Dr. Keith Bell is recognized internationally as the preeminent sports psychologist in the swimming world. He has worked with more than 400 swimming teams including U.S., Canadian, Australian, New Zealand, and Hong Kong National and Olympic teams. Dr. Bell is the author of 8 books on sports psychology. Look for: The Swim to Win Playbook; What It Takes: The ABC’s of Excelling; The Nuts and Bolts of Psychology for Swimmers; Winning Isn’t Normal; You Only Feel Wet When You’re Out of theWater; Championship Sports Psychology; and Coaching Excellence.
I am sometimes too soft spoken. A great voice for relaxation training and for hypnosis doesn’t make it sometimes in the pool with eighty kids screaming. I thought I printed this big enough so I could read my notes, I think I’ll use my glasses anyway. John asked me to come give a couple talks and he told me that I could talk about whatever I wanted, but he suggested that perhaps that I talk about some of my work with the Canadian National team, maybe because I did so well this past year. I thought maybe I’d talk about one aspect of my work with the National team that seemed important in helping them get clear on getting psyched to win and then I’d like to talk about what I think maybe is a little more appropriate in that area.
This on going work with the Pacific Dolphins which is Canada’s premier program. They just put eleven swimmers on their Olympic team, I guess their entire Olympic team is 39 something and 2 coaches. It’s hard to separate out the work I’ve been doing with one with the other. I ask you to be patient with me because I want to start with the assertion that may seem just blatantly obvious to you or hopefully as blatantly obvious to you as it seems to me but some of you may think it’s incorrect, I don’t know.
I want to assert to you that the object of the game is to win. The object of any swimming event is to win, the object of any race is to win. I think you have to be clear on that concept before we go forward. Now, you can look it up in your Funk and Wagnels, I did, well, actually I looked it up in Random House, win is defined is to finish first in a race or contest or the like. When I looked up race I found it was defined as a contest of speed. When I looked up contest, I wanted to be straight on all my terms, didn’t want there to be any doubt in what we were talking about. When I looked up contest it was defined as a struggle for victory of superiority. So I had to look up victory which is defined as the ultimate in decisive superiority in any battle or contest. Superiority is defined as the quality or condition of being superior, so I had to look up superior. Superior is defined as above the average in excellence or higher in place or position, now that sounded relevant to me in swimming.
It seemed to me as such that the ultimate in superiority would be the highest place or position or to me in a swimming race this would be first, to win. While extending my quest for clarity on the terms we used I looked up excellence, which is a term I use all the time, but, I thought I better look it up. It’s defined as the fact or state of excelling or superiority. Excelling was defined as outdoing. I figure I better look up competition, and I found it is defined as the act of competing for supremacy . To compete is defined to contend with another for acknowledgment, a prize, supremacy, a profit, etc. or to strive or outdo or excel. Supremacy is defined as the act or state of being supreme. Supreme is defined as the highest in rank or the greatest, utmost, or extreme.
Stay with me I’ll get there. It seems silly to me at the time you know, but it seemed important. I thought I better look up the meaning of the word gain, since I continually assert that the object of the game is to win. I found that the meaning of the word gain in the dictionary is defined as a competitive activity involving skill or chance or endurance on the part of two or more persons who play according to a set of rules. O.K. while I suspected that some of you would assert that swimming isn’t game it’s a sport, so I thought I better look up sport. A sport is defined as an athletic activity requiring skill or physical prowess in often of a competitive nature and since the particular sport in which we’re interested in is competitive swimming I looked up competitive, which is defined as of pertaining to involving or decided by competition. Swimming is defined as the sport or a contest based on the ability to swim.
O.K. but what’s the nature of the contest based on the ability to swim? Remember a contest is defined as a struggle for victory or superiority. In swimming the contest is a race which was defined as a contest of speed. The swimming contest or the struggle for victory or superiority is the struggle to establish the utmost supremacy and speed which to mind would be the fastest. Now I wanted to be sure so I looked up fastest. I found that referring to one who demonstrates superiority in moving quickly. I think which brings us back to what we already knew that the object of a swimming race is to see who can swim some specified stroke, some particular distance the fastest. The object of the game is to win.
Well, any game I’ve ever played, I’ve been able to open up the box if it’s a board game or anything else and get the rule book and the first thing that hits me in the face when I look for the instruction is the object of the game, and there is some definition of how you win in the game. So I thought I’d go to the source here. Since the object of the game is to win I thought I’d head for the rule book and confirm this, it seemed obvious to me that the object of the game is to win and the winner in a swimming race is the person who swims some specific stroke some particular distance the fastest. I couldn’t find it in the rule book. USA Swimming Book of Rules and Regulations defines a race as any swimming competition. But I found it strange, I’m really hard pressed to find any mention of the word win in any of it’s form in swimming rules in either the FINA Handbook or the USA Swimming Book or Rules and Regulation. There is a brief determination of the order of finish by the integration of official times or by judges but, I can’t find anywhere where it specifies what the order of finish would be used would be used for. Worst of all, there doesn’t seem to be any explicit mention of how a winner would be determined. The FINA Handbook does provide that times recorded by automatic equipment shall be used to determine the winner. In the USA Swimming Rules and Regulations it does suggest that at least in timed finals places shall be determined on a time basis. I guess it’s assumed that the winner will be the swimmer for whom the fastest time is recorded — at least we act as though that’s the criteria, but, I can’t find it anywhere in the rule book.
The section on the rule book for long distance swimming doesn’t address the issue for the quarter mile straightaway or for the open water distance races but it does for the time distance event, the one hour swim for distance and now I find that wonderful. It explicitly states that the object of the event is to determine who can swim the greatest distance in the given time period. The person swimming the fastest or the farthest shall be declared the winner. It actually mentioned that word. The person swimming the second greatest distance shall be awarded second place, etc.
