INTRODUCTION: Good morning. I have the privilege to introduce Jim Montrella and Jack Roach. Jim has had great success at all levels of swimming for a long time. He has extensive experience and success with age group, senior and college coaching, and he has served on many International Coaching staffs for the USA, including the Olympic Games. I am sure he will share some great insights. Jack is also extremely accomplished in both club and college coaching, and he too has extensive International experience. He currently oversees our USA National Youth team program. He has worked along side some fantastic coaches from which I am sure he gained great insights. They will talk about what they have seen, what they envision and maybe what they would like to see changed. I am honored to introduce Coaches Jim Montrella and Jack Roach. I also want to thank them for their many contributions to our sport.
(Jim Montrella): Jack and I prepared different outlines for today. We were going for the same end target, but we took parallel tracts. My comments are mostly aimed at the club coach. I want to share ideas club coaches might consider to improve their position with their teams, as well as their LSC and on a National scale too. I think Jack would admit that his tract is geared for the athlete. You may hear comments that sound disjointed but the goal is the same. We just approach things from a little different perspective; Jack from that of the athlete and I from that of the coach. Most of what I will share with you is what I noticed over the last two years in my role as a mentor coach for USA Swimming. That role let me travel the country and visit close to 36 teams. We have some fantastic coaches in the country. It was fun to visit with them and see their programs. I could sing their praises for the whole talk, but I think it is more productive to share what I observed and some suggestions that I tried to make along the way. As you consider these ideas, I urge you to do so by seeing yourself as a Head Coach and Chief Executive Officer of your program. We can learn and improve in many areas of our sport and leadership, but it is the Head Coach / CEO model that I urge you to think about and aspire to.
I have noticed over the last few years that most coaches take pride in and see themselves as an on-deck coach. They do great in that area; coaching and communicating on the pool deck. Most coaches have excellent technical knowledge and are highly motivated people who share that motivation with their athletes. Their perspective of themselves is often limited to being an on-deck coach. The “dry side” is something they see other people taking care of. As a club coach you need to think of yourself as a Chief Executive Officer. That involves both “wet-side” and “dry-side” interests and responsibilities for your program. You may have a Chief Financial Officer working with you. You may have a General Manager. Whether you realize it or not, you are the Chief Executive Officer. With that in mind, I want to suggest that people considering going into coaching or those already in coaching look for ways to continue their education. Some of my thoughts are opinion. You may not agree and you may discard some of what I offer. That is fine. Exposure to more perspectives and more knowledge helps us be better educated and capable. Choose what to accept but listen to broaden your perspective.
First, consider a formal degree in education and/or physical education. Notice I said Physical Education. I did not say kinesiology. I did not say physiology of exercise. I did not say exercise science. A degree in education or physical education is fundamental to what we do as swim coaches. I think it would be very good to include not only activity courses in all sports, but also techniques courses in teaching each of those sports. Those of us who got a degree in physical education actually had to teach badminton, tennis, baseball, softball and other activities. Learning and applying the techniques and the curriculum progressions for all those sports helped us immensely as swimming coaches. Certainly, I would include anatomy, physiology, kinesiology, and physiology of exercise. Those would be a minimum. I also encourage you to minor in business. I didn’t know that 30 or 40 years ago, but I know it today. You need to consider a minor in business including courses in marketing, management and psychology of the consumer. These courses are available in your local junior colleges. Retirement planning is another area you should become knowledgeable in.
Another part of your ongoing education should include every course that ASCA offers. These may be offered on-line or at a location with other people. A good aspect of being in a classroom with other people is the interaction and cross learning that can take place. I am also a big advocate of VV-MOST from the ASCA. VV MOST is an acronym that goes along with the theme of helping coaches become CEO’s for their programs. It means you, as the coach: set the vision; establish the mission and objectives; plan the strategy and develop the tactics to carry it forward and make the organization work. I want comment on the titles of CEO and Head Coach. Some people call it Head Coach / Chief Executive Officer. Some just call it CEO. Playing with words and semantics and the perspectives that words connect to, I think CEO/Head Coach is a good way to look at it. I encourage you to think about passing this idea onto your board. Educate them because most of you, I am sure, are Chief Executive Officers. If you have a staff, it is really important to understand the roles and responsibilities of a Chief Executive Officer. Finally, please consider 20/20. By that I mean all of us should think about where we want to be in the year 2020 and what steps are needed to get there. I encourage all of us to think 11 or 12 years out from now. How old will your children be in 2020? For some of us, how old will our grandchildren be in 2020? Where will your team be? Will you still be there? You may not be. Do you want to leave a legacy? Or do you want the program to fold? If the program is in the process of folding, you need to know where you are going to be in 2020. Start looking further out than just the next swimming meet or the December championships that are coming up. A lot of people think in quadrennials. If you think about it, 2020 is a quadrennial. Most of the coaches that I associate with are thinking about that. The National Office is asking those questions. Do the same so you are on track with what USA Swimming is thinking and where it is going. I will leave it there and turn it over to Jack.
