentration and effort that these men had and their coaches had — and it was inspirational. Their season hadn’t been going the way they wanted to see it go, but that didn’t change how they went about their work.

Often — another theme here – often what you do not do is as important as what you actually do. Sometimes, it is clearing the plate and understanding that you might have too much on there. You are trying to do too much; and you are trying to do too much both in training and mentally.

Seek knowledge rather than information. I might as well get on my editorial high horse here like I did yesterday about the internet. Turn off the damn internet for two days, and see if you get a lot smarter. Read a book. Subscribe to a magazine. Anybody can be an expert today. How do you become an expert? Get a cell phone that has a nice beep tone? No! How do you become an expert? You get a web page and declare yourself an expert. I have seen more trash and more garbage about training on the internet…

If you want real, sound information, go to Nort Thornton; go to Jack Simon; go to Stephan [Widmer]; go to people like these; go to people that have proven themselves in the competitive cauldron, people who have proven themselves in battle. Don’t go to some 22 year old, you know, who thought about running, or thought about swimming, and just got this idea, you know. They have got all the jargon; they’ve got all the terms now.

I know I am living in the past you guys, but I am dead serious about this. I haven’t been on the internet now for two days, and I haven’t really missed a whole hell of a lot. You know, I haven’t read my normal books, but I will tonight. Something like that. There is knowledge; and there is information. Seek knowledge, okay? Specialize in being a generalist. I think that is one of the honors of being chosen to do the Doc Counsilman Lecture. I know he was a generalist. I know the great coaches in swimming were generalists. George Haines, I remember reading, was asked to coach football. We have to coach a lot of sports growing up. I was talking to Stephan [Widmer] about the curriculum that he had to go through in Switzerland. It was just like the curriculum any of us that taught or that went through teacher training in this country have to do. You can specialize after you become a generalist.

So it bothers me when somebody says: “Well, I am a backstroke specialist coach.” That is great. Pretty soon you are going to be the right arm backstroke specialist coach, and then what are you going to do? You know? I mean, let’s take a step back and look at the big picture again. Being a generalist is okay. Then you can go on to specialist or in-depth information. I think that is important.

Get a mentor not a guru. That is Joe Veil. That guy is the best. He is absolutely the best. He has had a quadruple bypass, and he was coaching his athlete in the Olympics six weeks later. He gets up at 4:30 every morning, and does an hour of professional development reading every day. He has a PhD, and four Masters Degrees. (I don’t think he spends a lot of time on the Internet). He reads research papers. He reads books; and he coaches his butt off every day, okay? That is how he learns. He also hangs out with excellent people. That is the thing: get a mentor, not a guru.

Now, let’s talk about why we are here: coaching. Okay, what is coaching? Actually, I ran into somebody this morning who knows what pasta ferula is. Pasta Ferula is an Italian – do you know what Pasta Ferula is? No, you are from the wrong part of Switzerland. Okay. It is an Italian pastry and my grandmother used to make it every Sunday, until I was about 16 years old. We would go to my grandparent’s house and my grandma would have Pasta Ferula for us every Sunday afternoon. My mother never made Pasta Ferula as long as my grandmother was alive; but then, when my grandmother died, my mother started making Pasta Ferula; and it was lock-step. Nothing changed. It tasted the same. Then, my mother died — about 17 years ago. We have the recipe for Pasta Ferula. It is real interesting, but nobody can make it. My wife can’t make it. My sister-in-law can’t make it. I can’t make it. It just doesn’t taste the same.

What is the moral of the story? You can have the recipe. You can have the ingredients, but you better have a damn good cook in the kitchen. Our recipe was passed down from generation to generation. We just didn’t spend enough time in the kitchen with mom and Grandma to learn all those little details about making it. So, if you are going to make Pasta Ferula (and some of you are making great Pasta Ferula right now), make sure you pass down the details to your assistant coaches and the other people. Ultimately, it is going to depend on the cook, alright? A great teacher. Now, I am kind of a jazz fan, and I like Herbie Hancock, who said this: “ A great teacher is one who realizes that he himself is also a student, and whose goal is not to dictate the answers, but to stimulate his student’s creativity enough so they can go out and find the answers themselves.”