Now the FINA Handbook is pretty clear in diving, eminently clear, in diving the rule clearly states the winner of the competition is the diver who obtains the greatest number of points. The rules for most games specify how one wins and how the winner is determined, the rule book in our case doesn’t. I mean we have all these rules for swimming, but no object for the game, no way of determining the swimmer as specified. I think we all assume how we do it. At least we act as if we do. But the rule book is funny, it even specifies what the swimmer must do at the finish. But, it doesn’t specify what constitutes the finish of a race, except in the freestyle and the individual medley. In the butterfly, backstroke and the breaststroke it doesn’t say, I’m not sure you have to swim the whole distance in those events.
In freestyle and individual medley it says the swimmer shall finish the race when any part of his or her person touches the wall after swimming the prescribed distance, it doesn’t say that in fly, back or breaststroke. Maybe you don’t have to swim the whole way. Now I guess if you want to set a world record you do, because FINA is clear about that, but other than that, I don’t know. I can’t find any reference to the determination of a winner or of places or what’s considered winning. There is a couple places where it specifies what to do about a tie or at least in terms of giving awards, but it doesn’t say who gets the awards.
Now I think it’s a problem, and maybe, maybe not, I mean it’s ridiculous right, we know what a race is, we know who wins, I think. I think if the rule book said that the object of the race was to complete the prescribed distance according to the rules for the specified stroke in the fastest time and then maybe it’d be clear what the object of the game was to win and that one would win by swimming faster by anyone else in the event. And now, I mean, I guess it’s stupid and it would be ludicrous, but I think you could argue since winning hasn’t really been clearly defined in the rule book, that as long as we somehow factor in times determined by the automatic equipment, you could say that one wins if he swims the fifth fastest time, or maybe takes the fourth fewest number of strokes, breathes three times fewer than the last time he swam or any other criteria that we chose to make up. I guess we can even assert that the swimmer who had a best time, tried hard, had fun, participated, suited up, did the best he could and so on is the winner. It seems like we do that sometimes and I think that’s the problem.
I remember when I was a kid, I’m at practice one day and I was, I was probably only nine or ten years old, but we had three guys stand up to race. One of them was a young man at the time, named Jed Graph, who is a Hall of Fame Swimmer who won the 200 meter backstroke in world record time in 1964, another guy was a guy named Rick Gerdler, who they didn’t have world records in those days for short course meters, but he held the fastest 100 meter freestyle timed short course meter in the world at the time. Another guy was a guy named Dick McDonna who was the American record holder in the fly and the freestyle. And here was these three swimmers getting up to race and they raced in our 50 yard course in the lake.
They raced to see who could cover 50 yards the slowest, and the only rule was that you had to keep moving forward. And, I think Jed won, and I think the others gave up eventually, but Jed won in about twenty minutes. But, I don’t think that’s what this sport is all about.
I think it’s pretty obvious what we’re doing here, but, sometimes it’s not. I think, this all brings me right back, I think that the object of any game or sport is to win and the goal of any swimming race is to win. Now I know to win may not be why someone plays or even a swimmer’s goal for a particular race but it is the goal of the game. The object of the race is to win. I state that and went through all that nonsense and I know it’s nonsense, I went through all that nonsense, because, although it seems obvious to me, I think an awful lot of swimmers are fuzzy on the concept, and I think it’s a problem.
My first staff meeting with the Canadian National Team and in many subsequent meetings afterwards, I took issue with repeated suggestions that the goal was to get swimmers on the podium, and they were talking about getting swimmers on the podium. The sport scientists were talking about doing what we could to get swimmers on the podium. We had that issue come up in Scotland at that meeting. I repeatedly suggested that we ought to be looking to win not to place or show. In my mind, although, medaling in an International competition is a great accomplishment something to be applauded and celebrated, especially when fielding a team from the least densely populated country in the world, I still think it’s better to shoot to win.
And, heck if you shoot to win and miss your more likely to be in the medals anyway. But, to my astonishment, that took issue with that, and we fought a lot of hard battles on that, we had many long intense conversations about the issue. One day I was working with the Canadian National Team in preparation for Pan Ams and Pan Pacs and I started one of my presentations by casually mentioning, I wasn’t even going to talk about this point at all, but just on my way to making a point I casually mentioned that the object of the game was to win, and before I could finish getting that sentence out of my mouth, three hands went up to argue with me. Now these are three of the best swimmers in the world, and their arguing on the very point that the object of the game is to win. I was debating it with them.
They wanted to suggest that the goal was to do their best. Do their best at what, I’m not sure I understood, and I never made it through my planned presentation that day. I pounded away getting them to understand that the goal of a race is to win. We followed it up with individual meetings, consultations with staff, much more discussion, I’m not sure they totally got it, but they got a lot of headway. Although they did win thirteen gold medals at Pan Ams that year, seven more than they ever won before and beat the United States for the first time ever, in swimming in Pan Am’s.
Now I don’t want to suggest that they won thirteen gold medals because of my work with them, although if they want to suggest that I would be pleased to accept that, no, but I do think I helped them to get some things out of the way that enabled them to do what they wanted to do. They had some great coaching, they did some really good work on the National level, Dave Johnson and his staff did some excellent work to get them going. Coaches like Tom Johnson, Jan Bitterman, Dean Bowles, Michelle Veruby, did some really great work but, I think they wouldn’t have got it unless they got it, that the object is to win.
That concept is tremendously important and I think we forget, we forget day to day and some of the swimmers don’t know, they just don’t get it. They’re fuzzy on the concept. Some of the times we’re fuzzy on the concept cause we’re afraid. Afraid to commit ourselves to win when we might not win. And I don’t think we get the idea, that, although the object of the game is to win, it may not be why we play, or although we play for many, many reasons, the object of the game is to win. I think that the basis of the concept is paramount to performance, I think there is far to much substandard performance attributable to the avoidance of the acknowledgment that the object of the game is to win. And that at least one of the goals ought to be to win.
