Bob Steele started coaching in 1959 as a college student with the Carbondale Sharks and has been coaching ever since, except for a nine year stint as an office employee at United States Swimming. Steele coached High School for eight years, University teams for 14 year and Age group swimming through out that whole time except fore the 9 years at USS. He has coached swimmers at all levels. The last few years Coach Steele has coached at Wichita swim club in KS where he coached four groups, the National Squad which was 27 High School kids and some college kids that wanted to adhere to the rules and pay the price in the summer, the Gold Group which were high school kids that really did not want to train hard but loved to pay fees, the Masters Group who trained with the kids that did not like to pay fees and the Dolphin Squad, which was 9-10 year olds.
Here is a little bit about philosophy: every one of us is a different kind of person, no two people are the same, we are all different. Some of us coach by being teaches, some of us are dictators, a couple make presentations even. Some of us are friends to swimmers, some of us are adversaries. We as coaches need to not get stuck in a rut by coaching on the same end of the spectrum all the time.
Why? Because we loose our influence on kids. You are the most powerful person that a child will ever have in their life, if you deal with those children on a regular basis. You are more powerful than the parents, you are more powerful than their teachers, you are more powerful than their Sunday School teacher. You are the most powerful person in a child’s life. Remember that. They are a piece of putty in your hands and you are going to do a lot of things that they will pick up on and subliminally hold and imitate at times. As a philosophy, for me if practice was fun for me to watch then it was more fun for kids to do. I wanted to entertain myself at their expense. Moral was more important than a few thousand yards. There were no excuses for failure at the end of the season, because we would have done so many things to prevent failure that they had no one to blame but themselves and their parents needed to know that.
There are three things that determine how successful an athlete is going to be and it doesn’t matter if it is Michael Jordan or Suzy Q.. Those things are fitness, skill and motivation. There are all kind of sub areas within those three, but those are the three things that you need to work on with a child to improve their athletic ability and you have to create some kind of balance, you need to strengthen areas that are weak. They have to strengthen areas that are week. You have to provide assistance, so that those areas do become stronger.
We have different types of personalities, values and traits among ourselves. You may be a theme person, you may be a people person, you might be laid back, you might be a hyper person, everybody is different.
We need to as coaches look at ourselves and look at coaches around us that are very successful and develop an idol. When I started as a young coach, my idol was Ralph Casey, the guy who coached me and as I got more experienced and attended clinics it became George Haines, then as a High School coach, I spent a weekend at Doc Councilman’s house, before Doc wrote his first book. Doc was perhaps the most impacting person that I ever spent time with and thought as an idol. Then when I became a college coach, I thought Peter Daland was an idol or model and now that I have roomed with him twice on trips I am not sure. I think the main thing that we need to do is be humanists, not machinists. We are not dealing with machines, we are dealing with human beings, so we must think in terms of being humanists. Coaches are the backbone of American Swimming, all the presentations that we had and the great talks at the clinic indicates that we are us and that coaches decide the destiny of American Swimming.
We have volunteers that have become involved in swimming because of their children and they have assumed positions of power. Coaches need to make sure that they influence local and national swimming. You are the only constant in American Swimming. The kids are going to come in and they are going to leave, some after 1 month some after 15 – 20 years, but you are always there, you are the constant you are the backbone of American Swimming.
We lose kids for many reasons. One of the most popular is, “I had other things to do.” You can not change your 245 influence on other things to do.
Kids are walking through a youth activities mall. They go to store after store after store, trying on this sport or this trumpet lesson, this piano less, tap dancing. I have heard them all. I did not know that kids could play a cello, be in advanced programs, swim on a swim team. I did not know that they could do so many things. So when kids are involved with you, you have to provide a wholesome, fun enjoyable experience so that when they finish walking through the youth activities mall they come back to you, if they haven’t already stayed. You want them to have a great experience. You are like the pied piper, you are the person who determines whether or not they stay in our sport.
There are other factors as well, “I wasn’t good enough”. Then you blame their moms and dads, but you have to do that in a tactical way in some of your parent meetings.
