Success Tools for the Swimming Coach by Ira Klein (2010)


My name is Ira Klein and I coach a team in Sarasota, Florida. Now I coach a team there called the Sarasota Tsunamis, just started a new team. I actually had gone back to Sarasota to coach a club I coached years ago at the YMCA and one thing I learned even in my advancing years is that athletic and financial success doesn’t guarantee you employment, okay. When the overall parent organization is failing things change. So my wife and I were handed some lemons and we made some lemonade out of it. It’s going to be part of what I’m talking about today.

Prior to going back to coaching in Sarasota I worked 4 years for USA Swimming heading-up the field services department. If you don’t know about the field services department then some point if it’s still open tonight or the first thing tomorrow morning go to the USA Swimming booth and tell them you want a visit from one of their consultants—it’s free. Alright and then people come out and help teacher, parents group how to be proper parents group and let you be better coaches where they’ll come out and help you and your staff learn more because no matter how much we learn there is always more we can and that’s what they are specializing in. But I spent four years heading up the fields services department and club development before that I spent almost a decade in Santa Barbara. As I look around the faces I see several people who I know and know me and those who do know that I have coached in all four zones, alright I’m kind of a rolling stone I’m trying to stay put in one place for a while at least long enough to see more than one president come and go. But I have coached in several different LSC and it’s helped me gain some perspective; and then in my role with USA Swimming I went out and visited swim clubs some of your clubs and got to know even more.

There is no PowerPoint presentation and there is no hand out. And I’m hoping that if I do this right when I’m done your minds will be full and your sheets will be empty. I want you to think I’m hoping to present information that really if nothing else excites you by going home and coaching fast athletes. You’ll find as you go and this is my 33rd, 32nd ASCA clinic, but as you go through the ASCA clinic besides learning that you’ll always have a lot to learn you are going to learn and often the titles don’t coincide exactly with the presentation. We make up the presentations and Mr. Leonard, coach Leonard makes up the titles, so sometimes they don’t completely jive but to start it off and when we are talking about successful clubs we are going to do just a very short part here about things you need for successful clubs and then I’m going to talk about successful coaches because that’s the only way you have a successful club is to have a successful coach. There is four easy parts to a successful club the first is leadership, alright both coach and volunteer leadership even if you are a coach on program alright, you need parents who can help take tasks off your shoulders and lead the rest of the parents. As the coach you are the ultimate leader whether you want to be or not I’m sorry you are and I don’t care you are the assistant coach you are still a leader; you are a leader for the athletes on to you, you are a leader for the parents group that you over see. But leadership is our responsibility.

Communication; I think this is probably as coaches our weakest point it is as if because I think everybody else should know it, alright. We have to communicate and compared to when I started coaching and there is really… you had to telegraph maybe and I mean, the forms of communication and then when you get into one of this… I mean how many people are selling in the booths in there waits for you to set up your team and then communicate to everybody through iPhones, through Facebook, through Twitter, through e-mail.

There is tens, twenty different ways for us to communicate. I tried to put it on the website, in an e-mail and on paper every time because I want to make sure I don’t miss anybody. And yes, I know coaches all say “hey if I send out an e-mail they choose not to open it, their problem,” it becomes our problem cause and they don’t know something cause when they showed up at the pool today that’s closed because there is some renovation going on, alright. So communicate, alright. If you know there is a problem I used to always tell this to my staff, if you have a problem that I’m going to hear about make sure I hear it from you first, alright don’t wait until I get to call and if you are not sure then call me anyway and tell me Joey was a problem in practice today and I had to kick him out. Is that me? Anyway. That way I know when Joey mum calls I can say yeah Joey was kicked out, he spit in the kids face what did you want the coach to do? Alright but when I call you and you don’t know what the answer is your sank. So communication it has to be between staff, with you and your board you and your president, the athletes, the parents. Along with communication is education that’s our job we are educators, alright we are educators in terms of teaching them to swim, in teaching them to be driven we are educators for the parents.

