Program Development by Dave Durden (2014)


[introduction by Joel Shinofield]
I have the distinct pleasure of introducing our next speaker: Dave Durden from the University of California. Dave has had a really tremendous career. Starting off in the college ranks, at least, at Auburn as an assistant, moving on to Maryland as the head coach; and now the [men’s] head coach at Cal, where his teams have won three of the last five NCAA titles, including this year’s championship where he was also named the CSCAA NCAA Division I Men’s Coach of the Year. Following up that tremendous success, could take a break, I suppose, after NCAAs or you could just keep it rolling. This Summer I would say he kept it rolling quite well with Ryan Murphy, Nathan Adrian, Anthony Ervin, Jacob Pebley and Tom Shields all making the U.S. Pan Pac team. And Josh Prenot, excuse me—see, a lot of success, sometimes you forget some names. Led those athletes to tremendous success at both Summer Nationals, Pan Pac, and those athletes have also earned spots on the U.S. Worlds team for next Summer.

Since we are running a little bit behind, I did a little bit longer introduction, but I think you all have a pretty good idea of what Dave is capable of and what he has done. And what he has done with his program at Cal to put them in a position to be this successful. We are going to hear a little bit more about that now, so Dave….

[Durden begins]
Thank you, Joel. It is a pleasure to be talking about my program; I am fortunate to be standing up here talking about my program. There are a lot of people that have gone into the success of this particular program, of our program, where it is at right now, and that list would be way to long just to name.

I thought Dave’s [Krotiak] talk on Kevin [Cordes] was awesome. It was great just to get a little insight into one of our best breaststrokes; so, Dave, thank you for sharing that knowledge.

The great thing about the CSCAA track is that you can get a little-more specific into my program from a collegiate sense. In previous talks that I have given, I have always tried to relate it back maybe to a club environment or relate it back to an individual athlete, or relate it back to a stroke. This, now, I can just kind of delve into something that I have been working on for fourteen years in my career, in kind of the college environment, so this is really cool.

To give a little bit of a background, and kind of what I am going to work through with this talk, is really: what I learned through my first five years in college coaching at Auburn under David Marsh, a lot of the mistakes that I made in my next two years as a head coach, and then finally just the implementation of that over the last seven years at Cal. So this is kind of fourteen years that I am trying to condense into one hour. There are a lot of things that I am going miss, and there is a lot that goes into this. But I do want to acknowledge that I have made way more mistakes than I have had successes, and through those mistakes, I have learned a lot.

I have also benefited… and actually I will save that—just for a second here. One of the things that I learned from David, and guys that have had the opportunity to work for David Marsh either at a university level or at a club level, he is always surrounding himself with a great staff; and I learned that very early on. Even now at SwimMAC—I know Bob Groseth was in here earlier. But, you know, bringing back just a fantastic coach, a great mind, into his program is really kind of one of the many positive factors that David brings to the table in a collegiate environment. And I took that with me from my five years of being at Auburn. I worked with not only David, but Ralph Crocker, Kim Brackin, Bill Pilczuk; just to name a few that were there during my five years. Those coaches were just phenomenal in their craft.

The attention to detail, the planning that took place, that was kind of right up my alley. My background educationally was in electrical engineering, so I am very much of a… I like to plan things out, I like to see things in its totality. David did a really, really good job, and the staff at Auburn did a really, really good job when I was there at just how to work through that.

Recruiting; just an emphasis on that. I started out club coaching, and so I really did not know the recruiting aspect of things. So to come in and learn that particular craft was very, very helpful. And then finally, the idea of creating fans of the program. It is not a very swimming-rich environment in Auburn, Alabama, in the sense that you are not surrounded by, you know, a ton of club programs, kids growing up in the sport, access to water, et cetera, et cetera—much of the benefits that I have now at Cal. Just his ability to create a fan base in that environment was something that I took away in my five years there.

Finally, I took a lot of those things with me to Maryland, for two years as a head a coach. And just a handful of my mistakes—you know, I cannot talk about them all, it would be too long of a talk. Trying to go into a different environment and making them Auburn swimmers; not learning the tradition of the program, the history of the program. Trying to delve-in and just get immediately immersed into the swimming aspect of things. And trying to fix… what I had in my mind, trying to fix the program and not getting around the campus. That that also created isolation away from the athletic department. Where my office was in Maryland was at the pool, which was away from the athletic program, and so I did not have a lot of interaction with coaches. It is something that I benefit from now. I certainly benefited from that going through that experience at Maryland—just said hey I was not going to do that again.

So as I transitioned from Maryland to Cal, I really had fresh on my mind a lot of the mistakes that I made. And it was through those mistakes that I was able very, very quickly to say okay these are the things that I am not going to do in my first six months, first year, while I’m at Cal. So I listened to our seniors. I wanted to just fully understand what their program looked like, what they wanted to do, what they wanted to accomplish; I was just very patient in listening to them. Rather than talking to them about what I wanted in a particular program or what I wanted for this program or what I wanted for our program, I stepped back and I just listened to where they wanted to go.

I listened to Nort [Thornton], and I do that every day. I even listen to his jokes, which I cannot repeat here. And those that know Nort, that may be on his email list, that may be on his joke list, you would not want me to repeat those jokes. But, you know, here is a coach that has built this program over the last 38 years, and so every day I listen to Nort. I think that is one of the things that I have really grown to appreciate more and more; I think it is when you are around a great individual, when you are around a great coach, when you around a great person, you start to appreciate them that much more. And there is not a day that goes by where Nort is not in the office; that I at least walk-away with a tidbit on what we should be doing with our program.

