Swim Coaching From The Heart by Mike Collins (2002)


I don’t know how many of you were at my talk yesterday, but one of the things that I like to do is read business related books and then apply them towards what I do as a coach.  I do quite a bit of reading, a little bit outside of the swimming industry; one of the two people that I admire and respect is Don Shula who coached the Miami Dolphins for a long time. I was a big Miami Dolphin fan, even as a little kid, though I lived in LA, (it must have been that water and the big dolphin on the helmet).  Another person is Tim Blanchard who wrote a book called the One Minute Manager.  If you haven’t read this book, it’s a real easy read – only about 60 pages or so, but it is an excellent book that applies to how you coach kids:  in giving them feedback, moving on from there and not getting too caught up in taking forever to get your point across.  It is an outstanding book.


This book combined several qualities-it was about how anyone can be a coach.  The author uses the word coach as an acronym and gives them definitions for each one of the letters so it is kind of a neat way to define coaching.


The first C stands for Conviction driven, then Over-learning, Audible ready, Consistency and finally Honesty based  = COACH.  I am going to go through each one of these and explain them in a little more detail and give a few examples.


Starting with Conviction driven – as a coach or as a leader you really need to stand for something and to define what excellence means to you in your program – the more experienced coaches acquire that over time.  This is a really important thing for young coaches to establish early on in their career to define and let it be known -so that it does give them credibility.  It leads to the saying that you need to stand for something or you will fall for anything.  If you have certain beliefs in how to run your program or your group then you can take other people’s ideas and apply that in your own program; but if you just randomly copy what other programs are doing it is not going to work as well.


At ASCA they have a system called the VVMOST process , which is a process of working with your team.  This process of VVMOST is working with a few key people in your organization to establish your values, your vision, your mission, objectives, strategy and tactics.  This is what those initials stand for- starting with a big picture of what you’re your group is about and then  getting down to the specific details of what you do in your program,  to actually execute it .


I cannot remember if that is in the Level IV Administration Score, or if it is in the Leadership School of ASCA, but they really go into detail on how to find that process, and how to go about doing it.


I think it is important to try to build self-confidence and establish yourself as a leader early on. One of the biggest challenges is for younger coaches on the deck is dealing with parents and administrators that are often double their age.  It is especially important that you present yourself professionally and seem like you know what you are talking about.  It’s important to come off with self-confidence, and not put your head down when you are talking to people.  Make them respect you even though you might not be as old as they are.  Also keep the winning and losing in perspective.


Often in our perspective we see the big picture for the swimmer down the line –it’s not about getting the instant results right away.  This is a hard thing to explain to a parent sometimes, but if you have a strong conviction that what you are doing is right then you can justify why that athlete might not be as fast as the other 9-10 year old from another team. You may not have taught them all those skills yet; there are levels of learning, and basics need to be mastered.


Value respect more than popularity- I find this to be very important.  When I first started I was coaching Masters, and also coached at UC Davis as an assistant.  I was the distance coach, just a couple of years older than most of those athletes that were on the team, so it was an important thing for me to learn how I could gain their respect and not necessarily just try to win them over with popularity.  This same thing goes with the younger kids as well.  You can be popular with them and let them out of practice early or ease up on their set for them- stuff like that -but they will just continue to take more and more advantage of you.  Once they start to learn that they can do they will do that, so it is much more important to have their respect; not that you have to be yelling at them.  Be friendly with them, but respect is far more important I think as a coach than just being popular.


Apprising character as well as natural ability is also a really important quality to recognize. We may have a quite a bit of natural talent in our swimmers, but we need to really focus and recognize those people with character and help instill those qualities in our athletes.  Leading by example is something I talked about yesterday.  I think that to gain respect and to really have a conviction of what your purpose is you need to live by it yourself.  That means showing up on time, dressing appropriately, using appropriate language, and keeping oneself reasonably fit.  Another book that I found useful was “Principle Centered Leadership” by Stephen Covey, an outstanding book which helps you define what your convictions are, what your real purpose is- and how you can get others to go along with you in those ideals.


