Swimming at Westminster School by Pete Higgens (2005)


I feel like I am preaching to the choir here. Who present now was in here at the AM session? Just all the A students up here in the front row, Hugh? Okay, I didn’t know whether to do the same thing as a re-run or start all over again from square one and totally new information. Those of you who know me a little bit realize that I don’t have, that is, I haven’t been criticized for keeping my mouth closed – we will put it that way. I am very willing to talk, but the title this afternoon is “Swimming at Westminster Schools”. I have been at, this is a private independent school, a day school in Atlanta, Georgia. We have about 1780 students in the pre-first, as we refer to kindergarten, up through the 12th grade and about 760 kids in the high school level, about 550 in the middle school – 6th, 7th and 8th grade level and it is a very strenuous, challenging academic environment. Our senior class last year – our median SAT score was 1291. We didn’t have a single graduating senior or senior period, graduating or not, under 1100 on the boards and we had six with perfect scores at 1600 and now they have “re-centered the scoring” again. I think you have to get 2400 and stay there another half a year to finish up the exam and all this kind of stuff, but it is a challenge and I want to, I guess share my condolences to the folks up here close to the front for having to endure two of these situations. All the new blood toward the rear of the room I want to share with you, you know, kind of what we do at Westminster and basically it is exactly the same thing each and every one of you folks do.

We don’t have a crystal ball. I dropped my crystal ball and it smashed into a couple of thousand pieces. There is no way I can project or predict how anyone is going to swim, how fast they are going to go or anything. I am not that smart, but I look at myself as a facilitator. Give them an opportunity. We have a tremendous facility and several in the room have been in our facility. We have a 10 lane, deep water, competitive course. We have three 1 meter boards. We have two 3 meter boards across the end. Our pool is 25 yards wide, if it is 134 feet long and I get asked quite often “Higgens, since you know so much about swimming, why to you have a 134 foot pool, I mean, this is ridiculous! What is going on here?” And I say “well, we had a wall over here and a wall over here and I told the architect we needed 16 feet of deck area on the shallow end, 20 on the deep end.” That left 134 feet of wet floor and that is how scientific it was. Bingo – we got 134 foot pool, but it solves a lot of problems. We do not have to keep answering the phone and turning outside organizations down because they want to come hold the next World Championships for the 10 and unders in a 50 meter pool at our place because we don’t have one. So, that cuts out a lot of telephone conversations. This is a repetition of this morning, but I think I need to say this situation: I think that anyone who has been an athlete can regurgitate what he or she has been taught as an athlete in their career for maybe in a range of three to maybe five years and at the end of that period of time you have got to establish who you are and get after it then. You can’t stay alive in any situation.

Probably one of the most pleasurable – if not the most pleasurable coaching experience I have had was the 1957-58 school year in Tampa, Florida at Plant High School. A large public school there where I was, well at that time, I don’t know what the rules are down here in Florida now, but we had a 6-3-3 school system – just a 10th, 11th and 12th grades in high school and it was a pretty large school – about 2550 students in it. They had what they call a sophomore football league or the JV if you want to refer to it that way and you had to be King Kong to play on the varsity if you were a 10th grader and I was in charge of the sophomore league or JV or whatever football team and I coached football. I also coached swimming and just as an aside, with all the big bucks, it is amazing what all of us do for a dollar bill. My contract that year was for $3,460.00, BUT I got $200. Coaching supplement – $100 for football – $100 for swimming so I made $3,660 the school year of 57-58. Going back to the football coaching I took my swimming abilities, slim as they might have been, and transferred them over in the football field and I said, “well it looks to me like it ought to be eleven one on ones and if you win six of these 11 one on ones every time the ball snapped – chances are you might win the game. If you win 7 or 8 eleven one on ones every time the ball games ball snapped you are going to be hard to beat and that is the way I approached the game and I was trying to prepare these young people to go and play on the varsity.”

