[introduction by Don Heidary]
Good morning. My name is Don Heidary and I would like to introduce our first speaker. He is a world-renowned writer, performance manager, coach and consultant. He is one of the leading innovators in high performance sport and has influenced many of the world’s great athletes. Having consulted with over 100 major sports organizations and written hundreds of articles that have been published in over 15 countries, he is one of the most influential and creative minds in sports today. From Australia, it is an honor to introduce Wayne Goldsmith.
Wow, what a buildup. This is what we call the death shift. Yes, I know I have an accent. That was really funny that George Block invited me down to San Antonio many years ago and he said, ‘Hey coach, while you are here, would you talk to some high school students about, success in sports, success in life?’ And I said, I’d love to George. And I stood up in front of a big group of high school students and I said, “Good morning, everybody. It’s great to be here.” And they all laughed at me; they just cracked up. And there was a young girl in the front row and I said, “What’s the problem?” And she said, oh my God, you sound like the crocodile guy.
But it is great to be here on what we call the death shift: the morning after the night before. Wouldn’t you like to have a share in Starbucks this morning? I wonder how many coffees they’ve sold since six a.m.—if you’re up that early. Big day for us at home: it is the presidential elections back home. But I have been watching it all morning in my room; it is been quite enjoyable. And the Republicans won—just for the Australian that is walking-in at the back of the room.
Guys, I have got some good news and some bad news. The bad news is that I see our sport in trouble, all over the world. I see that in many, many countries, and I don’t know how it is for you, but in a lot of countries the sport of Swimming is in trouble. I am seeing that the numbers of registered competitive swimmers is declining, for a whole range of reasons. I am seeing sporting federations all over the world, swimming federations, throwing money and marketing our sport ,and it is not really making a difference to that decline in numbers. It is getting very frustrating; I am getting very concerned.
However, here is a good news: coaching is the way back. Coaches can turn this around. Coaches lead and drive this sport. Coaches will make the difference. Coaches will save Swimming. If we start coaching a lot better, and we start coaching differently.
I want to tell you a story. A great, great friend of mine has been trying to convert me to become a Christian for a long time. And she hasn’t worked yet; I don’t go to church very regularly. But in March, this year, she made me go to church. She dragged me along, kicking and screaming, with my three young boys, because her three young boys and my three young boys are good friends. And we go to church. And I sat in church, and man it was dull, it was boring. But I sat there for two hours, and the pastor was up the front of the church and he was giving it larry, guys: he was giving it everything. And you could feel the passion of his belief, and he was walking up and down and he was giving everything.
And she came over to me after church and said, “So what did you think?” She had this big smile, hoping my heart might have been touched. And I said “Man, I just learned more about coaching, and I understand coaching more now than any other time.” Because up the front, there, we’ve got the pastor giving everything to the message, and there was a guy sitting next to me checking the football results on his phone. Now he’s going to go to work on Monday morning and he’s going to say to people I’m saved; I went to church on the weekend; and he listened to nothing, completely disengaged with what is going on.
And then over here we had a little group, a young family group. The mums and dads were talking to each other about house prices, about politics, about work, and every so often lifting their head to look at the pastor and then go OK, yeah I agree with that, yeah God, Jesus said some cool stuff, yeah. But they were not really switched-on. And they are going to go to work on Monday morning, and say yeah, I went to church on Sunday. I am saved, I am Christian, I am pretty cool, I can get away with all bunch of stuff, okay.
And guys, in the group, in the congregation—it might be the same for you. In the congregation there were three or four people that every time Jesus’s name was mentioned or God’s name, they would say Hallelujah: completely engaged in the message, completely embracing the message.
And I went up to the pastor afterwards and I said “Man, this is coaching.” This is coaching, because we have the same thing. We are giving it everything we have got. We are giving the best we possibly can, and we have got the kids who turn up late, kids who don’t streamline, kids who don’t push-off, kids are breath inside the flags, kids that touch with one hand, kids that never rehydrate, kids that never count strokes, kids that always complain. But they are in our pool and they will tell people that they are swimmers.
And then we have got the other kids that they are really good on Monday morning practice; they are terrible Monday afternoon practice. We have got the other kids that are good Tuesday morning; they are no good Thursday. They are up and down, and they get inconsistent results. That is the family group over here. And in every team, in every squad that I have seen around the world, I have these guys: Coach give me more work. Coach, I am better than even you believe. Coach, I want to be the best, what’s it going to take. Coach will you stay back with me and give me an extra five minutes of technique work because I want to improve. I love this sport, I love what you’re doing.
