Options to Jumpstart Your Swim Team by John Casadia (2011)


Introduction: It’s my pleasure to introduce a fellow coach from New Jersey who’s an outstanding high school coach at Vineland, New Jersey and if you’ve ever been to a presentation by John, you’ll know that he’s just outstanding in his presentation and his subject today is ‘The Progression of Starts and Turns’… without further introduction, John Casadia.

John Casadia: Thank you, Tom. Okay because of the electric situation yesterday, I’ve been asked to combine both of the talks so we’ll start with the talk that we had yesterday… that we were supposed to have yesterday which deals with options to jumpstart your team and then we’ll give you a minute or so break and then we’ll get into the presentation of drills. So it’s kind of, like a back to back thing. If the electricity goes out don’t worry, I’ve got candles and not just for everyone so sit tight. I want to thank all of you for coming here today and I want to especially thank Tom for making my presentation today possible.
A key ingredient in every team of course is unity. If you’re not motivated to be athletes on a team if they do not care about one another a key ingredient to a team of course is getting them to care about each other. I know we might not want to think of it but the ’84 Olympic team, basketball team had the best basketball players in the world and they were in part upset because they did not play as a team. They simply were not unified. I’m sure we can all cite examples closer to home of teams that had such great potential but that potential was never reached. We had a team in New Jersey, we determine the team championship through team competition in a round robin kind of thing where we use just a power point rating and the top 18 in four sections and the various divisions are determined. And then we have like a round robin kind of tournament to ultimately declare the team champion. We had this one team that going into the season had eight great seniors on it and they were by far and away the best team in New Jersey. They didn’t make it out of the sectional tournament much less advance to the state tournament.

I met their coach at the individual championships, a great coach and I asked him what happened and he simply said, “I had eight seniors all going in ten different directions.” So they simply again were not uniform or unified. How do we achieve unification? How do we achieve getting our swimmers to care about each other thus being motivated to help their teammates and in turn their team? Well on my team, how do we deal with things such as jealousy, envy or ego? We all I’m sure have had problems in these areas before. Well, the demonstrations that we’re going to do today and I’m going to be asking for your help, I would have my swimmers do and the first one is a rather simple one and I’d like maybe three or four… I need four people to volunteer for this. You all raise your hands at once… great. One, two, very good… come on up. Yeah, come on up. We need two more people. Promise you will not be hurt, I don’t think. We need one more… will not be fair. Team of three is not fair. Come on up. Okay, could we have two coaches on this side and two on this side and we do this with our swimmers.

You’re going to grab that a little bit. You’re going to grab that. You’re going to grab that. You’re going to grab that. Okay, now if you’d just kind of, you don’t want to kill yourself but if you pull pretty hard you’ll notice that… can you rip the cloth? No, okay. Now if we start and we cut, pull, pull, okay eventually the cloth rips but this really isn’t a cloth. It’s not. One of my wife’s old sheets, this is your team, swimmers. Remember, you are swimmers. This is your team and I generally like to pick juniors and seniors because they’re the leaders on the team. These are not scissors. Jealously, envy, egos can destroy a team. This simple demonstration will teach your leaders, give them a hint as to what these things can do to a team and I have this cloth… we have one since our school colors are red and grey in our pool area just hanging. Just as a constant reminder to our team mates, to their team mates and to them that they are leaders and jealousy, envy, ego and other things can tear a team apart. Okay and I want to… hopefully I’ll be able to… and swimmers for helping me… we’ve got some things for you. This is a shirt and if it’s too small maybe you can give it to your team. This is a shirt and it simply says, some swimmers survive, practice. I conquer them. And then on the back, survive or conquer.

