[introduction, by Jennifer Gibson]
Welcome. I think you will be very excited in listening to our next speaker. He started out coaching with a very renowned team: Lake Erie Silver Dolphins in Cleveland, Ohio. And from there moved-on in 2010 to become the Head Age Group Coach with Bolles Swimming in Jacksonville, Florida. If anybody is familiar with Bolles, they have such a tradition over the last 20-30 years, primarily in developing very, very strong Age Group swimmers, and then as far as always going-after and being in the running for those National titles, whether it be high school national titles, whether it be Junior Nationals, Senior Nationals. And just to kind of maybe put it out there, I told him I was going to say this, in talking to John Leonard about a year ago, when we were just talking about new coaches and places where people had moved to; and he said, “Well, I got to tell you Jen, about this man that Bolles has just hired.” He said, “This guy, he’s phenomenal.” And to quote John, John said, “I think this is the next big thing in Age Group Swimming.” So without saying anymore, I would like to introduce to you, your next speaker: Dale Porter.
Thank you. Thank you for putting up with me with my little video; that was for my mother. It does not matter that I am doing a presentation at four o’clock at the World Clinic; to her [and] everybody in her neighborhood, I am the only speaker at the World Clinic. So thank you for putting up with that. I do need to thank my parents for this. I think they were the perfect swim parents. They one day knew that I needed to do something; they took me to a local pool, they asked the coach if I could join the team, and they proceeded to leave me there. And from that day on, it was a relationship between the coach and I. They picked me up, they dropped me off, they paid the bill, they worked when they needed to work. They had no idea what my level of success was, what it could be; it did not matter. The fact that it was a daily routine, that it was work and the skills that it taught me, that was what was important to them. So I am very thankful to them for teaching me and putting me with some very great individuals.
I need to thank John Leonard for the invitation. I need to thank him for many things: he is one of the leading persons in my professional growth. And I need to thank you as well, because there are many of you out there that are just phenomenal writers. John, he just has a style that meets my brain and keeps me motivated, and keeps me thinking forward. And many of you are interviewed, in many different ways in many different publications, and that is how I learn. When I read a publication, I am not reading it to change anything. Well, I take that back: I am not reading it to make my program different; I am reading it in between the lines, I am reading it to just to tweak it, to tweak it a little bit. So I appreciate John Leonard, ASCA, and all the folks at USA Swimming and Swimming World because reading is my main source of professional development.
Sergio Lopez, my boss, sends his greetings. He went to listen to Bill [Sweetenham]; he missed him last night and wanted to catch up with him today. It is fun walking from the front of the lobby back to this area with Sergio because he gets stopped about twenty times, with a big hug and a big smile from so many faces in the crowd. It is a joy to come to these clinics and be together, but Sergio will greet you a little bit later.
We are in Jacksonville. We are a big Navy town; we are host to two naval bases: one for ships and one an air station. So for all those of you that are in the services, or family member of a service member, we respect you, we appreciate you, and we thank you for what you have given so that we can enjoy our freedoms today—I appreciate you for that.
I want to just send out a general warning that what you see here today is the way I think. I am hopeful that you find something that you can take back and tweak to your program, or maybe simply reinforce. That is another thing that I enjoy reading, or to speak with a coach, is to hear from another person that: they are doing that too. It is a good feeling to know you are kind of on the right path, or at least somebody else is thinking the way you are thinking. I think it would be dangerous to take everything here and plop it into your program. Because what you will see today, I have seen on a piece of paper and visualized in my head since I was 12 years-old; and that is a development.
Even in preparing for this talk, in writing practices for my coaches that are covering for me; Monday morning I am going to go back and tweak this even more. So know that this is dynamic, it will always change; I strive to learn and to become better, and to serve my athletes better each and every day. And even on… (let me figure out how to get to the page that I want to get to, there we go). Even on Monday, I am going to go back and tweak my outline, because I had a difficult time writing practices for my coaches. When I am writing it for myself, it is easy for me to adapt: I see it, I know how to fix it on the fly. But I need to adapt it so that I can do a better job of preparing my coaches. Because this was a Facebook post today from the person covering my practice (I am sorry let me find it here): “I think Coach Dale should do a workshop entitled How to interpret another coach’s practice when they are at ASCA presenting a workshop.”
(Right here, if I can get my little red clicker, anything you see here today, I have got it here…. These are notes from me so they might be difficult to understand or to interpret. Please call me, please email me, we will figure it out together.)