“I wanted to play another sport,” “I did not like the pressure,” “practice was too boring,” “The training was too hard,” “It wasn’t exciting enough,” “There was no team work.” Coaches influence these things. The one I did not put on there was, “I had to swim too much butterfly.” This is frequently mentioned.
Parents also take kids out of our sport, because it costs too much for the benefits that they see, or you expected too much of the parent. In that case you need to make a follow-up call and say, “Susie, why haven’t we seen you this month?” Susie says, “My mom is not going to bring me.” Then you have to try to work out a car pool for Susie or someone else on your staff or one of your parents has to work on the car pool system. In Wichita, we had one parent who took care of car pooling for everybody. If anybody need a ride, they called her.
“The Coach was a poor role model.” You are dealing by and large with middle upper class families. How you dress, how you groom yourself, how you smell, what kind of shoes you wear, how your hair is cut influences their kids and consequently a lot of parents in that socioeconomic area are going to look at how you coach but what they are going to see speaks louder than they can hear. First impressions are important.
“Coach seldom works on skills.” “It’s too competitive.” One reason that is not listed is that parents will not put kids in programs sometimes, because it is inconvenient. Convenience is the most important way to build a team. Whether that means sacrificing a lane for entry level swimmers out of your Senior practice or creating a separate entry level program. Whatever it is, you need to look a convenience as a way of attracting and retaining kids so that it is possible for the parent to accommodate the team’s needs and the child need’s around their schedule.
What I would like to do is go through some things that you might consider at practices, various stages of skill development and at swim meets. Now everybody here has been involved in coaching and I am sure that you are doing a lot of these things. Hopefully we will throw some out that may make an impression.
First of all, every family needs to have a team handbook. US Swimming has a computerized team handbook that you can put on the computer and adjust to fit your team. I think it is $20 includes a disk and a sample hard copy.. A handbook is a great thing to provide rookie parents. Rookie parent meetings are a good thing to go along with the book. You also need staff policies and procedures, so that the staff is on the same page whether it how you treat kids at the pool or how you provide supervision at a motel on a trip.
For practices and planing practices: Have your practices planned and written out before you get to the pool and think about how specific you need to be a various stages of skill development, development of fitness, and motivation as you write your practice. Does your practice fulfill motivational goals for those swimmers on your team? You can not coach without a chalkboard. You can take a $5-10 piece of shower stall masonite from the lumber yard and nail it too a wall and use it as a dry erase board and kids will know what you want done. We are least of all auditory learners, we are most of all kinesthetic learners and about 70% of us are visual learners. So we need to write the workout up and teach the kids our symbols and they will be able to read all the symbols they need to know to be able to do practice. I think that is good so kids know how to spread their energy. If you asterisk those sets that are going to be fast, hard or important, write in pulse counts that you want them to achieve then they are going to know what you want before you start.
Use variety daily. We would repeat just test sets and the last two years since I began coaching again we never did the same practice twice. Every practice was different. We did repeat test sets because I think that is critical, but we would not duplicate practices. Challenge all the energy systems daily or on a cyclical basis and try to apply that to the races, so the kids know why they are doing what ever they are doing. This too depends on the age of the age group swimmer. You have high school swimmers that are age group swimmers.
We would do sprints at sometime early in the practice when they were fresh or late in the practice when they were exhausted. Now sprints can be 12 ½’s, 20’s, 25’s — just swimming hard at sometime in the practice. The Germans used to do about 1% of the practice really fast. 1% is not much but it gives the kids a feeling of the nervous system working when they are fatigued and having to go fast. We would train individual medley with everybody in the fall and every Thursday do a 400 IM. If we did Water Polo in the fall we would do a 100 time trail every Thursday. The we 246 move into 400 IM training and time everybody on 400 IM. The younger kids 10 & unders might go 100 IM’s — that’s the same as a 400 IM for them.
