Success as a Club Coach Panel Moderated by Chuck Warner with John Collins, Peter Malone, and Murray Stephens (1996)


Published


Chuck Warner is a graduate of the University of Redlands in California, Coach Warner became the head coach and CEO of the Redlands Swim Club. He has also coached the Wilton Y Wahoos, the Cincinnati Marlins, the Sarasota YMCA Sharks, and is currently the men’s coach of California State University at Bakersfield. In 1987 he was appointed as the assistant coach to the Pan American Games and in 1990 he was selected as the head coach of the US Junior Team. He is a current member of the ASCA Board of Directors.

John Collins was all American butterflier from Indiana University in the mid of the 1960’s. He earned his law degree in 1972 from Fordham Law school. Since 1970, he has been the coach of Badger Swim Club, in Larchmont, New York. In addition, he has been the coach of Manhattanville College (Div. III) for the past 22 years. John Collins is best known for producing Olympic Champions. Champions like Rick Carey (1984), Lea Loveless (1992) and Christina Teuscher (1996). He has also produced middle distance freestyle champions, like Tobie Smith, Mimosa McNerney and Robert Darzynkiewicz. John Collins was named ASCA “Coach of the Year” in 1983.

Peter Malone earned a Bachelor’s in Business Administration and Financial Management. He was awarded a Business Education Certificate from the University of Toledo, and was a licensed teacher in Ohio from 1972- 1975. From 1975 to the present, Peter Malone has been the General Manager and Head Coach of the Kansas City Blazer Swim Team. He is also the Chief Aquatics Administrator at Johnson County Park and Recreation District. From 1968-1974, Mr. Malone was the Head Coach of the Greater Toledo Aquatic Club. There he also established and managed the U.S. Diving Program. He was also the assistant High School Coach at Toledo St.Francis DeSale, from 1968-1972. Some of his professional achievements include being the coach of Olympic Gold Medalist Janie Wagstaff in 1992. Janie won 100M and 200M backstroke, and the 400 medley relay. Janie also holds the American Record, in the 100 meter backstroke. In addition, Mr. Malone was the coach of Mark Dean, who was a member of the 1988 Olympic Team and the 1991 Pan American Team, where he won a Gold Medal in the 200 Meter Butterfly. Furthermore, he coached Catherine Fox, a member of the 1996 U.S.A. Olympic Team, and a 1995 Pan American Games medalist. Coach Malone has received a number of personal honors and awards. He has been the Region VIII Coach of the Year in 1988, 1989, 1990, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, and 1995. He was the Missouri Valley Coach of the Year from 1986-1994. He was awarded with the American Swim Coaches Association Gold Award for coaching Excellence for 20 years of placing swimmers in Top 8 at Nationals. He has earned and held positions on the U.S. International Coaches List (1977-Present). He was on the Board of Directors for United States Swimming Inc., from 1982-1986 and 1991-1995. He is on the American Swimming Coaches Association Board of Director, (1991-1994) and (1995-1998). In addition, he is on the executive Committee of ASCA Board 1995-1996. He is an Olympic International Division Member (1984- 1996). And he was the Head U.S.A. Women’s Coach for the short-course World Championships, in 1993. Coach Malone, has been a speaker at a number of World Coaches Clinics, and he has conducted workshops on goal setting and value of time management.

Murray Stephens is the founder, owner, director and head coach of the North Baltimore Aquatic Club Head Coach. Since 1968 Murray has trained over 100 individuals to Junior and Senior Nationals and compiled over 500 national top 16 age group rankings. Many of these swimmer have competed at USS, NCAA, and international levels including 7 Olympic medals, 8 American records, and 3 world records. Most recently his swimmer Beth Botsford won a Gold Medal in the 1996 Olympics.

Chuck: I think that you made a great decision about getting up this morning. I think that an hour from now you are going to feel real good about the time that you’ve spent here. Traditionally we begin our morning programs with a headline speech. It’s different to do a panel, but these three individuals have had such unique success in our sport and in American club coaching that we feel they have a tremendous amount to offer to all of us in terms of information. If I had one wish for American swimming it would be that we would have fifty professionally coached programs implanted around the country. I think that would do more for our success than any other single thing that we could do. These would be programs where coaches with independent good judgment could guide the future in the forces of their programs.

These three panelists are in that situation. They have created it for themselves. Each of them have coached Olympic Gold Medalists. All three of them are fathers, all three are husbands, and two of the three have rather diverse responsibilities in their careers.

Starting to my immediate right: In 1983 he coached his first world record holder, who in 1984 won the Olympics in the 200 backstroke — Rick Carey; In 1992 Lea Loveless, and in 1996 with a blistering split of 1:58+, in the winning 800 freestyle relay — Christina Teuscher. He coaches Manhattenville College, the Badger Swim Club, and runs the Badger Summer Swim Camp. His quiet nature is frequently, but not today, contrasted by his attire. Inside that quiet mind is a fierce competitor — Coach John Collins.

Next, his first Olympian in 1988 — Mark Dean; American record holder in 1992 — Janie Wagstaff; this year with a split a 55.07, moving up from the fifth spot at Olympic Trials on to the gold medal 400 freestyle relay — Catherine Fox. He’s the chief Aquatics Administrator at the Johnson County Park and Recreation District in Kansas City, the “Baron” of the Time Standards Committee for United States Swimming — Coach Peter Malone.

Finally we have a fellow who twenty some years ago said, “You just watch the results of Nationals and every year you’ll see in the top eight in the New York Times NBAC. There’s a guy down there who just keeps putting people into finals every year.” In 1984 he had his first Olympian, Olympic gold medalist Teresa Andrews; in 1992 world record holder Anita Nall; and this year Whitney Metzler and Beth Botsford who won the gold medal in the 100 backstroke. He does several things which he’ll tell you about in a minute. He’s a school teacher, he’s a swim coach, he’s owning and running a private summer club and year round fitness club, and perhaps his most brave enterprise at this date is that he’s becoming a sailor as well — Coach Murray Stephens.

