Preparing Your Team for a High School Championship Meet by Dan Flack, The Baylor School (2012)


[introduction, by Richard Shoulberg]
Good afternoon. I am going to introduce one of my former swimmers, who I used to give a ride to Germantown Academy. I think I first met him in fourth grade, and his parents said he was going to be coming in GA in fifth grade. His father, Jack Flack, was my mechanic. And Jack Flack could take a tire off a car without a wrench; the freaking guy was so strong. But it is wonderful for me to go to the Olympic Trials and count over 12 former Germantown Academy swimmers, coaching. All the days you yell at those kids, I guess it paid off.

But before I introduce Dan, I want to introduce to you probably the greatest high school swim coach ever, Dick Hannula—will you stand up? [applause] How many years did you go undefeated? 24 years undefeated. But, more important, one of the great gentlemen of our sport. And Dick and George Haines were like, they are my heroes.

So at this time, I want to introduce a former Germantown Academy swimmer, who I am so proud of, he has done so well everywhere he has coached—just not at Baylor. So Dan, it is all yours.

[Flack begins]
Thank you; I have got a lot of thank yous to start out with. First and foremost, I have to thank Mr. Shoulberg. Aside from my parents, there is, without question, no person who had a… more of an impact on my life, you know. It is not a stretch to say I might have been behind bars at some point, because I was a little wild back in the day. And thankfully, I had a wonderful mentor and wonderful teacher, who now is just a wonderful friend, keeping an eye on me and keeping me in line. I like to think I kind of do that for some of our kids from time to time, now.

I want to thank the folks at NISCA for giving me this opportunity; I am very excited to talk about some Swimming. But I have one question first and foremost to ask. Okay, so we are in Vegas: is anybody up? Anybody? Anybody so far? No? Well, keep at it; keep playing those pennies. It might pay off for you.

I am giving two talks this weekend. My first talk is going to be much more nuts and bolts; a lot more sets and these are things I think are important and very high-school-swimming based. My second talk tomorrow will be more about our general program at The Baylor School, because it is a real comprehensive program and kind of how it all ties-in with each other. To say, as I just fielded some other questions earlier, to say it is unique environment is an understatement, relative to high school swimming. Quite frankly, I think… when I interviewed there, I was like: wow, there are ton of advantages here. And I try and take advantage of those.

So the first thing I want to talk about… oh, wait a second, woah, I have got to do this: I have got to thank my coaches who are here. Coach Laura Pitman, Coach Brian Gill; my other Assistant Coach, Tom Smith, who is back home actually doing the coaching. We have such a tight knit group, and we are very much a family as a staff. Lord knows, I could not do half the things I am able to do without their help, their expertise, their passion and their compassion. So I really want to make sure that I thank them, because they make my life a whole lot easier.

Personal Background
So this is my seventh year at The Baylor School. I coach both the varsity program and then the head coach of the swim club. I also teach in the Leadership program, as do Laura and Brian. That is something that is we feel is unique to our school in that we actually teach a course in leadership. Do we reach that goal of teaching everybody leadership? I am not so sure if that works out all the time, but it is something very unique and a very different thing for the kids to embark on. And I enjoy it because it allows me to not just be the guy down at the pool; it allows me to work much more with everybody in our entire school and get to know the names and faces of everybody.

As Mr. Shoulberg said, I was fortunate to attend Germantown Academy. The story about my dad is true. He was either in a war or fixing cars his whole life. And he busted his ass to send me to Germantown, worked a lot of extra nights and gave up a lot. And for that I would always be grateful to him. I was fortunate to be coached by Dick Shoulberg, as well as coached with gentlemen like Jack Bauerle and Chris Martin, Frank Comfort, Rich DeSelm, Ron Ballatore, Matt Kredich. If I did not learn something being around all those great folks, then I am really dropping the ball. So I tried to take something from each and every one of them. Our Baylor team has done pretty well. We have been Swimming World national champs three times now for the girls, twice we have been National Independent School champions for the boys. We have set several national high school relay records.

I have got to tell a funny story: we had a boy from Germany come over. And we set up a short course meet, so that he could have times to send back home to Germany. Well, during the short course meet, it was the evolution of suit era, so I am like: we’re going to suit up and we’re going to go fast in this dual meet. Well, we ended up breaking like 14 or 15 national short-course-meters records—they actually have those in high school swimming. And the record keeper from NISCA is like, “Hey, what’s the deal; how did 15 records get broken in one meet?” I had to explain to him: well, hey, we’ve got the pool measured, there aren’t that many pools with short-course-meter records, and we’re pretty good. So we were fortunate to have that come about. That was pretty funny when he called and said, hey, what’s going on here?

Okay, a little bit about The Baylor School. It is a day and boarding school, grades 6 through 12; basically 1,000-1,050 students, and basically about 200 of those are boarding students. No post-graduates are allowed in the school—something I am trying to get, but have not been able to. The Swimming program, in general, we mirror the population of the school, relative to boarding versus day students. Our facilities are… they are awesome—I am not going to sugarcoat it. We have got a 10-lane, 50-meter pool that is eight years old now, I would guess. Two bulkheads. The boards… we have got an endless pool that Brian Gill has done such a good job developing our swim lesson program out of, that I can barely ever get in it to do any correction work with the actual swimmers because we always have little guys in there being taught swim lessons. We have outstanding strength and fitness facilities. We have got three significant workout facilities. One of them is just a new $1.2 million facility with every kind of weight that a football team could use, and we have access to that when the football folks are not using it. It is a 600-acre campus.