We only had, you know, in team sports you go to a team sport clinic and I don’t know if any of you have ever been to a football, basketball, soccer, what have you clinic. All they talk about is systems. We are going to run the zone press, we are going to run the 3-4 defense – the 4-3 – we are going to run the power eye – the veer you know, the wishbone – proset – whatever you know? It is this system versus that system and you go to a clinic as we are here for individuals. You go to wrestling, swimming, tennis, golf and it is trying to get this person to kick this guy in the head. How can I get my people to beat these people and that is the background and environment from which I came. So, I was thinking the football business and I think it is also true in the basketball, etc… The pros set the tempo and the level and then the colleges kind of mimic the pros and then the high school programs kind of mimic what the college people are doing – you look up to the next strata and level and this in the team situation is kind of frustrating because all you can do is be a good high school football player. You are never compared to the college football players and all you can be is a good All-American if you will – college football player and you are not really compared to the pros until you graduate and get into that circle so it is kind of like the Regan economics – it is a trickle-down effect.

In the 50’s Bobby Dodd at Georgia Tech was kind of the guru of Southeastern football and he ran a full house T backfield and that is what we ran at Plant high school. I stayed up all night trying to figure out the system. We only had four plays – well actually, we had eight – we ran four to the right and we ran four, the same four, to the left. I stayed up all night trying to come up with something and ended up with 1, 2, 3, 4, you know, whoopty wow and we never huddled the entire year. The quarterback just came up the line of scrimmage – right two on two – ready? Hut – hut and away we went. I had a standing rule with the quarterback that if we gained four yards or more you ran the same play. Make them stop that play. Our high water mark for the year was 11 consecutive plays – the same play – you just boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, right down the field. Kind of a simple approach to the game. I did a grading system that I had never seen or never heard of.

I am kind of a maverick – I don’t do normal things like normal people, at least my wife keeps reminding me of that. I had a manager who was really into, as this gentleman is, in the sound world down here. He was in the photography world and this back in the days before the camcorders and the videotape and everything – we had 16 mm. Films – these big old metal cans and some of you are old enough to know what I am talking about and we filmed all our games and every time the whistle was blown on the film he took that frame and blew it up into an 8 x 10. We had these things, I mean, we wallpapered the wall in the athletic offices. In the locker rooms. I had pictures all over the world. Then I drew a target, a concentric circle around the football at the end of the play and my point and my frame of reference is the closer you are to the football at the end of the play the more valuable you are to your team. Whether you are on offense or defense, it doesn’t make any difference and we averaged that year 5.8 bodies on the ball when we were playing defense. You talk about kids coming to the football on defense – they would go crazy! I have never seen that done before and I just scored it 10 points in the bull’s-eye if you were right there making the tackle, out to one if you are outside and these were half inch concentric circles around. I just drew them on there with a compass and if you were out side that bull’s-eye we had a conversation on each and every play.

I have watched a lot of football. My father coached football for a long time. I have grown up in that environment and the most dynamic single football play I have ever seen in my life on the pro level, college level, high school or anything was by my big vicious right tackle in a kid you would never pick out of a hundred kids. You lined them up in a room here as being an outstanding athlete – he was about 5’ 10”, maybe 10 ½” – weighed 184 pounds soaking wet with his keys in his pocket, but he lived to play football. He just gobbled it up. We scored from 67 yards out on a play, he put four opponents on the ground blocking them and he was on the ground three of the four times himself. He led my halfback across the goal line. That is the most outstanding individual single performance on any given football play that I have ever seen in my life by anybody. I think what you try to do is, you would like to have something like that happen with all 11 of them on a play and it would just be total chaos for the other team, but I cite that. I enjoy being around people doing things they have never done before in their lives and furthermore never thought they could do for 98% of them.

You ask kids, write down your goal and their best time in the 100 freestyle is 1:00.8. I had one kid several years ago – 1:00.8. Well, I want to go 59.5 this year and that is his goal. I said wait a minute. You are going to spend two hours a day, five days a week, 10 hours a week in a practice environment to get rid of a second and 3/10? Buddy, you are wasting your time – that is not a very good return on your investment. Why not go 56, why not go 57, why not go 55? They do not even know how to set goals so you have got to lead these people around a little bit. You go out and you want to build a house. You have got to have a tool box – you are a carpenter and you have got to have the proper tools in that tool box available to you and you also have to know how to use each one of those tools. If you use the chisel to keep screwing screws in with, when it is time to use the chisel as a chisel that edge is not going to be very sharp and you are not going to get much wood cut. You have got to use the tools in the proper manner and I look at myself as providing that tool box for these young people and helping them to make the selections as to how and when they are going to use you know, the drill press, the hammer. You know, if your only tool is a hammer, your objective better jolly well be a nail, that is the way I look at it.