The tact that we’re going to try to take with this is talk real quickly about the background of these guys, and their programs, the tools that they have to create the environment within which they work, which I think is one of the unique things that they have to offer, and then go into coaching people. When we go into coaching people I think you will find that this has nothing to do with necessarily clubs, this is just things that they think are real important in coaching people to be great swimmers.

Murray, explain who you work for, the relationship you have with the different organizations.

Murray: Well, first of all I’m a school teacher. I have worked at the Jesuit High School of Baltimore, Loyola High School since 1969, which was my third year of teaching. Of course I work for the administration, the English Department, and for the Athletic Department. Many of you are in that same situation. I coach the Varsity Swim Team there and we’ve had some success over the years, particularly in the early days when I really focused on it as a major goal. In 1980 we won the National Prep Championship.

I also work for the North Baltimore Aquatic Club which is structured as a non-profit, and looks like a parent run club. However, I began it myself with another gentleman and the parents have always looked to me as the guide and essentially the director and owner of the program. But I work with the parents, my excellent staff, and the swimmers. As the owner of the Meadowbrook Aquatics Center we built and developed the outdoor facility, a recreational summer facility, a fifty meter pool, and so on. The last two years, after a period of planning, we have built an indoor six lane, fifty meter pool and fitness center which I also own and operate.

Chuck: John, can you explain the different hats that you wear ?

John: I’ve been a college coach since 1973, Division III, Manhattenville College. I coach the Women’s Team and that’s my primary place where we’ve been training since that time. It’s a twenty-five yard short course pool. I own, or run, my own swim team called Badger. I’ve been coaching there for twenty-five years. My Dad started it. He was a coach. I also own and operate, with my wife and my mother, the Badger Sports Club. This is primarily a children’s day camp which we have been running since 1945. Those are the three hats that I wear.

Chuck: Peter, can you just not only tell about the fact that you work for the Recreation District, but how you created your position within that Recreation District where you have more control of your programs and your situation.

Peter: My primary employer is Johnson County Park and Recreation District and I think that I probably should mention to you that in the last five years they have been a finalist four out of the five years for what they call the Gold Medal Award in the United States for being the outstanding park and recreation department. They have finished second three of those times, and last year they were first. I think that is going to tell you a little bit about my director. My director came on board about six months before myself. He has tremendous vision. He has tremendous values for excellence. I think we both built things together, not always in agreement, but he taught me a lot.

I do have two parent clubs because I have a state line and in Kansas City the state line might as well be a river. It might as well be as big as you can be. They really fight with it, so I have a parent’s club to handle my Missouri branch and I have a parent’s club to handle my Kansas branch. I’m really the general manager of the Kansas branch. It’s a 501-C-3 corporation and I am really now taking over being the general manager of my east branch.

I’ve been a consultant up to this point and I’m moving towards, and this is the key thing, I didn’t just come in and say, “I’m taking it back because I’m not happy with the way things are going.” I’m in a two or three year program right now of taking control of it because I am not happy where things are going. But I’m not just coming in there and banging their heads. We are shifting things and I’m taking back control because I think it’s in the best interest of the development of the program.

I think that is real important because I work with the park and recreation district and I did a great deal to learn what their vision was and their values. That was my confusing thing in 1975 because when I took the job I understood it. When I came on board to take the job my director informed me that he had a different vision and values then had gone through the process of selection because he had really just come on board and had not had a lot of involvement in establishing this. So I had to immediately adjust some things and take another look at things. I think that’s the key thing.

You have to understand, if you are going to work for somebody, what they’re trying to accomplish long term. I constantly challenged them. What was their vision, what were their values, what do they want to accomplish ? Then I went about trying to figure out how to do what I do inside their system, versus changing their system. I did not compromise what I felt was important to us. There is a way to make it work within the organization.

Chuck: Question to John on philosophy: You made the statement that at times the Badger Swim Club budget is your American Express card. Can you talk a little bit about what’s the most important thing to you in the direction your team goes.

John: Ever since I first started coaching, back in the early seventies, I’ve always had the same single minded idea. I wanted to produce national caliber swimmers out of the place where I live — Westchester County in New York. I grew up, in those years, in a very strong competitive atmosphere with clubs like Joe Bernal at Gator, Frank Elm and Bill Palmer running Central Jersey, and John Leonard was coaching Syracuse Chargers in those days. We had some real fierce competition and I got my butt kicked many, many times during those years, but I always wanted to win. So my thoughts were always the same. I wanted to put together a group of people who could become national qualifiers and, like every young coach, the dream was to produce an Olympic Champion. That’s still my dream. That’s still my goal.

I’ve been fortunate in that I have, I guess, a situation where I don’t necessarily have to depend upon my coaching to make a living. I have been blessed having a business as an alternative where my main income is produced from my summer time camp and, as far as my swim team is concerned, I’m the boss and I don’t have a parent’s group overseeing or telling me what I can or can’t do. I’ve always run my own show. If I want to take a group of kids to Nationals and I have to pay for it out of my own pocket, or if you want to call it the club’s pocket, that’s the way I do it. I’m not a great business person. I guess that’s why I’m fortunate to be able to basically break even on my coaching. I’m happy to do that. But, I can do what I want to do and I think that’s essential to a coach who has aspirations of producing national caliber swimmers. You have to have the ability to do what you want to do, and do it the way you want to do it with as little interference as possible. Just give me a group of twenty-five kids who are talented and who are desirous of becoming better and I’m a happy camper.

Chuck: Murray, in your leadership, style, and philosophy and also, if you can, in a nutshell, try to differentiate between what you think you do well and perhaps some of things you see that maybe other coaches don’t do quite as well in leading their programs, that might help them to be more successful.

Murray: Well first of all when I came in here today I saw Al Laprino, who I haven’t seen in about ten years and he told me that my waistline used to be about as trim as John Collins’ the last time that he saw me. I said, “Well that explains what I’ve been doing for the last ten years — developing facilities, raising a family, and so on.” First of all, very similar to John, for the first ten or fifteen years I was paid absolutely nothing to coach and tried to keep myself financially in a situation where I didn’t need any money and the club could operate, and I could use my American Express card, and virtually everything that John said.