I really made an investment in meeting as many professors as I could around campus, because I wanted to learn a lot more about Cal versus just trying to fix, or trying to make, Cal Swimming better. I wanted to have the whole experience. So I had to really get outside of my comfort zone. I am kind of a little-bit introverted by nature. It is a little bit outside of my comfort zone to kind of go around and meet with professors, but it was something that I felt was really important to our success as a program.

And then finally I just did a lot of engagement with the athletic administration, trying to get a feel for where they wanted the program to be, etc. I remember in my talks with Sandy Barbra—who is now the athletic director at Penn State—I did not necessarily lay-out the challenge, but I did ask her as I started at Cal, at 31 years of age, it was like: hey, I’m going to need some help with this. I’m going to need some help from you in guiding me as a 31-year-old head coach through this program. And we really worked on that, and how to handle that and how to make that transition very seamless.

The things that I have been implementing over the last seven years that I learned at Auburn is, you know, that idea of having a great staff. You know, hire/retain great staff. We had a strength coach in Nick Folker, who still works with a small piece of our program. I hired Greg Meehan, who is now the [women’s] head coach at Stanford. And now having Yuri Suguiyama as my assistant coach. One of the things that I always try to do in going through that hiring that process is to hire someone better than me. And I was able to do that with Greg, and I was able to do that with Yuri. And I firmly believe that Yuri is one of the best coaches that I have ever been around. He has a level of humility about himself, about his accomplishments as a coach; it has challenged me as a coach to become better. You know, like Rick DeMont talking about expanding my game: I try to do that through hiring great staff, I try to do that through hiring great people. I try to expand my game in that regard.

The attention to detail and planning: daily/monthly/ seasonal/quadrennial planning. I work with Yuri and our strength coach, Joel Smith, in really establishing. What we are doing for the day, how it is going to affect the week, where we are within the month, and how that is going to affect our goals for the year. And then always keeping an eye on where we are within the quadrennial.

And then finally just kind of refocus some of the recruiting efforts at Cal. And then really starting to engage the alumni and parent group of our program, start to create more fans. My first year NCAA championships at Cal, I think we may have had about 20 parents/alumni/fans in our cheering section; I think this past year at NCAA we had close to 100, 120, with about 14 of those guys wearing full-on bear suits. That has been a process, to grow that; and I am going to spend a little more time talking about that.

So just kind of taking those two stints that I had, both at Auburn and Maryland, just trying to blend it into what we have been doing for the last seven years at Cal, how we have been implementing that. I would say these are probably the six main points. We all know there is probably a lot more to it, but these were the six points that I came-up with in the last, probably, two weeks that I wanted to spend some time talking about.
1. Our program is senior driven. That is, I am guessing or assuming, that a lot of college programs are in that mode.
2. I am going to talk a little bit about how we mine our resources.
3. Our alumni support.
4. One of the things that I talk to our guys about in terms of their success—their success in the pool, their success in the classroom—is about stacking the odds in their favor. I never feel like as coach that our staff, our program, is the reason for their success; I never feel like it is what we are doing is helping them go faster. All I feel like I am doing is a facilitator in trying to put the odds in their favor to have a great performance, put the odds in their favor to have success. That is something that we talk about continually.
5. The training aspects.
6. And then kind of stepping-back: how we… what we do when we step-back each season and look at our program.

Senior driven
So some of the examples that we have in terms of letting our seniors drive our program. We started-out, or at least when I first got to Cal, we started-out with some team rules and responsibilities as very hefty document; it was about four pages, five pages. My next year, it got condescend to about two pages; my third year, got condescend to a page. And now we are at a point in our program where just lives and breathes; we do not have to write it down. Our guys understand what their responsibilities are, what our guidelines are, what our rules are, in our program. It does not need to be something that is written down; it is lived out day-in and day-out.

I always sit down with our guides, our seniors, and just kind of have them answer the simple question of: what do you guys want to do? You know, like how do you guys want to handle this, what are your goals for the year. I let them run with that. You know, it is not about me and what I want to do. It usually… the conversation turns-back to hey what do you think or where do you think we can go with this. But I always want that to start from them. I want them to feel that they have kind of created this idea of hey this is where we want to go with the group, and then I am just supportive of that.

We have a structured study program; again, that is senior driven. They are responsible for our academic success. We usually have a couple of our guys that are in charge of that, from everything from study hall hours to professors’ office hours to our tutoring structure.

We have a senior-freshman dinner.

Travel, or university event itineraries. If we have an event that we are required to be at with our program, I put our seniors in-charge of just kind of handling that. I try not to handle some of the logistics of—some of the bigger travel, yes, but—some of the simple things. I want them to think through what they are doing each step of way. Certainly for travel in the Fall. I want them to think about: when do we need to be on the bus, when do we need to eat, when do we need to get to the hotel, where should we eat. I want a level of investment in it, rather than just giving them a sheet of paper and this is like hey, this is what I’m going to follow, this is what I’m going to do. I want them to move through that process of thinking about what a meet… what preparation looks like; so that is a good way to help them do that.

And finally, they kind of handle our team videos.