I think – yeah, I do think – I think it is important to be on time. I think you have got to start meetings on time. You have got to start practice on time. You have got to stop on time. You have got to start meets on time. You have got to stop all of these things on time. It is amazing how poorly young people can tell time. We practice from 4:30 to 6:30 in the evening. From 3:30 to 4:30 is our junior high program and we come in from 4:30 to 6:30. At 4:30 the high schoolers can’t tell time. They don’t have a clue when 4:30 rolls up. At 6:30 you start getting warnings about 6:25, “hey coach, we only got 5 more minutes to go you know? 6:26 – we only got 4 more minutes to go you know?” They know how to tell time at 6:30. They really get smart during this 120 minutes. I think that is kind of interesting. It probably is a statement on their lack of motivation to be there.

My lecture on motivation. If, well, you folks are sitting so far apart like you are mortal enemies with one another, but if you are around someone where you can reach them. Put your hand together a couple of you and the person to my right in this contest. You push to the person on this side, okay? Now, tell me, what are they doing? What is he doing? Yeah, he is pushing back isn’t he? I can’t push my swimmer to motivate him. I can’t push somebody. What are they going to do? They are going to push back so right now we have created an adversarial situation. We are at war with each other. We are sitting there pushing on each other. He is fighting what I am saying or she is fighting what I am saying and etc. etc. so what I have to do is to show them the payout as an individual. What is in it for you? You need a paycheck. Why are you going to be better off if you go 55 instead of 58? And then, we start having some dialogue, not monologue hopefully, but dialogue.

I have listed to Jeff Goforth – anybody recognize that name in here? Okay, Pacific Institute on the West Coast out of Seattle and out of San Francisco and he is, what is he? A psychologist I guess. He has done a lot of work with penal systems around the West in trying to modify behavior. Trying to educate people why we do what we do and I am kind of into that. Right now you folks, each and every one of you are probably in some self-talk and it is kind of a circular system. You are sitting here thinking about who am I going to dinner with tonight and where should we go and man, I am getting hungry – my butt is worn out – I have been sitting here listening to all these people jaw about swimming the backstroke and the butterfly and the freestyle all day long and how to coach and why to coach and all this stuff – I wonder – lets see – I have to get a cab to get to the airport tomorrow morning in the middle of the dag-gum night and you do not have a clue what I am saying. Self-talk operates in pictures and it is a fast action, it is the 21st century. It is bam, bam, bam, bam, bam and that is why we have so many car accidents.

We kill 45-50,000 Americans every year in automobile accidents. Now driving an automobile is a very, very simple skill. All you got to do, here are your options, go forward or go backwards. We don’t have too many of them that go sideways, at least on purpose. We can make them go forward fast, we can make them back up slowly. We turn right and we turn left. Not much of a challenge, but it is the decision making process as to when we put these factors into play – how fast do we go? Do we really want to go 95 around that next curve? And let the old centrifugal force and the physical laws of nature take off and we are over in the ditch, slapped up against a tree so we don’t use all of our mental thoughts to drive a car. We are in there dinking around with a disk – putting it into the player. We are putting our lipstick on – I have seen people shaving you know? They got their cell phones – I saw one guy with two cell phones – try this on for size. He has got both of his hands on cell phones and he has got his elbows on the steering wheel. Now fortunately, he was going straight – or at least for a while. I have actually seen that in Atlanta, Georgia on Roswell Road in Buckhead and this guy is driving with his elbows with two cell phones. Now, I don’t want to be real close to him.