And he said, “Wayne, that’s the job that I face. I am trying to convert these guys, the guys playing with their phone and the guys that are talking, to these guys, that’s my job. That’s what I try to do. I try to grow the number who are completely engaged.” To me, that is coaching.
So as we go forward guys, I want you to look at your coach and ask yourself these three questions every day. So you get in the car at the end of the day to drive home, ask yourself these questions.
- Did I coach it my best today? Did I coach it my best today? It is not the kids’ problem. It is not the internet problem. It is not society’s problem, were are not getting engagement with our work. It is my problem, it is your problem. Did I coach at my best today?
- Second question: did my coaching make a difference today? Did I touch the hearts and minds, Did I make an impact to my athletes today? Did my coaching make a difference?
- And question number three to ask every day as a coach: what do I learn today as a coach that will make me a better coach tomorrow?
Because we ask and we demand those things of our swimmers, don’t we? We say did you swim at your best today? Did you bring that this session makes a difference to your swimming today? And what did you do today that will make you a better swimmer tomorrow? We apply a same standards and same rules to our swimmers. Make a difference.
Okay, on to today’s talk, which is called Performance Practice. Like you, when I started getting involved in sport, involved in coaching, I would hear things like practice makes perfect. And then some genius came up with an even better way of looking at it which is: perfect practice makes perfect. And what I am here to sell you today is a concept around performance practice. It is making training more challenging and more demanding than the competition that you are preparing for. It is adopting a concept where the work that you are doing prepares the swimmer to compete, not just to do drills or complete training sessions but actually compete.
Who knows anything about Australian Football, what I would call rugby? We have got a few in the audience. Okay. Rugby: whole bunch of guys, no padding, no neck to speak of. Fifteen guys on one side, 15 guys on the other side, they run at each other; and basically it is just warfare with a license on a football field. I work for professional football team—I worked for few professional football teams. One in particular called the Tigers. And in our game, if someone kicks the ball up—so a little bit like a punt return for you guys in NFL. Kick the ball up and the idea is you have got to catch the ball.
Now we have one of our players—we played 6-8 weeks ago—the ball was put up three times, and he is waiting to catch the ball and three times he dropped it. And our rules are a little bit different to NFL: if he drops it, the ball live and in-play, you can pick it up and you can score what we call a try, a touchdown. So he dropped the ball three times; the other team scores three touchdowns. That is about where we lost; we could not come back from that.
So extensibly, what is the skill mistake, what is the skill error, that he has made? What hasn’t he done? Anybody? He could not catch the ball. So typically, what would you do as a coach to improve that skill? Have him practice catching the ball. Catching the ball in practice has nothing to do with what he was failing to do in competition, because the environment is so much different. So this is the sort of why we attacked it.
At night when we were playing, the ball was very wet because of the condensation and the dew on the ground. So what do you think we did to try and prepare him to catch a wet ball? Make a wet ball. So the coach puts a ball in a bucket, kicks it; he has going to catch a wet ball. But that is still not what he really has to do. Because while he is trying to catch that wet ball, he has got about 500 pounds of guys trying to kill him, running at him as hard as they can to take his head off. They want to make a widow of his wife; they just want to wipe him out. So how do you think we could address that part of the skill? What do you think we did in training? We had guys running at him with padding, while he was trying to catch a wet ball.
That was a bit of the problem. But he was typically dropping the ball at the end of the first half—so we have halves, first half and the second half. As he got fatigued, his skill level decreased significantly. So what do you think we could do with that coaches? Knowing nothing about Rugby, you are doing a good job so far. What would we do to enhance that skill level in performance? [inaudible answer] Absolutely.
So we are doing things like 6x20m sprints, wet the ball, have players run at him, and then ask him to catch it. Still was not enough. Because we are playing at night, so we had the schedule night practices with that. Then we noticed there were some few other issues: that he would be standing there and always facing in the one direction; but in the game, he might have to catch the ball here, or here, over here, in a range of directions. So what do we do then? Kick it in all different directions, different times, into the light, to the left, to the right, straight up, wet ball, people trying to kill him. Skill gradually improved.
Now in your practices, I suspect that one reason your athletes fail at big meets, is you go: you know what we’ve got to improve skill. Let’s do some lateral freestyle stuff. And they are at state championships, three or four weeks later, 5,000 people watching them, while they have got almost no clothes on. Under pressure. Mom, dad, family there; media there. At high speed, under fatigue, under pressure. And you go, I just don’t know why their freestyle is not holding together in the last 25 meters.