Who am I? I am just like you. We could easily switch places, because I want to learn from you, the same way that I am hopeful that you can take-home at least one thing. My background is very similar to yours. I have had a very small number of coaches, very talented individuals. As a job, I have bounced around from club to club: I have tried it on my own; I have come back to home, my comfort zone; I have branched out, moved to Florida, tried it on my own; and found out exactly who I am and what I am good at. This list of coaches on there is Jerry Holtrey. Jerry Holtrey was inducted in the ASCA Hall of Fame in 2010, and I have had the pleasure of swimming for him from the age of 12. Going to college, swimming for Wally Morton. Wally taught me that I could still go faster with less yardage; and that is something that I bring to my program today. It was a very important lesson for me, as Jerry is very much a volume, an aerobic-based coach; very successful coach in Cleveland, Ohio. And then I was able to go back and work side-by-side with him all day long for 13 years. So I am very fortunate for my education, not only my degree but also my day-to-day learning.
Today, we are going to just go through how I go about writing practices; and given any time, any words of wisdom, I might be able to offer for assistant coaches or head coaches. And then I learn the hard way: I make the mistake, I fall, I get back up and I fix it. And I want to share with you just some things that I have learned the hard way. When I sit down to write a practice, I have these four items:
- I have my season plan in front of me.
- I have my resource page.
- I write an outline. I write 6 outlines at a time. They used to be 6 practices at a time, but now they are very much an outline, because I cannot… there is so much to it, I cannot get through it in a two-hour period, anymore. That was very difficult stage to go through, to be able to walk away from an outline that I could not finish in one practice. But now, where I end, I just pick up and start it the next day.
- And then going in and taking that outline and writing it into the practice. And that is something I have developed in the last two years. Before that, I would… when I show you the outline, when I see an outline, I see a practice: it just flows-up at me. It drove my assistants crazy when I would say, “This is what we’re doing today.” And you will see in a moment why it might be confusing. I saw the practice, it was there for me; as long as I knew what energy system I was working that week, what pace or how far, where the progression was in the season, the practice could just jump out at me.
(This is where I am not good at PowerPoint, and I am going to come off, here we go. No, that’s not what I am looking for. Come on, Dale. Okay, I thought I could blow it up, but I do not know how to make my computer work.)
I start with my season plan. And this talk is not about the season plan; it is about going to write practices. But this is the way my brain looks at a season plan. Know that on USA Swimming, if you search “season plan”, you will see USA Swimming, plan, you will also see one that I offered for them last week in writing this exact season’s plan. So there are a couple of different resources you can go to. A thing I like about USA Swimming’s is: it offers a variety of different templates for you to help you and just… where your brain will see it: will see the season plan just come out at you. So it offers you what works for you. This works for me.
In 2008 I read an interview that Gregg Troy gave, and for a while I was planning my practices by default. Meaning my early season was about building into the base, starting with technique, body position. Then I would go into volume training. We would get around Christmas time, I would start to mix-it-up with anaerobic work, and a little bit of aerobic work. Come January time, more anaerobic, and set ourselves up with fast swimming for a taper. And my brain just knew where I was at the season, and I wrote my practices in that way. Not that I would do it anywhere as close to the same way that Gregg does—he is a brilliant man. But these three words—and he talked about going through a cycle of—aerobic. And he went a whole week in that system; he stayed there a whole week in that system—at least that’s the way I read it. And I still check in with him every once in a while to see what adaptations he’s made, what has he learned from his athlete and his planning. A week in his anaerobic system, and then a week of recovery. I took that and I adapted it to my group.
We did that from the very… well, we were already into the season a little bit when I read the article. We went through… we had a good couple mesocycles, and we went to a mid-season meet: swam very well, I was excited. We got into our Winter training, and I got back into my default mode and got away from it. Did not swim as much as I would have liked, and I went back and tried to figure out: Okay what was going right? What do I need to do different here? Oh, I was trying that week of aerobic, week of anaerobic, week of recovery. And went back to that, and I could say that we arguably swam our best summer meet that our team members swam—that particular summer. So it stuck with me: that particular way of doing things stuck.
In talking with Gregg: “Gregg, what did you learn this last year? What about this aerobic/anaerobic/recovery week, have you been adapting that?” And what I got out of that conversation was: hey it’s okay to make your macrocycle a little bit… what I learned is I can make my macrocycle longer. I can stay in an energy system for two weeks, depending on where the season is at. So I have gone and added, for me, the word very aerobic. And someone asked, Well, what does that mean? It means a little bit more volume in the main set. The way I write practices, I know in my mind how far I want to go in the main set. We are going two hours in that practice; I am very rarely ever late, and very rarely ever let them go early. And literally I have no idea how far we went in that practice; I do not necessarily want to because everything about that practice is meaningful. If I have written a set down, there is a reason for it. So when we are conditioning an energy system, that is the distance that I want to make sure that I am hitting.