We work on starts and exchanges twice a week all season long. Why wait till the end of the year to do the thing that is the most critical at that time? Do that as the season progresses. Yesterday I sat in on a turn presentation and as the presentation was being made I wrote down things that I wanted to incorporate or things that I had done in the last two years. I came up with 25 objective measures for measuring turns and you can do that with kids timing each other or with coaches timing kids. You can do it with cones at the bottom of the pool or have them on the side of the pool so that the kids know where they are and they measure themselves regularly in training sets and also on specific turning practices.
Wear only team shirts or sweats. You end up with a lot of shirts but if you look at the teams with team outfits like Mark Schuberts, Southern Cal, Mission Viejo, or Mission Bay, they have team outfits. Mark has team outfits. He is one of many coaches that wear the team uniform not someone else’s.
Have your equipment out and ready to go. Whether it is video tapes, weights, kick boards, pull buoys, rubber bands, hand paddles. Have that stuff out so that you can get started when it is time to start.
Be on the deck 10 minutes early to talk to and welcome kids and find out what they have done good that day — whether it is academics, or maybe they just got on the bus on time — but find out what they had done during the day that worked well for them. Maybe it was success on a test, what ever it might be. Talk to swimmers about what you are going to do in practice to develop skills, work on pace, what kind of practice you are going to do, and what you expect from them. Try to have some fun before things start, whether it is writing the first lines of a limerick on the board and let the put the last line at the end of practice. Or trivia quizzes.
We would go maybe 10 50’s on a minute or 10 on 1:10 and when they are resting they need to mention items in a category. The best ones are breakfast cereals or clothing stores. They stay on the send off and when they mention something that has already been mentioned then they are out of the game but have to continue doing the warm-up. That is in a book that someone wrote many years ago.
During practice as a coach it is impolite to drink a coke or drink coffee or eat a roll. It is unfair, because they are as hungry or as thirsty as you are. Probably more so. Don’t leave the deck once practice starts whether it is to phone, Ms. Milligutty, or anything else. Say something positive to every swimmer everyday. You might want to say, “Susie, I like that rhinestone in you belly button.” That would go over big these day’s. Or, “John, I like your earring.” “Michael, that nail polish clashes with your toenails” I refuse to have Dennis Rodman’s around me. In fact we were on our way to a regional meet and two of the boys did not believe that I did not want fingernail polish on the way to the meet. So I said, “It is real easy, I’ll just scratch you when we get to the pool, unless that’s gone.” So right away the girls in the van gave them fingernail files and they were filing nail polish off. Say something positive everyday that reinforces things that you would like to have.
Use first names, if you use nicknames, make sure they are appropriate. If you call a kid onion head, sooner or later they are going to fulfill that. If you call them Gomer, they are going to fulfill that. Use acceptable nicknames and try to protect the vulnerable kids. If they are always on someone’s case then you need to send that person off on a set on their own or a swim of their own to the locker room to get something and tell the rest of the swimmers on the team to back off. They can make life miserable for some swimmers.
Start on time together with a super start. I know US Swimming says feet first, we use that at meets not practice. We try to have a great start, if you have 100 practices in a season then you have 100 great starts.
Try to change your warm-up and the warm-downs, don’t be predictable. There is a college coach that I know whose swimmers predicted two weeks of workouts. That’s a lot of predictions, 20 workouts and they knew what they were going to do.
Record times and/or averages on a chart or the chalkboard. We had a team of 27, so we had a sheet. On the back of the sheet we would write the workout, on the front of the sheet everyone’s name was listed down the left side and one swimmer would be dedicated as manager for the day and they would record times or we would hang it on the chalk board and the kids would record their own times. But that gives you something to put into Hy-Tek. If you don’t use it it gives you something to look at before you go home or the next day.
Know what their averages are on sets. Know what their times are if every time on the set is important. Straight set swimming is to me is what training is. We have ascend, descend, negative splits, positive splits, pulse rate — all this stuff but straight set swimming is what relates to performance. So you need to know what their times are from practice.