The second quality is Over-learning and this to me is probably the critical one in my coaching of what I do with athletes.  There are so many skills that swimmers need to learn technically to be good swimmers.  So many little details and I think we try to teach them all to them way too fast and I see this happen a lot at swim meets.  I see it at practice and the coach will walk over to a swimmer and they will tell them 20 things that they need to do right before their race. It is crazy.


There is no way that they can execute that many skills, so we need to bring them to a level where they have automatic perfection- where they can do things right without having to think about it.


Another example is to try and reduce their practice errors.  I try to teach a skill and keep it to just one or two focus points- get them to do it correctly and repeatedly until they can master it with absolute perfection, then add on another skill on top of that.  If they keep the first one correct then you don’t have to come back to it and start over again.


When I first came to Nova as an age group coach I coached the Gold/Silver group which was the better 11 to 14 year olds, with between A and Junior Olympic triple A times.  These were pretty good swimmers, but what I didn’t like was that they were missing a lot of what I considered to be foundational skills.  Skills like streamlining off the walls, deep enough under the surface to avoid the turbulence; holding the streamline.  Another was either kicking off the wall at the appropriate time or not kicking off the wall;  just basic fine line things that they were not executing.  It concerned me so I spent a lot of time going back to doing the basics, we got very little training in for the first couple of months while we worked on skills, then they came around pretty fast and advanced and dropped quite a bit of time.  As a result I actually ended up going down a level in my coaching, I started coaching the Bronze group instead of the Gold/Silver to make sure that we had that good foundation with lower level kids too.


Over-learning is such an important concept that you get swimmers to go on “autopilot” and then  add on another skill.  You need to find out what are those foundational basic skills that they need to be able to do correctly, without thinking about it.  Get those to the automatic skills, then move on and teach them other skills. It just shouldn’t happen that you have a 15 or 16 year old kid that has been in your program for seven or eight years and you still have to teach them some real remedial level stuff.  Occasionally reminding them is all right, but hopefully they have those skills instilled in them.  Then you can work on other training issues, pacing issues, things like that.  Show you care by paying attention to the details.


We repeat quite a bit of sets in my program, even my Masters do occasionally.  Sometimes we  start a set over again- I don’t yell at them – I just say that it’s not acceptable, we are not taking care of the details.  If you occasionally catch them doing something wrong, and you tell them to fix it, but you don’t follow up or enforce it consistently then it won’t be instilled in them to be an automatic skill.   If they do a skill right half the time, and do it wrong the other half the time it kind of negates each other.  They’ve got to do it consistently right over and over and over until they do not have to think about how to do it correctly.  I think that we can learn from others on how to teach these skills, how to teach over-learning, to get them to that autopilot level as I call it.


You guys are doing a great job of showing up at clinics like this, even getting up at 8:30 in the morning on a Saturday after hitting the casinos and stuff, to try and take your coaching to a new level, but spend a little time to watch some of the other coaches just within your own program and see how they do it.  See if you can take one of their ideas and pull it into your own repertoire of ways to talk to your swimmers.  We tend to say the same thing the same way and it doesn’t always get the result we want.  We have to find a different way to say what we want, sometimes it will sink in better for them.


The first basic level of learning, level one- is called Unconscious Incompetence.  That is when a swimmer will do a skill or technique incorrectly -they really have no clue that they are doing it wrong at all.


The second level of learning is Conscious Incompetence.  This is where the swimmer knows they cannot do the skill quite right, probably because you have told them that they are not doing it right.  This is the beginning stages of learning, the awareness that you are not doing something correctly.


The third level is called Conscious Competence.  That is when you can do a skill correctly if you really think about it, but that’s not where we want to end up.

We want to be at that last level of learning – the Unconscious Competence where it is done correctly without thinking about it-great athletes possess this ability.