Now some of you might want to argue with me, some of the Canadian swimmers certainly did, and they didn’t get it. I suspect mostly they didn’t get it as I mentioned cause they’re afraid. They wanted to protect themselves. But, I think they get it now.
You know I had a brief discussion with a sports scientist in Hong Kong at the World Championships last year. She wanted to tell me that winning wasn’t really important, just wasn’t important. She wanted to tell me that participation and social aspects were much more important, in fact, when she played tennis in college that is what it was all about for her, a social thing. It really didn’t matter whether she won or not. But I think she didn’t get it. I wondered what she was doing there at the World Championships in Hong Kong, cause it seemed to me that what we were doing there was we were contesting World Championship titles by seeing who could swim the fastest in each event, see who would win each event.
She seemed to think it was really important with young children that we focus on participation and that we focus on some social aspect. But I got to thinking about that and I always wonder about participation in what, what is it we’re participating in? I mean to me it’s swimming, I think swimming was defined as that sport contesting the ability to swim and race, speed.
I got to thinking about teaching chess, how do you teach chess, how can you teach young kids to play chess? Can you give them the board, give them the pieces, explain to them how each piece move and tell them to go have fun? What would they do, there would be no way to play the game, there would be no object to the game, they’d get board very quickly, or at the very least, probably what would happen, kids are pretty good, probably what would happen is they’d figure out, they’d make some rules, they’d define what the object of the game was and how someone’s gonna win.
They do that all the time, I mean you give them some bottle caps to play with and their going to figure out a contest and see who can win, they’ll start tossing them against the wall, see who can get them closest to the wall, and they’d be betting on it, throwing those hundred dollar bills down and figuring it out, it’s fun, it’s fun to contest some skill. But it has to have an object or they would lose interest. Kids will be creative, unless, unless we have some idea about what the object of the game is, and in every game, the goal is structured to lead to victory to achieve some goal, at least that’s the object of the game.
Unless we have that someone’s gonna get confused about what he is doing and the best way to play. If he isn’t clear on the concept or the object of the game is to win, and at least one of his goals should be to win, he’s not going to do it well.
Now one of the problems we have in swimming is we lose focus of that concept in practice many times. The kids at least don’t get it, you get it, but you may not remember to tell them often enough. Partly because you want to keep them having fun and partly because you want to keep them interested and partly because in our society we just got tremendous pressure to not make them feel bad, so we have to console them if they don’t do well, we can’t compare anybody to anybody else because someone might actually perform better than someone else, god that would be terrible. Good thing it doesn’t work that way in industry. We’d be poor.
What you know, practice is all about finding a way to win. Right. Finding a way to win is what we do, it may not be why we do it, but it’s what we do, or at least it is when we’re going about it the right way. When you teach stroke technique, you don’t teach the techniques that you think would look the prettiest, I think Paul was just demonstrating that. You teach the stroke techniques that will produce faster swimming in the long run with the idea that you win. Don’t we design swimming to increase stamina and power in order to increase swimming fastest, get people to swim the fastest. The best strokes the one that produce the greatest speed. I mean aren’t we, everything we do in practice, isn’t it designed to strive for the ultimate and decisive superiority and swimming speed, don’t we want our swimmers to train and race to win?
O.K., so I asked you to be patient with me, I wasn’t kidding, as Rain Halion, I don’t know if you know who Rain Halion is, he is a biochemist who is just great, but he said in our staff meeting at the conclusion of one of the staff meetings and when we finally got this I think with the Canadian National Team, he said O.K. now we have established velocity. And that is sort of how I feel now, we have established velocity. Now maybe I can talk about getting psyched to win.
I’ve been privileged to work with the Pacific Dolphins, a team in Vancouver British Columbia over the course of about six years right now. Besides the fact that the coaches and the swimmers are a wonderful group to work with they are so much fun to work with, just a great group of persons, but, they are also committed to what we are doing. Fortunately for me they believe in what I have to offer and they’ve incorporated the philosophy and the techniques significantly in what we do. So it’s been made a very large part of their programs and I thought I’d like to use that as an example.
A lot of the things we’ve done in that program are examples to talk to you about getting psyched to win. Paul said earlier in his talk that you can’t just have a sports psychologist come in for the weekend and expect your kids to be confident after that, it’s a constant process and it is constant, you know hopefully, you bring me in for a weekend I’ll do a lot, teach them a lot of skills and stuff, but, you gotta stay on it all the time, it’s constant, and they do, they live it.
Now I know you and I can both cite names of athletes who don’t appear any deliberate attention to psychological preparation. And we will always have genetically superior athletes who thrive on most any program doing most anything, you’ll see that from time to time. But, you know I think it’s going away a little bit, and I think it’s going away in swimming. I think swimming is going to see more and more athletes and I think we’re seeing some now, but more and more athletes, like you can point to in some other sports, like Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods, athletes who excel because they combine superior genetics gifts and acquire talent with relentless complete detailed preparation. They train better than anyone else and they are constant at it and they know what they’re doing and they know why they’re doing it, they know they’re doing it to demolish the competition, to win.
Getting psyched to win begins with getting clear on the concept, understanding that the object of the game is to win, understanding, having an explicit mission statement that fits with the inherit nature of the sport. I think if you have a mission statement on your team that talks about building character and participation and some things that, which we all think are wonderful things and they are but, you fail to mention winning or the pursuit of victory or the pursuit of excellence, your not clear on the concept and it makes it really tough to do it well. I think you have to have an explicit mission statement that incorporates, that fits with the inherit nature of competitive swimming, and then set policies, guidelines, boundaries and goals that support that purpose.
Getting psyched to win begins with deciding and wanting to win and to want it passionately and helping your athletes decide the same. It is with deciding to relentlessly pursue victory with great commitment and resolve, it’s constant it should be part of everything you do and as Paul said earlier it ought to be fun and I think it is more fun when your focused that way. Getting psyched to win is bolstered by deciding to enjoy the quest for victory, but, enjoying the quest for victory, enjoying striving for excellence, not having fun at the expense of that, that’s different. We get confused sometimes the kids certainly do.