(Jack Roach): Good Morning. Jim did a great job of touching on coach education. We are going to talk about coaching the complete individual. Then we will talk about creating a champion’s vision and then define a winning culture. Before I start, I heard Seinfeld say that most people would rather be dead than get up in front of the public and speak. That made me think, do I want to be dead and not give the eulogy or do I want to give the eulogy and not be dead? Well, I am glad to be up here talking. Yes, that was supposed to be funny. Okay, we are going to start with coaching the complete individual. Create a balanced experience. I remember hearing Coach Pete Carroll say two things that are necessary if you are going to coach and be able to work with a complete individual. First, can you identify who you are? Can you explain to your athletes and to your team who you are as a person? Pete Carroll explained who he was by saying he was a winner. He didn’t mean he was just a winner in coaching football at USC. He talked about his relationship with his family, with his wife and being the best friend you can possibly be to your friends and then carrying that into your work. I thought that was great. Then I asked myself, can I really explain to someone who I am as an individual. I am not going to ask people to raise your hands, but I encourage you to think about that because I believe until you know who you are as an individual, it is hard to communicate as well as you want to with your athletes. The second thing that Pete Carroll talked about was having a philosophy. I ask how many of you in here could stand up and discuss your philosophy? Pete’s philosophy was “Win-Forever”. Does that mean that you can win forever? I am sure USC alumni would love for Pete to win every single football game, but it is not going to happen. Does that mean you give up on that opportunity? Part of being a successful coach is being restless. You are constantly searching for an answer. You are never satisfied with the answer you have. I think that is very important. Another part of being a successful coach is having the freedom to look around and search for different ideas. The third part of that equation is having value. If you want to be allowed to be restless and allowed to have freedom, you have to have value. You have to bring value to the people you are accountable to. I recommend that you think about number one, which is to identify yourself. I also think you should address number two which is to have a philosophy you can communicate to your athletes. Finally, number three reminds you to think about how you can bring and convey value to the people you work with and are accountable to.
I got some insights on the subject of coaching a balanced and complete athlete from reading the book “Born to Run” by Christopher McDougall. It is a running book but it is very influential on coaching so I recommend reading it. It relates to everything you do as a swimming coach. The author is 6’ 4” and wants to run but he gets hurt when he tries to run. He sees a lot of doctors to figure out why he can not run without getting hurt. They all say he is not built to run. So he started researching this for himself and he met the best long distance runners in the world. They are the Tarahumara Indians who live in Copper Canyon, a remote area in Mexico. They have been brought to the United States a number of times for ultra marathon runs and they win. They do not like to come to the US and race because they are a very modest people. They are very shy. They do not do it any more. In the 1970’s running shoes were starting to influence people and road racing. McDougall found out that the Tarahumara run almost barefoot. The book has many sub-topics but what I gained from that book was that we are hardwired to exercise which falls under the category of hunt, eat and rest. If the evolution of man occurred the way that Christopher McDougall talks about it, man has the ability to outrun any other animal on the face of the earth. This is based on the fact that we have sweat glands and pores. Every other animal has to pant so the way we evolved and survived as humans was by being able to run longer than any other creature. Exercise therefore is hardwired into us. It is part of our evolution and survival as people.
The book also made me think about eating. We talk about diet. When I look his discussion of how we evolved by chasing animals to eat, we probably shouldn’t eat too much meat because it probably took a few hours to chase down something you were going to eat if you had to wear it out first. Another idea the book made me think about is that we are hardwired to eat as much as we can because we don’t know when we are going to eat again. The third area of insight from this book is rest. We are also hardwired to sleep as much as we can because we don’t know when we are going to have the opportunity to sleep again. When you apply that to sports and you understand the athletes that you work with are hardwired to do that, how do you get them to train?
One of the most important things I walked away with from this book was that if you can demonstrate the importance of exercise based on the fact that you are hardwired to do that, and if you give them a positive experience, they will enjoy working out. But they have to have a passion for it and they have to be positively influenced by it. Once you convey that to the athlete, being hardwired to exercise will positively influence their passion to train. Start thinking about those three factors, hunt, eat and rest, when you work with your athletes.
I also believe incorporating complementary sports is important. We throw our kids in the water and we just want them to swim. As a young age group coach I made this mistake. I just wanted them to swim. I understood that technique was important. I understood all the other aspects of it, but I got wrapped up into how fast I could get a young athlete to swim. As I got older I realized that my responsibility as a coach and an educator is that they are exposed and able to run, swim and bike. This should occur by the time they enter middle school. When you get older you can do those things on your own. They are individual sports that people can move onto as they move on from being a full time swimmer. People may start out running but an injury may force some choices, so being exposed to swimming and biking gives options and balance. Teach those three different sports as you coach the sport of swimming. Rowing, weight lifting, climbing, back packing are other good activities. The more exposure to things like this that promote greater fitness also allows for a complete adult. That is our responsibility.