So, ladies if you want to help yourself to that word of saying that we put these little things on our team bags, you can just pick something there. Here’s another shirt for our AM kids. Our kids who come to AM practice… While you were snoozing we were cruising at AM workouts. So ladies you can or our Vineland High school cap, simply help yourself to one of those. I want to tell you about the shirt. I coached this one girl since she was about ten years old and she was a senior in high school and I was helping her and she came to practice and she was really happy. And then I gave her this set and one of the sets that she hated to do were hypoxic sets, breath holding and she got on the blocks and I said, “Okay, you’re going to do this set” and the smile went and looked like the blood drained completely out of her body and she started to cry. Well actually she was hysterical, really was hysterical and I sat down and I said, “Why are you so upset?” and she said, “Coach, how am I going to survive this set?” and I said, “Survive? Survive? You’re not here to survive. You’re here to conquer. People who survive eat worms. They eat like rotten brain parts. You’re here to eat staek. You’re not here to survive. You’re here to conquer.”
So with that concept I developed this shirt and believe it or not we give this shirt to one or two swimmers and this may be strange to some of you but all the kids on my team don’t get everything. They have to earn this shirt. I think this summer out of 100 swimmers, three or four of them earned this shirt. None of them and this is from eight years old to 18 years old. I think one was 15 and over. The rest were nine, ten, eleven and twelve. It was the happiest day in their lives. For some of them it’s a first time that they got something that everybody else didn’t get and they know if they get that shirt they’re going to have to earn it… strange word today. I have another example. Can I get… now who wants to volunteer? Don’t all rush up here at once. Good, come on up. Sir, coach doesn’t matter. Wait right here and again we’re using swimmers because this is… swimmers today are visually oriented because of computers and cell phones. If you stop to think about it do you know that your cell phone has more memory capability than the eagle had to land on the moon? Fact, that’s a fact.

So they are visual and you have to show them things and you have to explain things to them. The video games and everything, everything is instinct. They don’t like the way the game is going, cut it off and start over again. Life isn’t that way. Swimming isn’t that way. Sports aren’t that way. Another idea that we came up with is this little rope kind of, thing and what I did was for those who are in the back seat, it’s our school colors, red and gray and I had this 100 foot rope in the backyard. And I spray painted it one color and then I got tape and taped different sections so I could paint it another and my wife saw that in the backyard and she said, “What are you doing now?” and I tried to explain to her what we were doing and she just went off to the kitchen and did something I guess. But here is a little piece of rope. Coach, I want you to grab one end of that rope and I want you to visualize, coach, that you’re hanging off a cliff. You’re holding on both hands coach, you better hold on and the other end what member don’t tell me… think of the members of your team.

Who on your team would you want holding on to the other end who is not going to let that rope go? It might slip a little bit, burn their hands, maybe get a little bloody but they’re not going to let go of that rope. If you go, they go. How many teammates, members of your team would hold on to that rope? Remember we do this with swimmers. We’ll use them to demonstrate this particular demonstration. Who on their team is going to not let go off the rope and I actually ask them to write on a piece of paper which member on their team would not let go. And it was just a little secret kind of, thing and not surprisingly it was the swimmers that worked the hardest, not necessarily the studs but the kids who work the hardest. And then I would ask them if you could have a clone of yourself, would you want your clone or someone else to be holding on and a lot of them selected someone else. That’s how little confidence they had in themselves and what we did… alright coach.

Man, those hands are kind of, bloody, coach. Then what we did, we gave these little pieces and they were just kind of, like, lopping around and putting them on their back, on their travel backs just to keep a reminder that they’re going to hold on to the rope. And you say, “Well kids are not going to be dangling from a cliff.” Right, they’re not going to be dangling from a cliff but I told them that throughout the day they had opportunity after opportunity to hold the rope for one of their teammates or a classmate or a friend that might be having a bad day. Maybe they just hold that rope by putting an arm around their shoulder and saying, “Don’t worry. You got a 60 on that test; there’ll be other tests to get better. Don’t worry about Joe; there are other guys far better than him for you or far better girls better than Mary for you.” So there are little things that they can do to hold the rope for their team mates. We had a girl who was a senior.

We had this… she was a breaststroker and we had a girl transferred to our school. Her parents were in the midst of a terrible divorce and this girl as I said was also a breaststroker. And she hadn’t qualified for the state meet, the senior had. So we go whoever is fastest swims in the center lane. The senior came up to me before meet and said, “Coach, take me out of the center lane. Put so-and-so in” and I said, “Why?” and she said, “Coach she hadn’t qualified yet. She could use that encouragement maybe to get her to qualify for states” and that really was someone that impressed me. That was holding the rope and we did that and the girl did qualify and they were even, fairly even throughout the season after that. That senior went on to relinquish her spot in the medley relay that ended up winning a state title because the senior said she was having a bad day and this sophomore was having a great day. That’s what we’re all shooting for. That’s little things holding the rope that make a difference.