I think as a coach you have got to try to get people to use everything on their plate to become an athlete and a better athlete. I describe it with our kids. They come to swimming practice, they take their brain out of their head and they put it on the bench. They dive into the pool and spend two hours with their heads partially under water, all the way under water, and they get through with practice. They come over to the bench, reinsert their brain and walk out and they don’t know anything more at the end of the practice than they did at the front of the practice because they are not thinking about swimming. They are thinking about why I got an 86 on that last quiz in the science class today and the guy doesn’t like me. You know, that is obvious because if he liked me he would have given me a 90, this type of thing. I think you got to inspire people, not necessarily try to motivate them, but inspire them to do stuff beyond what they have any idea about doing. We have heard, or at least I have heard this week down here, talking about swimmers doing things that even surprise the coach. You heard, those of you that were in Eddie Reese’s lecture, about some numbers that he thinks Ian Crocker can do – Brendan Hansen can do, etc… This is coming up for us and I want to make sure I am around to see some of this stuff because some of them were fairly small numbers that he threw out here at us and hard to believe. But you know, yesterday’s winning times are today’s middle of the Big 8. Yesterday’s state championship time is probably 4th or 5th place today and we call this progress and that is what I need to do.

People operate, each one of us, each one of your athletes operate in a zone of acceptability. Every event, every distance, every stroke has a zone of acceptability – a range of acceptability if you will. The 50 may be just a second or maybe .8 of a second. The 500 may be a 10 second range and each sex has its range and every school has a range of acceptability. Every league that you swim in, every club environment, every state, your operational area – if you are going to be in the top 8 you have got to do X. If you want to just get a second swim, get in the banana heat as we refer to it in Atlanta, 9-16 you have got to do Y and as soon as an athlete gets into this range of acceptability the pressure is off. Mom and Dad are off his case. The coach is off his case. The teammates aren’t bugging you. Every one of you in here has never had a relay of yours that you put in the water that you didn’t want one of those four people to swim fifth on because somebody is going to be the slow man. You want that dude off of there and get a real athlete on there so every relay has somebody that you would like to have going 5th and so it is. When you arrive in this range of acceptability you get in the comfort zone. When you have, when you are out of the range of acceptability you get biomechanical feedback, in a talking situation like up here.

We are basically schoolteachers. We are accustomed to talking to large groups, but you get kind of cold sticky palms. You start sweating. Your knees, your legs start vibrating. You can’t remember your wife’s name, you know, stuff that you know cold turkey. You forget somebody’s name. You are in here trying to introduce somebody and then oh well, Mr. Ummmm and you know jolly good and well who this person is, but this is your body kicking back because you are out of your range of acceptability. All of you have probably seen 400 meter runners coming out of the turn, the last turn on a track, in a track meet and they look like they are running in place. You can see every vein, every ligament in their neck and in their head and they are in here. They are gritting their teeth and they are giving it all this, that and the other thing and nothing is happening. I mean, they are going through all these motions, but they are kind of running in place – they have hit the wall. They have hit the wall. They are out of their comfort zone and what I need to do as a coach as I see it is to move that athletes comfort zone down to the 450 yard line. 10 yards past the end of the race so when they hit the wall the race is over and train them and do this, that and the other thing to get to that point. If they are in the range of acceptability nobody is really bugging them. They are not bugging themselves. Their teammates aren’t. The coach isn’t – the parents aren’t – you know? Everybody is happy.