This year I am playing with pace. The reason I am playing with pace is because my Senior program designs their practices off pace. I am fortunate where my athletes will go to one of three different coaches. So it is my job to really pay attention to: how are they training their athletes? It is my job to identify vocabulary that they are using, types of sets that they are swimming. And I have had that from the very beginning; I just sense that I am giving these athletes to someone: I want them ready—that is important to me. I want them ready for the next level; I want that next coach to get them and not go I’ve got to teach them this and this, and this because…. I do not want that; I want them to be ready for the next group. So if the next group is basing their practices and training off pace, my athletes need to understand at least the term of it; they need a foundation.
This plan I have got here is dynamic: I expect it will change as I go through a couple of macrocycles. But it is at least there to show me progression. I want to have a progression in my plan: so I have got a progression in my aerobic work, I have got a progression in my anaerobic work. Recovery for Age Group: I make the send-offs a little bit easier. We still go the same volume, but I worked the legs that week—that is a leg week. I keep saying it is a recovery week, but every set I write is about hard, hard legs.
This is a resource page; it is in my notebook. If nothing else, I encourage the young coaches to start your resource page now. Create something that helps you plan for the practice. (And again, I apologize for the small print, it is not necessarily there for you to see what’s there, I have got slides that kind of expand the important spots, all I want you to know is you can get this off our website, manipulate it in any way that fits your brain, that fits your way of thinking. It’s yours, take it, use it, what’s best for you.) But I want to encourage you young coaches: start a resource page.
When I grew up, I would walk on the pool deck twice a day, and I would see this same pattern. It was the same thing every day; it was different every day. There was never one practice the same, but we knew the routine. I still keep this, but I have expanded it in meeting the needs of my athletes, and meeting the needs of the way I think.
In this slide here, this is where my current outline exists. I cannot do this all in one practice; and it is going to change on Monday. Something that I am going to add to this is my meet notes. For years and years and years, I am writing notes in my heat sheets—notes, notes, notes, notes, notes. I get back from a meet, they go in a folder, they go in a drawer, slam the drawer; one year later, I get the meet the next year, I take out the old folder, throw it out. If I am going to take the time to write the notes, I need to make sure that I apply that back to the athlete because that is information they need to know now. Now; they cannot wait for me to find it in my outline, and come and get to it. I will get to it in my outline, but at least I need to write a space in my outline to cover meet notes.
In that Looked For section—that is that top line—this is for me. I am a daydreamer; I get distracted at practice. The kids will start swimming, and I will start planning in my head. It might be what is next: the next practice, the next group of kids, what fun thing am I going to do, are they tired, are they exhausted, do I need to work them harder. I am usually daydreaming about swimming, but it is not necessarily about them in the water in that particular moment. So I write a note to myself, and identify something that I need to look at. This is how I get back into them; this is how I make them a priority in that moment. And I just go through a sequence: one day is body position, the next outline is kick, the next outline is catch/pull; and eventually I am getting the entire stroke in.
This is probably the most important slide. I put this in years ago, and it is the teaching part of the lesson. It usually would happen very soon after warm-up, and it is where I want to teach them. When I teach my athletes, I teach them as if they have never heard it before. Sometimes they get glassy-eyed and they stop thinking about it, but I still bring it to them as if they have never heard it before. I make sure that I cover streamlines: how I want the hands coming off the wall, how hard I want them to push off the wall, the angle, coming in to their legs off the wall. Right now, my athletes are lazy about how they are using their legs coming off the wall; it has been a year now that I have had that need to address it.
I want to make sure that I am teaching the break-out for all four strokes; that I am teaching the start, the turn. Getting into stroke count, more for efficiency than anything else, and also as a distraction to keep them focused-in and keep them from daydreaming. I write myself a note to look for something… sometimes I will ask them to count their strokes to keep them from daydreaming about their math work that needs to get done before they go to bed. The finish for each of the strokes, the catch, relay starts, tempo, working the kicks. You have been encouraged by many of your speakers this weekend to work your underwater kicks. I know that is one of our team’s quad-goals: Sergio wants to be noted for our work underwater. I am a listener in a meeting, and if Sergio says it, I am writing the note and I am putting it in my practice plan. If that is what he wants, I need to get my athletes ready for that: it is my job.