And I remember one time listening to, I was talking with the Late Bill Pick one of the great coaches several of you out here I know knew him, we lost him early. And he had done a great job coaching Lakeside swim club he replaced Danny Presley there. And then one day he lost his job and it blew me away. Here he was one of the premier coaches it was like a year after he coached Mary Tee to these unbelievable world records that stood for 20 years and I asked him what happened then I was a younger coach back then and I wanted to learn and he said it’s simple I stopped educating and I fell asleep and I woke up one day and my board was all the age group parents and non of them knew a thing about swimming. You can’t stop educating. Now when I went back to number one volunteer leadership we all have a couple of those parents who get it, alright I wish we all had all our parents get it but we have a couple of them who really get it; use them. Because often if your parents hear it from one of the other parents instead of just you it has a different meaning when it comes to them. But you want to make sure that the parents understand what the club is about what you are about, what your goals are alright if you are making changes tell them why. Always remember as you’re trying to educate the parents that we have to keep in mind that this is their greatest commodity and they are never going to be seen about what we are doing with them, okay. When little Joey doesn’t get on that A relay even though he didn’t belong on the B relay and mum wants to know why she is not hearing the explanation you are giving, okay but you got to find a way to get that communication through them, but you want to keep educating and that’s a good point like relays you’ll save yourself a lot of problems if you let them know that on the relays the top four athletes are going to swim that relay in the meet, the four fastest athletes. It makes it easier then that you know what you are doing rather than just saying I picked the name out of the hat or doing it that way and then having them come back and say I don’t understand because Joey was always on that relay well Joey is not one of the four fastest and here it is we’ve set it up and you know what we are doing.

And the fourth part is administration and we want to think, most coaches especially when I was at… for USA swimming I can see how many people don’t like doing the administrative work and I’m telling you, you don’t want to pass that work off. First of all you want to keep your hands on everything if you are the head coach that doesn’t mean you do everything but you better keep your hands on everything. You better be certain that no matter how many coaches a professional football coach has doing all this different teams he has his hands on everything that’s his job as a head coach. Administratively and they are jobs open right now from coaches who did a really good coaching job but they didn’t educate well, they didn’t communicate well and they didn’t administrate well. And in today day and age that’s all part of what we are doing, you can’t pass it off you can’t forget about it, you can’t shrug your shoulders when some child gets so they can’t swim in the meet because you forgot to register them you better take that to heart and you better rectify; you better do something special for that family afterwards. But administration those four things are critical I don’t care if it’s a club of 60 or 600 swimmers and some of it becomes harder because today’s day we have massive number of clubs that are swimming out of 2, 3, 4 sites. Well administrating a team of that many sites really becomes hard and you have to just really stay on top of that from the beginning. I find a lot of people stepping into the role of head coach thinking that means that now I coach the fastest athletes; I don’t do anything else different, all I do is coach the fastest athletes.
You are responsible for the team now.

If you have kids swimming at a three different sites you better find the way to be at all those sites at least once a month it might mean that you let the senior assistant coach run that team, run your group one day while you go out and see around because you are the head coach of the whole team. You better show up at each group meets. I learned this when I coached at Auburn University, I was the assistant coach Dave Mash was the head coach most of the people didn’t want to me and I had done decent coaching in my day but they wanted to talk to the head coach and it’s the same thing in your club teams. So make yourself available be out there at YMCA I’m not there any longer but while the age group practice was going on, I would go around my practice was done. I would go around and talk to parents; they are not our enemy and especially not if we work with them from the start. But what I really want to talk about today is the thing that I call the culture of success, its success at our clubs how we get there what it is. First when I talk about excellence and I’d say this is my athletes I always believe there is two types of excellence there is absolute excellence and there is relative excellence and everybody here sees it all the time.

Absolute excellence; that’s Michael, that’s Ryan Lochte, that’s Natalie that’s absolute excellence in swimming, alright but in your area absolute excellence might just be winning your JOs I mean that’s a big step at that point. But relative excellence is each athlete doing something different and better than they had done it before and celebrating that. Seeing an athlete whose never swim butterfly before, swim that first full lap of butterfly without breaking a stroke, that’s relative excellence and we should be happy about that it’s the swimmer who gets that first JO cut. They are not winning Junior Olympics yet but they’ve done something to step themselves up to a new level. We need to understand that and we need to experience it and we need to celebrate it. But in our clubs I will tell you how this all came about. From the start of my coaching career back in the 70’s I started in an area in New York and they were two exceptional programs; one was the Gators and one was the Badgers, okay. The Gators was coached by a guy called Joe Bernal and the Badgers coached by John Collins and both of them are still coaching today. In 76 Joe Bernal coached a swimmer by the name of Bobby Hackett and Bobby Hackett went on to win the silver medal in 76 at the Olympics going 1503 in the 1500 meter free style. He trained in a four lane pool, alright six to eight swimmers in the lane, he trained long course maybe three weeks out of the year and he went 1503. John Collins for those you don’t him from Badger at that point was coaching a young backstroker by the name of Rick Carey, thank you right on my head; that’s what happens when you get older.