Practice celebrating. We had all age groups practice celebrating. At the end of a set when you want to record times, have the kids line up behind the flags and if they are five in line they get behind each other they sprint in and do a celebration. They practice celebrating, so they can antici- 247 pate of have something that they want to fulfill. If you look at a video of Steve Lundquist when he won the 100 Breast in 1984, he jumped out of the pool and just stood there. It was like he was trying to remember just what he was going to do and then all of a sudden he jumped and clicked his heels like the Toyota ad.
I told this story to a lot of coaches. There was a coach who had his kids practice celebrating. They were at a meet and he had a girl in the 100 Free whose best time had been 1:35 yards. She was in a heat with a bunch of fast kids for some reason and it was kind of a fingernail tapper for all the spectators as this girl finished her 100 Free. She finished her 100 free and looked up at the clock and saw 1:29 and had a great celebration and all the spectators went nuts because this was such a novel experience to see someone celebrate for a 1:29. But everybody needs to look forward to something and celebrations help do that.
Touch every swimmer. Don’t let them sit on your lap – ever. Don’t hug them too long – ever. Don’t kiss them. I had these 9 & 10 year olds and we had real thin surgical tubing and I was trying to teach them how to do Breaststroke. This one 9 year old said something that was absolutely hilarious. This girl is 6 years younger than my oldest grandson and I was just dumb struck by what she had said. I was holding her arms and moving her arm for her and she just knocked me out with what she said and I just gave her kiss on the forehead. Immediately I thought, “You nut, why did you do that?” It was just a reaction. The next night her mother came into the pool and I thought, “Oh boy, here we go.” She said her daughter was just taken by that, that it was so neat. Did I hear her right? By god I stayed away from all those little kids. I was six feet away from them for the rest of the time. At any rate, watch where you touch kids. The safest place is the top of the head, or the shoulder, or the back – up high. We have enough problems with that kind of thing today without having someone else taken to court.
Have fun each day, be personable, zany, unpredictable. Be creative. How can you have fun and be swimming really long or swimming really fast or getting really fatigued? You have to purvey that as fun. Fun isn’t just games and gimmicks. Fun is being successful, fun is being challenged and surviving, Fun could be 2000 yards fly. Survival can be fun and it can be very rewarding. Work hardest with the lowest skilled swimmers. They have the best chance of being good, but they can be the first ones out the door or the last ones to leave or the last ones to quit and parents need to know that. When you have your parents meetings explain to them that the swimmers with the best chance of being successful in maturity are the ones that are immature for the most part of their age group career. Late matures have the best chance of being successful.
Be sensitive to the needs and differences between swimmers. You have to give them you attention and pay attention to different things. Academics, illness, and I think the biggest thing is differences in pain tolerance. This summer we had a girl drop from 1:16.9 long course to 1:13.4. She won breaststroke at juniors SE. She had absolutely no pain tolerance, she would drive a sane man crazy. She got on the end of every circle, she would never lead. She had unbelievable skill but she seldom exerted herself. She was absolutely frightened of a 200, but boy could she race. You have to accept that. I had to encourage her. I had to drag it out of her. I would force her to the front of a lane and after about five repeats she would be right back at the end of it again. She would be trading with people in her lanes. We have to accept that and do the best we can with it.
Don’t sit and talk with other coaches or with kids when you should be coaching. Sometimes it is a entertaining to talk to other coaches but really what we are getting paid for is to coach kids, to make changes, to motivate them to help them be better.
Never let parents on the pool deck, there has got to be some place that you can put them. In Wichita we had seating for 1000 spectators in a 25 yd x 50m team owned indoor pool. So parents could sit wherever they wanted and you couldn’t tell them where they could sit or couldn’t sit so I put long tables right at the entrance with chairs behind it and that was a comfort zone, that was a place where parents could sit. We had a big sign right there saying the comfort zone and parents would come sit their with computers an do work. They would read. We put out books, swimming world magazines, newspapers. We tried to have them be occupied, but because of the setup we had, they could walk wherever they wanted. We tried not to let them stand behind the coach or a training group.