How many of you have purposefully not shown up for a workout one day — just to see what your athletes would do? It is really interesting. How many people leave? How many people don’t? Just don’t show up. Now, if you have liability issue in swimming, you probably want to show up. But you know, I will tell you a real interesting story. This happened with the Chicago White Sox one day. Spring training. 180 players. Not the major league guys; not the guys making the big bucks. For some reason we had an emergency meeting and my boss, who was a wonderful man, loved to talk. He went over-time. I am looking at the watch; we are supposed to start at 9 o’clock and the players are all milling around out there, all 180 players. The meeting goes to 9:10. I am starting to say: “Al, we…” and he said: “Sit down, Vern.” When I looked out at 9:15, there were 180 players going through the whole routine, on their own. You know what? I thought that was probably one of the neatest affirmations that we achieved something. They were professional athletes, you know, and he was willing to take the risk…

“I do it every year,” he told me. It is always real interesting,” he said, “to see what happens. Do they get in a fight? Do they leave? What happens?”

Now, here is another admonishment: are you training them or are you coaching them? Now, what does that mean? I have got a stop watch and I shout: “GO… 23, 24, 25. That was really good. Let’s go again. Come on.” I am talking about running. “Let’s shorten your stride a little bit…” You know, that kind of stuff. Coach them; don’t train them. Anybody [can call out numbers]. You can train a freaking monkey to read a stop watch, okay? You have got to watch what they [your athletes] are doing. You have got to coach people.

Watching people is another thing that I think is missing in coaching today.
If, for example, you say: “Hey, we’ve got this great set. Let’s do it,” and they do it, and they achieve the set, but [you, the coach] never watch the fact that the swimmers are just absolutely knackered and dead at the end of the set, and can’t walk for three days, but, boy, you think, they did a great practice, then that is not coaching. That is training. I think you have to make that choice.

Bob Sutton is a business school professor at Stanford who has achieved a lot of fame of lately because of his newest book called: The No Assholes Rule. It is a terrible book. He has written a lot of really good books, but because of the name this one has, it has been all over CNN and things like that. Here is a great excerpt from a little article that he wrote: “You can have influence over others, or you can have freedom from others, but you cannot have both at the same time”. Right? That says a lot about what we do. So, if we want to influence others, we have got to remember what we are doing.

Know what you know as a coach. Know what you know as a coach. Dizzy Gillespie, who is a pretty good jazz musician, said it this way: “It has taken me all my life to learn what not to play.” After 38 years of coaching, here is something I can share with you. In the last couple of years, I have learned a lot more of what not to do, than of what to do. There are things that are nice to do, things that you need to do, and [things that you] want to do. The more you get away from [things that are] the nice to do, the less effective you are going to be.

Optimism and positive energy in all things. Now, that doesn’t mean to be Pollyanna. You know what I mean. If the freaking world is ending and you are going, “it’s a beautiful day,” that is phony, okay? I think you have to be realistic, but [having] positive energy and showing some enthusiasm and fire about what you are doing is really contagious. That gets hard to do at 5:30 in the morning sometimes, doesn’t it? Morning after morning and so find people that you can feed off [to keep up your energy and enthusiasm]. I had a situation a couple of weeks ago where I was working in a consulting situation, and I was around a couple of people who were in leadership positions, and they were just really negative. I remember calling my wife that night, and saying: “Melissa, I am just really tired because I had to spend so much energy to keep raising the group.” So, what we have to do as coaches is to find people, not just us, [but other] people on our team (assistant coaches, support personnel, etc.) who will be positive.

Do you want to know one of the secrets of some of the great teams that I have seen in team sports? Do you know who the most important person on the team was? The equipment manager. When you went to turn in your dirty jock, or get some new socks … if he didn’t like you… he would give the player that he didn’t like [because maybe the player was being a jerk on the field] socks with holes in them. I am talking about Major League players now. These are guys making a couple of million dollars a year. It was pretty cool. This guy was the power the behind throne. So sometimes, think when you are choosing your staff. The same is true when you are looking for a cancer [on your team]. When you are looking for a cancer, look at the whole picture to find out why this team is going sour. It might be the person who is letting them in the pool in the morning, and the way they set the tempo for the day. So, you know, you have got to look at those things.