And what is really neat about us, and that has helped us a ton, is that several of the coaches live on the campus. I live on the campus, Coach Brian lives on the campus, Laura lived on the campus for a long time. And it really allows us to have a different level of contact with the kids that we work with. I found it amazing how much coaching I could get done in the dining hall after practice; trying to explain to them, okay, this was good, this you could do a little better. And it really gives our boarding kids that life component that, I feel, makes their transition of coming to a boarding school so important and so much better for them. You know, I am kind of a dad figure, Laura is kind of a mom figure, Tom and Brian are kind of a crazy uncle/older brother that kind of figure. And it just works out really well for them, because that is the biggest adjustment. I always tell people when they come here, “Okay, the first year, your child’s going to do well in the pool. But it’s really that second year where the magic happens, where they really take off.” Simply because that first year, it is usually a fairly-big adjustment for them.

General thoughts on preparation
General thoughts on preparation for high school state championship meet; because I think to a degree, I know in my situation the meet that I am coaching, I have got that meet figured out. And we have performed very well at that competition. First, some general thoughts—and I am going to touch on all of these:
• You have got to understand the job that you are hired to do. Because in high school swimming, each State, each… it is kind of like all politics is local… each thing has its own rules, its own unique scenarios, and you have to know what the expectations are. I think that is very important.
• Something I think is really important to remember in high school swimming: the races are short, okay; they are not very long, alright. I am going to reiterate a lot of what Dave Salo said in his last talk, because I tend to do things very much… I kind of look at the sport the way he does. Because when I came to The Baylor School, they made it very clear: this U.S. Swimming stuff is fine and dandy, and that’s great. But your main focus is our high school program to develop it into something that can enhance the Baylor name, enhance the Baylor brand. That is crystal clear to me, so I understand that component. And that is why we kind of train the way we do.
• Another thing in high school swimming, it is about the underwater kicking component; it is a stroke of its own. And if you are not efficient and really good at that, you are going to get beat by people who make that commitment to be really good at that. There is no getting around it now in Swimming.
• Understand your opponents. You know, if you are trying… if you are in a situation where maybe you are a little undermanned or whatever, you are trying to maximize your place, your ranking that… ultimately, the number of points you can score at the meet. If you are trying to maximize that, you have got to know your opposition; you have got to know the field. And with the evolution of the internet, it is a whole lot easier than it used to be.
• Relays are crucial. And I am going to talk a lot about relays, because it is my favorite thing in the sport—by far and away, are relays. And I think it is the reason why we have been so very successful with them, that evolution. We spend an awful lot of time on relays. So I’m going talk a great deal about that.
• And just the mental game. I think high school swimming, and especially a high school State championship meet, is a very emotional thing. And so there is a whole mental component that I have really tried to address more-and-more with our teams, and I am not afraid to take a risk on things, and I have devoted a lot more time to that component of it and really seen the benefit and the value in it.

Seasonal plan
Okay, seasonal plan. So basically, I am guessing most high school seasons are in that 12-16 weeks, basically. And again, I know different places have different rules. I talked a great deal with Sergio Lopez from The Bolles School—we were both coaches for the World Junior team last year in Lima, Peru for the United States. And we were just talking back and forth how things are done in Florida relative to how things are done in my State, in Tennessee. Honestly, I have a lot better situation than the folks in Florida; it would make things a lot more challenging.

But basically, here is what we do. We look at it as basically four 3-week cycles plus a gradual rest and taper. And right now, what we are doing back at home: swim camp; today they start butterfly. And we take time to do a lot of video… look at a lot of videos, play with the drills. We really try to spend the time on teaching them how to move through the water properly first, and then we worry about speed and energy systems and all that stuff next. But we spend an inordinate amount of time on technique. I have one buddy of mine in the coaching business when I tell him what we do, etc., he is like: do you guys even swim. And I am like, “Yes, we actually swim.” But we do spend a lot of time on technique.

Our basic thought process is that high school swimming, it is a speed meet. Most races are four laps or less, okay. It is a speed meet; there is no time for doing it down, you have got to go. Hence, we spend a lot of time developing front-end speed, an awful lot of time. It is kind of… we use the reverse-periodization model. Chris Martin, who is the legendary Peddie coach and a former… another proud graduate of Germantown Academy back-in-the-day, he was coaching in Scotland with their National team, and he brought their National team over to Baylor. He really turned me on to this notion, and it made such sense to me, relative to the job that I was asked to do. So I am going to talk more about some examples on some of these other slides, but we spend an awful lot of time developing that front-end speed.

We have a philosophy at Baylor and that is: go. Go. When we are at our high school State meet, we are not holding back, we are going. This is our one shot to win our championship, to impact on national rankings—this is our one shot. So we are not going to be timid about; we are going to go. And we have that philosophy throughout our season. (I am going to go into some more of these things a little bit later.)

I do want to point out one thing. Most people have their Christmas training, you know, over Christmas and stuff. We do ours mainly in the month of November. I am not a very popular guy with the swim team in the month of November; they usually are closer to hate me than like me. Because during the month of November, I have come to realized that what we get in that month, whatever I can bleed out of them in that month, is really going to impact how we swim in February.

Relative to the taper, I will tell you this, here is one thing: if they have done the work—if you can take anything from this. If your kids have done the work and you are confident of the work that they have done: rest them. Especially for a high school meet. And do not be afraid to rest them. Each year, it is the hardest thing for me to do, without question; is I start the rest the week earlier. And I have done that for the last four years. And guess what: each year we have swam faster and faster and faster. And it is hard and it scares the crap out of me every year, and I do not think I can go back much more on that. But it is something that I implore you: a high school meet is very different than a club meet, a Sectional meet, a Junior National meet, whatever—it is very different than that.

Weekly cycle
Here is basically a weekly cycle for the kids who, at your state meet, they are focusing on 50s and 100s; and if you are going to need them in the 200, that is going to be on the long side of things. Basically, our morning practices are 6:00-7:30 in the morning, our afternoon practices are basically 3:45-6:15, and Saturdays we go 3 hours. Not everybody does morning practices: there are kids, and usually, I go 9th graders, they do Monday and that is it; sophomores go Monday and Friday, that is it; and then juniors and seniors, as long as academically they can do it, we go Monday, Wednesday, Friday with them. And that has worked out very well. I tend to ease into it with the new kids to make sure that they are adjusted academically. Because a lot of times, it is… not just a jump in Swimming that they are doing, it is a jump in academics and life that they have to adjust to.