When you coach, you are coaching for two people, the swimmer in the water and whatever parent is observing. So you have to do a great job. I coached with Carl Sutter years ago in Lake Forest and Carl would not let the parents in the spectator area except on Friday evenings. Someone upset him on Friday and he locked the door permanently and there was a little window in the door and occasionally you would see parents looking through that little window so Carl took a piece of cardboard and covered the window. So parents never got in with Carl. That depends on you and your comfort zone and I guess as your hair gets grayer, it gets a little easier to let parents in. Because they are more imitated by you or think you know the right thing because your hair is gray.
I think that one of the problems we have is teaching kids to race. We need to teach kids to race not just to survive practice. We have had a lot of ideas on aerobic training this week and not too many ideas on anaerobic training but we don’t want to teach survival, though that might be the road 248 to racing. We want to remember, that what we want to do is to teach racing.
For you to be a successful coach of age group swimmers, all you have to do is to teach kids to turn. It is the only object of measure that parents have. Susie went in behind Alice and came out behind her. Susie went in ahead of Alice and came out behind her. Susie went in ahead of Alice and stayed ahead of her. That’s all parents know. All you have to do is to teach turns and you will be a successful age group coach. You might have to add a start if they are always hitting with their feet first but turns is where it is at.
Yell for kids on important sets. You can’t yell all the time and be stuck on one end of the spectrum of emotions. You can’t be quiet all the time and be on the other end. Try to use all your emotions as you coach. If you get stuck on one end or the other, then you’re usually crazy. That’s what the psychologists say. Use the whole spectrum of emotions.
I used to coach a kid named George Delgado. George was 21 when he first started swimming with me and was ready to quit swimming because of all the work that he had done and then he came and swam with us for another five years. I once asked him if he got upset when I yelled at him, or yelled for him. He said no because it came so infrequently that he knew when I did, I meant it. Try not to yell or get upset or be upset all the time.
Try to develop stations in your training program. You might have one station for kicking, one for pulling, one for speed work. Let the kids go through those on their own and you be at the aerobic test set station and you time the kids that get to that station. If you have four training groups and you have them broken down by skills, i.e. you might have Breaststrokers, Backstrokers, Butterfliers, and Freestylers or it might be Distance, Middle Distance, Sprint. When they get to you and they are at each station for 20-30 minutes, you can have whatever the test that is specific to the group that is in the water knowing that you only have 20-30 minutes in which to work. Station training gives you a chance to impact all the kids in a practice. That doesn’t mean that kicking, pulling and speed work doesn’t count, but the kids can handle that on their own.
When we coach, we coach freestyle from the side of the pool and we coach Backstroke, Breaststroke and Fly from the end of the pool . Next time you are at a store pick up a little flashlight and put it in you pocket. If you have been working on skills and you are standing on the side of the pool and the light goes on then they are doing it right. If the light is off they are doing it wrong. Immediate reinforcement. On the end of the pool, if you have been working on someone’s breaststroke trying to get the hands to change when the light is on they are doing it right. They will make changes to get the light turned on.
Try the same thing on breathing. If you have breathing patterns stand on the side of the pool because then they know you are counting. Sit in a lifeguard stand and watch a practice from the guard stand. That is a pretty intimidating spot because they do not know who you are looking at. Sit up in the bleachers, you can see so much more.
One of the things that we need to be aware of is the fact that abuse happens in families and we as coaches need to observe the skin of the kids that are in our groups. If we see somebody that appears to be abused, you need to know what the law is in your state or you school district / park district on your responsibility of reporting that. You have a better chance of looking at kids then any other coach and that is something you need to be aware of.
In an effort to jazz up our pool we had a nursery give us three big pots and put seasonal flowers in the pot out in front of the pool area so it looked really neat. It was my responsibility to water the flowers and I would always forget to water the geraniums. So we had geranium relays at the end of the summer and the losing team would have to water the geraniums. Anytime we did geranium relays they knew that I had forgotten.