Here is Bob Sutton again: “Learning how to say smart things and giving smart answers is important. Learning to listen to others and to ask smart questions is more important.” That is the other thing that is hard to do. The most important thing I look for in a musician is whether or not he knows how to listen. That is one of the hardest thing I have had to learn as a coach: “Shut up, Vern, and listen.” You have all heard the cliché “you have got two ears and one mouth. Use them”. I only have one ear because I am deaf in one ear, so that is my excuse to I talk as much as I listen okay?

Ninety percent of what you do as a coach is grunt work, but you know what? If you don’t do the 90%, the other 10% is not going to work. So [coaching] is doing the things that aren’t fun. It is doing the things in the office. It is planning. It is all of those kinds of things. Those of you who are younger coaches, a lot of you have probably gotten the opportunity to go right from being a swimmer to being a coach. You missed out on some of that [grunt] stuff, such as sweeping the pool deck and doing all those kinds of things that you have to do [to operate a pool]. I had to learn how to line a track. Now, the young track coaches don’t have to do that anymore because tracks do not have lines.

If everything is important in coaching, then nothing is important. You need to know what your values are. You need to know what your core beliefs are in terms of training; and you need to be able to define those for your swimmers and all your athletes. Everybody around you should know what those values and beliefs are. They should be very clear. You should live them.

Don’t over-think a problem. Be a cockroach, okay? We said that earlier. Be a cockroach. I don’t want you to just be reactive, but I do think that sometimes we can be so contemplative that we over-think a problem, and we never get the problem solved. I think that is a real problem that we can have in coaching. The other thing to remember in coaching, you guys, [is what] I call the Bobby Knight rule. I mean, the universe obviously revolves around Bobby Knight, right? We all know that. But, guess what Bobby? The rest of the world does count. Juxtapose Bobby Knight and John Wooden. Who won more championships? You would never know if you listen to them talk or you read them. So the rest of the world does count, and sometimes we really have to remember that.

Howard Schultz is one of the founders of Starbuck’s. I don’t know if you know too much about him. He grew up in Projects in New York, and here he was doing an interview on C-Span one night with Brian Lamb. Brian Lamb, the guy on C-Span, was asking him all these questions. At the end of the interview, he [Brian] said something to the effect of.. “Well, Howard I never thought I would pay $4.00 for a cup of coffee.” And Howard said: “I never thought anybody would ever pay $4.00 for a cup of coffee.” Then he [Howard Shultz] said: “You know why people go to Starbucks? It is not about the coffee; it is about the experience.”

You go into Starbucks, the music’s there, etc. Here is a story for you. We were in Houston visiting our kids last Thanksgiving, and we were staying at a hotel down by the Med Center. I went into Starbucks, and I ask for (everybody has their personal quirks, and I want an ice mocha with four ice cubes) a Grande mocha, with no whipped cream, and 4 ice cubes: not 5; not; just 4. The young girl who is behind the counter said: “Four, right?” And she counted out four ice cubes. The next day, when I walked in, she gave me this big smile and said: “Grande mocha – 4 ice cubes. Here it is.” She did the same thing four days in a row. You don’t think that sold me on Starbucks! I mean, that was before the music and all the other things that I like about going into Starbucks.

As coaches, that is what we have to do. Do your athletes look forward to coming in to workout? Do you create an atmosphere where they say: “I can’t wait until I get there. I know I am going to get my butt kicked, but, that is going to make me better.”

In 1978, I am sure he remembers it, I first met Nort [Thornton] and they had won the NCAA Championship, and we [in another sport] had failed. I was coaching at CAL at the time. One of their [Nort’s] mottos was: “To create an environment where champions are inevitable.” When you go around excellent people, and when you go to excellent situations, that is what you see. It is not about the coffee; it is about the environment.

I am going to butter Stephan’s [Widmer’s] bread here. I have said to a lot of coaches here that watching one of Stephen’s workouts was: “Spectacular. Spectacular.” I came away from there inspired. I still haven’t come down; and you know, I just watched one workout. Now, you [Stephen] put on a good show; you probably don’t coach like that normally, but anyway, it was pretty cool — and that is what you want to do.