In short, we have a responsibility for each one of our seniors. We try and find a role for each of our seniors. We do not try to fit it, like okay, we established this in 2010, so we need someone to come in and fill that role. That last piece there, team videos, that was something that we created this past year. We had a swimmer who is pretty unique. Dave [Krotiak] kind of talked about it, when you have some unique athletes, and Rick [DeMont] talked about it. When you have some unique athletes, you have to do some unique things with them.

We had a swimmer that was just kind of an underwater swimmer. He was 19.2 in the 50, 45 in the fly, 45 in the back; and he did not like to train a heck of a whole lot. Loved racing, but did not like to train. So in the springtime, his deal, one of his things that he would always talk about: I need more rest, I need more rest, I need more rest. I was like: no problem. So on, you know, Monday, Wednesday Friday in the afternoon, he would only do about half the workout and then I would stick an underwater video camera in his hand and say “Hey, can you do me a big favor? Can you get a lot of videos of some different guys? I want to see…” this on this guy, this on this guy, this on this guy.

He loved it. For him, he thought he was getting out of a little bit of a workout; for me, I was having him do something that was going to help our team. And then two, he was doing a lot of breath-control work with that, and that was something that he was good at, was underwater kicking. And so it was like: we are going to need him to stay underwater for a lot, and he had to stay underwater a lot to do a lot of our videos. So we found a role for him, and said okay, hey, you’re going to do this. We do not have anybody that fits that mold this year, but for last year, it was a great thing for our program.

Mining resources
Talking about mining some resource. Everyone has unique resources, just based-on their campus community, based on their environment. You know, we have a great partner in Arena that we utilize for all of our suits, apparel—this is my shameless plug for our sponsor. I have been an Arena coach for… now coming-up on five years. When we started with them in 2009/2010, that was where we really kind of turned the corner with our success. The thing I like about in working with Arena is that they are always thinking and that they are always engaging me in that process. You know, Joel mentioned that we have been fortunate enough to win three national titles; well, we have done that in three different pieces of Arena technology. And so that is kind of cool thing that we are with a company that is forward-thinking in that regard, in that you know over the last four years that we have had three different pieces of technology help us win a national title.

We find out get-stuff-done people and we take care of them. I think everyone has people that—my wife would use a different word on that middle-S [word]. But we have our get-stuff-done people and we really look to take care of them in a couple of different ways. We will do a luncheon or a happy hour with them in the Fall and the Spring, give them stuff we all get and make sure that they are outfitted and feeling good about our program. That helps those folks work that much harder for us, it helps those folks feel a part of our success, and again it gets back to that idea of creating fans for of our program. We want to make sure that they are involved with what we are doing as much as we are on the pool deck. It does not… success just does not happen on the pool deck; it happens from having a community around you that is helping you get there and we want to make sure that we are taking care of the folks that are taking care of us.

We worked with a couple of different massage schools on externship program. We are in a unique area of California in Berkeley, where there is a lot of massage schools, there is a lot of acupuncture programs; there is just a lot of access to different recovery modalities. And we have taken advantage of that. We work with a couple of different massage schools in having externs: basically therapists that need to get hours in their schooling. They come-in and work with our guys twice a week; so we can have anywhere from 4-6 tables set-up for two hours, twice a week, and we can run all of our guys through having that recovery modality.

It has been very helpful for us. We have that session led by our team massage therapists, so he can watch the 4, 5, 6, 10 therapist that are in there making sure that our guys are being taken care of in the right way. But it is nice to help with the recovery aspect for our guys, and to know that hey, each week I’m going get myself worked on.

It is a great way for us to do some preventative rehab, as well; just to see if there are any issues that are coming up. If we see, you know, a tightness or if we are seeing something in a particular area that all of our guys are having, that there is some consistency to it, we can work backwards through our strength coach to see if there is any anything that we need to change and adapt. Or even from a water perspective that we need to change and adapt, to help relieve some of that before that sort of pain becomes an actual injury.

Alumni support
And then our alumni support. I am going to spend a little bit of time talking on this, because this takes a lot of time to bring alumni back into your program and to help them feel a part of it. There is a couple of the crazy guys in the bear suits. But how it started was pretty simple. We have an alumni that graduated in the mid-90s that owns a company called Every Man Jack—it is a men’s hair-care/grooming products. Their target age is 25-39. You find it in Target stores and Whole Foods. (I told him I would give him that plug here, so if you go into Target, go and buy Every Man Jack hair gel.)

But Ritch Viola had just sent me a care-package after my first was born, and his name was Jack, his company was named Every Man Jack. Sent us some stuff. It took a simple little thank-you card, that I sent back to him, that kind of created this monster that we have now. From there, he invited about twelve key alumni to a dinner to that I went to and it kind of got rolling from there. I mentioned that we had about 20-25 fans in 2008 at NCAAs, and now, six years later, we kind of can take up a pretty-big section at that particular meet.

Talking about where we are now with our alumni and how we have them involved. We do team dinners once a month with our alumni coming back. They usually talk about… they really have the floor to talk about whatever they want. But it has been hugely effective for this demographic of 18-22 year-old guys, just sitting there, listening to someone that is in their in their 40s, 50s or 60s that have had success in their professional lives.

And if I were to think about it from their perspective, their life is pretty goal-oriented and pretty driven. In the pool, they know… they have their goals, where they want to go, how they want to accomplish them. In the classroom, they are taking a class and a professor lays-out a syllabus, say hey these are the papers you need to write, the tests you need take and this is how I’m going to grade this particular class.