However, by the middle eighties, I realized that what I really wanted to have, as far as our own club was concerned, was a club that could survive me. So I decided that in order to do that we had to be self-sufficient. We had to have a budget, so that when I was no longer around to do it that we could hire a coach for real money. So I have worked very hard over the last ten or fifteen years to have a financially successful program, one that could stand alone.

Leadership wise, I think I’ve probably grown and changed from having a little more hard-nosed hands-on control perhaps to having people with enough tradition behind us by being in the same place for twenty-five years, so that I don’t have to lead as aggressively as I used to. I have great people working for me.

We try to work toward a particular goal. I think the goal that Chuck’s referring to is, after approximately fifteen years it seemed to me that age-group swimming in the United States was being down played and had gotten a bad reputation. Burn-out is our favorite word of course, and I thought that was totally wrong. I looked back at what Tracey Caulkins and Cynthia Woodhead had done in the seventies and age-group swimming during that time. I saw us losing that, so I made a commitment in the middle eighties to single-handedly prove to people that you could raise your own age-group swimmers and you could take them through the national program and right to the Olympics. We’ve done that. Beth Botsford is obviously the best example of that. It was a plan. That particular plan has been well over ten years in the making.

Chuck: Peter, you’re a big believer in excellence as I’m sure all you guys are. You could talk for days on this, but in a minute or two how do you teach excellence and how do you develop it in your program ?

Peter: Excellence is a an abused word and I try to bring some purity to it. We all like to use it and most of us don’t take the time to really define what it is. Excellence is going to be different in every individual because everybody’s potential is different. The path that I take with the kids is that the path of getting excellence out of yourself is identical. The level of excellence, or the level of performance, is different. The material rewards will be different. But who you are and what you are will be exactly the same at the end of the road. We preach that all the way through and we justify that it’s important that everybody pursue excellence within themselves. That puts everybody on the same page. Catherine Fox is on the same page with the kid who’s trying to make a “AAA” time, because that, for that person, that might be the highest level that they can reach.

We identify and talk about personality traits all the time and I have a list of them that I really bring out all the time to the kids. Some are born with some of them and some of them have to be developed, but nothing’s a destiny. You have to be relentless. You have to be assertive. You have to be aggressive. You need to be obsessive. You need to be compulsive. You need to be focused. You need to be responsible and accountable. You need to have time management. You need to be self-reliant. Some of them are good traits.

Some of them can be really misused. You’ve got to help teach them to use those. I think we spend a lot of time teaching technique. We need to spend a lot of time teaching them who they are. When they get up there, they are by themselves on that block. It’s a combination of who they are and what you have prepared physically that gets them to perform at a peak performance. I think we have to take responsibility for that.

Chuck: It’s hard to distinguish in a progressive order between these three words: anticipation, preparation, and dedication. But those, by many, are felt to be the three keys to being a great coach in anything and I think you can see these guys have great anticipation: Murray and John, in doing a lot to control their future and not having anyone else control it.

We’ll get a little more into preparation and dedication, but it just seems to come through at every level as they speak.

John is first. Managing your books and things like that, are there any other management tools you use? You’ve been kind of blessed to be in a family situation so it’s a little different for you.

John: Yes, I’m grateful. My Mom does all my books and I’m real thankful that she’s around. Running a business is obviously something that you have to pay a lot of attention to. With the camp, it’s an eight week situation in the summertime, but you work all year to get things prepared properly and to hire the staff. Some summers we have nearly one hundred people who work for us. Obviously it’s a very responsible situation. I do most of the hiring and I do most of the interviews with parents who come over and want to enroll their kids in camp. But when I’m away at meets, and when I’m at workouts, which always seems to take precedence to the camp nowadays, my wife and my mom are there and they make sure that things are done right. I feel very comfortable in that situation. It’s a great situation.

Chuck: Murray, aside from experience, how do you learn to do the things you do? The investment with the building of the facility, with all the financial decisions that you’re having to make right now with the things that you are doing — where do you get the knowledge for that ?

Murray: Well I guess I’ve been training all my life for this. I grew up on a farm and I was driving field tractors when I was ten or eleven years old and driving trucks. Because we also owned some property I was doing electric work and plumbing work with my father. When I was fourteen I put in an entire fire alarm system in an apartment house with him. So I had a lot of experience like that. I also went through the swimming coaching thing and worked at summer pools for ten years or more and managed the pool thing, worked with the staff, repaired things again, and so on. I had a little bit of background in those areas. Both of my parents own their own businesses so I had some experience helping with that and seeing what they did. From then it was mostly take what you know and try to move ahead and learn some more and just keep adding skills as I went.

Chuck: How did you find out about loans and things like that for building your own pool? Did you read something, did you go sit down with bankers ?

Murray: I think the best thing I could say about that is, one thing that I do, and it might be something to think about, I really do think and plan and vision a year, two years, and three years down the road. I just tried to imagine how I could financially do this thing for at least two or three years before I finally did it.

There was this old pool that was built in 1930 that was in my area and I had never been there. I knew people who had, but I did know it was big. To make a long story short I ended up sneaking in there in the middle of the winter, after some people prodded me, and jumped the fence. It was stark, not an ounce of water in it. It was 110 feet wide by 200 feet long. I walked along and measured it off by pacing it. I found out it was three and a half feet deep at the fifty meter mark. I said this is very interesting. I massaged the old man who owned it, who was eighty years old, for two years. It took me a year for us to be able to get in and swim in it. Of course it had no lines and, of course, they were swimming from one corner to the other and all over the pool. It was great. Then it took another year to get a little more time in the pool. Then it took another year to get a contract to purchase, which I did by borrowing $5,000 from my mother and giving him a $5,000 check, because I didn’t have $5,000. From there I just wangled the bank into loaning me the rest of the money. Of course that’s as a result of Ronald Reagan being President and the S & L crisis. They were a little more willing to lend money on a 90%. You can’t do that anymore.

Chuck: Peter, you’re a great planner as well. How important is long range planning to you? Richard Quick mentioned the other morning that he spent four hours with you just planning for Catherine. What kind of things do you plan for her?