I believe it is very important that you make every athlete in your program feel just as important as any other athlete. You need to take the time and find a way to help the least experienced and perhaps the least talented athlete feel just as important as the most experienced and accomplished person. If you are not doing that, you are not doing your job as a coach. The goal has to be to make everybody feel equally important so it is important to look at your entire team to make sure you are really coaching and teaching everyone. It is important for a healthy program.
Develop plank strength in the athlete. Coach Richard Shoulberg of Germantown swimming near Philadelphia is who I suggest you go to for ideas on dry land and plank strength. . He has been coaching for around forty years. His swimming pool is a 3-ring circus. He has ropes. He has bars. He has lots of things that are important to complete the plank of an athlete. He knows how to build core body strength. Expose them to everything you can such as monkey bars, pull-up bars, dips, chin-ups, push-ups, pull-ups and medicine balls. Get them involved in all of those things.
(Jim Montrella): Two old books I want to suggest are Psycho-Cybernetics by Maxwell Maltz and Jonathan Livingston Seagull. Psycho-Cybernetics gives you insight on how to work with many different individuals which you surely have on a swim team. The book has numerous case studies. It was written by a plastic surgeon. It might be a little expensive to get copies for the whole team but Psycho-Cybernetics is a great book for the coach. I suggest a copy of Jonathan Livingston Seagull for each person in your practice group. This book for your athletes could be part of a motivational presentation. It may prove motivating for you and your other coaches too. That relates to mind side of it.
On the body side I am going to echo ideas similar to what you just heard Jack say. Cross-training is very important. Across our country physical education is being diminished in schools. We see men’s college swimming programs being dropped. We even saw the women’s team dropped at the University of California Irvine. With less physical education and with youngsters playing outdoors less than in years past, our job is to prepare the whole body of that child in a natural progression. Many of the things that I am sharing are things I learned in the last 12 years when I returned to club coaching with Bill and Siga Rose at Mission Viejo. Prior to that, I coached college swimming for many years. At Mission Viejo I started working with 11 and 12 year olds for the first time in about thirty years. It was a growing experience. It made me realize the importance of curriculum in coaching. You do not hear that too often in swimming or in sport in general. Most of us think that mileage per week is a curriculum. We often do not think in days per week. We think about what are we going to do today and what the big guys are doing at the Olympic Games and at the National Championships. Do we think enough about my curriculum for the 5th grade class? And do we think about how that differs from the 4th or 6th grades? And how does that relate to team teaching within a specific team. How are the assistant coaches teaching and crossing over? How are they relating and inter-relating to the kids and as a staff and to a curriculum?
Developing a curriculum can start out rather simplistically. For example, we could allot 30 minutes for lessons; 45 minutes for novice; our next grades and groups could get an hour in the water and introduce 15 minutes of land fitness; our upper middle school students could get 75 minutes in the water and expanded land options; and so on in a progressive manner within each week. Another way to look at curriculum could be based on my philosophy for training. The mileage might change, but up to perhaps the age of about 14 or maybe a little older, 20% of your work is in butterfly; 20% in back; 20% in breast; and 40% in freestyle. Then after that age range, the mileage may increase, but the percentages remain constant.
Coach each swimmer for every event. Do not just coach a swimmer to be a 9 or 10 year old specialist in one stroke. That is the greatest sin in coaching judgment. Do not be guilty of this. And I am not just saying coach swimmers for the IM. Consider exactly who you are coaching and what is your plan. What has happened in the swimmer’s past and what will happen in their future to allow and promote a balanced progression? Set up your entire program for progression of a complete swimmer. If you are a full club program, you will have them until they graduate from high school, unless they are really good and you live in a small town and they move away. That may happen and we have to get over it. Will they come back as college students? How will things change at the college program? College has a three day NCAA championship meet. Swimmers are allowed 3 different events. If the athlete is going to score in all three events, that can mean swimming 6 times for their individual events. They are also allowed 4 relays which could have them swim 4 preliminaries and 4 finals of relays. The total could be14 races in a 60 hour period. It is not in 72 hours. The meet starts at 11 am on Thursday and will end at 10 pm on Saturday. It is eyeball to eyeball, head to head racing. It is a battle. You have to have the background and you have to be prepared to race great in multiple events over a 60 hour period. You can not cruise to make finals in this meet. The meet is fast and the races are really close. It takes great preparation, the early foundation for which is set in a good progressive club program, to have the physical and mental toughness to endure and excel in a meet like that. At 9 or 9:30 of the final session no coach wants an athlete saying I am tired, I can not do the relay. That is not what you want. That will not get it done. Athletes need to be trained and they need to be ready to be tough and to race under tough, fast, possibly tiring conditions. They have to be conditioned aerobically but they also need to have all the other things like great strength and power programs.