And typically what we do, coaches, is we go back and say: one, they are not fit enough. Let’s just do more work, that will get them through. Or/and, we go back and we do more… long, slow drills, because most drills are performed what… just at kicking speed. Because that is the only real form of propulsion because we quiet often take a lot of the momentum out of the stroke through the process of putting a drill sequence together. And we go I wonder why it doesn’t work.
So I want to take you through now a seven-step process on how to go from the basic introduction of a drill, or a skill, into how to perform that under competition conditions. Which are at speed, fatigue, pressure; doing it consistently and with whole competition environment. Okay, what’s the first step in skill? What do we do first?
- Teach the skill
We teach the skill. How do we teach skills now, to young kids? Okay. So we introduce the skill. I want to throw some things at you here. The internet has shown us the way to introduce skill: coach like the internet. Guys the days of standing there and saying we got to get freestyle right: we are going to do 20x50s, left-arm only for 25, right-arm only for 25, go. Those days are gone. Kids do not do twenty of anything, except twenty hours of Minecraft a day, if you let them.
But the internet has shown us the way to coach. If you watch your typical kid, your kids are going, there listening to music. They do not even download the albums: they download a song that they like. They only download what they want. So they are listening to music, while they are on Facebook, while they are pretending to do homework, while they are texting a friend, while they are watching television; and they are taking it all in. It is really interesting that coaches will say these kids don’t pay attention; this generation can’t focus. Rubbish.
This generation is capable of learning at a faster rate than we ever were. They can do all that stuff and be totally engaged with all of it—they do not miss a beat. They disengage because of the way you coach them: they do not do twenty of anything. They do not look at a Tweet anymore than once; they do not look at a Facebook posting more than once. They rarely stay on a webpage more than 30 seconds, and they hardly-ever revisit it.
Now our traditional model, which is you are going to do it and you are going to keep doing it and you are going to do it until it is perfect, is gone. We have to accept that. But it requires better coaching, requires engagement. Guys I talk about… in exercise, we usually talk about volume, intensity, frequency. The fourth one is more important than ever: engagement.
Definition of engagement for you this morning—just what you need. Engagement is when a swimmer gives you more than you expected. You know that they are engaged with your program when they give you more than you expected them to give. You know that they are really into it. So when you are introducing your skills, make it interesting, make it engaging.
- Skill mastery
The second step: mastery of skill. Trying to refine and redevelop those skills. Again we get to this stage and we insist on this mythical technical-perfection model; that everyone has to get it exactly right, it is only a small fraction of the deal. When you work with athletes in different sports and you are trying to find what is the common theme across great athletes. It is setting little personal goals.
When I know an athlete is engaged with the program is when they are setting themselves goals to improve their own skills within the workout. Yeah. So that you know guys… let us look at it from the church story or from working with kids at school. If I say to a bunch of kids at school, tomorrow morning I want you to do a project about Australia, see you at nine o’clock, that’s it. You know that you get the C students. The C students are the ones who come in, they give you one page, handwritten, handed-in late. They did what I asked them to do. You get the B students. They do two pages, they type it up, handed it on time; they get a B. In every class, there is one or two A students who do six pages. They put a picture of the Australian flag on the cover. A picture of a kangaroo on the back. They do some research on it, some photos all the way through. And they did what I asked them to do.
And when we are going through this skills mastery, it is not about us, it is about them. It is about them wanting to improve their skills, so they take it in and they set themselves little goals on how can they get better at it.
So those first two steps—learning a skill, mastering a skill—typically, guys what we have done is we have stopped there. We go, Well, I’ve done my job; the swimmer’s technique is great. Let’s go on and do some work. You have got five stages of skill development to go. And the reason why I believe your swimmers fail to performing competition in terms of skill is that we do not go through those five levels.
So the next level: speed. I cannot think of any sport where you become successful by performing skills slowly. What is the difference between swimming a PR [personal record] or a PB [personal best] and warm-up speed? What is the difference between warm-up and breaking the national record? It is only one thing: speed. Speed is so important in our sport. I want to throw three or four things at you about speed that will change your life.