Peter: I think that probably the thing that I try to remind myself is never to be short-sighted. People who get to know me are amazed because they think, “God, how can you think that far in advance?” I heard Murray talk about trying to get his club ready for when he left. I did the same thing two years ago. I really felt that there was going to be a time after I left and I was very concerned that the club didn’t know that. That was going to be ten or twelve years from then to give you a scope of what I was thinking. I ran a strategic planning meeting and brought John Leonard in, a neutral party, to help me to start preparing them, even though they wouldn’t be the same parents. We needed to be starting to do things over the next two quadrennials to position this club to have a life after me. That made sure that everything was healthy for them. I didn’t build this for me, I built it for the community.

But, in long range planning, I think the mistake people make is short-sighted, they’re too short-sighted and they’re reactionary. I always start where I want to be and come back to where I’m at. I function on what I call a five year plan. The first year and the fifth year are the same. I’ll explain that in a minute. Actually it’s a four year plan for the Olympics, but I feel in the last year going into the Olympics there’s not much that I can change. I’m just finishing what I have done. I have all the information that I need and I’m just running hard. But I’ve got to be ready for the next plan before I get there. So during the year that I’m running for the Olympics, it’s the first year of my next plan, and I’m spending a great deal of time preparing for the next one.

When you look at your plan you have to look at the good, the bad, and the ugly. You’ve got to anticipate what those might be. You must decide what some of the solutions will be, because it’s not a question that you stick to your plan. I believe it’s easier to change a plan than to react to just what happens in front of you. I’m not afraid to change something. It’s much easier to change something I’ve planned because I had planned it for a reason, so I’m going to change it for a reason. Now I’m not being reactionary, I’m for making it better. I think these are critical things. I think you have to take the time to do it.

Chuck: What percentage of time do you guys spend working with or planning for your group? You can go percentage either way, but the percentage of your time per week that goes into just coaching your group, compared to all the other things that you have to do. By your group I mean that group of thirty kids that I presume you spend most of your time with.

John: I’m not just a typical coach. I coach a morning workout, an afternoon workout, and I spend a lot of time thinking. The kids do train seven days a week so I imagine forty to fifty per cent of my day is spent in swimming related matters.

Chuck: Your age-group coaches take care of most of the rest of your program, so it’s really towards your group ?

John: Yes. I’m just a senior coach. I have two good age group coaches which I think is really an essential part of a program. One coach works with the kids who are ten and under and another coach works with the kids from ten to thirteen. They’re both people who I coached and they’re people who have stability, financially, through the kids that they coach. It takes a lot of the worries out of me dealing with age-group parents. I have a pyramid deal of course. The kids come up through my Badger program and eventually get funneled onto the senior team at the age of thirteen or fourteen, or whenever I think that they’re ready.

Christina Teuscher started in the Badger program when she was six or seven years old and trickled her way up to me just before she turned thirteen. Typically, as you would imagine, most of my best kids are kids who have come through my program, not kids who have come from other programs.

Chuck: Murray, everyone in the room is hanging on your answer for this question. With the school teaching, the pool building, the management, and all that, how much time do you actually spend on your top group?

Murray: Well it’s a little difficult to give an answer and have people walk out and understand the situation. I’ve gone through the whole series of coaching from three every afternoon until nine every night after teaching school from eight in the morning until three every day, as well as having morning workouts. There were many years when I did that. There were a couple of years in the mid-eighties before Tom Himes came on board with me where I coached the entire program because my other staff people had left. I did everything.

Now, when I say that coaching on the deck is the least thing that I do time wise and effort wise, it may sound like I’m not doing very much. I coach twenty hours a week. Right now we swim seven days a week also. We haven’t done much in the way of mornings over the last couple of years. We do a little bit. I could almost say we do no morning practices and be fairly accurate. But, don’t get the idea that we don’t work very hard, because we do. In the summer we work a little bit harder with some doubles.

Last summer we worked so hard — but I remember telling Mark Schubert at Nationals last summer that I didn’t think we had done particularly well, although we did have two kids make the Pan-Pac Team. I didn’t think they had swum particularly well. Whitney Phelps swam fairly well. I said we worked so hard and we didn’t get much out of it. It was a lot like as Pete said. I think what we did last summer, and this winter we just cruised. We just put it on automatic for the most part because we worked so hard last summer.

I spend about seventy hours a week working, or I have, over the last four or five years and that’s every day probably fifty-one weeks a year.

Chuck: If you spend twenty hours coaching your group on the pool deck, how many hours do you spend preparing?

Murray: Well, I teach four or five classes a day, then I’m teaching three and a half to four hours a day and I’m preparing, with marking papers, an hour to two hours out of that, and doing whatever else administratively with school. Then spending the other hours on keeping track of finances or, a couple of years ago, planning to build a facility, and then general contracting and building the whole building. I really do work seventy hours a week, virtually every week.

Chuck: Oh, I believe you. But what amount of time do you spend preparing for your practice, in terms writing down your practice ahead of time?

Murray: Yes. I have yellow pads like this, about this high, from twenty years ago. We do have probably over 1,000 workouts in the Hy-tek program in the years that I’ve been disciplined enough to spend the whole season doing that. I know one of my staff people, Bob Bowman, has been trying to read my scribbling to put some of my workouts from last season back in. But I guess, to tell you the truth, I really do most planning either walking around, or driving in the car, or sometimes twenty, twenty-five minutes when I have to sit down to plan it. There have been plenty of times when I walk on the deck and just do it. I’ve done it so long and so many times that I can do that, or I can be very disciplined. It depends on the season. This year we’re being very disciplined about what we’re doing. We’re organizing it better, and I could go through a whole thing on that. But I’m not happy with what we’ve been doing, even though we’ve been getting good results, because of the work load that I have.

Chuck: Peter, percentage of time devoted just to your top group of swimmers in terms of planning and deck time?