Looking at curriculum and progression, if we give swimmers too much too soon, we run risks that are not good for their swimming. If we prescribe the same program for developing swimmers that the top college athletes or our Olympic Team does, we will hurt younger kids. Create and use curriculum development to recognize where you want to go and how do you will get there with gradual progressions. Others may differ but I think 13 is a good age to start weight work. I think being ultra ultra-conservative and educational in weight training is the most important thing. Early on, weights should be an educational and not a training program. We are not interested in strength with young swimmers. We are not even interested in power. We are interested in muscle education. Some of you may remember Lee Arth from the 1960’s. He had had great programs in Southern California. He had people weight training before it was popular.
Develop the antagonistic muscles and not just the agonists. If you think about it, we spend more than 40% of our time on our stomach so the front of the body gets over-developed. That is why we walk around hunched forward. You do not see it as much at the International level where they have better posture. Most kids around the country have well developed front sides but do not have balance with the backside. Muscles that are responsible for posture and balance including antagonist muscles are important for health and performance. Muscles that get overlooked include the rhomboids, trapezius, rotator cuff and the posterior deltoids. As I travel the country I do not see enough attention to these parts of the anatomy or to balance. Do not just try to go faster. Get better by conditioning and balancing the entire body.
(Jack Roach): Continuing the theme of coaching the complete athlete, there is always a question of what percent of dry land is appropriate at what age. Looking at Ian Thorpe as an example, he did no double session workouts until age 14, and he averaged between 20 to 30 thousand meters per week. Up until age 14 he was heavily involved in cricket and football. He went up to 9 workouts at age 14 and then 10 sessions at 16. To answer the question on what proportion of your training should be in or out of the water, and how much should the athlete focus on building an aerobic base, interval work, drills, resistance pulling and kicking etc? I suggest you read the studies, but more importantly talk to the coaches that have had a lot of experience in this area. From the collegiate level, Dave Durdin at UC Berkley does a lot of experimenting with how much dry land and how much water work to do. Frank Bush at Arizona does a tremendous job in this area. In club coaching, Randy Reese does a tremendous job. There are many more fine coaches. Get in touch with these coaches or other coaches you know who create quality programs and who seem to have consistent results with swimmers improving.
When I was coaching, when I noticed a coach having a very successful season I would contact them. If I did not know them I would introduce myself and ask if they would send me a year of their workouts. Did I ever overlay those workouts per se? No, but I studied them and made phone calls to learn what they were doing. I tried to apply parts of those workouts to my program. I never had a coach that didn’t follow through. Quite often I would have to call more than once to get the workouts, but they always followed through. One of the biggest assets of coaching swimming in the United States is that other coaches will share information. Personality wise they probably think they apply their practices better than you and they probably have some things they are not going to share with you, but very seldom, as a young coach, did I fail to get help when I asked for it. Walk around a pool deck at a swim meet. Listen to what coaches are telling their athletes. Pay attention to what they do. There is great value in that. You will get some good ideas. When you hear a coach say something that really strikes you, find a time when they are not busy to ask what they are doing in and out of the water.
(Jim Montrella): At this point I want to mention something about burnout. It may not fit exactly, but you will see where I am coming from in a moment. If swimmers are not successful, they probably need help in setting goals. Goals need to be realistic but they are essential. If you are not competitive within the unit that you train with, you will not feel success and you will get burned out. Coaches are very much the same way. Have goals that are reachable for you, even if it is through your kids. Let’s deal with the fact that we live through the kids. What matters is if our ego is in front of us, behind us or even with us. In most cases it should be even with us and them. It is important that whatever training we do, that it is of a progressive nature. I am repeating myself, but it is important that the training follows some kind of development and progression. And it needs to be successful. To have success and have people feel successful you have to define success. That is really critical. It can be a team success. It can be a training unit success within a team such as the breaststrokers, the backstroke group, the flyers, the 11’s and 12’s etc. Whatever it is, be really careful that you have goals they can relate to and that let them feel successful and, therefore, have less burnout. The only burnout I have really identified and that I believe is real is when parents live too much through their children or when coaches do the same. I think it is really important to pattern that success along the way and base it on goal setting.
Earlier I gave examples of percent of training that could be devoted to certain areas. You can keep it constant, increase the days per week or the weeks per year or use some other pattern. Whatever you do, break it down by percentages and keep track of it. Know the percent of your practices that you spend on kicking, on pulling, on swimming and within that know the percent that is of an aerobic nature or a sprint or lactate effort nature. Be able to define it for yourself and track it. By tracking this, you should be able to know that the group training behind you or in front of you is similar. You want it to be similar so it is based on development and progression so you don’t have dramatic changes from training unit to training unit. Some people probably think I try to control things too much. To that I say at least give guidelines to your other coaches. Give them some parameters to work within that will be consistent and in continuity with the rest of the program you are developing.