Unity and caring about others is something that we can never force. We can never force that. It’s got to come naturally. It’s got to come from their bellies. It’s got to come from their hearts and by doing little things to encourage your team that will help jumpstart your program. I have another example and this is something that I think was one of the best things that I came up with and again I have these ideas but to make these ideas a reality, you need the help of others and in this case I’m going to hold off and tell you a little bit more about it. But we’re going to need three teams of two people, three teams of two people. So remember we need to scrunch things in so and again it’s not going to hurt you and it’s kind of, fun. So I need six people. We’ve had girls and one guy coach so and this is going to be mixed up. So we need six people up here quick. One, two, we got two… three, four, five, six… good, okay. And I got to tell you taking this with me from New Jersey cost me 50 bucks on the plane so how about… you’re going to be the A team and how about you go right in the middle of the entrance like, let’s see and B team, you’re going to be behind them and you are the C team, you’re going to be behind the B team.

Okay how about we get our A team right here. How about we take your puzzle? This is a puzzle. We need the B… just get all your puzzles and put them on the floor. Don’t start looking at the pieces yet. Set them on the ground. Okay, remember, remember this we do with swimmers but we have a lot more swimmers involved. We maybe have five or six or eight swimmers per group and we’re going to challenge you. You can turn them over; now face them over, okay. You can spread them out a little bit. Now we’re going to see who can put their puzzle together first and you all have 20 pieces. Ready? Go. While they’re doing this… I actually did this and had more fun with it with parents. I had the parents at our team meeting come together and divide up like they are now. Remember we’re competing against our fellow teammates here. We’re getting there. This will get interesting in a few minutes. While they’re working on their puzzle, what I did was I had this idea about this puzzle. So my artistic ability is minus five and that gives me a lot of credit at minus five.

So I’m saying, “Well who can design this for me? Oh the art department can design it for me.” So I went up to the art department and I said… I gave them my idea and the art teacher said, “Sure, we’re going to have some of our kids work on this and we can do this for you coach” and I said, “Great.” So thanks to my art department at my high school they put it together for me. They designed it, painted it and then I cut it out. I’m pretty good with the jig saw. It doesn’t require me to go in a straight line. The guys are doing pretty good here in the A group. You guys need my wife here because she’s really good at puzzles. Go help him. Oh, the ladies are coming on now. Remember I’m setting my teammates up. I’m setting my team up. They are being set up. Remember we’re competing against each other here. Wait, what’s wrong here gang? Oh, I see. What I did unbeknownst to them is that I mixed the puzzles up so they all need each other’s help to complete their phase of the puzzle.

So in reality while they thought they were competing against their teammates, they really needed each other’s help to complete their puzzle. You got to move around. Somebody’s got your other piece. Got it? Now can we spin it around? Can we put the top up here? Just spin it carefully around and kind of, like squeeze them together. Can we squeeze them together? So the point of this exercise, this puzzle was that while they are separate, they need each other’s help and team mates need each other’s help. And the puzzle as they’re finishing the last part of it simply reads… alright squeeze it together, simply reads: Vineland Girls swimming and I had the art teacher so that they wouldn’t get it right away; we had the rooster that’s our symbol. It’s not a chicken. It’s a rooster. They had the same rooster swimming except they’re different sizes in different places on the puzzle.
So we found this to be very, very team oriented in showing them that they had to work together to have success and as I said I give my art department all the credit for designing this and helping me establish unity. Okay, you can leave it there. We’ll need it now. We’ll do it. We’ll pick it up later. What are some other ideas that build team unity, and remember it’s got to be subtle because you cannot force unity on a team. It’s got to occur subtly. We go to West Virginia and raft the Gauley River and the Gauley River is a classified river. You’ve got to have helmets on and we put six girls in a raft and if they don’t paddle together, they’re going under and they’re not going under for a second or two. They’re going under for what seems like an eternity. So when the guide says, “Alright” then they better be all right and all right together, back paddle alright or forward left together. If they’re not they’re going to be spinning around and they’re going to be over before they know it. So that’s one of the things we did that we did while we’re on canoe trips. Many of you I’m sure have sleep overs and I think some of the most important things that we do that draw a team together are community service projects. We’ve generated almost a quarter million dollars through various community service projects.