Body position of the head coming off the wall, finishing strong. These last two seasons I have been challenged: we have got a very good team down in south Florida in our LSC, that this last two championships… I take great pride in making sure our athletes are ready for Championship Sunday. And these last two meets, they have just done a bang-up job of beating us into the wall, inside-the-flag swimming. We can be ahead, race after race after race, at the flags, and they are getting the finishes that they need. I am learning how to teach that; I need to teach that—because it drives me crazy to get beat, absolutely insane. The breakout kicks: they know how to do it, they simply need to be consistent with it. And it is my job to make sure it is there. And again, I add in underwaters.
When I get to a meet, I never want to be the person that says, Ahh… I should have spent more time teaching this; Ahh man, we didn’t do that enough. I am not going to be that person. In my outline, I am going to write everything into the plan, in sequence. Everything is going to get its fair share. In our practice, every stroke gets its fair share; every transition gets its fair share. The IM is covered just the same as the other strokes, and then I give them a day where I let them choose. So when we come to a stroke set, it is important that I am… I want them to have some control. And that is the beginning of them having some control.
I used to have the word weak written in the plan, weak stroke. I used to have it in my resource page—it might still be, I don’t… I think I took it out. And then I did not like the connotation that we have a weak stroke. Kids know if they have got one that is weak, but I did not want them to identify one that was weak. Since I make sure we cover every stroke, there was no purpose in writing into the plan to cover the weak stroke again. Everything is covered equally; I give them a choice day, if they want to work on a stroke that is going to make their IM better, they can go right away for it.
In my outline, I write an ending challenge. This is a list of things that I have learned from going to swim meets, from reading, from attending clinic talks, from books; especially—and I will prop it—Bob Steele’s Games, Gimmicks, and Challenges. I do not read that book from cover-to-cover; I am the type of guy that 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, I put my bookmark in. I start at the top and I leave a note if I have done something. Not everything in there jumps-out in my brain and makes sense. But I can tweak it to make it make sense; I can take a suggestion and tweak it. So it is a wonderful resource and quite a few things that are on here have come out of that text. I am very thankful; I was grateful to shake his hand and say thanks last night and meet him for the first time. Because I use that book, and many of you may have contributed to that book: it is one of those resource publications that he used you to help him complete.
The items in red here are items that I track. I put a watch on it, I track it. I have got an all-time record of anybody in my group, and I post it before we test it again. So that they can see where they are at; they can see the improvement. It helps me identify growth—physically, mentally—their competitive desire and nature. Because when I test it… it comes around every three months or so, so I have got a good couple of macrocycles in between each time that I time it.
If there is anything in here that you’d like me to expand on, I am happy to do that.
Gunslinger. Gunslinger is a start drill that I have just got their hands (I have got to walk away from the mic here) I have got their hands… [fades off into inaudible]
British Day is simply swimming in reverse [laughter]. And the reason it is there: when I was in college we had two boys from Ireland, and they could not stand that we swam right-to-left. And they would always argue that we were wrong, and they wanted to swim left-to-right. And I would get seasick, I would get motion-sick trying to do my turn from left-to-right; it was just a sensory thing for me. But what it did do is straighten me out, and that is why I do it: it straightens them out. They cannot go in and do that horseshoe anymore.
And then they have got to get comfortable being on top of each other, like they would be in warm-up. Brushing up against each other has got to be okay in my group.
[audience member]: Five-kick race?
[Porter]: Five-kick race. I have adapted that. I have a wonderful man that coached in California, Bill Zirzow. And his family moved to Jacksonville through the Navy; and he relocated with his wife to Jacksonville. He would come and spend time on our deck, as his grandchildren were in the pool with us. And he made us these neat little floats out of PVC and tubing that could clip onto our lane line and stick out. So what I will do is I will is put one of these, it is called a noodle target—you will see it in other places. I will put the noodle target and I will judge the distance wherever I want it to be. And they have got to dive-in and streamline dolphin kick, tag it or come level with it—you know, if they want to stay straight, they at least have to pass it—do an open turn without any leverage, and then streamline dolphin kick back to the wall. So I get a relay exchange in there, that is not necessarily about timing, but I get a relay exchange in there. I get open-turn work without any leverage to it; they have got to be tight and quick. And I am working my dolphin kicks. From zero speed. How many of you have had an athlete miss a wall in a race before and they have got to get after it with zero speed?