Anyway he started of with Rick Carey then he coached Lea Loveless who is now Lea Maurer then he coached Cristina Teuscher all Olympians came right out of their program and I was more than just impressed with this in watching it over the years. And then in the 90’s I had the privilege of spending two years working with Dave Marsha at Aurburn and seeing on what he did and I’m going to relate some of that later. But then in 2004 I was at the Olympic trials I had a swimmer final but did not make the Olympic team and I’m watching the swimmers going on that team and I’m talking to the coaches and the thing that I realized talking to these coaches is that every swimmer who makes the Olympic team goes there with that goal, the coach has that goal the swimmer has that goal. Now they are swimmers who go to the trials with the goal of making the Olympic team who don’t but every swimmer who made the Olympic team had that goal. Now the problem is how we see ourselves, how we relate to this with our athletes because a lot of us are worried about setting that goal and not reaching it. So in designing success and excellence into the culture of our teams we have to realize that we take a risk every time you do it. Now the first thing in getting there goes right back to what I started at the very begging, it goes back to leadership and it goes back to you. The best parents group in the world has never created a great swim team the only thing that they’ve ever done is been smart enough to hire a good coach tell them what they want out of the program and get out of the way and let that coach do what they were hired to do, but they didn’t go in that pool deck and create the team you did.

Pools don’t make a difference; 1978 “” won Nationals training his team out of a 3-lane, 20-yard pool. He said his biggest challenge was when he went to Texas to coach—and he’s coaching in the best pool in the country, maybe in the world—and his challenge was: how do I get my swimmers ready to always go to pools that aren’t as good. But you have to design the leadership that’s going to bring that success and that excellence to your programs; can’t get around it it’s on your shoulders. And I’m talking to everybody not you can’t seat here going well I’m the age group coach, I’m the nervous coach, that’s the head coaches no it’s not. Excellent team in all these program is every swimmer learning to swim all the strokes well and legally and until you’ve accomplished that you haven’t accomplished absolute excellence with your group at that time so it belongs to all of us and it’s your leadership to do that. So I had said earlier about goals and after 2004 I really spent some time because we have a hand full of coaches who have put multiple swimmers on the Olympic team and so I spent sometime whenever I could to talk with Murray Stephens, Johns Collins, Dick Shoulberg, Mark Schubert, Dave Salo: the coaches that have done that at a club team like we’re all dealing with, alright. And you know they help me remember a study I read about 30 years ago when I was still in grad school 35 years ago and it was a study about excellence just pure excellence and achievement and they wanted to see what commonalities in all different areas did excellence have and they only had one, alright. Whether it’s in sports science whatever, somebody is a musician or a magician but excellence; striving for it they had goals, they had specific goals, specific goals that were written down and that they shared and by sharing them it meant they weren’t afraid of them.

See sometimes I’m afraid to say what my goals are to you because what happens if I don’t reach those goals. I’m worried of what you are going to think of me but when I talk to these coaches they are very upfront, their goal is to put somebody on the Olympic team every single time and they believe that there is somebody in their pool with that ability and they don’t care that it’s a four lane pool at Fordham University with eight kids in a lane or a three lane 20 yard pool or the problem of the pool being better than what the Olympic trails pool is going to be, they are going to do it. So those goals is we are going forward if you want to create excellence in your program you better be looking at what your goals are, you better be deciding what’s the steps I need to take. The other part of the goals is you need long term alright. My long term goal in my new club before I retire from swimming is to coach somebody directly on the Olympic team. I’ve had the privilege of coaching swimmers that have gone onto to Olympic team later from somebody else or coach swimmers who have already been on the Olympic team I’ve never coached them directly on, stood there on the side of the deck like Dick Shoulberg watching them make that Olympic team. So that’s my goal alright but I have in-terms because first I have to get somebody to Junior Nationals. So that’s my short range goal. Because I’ve got a brand new team I was teaching 11 and 12 years old how to swim this summer.