So Monday mornings, we start off with dryland, some form of dryland. Like right now, our team is doing a, kind of like a, P90X thing—we are going through 90 days. Coaches do it with the kids; diving coach doing with the kids. I almost killed our dang diving coach because he is not the most fit guy. And I am like, look, your divers are going to be a part of the team and you’ve got to be part of the team. Just don’t have a stroke on me back there. But right now, we are doing a thing very much like P90X; it is more of… almost an MMA-style thing [mixed-martial-arts style thing] because we do not need any equipment with it. And it is a very humbling thing for the kids because everybody can do this. If you got your two arms and two legs—which they all do—you can all do this. So it is really building, I think… sometimes we have a collection of strangers, we have a big influx of new kids into our team and into our school, and this has been a great way of getting them together and getting the team bonded with a lot of spirit.

But we do dryland to start. We do an awful lot of kicking, an awful lot. And then on Monday morning, the last 30 minutes is always resistance work. And that’s pretty much for everybody. Whether it is kicking against power towers, whether it is pulling against power racks; whether it is going against the stretch cord, parachutes, whatever. There is some form-resistance work going on that last 30 minutes.

Monday afternoons are basically, give or take, threshold freestyle. We build up. We will start with say, eight of them, 8×150 say on 2:30-ish. And then we will build-up through the course of the season, gradually increasing that number. We want the kids to adapt, to get better at repeating at that base; knowing their heart rate, knowing what time they are supposed to hold, and have that become easier for them. We will do a major kick set, and when I say a major kick set, it will be… it is not uncommon for it to be an hour. Of long, fast, hard kicking.

We went to Easterns a couple of years ago; the big, Eastern, prep championship meet that I grew up swimming in at Germantown. I love that meet. Our kids love it because we take them to get cheesesteaks afterwards, and we run up the “Rocky” steps, and we do everything Philly [Philadelphia] that we can—and so our kids love going to that meet. We swam the day before at Germantown Academy—Mr. Shoulberg was gracious to let us in. And one of their coaches came up to me and was like, “How do you get your kids to underwater kick so well?” And I smiled and said, curse at them, a lot. And I am like, that’s a joke but there is some truth in it, in that we are on-them on their kicking. Kicking is not playtime in our program; kicking is hard, hard, hard work. You need to know your times, you need to know what is good for you, what’s acceptable, what is not. I often say, “You know you’ve got to kick like you want to beat somebody. You’ve got a bad intention with your kicking.”

We put an awful lot on that [kicking]. And the kids know; the kids know just like they would know swimming regular freestyle sets or prime-stroke sets or whatever: they know what a good kick… a good job kicking is for them. And kicking is an effort thing, I believe; I believe it is, wholeheartedly, an effort thing. And they can see their improvement throughout the year.

And then, here is something that I started back doing this at the Raleigh Swimming Association because we just did… I had a million kids and no pools to swim in back there/then. So we would do 8×25 at the end of each practice. (And I was just talking with our coaches today.) And it is a little summer-clubby, and it is a little hokey; but, you know what, relative to high school swimming, it has helped so much. We do two each stroke. It works… we are going in waves of about 5 or 6, waves, about 6 or 7 across. And what that does is gets them competitive; it brings out the competitive nature in the group. The kids know what a fast time is; the kids know who/which coach is a little faster and a little slower on the watch. But what it has done, and again this has hugely impacted our relays, we will start doing those things right from the beginning. And as kids get more competitive, all of a sudden this kid who was maybe a 500 freestyler: well, dang, his butterfly’s starting to look pretty good. Hey, I think this kid can set the school record now in the butterfly. Wow, all of a sudden, I’ve got a butterflyer for my medley relay that I thought was going to be a weakness. Whatever our relays are on-paper at the beginning of the year, they never, ever, ever turn-out that way at the championship meet. And this is a big thing why.

So we do this, and I told my assistants today “Please….”. Because this summer, I did not do it; last spring, I did not do it; and guess what, our sprinters could not sprint. They could not sprint. I tried to make them real swimmers, instead of just having them sprint fast. So I said, you know, “Make sure that I don’t take that out of our program.”

Tuesday afternoon is my favorite practice of the week, in general, because that is dive set. And we get up, we warm up, and we are going off the blocks and we are going fast. It is probably the least amount of yardage we do over the course of the week, but it is the most demanding because you are held accountable. You have got to be fast. You have got to… when I say three breaths max, it is three-breaths-max, and we are going to have a little bit of a problem if you take four. We work on okay, what you’ve been taught, let’s really execute it and let’s go fast. We do it on a lot of rest, and the kids have a lot fun with it. Then we do it in an enormous recovery set afterwards.

Wednesday morning, we do a lot of stroke work on their prime strokes, and again, the last 30 minutes is usually some form of resistance work. Wednesday afternoon is the longest practice, yardage-wise, for this group of the week, but it is probably the easiest. I tell them: pud along, sing a song, swim pretty and perfect. 3×1200 on 40 seconds rest; heart rate this, kick-drill-swim by 25s, swim pretty, swim perfect. That is an awesome day to take the kids out one-by-one and talk to them, and correct things. Oftentimes, that is the day they actually get yelled at the most. Because in their mind they kind of know it, and they hear recovery and they think easy, when really I want them to be just the words I use: pretty and perfect in the water—pretty and perfect.