Back to that other page of challenges in there: caps off, goggles off, no backstroke flags, no lane lines. Those are all things that I have gone to swim meets and learned from other coaches: adapt to challenges. Learn from watching athletes adapt to challenges, or fail at challenges, per se. But I said, I need to train my athletes for this moment; it might happen to them. How many come to a swim meet late? And they are racing-in and they have got to dive-in to their first race? Just the other day, we went 4×50, pace, pace -1, pace -2, pace -3 on 1:00, from a push, no warm-up. They have got to be confident that they can come-in and they do that. Most of them, their heart rate is going when they are late to a meet, and when they get-up on the blocks.
But if I see a challenge and I have written in a note in a heat sheet, it usually makes it to my challenge list and I am teaching it. I am giving them experience; I am giving them confidence that they can adapt and deal with that situation. We have gone to Zone meets where 54 athletes… they have given us one warm-up lane for ages 18 to 11. I love my 11+12 year-old boys, but they have no business being in the same pool as an 18 year-old, in terms of the same lane and 54 athletes in the pool—they got trampled. We found another pool; my 11+12 boys were driving the head coach crazy, we just took them to the other pool. The other pool did not have lane lines; we adjusted. We were in Orlando, a team’s bus came late, coach was livid—it was not his style, he likes to be early, he likes to be the first one into warm-up. He had to cope and deal. The only place he really had to warm-up was a diving well; no backstroke flags, no lane lines. They made it happen like they owned the place; confidence in the world. Wrote that down: the kids need to learn they can warm-up in any setting; they need to be ready to go.
In dryland, I write it two ways. I write a water time in before or after, depending on what equipment I want or what the Senior program is doing. I have four routines:
- A running routine.
- A core routine.
- I do apparatus. I might tweak that, as I just heard a talk where they did not like the dips. And I am concerned about the ways they are doing push-ups—I need to do some research to make sure that we are doing the push-up the correct way for the body,
- And medicine balls.
We do those three days a week, and I progress in my expectation of what comes out of that. They are getting one routine off a week, so we are getting a little break from at least one. It is 30 minutes; Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays. So I have 90 minutes of water time on Monday-Wednesday-Friday; I have two hours, Tuesday-Thursday-Saturday. Tuesday-Thursday-Saturday, if a dryland falls into my outline, I will swim them, get them out, have them do an arm exercise, swim them, get them out. Maybe it is a leg-, maybe it is a shoulder-routine, for pre-hab. I am working their core or their aerobic.
You hand your hand up?
[audience member]: Yeah, I have got one question to go along with this. I just found a core routine… do you do core routines within your other workouts or something else?
[Porter]: I do one routine on Monday… I have four routines. I do one routine, one 30 minute routine, on a given dryland day. Does that answers your question?
[audience]: So you got Monday, Wednesday and Friday, then Wednesday is when you start back?
When I got to a meet, it drove me absolutely crazy for an athlete to come up to me and say, Coach, how do I swim this race? You tell him, three weeks later they are up for the same race: Coach, how do I swim this race? And I do not know about you, but I have got a line of kids and they each want their turn: Coach, how do I swim this race? You say it. The next person comes up, How do you want me to swim it? Weren’t you just listening?
So, no more of that. I have adjusted what I do on pre-race, and pre-race, I ask them if… I used to ask them what their plan was and they could not give me anything. But if I changed it, and I asked them what details are you going to focus on, it just poured out. Everything we talked about in practice, it just started coming and coming. Like: “Whoa, whoa, whoa, one or two things, that’s good. Go. Go. Go swim fast.”
But I do teach strategy within an outline. I have 11-14 [year-olds]. So I need to teach and include all the 50s for the strokes, as well as the 400 IM for my 13+14 year-olds and the distance events as well. So even though I have got 11-14, I make sure I cover it. It does not mean we are swimming that distance on that day. Some days I want them to know what their front-half needs to feel like; some days I want them to know what their back-half needs to feel like.
I design my practices very much around what the next step is for them. So I do post their best times. I do go to the USA Swimming Motivational Time Sheet. And that way instead of having to figure for each individual athlete—I am slow at Math, so I have to do a lot of homework ahead of time—so this… if I use the Motivational Time Sheets, I just have to worry about five math problems for each age group versus each individual. Because I have got about 90 kids in a group, and I just could not do that for each-and-every athlete.
So, they have what is next for them. And within that set, we will talk about pace: this is how we’re going to swim it. Or I might talk about a strategy. They might not even know that I am working on a strategy: “We’re just going to do 4×100. First 50, good form only, second 50 build; fly-back-breast-free. Okay, another round to that. All right, let’s pick it up now. Another round to that.” And then I will tell them, “This is why we’re doing this; this is strategy. Here we go, 400 IM on the top, that same strategy.” I am not saying you have to use it, but at least you know what it feels like.