First thing is: the faster you want to go, the more relaxed you have to be. It is one of the hardest concepts. Because what we do with little kids, guys, is you have a little kid—I have got a 13-year-old, 10-year-old, a 7-year-old, and a 3-year-old; I should have brought a television, I know. And when you have got little kids, we say [in clenching voice] go as hard as you can come on, really go push it out. And so they believe, from a very young age, that the faster you want to go, the tighter and the harder, and everything does this, because that is what we demonstrate. Or that is typically what parents will do it; they will demonstrate it like that. The faster you want to go, the more relaxed you have to be. Tension is the enemy of performance in every field of endeavor: in your personal life, in running, cycling, in swimming. Tension is the enemy of performance.
And when you start to talk to kids about speed, try and use terms like “soft hands”, keep your hands soft. You can do a whole bunch of drills with paddles, with no paddles, and talk about soft hands. Try to avoid words like “hard” or “effort”. Guys, we are going to do some really fast repeats now, nice and relaxed. Guys we are going to go flat out; I need lot of speed. Give me all the speed you’ve got, but nice and easy, nice and relaxed, think breathing. Marry those concepts together.
I think one of the reasons that our swimmers tense up and tighten up is that we do not do that. We go: Give me some speed, give me everything, man; you are going to give me everything. We want them to be relaxed and easy; speed to come comfortably and easy. Tension is the enemy of performance. It can make an enormous difference to the way your kids race by teaching them that speed is about relaxing, about soft hands. You feel the water better when your hands are relaxed, and soft, and easy.
Man, I work with triathletes: hardest group to work with in terms of skill. Who works with triathletes? Some of you. How do you know there is a triathlete in the bar? They will tell you. Egos as big as Texas, but very, very committed people to work with in terms of effort. They will get in and they will work all day for you. But you try talking about relaxation, taking it easy in the water, body balance, all that cool stuff: they are not into it.
Really interesting test—I want you to write this one down. I think we do most of our drill work too slowly. I think we do far too much drill work too slowly. There is a great test set that I love 7×50 on 2:30, where you descend. So the first one is your PB time for 50 plus 12 seconds. The second is PB plus 10. So each repeat gets two seconds faster. PB plus 8, PB plus 6, PB plus 4—or PR. PB plus 2. The last one is flat out; maximum speed not maximum effort. What that gives you coaches is a very, very simple test. First of all they have got to pace. Pacing is the most critical skill in so much of our sport, isn’t it.
I do a lot of work with horse racing in Australia—I am coming back to the test set, don’t let me forget it. I do a lot of work with horse racing. Do you know that horse racing is fixed? A lot of people think that it is because of drugs or it is because of weight in the saddle bags. The majority of horse racing is fixed by jockeys overrating the horses at the wrong time. The aim of horse racing is negative splitting; is to just get them to relax in the race and go along 22, 24 strides a minute—very familiar language for us. And the jockey gets them to relax. You got to hope that jockey is relaxed and they are just relaxed. In the way that they fix the majority of horse races is that the jockey will go: if I overrate the horse 800 yards from home, heart rate goes up, lactate goes up, and they cannot finish on a home straight. That is why rating is so important, to have an understanding and a feel for rating. And certainly for us is.
So what this set does, 7×50 on 2:30 descend from 12 seconds off down to flat out. If you map stroke count, stroke rate and distance per stroke at each of those descending speeds, you will see a point where the kids start to spin their wheels. Yeah? You will start to see a point, a speed, where they become inefficient. And for most Age Group kids that you are working with that will be around about three to four seconds off their PB time. I think that is where we need to be doing most of our drill work: where the stroke is actually breaking down. To me it seems pointless of doing so much about drill work at speeds that are just unrelated to race performance.
So I invite you to try that test. It is very simple; the youngest kids can do it. It teaches them an awareness of stroke count, stroke rate, distance per stroke. But have a look: what is happening to the stroke mechanics as speed increases? Where is the break point? That is where I need to work; not 10 seconds off and having a party.
So number three: skills at speed. The next one, and these things accumulate, skill plus mastery plus speed plus fatigue.
I want to talk about the last 10% of races. First of all, we have gone down the wrong path by telling them—certainly works very well in an Australian accent—is put you head down, don’t breath, go for the wall, come on mate, go for the wall. And first of all, that is not going to work most of the time. Guys we got to redefine toughness.
I did something for John [Leonard]—if John is still in the room. I did a paper for ASCA last year, and we had 108 responses from coaches at high school and college level about mental toughness. And we asked the coaches: What is mental toughness? How do you recognize mental toughness? Do you recruit based on mental toughness? That was a good question. I am sure John can give you the paper. Then we said, can you coach mental toughness? How do you coach mental toughness? The coaches came back with words like: resilience, the ability to overcome adversity, the ability to overcome setbacks. It was very interesting.