Well in life, or in their professional life, when they turn 22 for most of these guys, as they finish their Swimming career and finish their academic experience, there is no road map for that. There is no one saying hey, come to practice at 6:00 a.m. and we’re going help you do some accounting works so you can go on to work and be awesome, it does not work that way. And so we have had folks that have been very successful in their professions come back and give them their road map, their unique prospective on: this is what I did to get to this position. And whether that is a CEO of a company, or a partner in a law firm, or an MD, it gives our guys great perspective on what they are doing right now and how that is going to translate to their life 10, 15, 20 years down the road.

We typically do a Fall function as well with our alumni, bringing them back. We stay away from alumni meets, because most of our guys do not want to get on their Speedo anymore—and I can understand that. But we try and bring them back in the Fall and then, of course, in the Spring we kind of create a VIP experience. We keep them engaged with our program just through an email video series that we do once a month. And not really getting things that you can find very generally through… you know, our guys are versed enough with what is going on with our meets and times and such. We are just trying to give them a little-bit of insight into what we are doing with our program. So we can really do that video specifically for them and talk about some unique aspects of our program.

Where we are headed with this is really trying to create a total alumni experience in that we have pretty much any guy that swim, if we can get their butts in the seats at NCAAs, then that is a huge success. But I think more than anything else, we just want them to continue to feel that their time spent in our program at Cal has helped the success of where our guys are now. And that is why we have guys in their late-60s coming-in to NCAAs and watching our guys swim because they feel a part of it.

Stacking the odds in their favor
I talked about this earlier, about stacking the odds in their favor. A couple of things that we really hit-on in terms of big components or big categories is nutrition. You can see in the picture, we did at cooking class with our guys. So thirty guys with big-old cutting knives in their hands is a little-bit scary, but as they went through that class, we had about four different chefs from local restaurants around, and good restaurants. Again, this gets back to the geography of where we are: we have access to a lot of great restaurants around us. And so we were able to work with a cooking school and four chefs from various restaurants to really help our guys understand that what they are putting in their body. We had a nutritionist guide the classes; about a four-hour class.

It was something that was hugely successful in practicality for our guys; most of our athletes will prepare at least three to four meals at home, if they are not in the dorms. And so just creating some knowledge about what they are doing has been tremendously successful. It has been successful for our guys, as well, in the dorms, because once they learn how to make some of the things that are they actually eating, they have a little better investment and knowledge in going to a cafeteria-style cafeteria and saying okay, I want this, this, this and this. Just because they are more knowledged about food. And not somebody telling them; they actually dug their hands in and did a good job.

One quick, funny story about that. This is kind of typical when you put thirty guys in a cooking class. One of the chefs, they were braising some chicken, and one of the chefs took two of our guys and said, hey, can you cut-up some bacon? We are going you know kind of flavor this up a little bit. The problem with that is he did not supervise them. The thirty guys, or at least two of these guys, with three pounds of bacon, cut up the whole three pounds and threw it right into the pan with one breast of chicken. Got some flavor out of that chicken. But by the time the chef had turned around, he was… I think that was the one time where he got really pissed at our guys.

We also have done a team cook book. Last year was our first iteration of it. We took just various recipes. We are fortunate enough to have someone like Natalie Coughlin in our environment, who is very much a foodie. She contributed about a dozen different recipes, very simple, for our guys to do. That is something that is on our guys’ kitchen shelves back in their apartments, if they live in the apartments.

We have taper/altitude guidelines that we give them. We go up to altitude at the end of December, first of January. There are some things that we do pre-fueling wise; there is some fueling that we do up there as well. Just to make sure that adjustment and that we are effective in our training period up there for 15 days. And then, of course, as we get more into a “taper phase” as we get closer to a meet, there are some guidelines that we follow with our guys and they are very, very good about that.

Recovery. We have a recovery room that we are implementing this year just off our pool deck, just to have very quick fuel sources. Whether it is food source or replenishment shakes/drinks, just making sure that that gets to our guys.

We work w… our guys utilize a product called Vitargo. I put it there three times because it has been very, very instrumental to our success and our recovery. And they just came out with a product that does have protein in it within the NCAA limits; they worked very careful to make sure they were hitting the ratios correctly on that. It has been the absolute best thing for our guys. It is a high caloric drink, with no sugars and just high carbs. It is exactly what our guys need, especially in recovery. Our guys even utilize that in terms of the pre-fueling for practice. It has been a life saver for us. because a lot of the sports drink, they do a great job of marketing but they are just not necessarily great for you just in terms of the sugar amount that is in it. Vitargo has no sugars in it, and it is just its perfect for our guys.

We utilize, and one of those ideas about stacking the odds in our favor, we work with a sports psychologist named Ken Ravizza. Ken is out of Cal State Fullerton. And just kind of on an aside, kind of how I got into this or how I kind of started working with Ken. I was fascinated with men’s volleyball, specifically the Men’s Volleyball program at UC Irvine. I graduated from UC Irvine and so that was our one sport that was doing well; it had been doing well over the last decade. John Speraw was the head coach; just moved to UCLA a couple of years ago. But on his staff, on his allowed coaches, he hired a sports psychologist. So it is not a sports psychologist that is working with the team; he actually had a sports psychologist that was there at practice, there every day with them, that was one of the accountable coaches. And her name was Andrea Becker.