Getting psyched to win requires constant reminders of the mission and constant attention and monitoring that every action is consistent with the quest for victory, or gets redirected to the purpose when behavior is off tract. I think your mission, policies, guidelines, boundaries and goals are the points for reference for everything. I do a lot work with the Dolphins where we do staff meetings, and we go around and we talk about every athlete, one at a time. We talk about whether they’re making progress, whether they’re having conflicts, whether they’re having fun, whether they feel lost, what we need to do to get them going. But, the standard against which that is measured, is the mission, the pursuit of excellence.
If what they’re doing is consistent with the pursuit of excellence then they’re not having any problems, if they’re having problems well we’re looking, why? Where are they failing to pursue excellence, if they’re having any conflicts somebody’s off track, somebody is not moving in the same direction. All we need to do is take a look at the policies, take a look at the mission and see what is going on and say does this fit with what the policy is, if it’s not, there is the answer and it is amazing how well that works but its constantly checking that. If something doesn’t feel right its cause someone is off track. Then its easy to suggest solutions for getting them back on track.
Paul was talking about you have to swim fast, swim fast, of course you have to swim fast to swim fast and you don’t always get that. Talking about simulation, I’m going to show you some simulation we’ve done in a few minutes here, I think it is really important to be simulating winning, getting there. We’ll do it all sorts of ways, we’ve been in the water for example we’ve been working on, I have a swimmer named Mark Johnson, what about 1:49 200 meter freestyle, pretty good freestyler, 3:51 a little bit behind the world record, but it is a respectable swim in the 400. He is one heck of a great competitor, he loves to race and boy is he tough when he races, not quite as tough when he’s behind. He likes to get out front, force that pace and go, so that’s the solution, you put them behind and you let them race, you simulate. Some of them have trouble out front, some of them have trouble behind, some of them I can think of one great swimmer who won a couple events at Pan Pacs needed some work on being in the pack and staying with it right in the pack, instead of being out front, finding a way to win when you’re in a pack. But, you don’t do that unless your finding a way to win.
With the Dolphins, we provide everyone with mission statements, policies, guidelines, boundaries and goals in writing. Parents, staff members, swimmers, swimmers are asked to take them out frequently and read them and talk about them, refer to them constantly, look at the behaviors compared to them, and make sure everyone is acting consistently with them with no exceptions. All right, well is everyone perfect, no, never, but when I say no exceptions you mean don’t let it slide by. Constantly remind swimmers of their purpose, remind them to stay at tentative to the purpose and to check to make sure their action is consistent with purpose and remind them that they are responsible for their faith, they’re responsible for finding a way to win, you are an expert resource person, that is what your job is, you’re an expert in swimming, you’re the expert resource person, they have to do it, you’re just their resource. We expect them to take care of it with each other and the program and make sure it works for everyone.
Getting psyched to win requires constant attention to striving to win, they get lost in their routine, they gotta make a connection between what they are doing and its long term affect. They fail to understand the collective nature of training. They don’t see how this one swim, this one repeat, this one pull set that you’re asking them to do, how well they do that is going to make a difference of whether they win the Olympics or not and you know what, it doesn’t. But it makes as much of a difference as any other thing they do. They add up and they add up quickly. It’s the collective nature of training and they don’t get that, its hard for them to get that, unless they are focused each day, unless you can find a way to constantly bring their attention on striving to win. We need to remind them.
Getting psyched to win is aided by constructing and maintaining an environment that is conducive to the pursuit of swimming excellence, the policies, guidelines and boundaries all are directed at creating and protecting such an environment, where excellence in swimming to win are valued and the pursuit of victory, speed and excellence are the standard against the appropriateness of everything is measured.
I think one of the most important things and a couple of years ago I guess I spoke about them, one of the most important things we’ve done with the Dolphins and subsequently introduced them to the National Team as a no grief policy, no grief, no barbs, no cutting each other down, no good natured grief, I don’t think that there’s anything good natured about grief. The one thing I’m pretty sure of, is that there is nothing about anyone giving anyone else grief that support the pursuit of excellence, and I think that there is much about it that creates an environment non- conducive to the pursuit of swimming excellence.
But a no grief policy requires constant attention. That’s the way people relate to each other and they have fun doing it. Some people that’s the only way they know to relate to each other but we’re looking to do something a little better than everyone else, to win that’s what’s different, and I think paying attention to that not letting anybody give anybody grief is an investment that pays rich performance and enjoyment dividends. Hopefully you’re the one that models that the best.
We got in a National Team situation and along the same lines I question the appropriateness of rookie night and other rights of initiation for the National Team. Dave and I have had some long conversations about it, cause I had a pretty rich history of rookie night on the National Team and some really fun things that they do and funny things. But I think that we came to the conclusion that such activities had nothing to do with pursuing victory and decided to eliminate them.
I think getting psyched to win requires knowing what game you came to play. There are a lot of fun things to do, a lot of good things to do and they have some benefits and they have some uses, but do they work for what you came there to do. Kids forget that, they go to Nationals, they train all year to make Nationals, they’re focused on winning Nationals and they go to Nationals and all of the sudden its time to party, they forgot what they’re there for. All they do is chase men or chase women, you know. I know its tough when your running around with all those good looking bodies running around naked to remember what game your playing, but, that’s not the one your playing.
O.K. this is a sales pitch, well it is and it isn’t. All of you hopefully got flyers on this, but, one of the things we do with the Dolphins, I actually wrote this book because of what we are trying to do, but, the Swim to Win Play Book is a book of gains and exercises and design to foster psychological appropriation, we did it for a lot of reasons, one is to keep them tentative to what they are doing. One is to make sure everybody is on the same page and to catch people up as they come into the program, so you don’t have to do the same thing a hundred times with everybody. But, it doesn’t matter if you use this tool, or if you have another tool you can find, but I think it is important that you maintain constant attention to keeping them on tract.