I am a good solid team member and this goes back to a book that I have read by Jim Gibbons, who is the author, called “Good to Great” and I would recommend it to each and every one of you. Mr. Gibbons was a professor in the Stanford graduate school of business and the first sentence in the book is “Good is the enemy of Great” and this just sets me off. I could talk on this all day, but the idea is that we can all get fairly good, but very few of us can get great. His premise was and to use the Fortune 500 companies in the United States in the stock market and all the financial records because they are public records and he had his graduate students do all his legwork and he determined and most “how-to” books chart stuff out. They are trying to sell you something. They want you to go down the right fork in the road as opposed to the wrong fork in the road – no the left fork in the road and he wasn’t trying to sell anything. He was just observing. He made these observations at the end of the line and a lot of people thought and I went through business school and I thought, well you had to have a real dynamic get up, go, go, go inspirational enthusiastic, fire in your belly, CEO to lead some company. The Coca-Cola Corporation, IBM, what have you. He said “not so, not so.” This is not what he found. They didn’t bring in, he said virtually, well, he found 11 great companies in the Fortune 500 and each of the 11 the CEO was promoted from within. Maybe out of the Accounting Department or maybe as a bean counter back here and started out with his green shade and his straps on his arm there in the accounting department, this type of thing. He said “hire people, not people for jobs. Don’t hire them for the job, hire the right people and then go find the job for them to do. Get the right people on the bus. Make sure you got the right people on the bus and they will tell you where the bus ought to go, if you got the right people on the bus. Don’t tell them – hey, we are going to load up the bus and go to Oshkosh because you get all the wrong people that way. Just tell them – hey, we got a bus out here – we are going to load up – go hire the people – good people – put them on the bus and they will say hey, we don’t want to go to Oshkosh – it’s to cold up there. Lets go over to Tampa and this type of thing.” It was very, and I think his premises hold up for any organization, your church, schools, athletic teams, anything. At the end of the book he had a sample, since he was out in Palo Alto, of one of the local high schools up there in the cross-country coach and what they did.

I think as coaches we do a lot of things in the wrong sequence or do things incorrectly. This morning I mentioned the concept of learning how to dive and I am not going to bore you going through that again, but we teach diving from the wrong place in the swimming pool. To simplify this idea – use a 3 meter board to teach someone how to dive. Don’t use the side of the pool because it is a much easier skill to do from the 3 meter board than it is from the side of the pool. How many of you have demonstrated the freestyle to your athletes by doing this, standing up there on the deck or the backstroke, like this? This is just exactly the opposite of what the end result that you want or at least I would hope you would want. Your hands will, in a sense, move by your body, but your body is moving by your hands. Now I can’t jump up in the air and leave my hand here and jump up in the air and have my hand go down here so this is what I do. I move my hand by my body. It is like sitting in a canoe or outdoors, a resident outdoorsman here. Put that paddle in here sideways and it just cuts through the water and you are right in the same place. You don’t pull the water. You flatten that paddle out, you press on it and weeee, the canoe starts moving. What you want to do is just simply put your hand in a hole in the water, feel something solid, get a good grip on the water and then pull and push your body past your hand. Your hand wants to stay stabilized in the water. Those poor swimmers put their hand, let’s use this as a target right here.

Here is a weak swimmer, slow swimmer, he puts his hand in the water here and it comes out back here a foot, a foot and a half back. I have seen underwater film of Mark Spitz that Doc took. The side of the pool, the old IU pool had yard marks on the side of the pool. Mark Spitz, swimming butterfly, going across the pool this way, under water. Doc is in there filming him himself. He puts his hands in the water here, swimming the butterfly and he takes his hands out of the water about six inches in front of where he put them in. Unbelievable! Then you wonder why he held the World Record in the 100 and the 200 meter butterfly. Think about that. Try to get your swimmers to get their hands out of the water farther down the pool than where they put them in on each and every stroke. You will become a very good, if not great, good to be great, coach. If you slip and slide you take your hand out of the water back here. This type of thing I think you need to perhaps become aware of. Don’t get caught up in a yardage battle. We are kind of away from that in the United States. I have been around so long that I have seen a lot of things come in, you know, the fads. We come in and do this for a while and then that seems to lose its luster and we junk that idea and then we come in and do this. Back when Sherm Chavoor had some kids going, Debbie Myers and some people out there at Arden Hills, Mark Spitz as an age group swimmer out there. Mark Spitz held a national high school record in the 500 freestyle, 4:41 I think if I am not mistaken at one time as a 10th grader or something like that. If you are going 8,000 yards I am going to go 9 and kick your fanny. Then they find out over across the road that I am going 9, well they are going to 9800 and come back and kick us around the block. I don’t think that is the way to get there. We probably do less swimming at Westminster than all of our competitors in terms of yardage.