Peter: Well I’m on deck probably due to the way I run my group, and I do cycle some of the kids through, so I probably put in during the winter months somewhere between twenty-four and thirty hours that are involved with training athletes, because I don’t have them all there the same sessions. If you look at Scott Volkers weekly schedule I thought it mimicked mine almost identical. I agree with his philosophy of letting them off on Saturday mornings after Saturday morning practice. Our Saturday morning is pretty intense. We start at five. Some of them go until noon, depending on what they’re doing. There’s a variety of things that we do. Everything from running, we start off with weights and then run, then swim, and then some of them go to gymnastics. So it’s a pretty intensive Saturday morning.

Chuck: Do they spend twenty five hours or so working out each week training?

Pete: Some of my kids do. I would say probably twenty five percent to thirty percent of my group puts in exactly the same amount of time as I do — about twenty five hours.

Chuck: How much time do you spend planning for that practice?

Pete: Monday and Tuesday are my main planning days. They are planning for the week coming next, so before I get through this week, while I’m going through it, I know exactly what I want to do next week. I spend almost all of August and September, pretty intensively, planning the entire year. It’s pretty well laid out, other than writing the specific work outs. Every week is already cycled and I know pretty much what I want to do. Everything from the amount of yardage, to everything. That takes me over one hundred hours. I’ve kept track of it.

Chuck: Then on Monday and Tuesday you take a couple of hours to plan the week.

Pete: I would say it probably takes me four or five hours, if you took Monday and Tuesday and put them together, to put a week together.

Chuck: Okay. John, you’ve gone for years without having a terrific age-group program, but have had the ability to draw swimmers from Westchester County, Fairfield County, around your surrounding area. What was the trigger to get the credibility to have that kind of draw ?

John: Well, you know, Rick Carey was the guy who gave my program credibility. I hate to say that you have to produce a world record holder to get respect. I always felt that I knew what I was doing. But, from a young coach’s stand point it was probably really important for me to have a kid like that, to develop a kid like that. Once you get him there people look at you a little bit differently. It just gave me a lot more confidence in my own abilities and kind of said you can do this and I can do it again. But we don’t do things really differently from those days back in the late seventies, early eighties, than now. I’ve been fortunate to be able to draw into the program fairly talented youngsters. It’s not a large program. I only coach twenty or thirty kids. Normally in my age-group program there may be as many as a hundred or so, or maybe a few more than that, but it’s not a big program.

I’m not sure whether coming out of Westchester County, or being in New York, is an advantage. We’ve always thought it was easy to sell us as a “David going against the Goliaths” of the swimming community. We always welcome the opportunity to go and knock heads against Mark Schubert of Mission Viejo and to go up to Canada and try to take on the big teams. We always thought of ourselves as a small home grown outfit that was trying to beat up on the big guys.

Chuck: Murray, where does the sense of purpose, or the motivation, for the kids in your program come from to be a great swimmer? Are there any incentives in terms of little travel things, or moving up to the next group, that you think are valuable in encouraging them towards moving in the direction of becoming great?

Murray: Well first of all, in listening to John and Pete, it’s what John just said. He could have written that down and I could have just read it for myself because there’s a lot to that. I know there are many years, ten or fifteen years, when I would spend sixty or seventy hours reading in August, reading everything, and planning and thinking, and trying to decide whether it worked or not, looking at what was valuable for us, and just going through an entire intense mini-college course for myself in August to plan my swimming program, to try and learn what swimming was all about from at least from my perspective.

What helps us to be successful? I just think it’s pretty much tradition and the way we present expectations to our athletes. Again, we want everyone to be successful. We don’t do a lot of rah-rah. The whole team needs to do this. Although we do sometimes think of ourselves as the little team because we are little and always have been. Probably over twenty-five years we average under a hundred swimmers. We have a little over a hundred right now, but we probably have been a sub-one hundred person team. People would never believe that, but we have. I think in having the pride in what we do, and the work that we put in, I still think it’s individual.

Sometimes, I when I get a chance to speak, I tell people, to Dennis Pursley’s chagrin, that we don’t have team meetings. I don’t have staff meetings. Actually I did have one staff meeting last year, and then my people had a staff meeting once a week for awhile without me. I don’t have meetings. I’ve been an educator for twenty-nine years and I hate meetings. If you’re a school teacher, if you’ve done any of that, you know what I’m talking about. I’m not saying we never ever sit down and talk. We just don’t have organized meetings. We may spend five minutes before a practice, but the rest of the time it’s pretty much individual.

I talk to individuals because I coach individuals. Everyone is there doing what we all do as individuals, working together to help them to be happy and have fun and succeed. It’s as simple as that. Pete said, “It doesn’t matter whether you’re doing a AAA time or if you’re going for an American record.” It honestly doesn’t. It doesn’t matter if you’ve worked really hard to go to a meet in January, or whether you’ve worked really hard to go to the Olympics, we really don’t feel that it’s a lot different. It’s a little bit different. Obviously, I’m not saying that the Olympics isn’t different, but we don’t act like it’s a lot different. We worked hard, we want to go to the meet, we want to swim well, end of story.

Chuck: Peter, anything particularly different as far as what helps your kids move towards being as great as they can be?

Peter: It’s great to listen to these guys because what Murray just said, and what John’s been saying is almost identical to a lot of the things that I do and the way that we do things. I agree with the concept — I also hate meetings. I come from a different place. I hate it when my bosses tell me that I have to have meetings inside the Park and Recreation District. I keep telling them that I’m busy. We do hold staff meetings. I think that’s important. So I somewhat agree and disagree. But it’s based on your thing. I hate them, but I need to run them because we’re spread out all over the metro-plex and it’s a way for me to communicate with my different satellites. We only do it once a month, at most twice a month.

My kids think I probably meet with them a lot, but I really don’t because it’s always during practice. I don’t take up extra time. I do a lot of one on one meetings. I do meet with the parents. I spend a lot of time every day, as needed, and I would probably say I average ten calls a day to different parents in my group making sure they understand where we’re going and what’s happening with their child. I think that’s critical if you want to take them to peak performance. You have to be doing this together with them.