But the way that we were looking at mental toughness is very different. Mental toughness is not the guy who can put his head down and do this. Mental toughness is about composure, about staying calm, about being relaxed under pressure. About knowing the fatigue is there and just doing your job anyway. When I work with football teams, it is interesting that I ask the coaches to define mental toughness for me. And inevitably it comes back to this: that the athlete does their job regardless of what is happening around them. So no matter what they are facing, they continue to do their job.
Now think about it in Swimming terms. I have my 14-year-old breaststroker, coming in. Mental toughness is their ability, their capacity, to do the job at the speed we want them to be at regardless of what is happening to around them. It is the best definition of mental toughness yet. It is a very interesting concept.
I want you to look-up, too, guys, on Google or on your phones when you get a chance, about mindfulness. Has anyone played with mindfulness? Mind-fulness. Mindfulness is a technique; it has only just been invented fairly recently, 3,000-5,000 years ago. What mindfulness recognizes is that the way we operate is thoughts, words and actions. And the thoughts come in: man it is tired, man I am fatigue, I got 15 meters to go, man I am totally wiped out. If the kids start to think like that, and they say those words even to themselves, that then manifests into action.
So what we are starting to think more and more about the last 10% of racing, is not have them think about anything. We do not want them thinking about not breathing. I will tell you from start—I think Matt said it the other day, a great comment about breathing—they should never be holding their breath underwater. All that is is going to do is create what? Tightness and tension, which is the enemy of performance.
Whoever talks to their kids about changing the way they exhale? Do you guys all do that? That is so important. That we will just say to the kids: ok, freestyle set, I want you to breathe every 4, or every 6. And you change it, but you do not tell them to change the rate of exhale. So instead of breathing every two and go [sharp exhale sound], and blasting it out; we have got to tell them [smoother exhale sound]. It has got to be a more measured, more steady, more relaxed breathe out, so they are not creating tension and tightness. So that old put your head down, go for the wall, never give up—all that stuff—please remove it from your coaching vocabulary. Because we are teaching them the exact opposite of what we want them to do. Stay loose and light and relax.
Look-up mindfulness; there is a whole bunch of free resources all over the internet. Because the concept of mindfulness is that the swimmer recognizes the thought—ok, I am tired, I am fatigued; it does not matter, I am here to do my job, it is fine—and they do not allow it to enter into talk. And then they do not allow it to go into their body, and start to create tightness and tension and other problems.
So my question to you is: are you doing sets with kids where you are assessing their skill level at speed and in fatigue condition? It is like a footballer doing sprints and then been asked to do quality fatigued. Do you rate your swimmers’ skill execution? So say I say: OK guys, see you in the workout. We’re going to do catch-up free or maximum distance per stroke breast, or whatever your favorite drill is, and I am going to give you a rating out of five for the execution of your drill under fatigue. So they are going not just to do the drill, but we are giving them feedback on their quality of skill execution at the end of practice.
So they are swimming towards me—might be doing a fly drill and they are swimming in—they touch the wall, and we go: 4, watch your head position. Next one comes in, really good, hips up, great, great, great, oh a lovely touch, both hands looked beautiful. But giving them that and saying that was a 4 that was a 3. Come back and try and do a 5 this time. When they are tired.
So, relaxation under fatigue. Mindfulness practice under fatigue. Working with them on the skills specifically and giving them feedback. Okay.
Number five: pressure. If you only ever write one thing down that I tell you, it is this: make your training more challenging and more demanding than the competition that you are preparing for. If your kids are preparing for a local meet, prepare them to win the state meet. If they are preparing to swim in the state meet, prepare them to win Nationals. If they are preparing to win and compete at Nationals, prepare them for international-level competition. Always prepare them one up.
Two or three things I want you to write down guys. First one is this: Confidence = Belief x Evidence. Confidence equals Belief times Evidence. We have all worked with the young swimmer, we have all worked with the young athlete, who goes: Oh, coach, I can’t do this today. I’m so tired. I really suck. I’m no good. I can’t swim. I’m overweight. We have all worked with a swimmer whose sense of self-belief, for whatever reason… could be a very legitimate reason—problems at home, mental and emotional issues, could be a range of issues. And the way that we have turned them around is with evidence. We say, Look Sally—soon as she is awake. “Look Sally, our test set that we do every Wednesday has improved so much. Your gym work is brilliant. You haven’t missed a workout for ten weeks. And you know that fly thing we do, that 50 fly breathing every five strokes that we do, man, I’ve never seen you go so well.” So we give them evidence when self-belief is low to build confidence.