End practice with something that is fun and causes them to forget the pain they just experienced. Shake hands when they are leaving. I use to have a tradition, I stand at the corner of the pool between the starting end or where they finished practice and the locker room. They would have to shake my hand and say Bob thanks for the practice, I hope tomorrow’s harder. They could not get to the locker room unless they passed me. If Carrie Robinson, who swam for Orlando when I worked here, was to walk in the room the first thing she would say is that. Carrie is probably 30+ years old now. The other thing you might do is to encourage them to say thanks and acknowledge an appreciation for what you have done. If they do that reinforce that by saying, “Thanks for saying Thanks” and you will get a lot more kids expressing themselves.
Clean up with a swimmer’s assistance. Check the bottom of the pool for swimmers before you leave. It does not sound important, but there are people who have left them down there. Supervise the shower room or the locker room. It is a good time to interchange with the kids, but make sure you are in the right locker room.
Score and rate practices. Use the attendance sheet that we would record times or averages on, we would take a red magic marker and put a red dot behind the name of anybody that didn’t work hard enough and put a green dot behind the names of the kids that worked really hard. Then I would put it up by the exit, so that the kids could look at it and after the parents came in, they could look at it. So that was a good way of giving them some feedback on practice. You could rank them as well 1-10, but the dots are more visual.
If you see some one without a smile, give them yours. Don’t let kids make mountains out of mole hills. You are more important than the school psychologist in helping kids with problems.
Pet Peeves. Beer on a coaches breath at any time, or beer on a parents breath and I think that the latter is something that is really hard to deal with. Often times if practice ends at 7 pm, dad’s been home and had a martini or two and then is going to come pick up the kids and maybe the neighbors kids. That is difficult for you, but something that you need to be aware of. Take a whiff and then in order for you to stay out of the fray, let some other parent talk to that person. Don’t you get involved in it.
Scratching body parts. I had a coach who is now principle at a high school. He was my graduate assistant for two years and he was always scratching his crotch. It drove me nuts. One day we were video taping all the kids and every time he scratched, I switched over and did a little take on him. The kids knew it, so we showed the tape that night at the camp and he.
Standing, Starring, or Sitting and chatting, while not helping kids to improve themselves or the team and takers instead of givers. There was a sports psychologists from Kansas City who years ago who talked about teams being like a bell curve. On one end you have all the givers, the people who do everything right, pitch in and contribute. On the other end you have the takers, the people who are a liability to the team. In the middle you have all the kids who are swayed on way or the other, so the team is like a bell curve. Your job as a coach it to try to move those takers to the giving side. If you think about it, you can’t put high level givers with low level takers because there will be an eruption. What you need to do is to take the high level givers and put them together with the middle to pull these people up. You take the middle and put them with the lower level takers to pull the takers up. Your team is as strong as the weakest link and needs to work together.
Put younger inexperienced swimmers, we call them rookies, with the veterans. Every Saturday morning, we had a total team workout in the Fall. We would have the older kids train and their practice would overlap with the younger kids practice and we would pair them up. Whoever was there that Saturday would line up according to height, taller people we usually thought were the older kids. We would divide the group in half and the back half of all the shorter people would go stand next to a partner and off they would go to work on skills. The coaches would circulate to help with skill development. Total team practice is that time that overlaps between practices.
Swimmers need to know what you expect from practices, whether you want them to swim at a speed of their best time plus a few seconds, or a percent of effort, or at specific pulses or range of pulses. Range of pulses seems to be most helpful with the kinds of things that Jonty Skinners been talking about. They need to know what you expect at meets whether it be supporting teammates or things related to their own races.
Help them develop achievable goal progressions. Have a goal sheet. Several of the presentations at the ASCA world clinic in Orlando, Florida spoke about having goal sheets and developing achievable progressions. We used to have a kid carry a flat stone. We would go to the beach a grab some stones and have the kids write their goal times on these small flat stones. Then they would keep the stone in their pocket or purse. Every time they went to get change or into their purse or pockets, they would be reminded of their goal times.