Let’s talk about failure and risk, okay? Tom Peters, the famous management expert, said: “Fail Forward”. What does that mean? Make errors of commission. Do not be so conservative that you never do anything. The last time I got to spend any time with my father alive, I picked him up at a rest home, and we went for a drive. He was pretty feeble. This was about a month before he died. He said to me: “Vernon, do you see that place over there? I could have bought that for $1,500. You would be a millionaire now.” And I said, (I didn’t want to say it, but, you know, it made me think). He wouldn’t take a risk. He wouldn’t take a chance, you know? Fail Forward. What could happen? I mean $1,500 was a lot of money when I grew up and where we grew up, but take a chance. Take a risk. You never know until you take that risk, do you? Keep changing, whether you win or lose. That was an interesting thing about being around Michael Jordan. Michael Jordan didn’t have to play baseball. I was around him in baseball and in basketball; and he went at baseball like he went at basketball – day in and day out. He was the first guy at the ball park. He was the last guy to leave. It didn’t make any difference. You have to admire people like that. They are constantly trying to get better. You miss 100% of the shots that you never take. You have all heard that. Wayne Gretzky said that. There have been a lot of different ways of saying that, but, My Gosh! If you don’t try, you don’t know — and that is the fixed mind-set again. If you do not try, that is the fixed mind-set. The growth mind-set will keep taking the shots.

For example, I said to one of the girls on the volleyball team who wouldn’t pull the trigger on hitting the ball: “Kaley,” I said, “do you have any idea how many shots, game winning shots, Michael Jordan made?” And she said (I wish Michael would have been there)… she said: “Who is Michael Jordan?” (How quickly they forget. But that is a side story). I said: “Kaley, he made 54 game winning shots.” Then, I said: “Do you know how many he missed? 165. That is not a very good percentage, but we only remember the ones that he made.” So, that is what we have to do. We have to take a chance.

Believe in yourself. If it is to be, it is up to me. If you do not believe in yourself, if you don’t believe in yourself as a coach, go out on the pool deck and see how your swimmers act. You might fool them for a couple of days, but it is not going to be very much fun for a while. Or if you are a classroom teacher, try that [not believing in yourself] sometime with younger kids. They will eat you alive, right? Alright, we are almost done.

Call to action. Here are some points that I think you might want to think about in terms of moving forward:

*Be a leader and not a follower. Anybody can follow the herd, but can you be a leader? Can you be a true leader? Sometimes that means taking an uncomfortable stance, doing things that you do not necessarily want to do. But to me, that is what excellence is all about: it is being a leader.

*Achieve mastery. I find it particularly ironic in today’s society where we have a pretty undisciplined society and we have kids that are really pretty undisciplined and yet, they will put on whatever the martial arts outfit is and then go into the dojo or wherever, and be completely compliant and obedient and work like crazy to get that black belt or that green belt or whatever it is. What that tells me, you guys, is that it [self-discipline] is there. It is there, but we as adults and as authority figures have not done as good a job of bringing that out of the younger generation as maybe we should have done. I think that to do that [a better job of bringing self-discipline out of our students/athletes], we have to understand what mastery is. And, we have to ask them to achieve mastery. Again: Fail Forward, right? And then you have got a chance and you are gong to be a lot better.

*Beware of sheep walking. Have any of you ever worked or been around (No, you don’t want to admit that? Okay), sheep? Is anybody here from Australia? Oh not Australia; New Zealand – sorry. I was told to tell that joke by the Aussies. Well, I had a friend in high school, and we had gone all through school together, who owned one of the Channel Islands out here, a part of one of the Channel Islands. They had sheep. One day before our senior year, he asked me if I would like to go with him and we go out to the islands to take the sheep back over to the port, because it is the time of the year to do whatever you do with sheep. So we went over. What is supposed to happen is that the ram leads the sheep through the chute. Well, and the first thing that happened was that the ram went through, but the sheep – they are so stupid – that two sheep got stuck in the chute. So now they are stuck, and so now there are 120 sheep jumping all over. So, what did we have to do? Jon and I and the foreman, we had to carry each one of the stupid sheep onto the boat. Well, that is sheep walking. How many of you do that? Just follow along? Follow the latest fad? Okay? Just like the lemmings, we are all marching right off the cliff.

*Be an individual. Stand out. Be willing to lead. Be willing to question; and be willing to be your own person. Sometimes it is uncomfortable, but that is okay. You don’t want to get stuck in the chute with the sheep and have to be carried aboard, okay?