I do not want to be the person that forgets what equipment I have in the bag. I just had our parent meeting last week, I identified to the parents what equipment I wanted in their bag. And I do not want to be the recipient of that e-mail: why did you ask me to buy $60 fin, when you’ve used it how many times this season? So I make sure that I am using all the equipment that I have asked them to have, and make sure there is a reason we are going to use that equipment that particular day. I will find a purpose for that piece of equipment in helping their progression.
I do have a document here, and it is on bollesswimming.org under the clinic notes for you—I know that it is illegible here, just know that it exists. It identifies step-by-step how I go about writing an outline. Again, on Monday I am going to tweak it. And the reason I need to tweak it, is because I have got a warm-up and I have got a main set—that is really where my freestyle swimming is at. If I am in an aerobic week and I have already done a main set, there is the potential that it could be two or three practices before I can get back to a set again where I can do freestyle swimming. If I am on the pool deck, I can get antsy and say, Ooh, the practice is winding down, and I can adjust on the fly. But I am writing practices for assistant coaches, and I need to be able to write it in and also keep track of this. So I think I am going to pull out W and M, which used to be warm-up and main set for years, and I am just going to put-in 1, 2 and 3. Just my freestyle… my opportunities to get in my energy systems.
So I will have 3 there, it will be more balanced-out, I will make sure that each day I can get to my athletes. Because other days: it might be teaching, it might be legs, it might be breaking the stroke down into components; and we just do not quite get into that aerobic work that we want, that I want, that I would like to see and prepare them for.
This is what my practice looked like earlier this week, okay? Up on the top—I do not know if it is legible or not—but I have our annual goal listed, I have a weekly goal, and the date. This can be dynamic, it can change. I have no problem changing it: I just write a note and I can pick-up something that I dropped off and apply it to the next day. This makes it a lot easier for my assistants; they like this system better. It takes time on my part, but I am happy to do that for them.
These also go into… one day Sergio said in a meeting, one of my goals is to be a leading club. If somebody wants to come and visit us, I want there to be a shelf of our systems, and I want our systems to be there. I called maintenance; and I started putting together notebooks. And they are on the shelf, and they are there for anybody. My head coach can walk-up and get an idea of what we are doing. He is a very observant guy; he pays attention to what we are doing in the Age Group program; he trusts us implicitly. But this way he can hold me accountable. And I think that is kind of like where you get to yourself, something similar; where you are identifying what you are doing and how you are doing it, and the specific details to it.
I have got our stretching routine listed out there on the left. That is something Sergio put into place when he arrived on the Bolles’ campus; he had that at West Virginia. I cannot remember it myself, so I have to write it down to make-sure that my athletes are following it so that they have remembered it correctly. Because there will be a day when my athletes will go and have to stretch with the Senior team, and I do not want them huddled-off in their own little corner, doing it their way when the Senior group is doing it at completely different way—I need to prepare them for the next level.
Advice for assistant coaches
I will get back to questions on any of that practice writing in a little bit. I would like to take some time just to share some things that I have learned. I have been an assistant coach for more years than I have been a head coach, and I just wanted to pass on a bit of information if you will let me. I think it is very important that we show honor and loyalty as an assistant coach to our head coaches. It is very important that we respect their decisions, even if we disagree. When I say respect: have that disagreement in their office. Make it very clear to whomever how you feel about something. But when you walk out of that door, you are going to sell-it to your program and your parents: you are going to sell your head coach’s philosophy and plan. If you cannot do that, it is time to look at other job descriptions out there.
It is very important—and again I have learned this the hard way—that I do not leave that office and go talk to my peers about what I do not like, especially with the parents. Often we find a parent that is in our age bracket, that might have children our age; and we befriend them and sometimes we have some lose lips. And I learned the hard way, that I have got to be responsible and show respect and honor to my boss.
We already talked about philosophy. My boss wants me to know the sport. He wants me to continually improve and to learn and to serve the children. Above all, he wants me prepared to serve the children. He says that almost every meeting to us all: your responsibility is your kids, your responsibility is your kids. It give us an opportunity to play good-cop/bad-cop: when your head coach is feeling good, you can be criticizing and working on behavior and technique changes; when your head coach is upset about something, your athlete might need a reassuring voice in their ear. Just tell them it is going to be all right; reinforce what the coach is upset about.
I think it’s important to have these three Ws:
- To be a winner now and in the future.
- To be willing to work beyond 9-to-5, and
- To have a fear of failure—that is a motivator right there.