And I called Andrea; I was like so hey you know what’s the deal? I mean she is a female sports psychologist working with a men’s program. If you have ever been to a men’s volleyball game, it is a very testosterone-filled competition. So I was fascinated about that, and through our conversations kind of led me to Ken. I have known Ken’s name for a while: have read some literature that he has put out, listened to some things that he has online. But we brought Ken in this last year, and absolutely fantastic.

The problem with sport psychology is for every good one, there is three bad ones. So it is tough to find the right fit. And it is the right fit for your program, not necessarily because someone says it is a good sport psychologist, that you should utilize that person. But Ken was the absolute right fit for our program and just did a phenomenal job in helping our guys kind of stack the odds in their favor.

Training aspects
I think our training environment also helps. We are fortunate that we can be pretty narrow in our focus, in that it is a group of guys in the collegiate season moving towards a singular collegiate goal. But also a group of guys, as we get to the summertime, moving towards a singular goal. That has been very, very helpful. I will spend just a little bit more time talking about this. (I threw this in from Mike; he will probably recognize that movement.)

In terms of training environment, environment is where we kind of preach success. And we do not want that just to happen when they step on the pool deck; we want it to be in every aspect of things: classroom, sleep, nutrition, training, racing. Our guys take it maybe a little too far, in kind of the college mentality. You know, we preach success; we talk about wanting to win everything. What we mean by that is: if we go to a meet, if we spend time on a travel day where we are flying to a competition, we want to win that travel day. Meaning that we are doing everything right, in terms of getting to the bus on time, in terms of how we are fueling, if we are stretching in the airport; when we get to the airport how quickly are we out of there, how quickly are we to our hotel. How do we win that travel day?

So we talk about winning the day. Having college guys, they take that always a bit too far, where they try to win Saturday nights. And luckily that gets toned-down as we go through the college season. But we want to win each of these areas: classroom, sleep, nutrition, training, racing. Just everything that we do we want to win that day.

I think our rugby coach, Jack Clark, who has won 30 national titles as a rugby coach, talks about with his team in terms of winning the intervals. So winning the moments in-between when you are racing or when you are competing, for Rugby. He talks about winning the intervals, and I always like that idea.

For us, our training environment is one where we tailor the process. I talked a little bit about one of our seniors, in kind of creating an environment for him to be successful and then ultimately help our team be successful. Take a half-hour off practice, do some underwater filming; for him that was something that was very, very helpful. Helped our program, it helped him. I was not going to get much out of that thirty minutes with him, if he did not want to do it. So I was going to do something that… you know, if he is going to hold his breath and do a lot of underwater filming, it was going to work perfect for him.

Our older athletes, we try and build them through the quad. And having guys into their 30s, now, that are in our environment, just helping them work through a four-year process. And not trying to put a lot of emphasis on the early years in the quad, but just trying to have them work through it, is something that I have learned a lot through the last couple of years.

An environment where we foster patience. When we implement a change, we stick to it, we reinforce it. I get in a bad habit of where we get to the beginning of the year and I say okay this is something that we want to do. We are really good about doing it for about 4-5 weeks and then it slowly starts to the taper off. I have been better about putting those ideas and those things that we want to work on with our guys, putting it in a place where I get it to see it time and time again.

I work-through a workout book, a daily workout log, that covers a year. And so if there is something that we want to do throughout the course of the year that we feel like oh this is going to help our guys, I write it every Monday on my daily calendar, basically taking it through the end of December. So every week, I am writing it down: this is what we need to do, this is what we need to do. So it helps me just to reinforce an idea, and I want to stick to it as we go through it.

And I want to have an environment where we challenge our guys. We want to do things that are getting our guys outside of our comfort zone. And that is not just something that we say because it sounds good and it sounds really effective—yeah, hey we’re going to be tough, we’re going to get you outside of our comfort zone. But it does have some meaning to it.

I took a group, a small group, to Europe to race for three meets this past Summer, and it was primarily our group that went-on to go to Pan Pacs. It was challenging in that we wanted to kind of work-through travelling and getting-up and racing. I felt like that was what they were going to do when they got to the Pan Pac environment: going to Australia from LA and then trying to get adapted and race fast a week later. I wanted to kind of recreate that a little bit earlier in the Summer just to give them some confidence going through it. And to race some athletes that they may not see at the end of the Summer; so we will race some European athletes to learn something.

It was interesting to watch our guys in that dynamic, in that I think we have done a good job about creating curiosity amongst our swimmers. So they will be in the warm-up/warm-down pool asking guys about: what are you doing?, what’s that piece of equipment?, can I see that? And just kind of talking through some different things. That we have created some curiosity amongst our guys, through putting them through some challenging environments.

I know that I am just one person and one set of eyes. If I can have thirty guys on my team that are coaches, in a sense, that are trying to figure-out how to get better and they are going down that journey with me, it makes my job a lot easier. You know, I liked the way that Rick kind of talked about that with Kevin, and just sometimes you just need to shut and listen. I want to have that with our guys; I want to be in a spot where I can just shut-up and listen because of the situations that we have put them in and how we are challenging them through what they are doing.

Stepping back
We spend a lot of time re-evaluating our program at the end of each year. We want to make sure that if there are things that we could be doing better, that we are looking at those things. You know, I used the general word things, but for this year we kind of came-away… and really I have a bad habit of getting to meets and starting to kind of watch what other programs are doing at meets. And sometimes I do not necessarily stay focused on what our guys are doing because I am trying to figure out if there are programs/people/coaches that are doing things a little bit better at a meet.