Road clean ups, we’ve sponsored trips for children and their families to Disney World, cruises to Disney World, flights to Disney World. One of the things that I’d like to take home with you, and your team can do it and it’s a great, great feeling good kind of, project, is adopt a family at Christmas time through the Salvation Army. They’ll have names in the paper and sizes for pajamas and shoes and jackets and then we’ll generate funds to go out, our seniors and juniors will go out with their moms and shop for this family that they will never ever see and when… I don’t know about them but when I wake up on Christmas morning I get a good feeling in my belly that we’ve helped someone that really and truly needed help that you don’t even know about. And the kids that go shopping, they love it. They get to shop for someone else beside themselves. That’s great team building in my opinion.

We build playground equipment for an area abused mom kind of facility that we have in Vineland and made picnic tables and the neat thing is you’ll notice it’s moms and daughters or dads and sons working together to build picnic tables. So we’re building a relationship… I’m not saying we’re building a relationship between son and dad and mom and daughter but it’s something that they can do together and at the same time it’s helping our team. One of the things that we did was… another thing that we did was a handicap program, handicap swim program where it was one on one with children in the pool for eight weeks and as a result of this program, it was so successful that our Board of Education took it over and then eventually paid swimmers to come in and teach the handicapped. The program was recently budget-cut so we might resurrect that again on a volunteer basis. We had a newsletter that we handed out every week and the newsletter highlights the swimmer and I’ve sent that to some of the coaches maybe in this room over the course of the career that I had in Vineland and that the newsletter has these splits and has upcoming events.

It has those that have done well academically in school and we have paddles. You know the old fraternity paddles. We have one for every year that the team is in existence. Listing the kids, not only that have made classical American but have maybe made beyond a role or the merit role or the principal’s list. Their names are permanently listed on a paddle for every single year. A great idea that we came up with and again I had this idea and then I got others to do it, that’s pretty good I think and it was a poster. We had our school photography department take pictures of all of our swimmers and then we developed a poster. Got an area company to design the poster and produce it for us, 2000 posters were produced. We had sponsors. We charged them a minimum of a $100 and we had a maximum of 20 sponsors.

We were very fortunate because a lot of people, a lot of sponsors gave us $300, $400, $500 and we generated $8000 for our team and the activities that we do and at the same time we sent posters to every single school in our district and in the high school every single room that the teachers would permit, we put a poster and it had each swimmer’s name and a picture of them. It had our schedule and that the teachers became familiar with the swimmers, the athletes in their room, the athletes got some recognition and you know that swimming is not the most high profile sport there is except during the Olympic years. This generated so much positive enthusiasm and at the same time if swimmers started slogging in class, “You know, so and so, I’m going to be talking to the coach unless you pull up your grades.” So it’s kind of, like, a two-way street. Another neat thing that we did that certainly solidifies a team is we have our state team, our state dual meet tournament and then after the state dual meet tournament we have the individual states. For individual states you have to make a certain qualifying time; if we would get let’s say, ten swimmers, boys or girls, ten swimmers, those ten swimmers would have to select a slogan with that many letters in it, ten swimmers, a slogan with ten letters. Then we would print up shirts with one letter for each of the ten swimmers and at the state meet they’re wearing these shirts and people would look at them, “What’s that guy got that T on?” in front of the shirt’s state team. On the back there’s a giant T.

One year it was power of ten so somebody had a P, somebody had a W, somebody had an O, etc. Then prior to finals the swimmers would line up and then parade around the deck, face away from the balcony and then turn around and spell out their slogan and the fans in the stands, whether they are Vineland High School fans or not, cheer and now that has become a tradition at our state meet, “What’s Vineland’s slogan?” What’s their girl’s slogan? What’s their boys’ slogan? It’s a great way to again unify your state team and it’s something that the other members of the team that maybe didn’t qualify for states, look forward to doing when they get to that level. Or we have a boxer party for the girls. They get the boy’s boxers, the white boxers and then they get that paint stuff and they put different designs on it.