(Jack Roach): This is the last slide on Coach the Complete Individual. Under that I wrote create the whole body champion with four subtopics: Frequency, Intensity, Duration and Technique. I believe those four components control the success of an athlete, and I believe that it is different for every athlete. In my position I have the opportunity to visit different programs and watch what they are doing. There have been a few situations that really allowed me to see some amazing things and learn from coaches and programs I visited. When Cullen Jones relocated to Mecklenburg I went there for a few weeks to work with Cullen and part of their coaching staff. At Mecklenburg and other places I met coaches with unique ideas. I will share some of those names. The point is to contact these and other coaches who you can learn from. Nate Boyle (now at Tide in the Virginia Beach area) was there. He has a unique view on lactate and how it works. Someone else is Dave Salo. He has a unique approach. He will talk to you. Jon Urbanchek has great ideas. He has an entire system set up. He will talk to you. The last person is Sean Hutchinson. Every one of these guys has a different approach but their ways have been successful and have a base of support. Each of them talks to researchers. They understand why they do what they do. They can defend it. They can stand up here and explain why they do what they do. Is it the absolute right way to do it? No. If you went to talks yesterday you heard Eddie explain it one way and you heard Dave explain it another. There are many different ways to get things accomplished. I think every coach needs to be educated in frequency, intensity, duration and technique. Technique might be the most important.
I heard a talk on freestyle by coaches Steve Bultman, Dave Durdin, Dave Marsh and Dick Shoulberg. They all stressed the importance of technique. I walked away from that talk with the central idea that you have to break the stroke down to every phase starting from the catch, through to the recovery. The second thing I got from those coaches was that if you are doing a good job of coaching, each of your athletes knows what drill to work on to improve each part of their stroke. I encourage you to understand the term progression drills. What drill addresses and helps refine which part of the stroke. Learn how to incorporate that by 25’s. For example, do 100’s with a different drill on each 25 to focus on and progress through parts of the stroke. Use a drill to work on the catch, followed by a drill or a modification of that drill to work on the power phase of the stroke and another drill or form of a drill for the recovery. Know your drill progressions and know your athletes well enough to be able to customize the drills to find the ones that work for each athlete. A drill done differently by different athletes will not have the same affect for each person.
(Jim Montrella): I want to comment on talking with other coaches. Not all coaches respond the same way. They probably respond but they are not all the same. Personally I would rather talk after a meet is over and not on the pool deck. Let’s use Mark Schubert as an example. Do not try to talk to Mark at a swimming meet. He is not going to be nice to you. Well, now he might be but when he was coaching full time he would not be. He was so focused on each athlete and every one of them is so important that he would not allow him self to have eye contact with other people. It is not that you are not friendly. It’s that he is focused on 20 or 30 athletes with a limited amount of time to focus and help them. On deck at a swim meet is not the time to approach a coach with that level of focus. They are all approachable, but try to find the approach that fits the coach you want to talk to. Another way to meet experienced coaches is the coach-mentor program. Jack is more familiar with this than I am. If you qualify to have a mentor coach come to you and your program, it is a great learning opportunity. You would be shocked how many coaches earn the opportunity but do not respond. They do not call back or if they are called, they say no, I don’t need any help. We were shocked. I wish I had a coach mentor next to me for four days at no cost to me or my program when I was a younger coach. It costs about $2,000 or $3,000 a visit. USA Swimming gives that service to coaches who earn it with the criteria established. See if you qualify and if you do, take advantage of this opportunity.
Contrast having an experienced coach come to your pool deck as a supportive mentor to how I started my coaching. In 1965 I got out of the Coastguard and took all my money out of savings and drove in my little red VW to the Division II College Championships. Then I drove to Division I Championships. Then I drove to AAU Men’s Nationals in New Haven, Connecticut. Some coaches may remember the days of the AAU before we became USS and now USA Swimming. Each trip and visit to the meet took a week. The following week I drove back to the City of Commerce where Don Gambril hosted the National Women’s Championships and the next week I drove up to see George Haines and the next week I went to see Sherm Chavoor. After all of that I came back and got on the pool deck. Figure out how much that would cost today. It would probably be prohibitive, but it was one of the greatest educations I ever had. Seeing, talking with and learning from experienced coaches is fantastic so consider the time and cost savings and the learning to be had through our USA Swimming mentor coach program. Many coaches fear that the mentor coach may talk to their parents and that could show a coach does not know it all. No coach knows it all so accept that. But these mentor coaches will not do that. They are there to help and to be supportive. Take advantage of these educational opportunities.