One of the benefits that I think we have as college coaches is that we are allowed to go out on the road to recruit: to watch a practice, to watch great coaches work with their athletes. I end-up learning… that is my coach’s education. I end-up learning so much from that and taking that back to our program. I have heard many coaches say this in talks like this, that my team when I come back from being away for a couple of days, visiting a couple different programs, our team is ready for: oh my God, this is going to be a really hard practice because he just saw something at another program and he’s going to bring it back and just absolutely destroy us.

So there are a lot of things that happen in that regard. My education over the last 14 years has benefited from being allowed to go to so many different programs. I know USA Swimming has a program now where coaches can go and work with a mental coach—or whatever they are calling it. You know, I have been doing that for 14 years, and I still do it. You know, I am still allowed to go to decks and be mentored by great coaches that have great athletes.

Coming off at this year, specifically we wanted to change what we were doing from our recovery modalities. That everything from nutrition… I listed fuelling-up—that is more kind of pre-race work. But recovery modalities is anything from: massage, acupuncture, active release, nutrition, what our guys are putting in their bodies. I spent two weeks out in Europe, watching the Japanese team work with their athletes. And it was amazing just to watch the different folks, in the different specializations that they had, work with each of their athletes. It was really impressive to watch, and that kind of spurred my interest in going down that path.

From a fueling perspective, I want to make sure… I mean, we talked about to earlier: we are already in that mode of just kind of teaching our guys a little bit more. Rather than telling them, giving them the ability to learn about what they are putting in their bodies. How to make that; how to handle that. You know, outside of the three pounds of bacon with their chicken. We want to make sure that they have some good knowledge about what they are doing. That has been a real key for us; certainly being in a college environment.

We had a USOC [United States Olympic Committee] nutritionist come out and just really walk around our campus in about a half-mile radius around our campus, where we have a lot of different restaurants that our guys eat at. She just went through, took a look at the menu, and said, “Okay, if you’re going to go here, this is how you make these options healthier. This is how you do this.” And so our guys have a little cheat-sheet that they can always reference when they go into Chipotle; like how to get in and out of there in the most healthiest way. She knows, and we know, that we are not going to curtail that, but if we can have then make better decisions. In that, we are really looking that to happen, as we go through a fueling process.

Then a little more specificity in dryland, in terms of what we are doing. And I am not talking about the weight room: we might feel like we are doing a good job from that. But just things that we do… on the video, either Russell or Dave or Rocket had talked about finger-tips-to-toes line. We talk finger-tips-to-toes connectivity and just trying to make that a little more applicable in the different strokes and in their different specializations. So we are really kind of heading into that area for this year.

And that was re-evaluating what would be, you know, I guess considered, a successful year for us: we did well at the college level, we did well at Nationals. I remember when Anthony Ervin came back in the office a couple of weeks ago, and we were talking about Pan Pacs and talking Nationals. We spent probably about 45 minutes kind of downloading on what we can do better, and we kind of got to a point—I mean myself, Yuri and Anthony—where we all kind of took a collective sigh and just man, we’ve got to get better. And this is a young man that had a great Summer, at 30—however old he is now—32 years of age. But it was just like: there is so much to do, that we can really affect positively his performance or affect our team’s performance. We kind of sat back and said okay, let’s start getting to work for the coming year. And I think that is always good to do.

I think one of the areas that I have benefited from, even today, is giving presentations. If you have the opportunity to do that, do it, because it forces you to stop, think, evaluate what is important, and then be able to communicate that to a group. You can do that with your team, you can do that with your parents, you can do that with your alumni. But to stop for a second, put together a 45-minute/half-hour/hour presentation on hey, this is my program, this is how… this is what we’ve been doing. It really is helpful.

Even as I was going through this, there are things that I was like man, why do we get away from doing this? You know? That is my problem as a coach: there is something that we did three years ago that was really good. Just going back through my workout books, like man, why did we get away from doing this? This is something that was really successful. And presentations, when you present your program to a group, it forces you to think about that; it forces me to think about gosh, what the hell have I been doing for 14 years, you know. To be able to list that in a very short and concise way I think is extremely valuable and extremely important.

And then I always think this is huge—and Joel and I were just talking about this before I started—just literally having the time to step back and give everyone breaks. You know, sometimes we can just role from one season to the other, not only as coaches, but as coaches of athletes in that 18-22 year age frame. It is important to allow them to step back; it is important to allow them to step back even through the course of the season.

We get to a point in our season this Fall where we take what we call a Fall Break. I learned this from Teri [McKeever] and we started to implement this into our program. But literally just take about four days for our guys, no training. In fact we formalize it a little bit with our guys in that they are required to take what we call four-hour vacation—at least a four-hour vacation. I know that is not a lot of time. But I do want them to get out, I want them to see things; I want them to do something other than just stay in their dorm and study and play video games and watch TV and surf the internet. You know, that can be a little bit of their lives, at times; and so I want them to break-out of that. And I want them to tell me specifically what they are going to do to rest, rejuvenate, and then come back and re-plug-in the training.

Giving them that break, they can look forward to it. They can plan for it; it does not just kind of happen. We do that a little more often with our older athletes, that we will lay-out a longer six-week or six-month plan and show them times when they have four days off or five days off of their training where they can take a little vacation. We want them to do that. We want them to experience that, so they can come back in and feel refreshed and excited to approach training versus just having four days off where they are staying in their bed.