Try to relate goal times to practice times. The best test sets are 6 50’s on 2 minutes then multiply the average by 2 and that predicts the 100 with a correlation of .89. 5 100’s on 3 minutes, multiply the average by 2 to predict the 200. 6 250’s on 5 minutes to predict the 500. 20 100’s on a set send off but with about 12-15 seconds rest multiply the average by 16 ½ for a 1650 goal time. Try to relate what the kids are going to do in practice to what they would like to achieve. It can’t be unrelated, it has to make the mix.
Use positive reinforcement and minimize the negatives. Positive reinforcement can be a pat on the back, a thumbs up, an OK. I have a lot of old T-shirts with paint and coffee on them, those are always prizes for good practices. We had contests — we had to predict the knock out time of the Hollifield / Tyson fight. They all had to put down who would win, what round, if it was a knock out and some girl ended up winning a nice Speedo T-shirt. So have some fun type things like that.
Praise achievement so that limitations are reduced. Get kids to try to elevate their goals after they achieve the one that they selected as an achievable goal. Make them reset their goals. You can do a lot at the end of practice with broken swims or get out swims to try to have the focus on their goals. If they have goals and you know what they are and they are not doing the kind of training that they need or they are not swimming fast enough walk up to them and say, “Sally we are going to have to change that time from a 57.5 to 1:03.” Try to relate practice to goal times.
In working on skills I learned over the last two years in dealing with 9 and 10 year olds, it also works with the older kids, that you have to remind them time and again that they listen with their eyes. If they are not looking at you then they are not listening to you. One person talks at a time, that’s me. So they know that if I am going to give a workout or I am going to talk about anything, then they have to be quiet. They need to repeat what your doing and dryland training is the only way to teach skills. When kids are in the water 250 moving around, it is impossible to teach. You have to give them key points that they repeat back to you. So if you are going to work on the breaststroke pull, they need to know there is the V, there’s an outsweep past the elbow to 135 degrees for really good breaststrokes. So there is a V, an outsweep, touch their chin and breath late and then the V again. Have them repeat what it is they are going to do over and over before they get into the water.
The word try is the most important word in changing skills. The next most important thing for kids to understand is that if it doesn’t feel weird, strange, different, crazy or unusual it isn’t right, they are doing the same thing. In skill drills that you create or in skill drills that you give kids, you need to create a drill that forces change, so that they don’t have any option but to make it different. You have do that with words and manipulation. Kinesthetic learning using words and using feel is the only way you can get kids to make change.
Don’t be afraid to get into the water and watch strokes, unless you have an underwater window, coach scope, or camera. Get in the water yourself and watch strokes. I failed to do this with a girl who is 14 and went 1:04.7 at Junior nationals in breaststroke, finished second and got disqualified. The official was standing right over her and said she did a dolphin kick at mid pool. I told him he was nuts!! I had watched her kick after I had kids swim down the pool behind her, I video taped it. I had done all these things to look at her stroke and I couldn’t see anything that was illegal. Her kick was more legal than Mike Barrowman’s. We took the team to Boulder, CO for a meet and went down to Colorado Springs to visit the training center one day and I had her filmed on the tracking camera. Sure enough, she not only had a really fast movement there, her feet separated when she did it. So she was illegal in two ways. I hadn’t gotten in the water and didn’t see it. Getting in the water or looking at stroke from under the water is something that you have to do, especially if your kids are having problems.
On turns, there are 25 objective measures and I would like to mention some of them quickly. First of all a freestyler or a backstroker once the head goes down until the feet leave the wall, they should take less that one second. So if you time kids on turns, then they should be between 7 tenths and 9 tenths from the time the head starts down till the time the feet leave the wall. That is an objective measure that all of our kids are aware of.
On breaststroke pull outs they should be about 7 – 9 seconds. On the start 9 seconds and on the turns 7 seconds. On fly kick-outs they should be about 9½. On backstroke kick-outs they should be about 7.8. When you are working on turns and you want to time total turns you give them a split from the time their head passes the flags till their feet leave the wall and the total time till their hear crosses the flags. And the kids should know that a good freestyler is 2.5 till the feet hit the wall and 5.2 for the total turn. Those are the kind of things that we need to give kids for objective feedback on turns.