Thursday is very much stroke-related. Their prime stroke, that is their kind of their main enchilada; usually, they do not do freestyle on that day. And it is a series, again, where we are building-up speed endurance on either 75s or 50s. And then after that is again another major kick set. You know, I heard Frank Busch talk about this and he is so right: the best thing about kicking is…. I, personally, and my coaches will tell you this, I love music; I absolutely love music. And I think… and people are like: why do you love music so much? And I said, “Well, I grew up swimming for Mr. Shoulberg, so there wasn’t a lot of downtime in our practices. And our practices are quite long.” So when you are looking at that black line, you can either talk to yourself, and go crazy, or you can sing a song. Okay? So I always choose to just sing a song, until the last one of the set and then I try to whip everybody’s butt. (I was bad about that, I know, I know. I was a Save-up Sally—I will freely admit it. But at least I went fast on something.)

But during the kick sets, it is the one time where you can really talk some smack to the kids, and really challenge them and really get them to talk some smack to each other—in the most… I mean talking smack in the most positive sense of the way. But I just think it is so good. So we are… kick sets, I reiterate, they are not a time for us to go get a cup of coffee or be looking at our phone or whatever; we are on them about their kicking.

Friday morning is very much like Monday morning. Friday afternoon is usually a dive set—I stole this idea from David Marsh. On Friday afternoons, the kids are usually kind of wired, you know, it’s Friday afternoon; they are finally done with their week. The school—this is the one thing I did not put in there—we have to let the kids out by 5:30, that is just a rule for the school; all Friday practices for all varsity sports. So we do not have that much time. It is a perfect place for us again to warm up, alright, let’s go fast. And then Saturday morning is just whatever needs to be done. It is usually long; it is usually hard. I used to use the phrase body bag dryland at the end; we are going to send you out that last hour, where it is usually a group-oriented thing. Again, I kind of stole this idea from Auburn.

You know, when I first got to Baylor, I was like, “Okay, this is a kind of like college swimming. Well, who’s really good at college swimming? Oh, Auburn is winning all this stuff; okay, what are they doing?” And I went down there and really studied a lot of what they do; and stole a lot of ideas from them and just implemented it with younger people. But at Auburn in the Fall, they end their practices with a huge team bonding… team bonding dryland-thing where everybody is held accountable. And we do a very similar thing, and it is awesome.

It is a tough thing to do, and I always struggled getting to do it in club swimming, and this is why I like this outlet. In high school swimming, you can really get kids—if you sell it right—to buy into the idea that, hey, this is not about you, this is about us, this about ‘we’; it is about something bigger than you. And when you get them buying into that notion, it can make them a pretty powerful force to deal with.

The cycle changes slightly for kids who are 200- and 500-related. Morning practices, basically, stay the same. The only main switch is—you will see here if you look at this—their threshold work is a little longer. On Monday, or excuse me on Tuesdays, and Fridays, they usually do an easy/fast-type set that is pretty major: 4,000 or 6,000 on Tuesdays, yardage-wise. And here is another thing that I….

(You know on some of the stuff, I am almost embarrassed saying it in front of Mr. Shoulberg, because I remember he used to have that calculator, man, and he knew every single yard we did. And, dang it, we were going to do more yards the next year—that was a fact. You know, I dreaded it when HyTek came out, and all of sudden, he could just post the practice, timed-out to the minute. I was like, oh no. I used to walk into those things going, hey, has anybody seen the log. “Yeah, we’re only doing 8,500.” Only 8500, that was like: yay, thank God, 8500, that’s a walk in the park.)

For my short kids, I do not even care how much yardage we are doing; I just want to know how fast it is—that is all I care about. So I do not really worry about that component [yardage]. For this group [200/500], I do; so it is a little bit more structured. Much like Coach Salo said, I like… I know it drives my assistant coaches crazy sometimes, but I like to come in and kind of I had this idea in my head on what we’re going to do. You know, the broad strokes. But for the exact set, I want to see them warm up, I want to see how they look in the water, before we get into that.

But those easy/fast sets are awesome, because we get some really fast swimming out of them. And I say, “On the easy part, go easy; but on the fast part, let’s let it rip.” And, again, on the easy/fast work, you usually have a little bit more time where you can get some smack being talked, and you get some people challenging each other and racing. Because I always say, “People, it’s competitive swimming. It’s not synchro, it’s not leisure; it’s competitive swimming.” Sometimes I wonder if they remember that all the time. So we have got to be competitive.

Wednesday afternoon, for that group, is a dive set. I loved to do 8×125 on 5:00. I have been doing that set since I was a swimmer back at the University of North Carolina, back in the ‘80s. I thought it helped me a ton then; and I have kept that in my back pocket. I will talk about that set a little bit later.

We tend to adjust things. I try and schedule our dual meets on Tuesdays and Fridays, so that it works in that cycle of when we are going to do our quality work during the course of the week. But, you know, sometimes it works out, sometimes it does not.

Okay, work out of the water—this is our secret weapon. Everybody’s like, “What makes you guys so good?” We do a lot of dryland. We do a lot of work outside of the pool. I really take a lot of pride in how we make the kids better athletes, and I really stress that with them—I stress that with them. My girls’ teams, in general—and they have done really well lately—they look fit. They look like they have done some work. I have sold them on the notion that, “Hey, fit is the way you want to look. Not skinny; fit.” Really fit.

Again, a lot of the work that we do is taken from Auburn. I just look at those guys at Auburn. I used to call them Auburn legs, because, especially their breaststrokers’ or butterfliers’, were just humongous. And sure enough, at NCAAs, they were blowing everybody away. So I am like, Hmm, this is something maybe we ought to mimic. So we do an awful lot of work outside the pool, with all this kind of outside-the-box stuff. You know, there was all that talk about Ryan Lochte tire flipping and this-and-that, and it became popular in the mainstream. And our fitness coach came up to me, he was like, “Coach Flack, you’ve been doing that with your kids for four years.” And I am like, I know; I know. So anything that we can do that in my mind gets them to jump farther and push off the wall faster and be more explosive, we are going to spend the time to do it.