I think and the old adage – practice makes perfect – that is a lie. Practice of perfection will make you perfect, but just practice – all that does is groove what you are doing and if you are doing the wrong stuff, then you are just throwing good money after bad. I think you have got to have good mechanics across the board. People have got to do things correctly and then they got to do enough of it, but the only place that I know that success comes and we have heard a lot of talk about this word success and the definition of it – what it implies and you know, what is involved with gaining or accessing success. The only place that success comes before work in my knowledge is in the dictionary – eventually you have to shake hands with the man and get in there and place them, as I referred to it wall tag – you got to go over and tag that wall and come back over here and tag this wall and go back over there and tag that wall and you have to do enough of that to make things happen and that is what we call practice.

Let me see what else I have got up here. I made a practice when I first started coaching to speak to every swimmer in the pool – by name – every day. We had 93 kids in our high school program last year and I have done that every year that I have coached, every day. You have heard Dick Hannula up here talking about how Doc Councilman made every one of his swimmers feel like they were the only person in the pool and I think this gets back to the personal relationships and people do things for. You know, I used to think that everybody wanted to come in and hold the record and be a great swimmer. Half of these guys, because we have girls and boys season together in Georgia we practice together, they are in the same lanes. They are intermixed. You know, I don’t have the boys over here and the girls over here, they are just the faster kids kind of gravitate to the same area and the slower kids do the same. Half of the guys come in there and say hey, these girls in these bathing suits, this isn’t too bad here! This is a pretty good sport you know? And I am going to get a letter out of this, coming in here watching all these good looking girls motor around in the bathing suits. Some of them want to come in there to lose ten pounds and there is another two or three of them that want to come in and gain ten pounds and the girls you know? Hey, they want to come in here and check out these hunks so people are there for a jillion reasons. There is probably a different reason for everybody that is in there and some of them actually might even want to become a fast swimmer, but they don’t know it. You have got to work them into that mental set.

You have got to be a consistent and good listener and I spent a little bit of time this morning talking about this because we are not educated. Not a single one of us I daresay has ever taken a class in listening, but we have taken classes in expounding the English language every year of our formal education and to communicate. Listening is half of the action. If it ain’t caught, it ain’t taught and you have got to have a dialogue with these people. You can’t have a monologue. You have got to have a dialogue and the people that you enjoy in your lifetime, you can sit right here right now and think about and name each one of your real close good ole boy buddies or females, males, it doesn’t make any difference. They are people and the reason you like them is because they listen to you, pure and simple and you admire that. That is a feather in their cap. So now I am a buddy with ole Joe Blow over here because he pays attention to me and what I am saying and you kind of blow people off that don’t listen to you.

You have to have a positive mental attitude I think. A lot of people have said and I am the kind of a guy of clichés. No matter if you think you can or you can’t, you are right and there is a lot of truth in that statement. There are people who want the bat and be in the batter’s box in the bottom of the 9th with a tie game and the bases loaded. They want that lumber in their hands because all they can do is see the ball going over the fence for a grand slam home run and we win by four. There other kids on that same team that they are trying to get back up in the dug out back here. They do not want anything to do with that bat under those circumstances because all they see is whiffing on that third strike or standing there with the lumber on their shoulder, watching that called third strike go by and we sit down and then we go into extra innings. The winners of the world see what they want to have happen and the losers of the world see what they want to avoid and that is just as simple as it gets right there. They concentrate on what? All they can do is say “god, my arms, that last 10 yards of that 100 fly, boy, that is going to hurt” and this guy is a loser. That is what he concentrates on. The winner says “hey, I am standing up on the lane rope giving all these high fives after breaking the record.” That is what he sees. The winners see what they want to happen – the losers see what they want to avoid, what they don’t want to have happen and we don’t like a whole lot of self punishment so we try to avoid this.