We do coach-athlete meetings. I do coach-parent meetings. Once they get to the senior national level the parents are required to come in with their athlete to meet with me once a year, which is done during the month of September. I meet with them as it relates to their program because I feel they’re getting to such a level that they need to understand what can happen over the next two or three years. I’m telling them what we’re going to do, some of the things that we’re going to do to accomplish it and make sure that they take ownership of it. It’s no good if it’s my plan. It has to be their plan. This is a real critical thing that I feel they have to have. I feel that they have to have ownership of it.

Chuck: Don’t you also do communication meetings during the practice time for parents, so it’s at their convenience that they can come in occasionally and you’ll take time out to sit and talk with them?

Pete: Yes. There’s a variety of things that we do. In the age-group program we have three parent meetings throughout the year. They really go anywhere from October through May. We don’t do anything in June and July because the way our workout schedule works in June and July we can’t do it conveniently for the parents. The primary coach at the site meets with the parents. The parents are sitting in the bleachers, or whatever we have, while the kids are working out. The other coaches are running the group. At that point in time the coaches are telling them what we have been doing the last four to eight weeks and what we’re going to be doing for the next four to eight weeks, and why we’re doing it.

My group meets with me twice a year and the meetings are mandatory. If you’re not there with your child sitting next to you, you don’t swim. It’s black and white. Parents will tell me they have this to do and I say, “That’s fine. As soon as you can find time, and I can find time, your child can start swimming again. So you have a choice.” Generally if they miss the meeting, which is in a week and a half, it’s a real problem because I’m pretty busy at this time of year. I’m not very convenient to meet with them when they don’t make that one meeting in September. That’s my hardest one. The April meeting is pretty good. We go over everything at that point as a group.

Chuck: Facilities doesn’t seem a big deal for you guys, right John? Six lanes, twenty-five yard pool, and in the summer a fifty meter pool, is that pretty much correct?

John: The big deal is that we train in a twenty-five yard pool from September through mid-June. It’s a sub-par facility which I think has always been an advantage. You have to have pool time. The beauty of that is I have the key to the pool.

Chuck: Is it safe to say that your attitude is give me the key to the pool and we’ll compete with people ?

John: Yes. Give me the key to the pool, let me alone, and we’ll try to do the best that we can. I’ve been fortunate in that that’s somewhat the way that we’ve been able to do things. I have my own pool in the summertime, a fifty yard pool that was built in 1930 and that’s been our program. Up until this past year we were fortunate enough to have the use of an indoor fifty meter pool in the Bronx.

Chuck: You said leave me alone. How many parents do you visit with while you’re running practice ?

John: Well I don’t bar parents from coming to work out, but for the most part I’m very happy to talk to any parent that I can. But, I don’t talk to a lot and that’s fine with me. I don’t want to give you the impression that I don’t encourage parents to talk to me. I think that the kids that I’ve been most successful with are kids whose parents have been very knowledgeable in that they’ve pretty much said, “John, you’ve got the kid and we believe in you and anything that you do with them we pretty much back.” But I do talk to parents quite a bit, although some parents I’ve never met.

Chuck: Murray, North Baltimore has been run for years in a six lane, twenty-five yard pool. Then this adventure of the summer pool came about with the lack of support from individuals at the school who explained to you the lack of value of your program and where it fit into the facility use at Loyola and inspired you to go out and make sure you were independent and in control?

Murray: From 1967-1987, we worked mostly out of a twenty-five yard pool at Loyola High School. There were a few years that we rented a couple of other short course pools. We had people making nationals, winning nationals, and making Olympic teams, and winning gold medals without any kind of fifty meter pool. You don’t need a fifty meter pool and that’s very important to tell people. There are some good things about a 50 meter pool but it’s not that critical, in my mind at least, for most swimming. What I told Chuck was that we had a new maintenance engineer who was hired to run around and keep the facility going. He came up to me around 1984-85 and told me that our group was an outside group and to always remember that. We weren’t part of the school even though we had been there for seventeen years and brought national championships to the school and ten or fifteen local championships, but the swim club was just an outside group. I don’t want to go into school politics, but that convinced me that it only took one person to come in with an attitude to have us no longer training at the school. That was enough motivation there for me to start thinking about having some more independence, which is the direction that we’ve gone, even though we still work at the school.

Most of our swim training for our age-group program still occurs at the prep school.

Chuck: We’re going to skip a little bit, Peter, to motivational moments. Sports science doesn’t ever distinguish motivational moments. A great coach is someone that can do that and take advantage of it. Can you give an example of a motivational moment in training? Perhaps an athlete who was just having a sensational practice, or someone that’s having a terrible practice, or not working to the level that you think they should, and how you would handle that motivational moment. What you might say to that athlete that might make a difference in their swimming.

Pete: I think I’m famous for my eyes. I hear from coaches all the time who say, “Boy Pete you really get in their face.” I’m in their face because I’m real busy reading their body language, trying to read who they are, what they’re thinking, trying to understand them. That’s why there’s so much intensity coming from my eyes. I think it’s sometimes misread. People think I’m delivering and a lot of times I’m taking in. I think that happens immediately in practice. Once we start practice I don’t say too much most of the time. I give them the sets and we go. I somewhat become a little bit more like an observer. When we do get to certain situations there’s no question when the going gets tough the tough get going. I live by pretty basic principles. No pain, no gain.

I can think of a little thing this summer when we were sitting in Knoxville. Catherine Fox was doing a set of hundreds, definitely a lot harder than she wanted to go. I had come in for the weekend because she had asked me to come in for the weekend. I just looked at her and she said, “I don’t need to go five.” I said, “No, you’re going to go five.” So we started the set. It was a lactate type set. She was going to go on about six or seven minutes and they were going to be all out from a push. She kind of got going and she started complaining that she was struggling, and this and that. I said, “There’s no way you’re going to win, if you’re not a winner here. You’re practicing to win right now. This is not energy systems we’re working on. You have to decide you want it. You have do it.” I could have given in. I had to decide what is most important. She has to be there on that second fifty. She’s got to be there that last twenty-five. I felt that we were at a point that was critical for her to stay in touch, with how tough she had to be. She went the best push one hundred she’d ever gone in her life on the last one. She’s never pushed off below 1:01. She went 00.6 on the last one. I felt pretty confident she was going to swim pretty fast, but six or seven days later. I knew she was ready. I knew she was mentally tough. She was ready to take the business.