So those goals are paramount to where you are going to go but before you even set those goals or really the sequences to get there you need to be looking at who you are not just you individually but your club. In the club leadership school that USA swimming teachers there is a whole part where they talk about theme what your club theme is. And you might want to think that you know what your club theme is but you probably don’t. And if you really want to know what the theme of your club is sit in the stands and listen to the parents talk to each other. Your club might be the theme might be that your club focuses on districts not even states in the high school championships or maybe your theme is you are the distance team alright. Theme might be that we are tougher than everybody else and our swimmers know it.

Changing that atmosphere and attitude is going to be the hardest thing that you’ll have to do in swimming and I can tell you from experience because in my very first coaching experience I was the assistant coach a guy by the name of Terry Laughlin was the head coach and it was that YMCA in New York and their theme was “we are the fun team” we’re the team that doesn’t warm up, doesn’t warm down we just have fun, we play around and when we went to meets that’s how we swum. And we thought we were ready for this meet White Plains in December when we went there and we’ve been training and we get to that meet we fall flat on our face and I’m standing outside it’s like 16 degrees out and we stood out there for an hour I mean just floored about where we were and we realize that they don’t see themselves as anything than what they’ve been. So after JOs a year we said we are not going to a meet for four months and we just trained for four months, we changed the team name, we changed the team colors, we partnered it after North Carolina we were the Blue devils because they were very successful basketball team back in the 70’s and we worked on cheers everyday we worked on a team atmosphere we got them up racing each other as often as we can in the little four lane YMCA pool. And then in June we went to a meet and we unveiled ourselves and they came out cheering and then we taught them to be on the side of the deck not playing on the side talking to each other. Everybody thought there was a new team in town. Well it was the same team they just had a different theme alright and it took us four months to change that but all of a sudden each of those athletes saw themselves differently.

We lost athletes because we lost some of the athletes who wanted to be the old team but the new team really sort from there for the next 10 years. So you need to find out what the theme is and if your goal is to really change in your view of excellence you better change that theme to something that’s going to allow you to go into that direction. Okay the next part; vision and dreams. You have to have a dream and you have to have a vision as to how you are going to get to that dream that you have. I want to go back I’m sorry. I wanted to tell you about… I do this to my athletes, tell them stories all the time but it’s one for the goals. At Auburn when I got there was before we won the first NCAA championship and I think Dave Marsha is one of our best coaches in the country about creating the atmosphere and the environment for people to want to accept. He had them build when he first got there and they called it the Clacker and it was in the number. It was wooden two pieces put together with hinges and it was in the number one with a four kind of burned into the middle of it and when we had home swim meets, it was put up above the door that we went through from the room where we had our meeting and every swimmer would stop grab it and bang it and then go out. And it was to signify to be number one in four years he stated that from the first day he got there and when they achieved that they took it they glued it together and never to be used again. Alright he had a goal he presented it, he created the dream, he showed the vision of how we are going to get there alright, he reminded them as often as he could about what we were trying to achieve.

In selling the dream, the vision alright you have to sell the athletes and the parents. It’s easy to get the athletes on your side but when you start telling the parents, if you want to go from being a local club to being a national level club you are going to have to up the yardage, increase the weight room, increase the number of practices, require attendance; there is going to be parents who aren’t going to want to do that. So you better sell what you want, how you are going to get there, what the rules are going to be and make sure everybody is on the same page. And even with that when you start trying to enforce some of it some of the people who shock the head yes are going to be going no when you say I’m sorry I know Billy is the best swimmer on our team and the parents goes Billy is your best swimmer doesn’t have to be here everyday to be your best swimmer. But Billy has to be here everyday to get to nationals but that doesn’t matter he’s your best swimmer. It does matter because if Billy doesn’t have to come everyday why does all the other kids have to come everyday and if you don’t have your board behind you when you are selling that, when that parent says this doesn’t go they are going to that board and the board is going to turn in and tell you now Billy is got to be in the top group. So that’s going to be one of those really hard parts that you have to overcome; changing and selling the vision and the dream.