And the nice thing is: it allows the kids who maybe are not the best trainers in the water to shine. Because some of your best, real high-schoolie kind of kids, who just want to focus on high school swimming, they may not be your best trainers in the water and they may not be able to go twenty 100s really fast. But if you can improve their athleticism, it makes them feel better about themselves; and anything we can do to put more of a positive spin on things, I am all about. And in the early phase of the year, we do a ton of it. I mean we… it is probably 50/50 right now—no it is more. We are doing more land work right now, clearly, than they are swimming. But here is the kick with the dryland: if you know they have done the work, rest them off it—rest them.

[audience member]: Dan, on the dryland part of it, how much time are you talking about?

[Flack]: Time that I rest them off it? I envision it like this: just like guiding a… in my mind, I am kind of guiding a plane down into the finish. So it will go… basically, the killer dryland ends right before they go home for Christmas—that is when it ends. Because that is six-weeks out, in general, from our championship meet. Our championship meet is usually the second or third weekend in February—usually the second. February is a funky month, sometimes, calendar-wise. So that is how we do it. And gradually bring it on down, bring it on down, bring it on down.

Now—and I will talk about his a little bit later—we stretch every day. We stretch before practice; we stretch after practice. We continue that all the way till we get to our meet. That is why people walking are like, “What are they doing over there?”


[audience member]: When you are at the end of that taper, is that right before you official begin your… swim? Stretching, are done with dryland by the time you…

[Flack]: No, no, no. We are done with the body-bag dryland; we are done with the stuff that just crosses their Is and dots their Ts (did I… I mixed that up). We are done with the stuff that has them cursing under their breath at me and that is really, really hard. But we are continuing core, body-alignment, all that stuff, all the way up on through. If they have heard it a million times, I want you to swim like a needle, swim like an arrow. That work, we are always continuing to enhance.

Understand your job
I’m going to talk quickly about this: understand your job. Again, when I went to Baylor, they made it crystal clear to me: high school swimming—high school swimming. Okay? Everybody’s situation is different, but it is important for you to get on the same page with the people you work for and know what the goal is. I am lucky. You know, it is the yin and the yang: you take the good with the bad. I am in a great situation in that my athletic director barely ever talks to me. Well, you know, I give him grief about the Red Sox choking last year and stuff like that, because he is a huge Red Sox fan. But he barely talks to me. We are very clear at the beginning of the year on what the goals are; we are on the same page. And he tells me, “You’ve got your program going great; there is a lot of other things I need to attend to.” Now, the bad part of that is, you know, I still have not gotten an acknowledgement that we won the national championship. So that is the good and the bad of it. But I think it is real important for, whatever your situation is, for whoever you work for, to be clear on what the goal is. What are we trying to accomplish here.

When I first got here, to Baylor, there were changes that I wanted to see. And I would always say, hey, are we trying to be great here or are we just trying to be pretty good? “We are trying to be great here.” Okay, then you have got to let me do this. You have got to let me… “Once I get the team good enough,” I am like, “you have got to let me take them up to Easterns.” That was one of my big things, to spread the name, to spread the word about the school.

So, I know, in different situations, there are conflicts with club. Luckily, I do not have to do that.

[audience member]: Dan, how do you integrate your high-school-only athletes with your club team, in terms of…?

[Flack]: That is actually a big part of my talk tomorrow. But, basically, they have to… the short answer is: they have to be completely as-committed, or more, than the high school kids. You know, it costs them a little more to be in that group. But most of them are just… the way it is in Tennessee, there are not a lot of pools; they are a one-person team—you know what I mean? They all go to the State meet… I have coached kids from other high schools who have beaten all my boys in the finals of the high school State meet in the 100 free. I mean, that has happened more than once, sadly. And then we all get… after that high school meet is over, then we are all Baylor Swim Club and we are all one happy family after that.


[audience member]: Do you coach both the club team and the high school team? That pretty much avoids the conflict a lot of the rest of us are facing where…. And it is not the high school coach not wanting their kids to swim club; they want them to, to improve. But it is the reverse, where the club coach wants to play God and does not want the kids to swim for their high school because they will not get any better—is what they say.

[Flack]: Yes, yes. You know… again, when I went to Baylor, I saw many huge advantages. And that is one of them. As I was saying earlier, we are not even recognized as a sport in Tennessee. We swim under a coaches association thing. So we do not have any of the rules on us that the football team, the basketball team, the wrestlers, all that. You can only practice so much. Here’s your first day. Here’s your end day. Here’s a dead period here, you can’t have anything.—we do not have any of that. So it is a nice… it is a huge advantage for us, and we try and take advantage of it. But I have been in other places in my coaching career where I get what you are talking about. And in some ways, it was able to be handled great, and in other ways, it was a drag. And it was a drag of emotion and a lot of time wasted, in my opinion; people are arguing, bickering back and forth. But I understand that every local thing has its own little rules that can you make things better or worse.

From a philosophical point, again, this is one thing I jumped on right away: hey folks, the races are short in high school. Okay? So again, we go. At our high school championship, I tell them, “If you’re swimming a 50, pretend it’s a 25 and keep going. If you’re swimming a 100, pretend it’s a 50 and keep going. ‘Kay? Go.” Because I think if we have taught them well, given them the skills and they are committed on that day, it is a lot harder to run-people-down short course, in my mind. If you can get out ahead, it is a real powerful tool in short-course Swimming.

Again, each State meet is broken-up differently. The way ours is, it is the 200 Medley Relay through the 100 Fly, is the first day; boys and girls, prelims, finals. The second day, it is the 100 Free through the 400 Free Relay; prelims, finals, boys and girls. You know, they are not doing a ton of swimming. It is not going to a club meet where you are going ten events, and everybody is swimming the 1000; it is a very different thing. And I would not do a lot of this, if that was the job I was being asked to do.