*The other thing is, and I said this yesterday, how many of you here are looking for 2%? If you are, that is fine. Some of you should be looking for the 2%, but the majority of you here should be looking for the 98%. Most of us don’t take care of the 98% that is going to enable us to get a position to take advantage of the 2%. I think that is what you have to do: really take a step back and say: “Am I really taking care of the 98%? Do I have my swimmers minding their P’s and Q’s? Are we doing all the little things that are really, really making us better?

* Remember: it is not about you or me. Ultimately, it is about the athletes. The focus should be on them. There was an article in the local paper about a particular coach who has a potential Olympian in one sport and it was very clear in the article that the article was about him [the coach]. It wasn’t about the potential Olympian. The coach said: “I don’t want to talk about the Olympics,” but then he went on to talk about the Olympics, and how this would be his first Olympian and ta da ta da or something like that. And I thought: “Man, something is wrong with this picture.” Put the spotlight where the spotlight belongs, okay? Put yourself in a support role. You are a coach. You are there to help. It is about the athlete, so let’s not forget that.

Finally, this is a quote from Kurt Hahn. I am not going to read it to you. You can read it yourself. Kurt Hahn is the founder of Outward Bound. Here is his quotation: “There is more in us than we know. If we can be made to see it, perhaps, for the rest of our lives, we will be unwilling to settle for less.”

There is a fair bit of truth there, isn’t there? Really that is the last message I want to leave you. The real message I want you to leave with, however, is this: whatever you do, put an exclamation mark on it!

Thank you very much. I really appreciated this!

Coaching Excellence
Building Champions in Swimming and Life
Vern Gambetta
Gambetta Sports Training Systems

Excellence is admirable – Sustained Excellence is the Standard

A Champion is something you have been and can become – it is never something you are
Bjorn Daehlie – Cross Country Skiing
Michael Jordan – Basketball
Edwin Moses – 400m Hurdles
New England Patriots
University of North Carolina Women’s Soccer

“I believe ability can get you to the top, but it takes character to keep you there.” John Wooden

Tiger Woods – The Growth Mindset
Self Confidence – the courage to grow, welcome change and be open to new ideas
Is good enough, good enough?
Trying to repeat what you did before
Must move on and find better ways

Managing & Handling Change – Change as a constant
Learn from the Past
Learn from mistakes
Build upon and use tradition – do not be bound by it

Concepts from Good to Great by Jim Collins
Disciplined People >> Disciplined Thought >> Disciplined Action
#1 – First who – then what
#2 – Confront the brutal facts and never lose faith`
#3 – A culture of discipline
#4 – Use technology as an accelerator not a centerpiece
#5 – Good to great does not happen overnight, it is a process

Strong leadership – The Total Team
Growth minded leadership – a guide not a judge

Big Picture Thinkers
Focus on effort and preparation and the results will follow
Set standards high and give them tools to achieve the high standard

Talent – Without talent winning is almost impossible, that being said what “talent” is must be reframed

Constant self evaluation – Finding a better ways

Clear vision of the finished product

Role of analytics
Is what you are doing measurable and repeatable?

“Walking the Stairway”
Success comes one step at a time

Communication – The cornerstone of coaching
Every word, every action conveys a meaning!

Ten Steps to Coaching Excellence
1) Specialize in being a generalist
2) Seek knowledge not information
3) Balance theory and practice – Art & Science
4) Do not ever forget it is not about you, it is about the athlete
5) Create/Foster independence in the athlete
6) Be a leader, not a manager – Recognize the need for five minds
The Disciplined Mind
The Synthesizing Mind
The Creating Mind
The Respectful Mind
The Ethical Mind
7) Development takes time – The process is cumulative
8) Have a plan – Execute the plan – Evaluate the results
9) Coach the Complete Athlete – The 24 Hour Athlete
10) Balance work and life
Find mentors not gurus!

Guru Coach
Style Substance
Information Knowledge
Secrets Open
Put Downs Uplifts
Drink the Kool-Aid Cool Clear Water
No Questions – All the answers Guided by questions
Big Claims Actions Speak
Front Page Back Page
Follows the $$$$ Principle Driven
Complex Simple
Exclusive Inclusive
In the Spotlight In the background
Conditional Unconditional

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