We use the play book for that, we use the play book and goals. Every swimmer on the Pacific Dolphins is provided with and billed for the swim to win play book and they are all encouraged to play on their own and to play frequently, but we limited the play with it too. Because one of the main purposes just keep them constantly on tract, so if they play for twenty minutes a week they are accomplishing a tremendous amount. I don’t like them to do much more than that. I had one team that was working with the play book and I asked the coach, he bought a play book for everybody on the team and they were sitting down once a week to use the play book and they started in the Fall and I saw them at a meet in February and I asked them how it was going, and he said, oh god its great, they love it and we’re doing some great things, but he says I don’t know how we’re going to finish by the end of the year, and I thought, oh my god, the idea isn’t to finish by the end of the year, the idea isn’t to finish, it’s a continuing process, over and over and over again. So we don’t worry about speed there, we worry about having fun with it and staying on track and doing things that are going to help us to win.
Swimmers are given suggestions to play particular games for their current situations and we use the play book together in sessions once a week, yes when I’m not there they do it and I don’t live in Vancouver, Canada, British Columbia, I live in Austin, Texas, so I get up there a few times a year, but they play with it every week. When I’m there I work together with it in sessions and then the great thing I get to peruse what they’ve done when I’m not there, I pick up their play books and I learn so much about them what their writing, the coaches learn so much about them, from what they are writing in the games, where they get it and where they don’t get it, what they’re doing and what they’re not doing and sometimes they confess, which is interesting too.
Most weeks team has a designated time for structured play book play, as part of practice, we make it mandatory that it’s fun, if they can’t make it fun I don’t want them doing it, that’s the rule you make it fun. It teaches skills, it directs psychological preparation and it just keeps them on track. There are some really good games in there that help with some things that I think are tremendously important in getting psyched to win. One is a game called road map. One of the problems with swimmers training well and staying on track to getting psyched to win is they may know where they want to go but they have a hard time seeing that they can actually get there, so the game starts with the goal of wanting to win the Olympics in world record time, and we don’t force them to have that goal but we suggest that, that’s a good goal and then we take a look at where they stand right now and what their time is in that event and we have them draw a road map of how long its going to take to get there, what kind of steps they need to take and when they see that and then see that this is possible, I can take a step that big and I can do another one and if that doesn’t get me there by 2004, well I can get there by 2008 by doing it this way and it makes a huge difference.
We use that then to set weekly goals and I hear so much talk about goal setting and I see people setting goals for the end of the season, and goals for the end of the season are great, but the most important goals that you ought to be setting are the ones for today and this week. We ask them to write three goals for every week. We allow them to write more, but we don’t like them to write to many more, because if they do three every week, they are going to accomplish a tremendous amount, so they write out their goals, I think its important that they write them out, because then they need to be worded well and because then its more of a commitment and they get more clear on the concept and we give them. On of the pages in the play book is a list of the qualities of good goals, so they check them against the qualities of good goals and they make sure their in the right form and they come in on every Monday, they have a gold card, they write their goals on the gold card and they get taped up on the wall. One of the interesting things is, sometime during that day usually, but, during the next couple of days, you watch all the swimmers go up and read everyone else’s goals, one at a time, we don’t ask them to do it, but, they learn from it, they get ideas and they are able to help each other, the coaches look at them and they get some ideas and where they are going and whether their on track and the coaches pay a lot of attention then to making sure that the swimmers are reaching those goals, if the goals aren’t any good, the coaches get, or if I’m around, I’ll take them down, or the coaches will take them down and we’ll look at them and give them back, make some suggestions and ask them to come back with some goals, you know to re-work them. It’s not a punitive thing, just like a stroke correction.
I’m a great believer in little things, extra things, something I call jump starts, a game in the swimming play book called jump starts and one called seize the moment, that we play a lot. I think winning is about doing something different than everyone else, daring to act differently, you can’t act the same and win, you act the same, you perform mediocre. Its about doing extra things, doing better things, paying attention to the little details. Jump start game is just about doing one extra thing every day in order to get a jump on the competition.
Seize the moment game is about looking for opportunities that pop up and jumping on them, when other people let them slide. I think a large part of getting psyched to win is learning how to assert yourself, that its O.K. to win. In the Swim to Win play book what I did was I wrote all these games and I wrote play sheets for each game and I wrote examples for everyone and then I gave it to Sandy Nielson and to, well it was easy to find her and to Amy Van Dyken and Josh Davis and they played through and using my examples, they wrote play through the games and wrote out the play sheets and then I took their examples and substituted a lot of those for mine.
We pay a lot of attention to self talk and the kinds of things their saying to us and asserting yourself, and I think one of the great words in the swimming race that ought to be bouncing around in peoples head is mine, mine. That is tough, because we’re taught to share, and sharing is great but, you can’t share that victory, you don’t want to share that victory, you want to take it, it needs to be mine. It was really fun for me to read in the paper, after world championships, that’s the long course world championships last year, a quote from Amy who did a great example of that in the book, but talking about in the 50, that she didn’t feel quite right she wasn’t quite right on her start, was a little bit behind and just couldn’t quite get it going and she shouted at herself while she was swimming mine, mine, mine and she managed to make it mine and she finished in first place.
I think they have to feel like it’s O.K to win and its O.K. to win and they’ve got the right to go after it and they go after it viciously, not viciously at the expense at, viciously is not a good word, not viciously at the expense of anyone else, but just with great determination and vigor. Respecting the worthy opponent enough to know that makes for a great game and that the other person has a right to go after it to, but I’m going to take it.