I like to use Michael Jordan as an example, he would not look like he was working hard through the first ¾ of a basketball game.  He would score a fair amount of points, but he didn’t hustle that much.  He would move back and forth down the court.  He wasn’t always running, he ran when he needed to.  He would be making most of his shots, but then in the 4th quarter he would just hit it up to a new level, above everyone else, he could move quicker.  He would hit his shots, and he wasn’t as tired in the end- he had this auto sense of how to do skills right, probably because he practiced them so long to make them automatic.   When it came to the end of the game, when he was taking a quick shot he didn’t have to think “I need to bend my knees at a 45 degree angle before I take off” or “ I need to roll my fingers right at the end of my shot to make sure that it hits the back of the net”.   Michael just relied on his instincts, jumped at the right moment, and in it goes.  He was aware of things like the clock, where other people were around him on the court, who to pass to and those sorts of elements.


If your swimmers minds are cluttered with all kinds of small details regarding skills all the time then it doesn’t free them up to be able to really race, and be aware of what else is going on around them.  They need to be in their race.  An example of overlearning would be learning addition before mastering calculus. I believe that it’s hard to build a real good stroke if you do not have foundational skills like balance in the water, just the proper mechanics for kicking.


Make sure that they really understand these concepts, if you don’t spend the time on basics early in their development then the swimmer hits a ceiling in their performance pretty early on.  You can get them fast with moderate skills, but if they have a kick that looks like this (example) -they are never going to be a real fast swimmer.  The faster they go the more resistance they have when their legs flow up that wide.  You have got to spend the time to teach the simple skills super well and gradually build yourself up to more advanced skills.  I am a real stickler about just the streamline body position off the wall.  It is something – you can go to almost any pool and it is instantly one of the things that demonstrates the difference between a good swimmer and a poor one. A good swimmer sets the line of the body coming off the wall.  They travel a long way without much effort, then begin swimming from a much better platform.  They begin swimming from a straight spine.  They are at a faster speed.  They haven’t used as much effort to get there.  It is so simple! –  yet how many swimmers still don’t even push off the wall correctly!


I spent like a week teaching kids to hold onto the wall with one hand, put both feet on the wall pointed up – answer the telephone and push off.  That took a week of really concentrating, never letting them do it like this (demonstration) you know, arms behind them, head all over, and  never letting the feet turn towards the bottom of the pool.  It seems like such a nit-picky little thing – well why does that really matter in practice?  Well, I don’t want kids pushing off the wall with their toes toward the bottom because that’s not what they do in a turn – when you do a flip turn you flip, and your feet land pointed up or slightly to one side.  If they do that every time they leave the wall, on every repeat, then they are more likely to do it correctly.


Have practice using the right muscle groups with the same power as they do in competition.  If you let them have one hand here, the feet pointed down, chest exposed, head up – they are going to push off like that. This is why we didn’t get many laps in during my first few weeks or months with the program.  We kept doing push-offs, come back and do it again, push-off and come back and do it again, we wouldn’t let them move on to anything else until they could just push-off the wall with their feet pointed up in a streamline, hand on top of hand, without the back being arched.  That took a lot of time to teach, but I am starting to see the benefit of this as they get bigger and older; they are coming out past the flags without any problem or effort or even kick.  If they have a decent kick they can use that to take themselves even farther.


I believe that you have to teach proper body alignment and other skills before trying to get them to go fast.  I heard a talk yesterday here at ASCA– the guy that was talking about energy – he said some things that were interesting to me.  He was talking about how energy flows through your body in circular patterns.  He likened it to having pipes through your system.  When everything is running well those pipes are a little bit larger, and the energy can flow through faster- similar to running water through a large pipe.  As you increase the stress load it takes more energy and power to go through the body, and wherever the weak link is, it is a smaller pipe, everything gets clogged right there.  It kind of stalls you out, and when you are doing it at slower speeds it doesn’t show up.  The problem is that when you increase the stress level (i.e. speed) the energy surpasses the size of the tubes for it to pass through and you clog up and the stroke breaks down.  Using this analogy, I think that if you start with a very low intensity in teaching a skill, then gradually increase the intensity level, you can find out where the breaking point is.   You can then back off, do it again and maybe you can keep pushing that break out a little further where they can hold their stroke, or their body position at slightly higher intensities. Until they can really do it correctly at a lower intensity there is no way it is going to happen by just trying to get them to swim faster.