But guys that only works if you can know with certainty. Because another one for you to write down: confidence is knowing. If I know with certainty that my drills have been done really well; if I know that I have prepared at a level higher than the competition that I am going to race in; if I know that I have out-prepared in every detail every swimmer that I will be racing in my event; if I know that my commitment, my sleep, my eating, my flexibility has been the best that I can have it; then I have all the confidence in the world.
I often say to kids that are going to a big meet… they will say You know, the national record holder is going to be in the next lane, coach; this is going to be too hard. And I say, “We can’t do anything about talent. But we can out-eat them, we can out-sleep them, we can out-rest them, we can do better with our recovery, we can out-hydrate them, we can out-travel them, we can do everything possible to beat them; and give ourselves a real shot.” Often say guys, to your athletes, you know challenge them on these things. Did you out-prepare in every detail every athlete that you will race in this competition? It is a great philosophy to have.
And when you are setting pressure workouts with athletes, in the back of your mind as a coach to be thinking: I need to set this workout tougher than the competition, more challenging than the competition. And that concept of level up: if it is state level, National level; if it is regional level, set it at state level. Always set at a level up.
So that is number five. Number six, of our seven steps towards performance practice, is consistency.
Consistency is a coaching issue. Because we come in the morning, we might have had a few drinks over dinner last night, we are tired, we are frustrated, might have had a problem at home, missed the alarm, money issues, fatigue, a whole range of issues that we are facing as coaches. And we get to a point where we start to be tempted to compromise in the consistency of what we are asking from the kids. Guys, do not do it. Nothing hurts—nothing hurts—like failing a child. Nothing hurts like failing an athlete and knowing that you could have done something better.
I had the great, great pleasure of working with an Australian triathlete, leading into the 2004 Athens Olympics. The toughest female athlete—I was going to say the toughest female, but that has to be my wife. But the toughest female athlete that I have ever worked with. Would do sets like… she would do this incredible set which she would go… she called it her “endless 50”. Where she would do 50s on 40 until she could not do them anymore; that was the set. I know it is triathlete thinking; I know it is really dumb. But that is the way she prepared.
Or she do things like: the team was all going out for a 100K ride at six a.m.; she would get me out of bed at 4:30 to do an extra 30K of training before going with the Australian team. This girl committed, dedicated. We had to change the dinner schedule for the team to make it out earlier because she wanted to go to bed so much earlier than anybody else to make sure she had enough recovery.
But there was one area she was really weak on, that was hydration. She had this really, really dumb idea; which is: if she did not drink throughout the race, during the Athens Olympic Games, her body weight would decrease—I do not recommend this. Her body weight would decrease, her power-to-weight would be better, and she would finish on faster than the other girls. Just think about that for a minute. I am unhappy with that from some many different levels. And then we fought and we argued, and she sulked and screamed, and we did not talk for a week. And this went on and on and on. And guys, I gave up—I gave up.
So we go to the Athens Olympics with my non-drinking superstar, hardworking, dedicated, committed athlete. And we get off the bike four minutes in front. Well ahead of the Americans, of course—we just get used to that, you know. [laughter] But we get off the bike four minutes in front, and you can taste the gold medal. Way back in the field, there is another athlete called Kate Alan, starts to run. Got a big background in endurance sport, had done Kona; very, very fit, very strong, we had seen her race the year before in Europe. Very, very good athlete. And I had to stand there and watch, and our girl get run-down with 100 meters to go after having a four minute lead. And horribly, horribly dehydrated, and it cost her a gold medal.
And I had to look at her a month ago, guys; I had the look at her face. And I wanted to talk about family, and I wanted to talk about her kids and her business. But all I saw in her eyes, and she knew it in my eyes, was disappointment, the heartbreak; and I let it down. And the reason why this practice concept that I am selling you now is so important, is I never want you to feel that. I never want you to go I didn’t prepare this athlete to do the job that we set out to do.
My athlete’s skill level got a lot better. According to the textbook, their ability one arm fly is perfect. But we failed—but we failed.
And when I start talking about this guys, this sport, as much as any sport, is a slave to physiology. And I am a physiologist, I can say that. It is like doing Australian jokes when you are Australian: you can get away with it. I am a physiologist, and we are slaves to physiology. Everywhere I go in the world, we talk volume, volume, volume, volume; yards, yards, yards. How many sessions a week are you doing? And that is saying that all our sport is, is volume. What we are saying is all we are about doing yards: Kids do not win, do more work; kids too slow, do more work.