I think character traits that head coaches are going to look from you. Deal with enthusiasm, high integrity. The fact that you love your job. That you are willing to learn; willing to serve. And I ran into… another benefit for me personally/professionally: I ran into Gregg Troy this morning on a run and just let him talk. Just let him talk. And he talked mostly about: people need to learn how to listen and then act. I am guilty of that. Sergio every week has a staff meeting, he tells us what he wants. I am guilty of coming-in the next Tuesday, I have not done anything he has asked me to do: I have been busy, I have been working. But it has been my agenda, not necessarily his agenda; and I have got to be there for him.
I think we need to keep our pride in check, assistant coaches. There have been times where I felt like: I want to try this on my own now. I need a little bit more responsibility. I have gone out and looked at other job descriptions. I need to get out of this town; I am discontent. I think we are all discontent, we are all selfish, in certain ways. And I mentioned this earlier, with our pride: we need to prepare our athletes for the next group and be proactive about that. We need… Jerry taught me this lesson personally. When I left him to go off to college, I could ask him questions, but I was no longer his swimmer. I can remember the disappointment of being in a college meet and him walking by. When I was Jerry’s swimmer, he watched; he watched it all. When I was not his swimmer, it was up to Wally to be watching me. And I remember swimming that race and him just walking away. That was hard for me emotionally; I did not understand it.
But then being able to be on deck with him and see how he works with athletes, throughout the years… when you pass them on to the next coach, that is that coach’s swimmer. I have got to hold my criticism about how they are being trained, what they are learning, what they are covering—I have got to hold that criticism in. I certainly cannot be talking about it with my other peers. My mother will not appreciate me saying something sucks—she hates that word—but as an assistant coach, that was one of my greatest challenges.
My background is teaching. I have been in physical education. I have had to sub for other… we take care of each other. Jerry is a National-level coach, he would be away a long time; Sergio is a National-level coach, he is away a long time. His assistants need to step-in and take that role on; you, as an assistant, need to step-in and take that role on. It can be a challenge. For me, it is the fact that I am running somebody else’s practice; that has always been a challenge for me. I am just daydreaming; I do not understand what I see in front of me. And I just had a Facebook post from my coach: he did not understand anything that I had written down. My other coach, my other group, I asked her point-blank: how do you want me to prepare you for the week? Do you just want me to tell you what I want to accomplish, big picture? Do you want an outline or do you want a specific practice? She told me what she needed. I trust her; it is her opportunity to grow.
And that is one of the things that we as head coaches—I can put on my head-coach hat now—we need to train our assistants to take on leadership responsibility. And for us, and for you, you have all stepped away from your group this week. Most of you have somebody else running your swimmers this week. And that is okay, because you are going to come back to them with something you want to put in to the program. You are taking time for you and that is important.
I called a coach one time to congratulate him on one of his swimmers earning a spot on one of the USA Swimming Zone camps. And with that particular camp, one of the perks is the coach can go and be a part of the camp as well, to learn. And I asked him, “Are you going to camp?” And he said, “No. I can’t justify leaving 30 for 1.” And I made sure that I challenged his thinking before I hung-up the phone. I think those opportunities are important for your 30, because you are going to that camp and learn something. Now there may be another reason why he did not want to go to that camp, and that is okay. But what he shared with me did not make sense to me. Take time for yourself, and you all have and I thank you for that—I think it is great.
Things I have learned the hard way. I need to judge when my kids need to have fun; so I have got that book of Games, Gimmicks and Challenges. And I can sense it; I have got spidey-sense when they are getting restless, and I pull out a fun activity for them to do. They would like to do it every day; I do not necessarily let them, but I am very thankful for that resource.
I live in Florida. I am not as tall as Chris, and I simply do not want you to know that I took my shoes off—so I am standing behind the podium hiding from you there. But one of the benefits of Florida, if I am wearing shoes, it is time to run and it is time for lunch or it is winter—that is about it for me. I was never a fisherman—I mentioned I get seasick. I gave this presentation last October. It was time for me to upgrade a pair of sunglasses, and this polarized pair was on sale. I bought it, I came to practice with it, and it is like: I can see underwater. And I just wanted to share that with you [laughter]; just in case nobody has ever told you that with a pair of polar sunglasses, there is so much more to see under the surfaces of water with the reflection of the light. I am an outside coach now, but even I can see that as an inside coach, with the reflection of the lights coming off the water. (But you would not be wearing sunglasses inside—sorry about that.) I have been to indoor meets with the windows like on the top, and that sun can come in at the right time. But I will leave that to you.