The third item- Audible-ready.  What does this mean? It means that effective leaders are ready to change their game plan when a situation demands it.  Be flexible, ready to modify if something isn’t working, but do not compromise your convictions and values.  Always be on the lookout for new ideas.  There is more than one way to do everything.  Be open-minded to suggestions from others and do not let your ego get in the way.  This is a really tough one right here – that last one.  Sometimes we will throw out the message because we didn’t like the sender. Sometimes I think you need to be willing to say,  “I don’t really care for that person or I do not like the way they delivered that message, but if I really take it to heart, they are right”.  I need to make an adjustment.  I need to take that to heart and maybe do things a little differently than I am now.


You need to teach your athletes to be flexible and for them to be audible-ready.  Things do not always go as expected.  A few examples:  Crowded warm-ups.  Sometimes we program our swimmers to have a specific warm-up pattern that they always do the same way to get them prepared for a meet.  Then you go to the meet and something comes up; there is either no space in the pool, or they make you get out early, your bus gets there late, what happens?  Sometimes that athlete is totally freaked out because you have so programmed them to do something a certain way they cannot cope with change.  Their self-confidence just disappeared because they haven’t done what they always do to get ready for a meet.


So, sometimes I will switch things around. We will come into a practice and I will not pay them too much attention, – let them warm up a bit, and then bang them with a timed swim or a really tough set early on. Man, they do not enjoy it, it kicks their butt.  Some of them you will find can go off- they will go super fast doing it.  Others still go pretty fast, but it wasn’t very comfortable and others just suck eggs, you know, they do not perform at all.  I explain to them that they need to be ready to swim fast under any conditions.  Ideally you do a certain warm-up, get yourself prepared -your body works a little better when it is warmed up properly, but if you don’t do that you can still swim fast.  It is still possible to do that.


How many of your athletes know the routine of the warm-up, the opportunity is there, but they don’t do it.  Sometimes you never see them during warm-up, they kind of slink around and avoid doing it, then they get a little disappointed when their performance is not as good as it could be in practice.  That is a great set to teach them that lesson- occasionally just bang them right at the beginning of practice. When they moan about it say “I am just training you so that you race like when go to a meet”.  You don’t warm-up, you go hide in the corner or you may swim, but you don’t put out any intensity in your warm-up.  Then you get up and you try to race and lock up at the 75.


Pool temperature is another thing – I am a swimmer and still swim a quite a bit myself, it irritates me when coaches do not always understand what the swimmer is going through, because they are not actually in the water. I will come to a practice sometimes and have something designed, a nice solid distance set, reasonably short rest, i.e. 3000 / 4000 main set – and I am ready to rock.  I love those big Wednesdays- as we call them.  I come in and the water is 85 degrees, and these guys usually train in 80 or 81degree water.  Now they could do the set, and maybe survive it, but what is the benefit of that?  They are not at all used to swimming in that hot water.  Their times are going to be terrible, and they are going to just hate that workout.  There is no benefit out of doing that, but some coaches go “well that is on the schedule- and that is what we need to get done, and what we are going to do”.


My thinking is with really hot water; I’ve got to change this workout, and we go about 1500 total yards with a ton of balancing drills; and stuff that I could never get them to do when the water is 80 because they would be freezing.  I can explain technique to them more carefully, and they will actually do it.  It is like a fun day for them because it is something totally different.  There may have been many times when you really wanted to teach your swimmers some technique and the water was freezing cold – it is the other end of the spectrum.  You can’t stand there and talk to your 7 or 8 year old athlete when the water is 70 and they are shivering like this, they cannot relax in the water.  That’s when you kick their butt, you just keep them moving, they get out and jump in and sprint back to the other side, and get out and jump back in and sprint back to the other side again. You can have them sprint 1000 yards of 25’s because the water is 75 degrees. Then you can send them home early.


So just as things like weather, water temperature really affect us, we have to take that into the equation and be audible-ready and willing to change.  Change things with our athletes in our training and in a racing, for example -a race strategy may change based on conditions or if the swimmer is sick or other factors need to be considered.