Guys we are about skill. We are about mental toughness. We are about technique. We are about consistency of effort. We are about self-belief. We are about dive-start-turn-finish. We are about so much more than yardage. It never ceases to amaze me, when I come in and out of this sport, is how everything has to be sold by yardage. Break that idea.
Guys, one of the really interesting things that is happening around the world is we are living in a more-with-less society. People, your swimmers and their families, are demanding a better result with less work. Yeah, who is facing that? They come in and saying, man I do not want to do 4:30 workouts; I can’t give you ten workouts. And we are all trying to come to terms with: what is the least amount of work we can do and still achieve the performance goals that we want to achieve? How do I stay true to myself and my beliefs about Swimming and hard work, and yet meet the demands and the needs of clients?
Who has ever had McDonald’s? Anybody? It is the same all over the world, isn’t it? Think about what McDonald’s did? They were dying. Let’s face it: they were dying. When all they were doing was pushing burgers, they were dying. So what did they do? They went out to people and said, to their clients, what do you want? And they said, Well, look the burgers are good but you know I want more for my money. So they start bringing things like Happy Meals, playgrounds. Say look, I don’t like waiting for the burgers, I am too busy. They put drive-throughs in. They get back to the clients, mum and dad start getting worried about trans-fats and sugar and putting on weight, so they start offering salads and whole range of things. And now mum and dad is saying We don’t even want your food; I just want somewhere to sit in and have a coffee and they bring in McCafe. They responded to the needs about their clients and they survived.
You guys are on the very, very similar market forces now. Coach, what’s the least amount of work we can do and still get a great result. Yeah, we are all facing that. I am going to tell you how to do it. If you decrease the volume of your training to keep your clients happy, you are doing it for the wrong reason. If you decrease your yardage because people are complaining and you are trying to make them happy, do not do it. You know most coaches will know that sport is a continuum: at this end is popularity, at this end is performance. Most coaches prefer to be popular and friends then take the hard decisions about performance. If you are decreasing yardage to be popular, do not do it: wrong reason. If you make a strategic coaching decision to decrease yardage, compensated by the greatest coaching you have ever done….
Guys, too many guys in our sport all around the world—it just breaks my heart—they do this: okay, seven o’clock, ready, we are doing 20×100 on 1:50. Ready, go, go, go, 1:32, 1:27, 1:28. Go, go. Yeah what do you want me to bring home? Yeah sure, well go, go. Can you get me another coffee? And they do that, and they call it coaching. If you are a coffee coach, one: stop it, be ashamed of yourself. If you are a coffee coach like that, do not decrease the yardage. [laughter] Because that is all you have got; yardage is all you got.
If you said I think I can get a better result with less work and you go, at the same time, Man, I’m going to coach out of my tree. If we are doing a set of 20 ones, I am going to do 3 from here, I am going to run up and down for the next few… and one of my mentors, Laurie Lawrence, used to say the kids go 5, you walk 7. Give them more than you ask of them. So I give that. The next 3, I am going to watch from the other end, I am going to watch turns. If I am watching breast and fly turns, I am going to hand-touch to foot-touch times and give them feedback, make sure they always you know .9 or faster, depending on the age of the kid. I am going to stand at this end and talk to the kids as they come in. One-on-one feedback with as many as possible. Going to get my assistant coaches to work on one kid per repeat with technique.
Hey guys, look there is a way, I think, but do not just drop your yardage to be popular and keep people happy: it is the wrong reason. It has to come with a commitment to the greatest coaching you have ever provided. But I am going to tell you why I think this is good idea.
Imagine we had all the sports, all the sports that were choices for parents to buy, and they are all in cereal boxes up on the supermarket shelf. And I have got these parents and these kids that I want to come to Swimming, and they are coming along and they are going I need to buy a sport for my child. They come along and they go: What’s this box? Football. It is pretty good. I know the NFL; train two nights a week. I sit there up in the stands, talking to other dads. The game is all over and done with Saturday morning. We have a beer up, man, this is good. I will buy this product for my child. Yeah. They come along to the next box: Basketball. Shaq, Magic, all these guys. Great, yeah. One night a week practice. Games over quickly. We wear the cool gear. I will buy this product for my child.