Stick with your plan. I have a season plan. I follow it. But there are people I respect, and if they come up to me and they whisper in my ear, “I really think your kids are too tired right now.” And I change it, and I see that result at the championship meet, a week or 2 weeks later; I get mad at myself for that. Stick with your plan. If somebody offers you advice, write it down; consider it after the season. It might be a change for the next season plan. But I encourage you, once you write that plan, unless it makes sense to you to change it, stick with it.
Get physical. And I am talking about a fitness routine of some type. And I am not saying it because I want everybody physically-fit here. The benefit I find from getting active—and it is wonderful being at a swimming clinic because I walk outside in the middle of the day and that pool just going ch-ch-ch-ch-ch—you know, you are out there. But for me, there is that moment… I do not get that numie feeling of euphoria, but my brain just opens up and I start seeing things that I want to have happen. If I have got a problem, I cannot figure it out, I cannot figure it out; I will just start running, I will get lost in thoughts. It is just… and then poof, it is there. So whether you like to think forward or whether you like to clear-up everything that happened already in the day, I just encourage you to get physical. Because it is a way for you to plan and prepare.
If you start that and you get stuck with it, then you have got to find a way to write that note down. It is the second thing I have learned. Twenty minutes into my run, I think, ‘This is great, this is what I want to do.’ I get back to the office, I sit down… what did I want to… I cannot remember. So I take my phone with me, it is my iPod, and I have no problem stopping and jotting down my thoughts.
No need for yelling. When I was a young coach, I used to scream and yell. Why did I scream and yell? Because I had at least one or two coaches as role models that got after me, and… it was the way I responded. But I had a gentleman—we were renting pool time—he was an elderly gentleman swimming lap swim; and he kind of did one of these, so his head was out and he was always watching. He was just watching me, the whole entire time he was doing his six lengths before he got out. But he was a nice man; and I could go up and I could greet him, and I could say hello to him, how is your day. And one day he was just comfortable enough to look at me and say, “You don’t need to yell at them. They stop listening to you when you’re yelling at them. I see it in their faces; they’re not listening to you. When you teach them, they listen. But when you yell, they’ll shut you down.” And he went on and told me that he was a prisoner in the German concentration camps. And he said, “We would do anything for those soldiers if they would talk to us, but when they yelled at us, we would do nothing for them.” And that just stuck with me. And I have not been a yeller since; I teach.
Set boundaries. And I am talking about your personal relationships. And I am getting personal here: the first time I gave this talk, my wife was out in the stands and she got embarrassed. But she is flying in tonight; I get to go pick-up my best friend tonight—so I am looking forward to that. But set your boundaries. You are around other adults, your age, maybe a little younger, maybe a little older. Have your boundaries. My spouse is my best friend; I love her. My peers need to know that. It is a lesson I have learned the hard way. There were times where I felt like my spouse was my enemy in this Swimming thing; she was trying to pull me away from this. It took some foolish choices on my part to realize how deep her love was for me was; and that she was not my enemy but she was my greatest advocate. Set your boundaries; get yourself in a different setting if you need to make it right. That is what is most important for your family and for your relationships.
I am discontent and I am selfish; I need to keep those in check. The one thing I love most about my wife: she insists that I improve at being a better man and I am thankful for her for that. Just be aware that we are discontent, we want change; we think the grass is greener over there. And I am a product you saw… I have been many places and the grass is the same. It is what you are going to make of it today; take your opportunity and make the best of it. And I do not remember what I said about priorities.
This is the person I want to be: I want faith to be the number one thing in my life. I want my spouse to be number 2. My children third, my home fourth, my job fifth, and take care of myself last. That is what I would like. My wife would love it if that was me. This is me, okay? I put my spouse and children in-there together because even the time that I am home, I am really sharing them. And my children are old enough now that when… we are going to bed long before they are going to bed, now. But this is my battle, and I want to encourage you to keep me in-check. Next time you see me, see how I am doing with that—that is who I want to be.
I want to thank you for being here this week; it is very important. It is very important for you to go back to your children. I am very happy with the way USA Swimming is right now. I had the pleasure of going to 2009 Junior Nationals with an athlete; it was a wonderful experience for me. Being up here is a wonderful experience. And I look forward to learning with you and from you. The reason I brought-up Junior Nationals: the warm-up/warm-down pool. Have you ever been to a Junior National warm-up/warm-down pool? It is crowded and it is fast. I know my swimmers are selfish and discontent: they want their own lane. If there is an empty lane there, they want it. And we have got to train them that at our highest level, they we are warming-up with 12 kids in a lane, all holding a pace when they jump-in the water, much faster than what we are training in our warm-up. We have got to get them ready for that.
Thank you. My best to you.
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