Another example is at a meet. If I have worked with an athlete to have a specific race strategy for that meet, and then something is thrown into the mix that is going to make it different; I take those things into consideration and try to stay flexible. Some examples might be: either there are more fast kids attending than we realized –it’s going to take a better performance in the morning to get back for a second swim, or maybe there is less competition so we are going to lighten up a bit more to have a better swim at night.  Maybe the water is extremely warm so we are not going to be able to go out quite as fast.  We don’t want to risk a real meltdown near the end. I want to be audible-ready, and want the athlete’s input as well, when they notice those types of onditions.  I may not even know that some of these conditions exist.


Consistency – effective leaders are predictable in their response to performance.  We need to treat our athletes basically in the same manner.  I don’t think you treat everybody exactly the same way because some people respond differently to different things, but we have to be aware of how you react to performances.  If a kid does a best time or something like that and you go crazy about it, then the other kid does a best job but you just kind of blow it off or do not really recognize it – you are creating an inconsistency there.  They are going to notice that, and in the end they are not going to respect you as much.  They see you playing favorites even though it may not have been intentional, but you have to be hyper – aware of this and make sure that you are consistent in the way that you deal with different athletes.  If one kid messes up on his flip turn and splashes somebody else, you say “Don’t do that, Tony!” and someone else does it and you flip out on him, kick him out of practice and stuff, you are showing inconsistency.  So make the punishment for the crime the same for everyone, or the praise the same for the same level of performance. Do not act according to your mood.


I think Rick Curl was talking about this yesterday as well.  It’s hard sometimes when you come in after being out late, or sick or whatever; we do not feel good every day.  You just got a parking ticket, walk in on the deck and you are pissed off – you know you gotta let go of it.


I kind of consider myself to be an entertainer on the deck, I am like a standup comedian – I am there to entertain, educate and train them. When I get up there on the stage – on the deck -it is show time baby – it is time to just let it rock, get everybody on the same bus, the party bus of success, we are not going to be miserable.  I know this one mother, she’s got three kids, and sometimes they wake up in pretty bad moods.  She gets them going by saying “ Hey – the party bus is leaving in 5 minutes – you guys need to be on it!”  When they leave to go to school every day it is the party bus that is going there too.  You leave the misery at home – she says the misery bus is broken.  You are walking if you don’t want to get on the party bus.


So, when you get to the pool, become the fun coach or whatever your style is.  Become that person when you get out on deck.


Encourage consistency in your swimmers – same type of thing.  They don’t feel good everyday when they come to practice.  That shouldn’t be an excuse that they can just blow off that practice or not really try. They may not be feeling that good at any given meet.  You also have to be sensible about it as a coach.  If they are really sick you cannot be pounding them at practice, or expect every swim to be a lifetime best.  However I think a lot of times a kid just is a little bit off, or one little thing isn’t right, and they think that’s a good enough excuse to not have a good performance.  One of the best examples of this was Mike Barrowman in 1992 won the 200 breaststroke in a World Record time in an outdoor pool under pretty humid conditions.  I do not think the travel conditions were great to and from the pool, and other things were going on.  After the race he just seemed so relieved.  He broke the World Record and he got the gold medal. In his post race interview he said “ I don’t know what happened, I never felt good the whole race.  I didn’t feel good beforehand, just all these things were wrong”.  Yet he still went out and broke the world record, won the gold medal, despite all of that.  Now, he was one of the hardest swimmers at training ever, and I think that is why he was able to push through that, but I tell my swimmers often that you do not have feel great to swim fast.  There are a lot of times when you do not feel so good, and you can still have a great swim. At other times you just think you are the money and you feel soo good and you get up there and the performance isn’t there.


Man, I wish I had the answers as to why that stuff happens, but that is the way it goes.  More  importantly – generally when they feel pretty good they are going to perform well, , but the trick is to get them to understand that they can perform well even when they don’t feel that great.  Consistency is the way to do it, they start by practicing that in training.  I remember dreading sometimes going to practice – like a track practice, which I dreaded more than swimming. I would start off the run and just feel lousy and end up having a much better workout a little bit later on once I got through the warm-up.  I know all of our swimmers have had that experience.  If they start practice feeling like junk, then they start doing better a little bit into the practice.