Technique and overall fitness are critical in today’s World Class Swimming. The cross training we talked about helps build great overall fitness. Look at swimmer’s bodies today compared to 50 years ago. I can do that because I started coaching in ’59. Compare the strokes then with the technique today. The difference is absolutely dramatic. Sometimes we do not see it looking from year to year or meet to meet but you can see it from decade to decade or generation to generation. God that sounds old. Nutrition, overall fitness and technique are critical. We have some excellent technique coaches that you can approach. They would love to talk with you. I do not agree with Jack about expecting to talk with coaches on the pool deck though. (Jack – Well, get their phone number on the pool deck. I agree with Jim.)
(Jack Roach): Now we are going into “create a champion’s vision” based on success and confidence. Not feeling fear and failure requires positive feedback from everyone. Use tools such as video feedback, video instruction, books, internet, listen, watch and ask questions of winning, positive coaches. Once again, I am going to drop some names because I think it is important to look at patterns in the U.S. of the coaches that constantly have success developing young athletes. Since I have the opportunity to work with the Youth Team, I see a pattern of coaches that consistently put people on the youth team. Some of these names are John Morse, Brian Brown, Ray Mitchell who has now been replaced by Ray Stafford, but still hasn’t missed a beat and Chuck Batchelor. These are young coaches doing a super job producing young athletes. There are many other fine coaches and they are probably in your neighborhood. I recommend that you look around and like Jim said, travel and talk to coaches in your neighborhood. There is no one that has been coaching for any length of time that you can’t learn a lot from.
A positive attitude is very important. I listed some things that I think help create a positive attitude as a coach. Expect positive outcomes. That shows your athlete that you are confident in what you are doing and confident in what they are doing. That is very important. I think the greatest obstacle to a positive outcome is criticism and confrontation. Be very cautious. Understand the difference between healthy and harmful anger. I do think there is a time for a coach to get upset, but understand that there is a difference between healthy and unhealthy anger.
(Jim Montrella): We talked about team and communicating well with the athletes and treating them equally, regardless of experience level. I use word keys to remember what I am coaching for. Texas A & M football is known for its “12th man”. It refers to the fans at their home games. There are eleven players in uniform playing the game but the fans can be such a force it is like having a 12th man on their side. In swimming, at the nationals, a team is limited to 8 people on relays. I was thinking about what happens if one of those eight designated swimmers can not swim the meet. Maybe the swimmer gets hurt riding a bicycle. Maybe he twists an ankle running, or the parents decide they can not be at the championship meet. In any of those scenarios, who will fill in the gap on the “B” relay? Who will be like the “12th man” to make a contribution? If I coach every swimmer in my group with the same level of focus and importance, I helped them and our team be more prepared if we have a swimmer not able to be on a relay for any reason. If I coach with maximum focus and passion beyond the initially designated eight relay swimmers, we are going to be better prepared. Like the impact of the 12th man at a Texas A&M football game, I need to coach everyone who may have an impact and not just the top eight designated for the relays. I have noticed that the really good coaches whose teams are competitive at the top levels year after year, coach every swimmer with focus and passion. No matter who is in the group, they work with them and keep developing them and they are successful. If you visit some of these top programs with these consistently top coaches you will see that they spend lots of time, maybe even more time with the weaker swimmers in their group. Why? Because like all of us here, they coach kids and no matter what we do, the normal maturation process has to run its course. In time, as those swimmers grow and mature, the weaker ones will blossom into great swimmers, if we coach them just like we coach the top end swimmers; just like the eight relay swimmers.
Often as age group coaches you think you did a great job because somebody improved. I note the improvement with the parents and pat the kid on the back when their time improves. It is OK to support and encourage progress but let’s understand that when a swimmer grows an inch and adds ten pounds, their natural growth is accounting for much of the time improvement. Bigger, stronger kids will almost always be good early on. But the slower to mature kids will catch up and they will be excellent swimmers and feel successful, if we coaches take time to coach them well when they are a little weaker. Coach the last swimmer as well and as much as the top swimmer. Share your time evenly across each lane and within the lane.
(Jack Roach): Let’s continue with Create a Champion’s Vision. It is important to educate people on the difference between anticipation and expectations. Expectations come from outside of you. Expectations are based on how you view your friends, your parents or your coaches. It can get frustrating for an athlete if they go into swim meets with expectations because they do not want to disappoint anyone yet their focus is on those people they do not want to disappoint. When they approach a meet with expectations, chances are they are setting themselves up for failure. In contrast, anticipation is something you can control. It comes from within. Anticipations are things that will generate energy for you. They will give you the ability to get excited about what you are doing. There is a huge difference between the two; between things outside the athlete versus things from within that they can control and feed off of. Kids have a hard time differentiating between the two. When you talk with them, they may talk about being afraid before they race. They may express being afraid of disappointing. Sometimes they have trouble understanding, am I afraid I might fail and disappoint someone else or am I afraid I might fail and disappoint myself. If you teach them the difference in those two words, it will make a huge impact on how they approach their races. You can draw energy from anticipation when it is discussed with one’s coach with proper terminology. Expectations will never be beneficial for an athlete.