And then obstacles and challenges; don’t think that every program doesn’t have obstacles and challenges and as we are sitting back complaining that we can’t achieve because of that obstacle there is somebody else next door going over that obstacle and catapulting forward they saw that as a challenge and used it to be even better. I mentioned “” went to Texas back in 79 and he saw an obstacle which he used but he says it’s the best pool in the country what I’m I going to do when I take them into the six lane college pools that still existed back then where the water start at three and half feet deep and goes up to five feet and we start in the three and half end. So he had to find ways to over come that with his athletes and he did and his team succeed he is very good at that. When he had a three lane 20 yard pool he didn’t complain about it he just started practice at 2:00 run until 7:00 or 9:00 at night and run six to nine people in a practice. Whatever you feel is holding you back I assure you there is somebody in this country moving forward with the exact same thing. One person complains there is too many teams around us the other person complains there is not enough teams around us, we don’t have competition. And yet Paul Blair in Little Rock, Arkansas won a USA Swimming Nationals with a team at a Little Rock, Arkansas. You think there is a lot of other great swimming going on this is about 20 years ago but years doesn’t matter the thing is that he had a dream, he had a vision and he made it come true. So if you had to travel to swimmers to get to a spot where they can compete against people that’s going to push them that’s what he did.

Assessment and responsibility; this is one of the other areas that when I travel the country for USA Swimming that surprised me. It’s us as coaches not being willing to take enough responsibility for what goes on in the program or where we are at. I don’t know care whether we’re talking club or college, everything is our responsibility. I know we kind of joke with it I really believe in the yardage good swim, good swimmer, bad swim, bad coach. If I have a swimmer who came every single day to practice, did every set I asked him to do and they didn’t succeed I have to find out what I didn’t do right. You know it might be the sprinter was overworked; it might be I didn’t train them for the right events, alright. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had two swimmers in the exact same events about the exact same level who train totally different and if I’m not recognizing that as a coach then I’m not doing what I need to be to help my athletes get to be the best they can be. But it goes back to taking responsibility; at the end of the season accessing what we’ve done, alright. If you are goal was to get to Junior Nationals and you didn’t why didn’t you? And be brutally honest. We want our athletes to do that and we won’t do it ourselves, we want the athletes to take responsibility for their performances and we don’t do it ourselves. And we have to do that across the board.

Now they are times you might go to a meet and 18 out of 20 swimmers swim great and the two who didn’t well they missed a lot of practices or when they were in practice they didn’t work hard enough. That’s the reason why they didn’t but then I would ask what didn’t we do right to motivate them to work harder because that’s part of our job. And if they just… I mean they, every now and then I had to learn that every swimmer isn’t going to be as fast as I wanted them to be or they could be because the motivation wasn’t there and no matter how hard I tried at that point it wasn’t going to be there. But then you might ask why I’m I bringing them to that meet? Now if they learn at that meet then that was the reason you brought them there, but I see coaches bring the same athletes to the same meets time in and time out and they’re not succeeding there and the question is why not. So you need to look at the results whether it’s a meet, whether it’s the end of the season and try to understand what you accomplished, what you didn’t, what you need to change. I find coaches to be very incalcitrant when it comes to change we want everything to still be the same. I don’t know about you but I tell my athletes that if nothing changed from last season to this season, why should our race results change. Now when you are coaching the young ones you don’t have to do anything different they are going to grow that’s a change alright or if they move from the nervous group to the age group and they go from going three times a week to going five times a week that’s a change. But by the time they are in the third year of the senior group and they’ve already been going nine practices a week for the last three years what’s going to change to help them go faster.