Honesty based – the final element here.  Effective leaders have high integrity and are clear and straightforward in their interactions with others.  I think it is important to be honest with your athletes, and not always just pump them up by telling them they are doing great when they are not.  I think we do need to bring them down to size sometimes, but it is really important that we do not attack them either.  They will lose the message if you are delivering it poorly.  So when you are being honest with your swimmer it means to take them aside somewhere.  Don’t make it a big deal, but try to find a non-confrontational situation that allows for you to just talk. Talk about things that you are bringing to their attention, and find a way to get them see it and buy into what you are trying to tell them.   They may respond and see it – “ yeah, you are right coach, I am being a little soft on my dry land – I am not getting in on time to do that”.


Bring out how important this may be to the athlete, and what their commitment level is.  Then point out that their actions are not congruent with the results that they want, and that you as a coach are just here to bring that to their attention.  Tell them “ I am not going to bust your chops about this- it’s your decision to make, but I am bringing it to your attention because that is my job and I want to see you be the best you can be”.


If it’s important to you, make some changes – find those things that need to be changed in your athletes, and in your really talented athletes. It is a good thing to look for people doing things right.  That was one of the things I may have overlooked, we tend find people doing things wrong a lot in practice and get on them about it.  I try to find kids doing things right and tell them, “those push off’s were awesome – keep that up, it looks really good!”   Or- “I love how you are not climbing out of the pool to breathe on your fly – keep it up”.  Just throw in some of those, and they will accept the criticism a little bit better.


I also find at times with my really talented athletes is I see them doing things really well, and go, ‘ah, isn’t that great’.  I may have taught that guy how to do it (even though he probably already knew it), but sometimes we stop looking for things in our better athletes.  They still have weaknesses in places where they can improve so look for those in your better athletes.  Don’t be afraid to bring them down a little bit and show them where they could be even greater.  There is a coach here – Kerry O’Brien – in the other hall right now – in the Masters Track that taught me this concept ten years ago.  He said some folks coach several workouts over the course of the day, especially if they are back to back, and sometimes their attention level starts to go down.  You stop paying as much attention as you could.  He started using this trick of having about 10 popsicle sticks in his hand or in a pants pocket- and every time he gave a comment or positive suggestion to one of his swimmers he would move a Popsicle stick to the other side – or to the other pocket.  His goal was to get all of his Popsicle sticks from one side to the other side by the end of practice.  The he would work back the other way at the next practice and do that at every practice.  Occasionally there would be only 5 minutes to go in a practice and he would still have 8 sticks in his pocket.  He would be running around coaching his butt off for those last five minutes because he wanted to move the sticks over.  It’s an awareness thing – sometimes you didn’t give out too many positive comments in a given practice when you discover that you still have all your sticks in your pocket, or that you really weren’t interacting very much with your swimmers through that practice.


If you can have some little trick like that, or something that just makes you more aware of how much feedback and coaching you are giving your athletes, it is very helpful.  And not just for the first practice of the day when you are fresh, but just as much in the later practices with different groups.  Sometimes you have said the same thing or same workout or same whatever 20-30 times a year and you are tired of hearing yourself talk.  However the next group of athletes haven’t really heard it, so make sure you are staying consistent and giving those end of the day people just as much attention.


Eliminate the gaps or inconsistencies between your values and your actions:  We need to do this as coaches, this is an important point that we want our athletes to understand and get.  Often the reason they do not hit their goals at the end of the season, or at that particular meet, is because of this exact thing.  Did they have gaps or inconsistencies between what they said was important to them, and what they actually did?  That is what it boils down to.  We want them to understand how they need to be honest with themselves, with what they do, and if they are really doing everything possible to get to the level that they want.