So we spend a lot of time developing tempo. In practice, we use tempo trainers like crazy. We blow through those things like nobody’s business: we lose them, we break them, they stop beeping, whatever. But every one of our kids, I would say two months into the season, whether they have used one… they know how to use those things and the importance of them. And what I look for, as we are warming-up and going through the season, is: how easy is it for the kids to get to tempo, to get to their ideal race tempo. And as you are taper-them-down, if it is getting easier and easier for them, then you are on the right track; if it is still hard for them to get to that race tempo, it is time to ease it on back. And I spend an awful lot of time on that. The kids will know what race tempo is; we clearly define that. And we show them where the fall-off is in their races. Or are they able to maintain it? Are they able to maintain that?

We practice starts. You know, we are the basics. I have a little bit of almost like a football coach mentality: we practice the basics. We practice starts, turns, finishes. I swear, there is no question in my mind that the phrase drive your legs through the finish and make your body tall has been uttered more than anything by, any phrase, on our pool deck in the last seven years. Because we harp on that every-… literally—and this is no embellishment—every single day: finish, finish, finish. Make your body tall, shoulder cap to ears, drive your legs through the finish. You will get fussed at. On a dive set, if you do not drive your legs through the finish, that will be pointed out to you and it will be made clear how you need to rectify that situation. The little things we spend a lot of time on. And I think, again, in these races being so short, it comes down to execution often, not necessarily effort. Everybody is going to try hard. I often say, “I’m not faulting your effort; I’m just trying to channel it in a more positive direction.”

So, it is like I said, those 8x25s, we do those often. And it really teaches the kids: hey, if you don’t win the start, you’re not getting top-3. Some days, it is gold, silver, bronze; I only call-out the times for the first three kids in the heat. Some days, I am like, “Folks, I like to time winners: you want a time, win your heat.” That is the way it is, as a little bit of motivation. But we spend an awful lot of time on that.

For turns, we do a station, all the time, where we have… our pool flows: 10-lanes short course, bulkhead, 2 lanes of space that go this way, bulkhead, 10 more lanes—the divers are down there. We take that lane line out, and in-between the two bulkheads we do bulkhead-turns like crazy. And we time them, and we teach them how to get better on it. I was demonstrating some exercises this morning in the weight room, just here, to some coaches, that are of really helped… I feel are so valuable out of the water to get our flip turns faster. That is why it drives me nuts when… I am like, every once and a while I will fuss at them: guys, you’ve been taught this stuff but you’re not doing it. Okay, so we do those bulkhead turns; we start doing those about six weeks out, two to three times regularly. And again, we get after them and say, “C’mon, beat your partner. Beat the person next to you. Come on, compete.” And it really helps.

We do variable sprints after our warm-up, every day, and that is where we really spend a lot of time on the finishes. Underwater work: we spend a ton of time on it. That last kick-out, I preach all the time, “If you can win that last kick out, you’re going to win the race.” So, we stay under. I always like: stay under, stay under, stay under.

We use tempo trainers and monofins, against resistance, and the tempo trainers to speed the kids’ kick up. The tempo trainers are such an important device, in my mind, because it teaches… it is a tool that allows the kids to wire their bodies to move faster; to move, to twitch, faster. Some of them have it more naturally; some of them do not have it at all. But that tempo trainer really… with that little beep, beep, beep, beep, beep. We have had… I remember… Laura’s daughter was a huge stud for us. And I remember when she was little, coming onto the scene, she had made the National Junior Team, just been on a couple national records setting relays. She would have that tempo trainer by her block, at the State championship, just holding it, listening to it, until they told her take her mark—that is how much she relied on that tool. And it really… it just wires their body to move fast. And ultimately, in these short races, that is what we are trying to do.

But we kick against stuff. And it is a clear thing: it is so easy to show the kids improvement. “Okay, Johnny. You know, last time, you kicked with 20 pounds of resistance; it took you 10 seconds (say) to get to the 50-meter mark. Now, you’re kicking there at 8.8: you’re getting better. You’re getting better.” We try and hammer the whole hey, you’re getting better, you’re getting better notion. So that really is a real powerful tool. And we record the stuff and we challenge him: “Hey, what’s your goal? Let’s get better on it.” And it helps them understand that.

We have had some battles to try and win our championship meet. We have been able to pull it off a couple of times by just understanding what the opponent is going to do, relative to what events they are going to enter, and how do we maximize our points. Again, with the internet, it has become a lot easier. In my mind, I can almost call what the heat sheet is going to be, now. Now I will tell the kids—I always tell the kids—“the heat sheet is the most overrated thing in the history of mankind.” But I want to put our kids in a position to maximize our points. So we have taken some risks to try and win the national championship, of pulling a kid out of one of their individual events so we can load-up on three relays—because relays are double points, you score more points. That is not the easiest thing to do and it takes some guts to do it sometimes; but it has paid-off really, really well for us. And I think you have to build that culture of, again, it’s bigger than you, it’s bigger than you to be able to pull that off. So, give your team… you have got to do the homework to give your team, to know your opposition, to know the opponents, for your team to maximize your points so you can maximize your place.

The importance of relays. I mean, does anything at a swim meet get you more fired-up than an awesome relay? In my mind: no! I mean, they are just so much fun. They are double points; they have a huge impact on your ultimate placing. In my mind, if you have got… to have a great Medley Relay, you have got to have home-run hitter in breaststroke. If you do not have a home-run hitter in breaststroke—it is such a big component of the Medley Relay—you are only going to be so great. So we really try to make sure we have that breaststroker who can really knock it out. If we are going for a Medley Relay, I guarantee you, we are going to have a great breaststroker.