You can do a lot for race pacing if you give kids some signals. If they are going to swim the 100, you would tell them they had to be out within one second of their lifetime best 50. We give kids splits and they do not know what they mean, they do not remember them or seldom remember them. But tell them within one second of their lifetime best 50 and never drop off more than 3 second in the breaststroke, never drop off more than 2 seconds in freestyle, backstroke or fly. Those are things that they will then begin to measure. You need to know your kids and know what kind of splitting that you want to have done. Whether it is positive split, negative split, whatever it might be and relate that to the kids.
For meets, we would time kids on sprints but we would not just give them sprint times. They would have to tell us what their sprint time was, so they really knew what they were doing when they sprinted. Then we would have a deal, who ever guessed their time closest to 100th of a second got all the change in my pocket. So that might we .37 cents it might be .03 cents it might be $2. I tried never to have it be $2.
You can do something fun at the end of warm-up at meets. It doesn’t have to be serious, just because it is a meet. In the pre meet program, teach them about visualization and visualize success 10 seconds before they start. Or visualize the thing that you have been working on 10 seconds before they start. Have the parents all sit together and cheer and be the cheerleaders but have them sit somewhere else, not with the team.
In pre race psyching: a lot of this is trial and error for you but you have to remember what did work. Maybe it is relaxation, maybe it is a pep talk, maybe it was just a really calm presentation of two things you need for them to remember, so their mind isn’t cluttered. Try to teach strategy.
Kids need to know what a thumbs up means, they need to know what a big OK. means. You need to have signals when kids are doing distance races. They might be moving the numbers up and down which means pick it up or if they are on pace and it’s in the middle, if they need to pick it up it’s on one side, if they are too slow its the other.
One of the most difficult things when you have got so many kids in a program, so many options on races and so many time standards is for us to know what they are. We need to know when they have made a zone time or an “A” time and acknowledge with them that they achieved the time.
Encourage the losers, they are the ones that need your support and/or consolation. If a kid has a bad race, teach 251 them to lift their shoulders to their ears and then drop their shoulders. They had a bad race, forget about it. Talk about the bad race on another day. Let them go off and prepare for their next swim. If mother is hovering over the kids, get in mothers face. I had a girl who was 14, she had a track record of three disastrous State Age Group Championship meets and then got moved into my group. We tried to get her to forget about the past. Her mother would bring her in at 5:30 am a couple days a week for practice and I talked to the mother about how great this girl was going to be and how great she was if we would just leave her alone. At the State Age Group Championships this summer, her mother was hovering over her again. This is a girl who swam all season long having 8 out of 9 lifetime bests in meets as the season went along and I could not wait for the State Age Group Championships because I knew mom would be there counting swims. She ended up with 8 out of 9 lifetime best swims in that meet. She had been used to and devastated by her mother in prior years. Just before the meet start, I met the mom in the parking lot and said, “Look , the number one thing is if it ain’t fun it ain’t fun” and I would like for you to sit with the parents. You have to try to tactfully put parents in place.
We need to teach parents to separate the swim from the swimmer. Just because this little girl had a lot of bad swims doesn’t mean that this little girls is a bad person. She was a wonderful person, she was one of three people that would everyday ask me how does this look. The problem we often have as coaches is making sure that we look at it to see how it does look, especially when you have three that are always bugging you about it. Another thing that might help is if you can get parents to understand that swim speak stops when the car door closes. When they get in the house, it is not sit around the breakfast table and read swimming worlds. I recruited a kid in California and that’s what happened in his house. I think that is why he came to Illinois. We need to have swim speak stop when the car door closes unless the kids bring it up with the parents.
As coaches it is important for us to be safety trained, have CPR and first aid, be ASCA certified and educated and teach safe practices in and around the pool. Remember, nothing great was achieved with out enthusiasm and that is the enthusiasm you have for competitive swimming and the experience you have. The kids are a piece of putty and you have more impact on their lives than anybody else that they will deal with in the course of a day or in school or in church. Coach hard and swim fast and thank you.