We play some games, the team really enjoys playing a game called repackaging, which is just some assertiveness training stuff. I don’t know if you get a feel for it, but it’s a matter of years, its not a matter of jumping in the day before and getting them psyched, getting psyched to win is about preparation, its about doing things day to day, constantly at tentative to what your purpose is, knowing what your purpose is, paying attention to it, assuring that the action is consistent with the purpose. We work on it weekly, daily, in each set, constantly in the way we talk to each and the things we are thinking about and understanding about where we are going.
A really fun moment for me was when the Pacific Dolphins won the National Championship in Canada for the first time a few years back, they won the men’s and the women’s titles, which was one of their goals, and they were feeling pretty good about it and I was pleased that they won and felt honored to be part of that process. But, we are coming away from Nationals after Nationals and they’re going back to Canada, to Vancouver and I’m going back to Austin, so Tom, the coach there asked me what time my plane is, I forget, it was six o’clock in the morning or something like that and he said, oh god, I’d love to take you to the airport but, I’m going to be up late, making sure curfew with some of the young ones and all this kind of stuff, and maybe, I’ll arrange for you to take the shuttle and I said no you gotta drive me to the airport, and he said no really, I gotta do this stuff and I gotta get everybody ready to do our thing, and I said no you gotta drive me to the airport, he said O.K.
But, I thought we had to process it, and on the way to the airport, we talked about it, we talked about, O.K. we won Nationals, we won well, we feel really good about it O.K. now where are we going, now we need to do it on the International level, its understanding where you going, its understanding what its about and they are getting there, you got Mike Mentanco going 52:08 at the Canadian Nationals 100 meter fly, he’s in the running, you got Jessica Glau, who is 2:09, 200 meter fly, she is in the running, they got a bunch of people that are looking and moving toward winning. O.K. we spent years working on this stuff, and we get to training camp before Olympic trials and we want to get them psyched to win.
It was wonderful listening to the speaker this morning. Wayne Goldsmith did a great job talking about what the Australians did out there, but, he was talking about doing some of the simulations and stuff it was a nice quote from one of the swimmers about handling being in a foreign country and eating at different times and stuff and that what we think it’s all about, we spent so much time on managing the environment. We want people getting their meals adjusted, their sleep habits adjusted to the time zone they’re going to be at, we want to know, down to things like when they march out do you want to get, on the Pacific Dolphins some of the guys like to give each other elbows when they go past the team, but not everybody likes that, so we want to know who wants that, who doesn’t, do you really want it in this situation, how do you want to handle it, when are you going to eat, how are you going to ride over there, what happens if you miss the van, what happens if the van gets caught in traffic.
One of the girls on the team of the Common Wealth games, no it was trials for Common Wealth games, qualified first, first time in a National competition, she gets up to swim and the defending champion walks up and she is ready to wish her good luck before the race and she sticks her hand out to wish the defending champion luck before the race and the defending champion looks at her and says your nipples are showing. People are going to play games, are they prepared for that. Things, unexpected things are going to happen, at Canadian Nationals last year a National team member who was not at Nationals and was having some struggles with some other things got in a car accident and died and I will tell you that her teammates had a tough time with it. They found out in the middle of the National Championship, how do you handle that, are you ready for that, I don’t know if any of us are ever ready for that, but, you gotta expect the unexpected.
Work on a game called calendar, get things ready in time, game called packing list, nothing worse than getting there and you forgetting your goggles, or whatever else, oh they will have Speedo’s there or Tyr’s there or Arena’s there or somebody to give you some, but the stuff makes the difference.
We spent a lot of time on a game called game plan. Because we want the athlete to know what he’s trying to accomplish, how many strokes he is going take, at what kind of velocity, what he is thinking, and step on the 600 of the 1500 not just how he’s going to take it out and what he’s gonna do on the last lap. We worked and reworked pre-race plans and detailed race plans, wrote them out, talked about them, shared them, got different ideas from different swimmers, especially from some of the more experienced swimmers, going over them with coaches, re-worked them, rehearsed them. Even had a blast doing the dress rehearsal.
When we were in Hawaii for training camp, and, he’s looking good isn’t he, I don’t know if any of you have ever been to Lahaina, there is a really nice pool, what we did is one morning we set up, I had done this with, I was sport psychologist for New Zealand in the common wealth games back in the 1990’s and we did a lot of this same stuff and one of the things we did, we were fortunate, we were in training camp in New Zealand and the games were in New Zealand in Auckland, we were in training camp and one day I said to the coach let’s go over to the pool and let’s practice and we managed to get the person who was going to be the announcer at the common wealth games, to show up that morning, we got some officials to show up, we got a little bit of a crowd but not a great crowd, but we asked all the swimmers to get people they new out there and stuff like that, and we practiced. We practiced marching down the deck, we practiced waiving to the crowd, being introduced and all that kind of stuff, cause I wanted them comfortable with it, and I wanted them getting the crowd in the meet, because it was a hometown crowd. It was the kind of detail they paid attention to and they had a lot of fun doing that, they also had 97% best times in this International competition, something that this morning you heard that Australia has been having a lot of trouble with, getting maybe 30% best time in their International competition, and I think a lot of it is what their thinking about during the race and how prepared they are for the environment, for managing the environment.
Now I’m doing this for a couple of reasons, one is I want them to be comfortable, I want them to be practiced, I want them to give some thought to how they want to present themselves to the crowd, how they want to present themselves to their team, how they want to present themselves to their opponents, and I want them to give some thought to how they want to feel and look and feel a little bit, Paul was right on when feel doesn’t matter. In a sense I want them to feel comfortable with some of that stuff, when it comes to swimming I don’t care how they feel and we tell them that all of the time it doesn’t matter how you feel, just do it. But, it matters if they think it matters, how they feel, that’s the problem.
So the other thing is I don’t want them thinking about the results, and I think if they’re busy thinking about waiving to the crowd and whether I’m doing a good job at that and how I want to handle this and stuff, that they are not freaking out on whether they are going to make the Olympic team or not.