The freestyle relays. In my opinion, the second leg is the most important. And why I think about that is this: I always put not my fastest… who do I trust the most? That is who I put second. Because if the first person does their job, and the second person does their job, then, chances are the relay is over and we have already won. Okay? If that first person, for whatever reason, flubs it up and does not do great, you have got to have somebody there to clean-up the mess. And in a sprint relay, they are not allowed to tighten… in these relays, there is not a ton of time to clean-up that mess. You have got to have somebody you can trust. So I tend to put my most competent—that is the word I use—most competent person second. And again, that has really helped us.

Relay starts. This is funny: we got to the point where our relay starts were too good for Tennessee officiating. That is no joke. We have the R.J.P.: the relay judge platform judge system. Again, six weeks out, we start rotating through and we play with different combos; because sometimes you know what the relay is going to be, sometimes it becomes completely different. Somebody gets sick; all of a sudden somebody… you know, whatever the case may be. We play with different combos. And we got to the point where we figured out that, okay, we were going 0.08s off the block and just about everybody could do them. That was too fast for officiating in Tennessee; they thought we were jumping, even though the machine said we were not. So, we dialed-it-back to 0.12. And we even invited our own officials from our own club, because a lot of them work at our State meet: Come… please, come watch a practice and watch us do our relay starts, and watch what the machine says, and watch what your eyes says. It was very, two very different things. And they, to a man and a woman, have all said, wow, it really has changed the way I view relay starts.

But I can tell you this. We won our State championship meet for the boys two years ago. We were the 2nd team in the country, and Montgomery Bell from Nashville—which is basically all the kids from Nashville Aquatic Club—they were the 3rd best team in the country. We won both sprint relays, and we were out-swum—no question—in both those relays. But we destroyed them on the starts—we destroyed them on the starts—and that enabled us to win.

I will give you a very quick, funny story. I had this one boy who… to say he was a challenge to a coach is an understatement. This is a boy who got a concussion doing a sit-up, once. [laughter] Cannot make this up. So, he was my anchor guy, and all week… three weeks leading in, I almost benched him—even though he was so much faster than everybody else. He was either so slow on his start or jump city, like hitting the kid’s ankles as he is coming in. So I was a nervous wreck on this and the relay was close. But danged if he did not do it perfect the day of the meet, and was able to beat the boy who actually… they went off even, and he was able to beat the boy who ended up winning the individual 50 in the meet. And I came back and I gave him a big hold, and was like, “You picked a hell of the time to finally do it right.”

To get your relay starts good, practice them at race speed. We put fins on the kids, when they are practicing, to simulate that speed. Okay? And oftentimes, you know, a jump is not on the person on the block; it is that person on the finish. So, we really get on them. But using fins to simulate that race speed has been a huge help to us—a huge help.

[audience member]: Coach? On those relays, do you have them step or hop on that?

[Flack]: Step usually, usually a step. Some of them are not the most coordinated, so they make me nervous they are just going to fall off the block.

The mental game
Mental game: I have spent much more time on this than I ever would have 10, 15 years ago, and each year it produces better dividends. Here is the deal: I want those kids to race with an uncluttered mind. I want them to race with an uncluttered mind. So I want them as prepared as all get-out, because a high school State meet is a much-more emotional meet than say a club swimming meet. It is much more like an NCAA thing. So I want them racing with a completely uncluttered mind. I want them to understand that their last thought is going to be their most powerful thought. So, let’s have that be something real empowering and real positive. To do that, I try and take the clutter out of the meet.

Back in the day, when I swam for Mr. Shoulberg, we would do insane warm-ups—that was a bad word, it was “first set”, right? I always knew when we were doing 16x25s on the :23, that that meant man, we’re doing an 8,000 fly or a 10,000-for-time after this—you could see it coming. And I never in a million years thought I would have done this; ten years ago I would have scoffed at this. But we have been doing this for three years now, and it has paid huge dividends. We basically do the same dang warm-up every day. It is not the exact same swimming, but it is the exact same framework. It takes 40 minutes, because, guess what, at our high school State meet we are allotted 40 minutes of warm-up time. It is so nice to go to a competition and not have 50 million people going: Hey coach, what shall I do for warm up? What shall I do for warm up? What shall I do for warm up? They know what to do for warm up. And it gives me a much clearer picture, on a day-in day-out basis, of whoa, somebody’s up on top of the water or whoa, somebody’s drowning. It gives me that mental picture much better.

So we do that warm up; it is just… it is like a security blanket for them: they do not have to worry—it is one less thing they have to worry about. And I think that uncluttering of their mind allows their talent, and what we have taught them and the emotion of the meet, to come out. And it has produced just great results for us.

Cool sets
Last thing: cool sets. These are some sets that I just love to do:
• 8×125, dive, freestyle, on 5:00 minutes. I have loved this set forever. In my mind… I have never coached a boy that if you could go… I am like… the magic number is, if you can hold under 1:05-flat as an average on those, you are going to go 1:39 or faster. Every single boy that could do that consistently on that set: boom! that was the result you get.
• A similar set with girls: 8×100 IM on 5:00; first 25 underwater, flip turn, pop-up, kick out, come-on backstroke. You can break minutes in that, you are going 2:00 or better in the IM—it is just… that is, like I said, I am telling you because everybody who has ever done it, that is what has happened. So, we love to do that set.
• Here is a set that I love to do. You want to get some kids going fast? We will go four-times through this. 4×15-yard blast on 1:30, against some form of resistance with fins and paddles on, at their proper tempo—whatever their race tempo is. Then, they will take the resistance off, we will go—this is the hard, the key part of the set. They have got to go 2×50 with fins and paddles; they are only allowed to take two breaths, maximum—if they want to take less…. I am a real stickler on, “Look, I just don’t want to see your face. Keep it in the water, okay? We can talk after practice.” But in practice, I am a stickler on: do not breathe—you do not need it. Those 50s have to be faster than whatever a quarter of their best 200 would be. Those who are on 1:15. Then we take a 50 easy. Then we lose our equipment and dive a 50, all out; and I get some blazing fast swims on that—I get some blazing fast swims on that set. And the kids love that set—they love that set. And then we warm down.
• We kick with ankle weights a lot. I remember, we used to kick with shoes and socks back in the day and we played with that. I like kicking with ankle weights because I can control it. It is not… it is the same; I can control the stimulus. It is not one kid coming in with aqua socks and another kid coming with construction boots—that does not produce the same results. So we kick with anywhere from 0.5 lbs to 3-3.5 lbs of resistance on them. And if you can hold your body-line with those ankle weights around you—we take rubber bands around them and Velcro them together. If you can kick and hold your body-line with a snorkel, like that, or swim sets like that and hold your body-line with those ankle weights: wow. In my mind, when you take them off, it looks like you are swimming downhill. And that is… I am like, Ride your bike downhill; is it easier downhill or uphill? Which is easier? So we spend awful lot of time… that is something again, I did not… (note to self) we did not do enough of that this summer—we have got to get doing that more. I think that is a really, really helpful tool. And again, it enables you to quantify things a little bit better.