It has been extremely beneficial to do that at a meaty-part of our training cycle, just to let them to recover physically. I already kind of talked about mental aspect of that recovery. But it gives them that physical just kind of time away, and they can come back in and really attack the second half of the training cycle that we are going through in the Fall.

I talk a lot about that in terms of athletes, but also, it is great for coaches as well to have that break, to step away. We can get going from one thing to the other in the college realm: we kind of get rolling from a Summer season, into recruiting, into the Fall season, into the championship-meet season, and back into the Summer. Just having a plan where it is saying hey, I’m taking this week and I’m off and getting that down on the calendar; rather than… you know, see what comes up is a terrible way to go about it. Our guys get that and understand that, when there are times where hey, I’m taking a family vacation at this time or Yuri is taking a vacation at this time. It is listed on our calendar, so that our guys know and understand that we are getting a break just like we are allowing them to have a break.

I think it is important to plan that out, especially for me. In my life, in my world, having a wife and two kids, they know that okay this is my time where I’m focused in on them. I am not worrying about what is going on with our team, our guys. It is really, really important to do that.

You know, it just gets back to the saying that: it takes a village. There are so many different folks that we have associated with our program, that feel their association with our program. It is a staff of myself, Yuri, and Nort, and our strength coach Joel. But we have at least 25-30 massage therapists—I talked about the extern program—that feel a part of what we are doing. We have several PTs [physical therapists] that feel a part of what we are doing. I make it a point for our guys that have gone through swimming from 8 to 18 years of age, have gone through a club program, I make it important that they reach-out and reach-back to their club coaches to have them build a community around them.

For us, we talk about that idea a lot about building a community around. Whether it is an academic community, whether it is an athletic community, we want to make sure that you are building a group of fans around you, individually, that is helping you in times that are stressful. Whether it is getting to an Olympic Games or an Olympic Trials, just having that reassuring voice of someone that has been associated with your swimming for 10, 12 years, is hugely important—it is hugely important to them. We want to make sure that our guys are doing that, because that is… you know, it just gets back to that idea that they cannot have the success that they have without having a lot of people involved in that.

I want to make sure that there are appreciating that. They see that happening from us, as a coaching staff. Either myself or Yuri, they see us working through that. And I think it is important that they feel that and know that as they go through their swimming.

I ran through that pretty quickly, and I know I missed a couple of points. But I did want to get back to something that Kevin Cortes said which I thought was interesting—and that Dave kind of highlighted in the talk. Kevin talked about preparing for practice as a freshman; he just did not necessarily know how to do that, know how to work through that. I think that is always one of the challenges that we have in someone that is new to our program, is how to prepare for that. We work through a particular rhythm.

Typically our guys, you know, anywhere from sophomores, junior, seniors, or even older, have gone through it and know the rhythm. And our freshmen are coming in blind. It is not that they are not prepared; it is just they do not quite understand the rhythm of a college season. And for us, or at least for me, we just have to have a lot of patience with that. It is a huge challenge. You know, Rick DeMont talking about upping his game. When you have guys that come in at a very high level—whether it is a Josh Prenot or a Jacob Pebley or a Ryan Murphy—I really do feel like damn, I’ve got to up my game. And as these guys go-on to have success, you still have that idea of man, I’ve got to up my game. And so there is a level of patience that you have with that, but you are balancing that with the expectation that there should be results immediately as a freshman coming into a program.

I think our better successes are with some guys that are a little bit older in our program. As we get to learn a little bit of their nuisances, as we get to learn a little bit more about them, then we can kind of create a training plan specifically for them. But it is a hard thing that you have to balance that patience, I have to up my game, and we also have to make sure that we are having them experience success right off the bat.

(I think I am at 10:37, that gives me about five minutes, six minutes, to answer any questions that you may have. In the back?)

[audience member]: So you said that when you first got to Cal that you took time to figure out the situation for the six months. What was the first big change that you decided to make?

[Durden]: Not a whole lot. Having someone like Nort there… I mean, Nort and Mike [Bottom] did a great job in getting that program to where it was. I think probably the biggest thing that we did in the first… and I say we because I went through that first year with… it was myself and Nort—I did not have a full-time assistant coach. Which was helpful for me; I really kind of had to learn a lot of the different characteristics and then find the right fit for the person that was going to come in.

So the first thing that we had do is get our squads size down a little bit. And, you know, that was not a fun thing to do, to come in, because I did not want to feel like hey, this is…. But that was coming from our seniors, and they had said we need to cut this guy, this guy, this guy, this guy and that guy and that guy. And so it took a little while to kind of understand where they were coming from with that, but it was the right thing to kind of streamline what we were doing.

So that is not necessarily… I did not answer your question—I am sorry. That is not anything that I did; that was coming from our seniors. Something that I did… umm, yeah, not a whole lot; I mean, I just listened to them.

Is there another question? Sure?

[audience member]: When you were talking about all the massage therapists, you said somebody in your department walked around. Was that a staff trainer? A PT?

[Durden]: That is someone that we are trying to get hired-on to be a full-time massage therapist. But that is someone that we pay out of our budget, that travels with us, has a history with our guys, and works kind of on our guys along with the therapist. But he also arranges folks coming in, and you know we just get more bang for our buck with that. You know, not paying one massage therapist to work on one guy; paying one massage therapist to work on twelve guys.