We didn’t film what we were doing, we used the filming as part of what we were doing, so a lot of the filming is getting in peoples faces. Because we wanted to put some pressure on, you know how you feel, sometimes all of the sudden your on the camera now talk, da da da, . These guys, I don’t know if you watch at the International meets, the better swimmers, they got those cameras right in their face while they are taking their clothes off and you know if they are trying to pee in a towel, because they don’t have time to go to the bathroom or whatever it is that camera is right there watching. I know that wasn’t a pleasant thought, but it beats peeing in the pool. All right, so, keep in mind that the cameras were getting in their face, we are at the Lahaina Aquatic Center in Lahaina, what we did was some of the swimmers went on this side and played the crowd and some of the swimmers on this side they were the team, it was easy for them to play that role. We had set up a place, which was the ready room, we sat them there for a while and did some other stuff, played some music like they are going to play, some really loud music and then we marched them out, we had my ten year old son lead them out on deck and sometimes we’d march them different directions, take them out or just throw something different at them. One time, right before they were marching out, I walked over to my son, who was leading them out, I said I want you to walk really, really slowly, and he looked at me like I was nuts, Dad come on.. but, he did and they were tripping on him, I tell you what, sure enough a few weeks later at the Olympic trials in Canada, Rick Say who broke the Canadian record in the 400 free he went 3:48 and he broke the Canadian record in the 200 free, when he marched out he jammed the pace, really, really slowly, and Mark Johnson who is on the team laughed, they were prepared for that. O.K. so we had the ready room, we had the march, we had the music, we had one of the coaches be the announcer and we had one of the coaches and the chiropractor being officials and we had part of the team acting as the crowd and part of the team acting as the team and then we let them march out and we talked to them about in the ready room, how they wanted to present themselves as competitors, how they want to look and whether they wanted to interact with them, what are they going to do.
I got this awful reaction when I said something about peeing in the towel, I’ve been at Nationals when a swimmer in the ready room peed in the drinking fountain. Now, not cool, I didn’t think it was cool at all, but I tell you what, some of the swimmers in that final handled that and some of them did not, they didn’t handle it at all. It disrupted things for some people. People are going to pull stuff like that. Hopefully, not that, but they are going to pull stuff like that. So what we talked about was stuff like that and we let them practice, and we got them up on the blocks, we started the race and then we did it, and we asked them, I told them if they wanted to they could do it again, and it we critiqued it, the coaches critiqued it.
They had three swimmers on this team involved in the top ten in the world in the back stroke and Mark who was a medalist, a silver and bronze medalist at the US championships said, I’m gonna win. And Justin said the heck you are I’m gonna rehearse this too. This guy here Mike Metanco just went 52.8, 100 meter fly, this guy he is up and coming, but he has been to a bunch of International competitions this is a young swimmer, Matt Rice did a 1:02 in 100 meter breastroke, he just turned 16, he is a little scary, we’re just playing around, he’s a little scared, you look at Mike here, this is an experienced top notch swimmer, and look how seriously he is taking this. Then there is Matt here who had a hard time with this, he has done this maybe three or four times. At Olympic trials Matt was second in the 100 breaststroke to Morgan Noby, Morgan Noby is right up there in the World in the 100 breaststroke, Morgan, I really like Morgan, Morgan is a piece of work, he is a little independent, so, he sort of stakes out his territory, he gets the finals in with, while their introducing everybody, Morgans walking this way and that way, you know like a cat, he’s got this is my territory, all the way like that. Matt, who is pretty shy and quiet and as you can see, he was even nervous rehearsing this, he had practiced it so well, he got up and he waived to the crowd over here and he waived to the crowd over there and he turned around and here is Morgan coming at him like this, Matt just gave him his back and jumped in and swam great. Morgan’s saying this one is mine, I’m not paying any attention. You can see the team got into it.
We tell them that it is O.K. to waive to the crowd and waive to the team and even waive to the gods, which were up where the rainbows were, you never know. The camera is in his face right there. See I didn’t think that was very good, by the time he got to the Olympic trials he was good. He didn’t want to do it at that lane. Mike’s pretty good. It’s a crowd, there were more at the trials, but no more enthusiastic, they were good. They were marching out, we marched them past the teams see we’re doing elbows, Kate didn’t like that she doesn’t want it, Angie was O.K., here’s Mary Ann Limpert, the silver medalist, and really won the gold medal, but, they gave her the silver, in the 200 IM in Atlanta, and a very good experience. She asked that we get in her face, she asked us to do it, she wanted to practice. We were glad. Doug Dale went out after the Olympic Trials, didn’t make the team but boy did he give it a go. This made a huge difference for Kate Gramer. We gave them a little delay here, at the Canadian Nationals, the score boards went out, they sat and waited for a half hour why they tried to fix the scoreboard. This was, I didn’t ask them to do this. They got into it.
The question is how do you keep them psyched with a half hour delay and the answer is it depends on what you mean by keeping them psyched, when I was talking about getting psyched to win I’m talking about being prepared, knowing what you want to do, doing what you have to do to win. It doesn’t have to be an emotional psych, it isn’t the typical kinda psyched up kind of thing, its being prepared, so what they do is their ready, you want them ready for contingencies like that. If they have to wait, then they have to wait, so what they do is they think about, I like them to think about the same thing I think about when I go swimming in an ocean race. When I swim in an ocean race, I know that there are guys who can beat me in the pool. So, I was swimming against these younger guys, I’ve gone swimming in an ocean race, against Dolan, I know Tom Dolan can kick my butt, he swims faster than I do, now how am I going to beat him in the ocean, well the first thing I want is I want the water to be really cold and I want the sea to be really angry, cause I figure he doesn’t have any body fat, so when I’m in an ocean race, that is what I’m thinking about, if the conditions are really crappy I’m thinking about what an advantage that is for me because the other guys are going to worry about it and I’m not. So that is what I want to do here, if there is a delay or something like that, this is wonderful, I know that other people are going to worry about it, I’m prepared for this, I’m ready, this is my advantage.