And the next box is marked Swimming. Phelps, okay I have heard about this guy. Bring him down. 8-10 sessions a week. Out of bed 4:30 a.m. 8-10 years of hard work. Two-day swim meets that go 6:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.. I sit there and I watch 52 hits of the 9&Under 50 backstroke [laughter] and pay for the privilege while my son, in the 16-years age group, is racing five people. My 16-year-old gets the same ribbons and medals that he was getting when he was 5 and 6. And we go to the same meets at the same pool at the same weekend every year. Yeah maybe not: what else you got?
I said at the outset that coaches will save this sport. That is why we will, because this sport is hard to sell in this society. I believe like you do it offers so many wonderful experiences: health, fitness, save your life. But the sport itself is not selling itself very well, and coaches can save it. Because kids will go to school and talk about how great their coach is, or talk about how great the coaching was. They want you in there, working with them, engaging with them, giving them everything you have got. That will improve practices like you will not believe.
So number six was consistency, the consistent quality of your coaching. To get consistency from the swimmers, what you give them has to be great. Guys to me, it is never been a better time to be a great coach. If you are a dud, if you are a coffee coach, your days are numbered, because your clients will not accept that for much longer. So if you are one of those coaches, you are on notice. Do not let me catch you, you are on notice; because those days are gone. Because your clients want more. They want excitement, they want entertainment. They want someone working with them; someone who builds a relationship with their athletes.
- Performance conditions
And then number seven: performance practice. How many of you spend time working on developing mental skills with your athletes, every day? Guys, mental skills practice with a bunch of 6 year-olds. Hey guys come in. Close your eyes, take a big breath. I want you to think about that butterfly practice we did today. Guys, what did you learn that you really enjoyed? Remember we got our feet going really fast? Who enjoyed that? Who enjoyed feeling like a dolphin through the water? Take a big breath. Now I want you to think about one thing about you that you really love; one thing about you that is just wonderful; one thing that your friends love about you. Okay guys, see you tomorrow. Mental skills training at 6 year-olds.
Never ceases to amaze me that coaches will wait until the week before a meet and then start pulling-out the fight-and-die for the flag, it is time to do your best. You know: attitudes are contagious, is yours worth catching? Go and buy all the Anthony Robins stuff: it is all on there. Part-time commitment, part-time results, all that stuff. They will wait to a week out.
And usually when the kids are in their early- to mid-teens, and start to pull the mental skills out of that, it is too late. 5, 6, 7 years of age, guys; work on confidence, relaxation, breathing, self-belief, team. Work with them all the time on this stuff so that it just becomes part of what they do in their training.
Okay, I am going to run through them all again, make sure you got them down.
- First one, skills. Teach skills, but teach them intelligently and teach them with great engagement. Make sure they are paying attention. Paying attention because you are coaching like the internet: lots of variety, lots of difference, engaging, interesting.
- Mastery. Practicing again and again to get it right, but doing it in a way where they want to do it. Thing about that 7×50 set as well.
- Speed. Performing skills very well at speed.
- Performing skills very well at speed and under fatigue.
- Performing skills very well at speed, under fatigue and under pressure.
- Performing skills very well at speed, under fatigue, under pressure, consistently.
- And then number seven: Performing skills very well, at speed, under fatigue, under pressure, consistently, and in performance conditions.
Have a look at your skills practices. Are you stopping at 1, are you stopping at 2, are you playing with 3? Where are you stopping? Are you preparing your kids to perform successfully or are you just preparing them to do really nice looking drills?
Final comment: guys we have the greatest job in the world. We have the opportunity to change lives, not just to improve swimming performance. Now is the greatest time there has ever been to be a coach. You pick-up your phone, anyone can get anything, anywhere, anytime, for free. You are no longer limited by lack of knowledge. No one in this room can honestly say Coach, I don’t know how to find out an endurance set for 12 year-olds. Look it up. Coach, I need some resources, can you send me a video of freestyle? Go online, look up David Marsh’s stuff. Some great stuff being used all over the world, just don’t tell Marshy that, because he will want money for it.
All the things that limited you in the past—access to knowledge, access to quality information—all that is gone. There are no excuses. The only thing holding you back is yourself and coaching. It is now the time of the coach. The person who can get athletes to do more than they ever thought possible; the person who can inspire athletes to be more than they ever thought they can be. If you can coach right now, I mean really coach—not sports scientist, not traffic cop, not time caller—if you can coach, now is your time. Now is the time where the great coaches will stand-up and be successful and make a huge difference to the sport.
And I am telling you, you have to, because you are the only ones who are going to. Thank you.