Let’s continue with “Create a Champion’s Vision”. I want to talk about “Developing a Warrior Approach”. This is very interesting to me because in swimming we race in a parallel position. There is really nothing to make you get angry about the person next to you because you are not going to get hit by them. Rarely if ever will you be confronted by them before you race. You jump in there and there is nothing to lose. It is important to recognize that. Coaches need to expose athletes to face to face competition; to experience racing confrontation. I am not sure you can actually try this activity yourself, but look at boxing. In that sport you are going to get hurt if you don’t protect yourself. You can not win if you do not respond to the person coming toward you. Other sports like wrestling and football provide the same opportunities and requirements of confrontation. Somebody is going to hit you and try to knock your teeth out. You have to respond. Female sports offer the same confrontation experience. In soccer you run into each other. You try to get the ball. You are tripping each other. It is okay to knock them down. In volleyball you are trying to spike the ball at your opponent and you do not care if it hits somebody. In basketball you are always facing off. You are always trying to keep somebody out of a certain position. There is pushing and shoving. It doesn’t happen in the sport of swimming. We are often too nice in the sport of swimming.
This really came to light for me when I was at the World Championships for the Open Water Swimming. Compared to the Europeans, when our athletes run into someone, it looks as if they want to stop and apologize. The Europeans yank on suits, pull people back and grab feet. It is especially obvious when it comes time to feed. If you are on a feeding boat and you are trying to get your athlete something to drink, if there is an athlete from a different country who knows you are from the U.S. and that athlete has a chance to compete with your athlete at the end, they will take their drink and intentionally knock your drink out of the feeding stick. I don’t think we do it the right way in the pool. I sometimes think we would be better off starting everybody in open water swimming so you understand what a contact sport really is. Then when you find yourself in that parallel position, all of a sudden you understand that the person next to you is trying to take something away from you. You need to want to keep them from getting it and you have to be willing to fight for it.
(Jim Montrella): Eyeball to eyeball; head to head; stroke to stroke. The only thing we have in aquatics is open water swimming. Lake, ocean or pier to pier swimming allow swimmers to have to deal with contact. Water polo is an in water sport that forces athletes to handle and deal with contact. Some swimming coaches frown upon water polo. Many of us older coaches grew up with water polo and swimming and coached both sports. What you can learn in a contact sport can be very helpful in our parallel, non-contact sport of pool based speed swimming.
(Jack Roach): We have a little more to go on “Create a Champion’s Vision”. Provide an opportunity for callusing. Too often we blister our athletes and then we want to take care of them. Those blisters have to turn into calluses. Great performances emerge from the most difficult of situations. How often do you see that occur? Constantly, yet we do not address it. The body gets used to being hungry, hot, hydrated, tired. I am talking within safety parameters. Athletes can face tough conditions and continue to perform. German Silver from Mexico won the New York City Marathon twice (1995 and 1996). I coached in Mexico for five years and ran a high altitude training camp. I had the privilege to know German. He was my counterpart with track and field. He came from a village of 300 people in the state of Vera Cruz. He was one of thirteen children. He did not know what toilet paper was until the age of 14. At the age of 15 he decided that he had the ability to run. Against his parent’s consent, he moved to Mexico City. He did not have any sponsorship from the Government because he was not a well known runner. He will tell you that at times he could only eat one meal a day so he would eat as much as he possibly could. This relates to my earlier comments about how we are hardwired. And still he averaged running between 120 and 140 miles a week. Within three years he became relatively good. Last year they ranked the twelve most memorable moments in the New York Marathon. German’s win was voted the most memorable. It was kind of humorous. During the New York Marathon there is a truck with cameras in front of the runners for the first 25 miles. Out of respect for the athletes, the truck turns off so that everybody at the finish line can witness the finish. Well, German was at the 25 mile mark and he is right next to another athlete. They are together. The truck turns off and German turns with the truck. He follows the truck for 300 yards. You might have seen it on video on NBC. He stops, leans over, puts his hands on his knees and starts laughing. Everyone is pointing for him to go the other direction. He turns around and catches the athlete and wins the New York Marathon. His victory got voted the most memorable moment in the history of the New York Marathon.