Chuck: John, I think everybody would have liked to have been a fly on the wall with some of your motivational moments with Rick Carey, or maybe some of Rick Carey’s motivational moments with you. Can you think of anything in your career that you feel has really helped people, on a daily basis?

John: It’s very hard. I don’t consider myself to be a rah-rah type coach where I can inspire people by yelling at them or by giving them the “do it for the gipper” type of speech.

You do do that though when you’re trying to win a Region I title back in 1982. One of my moments in coaching was when Chuck was coaching at the Wilton Y and he beat me at the Region I’s. I considered quitting coaching then.

Chuck: Really? I should have stayed.

John: Rick Carey was a real interesting story. You have to know what to say. You know your swimmers so well, sometimes it’s what you don’t say that’s important. It’s just the way you look, just by your demeanor, sometimes by the type of shirt you wear can help them. Giving Lea Loveless a ladybug always seemed to help her swim fast.

The story about Rick was when he broke his first world record we were in Clovis California. He was a great workout swimmer. He also had a very fragile psyche. To gain confidence we had devised a system where he would do a trial swim, normally the day before the meet started. This particular meet he pushed off a 200 meter backstroke in a workout situation in lane one in 2:01. His best time was two minutes point. The world record was 1:59 by John Nabor, so I knew he was swimming well. The next morning going up for the trial heat he said to me, he was walking with his nylon Arena suit on, “John, should I change into my skin suit for this morning?” I said, “You know Rick, I don’t think you really have to. It’s just a morning swim. You just go out and swim.” Which he did and of course he proceeded to break the world record. It was not the inspirational speech that I said Rick you have to go out there and do it, this is the time, you’re in great shape and I really think you can. It was by not saying that, that worked.

Murray: The swimmers I know have their own program. They know what path they’re going to go and they kind of have a plan. It’s possible Rick Carey already knew he wanted to break the world record in the morning. He might have been thinking that he wanted to see what John said about the skin suit, even though he still had plans to break the world record. He had his own program that he wanted to do, but he wanted to do it himself. He didn’t want to have to necessarily have someone say he had to do it, or anything.

The swimmers that I know of, the three girls, four girls, that have been on the Olympic team are pretty fragile in many ways. You keep them on track of what they are doing. You don’t ask them to do things that they are not prepared to do. You don’t ask them to accept responsibilities they are not prepared to accept. Just let them go do their thing. That’s what I do. If Anita Nall is feeling good and asks me how fast she should swim I’ll just tell her to go out and feel good, swim pretty strong. If you feel like working a little harder than do it. She goes out and breaks the world record. We don’t talk about world records. I don’t even talk to them most of the time before they swim at a major meet.

I wanted to share with you a couple of quick things about Beth this year. Beth didn’t decide, if she ever decided, that she wanted to be on the Olympic Team until probably January. I did spend some time trying to let her know that I felt that she would be disappointed with “I wish I really wanted to do this, I wish I’d thought about it,” when March came around. So I felt it was my obligation to tell her that she ought to make sure that she was clear and she’d be willing to accept the responsibility for saying and basically responding that she didn’t really care that much about it. So we went back and forth and I spent quite a bit of time talking to her and some time talking to her parents who, I must say again it’s hard for you to believe this, that they didn’t care if she made the Olympic Team or not — particularly her mother. Her mother just doesn’t care whether Beth is a star athlete, she just wants her to be her daughter and that’s the end of the story. That’s fine with me. We make kind of a good team because I don’t care whether she makes the Olympic Team and the mother doesn’t care either. It was important for Beth to care, if she wanted to do it. So we went through this whole thing.

Finally we got into January and I felt that she had to do something to go faster so that maybe she would feel that she was faster and that she ought to think about this. I decided that she ought to think about what she was going to do in college swimming. She ought to think about what she was going to do this year, with the possibility that we were going to have Nationals short course. So let’s stop worrying about long course, let’s start worrying about short course. We haven’t swum short course in God knows when-four years. Let’s talk about this.

So I got a copy out of “Swimming World” and made a copy of the page that had all the splits from NCAA’s. I handed it out to the group. I had Beth notice that Lea Loveless’ split on the Stanford relay was 24.6. My story to Beth was she had been 26.7 or something as a twelve year old and we hadn’t seen a faster fifty since then. I said if you can’t swim any better at Nationals, and you can’t worry about the Olympic Team, for God’s sake let’s try to have a faster fifty every two years. So she kind of bought into that. We worked on it. We did a couple of things. Had a pretty good seventy-five in practice — 40.0, which was better, probably a second and a half better. To make a long story short, one day in practice she went 26 low and then about two weeks later she went 25.1 on two watches.

I must say we started working with the underwater butterfly kick a little bit. You have to understand that Beth can do regular backstroke kick on a 50 in about 28+, without any arm work. She can do butterfly kick, a fifty, in about 26 flat. She has great legs. She started playing around with this, you know 25.1 in practice on two watches.

At that point she was motivated to start doing 24.6. That was the whole thing. After she started doing things like going 38 for a seventy-five. I said, “You know Beth, one more twenty-five and you’d break the American record.” So she was beginning to buy into “I should try and be good” thing.

Then when we got to Olympic Trials and she saw they were painting the names of the Olympic Team members on the wall. I figured she still needed to make the final decision. I said, “Hey Beth, look at those names on the wall. There’s Teresa Andrews from 1984. She swam for us. There’s Patrick Kennedy who swam for us in 1984. It’s pretty cool. There’s Anita Nall. Anita’s up there in 1992 Trials in Indianapolis.” She looked at that for an elongated gaze, and then she put her head down between her legs and I knew I had her in the nick of time. She wanted her name on that wall.

Chuck: She had had a plateau for a couple of years, right ?

Murray: She was 1:03.2 as a twelve year old and that next summer, just thirteen, was 1:02.9 and had not broken 1:03.8 since, in eighteen months.

Chuck: Peter, do coaches over-coach, especially at the big meet?