People don’t like to get tired. There is a real great big button someplace in our bodies, the self-preservation button. I am going to go right up to the line or right up to the edge, but I am not going to step over that edge. I don’t want to really destroy myself. We are afraid and I think you have got to build an environment where it is all right to fail. Don’t have your athletes be afraid to fail. Give them some rope because someone said a long time ago we learn more from our failures than our successes and I must be pretty dog gum smart because I have failed time after time, after time, after time, after time, after time, but there is a lot of merit I this. I think and there is also some merit in this statement – don’t be afraid to be a winner. There is not much room at the top of the pyramid. We heard a statement today about John Wooden – his pyramid of success. That point up there, you know there is not much room for much more than one person up there and that point is a little uncomfortable if you stay up there very long, sitting down on it. Don’t be afraid to go out and kick somebody in the head and drop three seconds – what is wrong with that? Most swimmers get tired in the last two or three seconds of their race. Well eliminate those! Instead of going a 1:10 hundred breaststroke – why not go 1:05 and you will be amazed how good they will feel by doing that – 1:10 will wear them out, but 1:05 – hey boy – I am ready to go again! Give them an opportunity or create an environment where they are not afraid to either succeed or to fail, but they are in charge. They have got to be responsible.

I had a situation last year with one of our girls, she is a co-captain this year as a senior. Last year she was a junior and we are swimming our cross-town big time rival – Marist School. Rick back here in the back can relate to this and they beat us like a drum. They beat us by 20-25 points, something like that in a dual meet. Two weeks in front of our state meet this girl literally fell off. She is swimming the 100 freestyle and she is a mid 55 hundred freestyler, not a world beater, but you know, a pretty good solid swimmer. She is an oriental girl and you got to take this culture, the Asian culture into account here too as I relate this story and this isn’t to be mean her or to talk her down because I have told her parents this same story and I have told her and she is good to go now. She is going to be tough as nails this year I hope, if we can find some coaching anyway, but she literally falls off the starting block in the 100 freestyle. At the start of the race and to her credit, she fought back, she pushed off the wall, fought back and ended up third place in a dual meet and she gets out of the pool and walks over to the side. She is all shook up and you know, we are just going down. We have been re-arranging the deck furniture on the Lusitania all day long you know, we are going down and perhaps we don’t even know it. I let her kind of get dried off over on the side of the pool and I saddled up to her and I said “Lisa, what happened on that start?” “Oh, my foot slipped off the block, but it wasn’t my fault” Whoa! Time out, say that again. “My foot slipped on the block, but it wasn’t my fault” and I said we got us a serious problem here young lady. Now two Marist girls are on both sides of you in adjoining lanes – was it their fault? “No sir – it wasn’t their fault.” If there was any character in your body you would have come out of the water, gotten dried off, kind of recollected your thoughts and then come over. You would have approached the coach and said “hey – I hope you didn’t see what I did on that start, but I just fell off the dag gum block, fell in the pool, blew the whole race, let my teammates down, but you wait until my next event because they have an 8 lane pool. One of the lanes, wherever I am swimming, it is going to be about a yard longer because I am going to hit that first wall just going so hard we going to have a 26 yard pool in lane 5 or 6 or whatever it is. Instead, its not my fault and I said, well, I am here to disagree with you because the last time I knew anything about anything, these two things on the bottom of your legs down here that we refer to as your feet, you are in total charge of. You warm them up when they get too cold, you cool them off when they get too hot, you clip your toenails, you wash them you know? They are your feet. You make them stand still, you make them run, you make them move. You are totally in charge of those two things we call your feet and you most assuredly are responsible for them and at this time she is in full blown tears. I mean, she has lost it on the deck and you know, I didn’t do this to destroy her, but she got the message and she is going to be pretty tough.

People have to become responsible for what they do, what they think. If you cant put up – shut up, that is one of our mottos. Some people walk into our pool on a day to day basis and they don’t even bother turning the door handle. They just kind of grab the handle and pull it off. They are King Kong, they can take on the world. It is my day – all the biomechanical – what is it? The three rhythms are all in focus and everything and boy, I am King Kong. And a week later they come into the pool, the same person, crawling on their hands and knees. Had a fight with their boyfriend or girlfriend, flunked two tests today, stayed up half the night studying for them and then bombed them and all this, you know? Life is bad news and we go up and down. Well, the day that person is King Kong, it is his or her turn to support the rest of the team, to buoy them up because somebody is in there that came in on their hands and knees that day and we have to reverse the roles. Next week you are in the tank and somebody has got to step up and buoy you up. If you can’t put up – shut up.