I heard this illustration that the end of the season performance is kind of like popping popcorn.  You start with the raw kernels at the beginning of the season, and each kernel represents a workout.  For every workout that you attend you are putting one of those kernels into a pot that you are going to cook up at the end of the season.  Every time you miss a workout you are throwing away one of those popcorn kernels.  You are losing it forever.  There is no way to get those kernels back.  Toward the end of the season you have however many kernels you have put into this pot that you are going to cook, and the goal is to fill that bowl to reach your goal.  Well, if you don’t have enough kernels in that bowl you are not going to fill it.  If you really did everything you could to put all your kernels in the pot, and it doesn’t matter if they all pop or not – you are still going to fill that bowl because you have more than enough so you don’t quite have to exactly hit maximal performance to reach your goal.  If you just get by you might (if every single kernel pops) to barely fill that bowl and possibly reach your goals.


So this is what I try to talk to athletes about. You can miss a practice here or there and it is not going to ruin your season, but the more you keep throwing away practices or kernels, the less kernels you have at the end of the season.  You had better be perfect in order to make it.  And what are the chances of you being perfect?   Let’s try to get in more than enough so it is not even a question that you will reach your performance goals.


Take your job seriously, but take yourself lightly.  I think that is pretty important.  We are trying to make them better athletes, better swimmers, better people.  We are serious about that, but man – they go through so much throughout most days anyway- going to school, have parents, everybody is yelling at them all day for whatever reasons.  They shouldn’t have to come to swim practice to get yelled at the whole time too. Something that the 49er’s coach from a while back – I can’t remember his name– he pulled his coaches aside one time and he said ‘Stop yelling at your athletes and start teaching them’. That’s one of my favorite quotes.  It just goes in so much better.


There are so many times at practice where I just stand there, just kind of bored looking – just waiting for them to shut up and pay attention.  I get there a lot faster than by saying shut up, I don’t want to hear you guys and just going crazy.  I take the opposite approach – I just stop, I wait, they go on talking a little bit and finally this kid notices what is going on and he tells them and they best be quiet and then we can go on with the set.  If you are just constantly yelling they tune it out really quick, and it just doesn’t have any impact.  Then when you really do need to yell at them, it will have some impact.  So try to find other ways to get what you need done without yelling at them and I think you will see a little better results.  I notice that the more experienced older coaches have that respect already.  You know, if Dave ——- is on the deck he really doesn’t have to yell at his athletes too much, you know, he just gives them one look like that and they know Dave is not happy with them.  A lot of younger coaches do not have real good control of what is going.  They are doing a lot of yelling to try and create that respect or atmosphere.  It’s not necessarily the way to get it respect and attention.  I notice that in indoor pools the louder you talk the less you can hear.  Have you guys noticed that sometimes?  You gotta bring it down, and if you talk really quietly, the swimmers start to strain to listen and hear what you are saying, that’s what it’s about.


If you have any questions about anything here, or about what we do in our program at Nova I am happy to answer some questions.  They do not have to be exactly on this topic, but if you have anything to add, or if you have any questions or comments?

(Question?)  Answer – that is because they already have a particular skill, at the unconscious competence level.  We all have things that we are unconsciously competent at like breathing,you can pretty much do without thinking about it.  Some people can naturally align their body straight while they are swimming or while they push off or have some other skill that is already in them, you don’t have to spend the time to teach it. Those athletes are great because you can spend time working on other things.

Every athlete has a different number of skills that they have that are innate or that are already there and ones that aren’t.  The key is to realize that you can teach them skills to that level if they practice it enough.  Bill Boomer (when he was coaching a Division III school or something like that) would watch them swim and they didn’t look anything like the really hot Division I school swimmers.  He would say to himself that the difference between these swimmers (the hackers) and the ones that have the feel and look beautiful is that it is teachable – you just have to show them how to do it.  They have to do skills until they burn it in them. Sometimes if you see some of your athletes doing things right you think, ‘oh I have taught that really well’.  Well it could be that this athlete has taken it to an unconscious competence level and someone else hasn’t.