Mark was another one, here is a guy silver and bronze medalist in the backstroke in the long course world championship, he asked us to get in his face with the camera. These guys think we’re taking pictures of them, but we’re not, we are taking pictures of the ready room here. I took that serious. Look here is Mentaco again, Mark Berskow for the third time, we told them we hope they do it once, we told them the could do it again if they want. These guys are world class swimmers their doing it over and over again, they want to be the best.
Some of them did a finish, after one modeled it, a bunch of them did some celebrating after. It is interesting stuff to, a guy you saw at that very beginning, Dustin Hershey, he won Nationals once, but he consistently gotten beat by Mark Berskow, Gray Camp in the 200 backstroke. In the Olympic trials he jumped on the blocks in for the finals, and I think, I told him that he over did it a little bit and he may not want to do that at the Olympics, but he jumped up on the blocks like you see in the movie Gladiators and he did a little Gladiator thing. He just really caught everybody’s attention with it, including the other swimmers, and he won the Olympic trials and he is going to Sydney
Answer. But winning is only coming in first. You have to take more and more responsibility for younger ones, right, increasingly they become more independent, or you want them to become more independent. I think that is where your mission comes in, we talk a lot about excellence, and we talk about striving to excel. Part of that is valuing victory, but excellence by definition is winning. Excellence by definition is better than the rest. But excellence in swimming also requires swimming faster, sometimes you can win easily but if you don’t swim fast it’s no good. Sometimes you can swim fast, but if you don’t win that’s not good. Excellence is a concept that takes care of that. If your striving to excel then your striving to beat the competition, outdo the competition, and your also striving to go really fast.
Answer. How do you know in advance that someone can’t win? And why would you ever want to decide that? Is someone likely to win, am I likely to beat Ian Thorpe in the 200 free, not very likely, but do we know that I can’t do something in the next year to make that happen, pretty unlikely, maybe but, who knows. Do we know that, I swam in a race one time and I was getting creamed, when ten yards from the race, I was swimming well I was swimming really well, this guy was just swimming better, ten yards from the finish he got this huge cramp or something went in his shoulder and he kicked into the wall, you know I could have given up on that, I never even saw that, but I was moving to the wall and I beat him by 100th of a second. The guy was creaming me. You don’t know what is gonna happen, you don’t know who is gonna show up, you don’t know who is going to fail, why would you ever know, but what you do is you gotta look at it differently from different temporal perspectives. The object of the game is to win. Its not necessarily why you play it’s the way you play. When a game is over, its over. You can’t change anything. So the goal ought to be to win, winning should be highly valued, in preparation and during the game as soon as the game is over it doesn’t have to be valued at all anymore the game is over, you can’t change it anyway. Now we look at how much fun it is to play, all the good things we did in the race, the benefits we got out of it and now we can set a goal to win the next one. You look at it differently before and after. It’s the goal of the game, it sets up an excuse for the game. But once the game is over you need an excuse to play anymore, it structures the game. The idea is to go for the win, the idea is not to have won, its O.K. not to have won, its not O.K. to go after winning, it just doesn’t work. I mean you hear people talk all the time, well gee all that matter is really that you did your best, well, best at what, what does that mean, doesn’t that have to be striving to win or striving to excel, one of the worst thing I ever hear, gosh it’s O.K. as long as you tried. But when does anybody ever say that, they say that after they fail, they just teach them to fail, you never hear anybody say, oh god, its O.K. as long as you tried, after someone performed brilliantly, it just doesn’t happen.
Answer: Well I think it was a number of things, one is in Canada, in the history of the Olympic games, they’ve won how many gold medals in swimming, ten, we win that on a day, right, in the past sometimes, not quite, I’m exaggerating, but, you know we have a few more people in this country than they do. So I think that’s part of it some expectations there, not want to pressure those expectations, I don’t think its just there, I don’t think its unusual, getting there is one thing, as soon as you start getting close and people expecting things of you and then your not reaching, your protecting, I think that their afraid, afraid to be committed to win, because their afraid that they might not win and then gee, they wouldn’t be good enough, and it’s the old tying yourself worth with your performance kind of thing, and we had to free them up from that. I had to get that through to them that the idea was to strive to win, whether you won or not, afterwards wasn’t as important, your more likely to win if you really get after it, its more fun, you benefit more from playing the game and it’s the way the game ought to be played, that is the way its structured. It is the object of the game, even if our rule book doesn’t get explicit enough about it. I mean I think that is part of it they were just afraid of that.
But one of them was Joanne Milar, now that was one of the best swimmers in the world. And she fought me tooth and nail about that, it just astonished me, but I think we got it, and she went out and she won a couple of events at Pan Paks, so one of the coaches, Michelle Barouvier, he comes running up to me at Nationals afterwards and all excited, and he says Keith, I gotta tell you this, I gotta tell you this, I went up to Joanne after Pan Paks and I said how did it feel to win, and he said she looked at me and said god it’s great, that’s what is all about and he said he was bitting his tongue and she went on and he was gritting his teeth, not to throw it all back in her face, but she got it and it was wonderful.
Answer: you know I brought one to show you, I brought some flyers, competitive aquatics has them downstairs, most of the swim shops carry them and you can get them off our website, Swimdoc.com, they link to the publisher, but thank you. They really are good tools and the kids really have fun using them.
Answer: yes I would, I’m not sure if I would devote the same amount of time, I’m not sure in this situation, but I think there, I mean the youngest ones, they get lost at me they don’t know what their doing, I mean just simulate and getting them to the course and getting them to the blocks would make a world of difference.
Answer: We spend so much time talking about, not just with little ones, but with these guys, we spent so much time talking about how to handle themselves behind the blocks, what they wanted to be thinking about, how they wanted to look to their competitors, to the crowd, you know all that stuff.