Help each other out. Coach each other, psychologically as physically. You guys do not want to sit in here all night and listen to me babble on, I don’t publish or print out our workouts. I don’t show our kids workouts before workout because I probably make five changes every time I write a workout. We write them down. I have got every workout that I have ever run. I have gone, my high-water mark is four years, about 4 ½ years without duplicating the same practice and I kind of take pride in that. Now, that doesn’t say that I haven’t duplicated the same set. I am kind of a big believer in descending sets and negative split stuff and all this kind of jazz. I have had people, I will bet probably 50 or 60 people we will say do the best time of their life on the 18th, the 21st, the 24th hundred in a descending 1-3 set of hundreds on whatever interval we happen to be going on that day. You kind of get in their face about it if you are going say 24 of them and about #15 or #18 you come and say hey John you know? Let’s really get it jacked up here on these last two good ones or three good ones you know? And you personalizing the environment and the guy gets in there on the 21st or 24th one and goes a second, maybe a second and a half better than he has ever been in his life in the hundred, whatever stroke we happen to be doing and then you go to the warm-up for a championship meet and they want to get in and go over and back and get out and dry off and tell you how great they are going to be that day and I say wait a minute. Lets get warmed up. Do you remember a month ago, five weeks ago when you went whatever it was on the 21st 100? On a minute 15 or something like that? Yeah, yeah, well, why are you protecting your body now. See people don’t, they need help. They are crying for help. They are crying for discipline. They need to have somebody hold their hand and lead them through the gauntlet and I guess that is why we are identified and why this whole week down here is called a “Coaching Clinic”. We are the coach – we are the leader – we are the role model.

Another book that I have read recently is entitled “Winning” by Jack Welch. He is the retired CEO of General Electric and one of his main points that stuck in my mind and he is a pretty hard nosed. From up in your neck of the woods, a Massachusetts guy, a human being and he says you have got to have candor. Does everybody know what the word means? You have got to tell the truth and the truth in many, many cases is very ugly. We don’t, not many of us deal with the truth. We are blowing smoke around each other’s heads 24/7. We do not want to stand real close to truth and reality. There is not a religious organization in the world, a religious sect to my knowledge in the world that doesn’t have something in their writings or in their teachings that doesn’t resemble “love your neighbor as you love yourself” that basically we have in the Christian environment that I am involved with. I am not trying to preach or anything, but virtually every religion, the Hindus, the Buddhists, the Muslims – everybody has got some kind of phrase or statement or writing that basically says the same language and the problem with this is that we don’t love ourselves. I would rather be taller than short. I would rather be right handed than left handed. I would rather be a ditzy blonde rather than a red head. I would rather be skinny than fat. I would rather be smarter than I am now being the dummy that I am. It is something wrong here. I don’t really deep down love myself so how are you going to expect me, in a sense require me to love this teammate, my neighbor, etc. etc. when I don’t love myself. So I am going to treat them just like I treat myself, which in many, many cases is not real high level and not really good so I think that we can do some work on that in just getting comfortable with who we are. You cannot blow smoke around yourself and we all are living in this bubble as we deal with the rest of the world and we do not want to expose ourselves. We want a safety net, if not two or three or four layers or levels under us to catch us when we screw up and we don’t want to really. I don’t want to, as an individual, put myself on the line and bring everything that I have available, all of my powers that I have available for this next hundred yard freestyle in this state championship because if I fail, if I don’t win the race or if I don’t get the place that I am expected to get or do the time that I am expected to do – I have nothing to fall back on. I have no excuse, no safety net. I am totally exposed out here in the public and we don’t want to be there – not a single one of you, as a coach, you don’t want to be there. As the athlete you are dealing with, they don’t want to be there and it is a challenge to try and get people to take down and quit playing the charade game and take down this insulating bubble around us and get on with life and I think that is important. Ah, that is a good comment.

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