But let’s go even beyond that. I was at the Open Water World Championships where the event is scheduled for a certain day. There was a storm the night before the race that destroyed the entire course. Everyone gets on the bus to go race but we get told the race is not going to happen for two days. You have got to be calloused to prepare yourself for that. At the pool competition for the World Championships we stayed in a nice hotel but the air conditioning did not work. It was really hot and difficult to sleep. Then at the pool venue there was no escape from the sun or the heat. On top of that, they are rationing out water. We have to find ways to steal water to get it to our athletes. That is not what you expect at a World Championship event. We complain about something like that at a local club meet. Those are not things you expect at a World Championship event. When I was working in Mexico, the Australian National Team came there right before the 2004 Olympics. They had every one of their athletes wear their equipment backpacks and walk around the track for one mile before they came in to train. Then after they trained they would go back out to walk around the track for a mile. The reason was that when you get to the Olympic Village, you are waiting on a bus. You have to walk to the bus stop. You get off the bus. You have to walk to the cafeteria. You have to walk back from the cafeteria to the bus stop. You get off another bus and you get taken to another bus that takes you to the venue where you are going to race. You get off that bus and walk into the venue and then the process reverses. Every time you eat, every time you go somewhere in the village, you are walking with your equipment bag. Those are things that I don’t think we always think about when it comes time to prepare for competition. Heck, we drive our vans right up to the door at Nationals and let our kids walk out. Think about it a little bit different. Callous your athlete.
(Jim Montrella): An example for callusing that you can do in practice on a regular basis is a test set. I wish I could remember who I got this from. Pick a day of the week to do a set where the kids pick their interval. It is supposed to be the fastest interval they can make. Let’s say the set is eighteen one hundreds on the toughest interval they select. Repeat the set the same day every week. They are supposed to go as fast as they can. Have them swim it one week, pull it the next, then kick it etc. Record the slowest time and the interval and see what the variance is. The next time they do that set in that form (swim, pull or kick), have them stand up in front of the team and say the last time I went on 1:30 and this time I am going to try the 1:25 send-off. Everybody stands up and does that in front of their teammates in their training unit. Then after the test set is over they stand up in front of everyone and say I tried 1:25 and I am great. I made it and I am so proud and my slowest one was 1:23.5. Or they say I blew it and I let up. I could have had had more courage. I could have done a better job. Learning to say that actually reduces the amount of fear of a challenge. Challenging them selves the next time they do the set will develop some of that callusing necessary in the reality of life. Oh, we didn’t talk about going up and down stairs at the Olympic Village in Mexico City.(1968). We were living on the 3rd floor. The ground was zero so we went up and down four stories many times every day. There were no elevators.
(Jack Roach): This is our last segment on “Creating a Champion’s Vision”. Here is something that I don’t understand. I certainly do not have the answer. When you look at the competitive experience, why can’t we make the competition the easiest day of the season? I don’t get it. It is the hardest day of a six month season. What are we doing during those six months to prepare them? I don’t have the answer, but I think it is something that people need to think about. One thing that I believe we need to do more of is measure what our athletes do. I think we also need to train the athlete to their specific competitive goal. How do you do that? Talk to them. Find out what their goal is. Find out where they want to go with it. Find out how they are going to do it. Get their feedback and then work together to achieve that.
Related to that, compare basketball and swimming. In basketball you can dribble down the court and the ball can bounce off your foot or you can mess up a seemingly simple shot. You can have a moment like that where you look silly but then just a few seconds later you do something positive and you are a hero. In swimming you work for six months, you stand up on the block and if you have a poor swim you have another six months to try to figure it out. How can we educate our athlete to know that that is okay? There has to be a lesson learned. I wonder though how many times an athlete in swimming has a bad season and another bad season and another bad season and maybe a slightly good season before they start to question their ability? We have to figure those things out. I am not smart enough to do it, but I think it is an issue we have to think about as coaches. Why can’t the competition day be the easiest day of the season for an athlete?
I believe as coaches we need to look at training in three phases. The first phase is you train your athlete to train. They have to understand to train before they can do anything else. The second phase is you train your athlete to compete. The third phase is you train your athlete to win. I believe that if we look at training three different ways: train to train; train to compete; and train to win and understand how to do that, we are going to get a lot closer to making the competition day the easiest day of an athlete’s season. I got the signal we have to end now. Are there any questions?
Q/A: A question about the three training phases Jack suggested; can they happen at once?
(Jack Roach): I do not believe it can happen simultaneously. I think that until the athlete is comfortable with understanding what is expected of them with train to train, you can not move to train to compete. Each next stage is predicated on building confidence in the current stage. I actually believe it is an age process as well. I think it has to do with the maturity of the athlete.
(Jim Montrella): We want to thank all of you. As we indicated earlier, you can talk to us at any time. Our phone numbers are available. Jack is leaving today. I will be here through tomorrow evening. Again, you can contact us any time. We will be happy to help. We want to help. There isn’t one answer that fits everyone. We are aware of that. Thank you for showing up. We hope this talk helps in your future endeavors. Good luck to all of you.