So we need to be always looking at what we do and trying to find ways to help them go faster and go in the direction that we want the team to take. And the last part of it and this is the key to the culture of success and getting to true absolute pinnacle of excellence and that is stepping out of our comfort zones and opening up our paradigm. We all see ourselves somewhere and this is what I learned in 2004 because I would go over there with my friend Dave Silo and he looked a little down and I started talking to him and I was just getting over being down because my swimmer had finaled but didn’t make the Olympic team in one of the events I thought if she had a shot she would. And he was a little down because he had already put four swimmers on the Olympic team and he had one more that was kind of a lock and he said I expected to put six on the Olympic team and I’m only going to put five, later on somebody he didn’t expect actually swum well enough and made a relay spot and he had six. And I was asking him when did you decided six and he says about two to three years ago I looked at my pool, I turned to my swimmers and I said six of you are going to go to the Olympics with me I don’t know which ones but six of you are going to go and we are going to together that’s our dream here is the vision of how we are going to get there, now lets get in the pool and get to work. And I thought back and I did something similar. I turned around and I said to my group of 12 to 14 year olds in 2004 I’m going to go to the Olympic trails in Long Beach there is at least one or two of you here that are going to go to the trails with me that was my paradigm that’s my comfort zone I was at every trails from 84 to 2004 and had somebody final in almost every single one.

If I’m ever going to put somebody on the Olympic team I have to burst up my paradigm and I have to get out of that comfort zone. I have to find the areas that I’m holding myself and my athletes back from reaching that highest pinnacle. That doesn’t mean I look at each athlete and say if you are not achieving to that level you are wasting my time I don’t and I don’t think anybody should. I mean I relish when I take five foot two young lady who swims 118 breast stroke and a year later get her to go 110 and she makes the high school state meet that’s unbelievable relative excellence to me and for her absolute excellence possibly. But for us to do what we want to do with the overall program we have to get out of that comfort zone and that’s what I realized everyone of those coaches I went to talk to; Marie and John and Dick Shoulberg everyone of them said the same thing. To them their comfort zone is putting a swimmer on the Olympic team but then after 2004 our National team coach turned around and said we have a problem because our best coaches don’t see themselves coaching swimmers to medals. They see themselves coaching the swimmers onto the Olympic team and he was going around to all this coaches and telling them stop talking to your swimmers about making the Olympic team start talking to them about getting on the podium at the Olympics. So it goes all the way through, alright there is no one level that doesn’t have to look at what their paradigm is. That we don’t have to really take a hard a look at what our comfort zone is and get out of it.

And you know there is so much that we can learn by listening to each other, talking to each other the fact that you are here shows your interest in finding… you are not going to find the answers here you are going to find the questions and then you are going to find the answers yourself. But excellence doesn’t happen by accident and you can have the by far the most talented swimmer in swimming today in your pool right now and if you don’t see yourself bringing that athlete all the way alright to London or beyond they are never going to get there. When I worked for USA swimming, what I kept telling them and part of it like the regional clinics was one of the reasons that we developed this. How fortunate were we that Michael was with Bob Bowman and Natalie…? Rich help me out. [response indiscernible]

Thank you. I mean two of our finer coaches. Coaches who could bring them to see what their potential was to offer excellence to them. And I wonder how many Michaels have we lost, how many Natalie’s? And of course they are the one who never got into swimming that’s a shame in it’s self but how many have we lost because we are in a program where the coach couldn’t see the excellence that was there. Cathy who coaches up at North Dakota. Fargo North Dakota, saw this young girl Dagny Knutson and saw the talent and in the area where her state records for the girls is faster than the state records for the guys; was able to create in that environment a way for this young lady to see the excellence that she wants to have. That’s what USA Swimming has to do they have to keep going out doing the clinics helping all the coaches because everyone of you in here right now you have somebody in your pool who can potentially be an Olympian every one of us not just you. And the question is can we create the environment to help them get there and I’m not saying that’s the only answer. Please I’m not saying walk out of here telling you if you are not creating an Olympian you are not doing anything but to me that just shows the direction we want to go in. And if you are trying to push one athlete to get there maybe you are going to push ten more to be scholarships for us, maybe another 10 that’s going to be the difference of them going to an Ivy League School because their swimming got that good because of the environment that you created. There is a wash-down effect as we keep pushing to be the best everything gets better.

So that’s what I have I call it the culture of success and I think it’s up to each one of us to take a real look at our programs and what we do and try to see how can we offer more to these athletes who gives so much to us. I want to thank you all for your time and I’m happy to answer questions if they are any but if you want to go out and start the evening early, I totally understand it’s been a long day.

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