Any other questions?

[audience member]: Earlier you mentioned that the alumni-aspect was about recognizing the importance of it, and now it is actually steamrolling into other projects, like at NCAAs all the guys that you have got there in the stands. What have you done personally just to make that more priority and make yourself more comfortable with that engagement.

[Durden]: Yeah, they just want to feel attachment. So rather than be reactive, just try and be proactive. We implemented the video series once-a-month, so they feel like they get access to me, get access to our program, without having them having to send an email—if you can imagine. I do not want to mischaracterize that as saying I don’t want our alumni emailing me; but I also realize that if I have a hundred emails coming-in that I have to respond to, I can easily be proactive and send out, you know, one little video and address all of our alum through that. And be a little more proactive than just trying to be reactive. Then, you know, just reach out and just keep doing it until it does start to snowball and start to move forward.

I think what has helped me be more comfortable is having just two alumni that I really kind of work with and say hey what do you need from me. You know, what does our group need to hear? And they are very respective of time; I mean they both have young children and get the time issue on it. So I think they are very, very respectful of that. So finding a couple of guys that are in a phase of life that are very similar to mine, that understand what is going on in my life and that are not asking too much of me in connecting with our alumni.

[audience member]: You talked a lot about nutrition and how it has played a bigger and bigger role in your program, through results in performance and recovery. With the new changes in the rules here and how you see what we can do, how has that changed your thinking? Is it going to change your approach to the road you are on?

[Durden]: Well that is the reason that we kind of have gone down this path a little bit more aggressively, with the loosening of the rules. You know we are not in a situation budgetary to provide all the meals for our guys. But can we provide the education for them? And I think one of the things that I appreciated about the class that we went through: it was tailored to our guys’ needs. We want it to be quick, we want it to be nutritious, and we want it to be cheap.

And I think in the first minute of our class, the chef kind of stood up and said, “Hey, listen, I’m going to show you how to cut zucchini.” And it was like why am I going to show you to cut zucchini because today I bought it for 39 cents a pound. And here are 15 things you can do with zucchini. At 39 cents a pound, you know it is cheap, it is nutritious, it is quick—10 minutes in the oven. I will show you these different things, and you are off and running.

That was how we structured that particular class. (I know I am not answering your question.) But I think things like that, the loosening of the rules has helped us to explore some different options. I think that would be the next piece, right; would be to kind of work with restaurants to see how we can create a very nutritious, healthy, cheap meal for our guys considering that we can feed them any hour of the day now.

[audience member]: As club coaches, we are in the development game; you are much more involved in the end-game. Do you have room in your program to take a project on? You know, a couple of spots open. As a coach you know what you are looking for. But to see/I will take a chance.

[Durden]: Sure. Right now with how our National Team, how our Olympic Team is moving, we are kind of in a developmental stage as well. We have had guys make a National Team for the first time and they are going into their senior year in school. And so, like to me, I feel like we are a developmental piece of that as well. Our projects are a little different, in that we have probably a little more tools to work with, initially. But there is still a project for us for a young man that comes-in and says hey I want to go from here to being on the National Team—you know, be one of the six guys on the U.S. National Team. That is a hard thing to do, and you have to have a level of patience with that, in kind of nurturing that along.

But more specifically, in the recruiting process, I think it just depends on the cycle—everything is kind of cyclical. You know, if we are in a spot where we happen to have just times on a page, talent coming-in, that kind of fills-up our roster, so to speak; then no, in that particular recruiting cycle we are not going to have the space for a project. But if we are in a spot where it is like yes we feel like we have a couple spots to bring in a freshman, then yes; then we can say okay, yeah, we can bring in this particular project because there are things that we see that that we like that can translate to NCAA Swimming or translate to beyond.

It is tough, you know, to kind of look at that and look through a crystal ball, and see how this person is going to be. That is why, kind of, I always say hey we’re just trying to stack the odds in your favor; you know, to be better. It is not: because you come here, you are going to be fast. We are just going to try and stack those odds in your favor as best we can. And still, when you step-up on the blocks, it is just you in that lane, so there has to be a level of confidence that everything that we have done has put the odds that hey, there’s probability that this is going to be a pretty good swim.


[audience member]: What areas did Ken Ravizza make an impact in?

[Durden]: Just our team dynamic and confidence. Our 18-22 year-old guys, they still… even as good as they may be, still struggle with confidence. Really just kind of hammering that point home. His big thing, his big kind of idea now, is have a good shitty day—that is kind of his phrase. I think probably the most important thing that he said… and he is a good presenter, he can capture the room.

But one of the things that he said—and pardon the language, but if you have been around Ken, he is kind of free speaking. But he kind of captured their attention at one point, in the room. It was almost as if he was talking to everybody individually, but he just kind of pointed at them and said, “Are you that shitty that you have to feel good in order to swim fast?” It just kind of paused the room for a second, and then he asked them again. “Are you that shitty that you have to feel good in order to swim fast?” And all the guys were like, no, I’m not shitty, you know. That was like a very impactful thing for them to get past that idea of everything having to be perfect and I feel great, I’m going to swim fast. So we talk about that with our guys; we kind of revisit that with our guys pretty often.

Anything else? Awesome. Thank you very much, I appreciate it.

##### asca #####

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Sponsorship & Partnerships

Official Sponsors and Partners of the American Swimming Coaches Association

Join Our Mailing List

Subscribe and get the latest Swimming Coach news