Pete: Yes. I have been fortunate enough to have swimmers in the top eight at the National Championships every year since 1975. Early in this talk, we describe the Kansas City Blazers as a family swim team. There’s a difference. There are corporate swim teams and there are university swim teams. We’re a family swim team and we try to knock heads in different ways. When I go to a National Championship I have a privilege of getting to pay a lot of attention to watching all the other coaches coach because I don’t usually have very many kids there.

I over-coached a lot for a long time. I’ve had the privilege of having kids on international teams pretty much every year since 1980 and I got to go to some of these meets and I watched the real great athletes and the real great coaches do things. I mean not just in this country, but around the world. The real good ones do it on their own. The key is self-reliance. You have to believe you’ve done the work and you’ve got them prepared. These two guys next to me are the two guys that I’ve watched a ton of. If you observe them on the deck you’d think they weren’t coaching. We have a lot of other guys out there, running up and down the deck, doing thousands of splits, just about killing themselves. They feel they need all of that. I think we need it, I’m not sure the athletes need it. They’ve spent who knows how many hours preparing and how many little comments you’ve given them. I believe you have to finally let them go. You got to let them have it because it’s their race, it’s their swimming. You have to step back. When you step back, believe it or not, it’s a little bit like Murray did, it’s just what you heard. They took ownership. He made a key comment. It wasn’t what he did in the warm-up pool. It wasn’t a dive twenty-five. It’s what he did with the wall. That had more to do with getting her ready to swim. Sometimes those moments come, sometimes they’re not there. Don’t force it. But I don’t think the National Championships is the place to be doing a lot of coaching. I think it’s the place to believe that you have done your job. That goes for any big meet. I think you need to get there and let them go.

Chuck: I know all three of these guys agree with that. You guys have been in the same position for roughly twenty, twenty-five years. Your Olympians did not come overnight. Eight to thirteen years in the job before you had your first Olympian is about how I’ve calculated it. Was there ever a time, John, that you had a crisis where you thought you might do something else? You have your law degree.

John: Except for that time when you beat me?

Chuck: Except for that time.

John: I’ve always kind of felt, not that I’m on a mission, but my background was basically a swimming background. I swam when I was young. My dad was my coach. He had people like Forbes Carlile in to New York when I was eleven twelve years old. I kind of grew up with Doc Councilman and people like Jack Pettinger. So I guess I must have it in my blood. I’m one of the few people who can say, probably, that I was at the 1960 Olympic Trials watching Ford Kono and Murray Rose, people that were friends. So I guess I have a background. I always felt that it was something that I wanted to do. When I finished college I didn’t ever think that I’d become a swimming coach. But, it’s funny how those things work out. Being raised in a situation where I had a pool in my front yard I guess it was inescapable that I was going to be linked to swimming for the rest of my life. I followed in my Dad’s footsteps much to his dismay. He wanted me to become a golfer.

Chuck: You have the clothes for it. Murray, ever a time, a crisis, when you thought maybe you were going to do something different, or just leave the area ?

Murray: Well we’ve had plenty of crises. Again, I could give you ten or twelve of them. I had one crisis in 1972. I had a girl, who was a National Junior Champion and so on. She just wasn’t doing well in the program so she basically needed to leave the program. Her father, who was probably the king negative swimming parent that I ever met in my whole life. This one was really the best, or worst. He got up at the parent’s meeting, even though he was no longer on the team and said, “I wish we could get rid of Murray, but I can’t get you to do it because he doesn’t get paid.” At that point I wasn’t getting any money out of it so I said I guess you don’t know how to fire me because he doesn’t get paid. He was a veterinarian. I had two other parents, a family, husband and wife, who were both doctors, and the one person had two medical degrees. When the veterinarian got up and said, “Well I have a medical degree”, they got up and said, “Well we have three medical degrees between us and you don’t know what the hell you’re talking about and Murray is the best coach we ever met…” and so on. So that was something of a crisis.

Then we had another crisis in 1977 when my two age-group coaches decided that they needed to have their own team and they took about forty or fifty of our swimmers, including about thirty “AAA” swimmers with them. They had been undermining us and discussing this with the parents for about three or four months, unbeknownst to me. So they went and started their own club and left me with half the team and just the few of the older kids that I had and nothing below that. That was kind of a crisis. But like John, if it doesn’t kill you, it makes you stronger. Like Sam Freas, my good friend, said yesterday about telling his son that he needed to tune this guy at school who was giving him a hard time. I basically come from a background in life that it wasn’t wrong, if somebody was really hurting you, it was okay to punch him once. I think life can still be a battle. I always like a little bit of a challenge. I think we came out of that stronger. Every time we have a motivational moment like that I just get more motivated.

Peter: I would say probably my real first crisis, or major crisis, was probably around 1984. It was that Olympic year that made me take a look at what I wanted to do and whether I really wanted to stay with this. When I started this, I come from a little bit different background than John’s family. My parents still wonder if I’ll ever get a job and if I’ll ever become a professional. I do have six brothers and sisters and they are all professionals, everything from chemical engineers to lawyers. It’s been real difficult for them to comprehend that this is what I do for a living. So that’s been a struggle at times. They always tell me that they’re proud of me though. Please understand that. In 1984 I did this with a passion, that I wanted to have kids on the Olympic Team, I wanted to be an Olympic coach, all these wonderful things, and that America is the greatest thing since bottled beer. I want to let you know that none of those things have changed. But, as life got going I really looked at it and was wondering if I would ever accomplish those things and should I start pursuing some other dreams. Since then, once I made the commitment and revisited that issue and discussed really what was important to me as a person, and important to what I wanted my life to be for, I’ve never looked back. I decided I was an educator at that point, and that swimming was my vehicle to be an educator. I’ve just kind of dedicated myself until I’ve finished this. That means when I leave this planet that this was what I was put on this earth to do. I think it’s okay to look in your heart and decide what you’re here for. It’s better to give than to receive. I live by those principles and try to go the best way I can.

Sponsorship & Partnerships

Official Sponsors and Partners of the American Swimming Coaches Association

Join Our Mailing List

Subscribe and get the latest Swimming Coach news