They put VHS state team. They put their team slogan on it and then they’ll put the events that they’re swimming out of that paint. But again that’s something that subtly brings about team unification, you all probably have pasta parties. But the one thing that I’ve insisted towards the end of coaching high school was there was a bucket and they dump their cell phones in the bucket on the way to the pasta party. No cell phones at our pasta party. No cell phones use on the bus, etc. These are just some of the ideas that we use at Vineland to instill unity. We have a 250 to 300 page yearbook, colored pictures in it. We got the cover done by our graphics arts department.

We got a run off through the school with pictures in it and it’s something that the kids will treasure down the road. I’d like to leave you with this discussion today with something that touched me personally. We all have doubts. Why are we doing this? There doesn’t seem to be the appreciation from athletes that there was when I first started coaching in my opinion. So you wonder sometimes, is all the time that I’m devoting to these young people and we have to remember that we are all teachers first and swimming is our vehicle to teach them life lessons. Sounds corny? I don’t care. It’s true. We are teachers first and we are teaching life lessons. We are teaching them to think about their needs. We are teaching them to think about people less fortunate then themselves. I was just coming down the elevator where you press the button and below it are all those little dots for people who are blind and I’ve closed my eyes a number of times trying to figure out how is it that these blind people can interpret those dots. They are so focused and so sensitive.

It just amazes me how the handicapped really overcome their handicap and are far better off in many ways then we are. But getting back to my story, this touched me. I got an email from a girl, Sarah Bernhard, who is now at Millers University and she went on to say how things in college are different and the end line was that I had touched her life. And I thought, “Wow, what a neat thing for a young person to write back and tell their coach.” With this in mind and with Sarah’s okay I decided that I was going to share this with my team and what I did was… oops, I ended up and she said as I said… she had said at the end of her email that I had made a difference to her. So what I did was I went out and I had printed, ‘You make a difference to me’ and I got these little pins from the pin shop and what I did was I got four ribbons and I sat the team down and I gave them instructions, printed instructions and I said to them, “You have four ribbons. You’re going to give one ribbon to someone who’s made a difference to you. One team mate, you can only give it to one team mate.

That left three others. You can give one to your parents, that would count as another and then you’re going to give the other one to maybe a classmate who’s helped you as a tutor. Maybe a teacher who has made a difference” and we did that and that worked out exceptionally well. Then we did it another time where they got three ribbons. They would give three ribbons to one person and then that person would keep one and then they would give two ribbons to someone else who made a difference to them and then that person would give the final ribbon to someone that made a difference to them. So, sounds corny? I don’t know but again it helps solidify a team and also it makes them think outside of I, the individual to think of someone else. Not up, not an expensive project but a very worthwhile project and for those of you that worked on my puzzle, I invite you either to come up and get one of the ribbons.

There is our rooster and I have a couple of things that one of my swimmers but I’m not going to read it to you but it’s simply… she wrote this and it was untrying and the jest of it is last line is, ‘To try may not be to succeed but to succeed you must try’ and I thought that that was inspirational. It was to me so what did I do. After she left the program, because she didn’t want me to reveal this to anyone, I made up little things with little chains and I ended up giving them out to certain people and they would put this on their bags and now they are all wrinkled and crimpled and were falling apart but they’re still on their bags. So these are just some of the ideas that I’ve come up with and thanks to others, I’ve been able to put them in place. And hopefully they’ve helped my teammates or my team and they’ve helped their teammates as well. Trust, motivation can occur only naturally through subtle means. Please don’t try to force it on your team.

Unity is the ultimate goal but unity is built by caring for themselves, their teammates, their coachers and the end result is a team that has a great deal of pride. If you have any questions and I want to give you a couple of minutes break while we set the DVD up for the next presentation but if you do have any questions, I’d be happy to either answer them now or later and we’re going to go I promise, I told John that we would be out by 5:30 because I know some of you are going to the dinner and if you need to leave early, the DVD that a friend of mine produced for me. I had this idea and I got someone else to help me with it. It’s not a professional kind of, deal but it does give some of the things that we actually do to help with starts and turns and a guy told me that on the back of the DVD is the list of things that are included. He said that he’s going to try to put them on the website, the ASCA website and ASCA is a great organization.

All of you I’m sure are members. Hopefully you are and if you’re not a member of NISCA, the high school association, you’ve got to join that. That is one outstanding organization that does so much for athletes, for high school athletes. Questions? Okay, if you want to come up and take a look at the puzzle help yourself as we set this up. You want to get a drink of water, help yourself.

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