(Question?)  Answer – Yes?  That’s a good one.  There are definitely times when the kids just get out of hand in practice and you have to deal with what they are doing and again be audible-ready to change stuff.  But also be able to re-focus on it and not let them control you, this is an important thing.  Occasionally that means letting an athlete go- you know, kicking them out early. I don’t actually like to let them leave or get out early.  I do abusive things to them on the deck so to speak.  I have them get out and hold positions on the deck for quite a long period of time, especially when it is cold out.  I don’t have them get out and do pushups because I don’t think pushups are really that effective in a strength building specific to swimming.  We do things like pushup position or plank position, you know, where the arms are straight and the body is perfectly straight.  They have to hold that position while I am giving the next set or on their side, you know, with one elbow down and the body position very straight.  They are kind of cold, freezing there doing that, and the kids in the pool are kind of laughing at them or whatever.  Our 8 & under coach – the thing that she does when the boys get really out of hand in practice, is that she makes them get out and dance with her.  They feel so stupid, but they are still so young, and there aren’t that many of them.


You have to find your niche and get your athletes to buy into that, but there are ways that you can make yourself a little more interesting and animated. I don’t think that hurts to add a little bit of that even if you do tend to be a little quieter person. When you go out on the deck you can get a little more into it. Some of it is teachable, some of it isn’t.  In the talk I gave yesterday we were talking about hiring for attitude and training for skill.  With some people – you wonder why they went into coaching when they look like they are not really having a very good time doing it.  You don’t have to be loud.  You don’t have to always be going crazy, but at least look like you are having a good time out there.  Enjoy yourself.


(Question?)  I had a kid like that with a tremendous amount of talent in younger teenager years.


I had him from like 13-14 age group, he had a long thin body line, just gorgeous when he wanted to be in the water.  He just didn’t want to be there, his dad was really pushing him to do it.  I talked with the father (cause we had a lot of problems in practice with him getting out of hand, being abusive to other kids, causing problems) and I said to the father that I didn’t know if swimming was the best thing for him right now.  He doesn’t really seem like he wants to be here.  He certainly has a talent, but you are kind of forcing him to do this and I got in a bit of a fight with the dad.  He wrote me back a pretty nasty email once saying that he was my boss because he paid dues and stuff like that, but he ended up lightening up.  We put the decision into the athlete’s hands -if you are going to be here you might as well do the best job you can.  Make the decision. If you don’t to be as absolutely great as you want to be that is your choice, but I am going to ask that of you when you are in my practice that you are doing everything possible within that workout and it’s not that much time.  My workouts are an hour and 15 minutes with those kids.  Why not be the best you can for that hour and 15 if it’s not that much time of your day? If you really don’t want to be here then don’t even come, because we can’t have this conflict.  It took a long time, he went through – and was good enough to be moved into the next group up.  Then he got shot down back to my group and battled for a while.  He is back up in the senior group now, and doing really well.  I think he just went through the growing pains of being a little — I shouldn’t say the word – and it worked out.


It won’t always work out, but I will talk to a parent sometimes and say ‘your kid doesn’t want to be here’.  Do you need to lighten up or try and sit down with them?  You may have to say that you don’t want to be in a constant conflict with them in practice.  Sometimes we just don’t spend the time to just sit down with them and talk to them.  It can be constant conflict and then it becomes like this ego thing of can I piss the coach off or not.


Anybody else?  That’s why I think our job goes so far beyond just what transpires on the pool deck.  Our job to go out of our way to educate those parents in what is acceptable behavior in dealing with their athlete, and what our expectations are of them. And educate them to what their expectations should be, what their role is in supporting their child.  Not just allowing them to perform at their own level.  That is why we do parent meetings and things like that. I have had the occasion where I have to just go and talk to a parent and say, you know – you are just a little over the top. Let me be the one that is over the top and you be the parent.  Then they can go back to and say wow, the coach went crazy on me today, instead of it being the athlete coming to me going man, my mom is going crazy on me today.  So we have to take that role and it is hard to do sometimes, especially if you are significantly younger than the parent that you need to talk with.


I think we have to start to face those situations, and you get better at doing it with time.  Hopefully do it without it being after a specific incident.  It is more of a generalized thing that they get used to dealing with performance – both the successes and the failures of their athletes, before you actually have an incident where I would probably be a little upset with the parent too.


(Question?)  Answer – Yes?  That’s a great creative way to deal with this- you gave him a positive reward for doing that instead of just a negative – I am kicking you out if you keep being a little jerk.


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