So those are just some cool sets that I like to do.

Questions… anybody got questions? Yes; fire away.

[audience member]: Yeah, I have a question. For Kristen, she goes a 22 second 50, is a 48 100. She goes about 1:48 in the 200?

[Flack]: 1:45, and she is 4:50 in the 500.

[audience]: And that was my question: that is fast swimming, all the way through.

[Flack]: I am very proud of… I have had three girls go 22.5/22.6 in the 50; the other girls were 4:54 in the 500, 4:55 in the 500. So, they can sweat… the one girl is 4:24 long course, 400 free.

[audience]: Taking somebody like her: how do you cover that spectrum?

[Flack]: What we do? I will tell you. We start out…. it is the reverse periodization thing. We start-out working on front-end speed. Because in my mind, if you can not do 15 fast, how the heck are you supposed to go a 50 of it at that speed? So we work on developing front-end speed—front-end speed, front-end speed. Then, we gradually, as the season goes on, add-in more back-end speed—more back-end speed. So, a front-end speed set would be: 2×15 blast on 4:00, 2×25 on 4:00, 2×37½ on 4:00, 2×50 on 4:00. Where they… that 15 speed has got to be the same for all. So, in my mind, that is an early-speed development set, okay? On the way back down, a set would be say: 10×50, ideally holding what you want to come home in 100. We do 4 on 1:30, then we go 1 on 1:20, 1:10, 1:00, 50, 40, 30. And the idea is… and when they start doing that stuff, they fall apart at the end and it is a train wreck. But as they get more conditioned to it, they are able to hold their stroke rate, hold their tempo, and swim the same speed. So we do that.

Now, part of this, I am misrepresenting what we do. The year Kristen went 1:45 in the 200 Free, she did a 10,000-for-time earlier in that season. When we go on our training trip, one of the standard sets… we have a Fall Break, first or second weekend in October; we take the team to Florida. We camp-out on the beach; they have got a beautiful Olympic-sized pool that we have great access to down there. Saturday morning, the kids know, they are doing 80×100 or 80×75—you know, that kind of thing. So… I just do not want to say that we are just sprint, sprint, sprint. You know, the boy who just set the NCAA Record in the 1650 for Georgia came out of our program; he was 4:19 in the 500 out of our program. Again, he did different stuff than this.

There is probably, in my practice during the high school season, there are probably six different practices actually going on, on any given day. Because I am… man, the fencing team cuts; we do not cut. As long as you… we got this one cat on our team now; God bless him, I hope he lasts—I do not think he is going to. He is from China; he can only do breaststroke. And he kind of looks like one of those people who like stumbles into your practice who is lost. And if you are practicing in a public pool and thinks that it is rec-swim time—you know that guy? With the goggles around here, and the squinting because he cannot see without his glasses. But he works; he has done everything we have asked so far, so we will keep him around. As long as you work hard, we keep you. I joke: the fencing team cuts, we don’t. But there are usually many, many different levels of the practice going on.

A set that Kristen would do often was: she would do the 125s—the 8×125—but the first 25 would be underwater, dolphin kick. So, it is getting her underwater dolphin kick for the 50 much faster; as well as, obviously, you know, if you are doing it right and you have underwater-dolphin-kicked that first 25 on a 125, that last lap is no fun. You know, you are hurting. But it teaches them to develop that.

One thing we do, I think the sprint relay is always under-valued in a high school meet—that sprint free relay. I think those are easy points to grab. So, we make sure that even our 500 kids can do a fast 50, if they want. And again, it is the way… I look at the sport much more like Coach Salo does. In my mind, there is distance swimming in our sport: it is called Open Water. If you are going to go a 500 Freestyle, and you are a high school kid and you want to break 4:20 or be 4:22 or something like that—something really fast—well you have got to be out in 49, to your feet, easy. And we have seen all kinds of kids go out in 49 with their feet hard, and then they are… they are purple on lap 13. You have got to be four… that speed, easy. So, in my mind, a 500 is not a long race at all—that is the way I kind of look at it.

Any other questions? Yes.

[audience member]: Give us an example of your warm…

[Flack]: I can tell you what it is. It is a:
• 400 choice on 6:00,
• 8×100 of something on 1:30—very often 50 free/25 prime-stroke body-position kick/25 prime strokes swim, descend those that last 25 in groups of two. Again, going through gears, okay: easy swimming, training swimming, just about 200 pace, just about 100 pace.
• Then, the next is 8×50, some kind of kick/free down, prime coming back, and
• And then we go to 16 variable sprints.
And that’s warm-up: 40 minutes, boom!

[audience member]: And we have a former swimmer, who is a two-time NCAA champion this year, and he shared with me that he still does that warm-up every single day for every single meet.

[Flack]: Hey, once you have a security blanket in life, you tend to hold on, you know. Anything else?

Thank you all for coming out.

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